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Author Page for Dave Brockington

Born in San Jose, grew up in Seattle, received a Ph.D. in poli sci from University of Washington, worked for three years at Universiteit Twente in Enschede, Netherlands, and have worked at the University of Plymouth for eight academic years now in Plymouth, United Kingdom.

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George Galloway and Libel Law in the US and UK

[ 56 ] October 2, 2012 |

George Galloway, former Labour (he was kicked out of the party in 2003) current “Respect Party” MP for Bradford West, and global lefty gadfly, is suing the National Union of Students for libel.  Yes, he fights what he and others consider to be “the good fight”, but his fight is one that I disagree with as often as I agree, his methods can be interpreted as inflammatory, and arguably he is a discredit to the progressive cause at least as often as he helps.

I have three thoughts on this.  First, suing the umbrella organisation for British university students is short sighted at best.  These people should be a source of support for his various causes for a variety of reasons (e.g. having come of university age under the Tory – Lib Dem coalition, English and Welsh students paying £9000 per year simply to hear people like me talk).  In one move, he is alienating an entire support base.  But then, alienating his support, or the population in general, has not been a barrier to action for Galloway.

At issue is the NUS has banned him for being a “rape denier”, a description that Galloway finds as a defamatory characterisation of his widely known critique that the Swedish allegations against Julian Assange ”don’t constitute rape” and were at worst “bad sexual etiquette.”  It’s not only the NUS who have a problem with this bizarre defense of Assange.  His party leader denounced them (and then was sacked or stepped down, I don’t recall), he lost his gig as a columnist for a Scottish publication devoted to politics, and Rape Crisis found them to be ”offensive and deeply concerning”.

Taking the NUS to court over libel is bonkers, especially after his office desperately attempted to convince the NUS to not take the step of banning him.  Defending Assange on rape allegations when all the facts of the two cases are not in the public domain is reactionary, short sighted, and ludicrous.  Taking the national body that represents seven million British university students to court is not politically adept, but again ludicrous.

My second thought concerns a comparison of libel law in both the United States and the United Kingdom.  I preface this with the obvious: I’m not a lawyer, although I’ve had the occasion to employ several on two continents in the recent past, the present, and into the future.  The key difference between the two is the default status of the allegedly libellous statement, and the onus of argument.  In the United Kingdom (technically here England and Wales), the statement is regarded as false unless those making the statement can prove it to be true.  In this case, the NUS as defendant would have to prove that George Galloway is a “rape denier”.

In England and Wales, a private individual need only establish negligence on the part of the defendant to be rewarded compensatory damages.  Galloway, one of the more unprivate of individuals, needs to show that the defendant knew that the statement was false, resulting from actual malice.  In order to be rewarded punitive damages, both private and public individuals need to demonstrate actual malice.

The United States is far more forgiving on defamation law, for which we in part have current interpretation of the First Amendment to thank.  The burden of proof is (largely) on the plaintiff, and both constitutional and state level statutory law allow for many “outs” for a defendant in a libel case.  By my understanding, this dates back to New York v Sullivan (1964).  To use an example, the infamous parody of Jerry Falwell published in Hustler magazine is not protected in the United Kingdom, and I’d guess damages would have been rewarded to the point where said publication ceased to exist.  In the United States, of course, this resulted in Hustler Magazine v Falwell (1988), which protects parody and the publication of the obviously ludicrous.

My third thought regards, well, me specifically and LGM in general.  Which law holds should, say, Mr. Galloway object to my referring to him as a gadfly and decide to take me to court for libel?  My guess is that English and Welsh law would hold, as I’m making this claim against a British subject, on my laptop located in my house in England.  This will be tweeted to the University of Plymouth’s feed (it was my dean’s idea to tweet my academic / comparative stuff to the university feed, not to refer to Galloway as a gadfly).  However, the “publication” of LGM is based in the United States.  I know that the SPEECH Act (2010) would protect me in American courts as referring to Galloway as a gadfly is protected speech, and British libel law is not consistent with the protections afforded under the First Amendment.

One might imagine that my amateur understanding of variance in libel law has a permanent address in the back of my mind considering that I work, and live most of the year, in Britain, though I would be stunned if anything published in LGM would be considered of a high enough profile to warrant action.  At least I feel pretty safe in my characterisation of Galloway as an “unprivate” individual, considering the clip above from Celebrity Big Brother in 2006.

Voter Fraud, Sincere Edition: Holy Crap, it Exists

[ 45 ] October 1, 2012 |

When I wrote about this a couple of weeks ago, I argued that voter fraud “simply doesn’t exist”.  Mea maxima culpa.  Unsurprisingly, the right has, yet again, beat the opposition to the punch, and have done so quite cleverly.  They have framed the issue of Voter ID legislation in easily digestible language that is difficult to refute with equal parsimony, knowing full well that the impact will be distributed asymmetrically across SES categories.  Furthermore, by deploying an army of “volunteers”, organisations such as True the Vote, motivated solely by a concern for the crumbling integrity of American elections, have succeeded in harassing legitimate voters predominantly in precincts that vote Democratic.

Simultaneous to playing defense, the right is also playing offense.  The RNC and various state Republican parties had hired Strategic Allied Consulting to lead a registration drive in Florida, Colorado, North Carolina, Nevada, and Virginia. Over the past week or so, allegations of fraud in these registration efforts have surfaced in 10 Florida counties and in Colorado, leading the RNC to sack the firm from its registration drive.

The numbers are small; adding the instances discussed in the NYT article amount to little more than 100.  As I argued before, the incentives required to induce somebody to vote once, let alone often, is high enough on an individual basis that to swing even a relatively minor election requires considerable investment.  However, this article also lists two occasions where those registering voters on behalf of SAC dispose of Democratic registrations.  This might be a larger problem.  One notably dim witted employee of SAC lacked the presence of mind required to forgo honesty about the process:

In Colorado, a young woman employed by Strategic Allied was shown on a video outside a store in Colorado Springs recently telling a potential voter that she wanted to register only Republicans and that she worked for the county clerk’s office.

The owner of Strategic Allied Consulting, a Nathan Sproul, has been suspected of systematic fraud in the past.  In 2004, he was investigated by the Justice Department and the Attorneys General of Oregon, Arizona, and Nevada for “widespread” voter fraud.  He was previously Executive Director of the Arizona Republican Party.  It is inconceivable that neither the RNC nor the various state parties were unaware of his history when they hired him to do the very job that triggered investigations in the past.  SAC tops the Florida State Republican Party expenditure list for 2012.  They had to know what they were buying.

Balloon Juice sums it up rather nicely, complete with puppies and kittens:

I’ll admit my first thought was that animal shelters and rescues groups keep carefully updated “Do Not Adopt” lists of individuals known to be hoarders, abusers, and/or generally unfit to have pets. You’d think political organizations would have an equivalent “Do Not Hire” list for people previously convicted of voter fraud and other chicanery… unless, of course, that’s exactly the kind of behavior the GOP/RNC/Romney campaign is hiring Sproul to commit?

Righteous defender of Democratic integrity Sproul was also hired by the Romney campaign in June as a consultant.

The story here isn’t that there’s voter fraud in Florida or other places, which requires the perfect storm to have an effect on an electoral outcome beyond insignificant.  Nor is it the ongoing destruction of Democratic registration forms, which if systematic and methodical, could have a larger impact, but still negligible.  The story, of course, is that while the right are deeply suspicious that the left will stop at nothing to “win” an election, including fraud, to the point that they’ve passed voter ID legislation in several states and are out in some force harassing voters in Democratic precincts, no evidence of systematic conspiratorial fraud has surfaced tied to the left, organisations affiliated with the left, Democratic campaigns, or the Democratic Party.  The closest the right has come to identifying anything remotely systematic was ACORN, which, as Brad Friedman notes early and often, is not comparable:

ACORN, the non-partisan, four-decade old community organizing group (which has since been forced into bankruptcy as a result of the years-long GOP effort to mischaracterize them and their work) there is no evidence, to our knowledge, that any of its tens of thousands of registration workers ever screened out potential registrants from one party or another before allowing them to register, as seen in CO.

Neither is there evidence that any of their workers ever changed party affiliations on registration forms, as is being alleged tonight in Palm Beach County, or destroyed Democratic forms, as has been alleged over the years, as noted by Republican Rep. Cannon.

. . .

Of course, there is no real comparison to ACORN. Unlike Sproul’s outfits, the non-partisan community organizing group was never hired by the Democratic Party to do voter registration work. Moreover, it was ACORN themselves who discovered fraud by a handful of its more than ten thousand workers and notified officials of the fraud and the names of those who had defrauded them.

As perhaps best described by former Republican Rep. Chris Cannon of Utah, during a 2009 voter suppression hearing: “The difference between ACORN and Sproul is that ACORN doesn’t throw away or change registration documents after they have been filled out.”

Sproul’s proclivities were noted by a Republican during a Congressional hearing, yet he was still hired by the Romney campaign, the RNC, and several state parties to continue his questionable practices all the while decrying voter fraud as an evil that could very well undermine the republic itself.

Man, you just gotta love these guys.

UPDATE: in response to a couple commenters, a distinction should be made between voter fraud, and voter registration fraud.  TPM have an article here.  That said, I wonder if this distinction isn’t borderline semantic, and invite discussion.  It could be argued that the end effect is what matters; a fraudulent registration leads to the possibility of a fraudulent vote, and more critically, the suppression of Democratic registration forms eliminates those votes from the electorate, the impact, while unmeasurable, is certainly more significant than fraudlent voting in the first place.  However, ultimately, the result is the same in the aggregate: a fraudlent vote adds one illegitimate vote to the tally of a candidate, a fraudulent (non) registration subtracts one legitimate vote from the tally of a candidate.

 

Social Desirability and Response Validity in Current Polling

[ 22 ] September 28, 2012 |

Several days ago in these very pages, discussion ensued regarding the latest conservative attempt to rewrite reality through re-weighting polls to one guy’s liking.  Of course, polling is not an exact science, but it is a science, and the latest wingnut delusion has no grounding in theory or empirical evidence.  Like any science, survey research continuously attempts to improve upon the validity and reliability of its measures and findings.  While I’m not at all concerned about some nefarious (and successful) attempt by the MSM and that paragon of power, the Democratic Party, to turn otherwise professional and reputable polling houses into duplicitous shills.

However, I have been somewhat interested (note, not concerned) if there might be something else going on that causes the polls to over estimate support for Obama.  Social desirability bias is something I’ve published on in the past (direct link to the paper here).  While that article suggests a contextual effect that causes variance in social desirability across countries (regarding accurately reported turnout in survey research), relevant here is what is colloquially known as the Bradley Effect.  It’s possible (though I consider it unlikely in the specific context of the 2012 Presidential election) that this helps explain Obama’s consistent polling advantage in an election where many if not most structural conditions suggest an incumbent defeat.

It’s difficult with the data I have available to examine this hypothesis to any satisfaction, but that’s not going to stop me from trying.

To begin with, we have the current state of the polls.

Obama Romney Advantage
RCP 28 Sep. 48.6 44.6 4.0
538 28 Sep. 52.2 46.5 5.7
538 6 Nov. 51.5 47.4 4.1

 

RCP’s running average has Obama up 4 points, Nate Silver’s “nowcast” model up 5.7, and his current prediction for election day 4.1 points.

If social desirability is at work here, a poll respondent will state that she or he supports the President because internally, our not entirely sincere respondent is seeking the socially desirable response, and not supporting the black guy might be racist.  However, this is done knowing that they will ultimately support the white guy.  Practically, this would mean that Obama’s support in these polls is inflated.

I’m approaching this from several directions.  First, I’ve averaged the final month of polls for Presidential elections going back to 1976 (an arbitrary cut off) to examine how accurate the polls were in predicting the final outcome between two white men, with 2008 to serve as a benchmark for 2012.  Shift represents how wide of the mark the final polls were, to the benefit or detriment of the incumbent party.

Poll Result Shift
2008 D 7.6 D 7.3 0.3
2004 R 1.5 R 2.4 0.9
2000 R 3.0 D 0.5 3.5
1996 D 11.0 D 8.0 -3.0
1992 D 12.0 D 6.0 -6.0
1988 R 12.0 R 7.0 -5.0
1984 R 18.5 R 18.0 -0.5
1980 R 4.0 R +10.0 -6.0
1976 D 2.0 D 2.0 0.0

 

Social desirability response bias in an election can take on many forms, not just race.  To wit, the 1992 general election in the United Kingdom is a good case study (one I lectured on here at Plymouth about six or seven years ago, shame I have no clue where those lecture notes now reside) as the polls largely predicted a narrow Labour outright victory or a hung parliament with Labour having the plurality of seats, yet the Conservatives under John Major easily won by 7.5%.  This is called the Shy Tory Factor on this island, which is simply another manifestation of social desirability.  But in 2012, I’m primarily considering race, and comparing 2008 to past elections does not support the hypothesis that this might be a problem for Obama’s numbers in 2012.

I also considered several of the primary elections in January, 2008.  This was the beginning of a primary where Obama was a somewhat unknown junior senator only four years into his Congressional career, going up against the assumed nominee.  For these data, I average all polls from the last week of the campaign in the given state (there were 20 in New Hampshire alone).

Poll Result Shift
NH Obama 35 37 2
NH Clinton 30 39 9
NV Obama 33.25 45 11.75
NV Clinton 37 51 14
SC Obama 41 55 14
SC Clinton 26 27 1

 

This evidence is more ambiguous than the examination of previous general elections.  Both Clinton and Obama received shifts in their favor, which isn’t surprising considering the undecideds presumably made a decision of some sort once voting.  However, in both New Hampshire and Nevada, the shift was stronger towards Clinton than Obama: a 7 and 2.25 point advantage respectively.  Both are dwarfed by Obama’s advantage in South Carolina.

These are the wrong data to be analysing this with, of course; ideally we’d have individual level data.  While not individual level data, the following figure, by Greenwald and Albertson, offers a more holistic view of the 2008 primaries.

The above shows that among 32 states where data were available, the “Bradley effect” was only evident in three states, yet 12 states demonstrated what has been termed (erroneously, in my opinion) the “reverse Bradley effect”: states where Obama’s support in the primaries was under, not over, estimated (see South Carolina above).  I consider this an erroneous classification because where the theoretical explanation for the Bradley effect hinges on social desirability, the reverse has been hypothesized as a function of systematic sample bias, through either the under-representation of African Americans in polling samples, or the cell-phone effect.  However, some have hypothesized that “black voters might have been reluctant to declare to pollsters their support for Obama”, and the link above does discuss that

After the Super Tuesday elections of February 5, 2008, political science researchers from the University of Washington found trends suggesting the possibility that with regard to Obama, the effect’s presence or absence may be dependent on the percentage of the electorate that is black. The researchers noted that to that point in the election season, opinion polls taken just prior to an election tended to overestimate Obama in states with a black population below eight percent, to track him within the polls’ margins of error in states with a black population between ten and twenty percent, and to underestimate him in states with a black population exceeding twenty-five percent. The first finding suggested the possibility of the Bradley effect, while the last finding suggested the possibility of a “reverse” Bradley effect in which black voters might have been reluctant to declare to pollsters their support for Obama or are under polled.

There are numerous possible explanations for the “reverse” effect, including faulty likely voter models, under sampling of blacks, sampling bias due to cell phones, to name a few.  There might be some sort of contextual effect at work here, but to ascribe it to behavioural motivations (rather than factors exogenous to the individual, such as sampling bias) such as blacks being shy to state their support for Obama fails the face validity test to me.

Ultimately, given the wide array of mediocre data presented here, I am not concerned about social desirability biasing the estimates of support for Obama in any significant, substantive manner.  However, much as I’d like to, I wouldn’t say that the Republican conspiracy is more likely, if only because that is so creatively ludicrous I initially thought it was an Onion piece.

The Voter Fraud Fantasy, Continued

[ 61 ] September 17, 2012 |

What really fascinates me about the voter fraud myth is how fervently the zealots believe this shit.  None of their phantom busloads of fraudulent voters transported in from out of state have been verified.  Few if any of the fraudulent votes that they identify appear so much as questionable to elections administrators.  It simply doesn’t exist, no matter how much they try to will it into being.

At the same time, they never question just why in hell somebody would fraudulently vote.  As a student of voter behavior in general with a sub specialty in turnout, I can list at length how the costs associated with voting far outweigh whatever tangible benefits one might accrue.  One has to navigate registration, polling locations, the hours the poling location is open, let alone being in possession of both the internal and external efficacy such that you’re confident in your decision, and that decision will make one iota of difference.  As one who studies and teaches this, it’s amazing to me that so many do vote to begin with.

Why bother to do it twice?  If one is unemployed and has nothing to do with their day, perhaps $20, $50, $100 will get me onto a bus from Chicago (and we all know what type of person lives in Chicago) for a day out up to Wisconsin.  Then you have to ask, for whom is it worth to spend that much money.  The sheer number of fraudulent votes necessary to tip an election such as the Wisconsin recall is not one here, another there, a busload up yonder.  It would have taken 171,106 votes added to the Democratic tally to swing it — to a recount.  Best add another 50,000 to ensure a recount doesn’t happen, as we wouldn’t want this fraud coming to light.  That’s 220,000 voters.  At $20 per fraudulent voter, “labor” costs alone are $4,400,000.  If it costs $100 for a person to give up their day, break the law, and experience both Wisconsin and the interstates, a cool $22,000,000 is required to replace a Republican with a Democrat in Wisconsin.

Then there’s transport.  It would require 2,445 sorties of a Blue Bird All American school bus to transport our wave of nefarious democracy from Chicago to Wisconsin, if packed to their capacity of 90.  I have no idea what it costs to rent, fuel, and provide a driver for one of these, but this cost is not insubstantial.  And don’t forget lunch; in the classic tradition of GOTV, we should feed our anti-democratic legions.

Let’s review.  We need a population of 220,000 people willing to give up their day, knowingly commit a crime, for some modest financial remuneration.  We require the infrastructure to transport them.  And food.

Basically, we need a hell of a lot of money to pull this off.  The entire recall itself, both sides, raised $63 million.  Our project would add a significant pile of cash to this total.

The activists have consumed large quantities of the kool aid.  They believe that these monsters exist.  But those financing the project really know what they’re doing.  It’s more pernicious than preventing granny from voting because she lacks state photo ID.  They’re specifically targeting minority precincts or any other conveniently concentrated demographic that tends to vote Democrat, acting as election “observers”:

In Houston, the group targeted the Congressional district represented by Sheila Jackson Lee, a Democrat who is black. Ms. Engelbrecht said the group settled on Ms. Lee’s district because thousands of addresses there housed six or more registered voters, which it took as an indication of inaccurate registrations. The methodology, which the group still uses, could disproportionately affect lower income families.

“The first day of early voting, at many of the 37 locations, primarily in minority neighborhoods, dozens of poll watchers showed up sent by King Street Patriots,”

It must frighten these people that six or ten adults live at the same address, let alone that they’re registered to vote at the same address.  This is an economic reality that is incomprehensible to the King Street Patriots.  Yet, here’s the reality:

“They had one particular case I remember very well,” said Douglas Ray, the Harris County assistant attorney who represents the election registrar. “They had identified an address where eight or 10 people were registered to vote. There was no building there.” Mr. Ray found out that the building had been torn down and that the people simply moved.

And then there’s those damned college students:

On Election Day, poll watchers appeared to have slowed voting to a crawl at Lawrence University in Appleton, where some students were attempting to register and vote on the same day.

Charlene Peterson, the city clerk in Appleton, said three election observers, including one from True the Vote, were so disruptive that she gave them two warnings.

“They were making challenges of certain kinds and just kind of in physical contact with some of the poll workers, leaning over them, checking and looking,” said John Lepinski, a poll watcher and former Democratic Party chairman for Outagamie County.

He said that as a result of the scrutiny, the line to register moved slowly. Finally, he said, some students gave up and left.

This transcends lofty concerns about good government.  This is blatant, targeted voter harassment.

And it will have an effect.  In stark terms, this is nothing more than an additional cost that must be incurred to vote.  I can readily understand how it dissuades people from voting to have an election observer, already distrusting your right to vote because you’re the other, breathing down your neck and that of the polling place workers.  Whereas we can roughly measure the effect that a lack of photo ID might have in terms of a reduction of the potential electorate, and we can infer from demographics the asymmetric impact that this has on the two parties, the sort of intimidation discussed in the NYT article linked above will be extremely difficult to account for from a social science perspective.

We’ll never really know what impact that this will have on the election.

Justice for the 96

[ 60 ] September 13, 2012 |

The Hillsborough Independent Panel’s report was released yesterday, following nearly three years of work re-examining the Hillsborough disaster of April 15, 1989.  A good summary of the findings are here.  The NYT has a story here.  For those unaware, Hillsborough (the ground of Sheffield Wednesday FC) was the neutral venue for an FA Cup semi final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest.  96 Liverpool supporters lost their lives [*] immediately before and in the opening minutes of the match in a crush at one end of the ground — the match was cancelled only six minutes in.  The official narrative blamed the Liverpool fans themselves; drunk, violent, ticketless trying to force their way into the ground.  This myth was helped along by the print media, most notoriously The Sun.  Indeed, Boris Johnson, present Conservative mayor of London and all around moppy clown, oversaw if not wrote an unsigned editorial which reiterated blaming the fans, specifically “the part played in the disaster by drunken fans at the back of the crowd who mindlessly tried to fight their way into the ground” while editor of The Spectator as recently as 2004.  Today (literally), he is “very, very sorry“.  As is David Cameron, who exonerated the fans role yesterday in Parliament.

The true cause was not the fans or their behavior, but a combination of incredibly amateur crowd control on the part of the South Yorkshire Police and the remarkably decrepit state of stadia serving as the venues for the most popular spectator sport in Britain, against a sociological backdrop that stereotyped soccer fans as lower class hooligans.  The latter in part resulted in the perimeter fences then standard at grounds in the UK.  Indeed, the Leppings Lane end of Hillsborough had been subdivided into five “pens” (yes, they were called pens).  Hillsborough was supposedly one of the better grounds in England at the time, hence being a frequent location for a semi final, but it was in dreadful condition (as was a majority of the grounds around the country up and down the pyramid).  Slightly less than four years prior, 56 fans died in a fire at Valley Parade, home ground of Bradford City, and 66 people died in a crush (on exit) at Ibrox in 1971.  I can’t think of anything remotely similar in US major league sports during my lifetime (the year I was born, Bob Gibson had an ERA of 1.12, and Denny McLain won 31 games).  The best I can come up with on a cursory search is when some bleachers collapsed at the Baker Bowl in Philadelphia in 1903, killing 12.

The incompetence of the police, both in planning and during the match itself, deserves the majority of the blame.  While the tragedy was unfolding, a sizable portion of their presence was employed in making a barrier across the pitch to prevent the Liverpool supporters now on the pitch from rushing the Forest supporters at the other end (because that was precisely on their mind after they got over the relief at simply being alive).  These expressions of incompetence suggest why, in the aftermath, the South Yorkshire Police systematically covered up their responsibility.  In 116 cases, written statements by officers on site had been effectively cleansed, “to remove or alter comments unfavourable” to the police, in preparation for the official inquest.  This conspiracy extended to portions of the media and the government of the day.  It wasn’t the police, it wasn’t the infrastructure, it was those working class hooligans from radical Liverpool.

I have several friends who are Liverpool supporters, including a good friend of mine who lives down the street from my house here in England.  The findings of the report released yesterday have been common knowledge for 23 years.  But, it’s never been official knowledge until now; the official narrative was quite different.  A lot of people have been queuing up to apologise in the past 24 hours, deservedly so, including the FA for hosting the semi final at a ground lacking a safety certificate.  It looks as though the South Yorkshire police will refer this to the independent commission that investigates the police.

Anticipate a criminal investigation to the cover-up in the near future.

[*] 94 died at the ground, two more later in hospital.  I knew that.  Having just read this, I spotted my error I figured I’d correct it before a reader does.

Zymurgical Transparency

[ 23 ] September 1, 2012 |

Finally, after much prodding and criticism, the President has seen fit to release the White House beer recipes.  Obama’s beers: 2.  Romney’s tax returns: 1.

As an amateur brewer, writer, and judge of some repute in a past life, I feel obligated to offer commentary on this release.  First, these are a politician’s beers, designed to be accessible to most tastes.  Likewise, with minimal investment in kit, anybody who can warm up a can of Campbells Tomato Soup on their stove can make these beers.

As beers made from extracts, they’re starter recipes, and in my experience it’s rare (though not impossible, both from personal experience and beers I’ve judged) to make a professional-grade beer from extracts.  While I appreciate the need to be approachable in both taste and process, c’mon man!  You have the resources (and credit) of the Federal Government at your disposal.  You have ten Nimitz class carriers and the old USS Enterprise to hand.  Why brew a frigate?  Kick it out a bit, and set up a proper home brewery!  The use of dry yeasts would have likewise normally bothered me, but last weekend while hanging out in Northern Virginia / DC with some brewing friends, old and new, I’ve learned that dry yeasts have made great strides in quality and cell count since I was active.  Of course, this shouldn’t come as a surprise, as brought to my attention six months ago, according to an extensive thread concerning my one recipe that stubbornly remains famous after all these years, it was designed in “the dark ages” (and yet they still love and brew the damned thing).  Finally, if at all possible (and there’s probably the odd spare fridge available in the White House somewhere), don’t ferment at room temperature.  Hook up an external thermostat, and ferment your ales at a consistent 65F, give or take.  Consistency in temperature is more important than the precise level.

Also interesting from a political perspective is the reliance on two yeasts of English lineage, and hops of both English and continental origin.  There’s not an American yeast cell or hop in sight.  The Republicans could use that in some nefarious way, but they’d have to tell the truth about it, which would strain their strategy.

As for the beers, the honey ale is, well, enjoyable by anybody, possibly even the Republican nominee.  I like the use of bisquit malt, the use of both Fuggles and EKGs in hopping (though please use whole hops, especially for flavor / aroma, and not pellets), and the Windsor yeast strain is known for being estery, offering some character.

The porter is more promising.  Nice variety of malts (though I’d ease off the 20 degree crystal in favor of more black, chocolate, and brown malts), good yeast selection, bittering hop subtle enough to not distract from what should be a malty-ish beer.  Nobody should use HBUs as a measure, but again, accessibility.  And as the bittering hop was unspecified, this is where the porter can be made American.  Any hop starting with a “C” will suffice.

Of course, the signature aspect of these recipes is the locally harvested honey.  And by local, look to the left of the picture above that I took last Friday.  Honey does little for beer beyond adding fermentable sugars and precious little added flavor.  Good meads, on the other hand, are a different thing entirely, and at one BBQ in Virginia last week I had brought out a 1994 and a 2000 vintage straight mead of mine, which the host matched with some of his own stock.  But in a beer, it attenuates the assertiveness of the flavor profile, replacing it with accessible alcohol.  Yet, that the White House staff are making their own honey, and brewing with it on premises, is inherently cool.

As much as my vote was in doubt, that the President is brewing training wheel beers in his basement tipped me over the edge.  I’ll add my vote to Obama’s column in the critical swing state of Oregon.

Which apparently has a university, with a football team, one capable of scoring touchdowns against Arkansas State. Go Rob and Eirk.

Thursday Afternoon Poll Blogging

[ 35 ] August 30, 2012 |

As Erik points out, Silver has positive news for Obama in Ohio.  Much of this optimism hangs on the house effect of the recent Gravis Marketing poll; measuring and adjusting for house effects can be a bit of an art.  House effects can also vary from election to election, which to my mind makes reliable inferences drawn from them somewhat risky.  House effects perhaps aren’t as unreliable as BABIP or Catcher ERA, but it isn’t impossible that, in this electoral context, Gravis Marketing has a more valid combination of a likely voter model, demographic weighting of the sample, method of measuring leaners, etc., than do the other houses.  Unlikely, I’ll allow, but not beyond possible.

Incidentally, two days ago UK Polling Report put up a thorough post on house effects.  Granted it’s from the British context, but the basic principles involved are context-independent.

One good illustration of how variance in house effects matters is on August 25, Silver has a discussion of a recent CNN poll and the difference between it’s registered voter estimate (Obama +9%) and the estimate after their likely voter filter is applied (Obama +2%).  Another, perhaps more optimistic (from a Democratic POV) illustration is an article by Jonathan Chait discussed over at The Democratic Strategist.  Briefly, most houses are apparently assuming an electorate that is whiter than reality.  The example cited is ABC, which assumes a 78% white electorate.  This would be going against a trend consistent since 1992 when the white share of the electorate fell from 87% (1992) to 74% in 2008.  It was 77% in 2004.  Even if the enthusiasm gap favors Republicans in 2012, reversing this trend ten years seems highly unlikely.

TDS nails it in the end, of course:

None of which changes the priority challenge facing Democrats — to launch the most extensive and intensive GOTV mobilization of the base constituencies in the history of the party.

Unrelated to polling (and I trust that Lemieux might have something to say about this) a district court panel unanimously ruled the Texas voter suppression law unconstitutional, and the three judge panel included a Bush II appointee (along with Clinton and Obama appointees).  Before we get too excited, the chance of me having those drinks in New Orleans as scheduled for right about now is marginally better than Texas flipping blue any time soon, and it has to meet a more stringent test for changes in electoral law as Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act applies to the entire state, burdens that Pennsylvania, Indiana, and Wisconsin can ignore.

Of course, Texas is also challenging the constitutionality of Section 5, a challenge the same panel allowed to proceed (and good luck with that).

“This fall, Maine, Maryland, Washington and Minnesota will vote on ballot measures about marriage equality. Each has a chance to create a new playbook.”

[ 7 ] August 5, 2012 |

Excellent, largely realistic first hand account post on TDS about this issue.  A bit optimistic in places, especially in the appeal to the Federal government:

“As a citizen, I appeal to the authority of the federal government, which, history has shown, must sometimes act to ensure that citizens in all fifty states are guaranteed equal protection and rights under the law.”

but a worthy read nonetheless.

“Look, when people want to get married, we ought to let them get married”

[ 32 ] August 3, 2012 |

This courageous quote comes courtesy of Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant.  Being the governor of Mississippi, one might guess that Bryant is white, male, in his late 50s, and very conservative.  As these are predominantly the prerequisites for the job (aside from the Ronnie Musgrove interlude) of the past two decades, no bonus points are awarded for a correct guess.

Before cognitive dissonance ensues, Bryant isn’t taking a political stand unpalatable to an electorate which voted 86% in 2004 to amend the state constitution limiting marriage to opposite sex couples.  Rather, he’s attempting to drag Mississippi, at least the First Baptist Church of Crystal Springs, Mississippi, boldly into a future where a predominantly white Baptist congregation will allow the wedding of a black Baptist couple (also congregation members) to simply happen in the church.  Of course, those who pressured the pastor into notifying the couple that their wedding was off with 24 hours notice are characterised as a “small minority” of the congregation, that while this action is clearly unfortunate, “(we) have been portrayed as a racist church, we’re not!”.

I doubt it was a small minority of the congregation.  The way the story is told by the groom, the pastor was threatened with being voted out of the congregation if he allowed the wedding to go forward.  While even the pastor characterises the opposition to be a “small minority”:

The church’s pastor, Dr. Stan Weatherford, says he was taken by surprise by what he calls a small minority against the black marriage at the church. ”This had never been done before here, so it was setting a new precedent, and there are those who reacted to that because of that,” said Weatherford.

They clearly must have been large or influential enough for Weatherford to notify the couple a day before the wedding that it wasn’t going to fly.  Furthermore, the groom has also pointed out that he has encountered what a local reporter calls “mixed reactions” once this story went public.

I’ll let the trail-blazing Governor have the final word:

“We have enough people that won’t go and get married. I want to make every opportunity I can for any couple that wants to, to go get married.” But when asked if that should include couples where both partners are of the same sex, he added: “I wouldn’t say gay couples, no,” Bryant said. “I’d say a man and a woman. Let me make sure, let’s get that right. When I say couples, I automatically assume it’s a man and a woman.”

 

 

 

Women’s International Soccer, Olympic Edition

[ 26 ] August 2, 2012 |

Group play, consisting of three groups of four teams, ended two days ago. The tournament gets interesting now, with all four quarter final matches tomorrow (Friday).  Eight of the twelve sides involved in the tournament qualified for the quarter finals, meaning North Korea, Columbia Colombia (duh), South Africa, and Cameroon worked hard at not doing all that well in comparison.

The quarterfinal brackets (full bracket can be found here) follow (times are BST; subtract five for EDT, eight for PDT). FIFA rankings as of June 1 in parentheses. As Great Britain doesn’t have a FIFA recognised team, I’m using the England ranking with apologies to the two non English players on the side: Ifeoma Dieke and Kim Little, both Scots.

Left Bracket:
19:30: (9) Great Britain v (7) Canada
14:30: (1) United States v (23) New Zealand

Right Bracket:
12:00: (4) Sweden v (6) France
17:00: (5) Brazil v (3) Japan

While this appalls the comedy club writing at conservapedia, the US is placed on the left bracket.  (Seriously, there’s so much potential material in their entry on the 2012 Olympics such that posting about it is impossible due to being overcome with laughter every time I try.)

I’ve only been able to watch parts of a few group matches.  The cable package we have where I live in Oregon can only be called “cable” because, well, that’s how we get TV.  I do have a VPN connection to my home institution back in England, allowing me access to all the BBC feeds, but time zones and other responsibilities haven’t helped.  First impressions on the brackets is that the US got lucky, largely due to Great Britain’s surprising victory over Brazil in front of around 70,000 in Wembley.  Brazil wins, Brazil’s in the USA’s bracket.  The USA v Brazil match in the 2011 World Cup was a classic, and an experience best avoided as long as possible.

The Great Britain v Canada match is interesting.  GB don’t have much of a track record, obviously, while Canada’s is recently spotty.  The Canadians finished 16th out of 16 in 2011.  Canada drew 2-2 against Sweden in the group, while GB drew 0-0 in their only friendly immediately prior to the Olympics.  On paper, Canada should probably win, but I’ll go for Team GB because they’ll be playing in front of a sold out City of Coventry Stadium.  Among the 32,000 there should be a few Canadian fans . . .

Winner: Great Britain

USA v New Zealand.  If this were cricket, rugby union, or nuclear non-proliferation, New Zealand.  However, their women’s soccer side has one single point in the history of the world cup (in 2011), and lost 4-0 to the USA in the 2008 Olympics.  An NZ victory would be more of an upset than GB beating Brazil.  They have two things going for them, however.  Crowd support at St. James’ Park in Newcastle should favor New Zealand, and they’ve been stingy on defence, conceding only one goal in each of their three group matches (including against Brazil).

Winner: USA

The right side of the bracket is a lot tougher, both in terms of competition and predictions.  Sweden v France is a rematch of the third-place playoff in the 2011 World Cup, won by Sweden 2-1.  This match will be a reverse of last year.  In the 20 matches that the French have played since that match, they’ve won 19 and only lost one (the 2-4 against the USA last Friday).  This streak features uneven competition (2013 European Championship qualification and friendlies), but to go 19-0 itself is an impressive achievement, and it includes victories over Japan, Canada, England, and North Korea, all top-ten sides.  I might be mistaken, but Sweden’s last victory of note was defeating the USA in the final group stage match in the 2011 World Cup (a favor the US returned 4-0 in March at the Algarve Cup), and as hosts of Euro 2013 haven’t had to go through qualification.

Winner: France

Brazil v Japan.  Both teams have been uneven in this tournament. Japan had two 0-0 draws (Sweden and South Africa) and only beat Canada 2-1. Brazil of course lost to Great Britain, beat New Zealand 1-0, and buried Cameroon. Although Japan is the current holder of the World Cup, I’ve got to go with Brazil. Japan’s past year has been more erratic, and in Marta and Cristiane, Brazil have two of the best players on the planet, and they’re both still at their peak (ages 26 and 27 respectively).

Winner: Brazil

Semi-Finals:  USA over Great Britain.  Brazil over France (just).

Final: USA over Brazil.  That said, I predicted the USA to march through the knock-out rounds at the 2011 World Cup, where they barely got past Brazil on penalties, struggled against France in the semi final, and ultimately lost to Japan on penalties. Hence, take the above with een korreltje zout.

I’d write about the 2012 men’s tournament, but this is predominantly a U-23 competition, thus making it not as interesting.  It is refreshing to see Ryan Giggs finally playing in an international tournament however, much as I loathe Man Utd.

0 for 32

[ 18 ] July 27, 2012 |

That is not the Seattle Mariners record for the month of July (bless the continued existence of the Kansas City Royals) but the win/loss record for same sex marriage in the league of direct democracy.

This streak might change in November.  Washington’s Referendum 74 will either uphold (a yes vote) the same sex marriage law passed by the legislature and signed by Governor Gregoire this past February, or Prop 8 it (a no vote).  According to the NYT today, Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos have pledged $2.5 million to the Washington United for Marriage campaign in support of basic civil rights.  Added to previous donations, WUM now has over $5 million raised for the pro Referendum 74 campaign.  The opposition hope to raise $4 million, but according to the wiki page on Ref 74 have fallen somewhat short of this goal (if $132,000 can be considered somewhat short of $4M).

Polling is likewise in favor of Ref 74.  In addition to the three listed on the wiki page (+1%, +21%, +9%), Elway released a poll a few days ago that reports a 10 point lead, but as often occurs with these, there might be some confusion at the margins regarding the meaning of a yes or no vote.

Very, very good news on balance.

UPDATE 1: As commenter John reminds us, there are also ballot propositions in Maryland, Minnesota, and Maine.

UPDATE 2: if you would like to match the Bezos family donation, you can do so here.

Mitt Romney, Diplomat

[ 116 ] July 26, 2012 |

Most of us have seen this, but I still find it fantastic that Romney wasn’t adequately prepared for his trip to London.  Let’s see, travel to London on the literal eve of the 2012 Olympic games hosted by the same, and make some disparaging remarks about a Great Britain’s ability to organise said games.  It really adds to the impact that the UK already has a healthy chip on its shoulder about the United States.  Pure comedy gold.

I disagree with The Guardian‘s headline that “Mitt Romney’s Olympics blunder stuns No 10 and hands gift to Obama”. Stunned 10 Downing Street, sure. Make any difference in November?  Hardly.

I never thought I’d offer accolades to either, but the best line of this non issue issue either goes to David Cameron:

We are holding an Olympic Games in one of the busiest, most active, bustling cities anywhere in the world. Of course it’s easier if you hold an Olympic Games in the middle of nowhere.

Or The Telegraph:

Mitt Romney is perhaps the only politician who could start a trip that was supposed to be a charm offensive by being utterly devoid of charm and mildly offensive.

When the Olympics gaffe is placed along side this post over at TDS (headline below) we have the makings of a real winner here.

The invasion of Iraq overthrew Iran’s most lethal enemy and replaced it with a regime that is now Iran’s closest and most reliable ally. Depressingly, Mitt Romney has chosen the architects of this massive strategic fiasco as his principal advisors.

It’s a good thing for Romney that foreign policy doesn’t really matter much.

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