Tag Archives: polling

Armchair Ambivalence

As vocal armchair isolationism clogs the Congressional switchboard, it’s probably important to recognize that quiet armchair ambivalence is probably much more widely held. For my part, I hope my members of Congress understand that not calling Congress is not the same as not caring. Ambivalence toward warfare is not apathy. The countdown for a Congressional vote on intervention in Syria tick-tocks to a heartbreaking result, no matter what the result is.  How do I call my Congressperson about that?

Can it be enough that I share in the agonizing frustration that there are no good options?  I’m not sure that otherwise-reliable anti-war rhetoric has moral superiority when a dictator can use chemical weapons without consequence. On the other hand, does intervention draw an arbitrary line around one particular atrocity but not others? What price? What purpose? What result? It’s hard to find much solace in the vague descriptions a no-boots-on-the-ground, sending-a-strong-message intervention. What does that even look like?  Is it even possible to have an appropriately scaled intervention that can be satisfactorily limited to punishment and deterrence, but nothing more?  I can only hope that there are classified powerpoint slides about all of this.

Ultimately, I think I’m most persuaded by what appears to be this administration imbued with genuine pain in making the case to intervene. It seems the appropriate reaction to an impossible problem.

Lies, Damn Lies, and Math

While stormducken Sandy churned offshore, a good portion of the national elections punditocracy proved once and for all that the main reason most of them didn’t go to medical school is that they couldn’t handle the math. Elections statistician Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight blog weathered some bizarre attacks, based mostly in utter innumeracy.

As Paul Krugman and others point out, it is one thing to have a reasoned discussion about Silver’s elections model and its embedded assumptions. It’s entirely another to completely misunderstand the nature of statistics and confidence levels. A third baseman hitting .250 is useful information in predicting a likelihood of his getting a hit at his next at-bat. It is not particularly useful information in describing the kinematics of the ball coming off of the bat.  The probability that President Obama will be re-elected is not automatically 50% simply because the only other possibility is that he won’t.

What Silver is doing isn’t really rocket science, but it does have a mathematical foundation. However, as Krugman notes, “On the right, apparently, there is no such thing as an objective calculation. Everything must have a political motive.”



So, I look forward to the conservative alternative to The Weather Channel.