Turbotodd

Ruminations on tech, the digital media, and some golf thrown in for good measure.

Posts Tagged ‘politics

The Vindication Of Nate Silver

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I was all set to write a closer examination of statistician and blogger Nate Silver’s most recent election predictions, a ramp up to during which he was lambasted by a garden variety of mostly conservative voices for either being politically biased, or establishing his predictions on a loose set of statistical shingles.

Only to be informed that one of my esteemed colleagues, David Pittman, had already written such a compendium post.  So hey, why reinvent the Big Data prediction wheel?

Here’s a link to David’s fine post, which I encourage you to check out if you want to get a sense of how electoral predictions provide an excellent object lesson for the state of Big Data analysis. (David’s post also includes the on-camera interview that Scott Laningham and I conducted with Nate Silver just prior to his excellent keynote before the gathered IBM Information On Demand 2012 crowd.)

I’m also incorporating a handful of other stories I have run across that I think do a good job of helping people better understand the inflection point for data-driven forecasting that Silver’s recent endeavor represents, along with its broader impact in media and punditry.

They are as follows:

 “Nate Silver’s Big Data Lessons for the Enterprise”

 “What Nate Silver’s success says about the 4th and 5th estates”

“Election 2012: Has Nate Silver destroyed punditry?” 

Nate Silver After the Election: The Verdict

As Forbes reporter wrote in his own post about Silver’s predictions, “the modelers are here to stay.”

Moving forward, I expect we’ll inevitably see an increased capability for organizations everywhere to adopt Silver’s methodical, Bayesian analytical strategies…and well beyond the political realm.

Your Right To Vote

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This is a (mostly) business-oriented blog, with some side trips to the world of golf once and again, so I don’t like to stray too far into the wilds of politics.

But this being election day here in the United States, I did want to take a moment and share a few thoughts about our politics and the political system here in the United States.

It would be very easy to have watched this most recent U.S. presidential campaign and be completely jaded. The amount of money spent this go around has been entirely obscene, and at the end of a summer and fall of massive television media spending, we’re about right back to where we started out in June in terms of the polls, when all that local TV advertising sprung forth.

And, here we are, on election day, with all that money having been spent, and examining most polls, national or otherwise, only to find that we’re likely in a toss up race.

Which is the point at which I wish to say a big “Thank you” to our Founding Fathers.

In “The Federalist Papers,” authors Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay wrote the following (this dispatch, in particular, is from Federalist 1):

It has been frequently remarked, that it seems to have been reserved to the people of this country, by their conduct and example, to decide the important question, whether societies of men are really capable or not, of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend, for their political constitutions, on accident and force.

With over two and a quarter centuries now of peaceful U.S. presidential elections and subsequent smooth transitions of power, I believe we can answer Hamilton et al. yes, it was a question left to the Americans, and we have answered it proudly and loudly — with the Founders’ guidance and the wisdom of the early political structures they recommended for the country, of course.

Implicit in the idea of having a choice, and allowing the people to make that choice in a free and fair election, is the notion that one set of ideas has more appeal to one than another.

Therefore, in making a choice, one has to favor one set of ideals more than another.

But the genius of the Founding Fathers was that they took us one step further. Yes, we all get to make a choice and vote for the candidate whom we think would make the best president.

But all the power was not vested in that single branch of government, the executive.  Instead, in our U.S. Constitution, the founders explicitly constructed a means by which we could have three counter-balancing branches of government, each with checks and balances against the other, and in the case of the legislative, where we the people also had a vote.

Think of it as a triangle, with the overbearing weight of one branch being countered by the combined strength of the other two branches.

Though many might complain this system makes it very difficult to accomplish the people’s business, one might just as well say that that’s precisely the point, that an endeavor worth pursuing has to be a very good idea supported by the majority of the people and upheld by all branches of the government to be fully enacted.

So whether you’re a small government conservative, a big government liberal, or even a minimalist government libertarian, there’s something in our system to accommodate most free thinking people.

I spent last evening watching the National Geographic channel’s “The War in Afghanistan,” which provided a very compelling visual history of the past decade’s war in that country.

What was amazing to me throughout the war there was the willfullness and commitment of young American soldiers in often impossible situations and in constant peril and personal danger, running towards the bullets and RPGs, rarely away from them.

Just think about that for a moment and let that thought really sink in. Our soldiers running towards the bullets.  Doesn’t seem to me like a rational thing to do.

You might not like the candidates you have to select from today.  You might not like the seemingly neverending process  and ongoing media coverage and hype.

You might not even like those newfangled electronic voting machines.

But I would ask you to forget all of that “noise” for a moment, and instead think about all those American soldiers who, over the past 236 years have been willing to put their lives on the line or, worse, give up their lives entirely, so you can spin that dial or fill in that oval on that ballot.

If such brave men and women thought such a system was willing to fight and die for, it’s hardly asking much of we “citizens” to give a little consideration to the politics and process and show up at the polls. In fact, we ought to consider it more of a privilege than many of us do.

Though I have my candidate in this election, I struggled through the process myself and deliberated greatly before making my selection in early voting. But no matter the outcome this evening, I will be a happy and grateful American.

People fight every single day, year after year, to come from around the world with the hopes and aspiration of living in our great country.  Our soldiers willfully run towards the bullets in battle.

Both of these things should be powerful reminders to those of us who are natural born citizens just how good we have it, and how we should never, ever take our precious freedoms for granted, including the right to vote.

Now, go spin that lever or turn that dial or fill in that oval.  It’s the least you can do for your country.

Written by turbotodd

November 6, 2012 at 3:03 pm

Live @ Information On Demand 2012: A Q&A With Nate Silver On The Promise Of Prediction

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Day 3 at Information On Demand 2012.

The suggestion to “Think Big” continued, so Scott Laningham and I sat down very early this morning with Nate Silver, blogger and author of the now New York Times bestseller, “The Signal and the Noise” (You can read the review of the book in the Times here).

Nate, who is a youngish 34, has become our leading statistician through his innovative analyses of political polling, but made his original name by building a widely acclaimed baseball statistical analysis system called “PECOTA.”

Today, Nate runs the award-winning political website FiveThirtyEight.com, which is now published in The New York Times and which has made Nate the public face of statistical analysis and political forecasting.

In his book, the full title of which is “The Signal and The Noise: Why Most Predictions Fail — But Some Don’t,” Silver explores how data-based predictions underpin a growing sector of critical fields, from political polling to weather forecasting to the stock market to chess to the war on terror.

In the book, Nate poses some key questions, including what kind of predictions can we trust, and are the “predicters” using reliable methods? Also, what sorts of things can, and cannot, be predicted?

In our conversation in the greenroom just prior to his keynote at Information On Demand 2012 earlier today, Scott and I probed along a number of these vectors, asking Nate about the importance of prediction in Big Data, statistical influence on sports and player predictions (a la “Moneyball”), how large organizations can improve their predictive capabilities, and much more.

It was a refreshing and eye-opening interview, and I hope you enjoy watching it as much as Scott and I enjoyed conducting it!

Sewing Up The London Olympic Games

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The new Ralph Lauren-designed uniforms for U.S. Olympics athletes at the coming London Olympics games may look spiffy, but a number of U.S. politicians have come out recently to complain they were manufactured in China. Let the games begin!

Well, it seems that the London Olympic Games are only a couple of short weeks away now.

As we get closer and closer to the lighting of the London 2012 Olympic torch, we will also start to see lines get drawn in the digital and social sand, as this will likely be the most “social” Olympic Games ever.

There will be lots to juxtapose in this year’s games in London with those of Beijing in 2008.

Most notably, the fact that we won’t have a 12 hour delay by the broadcast networks. Instead, NBC has already indicated that they will show many of the events live.  American GDP could swoon to a new low in these London Olympic summer games!

If you’re looking for a place to follow the games, there will be no shortage of television and digital opportunities. Just this week, Facebook and NBC announced a collaboration for “transmedia” coverage of the London Olympic Games.

In that deal, data from Facebook will inform TV coverage on NBC and other channels that will carry portions of the Summer Games starting on July 27, according to The New York Times. The specific uses will vary, says the Times, but there will be a “Facebook Talk Meter”  occasionally shown on TV to reflect what is being said online.

Conversely, on Facebook the NBC Olympics page will get frequent updates with what the companies call “exclusive content” for fans only. Fans will then be able to share what videos and articles they’re perusing on the network’s Olympics website.

It’s hard to believe that in only 4 short years, Facebook has grown from 100 million users, the number they were at during the Beijing Olympic Games, to over 900 million.  There’s no question this will be a much more social Olympics, but let’s also not forget the projected TV audience is 4 billion (In Beijing, the global TV audience was estimated at 4.4 billion.)

Speaking of China, U.S. Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) castigated the U.S. Olympic Committee for its decision to have the U.S. Olympics team dressed in Ralph Lauren-designed berets, blazers and pants that were manufactured in China even as the U.S. textile industry struggles to keep U.S. workers at their sewing machines.

Maybe they should introduce sewing into the Olympics as an official sport and we can have ourselves a “sew-off?”

I recently did some Olympic scouting of my own, looking for Websites and mobile apps to help make sure I keep up with the Virtual Joneses during the London sports festouche.  Here’s a few of them I unearthed:

I also found an interesting app for the iPad, the “Ultimate Olympic Guide,” which cost me a whopping $.99 and provided some nice background and overviews of each of the Olympic sports.

Feel free to add any other useful London Olympics resources in the comments section below.

Impressions From SXSW Interactive 2012: Q&A With Mark McKinnon, Political Innovator…and The Most Interesting Man in the World!

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When I realized I had a way to reach out to and speak with Austin’s-own “political innovator” Mark McKinnon, a former Bush media strategist and longtime political maverick, at SXSW Interactive 2012 I seized the opportunity.

Mark has been a familiar part of the American political landscape for several decades, having worked for causes, companies, and candidates ranging from 2008 Republican presidential candidate Senator John McCain, late former Texas Governor Ann Richards, Congressman Charlie Wilson, Lance Armstrong, Bono, and many others.

Most recently, McKinnon has served as Global Vice-Chairman of Hill & Knowlton Strategies, an international communications consultancy, and the President of Maverick Media. He is also co-founder of No Labels and serves on the Board of Advisors of Americans Elect, an organization whose stated goal is “to nominate a presidential ticket that answers directly to voters—not the political system.”

We spoke with Mark about a number of topics, not the least of which included his experiences working with Congressman Charlie Wilson, the role of social media in politics, and the opportunity Americans Elect has to alter the U.S. presidential election landscape.

Pressing The Iowa Horse Flesh

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Okay, so I missed the Iowa Caucus call last night, having suggested Rick Santorum would take away Mitt Romney’s Iowa Caucus cake.

The latest Iowa Caucus returns, as reported this morning by The New York Times

However, I was only 8 votes off — pretty good for an amateur political prognosticator.

Our Texas governor, Rick Perry, received 10.3% of the vote, and declared he’d be going home to Texas to regroup.

Translation: He’s exiting from the grand, national political rodeo.

But I give him credit for giving it a go.  As it is sometimes said in Texas, if you haven’t fallen off a horse, then you haven’t been riding long enough.

Just next time, please go back and take a debate class first. Whether you liked it or not, you did represent our entire state.

It’s not so clear whether Newt Gingrich fell off his horse, or the horse had an epistemological epiphany and concluded Mr. Gingrich was no longer a good caretaker of his backside, but in the caucuses, he (Gingrich, not said horse) distinctly came in fourth place with 13.3% of the vote.

Michele Bachmann (who apparently already canceled her ticket to South Carolina) and Jon Huntsman were at 5% and 1%, respectively.

Which leads us back to the top three.

Mitt Romney demonstrated he could ride the horse in Iowa, manage to even stay on the horse, right there at his steady, level and never-breached 25% (24.6% to be precise).

Rick Santorum was at 24.5%, again, separated by Romney only by 8 votes and a few hundred million dollars, clearly proving surges can work to your advantage in both wars and political campaigns.

Timing really is everything.

Ron Paul also made a surprisingly strong showing, demonstrating that even when you’re tilting at windmills, it’s your horse which keeps you grounded…until it doesn’t.

It will be interesting to see whether he and his isolationist horse can go it alone  all the way to Portsmouth.

What were the lessons I learned from all this?

For me, it was all about good TV. What would the Iowa Caucuses be without an endless litany of talking heads overanalyzing it all to death and forcing me to the fridge for another beer!

Okay, well, for one, I learned that CNN had some really cool virtual reality graphics that demonstrated the key difference between their early voter poll and late voter poll — which was that one was early, and the other was late!

And yes, they even had a cute little Anderson Cooper avatar, which I hope to not see online anytime soon.

MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow demonstrated her prowess beyond anchoring a nightly TV show, but also that she could manage the chaos of an uncertain election night whose returns seemed to take anywhere from 3 minutes to 4 hours to count the ballots.

C’mon, give the poor woman a hand, that’s a lot of extra innings time to fill! (If you’ve ever been on camera, you know what that long, dead silence is like?  Well of course you do, that’s why you’re no longer on camera!)

And I learned that no matter how unsurprising American presidential politics might be after a year of Republican debates held every other minute…well, you just never know what’s gonna happen until the ballots are in and counted.

So, now, it’s onward and upward to New Hampshire.

That’s a whole six days away, of course.

In politics, that’s a lifetime.  In horse time, I’m not quite sure how long it is, but it’s probably longer than they have the patience for.

Me, I have all the patience in the world.

But apparently not at Yahoo, which in other news finally named a new CEO this AM, the current president of eBay’s PayPal division, Scott Thompson.

For those who have a short memory, Yahoo’s last CEO, Carol Bartz, was let go in September of last year.  Maybe Ms. Bartz should jump into the race for the Republican presidential nomination!

Written by turbotodd

January 4, 2012 at 2:43 pm

The Iowa Caucuses

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It’s Monday, January 3, 2012.

The 2012 Iowa Caucuses will be held this evening in churches, schools, and other gathering places across thousands of locations in Iowa this evening in order to start determining the Republican and Democratic presidential candidates for the 2012 U.S. presidential election.

Yes, the year is now 2012.  Please turn that page on your calendar/diary.

And because it’s January 3, 2012, a presidential election year here in the United States, that means today, the first Tuesday of the election year, we’re having the Iowa Caucuses.

For those of you who live outside these United States, who don’t know what that means, allow me to try and explain, because Iowa is somewhat different from most standard primary elections used in other states.

In Iowa, the caucuses are a process whereby “gatherings of neighbors” occur across each of Iowa’s 1,774 voting precincts. Rather than simply casting polls and ballots, they gather in these locations (at schools, churches, public libraries, and even individuals’ homes) to discuss and choose presidential candidates, as well as begin writing their parties’ platforms by introducing resolutions.

In Iowa, caucus-goers elect delegates to county (as opposed to national) conventions, who then in turn elect delegates to district and state conventions (who THEN choose national delegates).

Got it?

All participants in caucuses must be registered with a party, but they can change their registration at the the caucus location. Also, 17 year-olds can participate, so long as they turn 18 by the time of the general election.

Because President Obama’s selection on the Democratic ticket is a fait accompli this year, we’ll do a deeper dive on the Republican caucus process.

In the Republican caucus, votes are cast by secret ballot. Voters are given blank sheets of paper with no candidate names, then after listening to some campaigning for each candidate by caucus participants, they write their choices down and the Republic Party of Iowa tabulates the results at each precinct and transmits them to the media.

As for the number of delegates, because there are 13 delegates for the Congressional district, plus 12 statewide, plus 3 Republican National Committee members who are also delegates, makes for a total of 25 elected delegates (don’t worry, the math didn’t add up for me, either) out of a total of 2,286 national delegates. But again remembering, they’re not really chosen this evening, but at the county and state conventions down the road.

So that’s what all the fuss is about.

If you really want to know what’s going on and want to follow the math closely, you have to read Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight blog. 

My projection: Mitt Romney, Ron Paul, and Rick Santorum are neck in neck in the 19-21% range, but the surging Santorum pulls just far enough ahead to take the Iowa caucus cake.  But hey, it’s Iowa, who the heck really knows until the votes start coming in later this evening.

For all the opportunities to criticize it, the Iowa Caucus is still the first polling that matters in the U.S. presidential primaries, first also meaning it’s very influential in shaping the outcome yet to come in the other 49 states by potentially reshaping the field of candidates.

So for those reasons alone it’s worth paying close attention to!

Written by turbotodd

January 3, 2012 at 3:13 pm

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