Weekend Coffee Share: I’m Still Alive!

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If we were having coffee, I’d tell you the last two weeks just flew by and I’ve barely had time to think about this blog. Weekend before last, we went to Little Jedi’s birthday party and a good time was had by all. Sadly, we all picked up a nasty bug at the arcade, and I spent half of the following week flat on my back in bed.

I did manage to publish a substantial post on gaming with children at Comparative Geeks this week, but otherwise, not much blogging from me in the last couple of weeks. Part of that’s because being down for most of a week left me a backlog at work to dig myself out of. Part of it’s because so much political stuff is happening, I’m spending a lot more time than normal reading and chattering on Facebook.

I’m not getting into the politics in the coffee post today, but I’ll have a lot to say about it in the coming few weeks. Although I’m eager to see what happens in the looming New York primaries, I’m not just looking at the elections at this point. I’m looking at a series of state laws targeting primarily LGBTQ+ people conservatives are pushing across the south and beyond. I’m still trying to wrap my head around the scope of the thing and figure out how to approach it at this point, but I’ll have a post about it soon.

And I’d tell you I may be scarce on the coffee share for the next couple of weeks. I’m giving the political stuff priority for the next little while, and I have offline commitments both next weekend and the week after. Since half my friends are tied up with the A to Z Challenge through the end of the month, I suppose it’s not a bad time to take a couple of weekends off.

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My schedule should ease up a bit around mid-May, and I should be around more in the summer than I’ve been since this time last year, so we have that to look forward to.

Happy Weekend! Don’t forget to add your coffee share link to the linkup at Part Time Monster and share it with #WeekendCoffeeShare on Facebook and Twitter.

And now I am off to teach my grandson how to play Jenga.

On Polling and Primaries

My friend Luther wrote a post “On Michigan” at InfiniteFreeTime last week. I agree with all of it, and it set me thinking. Luther and I have compared notes on this election a bit.

I’ve learned some things from him, and he’s proven himself smarter than me about several of the electoral dynamics. If I’ve been making sense to you with these political posts, you should be reading Infinite Free Time. Luther dosen’t always write about politics but when he does, he makes sense, and he’s far more entertaining than me. I’m gonna try and elaborate today on some of what he said about Michigan.

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On the Polling

(If you aren’t interested in polling, just scroll down to the next subhead. I’ll tell you how I think this Democratic primary season ends.)

Bernie Sanders’ win in Michigan was an upset. No one, including the candidates, saw it coming. Here’s a post and a discussion at fivethirtyeight.com that might shed some light. Tl;dr version of Carl Bialik’s explanation, which is the first comment on the thread: Polling organizations stopped contacting Michigan voters on Sunday, and that’s too early to stop polling in an election this fluid, so the polls missed too many late deciders.

Michigan could be a fluke. Or it could mean Sanders will be competitive in Ohio, Missouri, and (maybe) Illinois tomorrow. The reason I put IL in the “maybe” column is because Clinton has deep connections and a strong organization in that state. She was as much as 37 points ahead of Sanders there in some polls last time I looked, but given that the polling has been inaccurate in two Midwestern states now, I’m willing to consider there might be something off with the way these surveys are being conducted.

All this caused me to do some digging, because I want to know how trustworthy the polling is going forward. After doing my reading, I’ve come to the conclusion that the predictive survey data in this election might be less reliable than it’s been in 30 or 40 years. Here’s Rutgers professor Cliff Zukin explaining a few of the problems which might apply in the New York Times. I’ve also seen articles from Nate Silver at 538 and a former provost of Georgetown University which concur. I’ll break it down for you.

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  1. For a survey to have any value for predicting the behavior of voters, you need a fairly large sample, and you need it to be representative of the general population.
  2. Historically, the way this has been done is by taking huge lists of land line telephone numbers and building random samples for telephone polls. The participation rate is so low for these surveys, it’s necessary to make tens of thousands of phone calls to find even 1,000 qualified participants. Sometimes numbers have been disconnected, sometimes people just hang up, and sometimes kids answer the phone.
  3. We’ve reached the point where so many people have dumped their land lines in favor of cellphones, it’s no longer possible to use probability sampling to build a representative sample without adding more data, so the way to do it these days is to also build a sample of cellphone numbers, survey those separately, and then aggregate the landline and cellphone data.
  4. The FCC restricts the use of autodialers for cellphone surveys, so interviewers have to actually dial the numbers themselves and in some instances, polling organizations need to compensate respondents for their wireless usage. Which doesn’t seem like a big deal until you think of it from the perspective of the paid-hourly interviewer with a list of 2500 numbers they have to dial manually, or the cost of paying $5K for every individual cellphone sample of 500 likely voters for an entire election cycle.
  5. Since only the biggest and best-funded organizations can afford big, reliable phone samples that actually represent the population at this point, and the internet is so well-developed, a lot of small organizations and newcomers are using internet polls. But the demographics of internet use are skewed. So skewed, in fact, the professionals have yet to figure out how to build a representative sample using only internet data.

The result: Lots more noise in the polls than we’re accustomed to and less reliable predictions. I’ve read so much about this in the last week, I just don’t trust the polls in this election any more. So I’ll tell you where I think this Democratic primary season is going based solely on my understanding of the demographics of various states and the trends so far.

On The Primary

Clinton has a 200-delgate lead among pledged delegates, which are won based on primary outcomes. She has overwhelming support from the superdelegates who have publicly weighed in. Superdelegates can change their minds, but they’ll only do that if Sanders closes the gap and convinces them he’s the choice of the people.

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Even then, he won’t get all, or even most of them. Superdelegates are hardcore party loyalists — mostly former long-serving elected officials who REALLY understand how these politics work — and they have questions about Bernie’s viability on account of he’s an unapologetic socialist (not a bad thing, in my mind, but a huge vulnerability for a general election contender) and is also untested in a national election (kind of a big deal to me, given the stakes this time around).

There is no such thing as a winner-take-all Democratic primary in the U.S. Pledged delegates are apportioned based on popular vote percentages. If you want to win all or most of the delegates in a state, you need a landslide victory. A 51/49 win results in an almost even delegate split.

This is one of the few things we’re doing right with our elections. If we weren’t staring down the barrel of a long series of winner-take-all Republican primaries in which GOP voters have to choose between a racist con man and a certifiably insane Tea Party guy, Trump wouldn’t be as strong a candidate as he is.

The Democratic Party’s primary system would be perfect if they’d dump the superdelegate idea and go to an all-primary system. (Caucuses make the process too opaque and introduce an unacceptable level of moral hazard into the nomination process, IMHO.)

So here’s what I see happening next. Tomorrow, five big, significant states will vote: Ohio, Florida, Illinois, North Carolina, and Missouri.

These states have a lot of delegates. Bernie’s performance in Michigan makes me think he might compete in the Midwest states and at least win half the delegates in Ohio. But I expect North Carolina to go big for Clinton and I expect her to at least break even in Illinois. Missouri is an unknown quantity to me, especially given the problems we’ve seen with polling in the Midwest.

I was loathe to even talk about Florida when I started this. Having lived close to Florida and been there many, many times in my life, I’ll tell you this about it. Once you get below the panhandle, it’s different from either the Deep South or the Mid-Atlantic. Central and South Florida are a region unto themselves. I think Clinton was the favorite in Florida before last week’s debate even started, and I think Bernie’s answers on the socialism questions, as much as I appreciated his effort, probably sunk him there.

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After North Carolina and Florida vote tomorrow, the South is done until November. Clinton’s advantage among black southerners has accomplished all it can accomplish, but she’s blown Bernie out down here because he did not compete. I understand that decision — I called the southern primaries for Clinton, and decisively, months ago. But now he has to not only beat her, but beat her by wide margins in big states, to have a chance of catching up.

We’re running out of pledged delegates, and the best he’s done so far in big, diverse states is beat her by a percentage point in Michigan. Even if Michigan means something and he competes in the other states, his margin of victory there makes me think he’s just about finished.

That said, he’s done our country an important service. He’s forced Hillary to the left on a few issues, he’s energized a lot of young people, and he’s taken the first baby steps toward making it cool to be a real lefty again. So god bless him. I hope the Democratic Party has the political sense to keep him campaigning and offer him an executive branch job once Hillary clinches the nomination.

I had some things to add here about protest voting and why we shouldn’t do it this time around, but I can’t believe anyone wants to read 3,000 words from me all at one go, so I’ll save that part for another day.

Thank You, Oregon, for Taking Down the Mississippi Flag

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Argue with me about this on the thread if you want, but fair warning: I have a zero tolerance policy for bigotry and meanness. And my threshold for that bullshit is even lower today than normal.

Oregon has removed the Mississippi flag from a public area of their capitol where they display state and tribal flags. The Oregon legislature agreed to take the flag down last year during the outcry after a shooting at a Charleston, SC church was linked to the Confederate Flag.

The objectionable symbol everyone is angry about appears in the top left corner.

The objectionable symbol everyone is angry about appears in the top left corner.

Oregon held off removing the flag to see if maybe we’d change our state flag, but after 12 different bills to change the flag were all allowed to die in committees last month, protests were renewed and Oregon pulled it down. (There are actually 19 different bills listed in this Jackson Free Press article; not sure what the discrepancy in the numbers over at Think Progress is about.)

I’ve written about this before, but your guess is as good as mine as to whether I posted it on a blog or on Facebook. Here’s my position on the issue, and keep in mind that lots of Mississippians want this symbol gone for various reasons. Several public bodies here refuse to fly it above municipal buildings, including the city government of our own state capitol.

People have the right to tattoo Confederate symbols on their own bodies, wear it on clothing, fly it in their yards, and otherwise display it on private property. The fact that so many of us find that an ignorant or hateful thing to do is beside the point.

We don’t ban the use of political symbols as personal expression in this country. Not even the swastika. Regulating the symbols we use to represent government institutions is another matter, and we have every right to object to government symbols when we find their use as such to be hateful and ignorant.

I want a better state flag. I’m glad Oregon took it down, and I hope more government entities, both in Mississippi and across the country, refuse to display it. I don’t think of this move as Oregonians thumbing their noses at Mississippi and looking down on us. I choose to see it as an expression of solidarity with Mississippians who want Confederate symbols relegated to museums and history books where they belong. So thank you, Oregon, for your support.

State flags don’t just fly in front of public buildings. They also find their way onto uniforms and into official documents. They get incorporated into the service marks of government agencies. And Mississippi has a long history of racist public policies we still haven’t shaken entirely.

Given the racial composition of our prison system, sending law enforcement officers out to do their jobs with a Confederate symbol on their uniforms is a terrible idea because that symbol has to inspire resentment and ramp up the tension any time a police officer interacts with a Mississippian who has strong feelings about the way we’ve historically oppressed people of color. (Note the careful wording there — there are plenty of white, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, Indian, and people of many other races or ethnicities living in this state who are angry about racial oppression, too.)

All that does is increase the already-way-too-high probability that whomever is being questioned will lose their temper and get arrested. It also makes the officers’ jobs more difficult and more dangerous. We already don’t pay them enough. At this point, given where we are with everything, sending a law enforcement officer out with a Confederate symbol on his or her shoulder is adding insult to injury.

It’s also stupid branding. Mississippi has an even worse image among the general population and around the world than it deserves. Mississippians are not inbred, barefoot, illiterate subsistence farmers. We even have people here who work for racial reconciliation every day of the damn week.

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We have a pretty awesome great seal. Maybe we should incorporate it into our new flag. We can talk about that “In God We Trust” thing another day 😉

Once upon a time, my wife and several other family members  went to New York to sit in the hospital with one of her siblings. The New Yorkers in the waiting room loved, loved, loved her accent, but they assumed she was from Texas. When she told them she was from Mississippi, their jaws dropped and they said “But we’ve seen you reading! . . .?”

I have a cousin who went to college in the Midwest. She once told a new acquaintance she was from Mississippi and the first question that person asked was “What crops does your family grow?” This was in the last 10 or 15 years. Our flag isn’t helping that image one little bit.

I acknowledge my insurrectionist ancestors. Hell, I’ll even go so far as to admire their grit and their military prowess. If they’d had a more diverse economy, or a larger white population, or had managed to convince the great powers of Europe to recognize them as a state, they might have won that war.

I know all about the Civil War and I will tell you this. The Old South wasn’t fighting for the right to display symbols or properly acknowledge cultural heritage. Some number of southerners who fought in that war, mostly the elites, were fighting for the right to trade people like livestock. A few were supporting their states and taking a stand for (an unworkable) vision of federated government in a principled way. The rest were fighting a rich man’s war because their legislators and their employers and their preachers convinced them they were being oppressed by the federal government.

I think if we’re going to acknowledge our Confederate heritage, we need start by owning up to that last paragraph in its entirety with no arguments. We need to accept every single word of it.

I’m glad my ancestors lost that war. If they’d won, even if they had eventually abandoned slavery and re-joined the U.S., I would have inherited a meaner and more impoverished culture. So would the rest of us, including all you Yankees. The world would be a very different place.

I say working to preserve this symbol as an emblem of state power is a poor way to acknowledge my Confederate ancestors. At this point, it’s not just hateful and disrespectful to people of color. I’d be interested to see a question about the Confederate flag added to the General Social Survey because I suspect it’s actively offending better than 60% of the population by now.

If we could hold a seance right now and call up my Confederate ancestors, they’d be appalled at what we’ve become. And they’d be more appalled at the fact that we seem to be running downhill as fast as we can to a situation where we’re divided into two camps and willing to fight than they would be about all the diversity and civil rights.

The rich ones who understood such things would tell us to get over ourselves, to fix our shit at home, and to make every effort to help our government preserve our power in the international arena. And all of them would tell us we don’t want our descendants — including the ones so far removed into the future that we can’t see them as an actual possibility — to even contemplate another civil war.

If I know anything about my Confederate ancestors I know this: They did not take war lightly, and they suffered mightily for their decisions, as did the rest of the country.

I want the Confederate imagery gone from the official symbols of my state. Keeping it can only divide us even more than we already are. And we very much need to be finding ways to bring people together right now.

Mississippi Legislature: You are not the center of the goddamned universe. Oregon is telling you is this is not about you. It’s about the rest of the country too. They’ve been extremely polite about it, so please snap the fuck out of whatever haze you are in and do them the courtesy of listening.

Ed. – I’ve got a couple of substantial posts coming. One’s about how the meanness we’re seeing in these elections got into our public conversation. The other is a reaction/response/elaboration to Luther’s post on Michigan at Infinite Free Time. I hope to get both of those out before voting starts on Tuesday, and if you like this one, you’ll want to tune in for those. Also: Follow the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation on Facebook as a personal favor to me.