Can we?

I was in a miserable mood for weeks—regular readers will know that, for whatever reason, I go through these moods from time to time—and, strangely enough, a key to getting out of it seems to have been watching the Democratic convention and reading Obama’s two books.  I’m not saying this ought to have helped, only that it did.  Why?  Well, I can think of three possible reasons:

Firstly, it’s a truism that the cure for misery is to find something greater than yourself to worry about.  (Quantum complexity research used to fill that role for me, and will hopefully do so again in the near future.)  For someone who’s spent so much of his life inside his own head, it’s fascinating to watch people actually going out and doing something that while often corny and cringe-inducing also bears some recognizable relation to the public good.  What a strange, novel idea!  What’s even stranger, they might even succeed this year.  Of course, there’s a paradox at the heart of this philosophy: if you only worry about something greater than yourself because it distracts you from the tragedy of your own existence, then are you really worried about it in the first place?  But this is no more paradoxical than so much else about the human condition.  The hope is that caring about something greater than yourself will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Secondly, there’s the fact that a man whose writing demonstrates a finely-developed capacity for introspection, self-criticism, and doubt might become the Leader of the Free World in two months.  Reading Obama’s books, this introspectiveness—which is difficult to fake, and which probably doesn’t help him with most voters anyway—struck me as his most endearing quality.  (Of course, Obama also possesses a finely-developed capacity to suppress his capacity for introspection.  If he didn’t, then he’d still be an obscure instructor at the University of Chicago rather than a rock-star messiah.)  I’ll freely confess to bias in this matter.  I’m sure part of the reason why I’ve never been able to identify with the Republican Right, the Chomskyan Far Left, or the Libertarian Outwards—besides my actual disagreement with those philosophies—has been the serene confidence of those philosophies’ major proponents.  Any worldview that isn’t wracked by self-doubt and confusion over its own identity is not a worldview for me.

Thirdly, seeing President Clinton in his stride always cheers me up a little.

Given the above, I’d like propose the following question: what non-obvious things can nerds who are so inclined do to help the Democrats win in November?  I’m not talking about voting, donating money, licking envelopes, or standing on street corners “Baracking the vote”: the first two are easy and obvious while the second two are unsuitable for nerds.  The sorts of ideas I’m looking for are ones that (1) exploit nerds’ nerdiness, (2) go outside the normal channels of influence, (3) increase nerds’ effective voting power by several orders of magnitude, (4) are legal, (5) target critical swing states, and (6) can be done as a hobby.

Do such ideas exist?  Well, the prototype for such an idea is Nadertrading, which I was involved with in the 2000 election cycle (see here).  Before the main Nadertrading sites were shut down by Republican state attorneys-general (on doubtful legal grounds), we Nadertraders had convinced several hundred Nader supporters in Florida to commit to voting for Gore, in exchange for Gore supporters in safe states voting for Nader on their behalf.  Had Nadertrading been allowed to continue just a couple weeks longer, it might have prevented Bush from taking power and thereby changed the history of the world.  I’m looking for the Nadertrading of 2008, and I haven’t found it yet.

A few possibilities:

  • Nadertrading Redux. Ralph is running again, and it might be worthwhile to try and reduce his influence in swing states once more.  The trouble is that, after 2000, anyone who would still vote for Nader is likely beyond the reach of any outcomes-based consideration.
  • Lobbyists for McCain.  In 2004, I participated in a Billionaires for Bush march in NYC, and can testify that it was a blast.  It seems the 2008 analogue is Lobbyists for McCain.  Downsides: (1) this joke has been done before, and (2) it’s not clear to me that satire, even when amusing and well-executed, actually changes anyone’s mind about anything.
  • Publicize and correct voting machine flaws.  Researchers have demonstrated that a voting machine virus would be almost trivial to install and could go completely undetected by poll workers.  And while some might find such a scenario implausible, it does seem likely that more mundane voting machine problems—system crashes, dropped and lost votes, confusing interfaces, etc.—will determine the outcome this year, exactly as they did in 2000 and possibly in 2004.  These irregularities have, for whatever reasons, been far more likely to favor Republicans than Democrats.  To their credit, computer scientists have been at the forefront of studying and publicizing these voting machine flaws, and have even succeeded in improving election procedures in California.  The downsides?  Firstly, it’s probably already too late to do much before November; secondly, computer scientists have been screaming about these problems for years and yet depressingly little has changed in the swing states.
  • Build a database and/or statistical model for identifying “problem precincts”.  Wouldn’t it have been helpful if, before the 2000 election, prominent Democrats had known about Theresa LePore, and the possibility that her butterfly ballots flapping their wings in Florida would cause the destruction of New Orleans five years later?  Or if before the 2004 election, they’d known to concentrate their monitoring efforts on particular counties in Ohio?  (A side note: improving the Democrats’ ability to challenge results after the election is over strikes me as a complete waste of time.  Whoever the networks announce as the presumptive winner on election eve, that’s who the winner is going to be.)  I don’t know how to predict 2008’s likely trouble zones, and even if I did, I don’t know what I would do about them.  But this still strikes me as the most promising of the four listed directions.

140 Responses to “Can we?”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    what non-obvious things can nerds who are so inclined do to help the Democrats win in November?

    Obama is by far the most savvy presidential candidate in history when it comes to leveraging technology.

    Maybe check out his site to see what you can do.

  2. Carl Friedrich Bolz Says:

    Not really answering any of your questions, but “Any worldview that isn’t wracked by self-doubt and confusion over its own identity is not a worldview for me.” resonated very deeply with me. The world is just not simple enough to make any simple worldviews obviously true.

  3. pavs Says:

    Scott, I want a better picture on your bio. I want you to redesign your blog on your free time. I also want you to cure Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy, please.


  4. Josh Says:

    If you get a decent answer to your question, either from reader comments or from further research of your own, I hope you’ll post again, as I wonder the same things (as a nerd, how can I best help?).

  5. Michael Bacon Says:

    Make funny You Tube videos about the election.

  6. Nagesh Adluru Says:

    Nice post Scott. I really felt similarly in getting out of my recent stressful times by listening to Obama’s talks. I just wanted to mention, for me he is like you in many ways 🙂

    Reading your posts has similar effect on me sometimes since I get to know and think about some bigger issues than what I usually face. And finally I hope your mood is getting better and better.

  7. Scott Says:

    Michael: Same problem as Billionaires for Bush. (Can anyone point to a clear case where political satire motivated people to act?)

  8. Michael Bacon Says:

    Voltaire perhaps, but your point is well-taken.

    Anyway, I was just promoting my brother’s new website — click my name. 🙂

  9. Steve Sandvik Says:

    wow. the idea that the butterfly ballots destroyed new orleans (rather than a hurricane compounded by construction and inspection errors) is so obviously ludicrous that I’ll just unsubscribe. You don’t seem to write about quantum computing anymore anyway, you just post drivel–and I can’t listen to the podcasts at work. Quite a shame. I’m sure they’re quite good though, as your on-topic work always has been. I just don’t have time for insane people, no matter how smart they are in their field.

    Should I ask what color the sky is in your fantasy world, or is it all colors simultaneously until observed?

  10. Michael Bacon Says:

    Gee Steve, sounds like election cycles get you all worked up. I guess your view is that with Bush on his way out our long national nightmare of peace and prosperity is finally over 🙂

  11. Scott Says:

    Steve, I’ll happily give you a full refund, but what podcasts are you talking about?

  12. milkshake Says:

    “A change of leaders is the joy of fools.”

    About the mood improvement methodology, there is a another east-european saying: “The church is close but the road is too icy. The pub is far and we walk there carefully.”

  13. Scott Says:

    Milkshake, what if the current leaders are the joy of even greater fools?

  14. DanF Says:

    Dynamic Programming says McCain’s only got a 38% shot in the most favorable scenario anyway. Just relax and enjoy the show =) Actually I don’t think McCain would be that bad either though — we’ve got a pretty good setup either way.

  15. Scott Says:

    DanF, that’s 38% too high. I remember vividly that Gore was predicted to have an 80% chance the night before the election.

    I agree that McCain is better than Bush—but it’s a long, long way from Bush to not sucking.

  16. milkshake Says:

    Well at least they dont get excited about the whole election business needlesly – you know, so much passion everywhere but no signs of crucifixion. I think passivists have more fun.

  17. Scott Says:

    Milkshake, let me put it this way: it’s like watching a football game, but with the added excitement that which team wins might affect how long we stay dependent on fossil fuels, and thereby whether our civilization lives or dies.

  18. milkshake Says:

    it would be a delight to have a prez who is able to complete a sentence; the energetic-but-thoughtful leader who does not seem bombastic and phony is rare. Just dont expect me to become an Obama Witness. And frankly, I am quite repelled by the enviromentalist mindset; lots of it what passes for energy/enviro policy on the Left is junk. I would love to see people like Richard Garwin advising the new government.

  19. Scott Says:

    Milkshake, seeing him as the best option doesn’t require being an obamaniac. For most of the primary, I couldn’t understand what the big deal was either. But after reading both his books, I came away impressed by his propensity for self-criticism and reflection, and by his non-lunacy on pretty much every issue he addresses (ironically, the same thing that frustrates some of his overenthusiastic supporters). The charisma wouldn’t matter if the policies weren’t ones that I actually agreed with.

  20. Scott Says:

    A reader points me to this column by Maureen Dowd, specifically the last sentence. 🙂

    OK, back to watching TV…

  21. Robin Hanson Says:

    Scott, I mean the following very seriously: you could influence the vote of people like me via a concise coherent academic-quality analysis of the actual consequences of electing Obama vs. McCain. Self-doubt and a messiah complex are nice and all, but there’s surprisingly little hard analysis of consequences on this.

  22. John Sidles Says:

    Robin Hanson wants “… academic-quality analysis…”

    The reply just given: … Barney! Barney! Barney! … 🙂

  23. Luca Says:

    Did the organizers go around America looking for someone named Barney Smith so that he could speak at the convention and make the joke? And were they initially looking for a Mary Lynch, and they weren’t able to find any?

  24. Kurt Says:

    I’m not talking about voting, donating money, licking envelopes, or standing on street corners “Baracking the vote”: the first two are easy and obvious while the second two are unsuitable for nerds.

    I suspect that rather than having a few people doing something remarkable, what really matters is having a great number of people doing the “easy and obvious” things. And the way to start achieving that is to have one person (you) go and do something easy and obvious. (I’m sure there’s some game-theoretical analysis that would be appropriate at this point.)

    Now, since you’d like your actions to motivate others to do similar things, you’ll need to publicize whatever activities you end up doing. You already have the perfect platform for doing that right here. But for something with a little more nerd-appeal, you could start one of those Internet meme things–since “list memes” are easy and popular, maybe you could do a list like “5 things I’m going to do in the next month to support Barack Obama”. (I’m sure you could come up with something cleverer than that, of course.)

    That may sound a bit lame compared to some of the ideas you mentioned above, but remember that you’re trying to sway the masses here. You may not want to use too cerebral of an approach.

  25. efrique Says:

    it’s not clear to me that satire, even when amusing and well-executed, actually changes anyone’s mind about anything.

    It probably won’t change someone’s vote from McCain to Obama — but you don’t need it to!

    It is much more likely to convince someone who favours Obama and thinking about voting but probably won’t make it to vote after all because its a hassle with all the queues and such that they should make the effort. That’s important.

  26. Scott Says:

    Robin, to me the case about consequences is pretty simple, almost too simple to support an academic-style analysis. We had eight years of (relative) peace and prosperity and surpluses under Clinton, and then eight years of war, recession, and deficits under Bush. Furthermore, given our knowledge of the two time periods, it seems hard to maintain that those two outcomes were not the predictable consequences of the administrations’ respective policies. So we have data about what works and what doesn’t in a post-Cold-War world. And we have one candidate promising basically Clinton-like policies, and another promising basically Bush-like policies.

    Now, I confess that even if things had gone the other way—if we’d had peace, prosperity, and surpluses under Bush, and war, recession, and deficits under Clinton—I’d still probably support Democrats, because of my overriding interest in the energy and climate problems. I predict that in half a century, this one set of issues will come to dominate everything else, and while I’m not at all satisfied with the Democrats’ position, I certainly see it as better than the alternative.

    But the key point is, the Republicans obligingly haven’t forced us to make a choice. They’ve sucked no matter which way you slice it or which metric you use: short-term or long-term, economic, social, or environmental. I don’t see how they’re on any plausible Pareto curve. Sure, the choice would be more interesting and nontrivial were that not the case, but as far as I can see it is.

    Now, if the situation is really as clear-cut as I’m asserting it is, then one prediction you’d make is that an overwhelming majority of scientists and academics would support the Democrats’ position. And indeed they do. But what’s maybe more relevant for you is that a large majority of economists also support Democrats. From Wikipedia:

      American economists strongly support the Democratic Party, with their views on policy being largely in accordance with the Democratic platform. The vast majority, 63%, identify as progressive and less than 20% as conservative or libertarian. In a 2004 survey of 1,000 American economists, registered Democrats outnumbered registered Republicans by a 2.5 to 1 ratio … Other surveys have found Democrats to outnumber Republicans 2.8 to 1 among members of the profession.

    So, does the economics community mostly support Democrats because of herd mentality or acceptance of popular fallacies? If so, then what (if any) is the “Aumannian reference class” of relevant experts who you would advocate paying attention to?

  27. Raoul Ohio Says:

    S-O Gang:

    Although I usually find following even my favorite politicians painful, an event early in the primary season crystalized what I like about Obama: Recall the ruckus (dust-up, brouhaha) when the pastor at Obama’s church was quoted on some really stupid stuff. Obama dealt with the crisis honestly, thoughfully, and smartly. Not many candidates you can say that about.

  28. djm Says:

    It might be too late to prevent the use of flawed vote election technology, but I don’t think it is too late to raise awareness of the flaws among the mainstream media. I think that many people would be shocked to learn the ease with which their votes may be stolen and if an outcry were raised then better scrutiny may follow.

    (I’ll be watching and snickering from Australia, where compulsory pen-and-paper voting makes widescale tampering infeasible).

  29. Raoul Ohio Says:

    S-O Gang:

    Q: Is the 2008 election more crucial than usual?

    A: I think so. In addition to the usual reasons, we cannot afford to ignore the remote possibility of a “ultra wealthy/religious nut/Rush Limbaugh dummies” rightwing axis takeover. If one or two more nuts get on the Supreme Court, anything could happen. My brother worries about it a lot. Of course, he lives in California where everyone is whacky.

    Before you scoff, consider what happened in South Africa in 1948. For those who missed the story, pro Nazi South Africians got organized to keep SA out of WW2. That worked, and then they staged dummy rousing stunts and managed to pack the courts, and stole the 1948 election, rather like the Florida 2000 situation. You know how that turned out.

  30. Jon Says:

    It is probably a safe assumption that conservative think tanks like the Hoover Institute have had a huge head start towards building a database and/or statistical model for identifying “problem precincts” in the interest of controlling voting patterns.

  31. DanF Says:

    For anyone else thinking: “Did Scott just cite Wikipedia?” Here’s the citation (to save you the click and search ;))

    Boxx, W. T. & Quinlivan, G. M. (1994). The Cultural Context of Economics and Politics. Lanham, MA: University Press of America.

  32. Vishal Says:

    Any worldview that isn’t wracked by self-doubt and confusion over its own identity is not a worldview for me.”


    If you didn’t realize what you wrote, that statement is the perfect worldly analogue of Godel’s Second Incompleteness Theorem!

  33. komponisto Says:

    We had eight years of (relative) peace and prosperity and surpluses under Clinton, and then eight years of war, recession, and deficits under Bush.

    Scott, I’m generally a huge fan of yours, but…is that seriously your analysis?? Times were good under Clinton, bad under Bush, hence Democrats/Obama good, Republicans/McCain bad?

    Not to provoke, but the level of this strikes me as roughly comparable with the infamous soap-bubble proof of P=NP.

    Just off the top of my head, you have ignored at least three major, potentially highly relevant developments during the Clinton-Bush time period (1993-present):

    1. Massive Republican takeover of Congress in 1994
    2. Bursting of dot-com bubble circa 2000
    3. 9/11

  34. Vishal Says:


    What Scott is saying is that a look at the past 16 years in the US shows that the country did much better with Clinton as the president than it did under Bush Jr. as president, and given that Obama’s policies are/sound similar to Bill Clinton’s, it is plausible that the country will do well once again under a Democratic president. I hope you are aware how much Bush is hated throughout the world and how much American power/prestige has been undermined. To provide an example, Bush supported the Pakistani military dictator Musharraf throughout the latter’s reign, so much so that anti-Americanism is possibly at its peak in that country. Not only that, even after Musharraf’s party lost the national elections and was rejected by Pakistan’s citizens, Bush continued to support him openly. This only led people to believe that the US after all is not interested in promoting democracy (much needed) in that country.

    So, we are also talking now about Bush’s failed foreign policies that have had a huge (mostly negative) effect in the rest of the world. McCain’s rhetoric about war and all that sounds eerily similar to Bush’s own earlier policies. You may note that the Bush administration these days (after realizing that the “either you are with us or with them” rhetoric doesn’t really work at the international stage) is now (unsurprisingly) following the approach advocated by Obama and his team. On the other hand, McCain, if given a chance, with his usual rhetoric on Iran will possibly lead the country into another useless war! Those are some of the important issues that are at stake. America needs today a president who will have a more nuanced approach to world politics, something that will actually win real and important international allies, rather than one who will only talk about war!

    Does that make sense?

  35. alex Says:

    come on – if something existed that would increase your voting power by several orders of magnitude, it would have been invented by now.

    nadertrading was a fairly unique case. it was the first time that a strong third party candidate ran during the internet age, and this allowed some innovation. if such innovation exists now, i’m tempted to say it has to exploit something thats true about this election that wasn’t true about the last couple.

  36. randomwalker Says:

    It’s funny to see Steve get riled up, but I have to agree with him about the New Orleans thing. It reminds me of Rush Limbaugh and his ilk claiming that homosexuality causes earthquakes or whatever. Scott, do you really not see the irony here?

    That’s not the only bad argument in this essay:

    “Any worldview that isn’t wracked by self-doubt and confusion over its own identity is not a worldview for me.”

    What? Worldviews don’t have doubts or confusion; people do. I’m a libertarian, but I’m usually the one ranting about how people are smugly confident of their opinions. You should choose a worldview based on its merits, not the personalities of its proponents.

  37. Miklos Hollender Says:

    Why are most nerds either Liberal or Libertarian and almost never Conservative? I think the main reason is that they only look at Conservative politicians (who suck, but that’s what you can expect from a democracy i.e. the rule of the ignorant masses) and not intellectuals: John Kekes, Thomas Sowell, Michael Oakeshott etc.

    Scott touched on an important thing about this serene confidence stuff, but in historical scales, that’s not how it works. It’s always been Progressives who were so damned sure that their ways are illuminated by the Light of Reason and everybody else is a superstitious dumbass. And it was the Conservatives like Montaigne or Pascal or Oakeshott or Michael Creighton who were full of doubt. Of course, when democracy became sadly inevitable (which was a Progressive project in itself) Conservatives had to learn to fake confidence and they usually did it with this faux Christian-Fundie-Nationalist crap because the average voter sadly needs some sort of a simple message. They aren’t reading any books especially not the ones that don’t contain simplified messages. But that’s only a recent development, not older than a hundred years, approximately. On a historical scale, this self-righteous approach is mostly Progressive.

    Therefore, don’t support a Progressive. Not even he doesn’t seem to be as full of shit as Comte or Rousseau were. Not even if the recent post-Goldwater decades Conservatives became more full of shit (the religious type of shit) than Liberals. It might be a good idea in the short run but only makes things worse in the long.

  38. Lake Says:

    Worldviews can presumably come with built-in epistemological caveats, though. In general, there doesn’t always seem to me to be a clear dividing line between theory and personality.

    Wasn’t Scott’s crack about New Orleans meant to imply that bad government made a bad situation worse, rather than that a botched election somehow enraged the thunder gods? I agree, the point was frivolously made, but the charitable interpretation is obvious enough.

  39. milkshake Says:

    Can we? – and if the answer is yes, should we? I doubt that we will ever figure it out; and I suspect that even if we did figure out we couldn’t do much about it.

    I hope this statement satisfies your criterion “Any worldview that isn’t wracked by self-doubt and confusion over its own identity is not a worldview for me.”

  40. curious mind want to know Says:

    So the self-doubting Obama is giving us the slogan: change that you can BELIEVE in.

  41. Peter Morgan Says:

    “Whoever the networks announce as the presumptive winner on election eve, that’s who the winner is going to be.” So, can the networks be nerdled? I think that means tech-art-y performance events. Pixellating “Yes we can” in 5-by-5 on a highway using cars photographed from above would be fun. Ideally by satellite. Maybe a (not-so-)subtly coded crop circle, saying Obama like the Pi crop circle? Gotta be big to make the cycle on this model. I aint smart enough to viral from small, get all them little magnets cool enough to line up and wave Gobama in morse code. Nerdling along, OBAMA in atoms, “Obama goes nuclear”. How big can a holograph be? Can we approximate Mount Rushmore size? Stopping now.

  42. Scott Says:

    Komponisto: Obviously I was going for a “butterfly effect” pun, and I don’t blame Bush for a hurricane. However:

    1. It’s not clear that Gore could have repaired the levees in time, but that would certainly have been more likely than under Bush.

    2. Bush’s response to Katrina is generally acknowledged as one of the most miserable failures of a failure-encrusted, failure-infused administration.

    3. His stance toward climate change is one that would help ensure many more American cities undergo similar events in the future.

  43. Scott Says:

    Worldviews can presumably come with built-in epistemological caveats, though. In general, there doesn’t always seem to me to be a clear dividing line between theory and personality.


  44. Scott Says:

    is that seriously your analysis?? Times were good under Clinton, bad under Bush, hence Democrats/Obama good, Republicans/McCain bad?

    komponisto, given what else we know about the relevant time periods, that is indeed a relevant data point, but as I said, it’s far from the main one I would use. Epistemologically, we’re in the lucky situation that we have many different reasonable arguments that all point to the same conclusion.

    Also, the extenuating circumstances you mention can all be argued the other way:

    1. I think the fact Clinton succeeded to the extent he did despite a massive Republican takeover makes it more impressive.
    2. I think his economic policies likely had something to do with creating the conditions for the dot-com bubble.
    3. I think there’s at least a 50% chance that any competent administration (Democrat or Republican) could have prevented 9/11.

  45. Scott Says:

    curious mind: As I said, you don’t get any hints of Obama’s introspection and self-doubt from the campaign (which is probably wise on his part). You really have to read his books if you want to see that aspect.

  46. Peter Morgan Says:

    Worldviews can presumably come with built-in epistemological caveats, though. In general, there doesn’t always seem to me to be a clear dividing line between theory and personality.

    Also Amen. This soft position on the nature of theory, however, is not universally shared. It is an essentially post-modernist claim about the relationship between theory and experience. It is a call for pragmatic engagement, without being too constrained by our previous theoretical pronouncements. There are many emotional ways that lead to denial that we must sometimes engage anarchistically with experience instead of engaging only through prejudice.

    The historical precedent deserves to be honored but not to be canonized — but nobody feels comfortable with this unless we are gentled into the shift from one theory to another. It is an open question whether Obama is a good enough horse-whisperer.

  47. ScentOfViolets Says:

    For those of the nerdy nit-picking mentality, they could always be an observer at the polls armed with a comprehensive knowledge of local voting laws and backed up with official documentation of the same, along with pre-entered cell numbers of who to call should a dispute arise. A movie camera to record the disputes would be nice too, but that usually requires at least two people to be effective. From what I can gather from both sides, vote suppression is going to be a big issue in several key states, such as mine, Missouri (I’m posting from UMC – the University of Missouri at Columbia), so this is an instance where a little knowledge can make a large difference. I’d like to add something else. Given this statement:

    Scott, I mean the following very seriously: you could influence the vote of people like me via a concise coherent academic-quality analysis of the actual consequences of electing Obama vs. McCain.

    this doesn’t seem to quite hit the mark explicitly, though the main point is there implicitly:

    Robin, to me the case about consequences is pretty simple, almost too simple to support an academic-style analysis. We had eight years of (relative) peace and prosperity and surpluses under Clinton, and then eight years of war, recession, and deficits under Bush. Furthermore, given our knowledge of the two time periods, it seems hard to maintain that those two outcomes were not the predictable consequences of the administrations’ respective policies.

    I would say, to paraphrase, that the difference between the two administrations would be how they handle information professionally gathered and professionally synthesized. The Bush administration is well known for disregarding inconvenient facts, redefining outcomes, and pressuring purportedly disinterested and scientific organizations into rewriting reports more to it’s liking, cf, NASA and environmental science. More dramatically, we have:

    The aide said that guys like me were ”in what we call the reality-based community,” which he defined as people who ”believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ”That’s not the way the world really works anymore,” he continued. ”We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”
    — Ron Susskind, quoting a Bush aide.

    I’ll admit to being something of a techno-optimist, and will readily concede that not every problem has a good solution. But beyond that, as an academic, I believe that there really is something to this ‘independent reality’ that we are studying. The Republicans at this point in the cycle appear to believe that reality is as malleable as gossip and innuendo, and that whoever has the best marketing tools gets to decide what the objectively true facts really are.

    The pithier version that most have us have heard is that “reality has a well known liberal bias.” As a (embryonic) mathematician, I find this attitude extremely offensive. I imagine most scientists and most academics do too, to get back to Robin’s question. And so the choice is between McCain, who it seems will continue to employ this philosphy, and Obama, who at the least has not endorsed it.

  48. Scott Says:

    ScentOfViolets: I also see Bush’s strange relationship to empirical reality as the crux of the matter. But (1) I can believe that McCain would be slightly better on the empirical reality issue—not that a slight improvement is good enough—and (2) Robin asked for an analysis that would talk about consequences rather than governing philosophy.

  49. Josh Tauberer Says:

    Why make it partisan? There are a number of open-source projects aimed at making *democracy better* which seems like an even greater “big picture” for a nerd to associate with than getting someone elected.

    More here:

  50. Patrick Says:

    Ron Paul trading. His supporters are fanatic, trade a RP vote in a swing state (OH,PA,FL, maybe even NC) for two (write-in?) votes in a state Obama couldn’t possibly win, like Texas or Oklahoma. 1 swing state vote for Obama = 2 votes for the “Ron Paul Revolution” in a bright red state.

    Considering the devotion of his supporters, might be pretty popular?

  51. Michael Bacon Says:

    Sara Palin as MCCain’s VP — Ready to Lead 🙂

  52. Starwolf Says:

    One of the ways we could make a difference, now and for the future is to vote against Obama/Biden due to Biden’s total support for RIAA/MPAA and any warrentless monitoring that the FBI or NSA wants to do. That does two things. It makes the Veep choice much more important that just what region he comes from and it will elevate techincal issues to the national forum.

    I’m not a big McCain fan, this is about politicians need to know that the tech issues matter and that they should not stand with the big consortiums.

  53. James Says:

    Why Obama?

    Unfortunately it is extremely unlikely we will have anything but a Democrat or a Republican in the whitehouse for yet another 4 years. That in mind I will vote for him if the vote looks close in my state. If not then it’s 3rd party all the way. I don’t think it’s worth even bothering going into why not McCain, if it isn’t obvious to someone then that person is hopeless.

    Anyway, Obama has done a great job in putting his campaign on the internet, and acknowledging that younger people and “nerds” are a population of voters worth including.

    Is that all it takes? Are we that desparate for attention that simply acknowledging our existance gets our love?

    Let’s look at the record. For all his talk the guy voted for telecom immunity. He has placed his vote to allow Bush & friends to go through yours and mine personal communications at will, with no justification and no checks and balances. If anything is a better first step towards a police state I would like to know what it is.

    How many “nerds” would like to see the space program go somewhere interesting within their own lifetimes? He planned on pushing back the Constelation program another 5 years. And whose to say given a second term that wouldn’t be extended? Yes, he backflipped on this but only because so many of his key supporters demanded it. What happens when he has his votes and doesn’t need those supporters anymore? Will he stick to his new plan?

    I totally understand why the geek population is so united to oust Bush, I mean McCain(is there a difference?) and to get us out of Iraq. I’m very disapointed it has ended up in such a support for the Democrats though. The party which has had a majority in Congress for the last 4 years and yet seems to have made no stand against Bush and company.

    8 years ago there was a right wing revolution in the country. It gave way too much power to a small group of single-minded people whom did terrible things. I fear we will have the same thing again with the Democrats now. Not that they will continue the Republican’s policies, but that they will find their own ways to wreck the country w/ no consequences to themselves.

    We need a government of individuals, working for their votes with any number of people ready to take their place if they lose site of the people whom voted them in. Not a cycle between two overgrown parties whom collectively control everything. I had hoped that today’s “nerds” were free-thinkers that would look outside the two party box and truly create something better. Alas, they seem more prone to hero worship and wishful thinking. The cycle shall continue.

  54. Scott Says:

    I had hoped that today’s “nerds” were free-thinkers that would look outside the two party box and truly create something better.

    The Democratic primary = The general election in a normal industrialized country (more than 2 candidates, lots of constituencies, debates with some sort of connection to empirical reality…)

    The winner of the Democratic primary = The president of a normal industrialized country.

    General election = Only in the US, an additional battle against doofosity that the President-elect has to fight and usually loses.

    In other words, if we want more political diversity, or more informed policies on NASA, copyrights, etc., then we should work for that within the Democratic party—while also helping that party win its external fight against unalloyed doofosity. Anything else seems like fantasy to me.

  55. Jud Says:

    Scott –

    I find the Hot Women index quite reliable. Good-looking women just seem to have a 6th sense about which side is gonna get hold of all the power and money that Being Large and In Charge offers. And men watching campaign events featuring Hot Women get the clear subliminal message that yes, these lovely ladies will be on the winning side, so that’s the one they want to be on as well.

    Therefore, the very best thing nerds can do to assure an Obama victory is stay well away from even local campaign events, in order that the unmistakable odor of Social Losers won’t permeate the area.

  56. Juan Says:

    This is not exactly nadertrading as described above, but it is along the lines:
    You can also see this video about it

  57. James Says:

    So you are basically advocating a one-party system, but with lots of room for competition and debate within the party.

    Certainly this would be much more realistic to achieve than completely breaking the small number of big parties mindset.

    I still think this leads to too much power for whomever writes the party platform. Candidates whom but heads with party leaders rarely make it to election. It also promotes too much favor for incumbents. The party will go with someone whom already proved they can bring the party a seat once and all others are expected to step down gracefully for the parties benefit. Also, I still don’t see how the Democratic party is the right choice to be this one party. They have had congress for 4 years and yet Bush has had pretty much whatever Bush has wanted.

    Maybe it is unrealistic to think the country can ever break the hold the two parties have on it. To make a bad analogy though, if I were on a ship which is doomed to sink I’d rather be bailing water out than pumping it in. Even if I get to chosed the pump which brings the water in a little slower (Democrat over Republican)

  58. Chris Says:

    For a self-professed “nerd” you aren’t too smart. Why you would fall for a Holywood generated glitzy image with 0 substance behind it is beyond me. Then again the other choice sucks also.

  59. Person99 Says:

    DanF said, “Actually I don’t think McCain would be that bad either though — we’ve got a pretty good setup either way.”

    I think this might have been true in 2000. But there are two MaCains “The Old McCain” and “The New McCain” (i.e. McCain 2008). The McCain of 2000, though not great, would not have been THAT bad. The McCain of 2008 is running to the extreme end of the base and opposing a number of his own values. Given this and the long term impact of those judicial appointments that will keep the the right-wing zealots happy, McCain 2008 would be a very bad thing…a very very bad thing.

  60. abc123 Says:

    The downsides? Firstly, it’s probably already too late to do much before November; secondly, computer scientists have been screaming about these problems for years and yet depressingly little has changed in the swing states.

    At least for the case of California you’re right, Scott. The Secretary of State can change election procedures no later than 6 months from the election. (Which is why Debra Bowen announced the results of the 2007 review in a late-night conference call just before that deadline.)

    My suggestions:
    * blog to promote your candidate in a nerd-friendly way (no hyperbole, please)
    * help out your candidate’s local groups with their Skype phonebanks

  61. abc123 Says:

    DanF said, “Actually I don’t think McCain would be that bad either though — we’ve got a pretty good setup either way.”

    I agree with Person99 that McCain would be a disaster. Even if you’re unsure about McCain himself, keep in mind you’re not electing not a only person but the people they surround themselves with. In terms of foreign policy, he’s being advised and gets his speeches written by influential warmongers like Robert Kagan (part of the neoconservative Project for a New American Century). He is staunchly anti-choice and will certainly try to appoint conservative judges which could haunt the country for decades. He will keep Republican appointees in federal agencies and departments (like DoJ) and appoint new ones. And so on…

    Also, in the unlikely case that any of the crimes of the Bush/Cheney years actually do get prosecuted, McCain is certain to pardon the bastards. (Though I suppose we won’t see any real accountability anyway.)

  62. Winn Schwartau Says:

    Geeks Speak: The Presidential Geek-o-Meter

    My suggestion is to create a simple page with “Geek Meters” that measure the tech/cyber/inventive/ etc. abilities, proclaimations, ideas, from the two camps. We need to include the geeks who are high in the campaign, who have geek successes, good/bad/ugly.

    Essentially, a series of measurements (of course subjective, but I have an idea on that) based upon things like:
    – Years (or days) using email
    – User skills
    – Geek-Speak test
    – Can spell critical infrastructure and Linux in one breath
    – Tech future ideas/programs: REAL alternative energy not just drill deeper. :-)) Space Program. Back to fundamental research.

    I think it would be comparatively easy in a forum to come up with, say 100 geek criteria. We use board members (smart people like Slashdot people, for a vetting, weighting, tech journalists (who will help with major press).
    Then we create at the same time a (say (0-5) criteria measurement.
    We ask the campaigns to answer the questions. We have a voting system for the on-line folks, and then we have a dashboard with all of the collected data.

    We can add/subtract/ etc. additional topics along the way.
    At the bottom of the charts, take a total 100% weighting factor, and each candidate will get “Geek Vote Confidence” based upon the criteria the geek community itself decides.

    This is essentially a cooperative (hobby) web site, guerilla marketing, that is unique and allows true geek representation in the forum and space they/we all understand.

    this can also bring up serious political issues:
    – Believe the military should cyber-defend the U.S. private sector?
    – The private sector should defend itself.
    – Cyber-vigilantism should be allowed/denied
    – Make spammers pay with the death penalty (just kidding, but you get the point.
    – Intellectual property protection ideas/beliefs
    – Surveillance/cyber etc. rights, and beliefs

    THIS COULD BE FRICKING AWESOME if anyone wanted to get behind it with some time. I can make myself available for certain aspects of this. visit my web sites:,,

    See if this particular piece of Jello sticks. :-))))

  63. abc123 Says:

    In other words, if we want more political diversity, or more informed policies on NASA, copyrights, etc., then we should work for that within the Democratic party—while also helping that party win its external fight against unalloyed doofosity. Anything else seems like fantasy to me.

    This is also the view of (at least the lefty members of)
    Strangebedfellows, I think. Glenn Greenwald sure has been arguing like this.

  64. Will Says:

    “For a self-professed “nerd” you aren’t too smart. Why you would fall for a Holywood generated glitzy image with 0 substance behind it is beyond me. Then again the other choice sucks also.”

    Translation: You’re not smart enough to realize that if you don’t pick a side, then regardless of the outcome you can pretend that you were right all along… Which in some unspecified normative treatment is trivially better than failing (though trying) to solve a real problem.

  65. Patrick Says:

    I notice that your criteria above don’t mention morality as a constraint. We should start generating emails with false rumors about McCain then use our technological savvy to get 99% penetration. We’ll just need a huge botnet and a sledge to trick the barracudas.

    It would be an application of conservative tactics, but just done by nerds, thus done better. A rumor that McCain was closeted would probably destroy his voter turnout. Sure it is unethical, but as you note, the fate of the planet hangs in the balance.


  66. Douglas Knight Says:

    Raoul Ohio: You know how that turned out.

    No, I don’t know what you’re talking about. Could you spell it out? Did Nazi rule of SA make it very different from British Rhodesia?

  67. John Says:

    I am not going to defend Bush’s 8 years. Most of it has been a screw up. OTOH, to view Clinton’s 8 years as nirvana is foolishness. The recession started in 2000 (when Clinton was in.) All of WorldComm and Enron’s crimes occurred in the late 90’s and in 2000 (when Clinton’s SEC regulated companies and the markets.) Embassies were blown-up and US Navy personnel were killed in attacks when Clinton was in charge. The Clintons “Pardons for cash” scheme at the end of the(ir) presidency was a disgrace. We haven’t had a decent president in 20+ years

  68. John Sidles Says:

    The nearest thing to a consensus so far is that Scott spoke for many in saying: “Any worldview that isn’t wracked by self-doubt and confusion over its own identity is not a worldview for me.” And wasn’t it Bohr who said: “There are some things so serious you have to laugh at them”?

    For you irony-loving, humor-embracing folks, the Barack Obama Circle of Life is recommended. 🙂

  69. Craig Newmark Says:

    (not speaking for craigslist)

    Speaking as someone who really did wear a plastic pocket protector (and worse), there are people working on this now.

    Hey, can you indulge me:

    and more on

    I’m working on this with the Obama people.



  70. AndyB Says:


    Great comments except you seem to assume that nerds are automatically for Obama. Not so.

  71. Chad Says:

    You’re right that you will probably not be able to get Naderites or die-hard Greens to participate in vote-trading this time around, since it ought to be obvious by now that there is indeed a world of difference between the two major parties on environmental and economic issues. However, there is a similar group of disaffected voters this time around whose influence on the election might be even larger: Hillary Clinton supporters. There is a sizable number of voters who intend to write in Mrs. Clinton’s name or vote for McCain in protest.

    If these voters cannot be persuaded to pull the lever for Obama for the sake of the party, perhaps they can at least be persuaded to trade their votes to a safely blue state in order to keep from dooming the party’s chances for the White House. They could achieve a noticeable percentage of the popular vote for Hillary, thus registering their displeasure, but without putting a candidate inimical to their interests into the Oval Office.

    Then again, perhaps I’m assuming too much goodwill on the part of these voters – after all, it would seem their deliberate purpose is to make sure Obama does not win, so that Clinton can run in 2012.

  72. Sigivald Says:

    Miklos: I think the more likely reason (though yours isn’t bad) is that geeks tend to move to the big coastal population centers, especially California – where Left/Progressive politics dominates – and anyone who isn’t consciously thinking about politics from first principles, or examining the received wisdom (and not doing so may in many cases be perfectly defensible rational ignorance) will tend to simply absorb it, just as someone in another context might absorb (again, defensibly and rationally) the opposite.

    (Plenty of geeks buck the trend, like Tiemann over at Grotto11, but even without a demographic analysis I’m inclined to agree with the tendency being there.

    On the other hand, lots of geeks also tend libertarian rather than Left/Progressive. Possibly from seeing how authority and central planning can screw things up in the working world.)

    Patrick: The idea that lying and sending fake mail is a “conservative tactic” demonstrates either hubris or blindness. That is a “political tactic”, known and used by Left and Right and Other in more or less equal proportion.

    “They’re bad and we’re good” is the mark of naivety or foolishness in politics, in any reasonably healthy democracy.

    (The only times it’s true are when facing actual Fascists or Communists or their direct equivalents, both of which are greatly lacking in both American and European politics these days.)

  73. Scott Says:

    Great comments except you seem to assume that nerds are automatically for Obama.

    No, I said “nerds who are so inclined.” (Nerds are also not automatically for evolution, the HIV/AIDS link, or anything else—they’re one of the most contrarian groups of people on earth. The best that can be said is that a majority of nerds usually reaches the right answer if anyone does.)

  74. John Sidles Says:

    Scott claims: … a majority of nerds usually reaches the right answer if anyone does …

    That must be one of those “folk theorems.”

    Among the social groups that I would trust with decision-making ahead of “nerds”: cowboys, grandmothers, lance corporals, short-order cooks, and plumbers. 🙂

  75. Anon Says:

    What can nerds do? What nerds always do, identify and disseminate crucial data. Crawl up McCain’s digital butt with a microscope, pore through public records, get access to records that aren’t so public, find every little damaging datum on him and spread it far and wide.

    While you’re at it, let’s fight the Republican smear machine’s bullshit with some of our own. Fake up documents tying McCain to the KKK, “find” documents where McCain was accused of sexual harrassment (or better yet, rape) and then paid off the accuser to keep it quiet.

    Is it true? What does it matter? The Republican attack machine doesn’t care about truth. They care about getting people upset with seemingly plausible attacks. You can bet that despite being denounced far and wide, Republican faithful are quoting Corsi’s book every chance they get.

  76. Greg Kuperberg Says:

    I think that Obama is sorely in need of better science advice. This might not only make him more likely to win, but would also improve the quality of his science policies if he wins. When the candidates debated science in February by proxy (then including Hillary Clinton), Obama was represented by a guy named Alec Ross with very few science credentials. Not to knock Alec Ross too much, but as it says in his biography, he is a “social entrepreneur”, which means things like Internet access for poor people, and not a scientist. It’s also not clear if he is more than a low-level or even a temporary Obama campaign official.

    Anyway Obama needs real scientists with real PhDs to inform policy on NASA, NSF, global warming, etc. Of course he doesn’t need anyone to tell him that global warming is real or anything like that, but he probably could be better educated on hard questions such as how to best mitigate global warming. In fact I think that entire the debate in February was really pretty shallow.

    I actually meant to write to Alec Ross about this, even though I don’t know him at all; but for various reasons I never got around to it. Some of those obstructions still apply to me personally, but if you care about this, Scott, I think that it is important and I think that the time is ripe.

  77. why-am-i-here Says:

    Dear Scott:

    What you’re experiencing during these moody times may be something called “existential depression.” It is typically not serious enough to be treated as the clinical type, and seems to afflict thinking people more than others. They are the ones who tend to ask, sooner or later in life, questions on existence such as: Why am I here on the earth? What is my purpose in this life?

    You said you’ve found some relief by focusing your energy on something greater than yourself, such as a “messiah” like Obama. Indeed, that is exactly what these questions are meant to do – to direct your attention to a savior or deliverer. The only problem is: the object of your admiration is not the real thing. You are on the right track, but there is only one Messiah/Savior/God, and He is not Obama, McCain, the Pope, Billy Graham, or any flawed human being.

    Perhaps you might want to take a first step and begin your journey of getting to know your Messiah by reading books written specifically for the rational mind. Based on personal experience, I can recommend, for example,

    1. Mere Christianity, by C. S. Lewis;
    2. The Case for Christ: A Journalist’s Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus, by Lee Strobel;
    3. Orthodoxy, by G. K. Chesterton.

    Scott, I know that we Christians have given Christ a bad name by oftentimes setting a poor example. But understand this fact: all Christians are hypocritical because we all fall short of the standards set by our holy God, which is why we need to be saved. As a Jewish person, you have a special place in His heart, and He wants more than anything to save His people.

    What I am asking you to do is not to explore a religion, because religion is ritualistic and legalistic. It is meaningless apart from a relationship with a personally knowable God. I am asking you to explore the possibility of getting to communicate with and know Him on a personal level. This is the essence of Christianity, something that even many professing Christians have missed. I hope you would keep an open mind as you explore and research some of the most important questions in your life.

    A Concerned Theorist

    P.S. I’m a long-time reader of this blog and not a troll. I’m an independent and not a member of the Christian Right. And if some of your readers still want to stone me, let the stoning begin. (It seems like Christians are the only safe objects to ridicule and persecute these days.) However, please realize this: my letter was written for Scott and for his open-minded readers only.

    P.P.S. Sorry about this long “comment.”

  78. Scott Says:

    One random remark: I understand a lot of the criticisms of Obama, but one I don’t understand is that he’s a “cipher” or “man of mystery.” I mean, he’s written (by all evidence, not ghostwritten) two books setting out in enormous detail both his life experiences and his views on every issue you can name. One of the books was written before he started his political career, and it shows.

    So, it seems we have more information about how he thinks than for almost any other modern American politician I can think of (with a possible exception of Gore).

    Then why do people keep claiming that we don’t know enough? Here’s one explanation that occurs to me: as a nerd, I treat reading people’s prose as a very direct route to understanding them. (As many others have pointed out, even Hitler set out in writing exactly what he thought and why; the only problem is that most people didn’t bother to read him.) For me, reaching an accurate conclusion about some topic for sensible reasons is not just a prerequisite to action; it is the main action I care about. Others are much less interested in the thought process; they want to see evidence of the successful wielding of power. (“What? He was just a state senator?”) For me, though, the basic principles of rationality are scale-invariant. Do we care more about the conclusion at the bottom of the page having enough battalions behind it, or about the intermediate steps used to reach that conclusion?

  79. cody Says:

    I’d like to think I am a ‘regular reader’, but I had never really noticed that you go through such moods; it is good to hear you are out of it though. I have strong political feelings, but after 2004 I felt sort of hopeless. I suppose Obama has restored some of my optimism, but politics remains a messy place and I am somewhat disgruntled and hesitant to get involved, (of course I will still be voting).

    Though I don’t have any partisan ideas, would anyone else like to see a website that displayed (as well as is feasible), all of our legislative workings, and then allowed users to vote like their politicians, as a way of measuring just how representative our representatives really are? It seems like more visibility and accountability in government would be grand things. This could be extended to executive and judicial decisions as well, but obviously the legislative decisions are the ones to which we can most rapidly react.
    It seems as if the internet should have a more dramatic effect on the influence of democratic decision making than any other technology in history (times a mole).

    I really like some of the ideas, especially from Peter Morgan, ScentOfViolets and Winn Schwartau. I guess the transparency and public involvement issues are being confronted by Craig Newmark. Keep up the good work!

    What ScentOfViolets and Scott mentioned about the current administration’s odd take on reality is something that appears much more prevalent than I would have expected. As scientists, or rational people, or even just thinking human beings, we should probably try to eradicate that.

  80. Joe Says:


    Nerds do cool things, it’s what we do. Blogs, youtube videos, game websites, you know. So lets offer rewards to the masses: our cool stuff at the condition that democrats get in the house. Let’s produce a synthetic association that a democrat victory initiate a flood of instant gratification all over the net.

  81. Scott Says:

    Concerned Theorist: I appreciate your concern for my soul (I don’t mean that ironically). However,

    (1) I’m not looking for a messiah. I support Obama’s candidacy the same way I supported Gore’s in 2000 and would have supported Hillary Clinton’s.

    (2) The depression I felt recently was not existential in nature.

  82. David Says:

    High penetration email campaigns are the most effective option I’ve seen suggested. Getting access to Fox News, RNC, and more moderate list serves would be effective and fun.

    Putin suggested that the US encouraged Georgia to invade South Ossetia in order to influence the presidential race. I was surprised that this actually made it to the NY Times front page.

    Phil Gramm (McCain’s economic guru) was behind the deregulation that contributed to the current housing crisis. This is well documented but only made a blip on the news and faded before impacting public opinion.

    America’s moderate voters are less dumb/uninformed than they are dumb/overly-mistrustful-of-government. Casting suspicion on McCain’s connections to the housing crisis or the Georgian military invasion of South Ossetia would be in better taste and more effective than smears.

    Signing each email with a fun-filled-ORielly-fact would be priceless.

  83. milkshake Says:

    I fell uncritically for a messianic political figure once, his name was Vaclav Havel. He is great, inspiring speechwriter and philosopher, and a brave and decent human being too. When compared to the last commie party secretary (who happened to be a complete troglodyte, and grammatically challenged too), a biggest contrast was hardly possible.

    But as a conservative politician Havel was a mixed bag, and he later came across as vain and ineffective leader. He ended up outmaneuvered, a living symbol but not much more. (His good influence in the first few years greatly out-weighted his later weakness though)

    When he first became widely known, as a regime critic and shrewd organizer of nonviolent public disobedience, the man who convinced the commies to step down without a bloodshed, I kept wondering: is this real – where di this secular saint came from? It was just incredible a decent thoughtful guy like him could even become a prezident; the expectations of him were fantastic – that he would steer the country back to Europe, civility and prosperity within a decade. When communism ended and Havel and his friends came to power, it was unreal, dreamy state of bliss I felt for few months, I thought “everything is going to be alright and there is nothing to be afraid from now on”. Then the reality set in, the pettines, morass and corruption of the transition years when huge companies, banks and hospitals were going bankrupt, vast fortunes were made and stolen (somewhat like in Russia – but with fewer Mercedes and BMWs blowing up with their owners inside) and some of things Havel did and did not do made me cringe and despair.

    With Obama – if he gets elected – the concern is he pumped up the expectations so high that his shortcomings, and his vanity will contrast with the hope he brought to the minds of people voting for him. And he promised to fix so many things that it may be difficult for him to deliver on his promises; if the inherited economy troubless become worse
    he may end up being as unpopular as Carter.

  84. Patrick Says:

    I think you interpret my comments too broadly. I was only talking about email. The Republicans have been much more effective at using email to spread misinformation in this election than the Democrats. Democrats spread misinformation better other modalities.

    That said, I’m completely convinced that the Democrats are the lesser of two evils.

    The ethical decision liberal nerds need to make is whether they want to use their capabilities to bring their party’s email misinformation campaigns up to par.

  85. technosaurus Says:

    here’s a video idea

    1. get footage of McCain waiting to answer a question, blinking etc…
    2. remix the video to make his blinks say “V..O..T..E…..O..B..A..M..A” in morse code.
    3. appropriately subtitle the video

    extra nerd points if you know why its funny

  86. Douglas Knight Says:

    I advise nerds not to create misinformation. Technical abilities for distribution do not make up for designing the payload.

    I’m also skeptical that technical distribution beats convincing recipients to forward the message. And with forwards, quality turns into quantity. Of course, there’s the danger that they’ll just get forwarded to irrelevant partisans.

  87. Patrick Says:

    Speaking of disseminating information… Given McCain’s selection of VP his likelihood of dying is particularly significant.

    I used statistics from here:

    Using the numbers from 2005, I calculate that the probability that a white male aged 72 will die in the next 8 years is 35%
    That is really high. I’d like to incorporate a medical history with type IIa melanoma to see how the statistic changes. Sadly I have not the basic data, nor the expertise to determine the statistic from the more composite data that are available.

    If McCain is elected we’re talking about a 1 in 5 chance that we’ll have a soccer mom as president in the next 4 years and a 1 in 3 chance in the next 8 years. Those really aren’t odds that I’d like to take.

  88. jw Says:

    try to get hired as a vote machine hacker. on election day, don’t do it. you can save the world … sitting on your sofa. and being ethical.

  89. KaoriBlue Says:

    Having read Obama’s books, his website, and after watching his speeches (DNC included)… I just don’t get it. I’m an open minded person – I love Bill Clinton, and outside of certain issues, I’m coming around somewhat to Hillary. So I at least believe I can separate philosophy from character. But Obama has always come across as completely hollow to me.

    I’m not trying to say that he’s some master of faux sincerity…though I do not understand how someone can be honestly introspective in the sort of books he’s written. What I am claiming is that he seems to have perfected representing anything to anyone… and I really have no idea how he managed to accomplish this. I also don’t entirely believe it was intentional.

  90. Cody Says:

    Ha, jw, I like your wording.

    KaoriBlue, two things: 1st, he doesn’t (evidently) represent anything much to you, 2nd, maybe you could be impressed with his alleged, unintended, chameleon-like/broadband ability to incite?

  91. Raoul Ohio Says:

    Jud; Empirical evidence for the “Hot Woman Index”:

    At the beginning of spring training, Major League Baseball teams practice with a lot of the young players from the minor league teams. I recall a radio announcer mentioning that it is easy to identify the future star players by the swarm of Hot Women trying to meet them.

  92. Raoul Ohio Says:

    James: “Certainly this would be much more realistic to achieve than completely breaking the small number of big parties mindset.”

    Most democracies in the world have lots of small parties. It is always a disaster. One key problem is that “one issue fanatics” parties get a couple legislators elected. The bigger parties need to horse trade with the fringe parties to get a majority. This tends to give nutballs a lot of power. Here is an interesting example from today’s news:

  93. KaoriBlue Says:


    “…maybe you could be impressed with his alleged, unintended, chameleon-like/broadband ability to incite?”

    Absolutely. I think this is a very powerful and potentially good thing. My complaint is that, from what I can discern about him, he’s a just too liberal and big government (I wouldn’t want four more years of that) for my tastes. But that’s me, not any of you folks. If he was on my side for more issues, I’d be tempted to vote for him.

  94. Jonathan Vos Post Says:

    Regarding: “Any worldview that isn’t wracked by self-doubt and confusion over its own identity is not a worldview for me.” Ancient Chinese warfare experts disagree, as do those applying those approaches today (as did Mao, as do some modern corporate consultants, and arguably as do most political campaigns):

    “One who excels at warfare will await events in the situation without making any movements. When he sees he can be victorious he will arise; if he see he cannot be victorious he will desist. Thus it is said he doesn’t have any fear, he doesn’t vacillate. Of many harms that can beset any army, vacillations is the greatest. Of disasters that can befall an army, none surpasses doubt.”
    -– Sun Tzu, translated by Ralph D. Sawyer, Six Secret Teachings, 26

    Sarah Palin has no doubt about abortion (even in cases of rape or incest), Global Warming, environmentalism, mooseburgers, or (most important to me) teaching Creationism in public schools. Betrayed by a daughter of a Science Teacher! A walrus-tusk knife in the heart of Science itself (ID advocates having offered mutated definitions of the word “science” itself in curricula).

    Obama need not express self-doubt in his campaign with Biden, as McCain and the personally very attractive extremist Palin will not show any self-doubt. Doubt, in a basketball star, beauty queen, fisheries manager, city councilman, mayor, Governor, VP candidate? If your opponents have no self-doubt, why tie your own hands?

    I think that I have a glimmer of understanding of your position. But I also understand Sarah Palin’s. I represented as many people or more, by the way, as elected Town Councilman in Amherst, MA; and as Town Councilman in Altadena, CA, as she did as City Councilman, then Mayor, in Wasilla. How well did self-doubt work for McCarthy, McGovern, Gore? Would you rather have a seamless worldview, or win an election and save the world?


    Next, Carey asked about teaching alternatives to evolution – such as creationism and intelligent design – in public schools. […]

    Palin: “Teach both. You know, don’t be afraid of information.

    Healthy debate is so important and it’s so valuable in our schools. I am a proponent of teaching both.

    And, you know, I say this, too, as the daughter of a science teacher.

    Growing up with being so privileged and blessed to be given a lot of information on, on both sides of the subject — creationism and evolution.

    It’s been a healthy foundation for me. But don’t be afraid of information and let kids debate both sides.”


    So, do you believe that kids should debate both sides of the debate between 1+1=2 and 1+1=666? Or the debate as to whether gravity exists or the Earth sucks? Or the debate as to whether the Earth is orbiting the sun or carried by elephants on the back of a great turtle? Or the debate about the Flying Spaghetti Monster? Or the debate about whether there ever was a historical Jesus Christ?

    “But don’t be afraid of information”

    There is no “information” in Creationism.

  95. KaoriBlue Says:


    I’m actually for teaching Creationism in public schools. In my brief stint through the public education system in this country, I was taught plenty of things (political and apolitical) that were wrong and/or just plain ridiculous. What better way to let our kids know that they need to figure things out for themselves than to have teachers lecture on creationism?

  96. Michael Bacon Says:

    Here’s an excellent post from True Patriot over at Cosmic Variance:

    “Who cares about McCain’s VP pick when we can’t even support McCain himself? If actions speak louder than words (or lofty speeches), let’s take a closer look at the Real McCains:

    Like Bush’s popularity because of 9-11, and chance rather than merit, John McCain’s constant reliance on his POW background to gain political power is a mistake for many reasons. But what people may not know is McCain’s flip-flop in regard to torture was a bigger mistake.

    “In all the discussion of John McCain’s recently recovered memory of a religious epiphany in Vietnam, one thing has been missing. The torture that was deployed against McCain emerges in all the various accounts. It involved sleep deprivation, the withholding of medical treatment, stress positions, long-time standing, and beating. Sound familiar?

    According to the Bush administration’s definition of torture, McCain was therefore not tortured.”

    JOHN MCCAIN this week had a choice between his principles and propping up a failed president. He chose the latter – McCain drops the torture ball -

    And what of McCain’s first wife Carol? Many don’t know the history of “The wife U.S. Republican John McCain callously left behind” His infidelities put strain on his first marriage, and he was divorced from Carol McCain, his wife of 15 years, in 1980. He married Cindy a month later.

    Ted Sampley, who fought with US Special Forces in Vietnam and is now a leading campaigner for veterans’ rights, said: ‘I have been following John McCain’s career for nearly 20 years. I know him personally. There is something wrong with this guy and let me tell you what it is – deceit.’

    Ross Perot: ‘McCain is the classic opportunist. He’s always reaching for attention and glory,’ he said. ‘After he came home, Carol walked with a limp. So he threw her over for a poster girl with big money from Arizona. And the rest is history.’ –

    And we continue with the rest of the history. John McCain is no more moral than John Edwards, and Cindy makes a $300 hair cut look like nothing. Who is Cindy McCain? Aside from their 7, or is it 11 properties, Cindy is known to spend as much as $7,000 in one month on just one American Express card. So they are rich, out-of-touch Republicans. What’s new? The real story of interest goes a little farther back.

    “In 1989, following two back surgeries, Cindy McCain became addicted to the painkillers Vicodin and Percocet. To keep up with her daily need of 10 to 15 pills, she used other people’s names for prescriptions and stole drugs from the American Voluntary Medical Team, a mobile surgical unit she’d begun in 1988 to provide emergency medical services around the world. A 1993 DEA audit of the amount of painkillers her charity had obtained quickly uncovered her thefts.” –

    Her addiction isn’t the big story, but rather how John McCain tried to cover-up the illegal activity with his political power. And if that’s not enough skeletons in the closet to worry about, in trying to link Obama with Rezko, McCain has re-opened the door to yet another scandal in his past.

    “The problem with this attack? Aside from being thoroughly misleading — Obama has not been seriously alleged to have done anything unethical in his interactions with Rezko — this ad is a serious strategic blunder by the McCain campaign. Why? It blows wide open the door to talk about McCain’s all-too-close relationship with Charles Keating and well reported on though somewhat forgotten charter membership in the so-called “Keating Five.”

    …In the end, the crash of Keating’s savings and loan — which had been shielded by some of his best friends in the United States Senate — cost billions to the American taxpayer, as mentioned above, and all told the federal government ended up on the hook for close to $125 billion in the fallout of the crisis that befell the underregulated industry in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

    Does McCain really want to have to talk about all of this? About the Bahaman vacations he took paid for by Keating? Probably not. But he may soon have to as a result of the shortsightedness of his campaign advisors. Nice move team McCain!” –

    Conservatives claim morals (e.g., infidelity) are just as important as committing a crime (e.g., perjury–no, I’m referring to Scooter Libby). But once again we see the hypocrisy as Republicans choose another candidate with questionable character.

    The way a candidate manages his/her campaign is a first indication of how they’ll run the country. McCain has been all over the place with promises and positions, and rather than take the high road, he quickly reverted to the Rovian tactics that were used against him in 2000. He can’t get people to a rally or the convention, and if it wasn’t for the RNC and Big Business, he wouldn’t have any funds either. It also is said that the VP pick is the first example of presidential judgment for a candidate. McCain’s selection of a woman is only historical for the Republican Party. All this does is remind people how backward the RNC is. But was this the best decision McCain could have made?

    A most disturbing thing about John Edward’s recent behavior was that he was unfaithful while his wife was fighting breast cancer. Conservatives, including right-wing women, have always hated Hillary because she wanted to pursue a career in law rather than serve “tea and cookies.” Here we have Sarah Palin, who is praised for being a mother of five, including a baby with Down Syndrome. Where are those fundamentalists now when this woman is choosing to pursue fame and fortune instead of putting “family values” first?

    Moose meat versus arugula is the least of our worries. She is anti-science. She does not believe in evolution, or climate change, or development of natural gas and other clean fuels, and most of all she does not believe in women’s rights. There is a reason the prior presidential hopeful Lindsey Graham is not, and probably never will run for President — the Terri Schiavo intervention. That’s when Americans woke up to the fact that religious radicals had taken over the Republican Party. Palin would shake things up all right, she’d help take this country back to the Dark Ages (you know, when McCain was born), and bring government into your home and invade you privacy.

    And let’s not forget why we’ve had to endure the tyranny of Cheney all these years. Cheney made it clear he had no intention of running for POTUS. This automatically made him unaccountable. If McCain intends to serve for only one term, or if Palin is just a temporary gimmick for the upcoming 2008 election (I doubt the RNC will want her to be the frontrunner in the future), we would be in for more of the same.

    But most of all, after eight miserable years of Bush/Cheney, our country wants to move forward, not backward. It has been my hope that this time Americans would place the bar a little higher in regard to qualifications for the most important jobs in our country and in the world. Like Bush with his C-grade average and business failures, neither McCain nor Palin have very impressive credentials from education to career achievements outside politics. If experience is what counts, where is it? The Bush administration has been copying Obama’s foreign policy positions for a reason. This duo makes Obama look like John Adams.

    In the meantime “my friends,” not only has McCain voted with Bush 90% of the time, let’s not forget that McCain is to the right of Bush in regard to war-mongering. We’ll have to get out the old bumper stickers: “Four More Wars!” and “Drop McCain Not Bombs”

    So go ahead Republicans, tow the Party line like you always do. Hold your nose and vote for McCain/Palin (or should we say vote against Obama), even though it’s not in your best interest or putting our country first.”

  97. David Says:

    Please stop arguing about the candidates. There are 1,324,657 blogs already dedicated to doing that. We’re here to about Nerds can do to help Obama, not debate if they should.

    Jonathon: Physicists will tell you, for very large values of 1, 1+1=3.
    Which, as a mathematician, I don’t really understand but it makes a great T-Shirt

  98. KaoriBlue Says:

    I’m tongue-in-cheek of course (I understand that this is a slippery slope), but I honestly think: (1) – This isn’t the most pressing/important issue today (I won’t let it influence my vote), and (2) – I’d actually like any future children of mine to be exposed to Creationism. If they believe what they’re told, it’s a ‘red flag’ that tells me I’m doing something wrong as a parent.

    I should mention that I draw the line at the abortion/pro-choice issues. If I start believing that Roe v. Wade is (actually) in danger of being overturned, my voting behavior will change… to say the least.

  99. Jonathan Vos Post Says:


    With all due respect, I think that your well-intentioned advocacy “to let our kids know that they need to figure things out” is a way of falling to the clever Intelligent Design trap.

    Science classes should not be teaching creationism any more than Sunday schools should be teaching evolution as “part of the debate”.

    Her husband is part Inuit. She hunts caribou. She likes Mooseburgers. Did God or an extraterrestrial create the species of Moose that she eats? I think not, and this is because of a body of millions of biomedical publications on trillions of bytes of data collected by hundreds of thousands of researchers over more than a century.

    Information? Plenty! But there is no “information” in Creationism. None. Nor is there any “debate” within Science itself about Evolution by Natural Selection. None. There is within History of Science, Philosophy of Science, or Sociology of Science, or Science Public Policy. But that is not the core curriculum in public schools.

    She is a wonderful choice, if shutting up Talking Heads for a few hours is the goal. She is an extremist (when I said that she was at least consistent in her opposition to abortion, I did not yet know her extreme position against abortion in cases of rape and incest).

    There is a roughly 14% chance that she’ll be President of the USA within 4 years (given a 50% chance that McCain’s elected, times a 35% chance that he dies in that period, given his age). So 14% chance the the USA goes further back in time than Bush drove the country, DEEP into the Dark Ages.

    I’ve got to draw a line somewhere. As a published evolutionary biologist and long-time teacher, and President of the Humanists Association at Cal State L.A., I am passionate in stating my conviction that there’s no place for Intelligent Design fraud in the White House. I wonder what species of Creationist she is. Good question in her debate with Biden would be: “How old is the planet Earth?”

    Speaking to you, the, as a fellow teacher, I just this morning received notice by email of another annual renewal of my California 30-day Emergency Teaching Certificate (i.e. I’m allowed no more than 30 successive school days in any given classroom, then have to do a day in some other classroom, then can do 30 more in the first one). Spring 2009 I’ll have my Full Time California Teaching Credential, so that I can continue the big pay cut I took on leaving 20 years in aerospace and several years as an adjunct Professor in Astronomy and in Math, to teach inner city teenagers.

    Related issue (my bias again being 20 years in aerospace engineering): since Vice President LBJ was de facto in charge of NASA for JFK, and used it for the reindustrialization of the South, the VP is de facto in charge of the Space Program. That has a National Security component, a Science component, a treaty obligation component, and (in the revised NASA charter) an Educational Outreach component.

    Bad enough that NASA scientists were muzzled and censored by anti-Science political appointees, to suppress data on Global Warming. What other damage to Truth is possible if the organization that gathers cosmological data was under the thumb of an ideologue who believes in the literal truth Of Genesis, rather than the Genesis science mission? Extrapolate as needed.

    I shall not take the time here to distinguish at length between 5 non-overlapping “magesteria” each of which has a different notion of “truth” and of “proof”:

    (1) Axiomatic (i.e. Euclid’s geometry or Peano’s Arithmetic);
    (2) Empirical (i.e. Scientific Method);
    (3) Politico-Legal;
    (4) Aesthetic;
    (5) Revealed/Religious.

    I think than any confusion between any two of these causes damage. Creationists confuse (2) and (5). Put them in political power, and they claim a mandate via (3). Hence confusion based on ignorance which may for all I know be the case for Palin, or by malicious fraudulent intent (i.e. lying “leaders” of the Intelligent Design movement) is especially dangerous in high office, and VP is second to the President (who is legally coequal to the Speaker of the House, and to the Chief Justice of the United States). And the next VP will advise the President on the U.S. Supreme Court assignments. The same Supreme Court which is now made of a majority of the same religion.

    “Faith depends upon belief in things that cannot be proved,” says P.J. O’Rourke, “and I can prove that more people flunk physics than flunk Sunday School.”

    Good news on Palin: opposed (after early support) “bridge to nowhere.”
    Bad news on Palin: Creationism is “bridge to no one.”
    Worse news on Palin: Intelligent Design is “some one created that bridge, but because of court decision we can’t say it was God, so we’ll pretend that it might be extraterrestrials or unspecified. But trust us. It’s safe to cross the bridge, because it is not ‘merely a theory’.”

  100. Vishal Says:

    I’d actually like any future children of mine to be exposed to Creationism.


    You are completely missing the point! Your future children can be exposed to Creationism through various channels: Internet, books, magazines, churches, conferences, seminars, “independent research” or what-have-you. Creationism isn’t banned in the public sphere much as the practice of religion isn’t banned in the public sphere. The important question isn’t “Should both creationism and biological evolution be taught in public schools for the sake of “balance”?” The important question is “Is creationism a scientific theory that should have its own place in the empirical sciences and therefore should it be taught in public schools?” The answer is NO because Creationism is pseudoscience!

    Scientists don’t waste their valuable resources/time/effort in creationist theories for a very good reason: creationism has nothing to offer to the empirical sciences. The Evolution vs Creationism debate is a Science vs Pseudoscience debate. We don’t (shouldn’t) expose school kids to scientific theories and pseudo-scientific ones. We (should) only expose them to scientific ones.

    If, in the future, it is shown that Creationism is indeed a scientific theory (extremely implausible though), then sure, we should be teaching Creationism in public schools. But, until such a time, one can’t possibly be serious about teaching Creationism in schools.

  101. Vishal Says:

    If they believe what they’re told, it’s a ‘red flag’ that tells me I’m doing something wrong as a parent.

    If what they are told is based on solid evidence and science, then there is no need to “panic” and think that you as a parent are not doing a good job. It’s a ‘red flag’ when you as a parent advocate teaching pseudoscience (that is based on flimsy evidence and unscientific work) in public schools.

  102. Not a Legal Scholar Says:

    Vote trading is completely unconstitutional: your vote is supposed to express your _own_ opinion, and is not a commodity to be traded. If it’s used and Obama wins, it can be grounds for Republicans to contest the election, and, given the current composition of the Supreme Court, they might succeed. So, please, don’t even think about implementing vote trading, or you’ll make matters worse, you will get McCain to win by default!

  103. Scott Says:

    NaLS: The legal situation with vote trading was highly contested in 2000 (varying from one state to another), and AFAIK is still unclear today. Many states have laws on the books that ban trading a vote for a “good”—proceeding to list examples like money and gifts—but then don’t list as an example of a “good” another vote, even though they could easily have done so. Note that vote-trading happens constantly in Congress and state legislatures, and is simply accepted there as part of the democratic process. Also, the basic argument for making vote-selling illegal is that people who do it bargain away their voting power (i.e., disenfranchise themselves). By contrast, those who trade their votes for other votes are seeking to do precisely the opposite, increase their voting power.

    Personally, I wish the electoral college could simply be dismantled and replaced with direct popular vote (the basic reason being the Majority-Is-Stablest Theorem). Instituting approval voting to deal with third-party candidates would be even better. But since these changes won’t happen in the foreseeable future, vote-trading strikes me as a reasonable and justified workaround. I don’t know what courts will do, but they can and ought to uphold its legality.

  104. Vladimir Levin Says:

    About Clinton hitting his stride… It always kind of bugs me when people give so much credit to candidates for what they say. After all, it’s all written by speech writers! Are the accolades for what a great acting job they candidate is doing? 🙂

    I hope you State’ers get a sane administration and pull yourselves out your present rut. The world could really use a strong, proud, and decent United States that leads everyone toward a genuinely hopeful future. I don’t think any other country can really do that. Unfortunately it’s all a tangled mess now. To wit: My personal gut feeling is that leaving Iraq may not be practical, as much as invading it in the first place was the most ridiculous blunder.

  105. Douglas Knight Says:

    it’s time for your monthly consequentialism check-up!

    In the post, you ask to effect the vote–you ask about consequences. But in your latest comment, you are seem only interested what the courts should do, and are cavalier about what the consequences actually are.

  106. Bill Mason Says:

    “Any worldview that isn’t wracked by self-doubt and confusion over its own identity is not a worldview for me.”

    As someone mentioned already, a worldview can’t have self-doubt and confusion about its identity, only people can. You say this in the context of “major proponents”, so I assume you’re actually referring to these people, not their worldview. Is that a correct interpretation?

    This statement sounds very extreme. When I think of someone who is wracked by self-doubt and confusion over their own identity, I imagine someone who’s totally neurotic. Is this what you meant? Or did you mean that we should simply be wary of any political candidate who is perfectly sure of their world-view that they disregard all that doesn’t fit it? And if so, why did you choose the wording that you did?

  107. KaoriBlue Says:

    Urg, I really apologize for going off on a tangent before (and apparently taking a few people with me).

    To make up for it, here’s my honest advice about how I think nerds/academics/etc. can help Obama: Consider not voting. Consider not supporting him. Make this known. If you unconditionally support whomever the Democratic party chooses as their nominee, you lose the power to press their candidate to stand on the right side of important technology/science issues. They otherwise have every incentive to run towards the lowest energy and intelligence populist/centralist position.

    Let’s double the budget of the NSF/NIH (which isn’t a big deal comparatively, and will more than pay for itself), stomp out climate alarmism in favor of a more rational debate, demand breeder reactors instead of corn ethanol, put a stop to government mandated recycling, open Yucca Mountain for business so that we don’t have thousands of tons of nuclear waste at unsafe sites scattered around the country, abandon the Internal Space Station (along with NASA’s multibillion dollar plan to go camping on the moon… again), have a better discussion about patent reform, etc. etc.

    Yes you can. And you’ll make Barack a better candidate in the process.

  108. Brighten Godfrey Says:

    “Personally, I wish the electoral college could simply be dismantled and replaced with direct popular vote … But since these changes won’t happen in the foreseeable future,”

    Probably not soon, but the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact is actually forseeable because it requires agreement of only half of the states (weighted by electoral votes). From Wikipedia:

    The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact is an agreement among U.S. states that would effectively end the electoral college system of presidential elections and replace it with a direct, nationwide vote of the people. As of July 2008, this interstate compact has been joined by Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, and New Jersey; their 50 electoral votes total amount to almost 19% of the 270 needed for the compact to take effect.

  109. Scott Says:

    If you haven’t seen this yet, there’s a large scandal that might develop about Sarah Palin (from Andrew Sullivan). I’ll withhold judgment until more info comes out.

  110. Vishal Says:


    Whoa! That news is huge! And IF it is true, that clearly explains why she isn’t taking care of the baby. She doesn’t need to because her daughter is going to (or rather, should) take care of it!

  111. harrison Says:


    I’m ashamed you haven’t thought about this as a scientist! Even assigning a prior probability as low as 50% to the hypothesis that the baby actually is Gov. Palin’s, the incidence of Down’s syndrome rises so sharply after age 35 or so that the conditional probability is quite close to one. (I’m discounting the fact that miscarriages also tend to be more likely with age, since the pregnancy wasn’t announced ’til the third trimester — although I suspect that even if you conditioned for carrying the fetus to term, it wouldn’t make a huge difference).

    Statistics can lie, of course, but so can pictures — especially when they’re fuzzy, carefully chosen to obscure her lower abdomen, and Photoshop abounds.

  112. Scott Says:

    Harrison: Yes, I did think of that, and (partly for that reason) I’m not at all convinced the rumor is true. As Andrew Sullivan points out, it should be easy enough to get to the bottom of this. At the least, her flying back to Alaska rather than remaining in Texas to deliver the baby seems like pretty bizarre and medically-irresponsible behavior.

    In another bizarre story, Palin’s mother-in-law is apparently undecided on whether to vote for Obama or McCain.

  113. harrison Says:

    Alright, good to know you thought of it at least. 🙂

    Your point about flying from TX to AK to give birth is valid — that’s indeed a bizarre thing to do, although I can sort of understand the motivations behind it. In any case, I think the focus of this story ought to be on Palin’s questionable judgment in such matters, rather than unsubstantiated and nigh-unsubstantiable, statistically improbable, and prone-to-backfiring-if-falsified rumors.

    From the linked story: “Being pro-life is who Sarah is.” Considering the right-wing backlash to the possibility of McCain picking a pro-choice VP, could Palin have simply been an overcorrection?

  114. Scott Says:

    Here’s something cute I just found:

    Sarah Who???
    By Madeleine Begun Kane

    Dear Johnny, I cannot conceive
    What could possibly make you believe
    That your anti-choice pick
    Could possibly click
    With us Hillary-gals. How naive!

    You must think that we women are sheep,
    Who would swoon at a female for Veep.
    But a right-wingnut gal
    Who’d control our canal?
    Oh, that hole that you’re digging is deep.

    Yes, your pick has a beautiful face
    And she’ll help you to shore up your base.
    But she’s wrong to the core
    And (like you) she’s just more
    Of Bush/Cheney … with feminine grace.

  115. Greg Kuperberg Says:

    In any case, I think the focus of this story ought to be on Palin’s questionable judgment in such matters

    No, the focus shouldn’t be on this story at all, because it’s a completely private matter, until and unless Palin herself mixes it with public affairs. If it were actually true that Palin had lied about her pregnancy, then that could count as such an admixture. But speculation that she could be lying is just an excuse to gossip and punish her family for her vice-presidential bid.

    The conservatives have already grabbed this story with both hands and thrown it back at Daily Kos et al. They like the accusation because it’s crass and unconvincing. Fake liberal stand-ins such as Alan Colmes, people who are practiced at looking bad, are also harping on it.

    It’s also not as if this is the only chance to criticize Palin’s judgment. Both Wikipedia and Google News have plenty of material. You shouldn’t discount the uncontested truth in favor of ever larger scandal. On the contrary, the most effective kind of accusation is an irrefutable one.

  116. Greg Kuperberg Says:

    This just in.

    In particular, the last paragraph:

    “Democrats must be VERY careful not to take a false step here. Some Republicans have already insisted that the Obama campaign is behind the rumor-mongering about Sarah, Bristol and Trig — although in our experience the campaign has not pushed the story AT ALL, in fact they have been encouraging reporters to focus on the issues of difference between the two candidates rather than personal stories. Any sense that Democrats are pushing this idea will almost certainly turn both Sarah and Bristol Palin into sympathetic figures — and that spells trouble for her detractors.”

  117. Scott Says:

    Greg, I think the Obama campaign is right not to get involved. On the other hand, I also hope people not connected to the campaign will pursue any leads available. After Ken Starr, after the swift-boaters, it seems hard to argue that this sort of thing is off-limits—particularly since (as many others have pointed out) Palin emphatically has made her own “family values” a campaign issue.

  118. Greg Kuperberg Says:

    On the other hand, I also hope people not connected to the campaign will pursue any leads available.

    But two can play at that game. If independent liberals can invent speculation that Bristol gave birth to that boy, then independent conservatives can invent speculation that Obama himself is behind it. They already have.

    If you’re going to play dirty, you should at least be good at it. And remember the military argument that we should not defend America with such monstrous expedients that America is no longer worth defending. The principle also applies to political parties.

    Personally I do not think that it’s yet time for the last resort. And I’m not saying that we should play soft.

  119. Joseph Hertzlinger Says:

    Nerds do cool things, it’s what we do. Blogs, youtube videos, game websites, you know.

    Speaking as a nerd, I resent being associated with the merely cool.

  120. crb Says:

    Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.

    1) Challenge McCain’s naturalization in your home state:

    Remember epsilon^50 is a big number 😉

    2) Closely watch the Republican national convention footage for McCain shenanigans on the floor and report any funny business to your state election officials. Notice how the Nevada contingent got slated to have Monday breakfast with Guam? This is what happens to naughty states that don’t toe the line.

  121. Michael Bacon Says:

    You can relax Greg, it turns out only that her unmarried daughter is pregnet. I don’t know, but am I the only one who thinks McCain should have done a better job on this?

  122. KaoriBlue Says:

    “I don’t know, but am I the only one who thinks McCain should have done a better job on this?”

    Yeah, no joke.

  123. Mike Hunter Says:

    I did some google maps combined with paper mailing and posted the results (me mailing 25 random people in PA a copy of Obama’s More Perfect Union speech): Fun stuff

  124. Cody Says:

    Mike, I really like your little project. Very personal, simple, and best of all, nothing really morally debatable about it.

  125. Cody Says:

    Oh, Mike, you’ll let us know when/if you get any responses I assume?

  126. Dave Bacon Says:

    Scott, you never write anything about quantum computing anymore! I mean, I’m pretty sure that you write this blog JUST FOR ME, and so I find it quite disappointing that you don’t write articles that appeal JUST TO ME. I mean, sheesh, I’m going to have to unsubscribe you from my RSS feed since I don’t agree with anything you say, and you know, reading shit that I disagree with is just a waste of my time. I miss the comfort of conforming views. Last time I read something I disagreed with, it actually made me change my mind. Holy crap was that painful. I mean how am I supposed to deal with a world in which one day you’re writing about quantum computing, and the next day your talking politics. Such mixing of science and politics makes me think that you’re not a TRUE scientist at all. Are you a TRUE scientist Scott, or just a blogger having fun procrastinating? Tell the truth will you (and your answer better include a detailed description of the implications for quantum computing.)

  127. Scott Says:

    Dave, you made my day. Indeed, I do write this blog just for you.

  128. Scott Carter Says:

    What are the racial demographics of the deep south?
    I think I heard recently that Mississippi is at least 30% African American. And yes, there are liberal whites in Alabama. I personally know at least three 😉

    So how do you make sure that the African American voter base in the south (Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, and the Carolinas) comes out to vote while the conservative voters in the same states take the election for granted?

    The Obama campaign should not take the south as having been lost, but instead find a surreptitious way to get out the vote of the base supporters.

  129. Scott Carter Says:

    I am making the mistake of watching Sarah Palin on MSNBC. I have seen neither an Asian or an African American in the audience. I heard that the Christian right vetoed Leiberman on religious grounds.

    Wonder bread America is all that is being represented in this convention.

  130. KaoriBlue Says:

    “I have seen neither an Asian or an African American in the audience.”

    They’re certainly hard to spot… but with persistence and a trained eye, it’s utterly possible (the camera crew seems to help out during Giuliani’s speech). Also, as much as I can’t stand some of Palin’s positions… I’m starting to think she was a good choice (politics-wise) for McCain. It really seems to have energized the GOP base, the press is infatuated with her (Obama’s coverage, even after his speech, has been considerably diminished in the NY Times/LA Times/etc) and potential aside, Giuliani’s not exactly wrong about her having accomplished more in a shorter amount of time in office than Obama. And she’s not heading up the ticket.

    Is it scary that McCain might die, allowing her to assume the presidency? Uh… yeah. But you can’t exactly go after the Republican ticket like that without significantly injuring yourself, her daughter’s pregnancy is actually proving to be a strength, and you really can’t go after her on time commitment issues with her kids without fracturing the Democratic Party.

    This begs a question (in my opinion). Will Obama be able to follow up an elegant (but, let’s face it, uncontroversial) “More Perfect Union Speech” with one on the a-word? If you want to talk about unity in this country… well, that would near the top of my list. He needs to get out there and talk about the need for a compromise, and the danger of letting pro-life extremists (or backlash inspiring pro-choice extremists) take over the presidency.

    It would be courageous, and I very much doubt I would be the only unaffiliated voter impressed by this. But I won’t hold me breath.

  131. KaoriBlue Says:

    Let me just say that I DO NOT want to get into a discussion, especially here, about pro-choice v. pro-life or Roe v. Wade. Nor is it my intention to inspire such a discussion.

    It’s just my honest opinion that, if Obama wants to clinch the election and follow through with his promise to unite this country, he darn well better address the elephant in the room (i.e. what Palin represents to the religious conservatives).

  132. Cody Says:

    It sort of seems like that particular elephant, like some of the other ones, is intractable. Too many people take too strong an opinion on either side to really resolve it without displeasing an enormous group. (“Abortions for some, tiny American flags for others!)

    I’m against Palin, (and McCain by association), because I find her offensive to the scientific process, which I consider to be the greatest achievement of our soft, human brains. I am embarrassed for our species that someone who lacks a basic understanding of elementary school biology can be democratically chosen for such powerful positions in the first place.

  133. harrison Says:


    If independent liberals can invent speculation that Bristol gave birth to that boy, then independent conservatives can invent speculation that Obama himself is behind it.

    I keep parsing that to mean that Obama’s the father. Now that would be a rumor.

  134. Michael Bacon Says:


    “The Harvard-educated couple that the Democrats want to install in the White House are part of an elitist, “uppity” class, a Republican congressman said Thursday.
    Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, a two-term Republican who represents some of Atlanta’s suburbs, commented about class when asked about the performances under pressure of his party’s vice presidential nominee, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, and the Democratic nominee’s wife, Michelle Obama, as they introduced themselves to the nation in their separate convention speeches.

    “Honestly, I’ve never paid that much attention to Michelle Obama,” Westmoreland said. “Just what little I’ve seen of her and Senator [Barack] Obama, is that they’re a member of an elitist class…that thinks that they’re uppity.”

    Palin was tough and mocking. This election is not going to be a cake-walk. I read so many people saying what “Obama” should do. You should give money to Obama if you can, and work for the campaign if you can.

  135. Scott Carter Says:

    I live in the south. Even white folks here know that you don’t use the word “uppity” to describe African-Americans. It is virtually the same as using the word that begins with n and is a common word in rap lyrics.

  136. Jonathan Vos Post Says:

    My prejudices about Sarah Palin changed Thursday-Friday 4-5 September 2008 because my circumstances and priorities changed.

    I am now, until further notice, via my day job, the “permasub” (i.e. de facto full-time but not legally full-time) High School Science Teacher at Nia Educational Charter School in Altadena, California. I am teaching 40 students (9th, 10th, 11th grade) Chemistry, Biology, and Anatomy & Physiology.

    Hence these aspects of the McCain-Palin position are already being discussed in my classroom:

    (0) Palin left her pentacostal Assembly of God church for a slightly less extreme church (i.e. without talking in tongues and the like), but is a biblical Literalist committed to the war between Good and Evil. This is a Science class, students, so let us discuss the meaning of the word “Truth” and why we will focus on Empirical truth rather than Reveraled/Religious truth.

    (1) Palin is a Creationist, perhaps an Intelligent Design advocate. Our syllabus shows the centrality of Evolution in our lessons. So what do we mean by Evolution, as opposed to the combination straw-man, ignorance, and discredited century-old canards of the brainwashed?

    (2) Palin has shifted slightly more liberal on sex education, now to the Left of McCain, in that she is not purely abstinence-only in sex-education (how well did that work for her 17-year-old daughter?) but willing to admit to the exitence of condoms.

    (3) I believe that Palin is sincere on Family Values. McCain, on the other hand, cheated on his first wife with many women, including the stripper known as “The Flame of Florida”, and married a rich woman for his second wife about a month after ditching his first wife. We shall discuss sexual reproduction in our lessons on Genetics, Evolution, and Physiology. What man in human history has been shown to have more living descendants than any other? Genghis Kahn. Let us discuss Parental Investment theory, opening with this evolutionary question: why should a man not rape and impregnate as many women as possible?

    (4) McCain’s current wife was addicted to prescription drugs including Vicodin, and was caught stealing them from an organization in which she was an executive. Let us discuss addiction as a matter of physiology, with readings from The Book of Limbaugh.

    (5) We have Ecology as a set of lesson plans. Let us discuss the Ecology of Alaska. Why is it good that Palin might be the first white house resident since Teddy Roosevelt who knows how to field dress a moose? Why did she try to fire from the state trooper her ex-brother-in-law who illegally shot a moose? Is shooting caribou from a helicpter “hunting?” Natural Gas, petroleum, let us discuss Alkanes and other hydrocarbons. Is McCain telling the truth when he says that Obama is against “drilling?” McCain and Palin are in favor of many kinds of energy production facilities, including nuclear reactors. Our lesson plans include Nuclear Structure. Compare and contrast: nucleus of atom, nucleus of cell. Compare and contrast: nuclear (Obama) and “Nukular” (Bush).

    (6) Palin said that she put the governor’s private jet up on eBay. That was true. McCain said that it sold at a profit. That is false. It did not sell on eBay, so was sold for a loss through a broker. But at least Palin knows what eBay is. Did Al Gore invent the internet? Why does McCain confess to being computer illiterate, and has to have someone print out his emails for him to read? What internet devices does Obama use? What is the role of the internet and ecommerce in our economy? Is it a good idea for the government to read all your emails? What’s the deal with Palin’s pregnant daughter’s soon-to-be husaband’s MySpace page where he says how little he wants to be a father?

    (7) Palin promised, as the mother of a developmentally disabled baby, to be an advocate for all such parents. What is the relationship between her vews on sex education and the incidence of developmentally disabled babies? Is a baby named Trig more likely to master Trigonometry?

  137. Michael Bacon Says:

    It’s not complicated. The more people that that spend the most time and/or contribute the most money and at the same time are the most in tune with the voting public will win the election. I, personally, think this is pretty important. If you think it’s important, then you contribute time, money or knowledge (in the sense that Scott meant — a way to have an impact — but don’t fool yourself into thinking that it has more impact than it does 🙂 ).

  138. Anonymous Says:

    what non-obvious things can nerds who are so inclined do to help the Democrats win in November?

    Convince people one-on-one that they should vote for Obama by submitting “chat rules” in the Chatbot Game.

  139. Mayson Lancaster Says:

    Here’s an idea: organize a preemptive campaign to vet all (or as many as possible, especially in swing states) ballot designs. The idea is to prevent any repeat of the Florida butterfly ballot fiasco; by getting the Obama campaign to do intensive groundlevel voter education to neutralize any bugs found.

  140. Mayson Lancaster Says:

    P.S. feel free to email me