30 Governors Open Health Care Ghettos: October 1, 2013

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The governors from over half of the 50 states have or are considering refusing to establish Health Care Exchanges and to participate in Medicaid as provided for by the Affordable Care Act, (ACA) cynically known as “Obamacare.”  My assessment is that the consequences of this decision by the Chief Elected Officers of these states is going to in actuality create a third-tier, low quality health care environment.  Simply put, those states that offer to their residents full participation in the rights and privileges provided by the ACA, which is the law of the land, will develop in a few short years, into first-tier, high quality health care systems.  The states  that don’t, however, will within a similar number of a years see their health care, both private and public, degenerate into a ghetto of medical inferiority.

I call it…Read More

Hospital Food for the Mind

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Bernanke, Jackson Hole and the Importance of Being Wrong

And, lo, from the great wilderness, from the antlered gate of the Hole of Jackson, the voice of the Fed, the high priest of the economy, Ben the Reserved has declared what the fortunes of our land shall be; and verily he has declared that it shall be pathetic and the fault of those who…who…who…well, those whose fault it truly is, but now that we are mired in the trap of non-liquidity and are bound ever lower, his hands are tied. And great will be the suffering of all the people. All the people who don’t have a substantial personal fortune, anyway.

I’ve got a question.  How can everybody who declares they have the true answer to our current national economic morass be right? Doesn’t somebody get to be wrong; doesn’t somebody have to be wrong, when opposing theoretical positions and hermeneutical assumptions are irreconcilable? Ben Bernanke, as head of the Federal Reserve doesn’t automatically get to be right about the future of the economy simply by virtue of his office.  Alan Greenspan, his predecessor, is Exhibit #1 for the fallacy of that attribution.

Two Economists Fighting Over Who's Wrong. Photo: Yellowstone National Park

Even a brief foray into the cyberland of pundits, op-ed columnists, and bloggers reveals that every single one of them believes he or she is right about his or her solution to our economic woes.  The reason these folk cite for their veracity is that they can point out who is clearly wrong and therefore is an ignoramus. Only rarely does one find an inspired author who actually is working from a model that has been tested under the withering scrutiny of scholarly review and has been further field tested on the roiling surf of economic reality.

The ultimate test for intellectual honesty would be to have all these very-certain self-proclaimed para-ignoramuses stand under the great antler arch in Jackson Hole, during a wild Wyoming thunderstorm with its hurricane force winds and recite the principles of their economic “truth,” on the superstitious belief that if all they were blowing was just hot air, that would dislodge one of the antlers and…the result wouldn’t be pretty.  That’s certainly much more humane than pseudo-presidential candidate Rick Perry’s lynch mob approach. Of course, he has jumped head-first into the pool of para- ignoramuses who believe they are right because they can point out people who have to be wrong.  Perry evidently has exceptional talent for pointing out who is wrong, along with great hair, but that’s another post.

The World Famous Antler Arch of Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Yes, they are real antlers. I've been there and walked through the arch. Note that I survived. Photo Courtesy: ALifeLessSweet.Blogspot.com

So, who’s going to be wrong? That in my mind is far more important with regard to our pathetic economy than who’s right. To sneakily slip in a biblical allusion, we really need the tares to be winnowed from the wheat.

The facts are that someone is wrong about their economic model/dogma/delusion being the one that will revitalize our economy. They need to either get out of the way or in an act of self-preservation we need nudge them out of the way so the folks with the model that will be guaranteed to work can get their economic engine running in high gear.  That we truly need.

From the pronouncements of Ben the Reserved, it’s increasingly clear that the folks who wrong are getting wronger by the day. After all, the economy stuck in pathetic is just plain wrong.

Detail of Antler Arch, Jackson Hole. Photo Courtesy Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce

Dumbing Down the POTUS

This post is not about George W. Bush.  Really.  Although he had a role in my thesis.  This post is about our current president, Barack Obama.  I don’t want there to be any confusion about that.

It finally struck me yesterday what the GOP is up to regarding the November elections, after four events, three of which were unusual, filled the majority of my day.

They were, in this order:

  1. I watched two hours of Fox News shows at the behest of my friend, Dr. John Bogen, who is politically as conservatively moderate as I am liberally moderate.  Many of the themes I discuss below were the primary topics of those shows.  (If you are a regular reader of Extreme Thinkover, you will remember John’s very fine posts last fall on the H1N1 Pandemic, both regarding vaccinations and his advice how to understand H2N1 H1N1 (thanks, John!).
  2. I read an article about how the White House allowed President Obama’s passport–yes the President’s passport–to be photographed to counter the ongoing idiocy of the so-called “birthers” who obstinately cling to the totally false accusation that Obama was not born in the United States.  The issue of people believing the President is a Muslim is so far off the scale of absurdity it doesn’t even get its own separate number.
  3. While wandering around a big box electronics store I started experiencing chest pains and deciding to err on the side of caution and went to my hospital’s urgent care.  All my tests came out negative, fortunately, but with my family’s history of cardiac artery disease I’ve earned a ticket to be the main attraction in my second stress test.  Thinking about one’s mortality is a sobering moment for anyone.  I also have health insurance.
  4. After I got home, I got to watch my favorite NASCAR driver, Kyle Busch, set a NASCAR record at Bristol Motor Speedway in Tennessee by sweeping the three races of weekend.

It was during the race it hit me what the conservatives are doing to try to defeat the Democrats this fall and to discredit not only the president but the presidency in every way possible for their advantage. Why during the race?  Maybe it had to do with the vagaries of a car race, the strategies, and the ever-present reality that each driver and his car only has so much control over what is happening to them.  Someone else makes the smallest of mistakes and you can be out of the race with your car a pile of scrap metal in a fraction of a second.  Or maybe it was just dumb luck.

You will remember, quite painfully if you are a person with any capacity to carry on a civil conversation with someone you disagree with, the Cirque de Chaos we had to endure during the Congressional recess town hall meetings last August over the Tea Party and health care and carrying guns around in public like it was the Showdown in the O.K. Corral.  This year, there’s hardly been a whimper over this.  That’s because the new strategy is much more subtle and the Far Right learned one lesson: viewer fatigue.  By the end of August last year, the “scream at your politician” gambit had backfired; most Americans get fed up with toddler-type tantrums very quickly.  Simply put, the Far Right overplayed its hand.

The plan this summer is to make the president look dumb.  Also incompetent, if possible, but definitely dumb.

Why?  Because Barack Obama is probably one of the smartest presidents in the history of the nation in terms of sheer intellect.   So the way to attack him is to create, in this case, two exceptionally dumb fabrications about him: he wasn’t born in Hawaii, and he is Muslim, and then keep feeding those very stupid lies by constantly just hinting about them or have pundits “debate” the issue on TV and radio.

Dumbing Down the POTUS. Image Courtesy Motifake: http://www.motifake.com

http://www.motifake.com

This strategy works because there is no rational way to defend against it.  You can’t “put this one to bed” because there is no effective counter-strategy.  So the Republican leadership, now held hostage by the Far Right Wingnuts, can just keep the topic alive by continuing to feed their constituents who have bought into it.  And the way you do that is very simple: whenever the question is asked, you deny it, but ambiguously.

Last year, the Far Right tried shouting and threats of revolution.  It fell flat on its face.  This year they are trying lies and innuendo.  It’s a big gamble for the GOP because the Tea Party and other Far Right groups are much like a political multi-headed Hydra each with its own idea of who should be in control and what the outcomes should be.  But the Republicans lack a Hercules to control this beast.  Rep. John Boehner, Sen. Mitch McConnell, and RNCC Chair Michael Steele to a person lack the ability or imagination to keep these groups under control.  I suspect Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck are hoping they can throw meat at the monster without getting eaten themselves.

The question is can the Democrats find their equivalent of a Hercules to cut off the heads, politically speaking, of the Right’s Hydra?  President Obama, in my opinion, is more than capable, as we saw him campaign for the office, but now as Leader of the Free World, his focus should be on his job, not slaying dragons.  The same goes for Vice President Joe Biden.  Sen. Harry Reid, in addition to being in the fight of his career to keep his senate seat, is the epitome of milquetoast.  Rep. Nancy Pelosi has the fire, but in addition to being speaker of the House, is in her own campaign.  The DNC’s chair, Tom Kaine, is an excellent administrator, but has wisely kept out of the spotlight.

I’ve heard more than one pundit and politician say the Democrats are disorganized and not responding effectively to the attacks from the right.  That may or may not be true.  It may be the Democratic strategy is to let the Far Right, with all their fractures run their course, and when they begin to collapse, pounce with the equivalent with a sledge hammer against a glass window pane.  In reality it would not take much for the Republican Party to implode upon itself.  The GOP’s structure is much more precarious than they are letting on.

In the meantime they are going to attempt to make the president look dumb, out of touch, incompetent, a threat to the American Way of Life.  He is none of those things, so eventually the truth will out.  I continue to read the polls with a huge grain of salt.  Now I know what I’m looking for, I’ll be able to tell more clearly what is happening below the surface.  November 2, 2010 is still going to be a very interesting election day.

The Black Poll Wars: Bowling for Votes, Part II

The Black Poll Wars: The Coming Defeat of the Survey Polling Industry

In my previous post, I made the following rash assertion:

To be clear, here is my thesis statement for this post:  The polling data being collected and published today will in all likelihood be wrong in November when the election takes place.  Why?  The pollsters and the public believe the polls.  Right now, if you go to a website such as Polster.com, you will find an up-to-date list of all the major political surveyors and pollsters, professional and academic, party-affiliated and independent.  The people who publish the results of their surveys, for the most part, are highly trained professionals and are working very hard to mine the opinions of the American public.  They use the accepted methodologies for their survey research, collection and analysis.

Survey polling has a huge flaw.  The “black poll war” is going to produce an across-the-board defeat of the field.  The flaw is that survey polling is based on separating the majority and minority, and reporting it as if it were real.  It is their philosophical “theory of everything.”  The issue, from their perspective, is settled.  Yes, methodologies can be refined and trend analysis can be made more robust by the addition of ever-more-precise demographics.  Increasingly sophisticated software run on supercomputers can crunch data at mind-boggling speeds.  All of those things however are no more than a paper mache’ disk painted to look like a man-hole cover.  You don’t want to step on it.

The flaw is this: Survey polling is still operating in the classical world of majority research.  It is by analogy the same difference between the classical world of Newtonian physics and the Planckian world of Quantum Mechanics.  Survey polling has no equivalent of the Uncertainty Principle, and that is going to make all the difference.

I pick up my argument from here…

Waiter, there’s a quark in my soup bowl.

Think of it this way.  Suppose I invite an experienced pollster to lunch for soup.  I place two identical bowls in front her.  One is filled with a steamy hot, delicious soup with a wonderful aroma.  The other contains water filled to the same level.  Then I ask her, as a pollster, to describe the characteristics of each bowl.  Playing along, hoping that she will get the bowl with soup and not the water, she adeptly describes the contents of each bowl.  Next, I ask her, “If each bowl represented a bloc of voters, which one will win?”  Since both bowls are filled to the identical level, she correctly says, “I can’t tell.  I can only make a decision which has the majority.”  I take away the bowl with the water and replace it with an empty bowl.  I repeat my question, and she quite accurately answers, “If the amount of soup is the equivalent to the number of votes cast, then the bowl with the soup wins.”  I ask my final question.  “The votes are based on the number of quarks (a subatomic particle that is part of every atom) in each bowl.  Which bowl has the most quarks?”

How would you answer?

The question is not theoretical.  Quarks are real subatomic particles. Every atom contains quarks and there just happen to be six kinds of quarks and each quark has “flavor” (appropriate to soup, as well) so to come up with an answer, that multiplicity has to be factored in.  My pollster, growing hungrier by the minute, now has to solve a multidimensional model, for which she presumably has no statistical formula to work (cross-tabs won’t work here because she does not know which of the six types of quarks represent a yes vote or no vote).

To avoid my researcher becoming peckish and storming out, I bring her a fresh bowl of the soup so she can eat and think about the two bowls in front of her.

Classical statistical reasoning would look at the two bowls, one filled and one empty and conclude that the one with the soup, since the soup is made up of atoms, would therefore have all the quarks, so the empty bowl could be eliminated and the researcher could concentrate on determining which of the six kind of soup quarks represent which kind of vote.  And that would be wrong.

Quantum statistical reasoning would look at both bowls being full.  One with soup and the other with air.  Gaseous atoms have quarks just like soup atoms do.  Now my survey researcher asks for a second bowl of soup because this will take a while to figure out.  In fact, she has a bigger problem than simply counting quarks.  Since the soup is a fluid (we’ll ignore the atoms being steamed off) the number of quarks will remain reasonably stable.  The air in the other bowl is in constant motion, however, so the number of quarks moving in and out of the bowl is in constant flux.  And since placing a lid or layer of plastic wrap over the bowl to trap the air creates an artificial constraint, she just has to come up with a way to solve the problem as it is.

Her conundrum is that she can’t.  She’s not a failure, rather, Classical Statistics in polling has no models or formulas to account for the quarks, or should I say the core basis for decision making by the American public.  Probability and regression theory in statistics is quite sophisticated, and there are numerous models that are attempting to, some with a fairly high degree of success, that can predict the basis of decision making in the voting booth (or envelope in the case of my state, Oregon) within a narrow margin of error.  But since these models continue to look for the majority, they are not measuring what I believe will be the cause of the Black Poll War.

It’s not that they are looking at the wrong data; it is they have failed to make the paradigm shift to be able to analyze the process out of which that data is born.  It does not exist as a majority factor.  It exists as a subpersonal factor.  In quantum statistical reasoning, the function of democratic processes is not one person, one vote.  Using the quark analysis analogy, the democratic process is one person, six isovotes (I know I’ve coined a new term here, but it has parallels in the quantum behavior of quarks that is called “isospin” which is a critical component keeping quarks in a state of symmetry).  Depending on the way each voter processes the information stream to make those decisions those isovotes may or may not be stable through even one election cycle.

The solution is to create a quantum statistical equivalent of the Uncertainty Principle.

Any number of you are saying, “Now wait just a cotton-pickin’ minute here, fella.  You promised no more formulas.”  Indeed, I did.  But I am trying to develop a concept that voting in America has undergone a shift of such a dramatic change, it has evolved into virtually a new species of behavior.  It is the equivalent of the transformation from circumnavigating the earth in 80 days into orbiting the planet in 80 minutes.  We made that scientific and technological shift in transportation, from surface vehicles to the International Space Station.  We are in the middle of its evolutionary transformation in our voting behavior.  That is the metamorphosis of our political behavior from voting to isovoting.

Bowling for Votes: Not Your Grandmother’s Bowling Pins

Isovoting, unlike voting, is dynamic and has a meaning assigned to it by the person.  Imagine that an isovote is like a bowling pin.  Since the beginning of the republic, we have assumed that the vote is the triangle shape of the 10 bowling pins.  We have also assumed that the vote triangles could be colored.  The colors used by the television networks of late have been blue for the Democrats, red for the Republicans, and various other preferences for those who were voting independent.  Any color combination of colors could be assigned (I’ve never heard the explanation of why the colors were chosen in that manner, but it might be an interesting footnote in the history of reporting votes.)  Each vote might have an additional attribute or two attached to it, but even if it were envisioned as a 3-dimensional triangular wedge, it was, almost exclusively, solid and predictable.  People voted for one party or another (many states allowed you to go into a voting machine booth and pull a lever therefore choosing in one action all the candidates of that political party).

That is no longer the case.  The solidity of any bloc of votes is now, well, not solid.  We’ll assume for the moment we still have ten pins but peeling back the outer surface of the nice, neat triangular wedge reveals that the ten pins are not standing neatly at attention, but are in a constant state of motion.  Suppose that each pin, as an isovote, has a set of variable characteristics, let’s say:

  1. Size: From a minimum of some volume to a maximum of volume not taken up by all the other isovote pins together
  2. Shape: From classic bowling pin to any other extrudable shape that will fit within the triangular vote box, or even to exceed that volume
  3. Color
  4. Temperature
  5. Motion: From stillness to rapid
  6. Connectivity: From pin to pin, to the surface of the triangular block, and to any other  receptor site outside the block
  7. Meaning: The isovote pin, like a living cell exists within a specific environment, and therefore being part of the human capacity to decide how to vote, has to be capable of receiving information transmitted from the person to the subperson

The characteristics I’ve described above are an analogy of what an isovote is, not a literal suggestion of an anatomical mechanism.  What is important, however, is that the analogy gives the reader a sense of the complexity of what really constitutes the dynamics of voting.  As long as pollsters rely on defining “majority” and “probability” and “margin of error” as their gold standard, no matter how refined their formulas become, they will still lose the Black Poll War.

The basis of voting I’m describing is much like that of the infamous “Schrödinger’s Cat” thought experiment by physicist Erwin Schrödinger in 1935.  Basically it says if you had one thousand cages with solid doors, 500 of which had a live cat and the other 500 had a dead cat, there would be no way to determine which state the cat was in until you opened the door, and the act of opening the door determined if the cat was dead or alive.  Observing what was in the box was what created the certainty of the cat’s state of being, not whether the cat was alive or dead before hand because you could never be certain without opening the door.  This is the basis of the Uncertainty Principle, and since I already presented the formula if the previous post, I can keep my promise not to repeat it here.  You however could not be certain with any degree of accuracy or probability that I would keep that promise.  It is this counterintuitive manner of thinking that makes quantum mechanics so darned frustrating to try and figure out.  But quantum physicists turn out to be right, or able to adjust their theories to simplify the complex wrong part into simpler right parts.

That leads to my concluding point.  The transformation of the vote into a compilation of isovotes is the key to understanding the American Electorate.  The pollsters from now on have to make the assumption that testing for probability and the majority will no longer provide accurate results.  The Uncertainty Principle shows that the isovotes cannot fit the Classical Statistical models for voter behavior.  Like quarks in atoms, isovotes behave in dynamic ways that cannot be predicted with certainty either before or after they are observed, and that the very behavior of the survey taker will have a direct affect on the nature of the isovotes, especially with regard to the person assigning meaning to them, creating a new future for that person’s set of isovotes that did not exist prior to being polled on his or her preferences.

November 2, 2010 will be a very interesting day in the history of the United States.  For one, I will find out if my theory of the Black Poll War is vindicated.  If it is, you can say you read it here first.  If it isn’t, you’ll know I’ll be working on the assumptions of my hypotheses to see if I can be as clever as a quantum physicist and adjust them so they fit the reality of the situation more closely.  Perhaps, I’ll just have to throw out the whole thing and start over.  That is the only way to do good science.

In the meantime, I’m very glad I don’t have to actually count the number of quarks in my bowl of soup.  They are very small and would take many human life times to total them, even if I physically could do it. That, I’ll leave to the quantum physicists and their amazing quark-counting machines.


The Black Poll War: The Defeat of the American Political Survery Industry

Part 1: Dispelling Misconceptions

This essay has absolutely nothing to do with race, racism, or the election of the first Black/African American president in U.S. history.  Really.

Part 2: It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time

The essay’s title is a play on the book title by quantum physicist, Leonard Susskind, The Black Hole War: My Battle with Stephen Hawking to make the World Safe for Quantum Mechanics. My title is a tribute to Dr. Susskind and someday I hope to understand at least half of what he wrote, whichever half that I still don’t understand.  It is kind of like a comprehension uncertainty principle.  Don’t worry, I’ll explain that below.  Really.

Part 3: The Really Scary Part

Because of what I learned from Dr. Susskind (and a few others), I am going to use some principles from quantum mechanics as analogies for “The Black Poll Wars.”  You are safe, however, to keep reading because I am not a quantum physicist and so writing as a layperson, I know my primary challenge is to get the my idea across as cogently as possible.  I admit, we’re not at that point yet.

Part 4: A Promise Not to be Too Scary

The thesis of this post is coming right after the definitions in Part 5 and Part 6.  I promise.

Part 5: Werner Heisenberg’s Very Good Idea

Definitions of the Uncertainty Principle From Three Quantum Physicists:

  1. Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle—The principle of Quantum Mechanics that limits one’s ability to determine position and velocity simultaneously.  Leonard Susskind (2008). The Black Hole Wars. P. 453.
  2. Uncertainty principle: There is a fundamental limit in nature in the precisions to which certain measurements can be made. Kenneth Ford (2005). The Quantum World. P. 260.
  3. Uncertainty Principle—The statement that the momentum and position of a particle cannot be known exactly simultaneously.  If the momentum of a particle is known exactly, then the position is completely uncertain, that is, there can be no information on the position.  If the position is known exactly, there can be no information on the magnitude of the momentum.  In general, the principle states that the position and the momentum can only be known with a certain degree of uncertainty.  This is intrinsic to nature and not a consequence of experimental error.  Michael Frayer (2010). Absolutely Small. P. 372.

Part 6: Uncertainty: The Answer not the Question

For those of you who are craving for at least one mathematical formula  because of the definitions in Part 5, here it is for the Uncertainty Principle.  On the other hand, if math of any kind causes you to break out in hives, please skip to Part 7.

ΔxΔp≥ ħ/2

Definition of Terms from Ford:

On the right side is the ubiquitous Planck’s constant [ħ] (here divided by 2π), which turns up in every equation  in quantum mechanics.  Momentum is represented by p, and position (distance) by x.  The Δ symbols are used here to mean “uncertainty of” (not “change of”): Δx is the uncertainty of position; Δp is the uncertainty of momentum.  The product of these two uncertainties is equal to the constant ħ (p. 213-214).*

* The alert reader will see that Dr. Ford’s definition of ħ, though correct for the value of ħ, lacks the definition of ħ/2.  Ford defines Heisenberg’s 1927 originally published  formula for uncertainty (which is the context of the definition in that chapter of The Quantum World).  Later that same year the formula was modified, known as the Kenard Revision , and was considered a refinement of the original, which is now known as the Classical Formula. (For the most recent formulation of the Uncertainty Principle, see the Wikipedia article.)

Part 7: The Black Poll War

To be clear, here is my thesis statement for this post:  The polling data being collected and published today will  in all likelihood be wrong in November when the election takes place.  Why?  The pollsters and the public believe the polls.  Right now, if you go to a website such as Polster.com, you will find an up-to-date list of all the major political surveyors and pollsters, professional and academic, party-affiliated and independent.  The people who publish the results of their surveys, for the most part, are highly trained professionals and are working very hard to mine the opinions of the American public.  They use the accepted methodologies for their survey research, collection and analysis.   They are vying for the status of being the most reliable polling organization in country, and many have the history and credentials to make that a genuinely possible achievement.  As an individual who has been trained to do research, has conducted surveys myself, using the same methods, I have, with one or two exceptions, no argument with the quality of their work.

I am growing increasingly convinced, however, they are going to fail.  Two or three of the national survey organizations at most may be lucky and get the final results right.  The rest will not.  The reason is simple; the explanation less so.

This will be the year of the Black Poll War.  The image is appealing for several reasons, aside from the allusion to the Black Hole Wars recently fought in astrophysics.  Election day will be a black day for one of the political parties.  As we get closer to that date, the polls, which historically should be coalescing into a clearer picture will appear to be doing so, but actually be less and less accurate. Those few who are paying attention to what I’m about to suggest will be scrambling to read the tea leaves, so to speak, but instead, may share with me this growing discomfort we are gazing down the maw of a black hole.  Light goes in and never comes out.  The show will appear to be the Event Horizon (the highly charged ring that encircles a black hole) and it will be spectacular, giving the pundits of all stripes an unlimited amount of material to fill the radio and TV airwaves.  They, too, however, will be stunned at how wrong they were the day after.

As I said, the reason is simple.  There is a cultural and sociological equivalent of the Uncertainty Principle at work here in the United States.  We are, undoubtedly, not the only nation experiencing this phenomenon.  But being who we are, the impact the principle is having on us has a disproportionately larger impact on the rest of the world.  If I understand the true relevance of the Uncertainty Principle, it has the biggest effect on the smallest things, such as a single photon of light, or a proton, or some other sub-atomic particle.  Now, stay with me here.  I promise no more math.  The Principle has the least affect on the biggest things in the universe, like galaxies or even clusters of galaxies.

From Royal Astrologers to the Second Foundation

The big things–That is exactly what the pollsters and public are searching for, the big trends, the big shifts, the big percentages.  That’s what surveys are for, right?  Well, of course.  We Americans are obsessed with–majority– I’ll bet you thought I was going to say big.  Just  thinking off the top of my head, we might  be past that stage in some respects.  Look at the trend in consumer electronics.  Bigger isn’t better, smaller is.  More features packed into a smaller container.  The computer I’m writing on with all the capabilities it has started life as a giant, slow, data cruncher that would have filled rooms.  In fact, those early computers couldn’t do 90% of what my lap top does.   Half a century ago if you had used the word “nano” in a sentence, the reaction would be blank stares.  Now we use in everyday conversation like it really means something.  Because it really does.

What, then, is our obsession with majorities?  Politically speaking, the answer is straightforward.  Democracy, as we define it, runs on the foundation that majority rules.  And the reason that formula is used is because we get to cast our vote on a remarkably large number of issues, both regarding choosing the people we want to lead us and in (many different ways) choosing which laws we want to help structure our philosophy of what constitutes an orderly society.  Inherent in this kind of governing system (yes, I know, technically the United States is a republic), is the fact that every time we vote, someone or something wins and someone or something loses.

The people who voted for the person or law that lost are never happy about it, but in a republic, that is the way of things. Since the losers might have been the winners, we agree as citizens living under one Great Code of Governance we call The Constitution, someone always will be in the role of the loser, or to borrow the more genteel phrase from our British friends, “the loyal opposition.”

In the contemporary setting, we are doing far better at the opposition part than the loyal part. There is this emerging undercurrent that the opposition considers itself to be loyal and the majority to be disloyal.  No matter which party is in the majority, when that political shift begins to be a resonating theme of discontent, the very foundation of the republic is at risk.  That analysis, however, is not direction I intend to go in this essay.

My guess is that the field of survey polling exists only because of democracy and voting.  Prior to that political innovation, kings and queens, emperors and empresses, and all sort of other sovereigns wanted to know the future.  The role of astrologers was to provide them with that information.  They didn’t consult the monarch’s subjects; they consulted the stars.  Despite the Disneyesque concept we have of sorcerers and viziers, astrologers were generally among the educated elite (they had to be to write the horoscopes for their particular  patron), and used more sophisticated methods of obtaining information than just drawing planets and epicycles on sheets of parchment.  It is likely that the best astrologers had agents out in the field gathering information for them.  Most were probably covertly operating spies so as not to blow the astrologer’s cover of celestial omniscience.  In one respect it helped assure the Royal Astrologer kept his head attached his body.  In another respect it was the birth of polling.

With the emergence of democracy, covert information gathering on the mood of the populace could finally step into the sunlight.  Both the leaders and public wanted to know the present sentiment of the voters, and also wanted to use that information in all sorts of creative ways, some legitimate, some as a complete distortion.  The goal was and is to achieve the Majority.  Everyone wants their side to be the majority, because of the control and power it conveys.  To meet that demand one of the branches of the science of statistics began developing formulas.  And they were very good at it.  Within a century statistical polling became one of the most powerful tools of any political party, candidate, or ballot measure or initiative proponent.  And for the most part, since Americans not only love to vote, but love to express our opinions about how we plan to vote, survey polling is one of the most lucrative fields to be in (well, as long as you are on the executive side of things).

Survey polling, though, has a huge flaw.  The “black poll war” is going to produce an across-the-board defeat of the field.  The flaw is that survey polling is based on separating the majority and minority, and reporting it as if it were real.  It is their philosophical “theory of everything.”  The issue, from their perspective, is settled.  Yes, methodologies can be refined and trend analysis can be made more robust by the addition of ever-more-precise demographics.  Increasingly sophisticated software run on supercomputers can crunch data at mind-boggling speeds.  All of those things however are no more than a paper mache disk painted to look like a man-hole cover.  You don’t want to step on it.

The flaw is this: Survey polling is still operating in the classical world of majority research.  It is by analogy the same difference between the classical world of Newtonian physics and the Planckian world of Quantum Mechanics.  Survey polling has no equivalent of the Uncertainty Principle, and that is going to make all the difference.

Waiter, there’s a quark in my soup bowl.

Think of it this way.  Suppose I invite an experienced pollster to lunch  for soup.  I place two identical bowls in front her .  One is filled with a steamy hot, delicious soup with a wonderful aroma.  The other contains water filled to the same level.  Then I ask her, as a pollster, to describe the characteristics of each bowl.  Playing along, hoping that she will get the bowl with soup and not the water, she adeptly describes the contents of each bowl.  Next, I ask her, “if each bowl represented a bloc of voters, which one will win?”  Since both bowls are filled to the identical level, she correctly says, “I can’t tell.  I can only make a decision which has the majority.”  I take away the bowl with the water and replace it with an empty bowl.  I repeat my question, and she quite accurately answers “If the amount of soup is the equivalent to the number of votes cast, then the bowl with the soup wins.”  I ask my final question.  “The votes are based on the number of quarks (a subatomic particle that is part of every atom) in each bowl.  Which bowl has the most quarks?”

How would you answer?

We will attempt to find a solution to this question in the next post.  Happy pondering!

Landing the Health Care Reform Bill: It Feels Like Apollo 11 Redux

The voyage of the legislation to create a Health Care Reform Bill has all the

Sen. Harry Reid Launches Health Care Reform in U.S. Senate. Photo credit: C-Span

emotional elements of landing Apollo 11 on the Moon in July 1969.  Health Care reform has been a long, complex mission with an uncertain outcome.  Is it an overstatement to say that landing on the Moon and returning to Earth was an easier and safer endeavor than getting the Health Care Reform Bills passed, conferenced and onto the President’s desk for signature?

At this moment, it seems almost to be the case.

When Neil Armstrong took manual control of the lunar lander to find a safe spot to set down, a thousand different things could have gone wrong.  In fact, alarms were going off in the cockpit.

As the Eagle’s landing radar acquired the surface, several computer error alarms appeared. The first was a code 1202 alarm and even with their extensive training Armstrong or Aldrin were not aware of what this code meant. However, they promptly received word from CAPCOM in Houston that the alarms were not a concern. The 1202 and 1201 alarms were caused by a processing overflow in the lunar module computer. As described by Buzz Aldrin in the documentary In the Shadow of the Moon, the overflow condition was caused by his own counter-checklist choice of leaving the docking radar on during the landing process. Aldrin stated that he did so with the objective of facilitating re-docking with the CM should an abort become necessary, not realizing that it would cause the overflow condition.  Source: Wikipedia

Eagle Lunar Lander just seconds after separation, Apollo 11, July 1969, Photo: NASA

It’s one thing to read about it.  As we close this 40th Anniversary of the Apollo 11 Landing, it really is much more satisfying to watch it.  This video is one continuous shot of approximately the final 10 minutes of the descent and landing, viewed from the right window of the LEM.  The audio is quite good, as well.  Watching it still stirs in me that sense of excitement I felt as a 16 year old kid glued to the TV set with my family.

[For a similar, but NASA produced video, click HERE.  This is the final approach, and included is an inset window that tracks the Lander’s progress crater by crater.  It provides a sense of perspective for the approach.]

Regarding the impending passage of the Senate bill and then the conference process, if you tend more toward the pessimistic side, you probably agree with Jonathan Cohn of The New Republic:

If your standard for comparison is your ideal health care reform, then of course this will be disappointing. Like every bill that’s moved through Congress, this one would leave millions uninsured even after full implementation–and leave millions with coverage facing substantial, although generally not crippling, financial burdens. It would introduce some reforms to the delivery system and, according to the official cost estimates, generate budget surpluses over time. But it’s not going to radically turn American health care into a paragon of cost efficiency.

If you tend more to the optimistic side, you probably agree with Paul Krugman of The New York Times:

Let me say that I get especially, um, annoyed at people who say that the plan isn’t really covering the uninsured, it’s just forcing them to buy insurance. That’s missing not just the community rating aspect, but even more important, it’s missing the subsidies. And we’re talking about big stuff: between Medicaid expansion and further support for families above the poverty line, we’re looking at around $200 billion a year a decade from now. Yes, a fraction of that will go to insurance industry profits. But the great bulk will go to making health care affordable.

So how anyone can call a plan to spend $200 billion a year on Americans in need a defeat for progressives is a mystery.

I wish there were a public option in there; I wish there were broader access to the exchanges; I wish the subsidies were even bigger. There’s lots of work to be done, work that may eventually culminate in a true, not simulated, single payer system. But even in this form, we’re looking at something that will make America a more just, more secure nation.

If you are a Republican or Tea Party Advocate, you are most likely hoping and praying the Health Care Reform bill will suffer the fate of the Soviet Luna 15 Lunar Lander Probe that was launched three days before Apollo 11:

Luna 15, launched only three days before the historic Apollo 11 mission to the Moon, was the third Soviet attempt to recover and bring lunar soil back to Earth. The spacecraft was capable of studying circumlunar space, the lunar gravitational field, and the chemical composition of lunar rocks… After completing 86 communications sessions and 52 orbits of the Moon at various inclinations and altitudes it began its descent. Astronauts Armstrong and Aldrin had already set foot on the Moon when Luna 15 fired its main retrorocket engine to initiate descent to the surface at 15:47 UT on 21 July 1969. Unfortunately, transmissions ceased only 4 minutes after deorbit at a calculated altitude of 3 kilometers. The spacecraft impacted the lunar surface on July 21, 1969. The spacecraft had probably crashed onto the side of a mountain.   Source: Wikipedia.

Launched 3 days before Apollo 11, the USSR's unmanned Luna 15 crashed onto the Moon's surface just hours after the Eagle had safely landed with Armstrong & Aldrin on board.

I’ll give House Minority Leader, Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) the final word…

Photo courtesy Politico.com & BlueStateDigital.com

No, I think I’ll give this Tea Party protester the final word.  Just like the rest of us loyal and patriotic Amurricans, life without spell-check is worse than…oh, wait, he spelled the word right.  In high school he clearly decided to protest which sections of Mrs. Dewey’s English classes were not patriotic enough, because he was getting this way-too-liberal education paid for through public taxation.  And those unacceptable sections happened to include homonyms and writing complete sentences.  I think his pointy hat needs to be cone not a tri-corner.

A Tea Party Protester: The Epitome of the Well-Educated American. Photo: ImageShack

Quinnipiac Poll: What the Republicans Failed to Mention About Health Care Reform

A Sniffer Report: The Quinnipiac House Health Care Bill PollThe Sniffer: Always on the Job to Sniff Out Anti-Healthcare Reform Radiation

During the Senate debate on the Health Care Reform Legislation,  the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, a number of Republican senators referred to a op-ed piece by David Broder, Washington Post columnist, titled, “A Budget-buster in the making.”  In his column, Mr Broder quotes from a survey poll conducted by Quinnipiac University released on November 19, 2009.  Mr Broder, focusing on just one question, states:

It read: “President Obama has pledged that health insurance reform will not add to our federal budget deficit over the next decade. Do you think that President Obama will be able to keep his promise or do you think that any health care plan that Congress passes and President Obama signs will add to the federal budget deficit?”

The answer: Less than one-fifth of the voters — 19 percent of the sample — think he will keep his word. Nine of 10 Republicans and eight of 10 independents said that whatever passes will add to the torrent of red ink. By a margin of four to three, even Democrats agreed this is likely.

That fear contributed directly to the fact that, by a 16-point margin, the majority in this poll said they oppose the legislation moving through Congress.

Hmm, is that so, Mr Broder?  Well, I just happened to read the complete news release from the researchers at Qunnipiac, including all those boring tables and numbers, and I came away with a completely different conclusion.

In Mr. Broder’s defense, he cites the opening statement of the report correctly:

Three-quarters of American voters – 74 percent – like President Barack Obama as a person, but only 47 percent like most of his policies, and voters disapprove 51 – 35 percent of the health care overhaul passed by the House of Representatives which he has endorsed, according to a Quinnipiac University national poll released today.

Voters disapprove 53 – 41percent of President Obama’s handling of health care.

Perhaps, though, Mr. Broder only read those two paragraphs, because just two paragraphs later is this statement:

Voters favor 57 – 35 percent giving people the option of being covered by a government- run health insurance plan, the “public option.” Independent voters approve 55 – 39 percent. The overall approval is down from 61 – 34 percent in an October 8 survey by the independent Quinnipiac (KWIN-uh-pe-ack) University. And they oppose two proposals to modify it:

* Allowing states to opt out of the public option is a bad idea, voters say 49 – 43 percent;

* Voters also oppose 47 – 38 percent the “trigger,” where the public option kicks in only if private insurance does not cover enough people.

Mr. Broder, as well as the distinguished Senators from the Republican Caucus, conveniently forgot to mention these results.  And some others, very important others, but we’ll get to those in a moment.

How should we parse these responses?  First of all, as an experienced researcher myself, the question is not very well written.  Not because of the content; it is a perfectly legitimate question to ask.  But the setup is too complex, and it borders on being a leading question.  It also should have been split into two questions:

  1. Do you think that President Obama will be able to keep his promise,
  2. Do you think that any health care plan that Congress passes and President Obama signs will add to the federal budget deficit?

Because of the way the question is phrased, we do not know to which of the two issues the respondent is answering.  Technically, the question should have been thrown out and the results not reported.

This assessment is strengthened in light of the next set of results.  In contrast to the results of the first question, the voters show considerable support for components of the health care reform.  By a margin of 55-37 percent, voters support the public option.  They oppose letting states opt out by 49-43 percent, and they oppose the “trigger” option by 47-38 percent.

Now, I don’t know about you, but these three items are among the most important in the entire health care reform legislation.  Couldn’t one, with some degree of confidence, say that from these results the American public generally supports key elements of the bills going through Congress?

That depends.  When asked if the respondents supported the House version of the bill, the split was 51-35 percent oppose, but 14 percent gave no answer.  The strongest opposition was expressed by whites, over 55 years of age, making more than $100,000, and describing themselves as conservative, and born again Christian evangelicals.   The strongest support came from African-Americans, in the 18-34 year old age range, with incomes less than $50,000 per year, describing themselves as liberal. (No data for Black religious preference was listed.)

As for President Obama’s support of the House bill, the attitude of most Americans toward him appears not to be much affected.  The category “no difference” runs consistently in the 40-50 percent range, with the obvious exception of those who identify themselves as Republican.  Since the percent of people who look favorably upon the president for his support of the House bill averages roughly 30 percent, adding it  to those whose attitude has not changed, we can’t draw too many conclusions, because the ones claiming no difference may be overall positive or negative.

The respondents, however, contradict themselves.  The next four questions all have to do with core concepts of health care legislation: the public option, states having the authority to opt out of the federal plan, the passage of a “trigger” provision that would  activate under a set of conditions where not enough people were covered by an established date, and whether or not Congress should pass the legislation this year.  On all four items, the responses are solidly positive.

But one issue they do not contradict themselves is their opinion of the Republicans and their behavior regarding the health care reform legislation.

While this survey has bad news for the President, the news for Republicans is worse:

Voters say 45 – 36 percent, including 40 – 37 percent among independents, that Obama is better able to handle health care than congressional Republicans. In October, it was 47 – 31 percent in the President’s favor.

Voters also say 59 – 29 percent that Republicans are not making a good faith effort to work with Obama and the Democrats on health care.

As one might expect, neither Mr. Broder nor the Republicans, reading the same industry-supplied script they’ve been parroting for months, mentioned anything about this part of the survey.  In the spirit of fairness, the voters aren’t all that favorably disposed to the Democrats either, but  out of Pres. Obama (45-36% over the GOP), Democrats (36-55%) and Republicans (31-58%) , the GOP  comes out dead last.

The quest for universal health care continues, strongly braving the winds of opposition blowing at hurricane strength.  The storm may increase, but the gale will not deter us.  All storms blow themselves out.  America will have universal health care.  A new blessing of Liberty will be enshrined in the Great American Experiment.