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By Brendan Loy

One of the greatest American political traditions took place last night: the Al Smith Dinner, at which both presidential candidates roast one another — and themselves — in front of an audience of wealthy coastal elites in New York City. Both Obama and Romney were hilarious. Here they are:

I’d encourage you to watch both videos, but if you don’t have time, some of the candidates’ best lines are quoted after the jump.

Continue reading »

By Brendan Loy

[NOTE: In addition to entering the contest, please bookmark my Liveblog, Livechat & Live Results page, then come back Tuesday for election results and contest results!]

With less than three weeks until the presidential election, the polls are open for my quadrennial blog contest to see who can best predict the Electoral College outcomes! It’s time to start playing with the red & blue map, like Loyette and Loyacita:

In 2004, Mike Wiser had a perfect map; in 2008, Kevin Curran missed only Missouri, edging out the competition because he correctly predicted Obama’s surprise win in Nebraska’s 2nd congressional district.

Who will join Wiser and Curran and earn eternal glory (and possibly a CafePress mug of your electoral map) this year? Will it be you?

269-269-PANIC

Click here to enter the contest!

The entry deadline is Election Eve — Monday, November 5 — at 7:00 PM Mountain Time (9pm Eastern, 6pm Pacific). Feel free to enter early, and then re-enter later if you change your mind; I will assume that the last entry I receive is the final one, and will discard any earlier entries, unless you tell me otherwise. If you have any questions, or just want to make a minor change to your entry, e-mail me at irishtrojan [at] gmail.com.

Contest Rules:

* Each contestants will receive between 0 and 538 points, depending on how close they come to a “perfect map.” For each correctly-predicted state/district, the contestant receives as many points as the state/district has electoral votes. So, for instance, it’s better to get both Iowa (6) and Nevada (6) wrong, and everything else right, than to get just Ohio (18) wrong. The map that missed only IA & NV would get 526 points; the map that missed only OH, 520.

* I will abide by the final popular-vote result in each state/district as certified by the relevant governing authority in that jurisdiction; “faithless electors” will not be taken into account. A winner will be declared as soon as the state-by-state election results are sufficiently complete that such a declaration is possible, whether that’s on election night or weeks later. I will use my best judgment to fairly determine the operative winner for contest purposes in the event of any disputed state results.

* There is no requirement that the contest winner must necessarily have predicted the correct overall winner in the election (although that is a tiebreaker, as you’ll see). The object of the game is to predict each state correctly. If you only get, say, New Hampshire wrong, even if that one error happens to change the national winner, you’ll still beat someone who had the right national winner but picked Florida wrong, for instance.

* Tiebreakers are similar to, but slightly different from, last time around. They are as follows, in order:

1. In the event of a tie in points, a contestant who correctly predicts the overall national electoral vote winner (again, going by the popular-vote results in each state, ignoring “faithless electors”) prevails over a contestant who predicts the wrong national winner. NOTE: For purposes of this rule, a 269-269 map is regarded as predicting an Romney victory, and a 269-269 result is considered a Romney victory (because the Republicans have a mortal lock on a majority of the House delegations in more than 25 states, so Romney would become president in any 269-269 scenario, unless a number of House Republicans defect and vote for Obama, which seems inconceivable to me).

2. Among still-tied contestants, whoever gets the fewest number of states wrong prevails. So, for instance, all other things being equal, it’s better to get Wisconsin wrong (10 EVs) than to get both Iowa (6) and New Hampshire (4) wrong. For purposes of this rule, the District of Columbia counts as a “state.” As for Maine and Nebraska, if a contestant gets the at-large result right, but a congressional district or two wrong — or vice-versa — this will be counted as a “half-state” wrong.

3. Among still-tied contestants, whoever comes closer, in absolute value terms, to predicting President Obama’s electoral vote total prevails. This rule rewards “offsetting” errors when two maps otherwise contain the same number of mistakes. So, for instance, suppose Obama wins Iowa (6) and Wisconsin (10), but Romney wins Nevada (6). Now support Map #1 gets Iowa and Wisconsin wrong, giving Romney both states. Map #2 gets Wisconsin wrong, giving it to Romney, and also gets Nevada wrong, giving it to Obama. Both maps are off by 16 EVs, and by 2 states. But Map #1 gives Obama 16 fewer electoral votes than he actually received, while Map #2 comes within 4 electoral votes of Obama’s actual total. Map #2 therefore wins this tiebreaker.

4. Among still-tied contestants, whoever comes closer, in absolute value terms, to predicting how many Senate seats the Republicans will win, prevails. The result will be based on election results only; any post-election party switches (or surprise Angus King caucusing decisions) will not be considered.

5. Among still-tied contestants, whoever comes closer, in absolute value terms, to predicting how many House seats the Republicans will win, prevails. Again, the result will be based on election results only; any post-election party switches will not be considered.

6. Among still-tied contestants, anyone who correctly predicted the state with the closest popular-vote margin (in percentage terms) defeats anyone who failed to do so.

7. Among still-tied contestants, whoever comes closer, in absolute value terms, to predicting Obama’s national popular-vote margin of victory/defeat, prevails. (All Romney & Obama popular-vote predictions are rounded to the nearest tenth of percent.)

8. Among still-tied contestants, whoever comes closer, in absolute value terms, to predicting Gary Johnson’s national popular-vote total, prevails. (All Johnson popular-vote predictions are rounded to the nearest hundredth of percent.)

9. Among still-tied contestants, whoever comes closer, in absolute value terms, to predicting Obama’s raw vote total in Colorado, prevails. (Contestants are encouraged to give an exact total, down to the individual vote, in order to prevent ties.)

10. In the unlikely event that a tie remains, whoever entered the contest earlier, prevails. (Any changes to one’s prediction resets their prediction time to the date and time of the last change.)

Again, click here to enter! And then check back here, and on my Twitter feed, for contest results on Election Night. [UPDATE: Liveblog link!]

Good luck!

P.S. A big hat tip to Unlikely Voter, whose nifty, easy-to-use, Maine-and-Nebraska-including, informative-URL-encoding electoral prediction map I used to power my contest.

By Brendan Loy

The first presidential debate is upon us, and the political world has temporarily descended on my city, Denver, and specifically on the university — indeed, the very arena — where I’ve spent so much blogging about basketball these last few years, the University of Denver’s Magness Arena. I don’t have credentials to attend the main event, but I did manage to get inside to check out the debate hall and the preparations on Debate Eve. Photos here, including this ridiculous bit of epic Mid-Majority win:

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Yes, that would be DU Bally and Mile High Bally, a.k.a. the Brotherz Ballz, on the very podiums where Obama and Romney will stand during the debate. The story of how they got there is pretty damn hilarious.

Anyway, I’m taking a long-planned day off work Wednesday, and will be tweeting — first from Marco Rubio’s morning rally, then from some portion of DU’s “DebateFest,” then probably from our family “debate watch” at home, and perhaps even from a Green Party rally afterward — and I’ll be using CoverItLive to collect, publish and archive it all. Becky’s tweets, too. Here goes:

By Brendan Loy

In 2009, my first full year working as an attorney, I was supporting a family of four on a single income. Because of the child tax credit, the mortgage and student loan deductions, and various other credits and deductions for which Becky and I qualified, I ultimately did not pay any federal income tax that year. I received a refund of my entire federal income-tax withholding, and then some. This means I was part of “the 47%” of non-taxpayers.

According to Mitt Romney, it also means I have an “entitlement” mentality; I believe I am a “victim”; I believe the “government has a responsibility to care for me”; and he’ll never be able to convince me that I should “take personal responsibility and care for my life.” Mitt Romney literally said that about the 47% of adults who don’t pay federal income taxes.

“The 47%” is a concept that’s been widely discussed in online conservative circles, a shorthand to refer to the Randian fear that an increasingly large percentage of the population has no “skin in the game” and are basically a bunch of moochers and parasites. In reality, however, the 47% of non-taxpayers is a diverse group that’s made up partly of people like me in 2009 (middle-class working folks who qualify for lots of credits and deductions); partly of elderly people who worked their entire lives and now depend on Social Security; and partly of poor people, both working and non-working — some of whom, yes, receive various forms of government assistance. It also includes various other groups who don’t pay federal income taxes for specific reasons, such as active duty combat troops (!). Mitt Romney thinks the 47% are all a bunch of welfare queens and food-stamp recipients, he thinks this group shares a lifestyle that he can reasonably denounce as lacking personal responsibility and betraying an entitlement mentality, but he’s just categorically wrong. This is a matter of fact, not opinion. The 47% is a vastly different group than he apparently imagines it to be.

Although I am a Democrat, I have defended Romney when he’s been criticized for previous “gaffes” that were really harmless statements taken out of context, like “corporations are people too,” “I like being able to fire people,” and “I’m not concerned about the very poor.” Those were poorly worded statements, but — much like Obama’s “you didn’t build that” — the actual context was clear, and relatively inoffensive. This, though, is different. Romney said precisely what he meant, and it’s completely indefensible in every respect. The context makes it worse, not better.

(The only remotely equivalent comment that Obama has ever made, to my knowledge, is his infamous “bitter clingers” remark in 2008. That was pretty bad — I think @polarscribe is right that it wasn’t quite as bad as this, but it was genuinely bad, and I criticized him for it at the time. To this day, I think he’s lucky it wasn’t fatal to his campaign, largely due to good timing: it happened late enough that it couldn’t meaningfully help Hillary Clinton, who was already hopelessly behind, but early enough that Hillary used it extensively and made it “old news” long before the general election, so McCain couldn’t get as much mileage out of it as he could’ve if it had emerged in, oh I dunno, let’s say mid-September. Romney may not be so lucky.)

Romney wasn’t going to get my vote anyway; my decision is between President Obama and Gary Johnson. But this outrageous statement by Romney really cements my disdain for him. A man so ignorant of the basic nature of our tax code, so callously indifferent to the needless divisiveness of his own words, and so willing to engage in sweeping generalizations about other people’s “beliefs” — thereby insulting the character of millions of his fellow Americans based solely on their tax status — is unfit to be President of the United States.

UPDATE: I thought I’d put my feelings in photo form, a la those 1% / 99% photos that were all the rage last year:

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David Brooks’s column today on this issue is a must-read:

In 1960, government transfers to individuals totaled $24 billion. By 2010, that total was 100 times as large. Even after adjusting for inflation, entitlement transfers to individuals have grown by more than 700 percent over the last 50 years. This spending surge…has increased faster under Republican administrations than Democratic ones.

There are sensible conclusions to be drawn from these facts. You could say that the entitlement state is growing at an unsustainable rate and will bankrupt the country. You could also say that America is spending way too much on health care for the elderly and way too little on young families and investments in the future.

But these are not the sensible arguments that Mitt Romney made at a fund-raiser earlier this year. Romney, who criticizes President Obama for dividing the nation, divided the nation into two groups: the makers and the moochers. Forty-seven percent of the country, he said, are people “who are dependent upon government, who believe they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to take care of them, who believe they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it.”

This comment suggests a few things. First, it suggests that he really doesn’t know much about the country he inhabits. Who are these freeloaders? Is it the Iraq war veteran who goes to the V.A.? Is it the student getting a loan to go to college? Is it the retiree on Social Security or Medicare?

It suggests that Romney doesn’t know much about the culture of America. Yes, the entitlement state has expanded, but America remains one of the hardest-working nations on earth. Americans work longer hours than just about anyone else. Americans believe in work more than almost any other people. Ninety-two percent say that hard work is the key to success, according to a 2009 Pew Research Survey.

It says that Romney doesn’t know much about the political culture. Americans haven’t become childlike worshipers of big government. On the contrary, trust in government has declined. The number of people who think government spending promotes social mobility has fallen.

The people who receive the disproportionate share of government spending are not big-government lovers. They are Republicans. They are senior citizens. They are white men with high school degrees. As Bill Galston of the Brookings Institution has noted, the people who have benefited from the entitlements explosion are middle-class workers, more so than the dependent poor.

Sure, there are some government programs that cultivate patterns of dependency in some people. I’d put federal disability payments and unemployment insurance in this category. But, as a description of America today, Romney’s comment is a country-club fantasy. It’s what self-satisfied millionaires say to each other. It reinforces every negative view people have about Romney.

Personally, I think he’s a kind, decent man who says stupid things because he is pretending to be something he is not — some sort of cartoonish government-hater. But it scarcely matters. He’s running a depressingly inept presidential campaign. Mr. Romney, your entitlement reform ideas are essential, but when will the incompetence stop?

It won’t. Republicans are (probably, barring some unexpected sea change) going to lose this highly winnable election because they chose the worst major-party nominee since either Dukakis or Mondale. Yes, despite the obvious parallels, he’s even worse than Kerry, I now believe. He’s unbelievably bad.

But back to Romney’s statement. The words he used, in the context he created, are completely indefensible. Folks who claim his statement was “accurate” because of some unjustifiably narrow reading of what he said (the 47% is an accurate number, so he was right, and let’s ignore all the ‘beliefs’ and character traits he universally ascribed to the 47%), or supposedly “meant” to say (he wasn’t referring to hard-working people, he meant the true “dependents”…and we’ll ignore that they’re a small minority of the 47%, thus completely contradicting his entire damn point), are blindly partisan apologists — period. No properly informed, intellectually honest person can defend the substance of these comments. Only the ignorant and the dishonest can or would.

“Unfit to be president” is, admittedly, on reflection, probably a bit overwrought. But what Romney said was wrong, offensive, and factually indefensible, and he needs to apologize fully and completely. But of course he can’t and won’t, because doing so would require admitting that, as Brooks says, he fundamentally doesn’t understand the nation he is asking voters to let him govern.

By Brendan Loy

Again, for coverage of T.S. Isaac, check out my Pajamas Media “Weather Nerd” blog, and also follow me on Twitter. Forget Tampa and the RNC — that’s a sideshow. This storm is looking increasingly scary for New Orleans, though there’s still a great deal of uncertainty. Here’s what one computer model predicted Saturday night:

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Yikes!! But again, that’s just one run of one computer model, and there’s lots of uncertainty. Click those PJM and Twitter links for more!

2 Comments  |  Categories: Hurricanes

By Brendan Loy

It’s way too early to be certain of where Tropical Storm Isaac will go, but Republican National Convention organizers have to be pretty nervous right now. The official NHC forecast has Isaac, by then a Category 1 hurricane, making a beeline for Tampa on the first day of the RNC (next Monday), and the most recent run of the GFS computer model has a fierce-looking hurricane sitting just offshore as of next Wednesday morning:

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(Image via the excellent Weather Bell Models by meteorologist @RyanMaue.)

Dr. Jeff Masters says, “I put the odds of an evacuation occurring during the convention in the current situation at 3%.” I’ve posted a full update at my Weather Nerd blog, and will be posting updates there as often as I can, and also on Twitter, of course.

By Brendan Loy

paul ryan medicare

One does not simply walk into Medicare. Its red ink is guarded by more than just Democrats. There is an AARP there that does not sleep, and the Great Grandma is ever watchful. It is a barren wasteland, riddled with demagoguery and deception and despair. The very political discourse you crave is a poisonous fume. Not with ten thousand Tea Partiers could you do this. It is folly.

By Brendan Loy

I realize this blog has basically gone dormant — indeed, I’m thinking of making that formal, suspending the blog (with the ability to restart it later if/when I so desire) and starting up a Tumblr, largely to save money on server costs and increase social-media interaction — but just in case anyone is checking in on me here, I wanted to say that Becky and I and the kids are all fine. The theater where moviegoers were massacred during a midnight showing of the new Batman movie is about 6 miles from us, and is the second- or third-closest major movie theater to us, so this does “hit close to home.” But we were safe and sound, all fast asleep, when this senseless tragedy occurred.

It’s sure been a crappy summer in Colorado, in terms of bad news. Devastating wildfires, a fatal shooting at Denver’s weekly City Park Jazz summer festival, and now this. Ugh.

7 Comments  |  Categories: Colorado

By Brendan Loy

My Flickr gallery of the Transit of Venus (and of my drive up into the mountains & back) is finally online. Here are a few pictures that I haven’t posted on the blog before:

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The spot in Carbondale, in the front yard of St. Vincent’s Church, where the Three Rivers Astronomy Club folks set up to watch the transit.

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A view of the transit through one club member’s Hydrogen-alpha telescope. It was tough to get a good picture through that scope’s viewfinder, but if you look closely, you can see some prominences.

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My video camera felt a pit puny next to all the telescopes.

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A white-light view of the transit, and some sunspots, again as seen through a telescope’s viewfinder.

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Warning: beer is NOT an approved solar filtration device. :) Also note (as I did in a tweet) that this was Wisconsin beer, on the night of the Walker recall.

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This is an approved solar filtration device — #14 welder’s glass. Telescopes in background.

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As the evening wore on, somebody bought pizza, somebody broke out the beer, and we had a fun, laid-back transit party.

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Sunset, as seen on my camcorder’s screen. “Bye, Venus! See you in 105 years!” said Frank Nadell as the planet’s silhouette set behind the mountains.

Full gallery here.

Also, don’t miss my Transit of Venus video, if you haven’t already seen it.

Previous transit posts here, here, here, here and here

By Brendan Loy

Meet the latest addition to the Loy family menagerie: Bailout #PANIC Loy. "Bailey" for short. :)

Bailey is an 8-week-old yellow lab puppy from Joplin, Missouri, who we adopted yesterday through the Rocky Mountain Lab Rescue.

She joins our three cats (Toby, Sasha and Butter), four chickens (Belle, Rapunzel, Cinderella and Briar Rose) and two fish (Goldie and Romney). And of course that’s not mentioning our three daughters. All are female, with the possible exception of the fish.

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By Brendan Loy

I don’t have my promised Flickr gallery of the Transit of Venus online just yet, but here’s a 3-minute video of portions of the transit. The first 2 minutes of footage are sped up between 4x and 20x and set to pertinent music; the final minute is normal speed, with chit-chat and a round of applause as Venus and the Sun set behind the mountains.

John Philip Sousa FTW.

Video taken with my Sony HDR-XR350V camcorder, with one lens from a pair of Rainbow Symphony solar viewing glasses duct-taped to the front of the camera.

By Brendan Loy

Yesterday was I day I’d been literally counting down to for 6 1/2 years, or 2,935 days — and it totally lived up to the hype. My first and last viewing of a Transit of Venus was simply awesome, and well worth the drive to Carbondale.

(Now, only 1,902 days until the next big event! Heh.)

Anyway, after returning home from the mountains at around 12:30 AM, I downloaded all of my transit photos and videos, but I haven’t had a chance to process and upload them yet. I hope to do that tonight. I’ll eventually be posting a full gallery on Flickr, and some Vimeo clips. So, stay tuned.

In the mean time, to tide you over, here’s a picture I got of the “black drop effect“:

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I took that photo 13 seconds after the one that I tweeted. Both were shot through the viewfinder of a telescope. (I would eventually figure out how to reduce the exposure a bit, resulting in less overexposed pics, through the same telescope, like this one.)

Also, here’s a photo of me next to the Transit of Venus — well, next to a pinhole projection thereof, anyway.

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If you look really closely, you can just barely make out Venus in the “southwest” portion of the Sun (which is upside-down due to the pinhole device’s mirror). You can see it more easily if you look at a larger version of the photo.

Here’s one where you can see Venus more clearly, but me less clearly:

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Hey, last chance till 2117 — I needed photographic proof that I was there. :)

After the jump, my personal Storify timeline of the transit, chronicling — with tweets, RTs replies and @mentions — my experience, starting with my decision about where to watch from (Tucson, Denver, or the Rocky Mountains?) and then continuing with my road trip to Carbondale, Colorado, and my viewing of the transit.

Continue reading »

By Brendan Loy

What an absolutely phenomenal view and experience of the Transit of Venus in Carbondale, Colorado. It was well worth the three-hour drive. Many thanks to the members of the Three Rivers Astronomy Club, who hosted a truly awesome transit party, and let me & other members of the public use their telescopes (and take pictures like the one below). More photos & videos to come later.