…with a “Two peoples separated by a common language” twist.

Stephen Tall writes about the McCain choice of Palin in a LibDem Voice article entitled: “The importance of a good number 2” (My English teacher used to tell a story about a colonel in his army regiment in Africa who used to base all his pep talks, invariably, on that theme).

Meanwhile, in a Time article about the candidates’ “vices”, John Weaver, McCain’s former chief strategist, talks about McCain “enjoying craps”.

….sorry for lowering the tone…but it’s a British thing isn’t it?

Prayers for Louisiana

The US national Hurricane Center have an excellent site. I use it frequently as I have a friend on Florida’s coast. By my reading of the maps, Hurricane Gustav is going to hit the coast of Louisiana about 30 miles west of New Orleans at 1pm tomorrow GMT (7am CDT). This is possibly the worst scenario for New Orleans as hurricanes travelling north often inflict their worst hit on northeastern areas. Gustav is currently category 3 and forecast to upgrade to category 5.

Sky News reports:

Hurricane Gustav is strong, packing winds of up to 150 mph. It is huge, with storm force winds extending out 175 miles from the eye of the storm and it also threatens frightening storm surges, the like of which will obliterate even the rebuilt levees of the bruised and battered New Orleans.

So, once again, it appears that the people of the Gulf coast, Louisiana and New Orleans in particular, need our prayers.

I note that George Bush and Dick Cheney have cancelled visits to the Republican National Convention in St Paul, Minnesota, which is scheduled to start tomorrow.

I would have thought that the start will be delayed for at least a day, if not more.

You can hardly have political festivities at the time of such danger for a large part of the USA.

It’s good to see the preparations which have been put in place for this Hurricane. I have just watched Mayor Ray Nagin talking. He surprised me at one point when he said, very forthrightly, that any looters would be sent “directly to Angola”. This seemed a bit drastic – a return to transportation for looters. Has the African state of Angola agreed to this? It turns out that he meant “Angola Prison”, which is the Louisiana state penitentiary.

Sarah Palin and the Hail Mary Pass

I’ve learnt something new today. I now know what a “Hail Mary Pass” is. I’d heard the phrase used twice to describe McCain’s pick of Sarah Palin:

A Hail Mary pass or Hail Mary play in American football is a forward pass made in desperation, with only a small chance of success. The typical Hail Mary is a very long forward pass thrown near the end of a half or end of a game where there is no probability for any other play to score points. This play is unlikely to be successful, because of the general inaccuracy of the pass and the defensive team’s preparedness for the play makes it likely that it can intercept or knock down the ball.

Votemaster on uses the phrase in a little playlet which posits the reason for McCain’s choice of the Moose-eater:

Schmidt: Yeah, but now Obama is just 5 EVs short of a tie (which means it goes to the House and he’ll win there) and 6 EVs short of a clean win. Look, there are six swing states this time: Florida, Virginia, Ohio, Missouri, Colorado, and Nevada. We have to win all six of them. Can’t lose a single state or we’re dead meat.

McCain: I’m a fighter. You know that. The gooks couldn’t break me. I’ll campaign like hell in all six. Don’t worry.

Schmidt: I’m worried. We’re 50-50 on all six. It’s like flipping a coin six times and getting six heads. One chance in 64, roughly 2%. We have to do something dramatic. Something that will throw all calculations out the window. Something that completely shakes up everything. Something that gives us a fresh start. Gotta hit the RESET button. carries the latest “scores on the doors” for the Electoral College based on the latest polls. The latest report shows Obama on 278 electoral votes* (he needs 270 to win). This might explain the desperation behind McCain’s Hail Mary Pass.

However, my calculations based on the Cook Report 9 “toss-up” states and a more conservative look at the last few polls, gives Obama 264 votes:

Polling: Scepticism about Palin’s qualifications, enthusisam about Obama’s speech

As we approach the US Presidential Election day, I am starting again to trawl the polling sites of the likes of Ruy Teixeira (my favourite political scientist and a tough one to spell but I am helped by the fact that the people we bought our house from were of the same name), Charlie Cook and Polling Report.

Polling Report carries some latest polling from USA Today/Gallup done on 29th August. Asking 898 registered voters about Sarah Palin, 19% thought she was an excellent choice, 27% said pretty good, 19% only fair, 18% poor and 17% were unsure. 18% said her choice would make them more likely to vote for the McCain ticket. 67% said the choice would not have much effect on their voting choice. 39% thought she is qualified to be Veep, 33% said she was not qualified and 29% were unsure. Compare this with a similar poll about the Joe Biden choice when 63% said he was qualified to be Veep.

The same organisation polled 1,016 adults on the same day about Obama’s big speech. A healthy 43% said the speech would make them more likely to vote for him. 35% said it was excellent, 23% said it was good and 15% said “just okay”.

An everyday story of biking folk…

David Cameron’s travails with his bike could be turned into a soap opera or a comic strip: the trips to work trailed by the media, the shoe chauffeur in the supporting role, running red lights, going the wrong way up one way streets, getting his bike nicked, then getting it returned courtesy of Ernest Theophile and some local youths…..there’s endless material there.

And now, the brakes fail:

“I got on the bike to go to work for the first time after it was returned to me, rode off at speed and hit the brakes at the end of the road,” he said last week. “To my horror, the brakes didn’t work and I flew out across an adjoining road. Luckily there were no cars coming towards me, but it was a very close call.”

Cameron sidelines Boris

David Cameron has sidelined Boris Johnson amid fears the maverick Tory could steal the limelight at the party’s annual conference next month.

London mayor Mr Johnson has been relegated to a brief 15-minute slot during “snooze time” after Sunday lunch.

The move will be a bitter blow for the outspoken politician who dreams of succeeding Mr Cameron and becoming Prime Minister.

Tory Party chiefs are determined he will not upstage Mr Cameron despite his huge popularity in the party.

They have denied him the chance to make a keynote speech at the Birmingham conference.

A Tory source said: “He will not be the darling of the conference. There will only be one star of the show and that’s going to be David Cameron.”

Sunday Mirror

MMR scare: It’s the media’s fault

Ben Goldacre continues to be one of my favourite journalists. Not having a science background, I reach to him for a bit of sanity on controversial science-based issues.

It is worth reading his article in the Guardian today. It is about the history of the MMR/autism scare and it is a stonker. He basically says that the MMR scare was the fault of the media, and, in particular, their propensity to use general journalists to comment on what was essentially a scientific matter, rather than science journalists. One particular passage relates the story behind a couple of MMR scare stories in 2006:

..”US scientists back autism link to MMR” said the Telegraph. “Scientists fear MMR link to autism” squealed the Mail.

What was this frightening new data? These scare stories were based on a poster presentation, at a conference yet to occur, on research not yet completed, by a man with a well-documented track record of announcing research that never subsequently appears in an academic journal. This time Dr Arthur Krigsman was claiming he had found genetic material from vaccine-strain measles virus in some gut samples from children with autism and bowel problems. If true, this would have bolstered Wakefield’s theory, which by 2006 was lying in tatters. We might also mention that Wakefield and Krigsman are doctors together at Thoughtful House, a private autism clinic in the US.

Two years after making these claims, the study remains unpublished.

Nobody can read what Krigsman did in his experiment, what he measured, or replicate it.

Should anyone be surprised by this? No. Krigsman was claiming in 2002 that he had performed colonoscopy studies on children with autism and found evidence of harm from MMR, to universal jubilation in the media, and this work remains entirely unpublished as well. Until we can see exactly what he did, we can’t see whether there may be flaws in his methods, as there are in all scientific papers, to a greater or lesser extent: maybe he didn’t select the subjects properly, maybe he measured the wrong things. If he doesn’t write it up formally, we can never know, because that is what scientists do: write papers, and pull them apart to see if their findings are robust.