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October 31st, 2010:

Weekend link dump for October 31


Here’s my usual reminder about the Candy Man, and how he helped kill Halloween around here for awhile.

Extreme credit card makeover.

The asymmetry of responsibility.

The public knows a lot of things that aren’t true.

It’s your job to protect yourself from salmonella.

The primary problem with “Mallard Fillmore” is that it’s lame, lazy, and unfunny. The fact that it is also gratuitously racist and intolerant should be more than enough to keep it out of publications that like to think of themselves as respectable, but for some reason it gets graded on a curve.

Well, why shouldn’t she do that?

What Ta-Nehisi says.

I thought that with all the immigrant-hating that the right wing had moved past homophobia, but I was wrong.

Rethinking Jodie Foster. Never thought I’d see something like that get written.

Latino voter enthusiasm is trending up. Sure hope some of that finds its way to Texas.

Bidding a fond farewell to the Sony Walkman.

In teabagger-speak, “unconstitutional” means “stuff I don’t like”.

Maybe “Citizens United” was good for the economy.

Apparently, elitism is on the rise. Someone better alert Charles Murray.

I love a story about a spammer getting taken down.

He’s baaaaaaaaack.

There’s no such thing as a deficit hawk, but climate hawks are the real deal. Good thing, too.

RIP, Leo Cullum. You know his work, even if you don’t recognize his name.

“Halloween is the day when America market-tests parental paranoia. If a new fear flies on Halloween, it’s probably going to catch on the rest of the year, too.”

Where do they want to take us back to?

How the sausage is made these days. See here for more.

Not failure is usually the better choice than failure.

They play for keeps in my home town.

Just what the sugary soda debate needs, journalistic “balance”.

We’ll always have counterfactuals.

I don’t have any particular rooting interest in this World Series, but stuff like this makes me want to see the Giants win.

Leave Christine O’Donnell alone. Seriously.

Whether or not you went to the Stewart/Colbert rally, here’s all the misguided reasons why you shouldn’t have.

I hope this guy gets prosecuted.

Final early vote wrapup

As was the case in 2008, we saw record levels of early voting this year in Harris County.

As polls closed Friday before Tuesday’s general election, as many as 450,000 people are expected to have cast their ballots early or by mail, an amount officials say is likely to make up about 65 percent of the total, a record for Harris County in a gubernatorial contest. That would more than double the total number of early votes in 2002 and 2006.

Harris County Clerk Beverly Kaufman predicted that as many as 300,000 will cast their ballots Tuesday, putting overall turnout at 750,000, or about 39 percent of registered voters.

Kaufman attributed the huge early voter turnout to a “true spirit of cooperation” among voters aware of the August fire that destroyed 10,000 pieces of voting equipment. Immediately after the blaze and before she knew whether the county would be able to obtain enough electronic voting machines by Tuesday, Kaufman began imploring residents to vote early to avoid the sort of lines that could discourage turnout on Election Day.

Here’s the final daily tally for early voting. As of close of business Friday, a total of 444,648 in person and mail ballots had been cast. Mail ballots that arrive through Tuesday will still count, so that number will creep up a bit in the end.

As for turnout projections, we don’t have much history to guide us, as the County Clerk webpage only breaks out early votes for 2002 and 2006. In 2002, by my calculations 188,225 of the 652,682 votes were cast early, including mail ballots, for a total of 28.8%. In 2006, 191,533 of the 601,186 votes were cast early, for 31.9% of the total. (You can see the 2006 daily early vote tracker here.) If 65% of the votes have been cast already as the story suggests, we’ll have final turnout in the 690,000 range. For a final turnout of 750,000, that means only 60% of the votes have been cast already. My inclination is the pick the lower number, and even that may be a tad high. Let’s say the over/under is at 700,000, and as is my habit, I’ll take the under.

As for the breakdown by State Rep. districts where early votes were cast, it looks like this:

2010 last day Strong R = 41.9% Medium R = 9.1% Medium D = 16.7% Strong D = 29.4% 2010 overall Strong R = 46.0% Medium R = 9.3% Medium D = 17.4% Strong D = 25.0% Total R = 55.3% Total D = 42.4% 2006 Overall Strong R = 43.7% Medium R = 11.2% Medium D = 19.2% Strong D = 23.2% Total R = 54.9% Total D = 42.4%

In the end, it looks a lot like 2006 after a very good second week for Democrats. As before, Thursday was more Democratic than Wednesday, and Friday was more Democratic than Thursday. Moreover, the last five days of early voting saw more ballots cast – 211,552 in person for that period compared to 180,984 for the first seven days. What I’ve heard about the primary voting history suggests Dems pulled ahead of Rs by the end, but there’s a lot of people with unknown partisan history – about a quarter of the total – who have voted as well. Some fraction of that is people who were not eligible to vote in Harris County before 2009, for reasons such as being too young or not living here yet, but I’m a bit concerned about that because more people voted in the Democratic primary here in 2008 than have ever voted for a candidate of either party in a non-Presidential year before now. There’s more room for November Republicans in that total than there is for November Democrats, since so many of the latter now have a primary history. Here’s Dr. Murray’s take of how things look, which he posted before Friday’s numbers came in.

Finally, at the state level, early voting in the top 15 counties is up about 60% over 2006. Harris and Hidalgo more than doubled, Fort Bend and Montgomery nearly doubled, while El Paso and Nueces were basically flat. Don’t think this means much for final turnout, but you never know. There were 4,553,987 votes cast in the 2002 Governor’s race, and 4,399,116 such votes in 2006. I am confident this year will exceed 2006, and just on population growth should pass 2002. Let’s say 4.7 million, as a wild guess. Feel free to make your own.

Quantifying my elitism

Apparently, Charles Murray’s latest bit of faux-populism has spawned a meme. Let’s see just how much of an out-of-touch elitist I am, shall we?

1. Can you talk about “Mad Men?”

Yes, but only because I absorb vast quantities of pop culture by osmosis. I can also talk about “Jersey Shore”, “Dancing With The Stars”, and “American Idol”, even though like “Mad Men” I’ve never seen a single episode.

2. Can you talk about the “The Sopranos?”


3. Do you know who replaced Bob Barker on “The Price Is Right?”

Drew Carey. And Johnny Olson once kissed my great-grandmother. Top that!

4. Have you watched an Oprah show from beginning to end?

I regularly see bits and pieces of it – Tiffany often has it on in the afternoon – and have probably seen one all the way through, but couldn’t swear to it in court.

5. Can you hold forth animatedly about yoga?

I took some yoga classes for awhile, but it never really suited me. Among other things, I’m the least flexible person you’ll ever meet. So, while I can speak non-stupidly about yoga, I don’t think I rise to the “hold forth animatedly” standard.

5. How about pilates?

Yep. It’s my main form of exercise other than walking.

6. How about skiing?

Once every four years, during the Winter Olympics, maybe a little.

6. Mountain biking?

Dude, I live in Houston. I don’t even know what a “mountain” is.

7. Do you know who Jimmie Johnson is?

Apparently, this refers to some NASCAR guy and not the helmet-haired former football coach. I saw them mention him on a recent “Fox NFL Sunday”. Does that count?

8. Does the acronym MMA mean nothing to you?

Yes. See the answer to Question 1 and my pop-culture-osmosis ability.

9. Can you talk about books endlessly?

Sure, but outside of mysteries and children’s books I’ll be faking it.

10. Have you ever read a “Left Behind” novel?

No, but I’ve read all of The Slacktivist’s excellent writing about them.

11. How about a Harlequin romance?

Probably not a branded Harlequin, but I’ve read a few similar trashy romance novels of some other stripe.

12. Do you take interesting vacations?

We visit my parents in Portland every year. Does that count?

13. Do you know a great backpacking spot in the Sierra Nevada?

No, but I could probably find the Sierra Nevada on a map if I had to.

14. What about an exquisite B&B overlooking Boothbay Harbor?

Never heard of the place.

15. Would you be caught dead in an RV?

Sure, why not?

16. Would you be caught dead on a cruise ship?

Sure. I’ve been on two, a Windjammer and a Carnival, and would love to do an Alaskan cruise some day.

17. Have you ever heard of of Branson, Mo?

Heard of it? Sure. Have any desire to visit it? No.

18. Have you ever attended a meeting of a Kiwanis Club?


19. How about the Rotary Club?

No, but Tiffany has – she got a Rotary scholarship that helped her get through grad school. Boy, talk about your conflict of elitism there!

And though you didn’t ask, I’ll tell you that I once attended a Knights of Columbus dinner at which my godfather and great-uncle Mike was being honored, and once attended a K of C fish fry in El Paso with my best college buddy. Where does that fall on the plebe/elite spectrum?

20. Have you lived for at least a year in a small town?

Nope, I’m a big city boy all the way.

21. Have you lived for a year in an urban neighborhood in which most of your neighbors did not have college degrees?

Never thought about it, but it wouldn’t surprise me. Where I lived on Staten Island was pretty blue collar back in the day.

22. Have you spent at least a year with a family income less than twice the poverty line?

I was a grad student for almost three years. You do the math.

23. Do you have a close friend who is an evangelical Christian?

Yes, several. Is it elitist of me to say I know devout members of other faiths, too?

24. Have you ever visited a factory floor?

No, but I’ve been to three refineries and a chemical plant.

25. Have you worked on one?

No, but I worked for several years on a help desk that supported those refineries and chemical plants.

So now you know. How much of an elitist are you? And how much of one do you suppose Charles Murray is?


Now how much would you pay for a trip to the exosphere?

In the half-century since humans first touched the stars, just seven people have paid their way into space, each forking over tens of millions to orbit around the Earth for about two weeks.

But by late next year, more paying customers will make a brief venture into space, and at a much cheaper cost, if plans by two companies flourish. Costing from $100,000 to $200,000, the flights will give customers a few minutes of weightlessness and a grand view of the Earth 62 miles above the ground.

This goal is among the latest efforts in the world of space tourism. Conceived decades ago, the idea to provide spaceflight to the paying customer is starting to become a reality. The tangibility was made clear earlier this month when Virgin’s VSS Enterprise completed its first manned glide flight from 42,000 feet to a Mojave, Calif., spaceport.

“Now, the sky is no longer the limit,” said Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, one of two companies that plan to begin flying commercial suborbital missions for late next year. “We will begin the process of pushing beyond to the final frontier of space itself.”


In addition to getting into orbit, the other challenge is the destination. For now, NASA’s International Space Station could be an option, but while it is quite large, it’s a national laboratory and not generally a space hotel.

Enter Bigelow Aerospace, a company founded by hotelier Robert Bigelow. The Las Vegas company has already flown two prototypes for an inflatable module and has broken ground on an 180,000-square-foot factory to build space habitats.

You can already imagine the ad campaigns about “what happens at the inflatable space module”, can’t you? Me personally, I think I’ll wait till dilithium crystals become commercially available, then I’ll seek out a suitable wormhole and head off for a visit to the Gamma Quadrant. How about you?