Monday, November 05, 2012

Monty Python's Election Night Special

Well, it's all over bar the actual voting, nominally the most interesting part of the process but in fact simply a tedious process where everyone who can be bothered to do so gets off their chair to register their voice (by voice I mean chance to put a mark on a piece of paper). (Not counting the voter suppression activities, of course. Even my own polling station in dark blue [1] California had a mysterious address change about a week before the election that was announced by a small postcard that arrived mixed in with the junk mail.)

That means that tomorrow we have to watch the Election Night Specials, which will excitedly babble over every single announcement from a "swing" county, and display a dazzlingly bright computer generated update of the red and blue states on their slightly fuzzy, mid-air floaty, stylized map of the USA.

Monty Python's Flying Circus, way back in the early seventies, skewered this one correctly. Things haven't changed, except the swingometer with the broken screw is now graphics from somebody's laptop with unimaginably vast, inexhaustible seas of red and blue pixels, swooping stars and stripily across your 52 inch screens, giving the sensation that the newscasters are trapped, drifting helplessly in a primary-bicolor manifestation of the Stargate from 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Oddly enough, the newscasters have not Used Their Laptop Power For Good in this race[2]. Up until now, every single one seems to have said that the race is too close to call. Statistical analysis seems to be completely beyond every pundit, which is odd as every other pile of crap they intend us to care about on TV is lousy with statistics. Football, baseball, poker, basketball, golf, World's Strongest Iron Chef Truckpulling Funny Car, Dodgems, you name it, somebody has the book on it.  Slightly hidden away, there's been a coterie of actual statisticians working on the web, who seem to be doing it not as a public service, but simply as bragging rights for who gets to be named Bestest Poll Statistician after it's all over. All of these that I've seen forecast an Obama victory, of course, but with varying degrees of get-out clause. I think this is because the whole State Fair "Who will grab the greasy pig? Who will climb the greasy pole? Who will eat the most boiled cockroaches?" competition is actually more fun than seeing someone who has eaten some cockroaches, or for that matter got covered in grease. (FivethirtyeightSimon Jackman, Votamatic.)

[1]Note to British people: Despite the facts that The People's Flag is Deepest Red and of course Port is Left; Starboard is Right, America ignores this and labels the right red and the left blue. You can remember that by seeing which color has the direction's first letter in it. Unfortunately it could cause you to forget the Port/Starboard thing as you can't possibly remember everything  you've ever been told. Your brain would burst like that guy in Scanners (1981).

[2] Fox "news" has been more than willing to use them for evil, though, but that's hardly a surprise.

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