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The Iowa bingo machine
Posted by: Billy Hollis on Friday, December 21, 2007

As a student of probability and statistics, I’ve always been fascinated by processes that exhibit a high degree of randomness, such as those bingo and lottery machines that swirl ping-pong balls around until one is chosen. During the swirling, various balls rise and fall, but there’s no telling which one will actually get chosen until the moment the operator asks for one.

For some reason, that image came to mind in looking at the news regarding the Iowa caucuses. I’ve seen so many candidate “surges” now that I’ve lost count. Events, random and non-random, trivial and non-trivial, seem to be buffeting the preferences of voters much like those ping-pong balls.

For the Democratic side, I’m just an amused spectator. Dirty tricks? Ah, par for the course. I don’t really care much who comes out on top. It reminds me of the scene in the Star Trek episode “I, Mudd”, in which Spock is listing the possible punishments for Harry’s crime. “Death by hanging, death by electrocution, death by phaser…”. Harry then says “The key word is ‘death’.” In my case, the key word is “collectivist”. All three candidates carry that badge with honor, so I have not the least interest in seeing any one of them as president.

The GOP side has a better choice, but only relatively speaking. That is, to a starving person, moldy bread is a better option than nothing to eat at all, but that doesn’t mean it’s very appealing. Anyway, I do have some interest in who wins, but I still have no clue who it will be.

Last week, Huckabee was surging. I didn’t understand why; I’m not sure anybody did, including all the pundits who claimed to. I think it might be just an example of randomness because the electorate is not really paying that much attention and is easily distracted. Now, he’s getting more attention, which introduces more influences, some of them pretty negative. So I wonder if his surge will fall away, just as a ping-pong ball might almost reach the opening of the bingo machine before plunging downward again.

Thompson is finally getting some attention, even if the reporter involved is clearly not happy with him. He’s about the only one except Guiliani who has not had his “surge” yet. But he’s touring around Iowa in a bus, and putting out videos with his distinctive down-home style, and some people are seeing the makings of a surge for him Will he bounce? Will he be the one drifting around the opening on caucus day? I don’t know. I don’t think anyone does. I'd like to see him do well, because he's the only candidate I've even close to comfortable with, but I've been around long enough to know that my own preferences are seldom reflected in the electorate.

Romney has surged up, then fallen back, and currently seems to be floating around near the top. Some think McCain (McCain!) is having a surge right about now, when we all left his candidacy for dead (and some of us were happy about that). I don’t get the surges of McCain or Huckabee, because neither looks as if he would appeal to the conservative base. McCain is out of synch with the base on two of the three big issues of our time (in synch with Iraq, out of sync on immigration and government intrusion, as exhibited by McCain-Feingold). Huckabee is a populist, and while I’ve had enough debates with free-trade opponents to know there is a populist contingent in the Republican base, I never would have expected it to be big enough to give Huckabee any traction. Shows how much I know, I guess, unless he fades like a smoke ring, in which case maybe I was right all along.

Or maybe I’m no better or smarter or more perceptive than hundreds of other people putting their opinions out there. Perhaps there’s so much randomness in the process that anyone who gets a correct answer is more lucky than smart. Perhaps it’s all a giant bingo machine, with a crowd around it crying out the numbers they want or expect. Given a big enough crowd, someone is going to be right. Just remember that it may be a matter of luck as to who that is.
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Previous Comments to this Post 

Huck is not just the populist candidate; he also speaks to the "religious right". Understand, Christianity and Communist / Left economics ARE NOT incompatible; indeed, the story of Ananias and Sephira in Acts 4-5 describes a communism among the Apostles and their followers. Of course, not even the 12 Apostles backed up by God striking capitalists dead could make it work!!! 8-)
Written By: SDN
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That was an interestingly framed psst Billy. Thanks
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