July 12, 2008

Election Update 2

Follow-up to Election Update from True Contradictions

Mississippi

The elections here are somewhat complicated by the resignation of former senate, Trent Lott, which results in two elections happening simultaneously.

The normal election will be fought between Republican incumbent Thad Cochran and Erik Fleming. Both of these men have made mild position switches. Fleming used to support Lyndon LaRouche, but has since rejected such notions. Cochran originally states of McCain, “The thought of his being president sends a cold chill down my spine. He is erratic. He is hotheaded. He loses his temper and he worries me.” He now supports McCain. Fleming is currently a Mississippi House of representatives member, and has previously unsuccessfully run for the Senate seat of Trent Lott. Polls have Cochran ahead 60:35.

The other election is being fought as a result of the resignation of Senator Trent Lott last year. The republican governor, Haley Barbour, appointed former house of representatives member Roger Wicker as his temporary replacement. His Democratic opponent, Ronnie Musgrove, was the former lieutenant Governor and Governor of Mississippi, during whose time in office he banned Gay and Lesbian adoption, the pay of Mississippi teachers fell to 49th lowest level of all the states and claimed that there was, “no freedom from religion”. The polls have these two politicians in a tie.

North Carolina

Elizabeth Dole has been sitting senator since a 2002 special election. A former member of the Johnson, Nixon, Reagan and Bush Sr. administrations, challenger for the Republican nomination in 2000 and wife of former Senator and republican candidate Bob Dole, she has excellent connections, name recognition and fundraising potential. Her opponent – Kay Hagan is a Lawyer and member of the State Senate. Dole is currently enjoying a 10 point lead in the polls.

Nebraska

Centrist Republican incumbent and opponent of the Iraq war, Chuck Hagel, has decided not to seek reelection. In a fascinating piece of trivia, courtesy of wikipedia, “Hagel has a tradition of wearing costumes to work on Halloween, usually masquerading as colleagues or other notable political figures. He has arrived at work dressed as Joe Biden, John McCain, Colin Powell, and Pat Roberts in past years.” This leaves the field open between the two candidates both running for the position.

Mike Johanns is the republican candidate – a former governor who stepped down to act as US secretary of agriculture. He is highly popular in the state, having won the gubernatorial election in a landslide. Scott Kleeb (tagline: “Nebraska’s brand of change”) is a rancher and ironically professor of history and provides the democratic contender. Johanns, as one might expect, is polling 15-20 points ahead.

New Hampshire

Currently New Hampshire is represented by the father-sun duo of John H. Sununu and John E. Sununu. It is the father, a former 3 term governor and White House chief of Staff, who is up for re-election. His opponent is Jeanne Shaheen, also a former governor. This is a re-run of the 2002 election, in which Sununu narrowly won, however, the political momentum has swung away from the republicans and towards the democrats in subsequent years. Consequently Shaheen leads in the polling by 10-15%.

New Jersey

Dick Zimmer is a former US House of Representatives member, and former member of the New Jersey legislature. He had unsuccessfully run for the Senate in 1996, and was drafted for the current race after Anne Estabrook withdrew, having suffered a mini-stroke. Frank Lautenberg currently holds the seat up for election, and has held 4 non-consecutive terms of office. He is one of the most liberal members of the Senate. Age is an important issue in this election, with Lautenberg having passed his 84th birthday, but its a double edged blade for the republicans, due to their presidential candidate and the relatively high proportion of electorate who are over 65 in New Jersey.

New Mexico

Another republican incumbent retiring leaves the door open for more democratic gains in New Mexico. With the support of popular Governor Bill Richardson and a rising democratic tide the party is confident of making gains here. Their candidate is Tom Udall, a former member of the House of Representatives for the state and cousin of Mark Udall mentioned earlier. The taking of this seat is another test of the Western strategy pushed by Howard Dean. His opponent, Steve Pearce, has a similar background in the House, but is sitting 15-20% behind in polling.

Oklahoma

Incumbent Jim Inhofe is skeptical on global warming, cites the Bible as backing for his position on everything and has claimed that 9/11 was devine retribution for the US failing to defend Israel. He is also one of only 12 senators who opposed cutting interest rates on student loans. His opponent Andrew Rice is a member of the state Senate and largely behind in the polls, albeit with a large percentage yet to make up their minds.

Oregon

Republican Senator Gordon Smith is up for re-election, his moderate view may continue to hold their appeal in these hard times for the republican party. The democratic challenge comes in the form of Jeff Merkley, the second cousin of the Udall cousins. Gordon Smith is currently the only elected Republican official in the state, and is currently holding onto a narrow lead in the race – which is considered highly competitive.

South Dakota

Tim Johnson is the Democratically aligned sitting senator from South Dakota, who holds quite a conservative voting record, such as repealing the ban on semiautomatic weapons and welfare reform. The 2002 election saw him claim a very narrow victory in a republican leaning year, and is a pretty strong candidate for re-election. His opponent, Joel Dykstra, is currently sitting in SD House of Representatives, and not a big name candidate. Trivia: Johnson was the only member of the senate to have a son in the military at the time of the Iraq invasion.

Texas

Single term republican incumbent John Cornyn has been ranked as the 4th most conservative US Senator. His democratic challenger is Veteran Rick Noriega, a member of the Texan House of Representatives. The low approval ratings of Cornyn make this a potentially interesting election, despite him being ahead of Noriega, that has potentially a large number of undecided voters. Obama is also looking at campaigning with the Texas senate and house challengers who are competitive.

Virginia

Incumbent republican John Warner is retiring, leaving an open race between two former Governors: Jim Gilmore and Mark Warner (no relation). This is generally considered the Senate seat most likely to change hands from Republican to Democrat. Polling puts Warner 25% ahead of Gilmore, and with a widening gap as polls become more recent. As well as national momentum – the state is slowly swinging democrat, they have won the last two gubernatorial elections in 2001 and 2005, and Jim Webb took George Allen’s senate seat in 2006.


Political Observations

A few things have come to mind this week, all to do with Inconsistency.

  1. All the people/newspapers who a few years ago were outraged at the imprisonment of Tony Martin are now backing imprisoning everyone who carries a knife. So apparently you shouldn’t go to jail if you shoot someone with a gun, but if you just carry a knife you should.
  2. On last week’s Question Time the audience appeared to clap everything people said. This meant that they would clap a point by one of the commentators, and then applaud an exactly opposing argument by another panelist. This suggests both that the panelists were making strong arguments, and that the audience was full of idiots.
  3. It was commonly noted that during the G8 meeting politicians undertook an 8 course meal, whilst simultaneously talking about Global food shortages, and in Gordon Brown’s case telling people not to waste food. The latter isn’t hypocritical, assuming Mr. Brown finished his meal.

July 10, 2008

Election Update

I haven’t blogged in a while, and haven’t blogged about US politics in ages, so here we go.

Presidential Election

Obama finally put Clinton to bed. This has been inevitably basically since super Tuesday when Clinton blew her load and didn’t really get much of a win. Whats interesting has been the national polling of Obama against McCain. During the latter phases of the primaries Obama was heavily campaigned against by Clinton and also was undergoing Wrightgate, and consequently fell behind McCain in the national polling. This was up to 5% and over 100 EC votes at some stages.

During June, the month following Obama’s primary victory, he made a considerable comeback. Polling showed him gaining against McCain nationally, taking tracking polls averaged from key pollsters late last month had him over 150 EC to the good. Since then coverage has been more negative towards Obama, commenting on his movement towards the centre, and polls have fallen back.

Senate Elections

Since primary season is over, a lot of senate races have become clear, so here’s a brief summary of a few of them.

Alabama
Two term senator Jeff Sessions seems to be strongly leading (65-35) his democratic opponent, Vivian Figures, in nearly all polls. Despite democratic strength in the current electoral cycle, some places are still out of reach for them.

Alaska
Ted Stevens (whose claim to fame is being the oldest republican in the senate and stating that, “The internet is like a series of tubes”) is having a hard time, despite his position as a longrunning incumbent, against Begrich. In some polls he’s still ahead, others behind. Steven’s senility is probably a campaigning drawback, hopefully he’ll be out of office come November.

Colorado
Mark Udall is looking to take this seat for the democrats, and is polling about 10% ahead against Republican opponent Schaffer. This fits in well with Howard Dean’s strategy of hitting hard in the western states, traditionally a republican stronghold. There might be some synergy between this campaign and Obama’s national effort in Colorado.

Iowa
Tom Harkin will retain his senate seat, continuing Iowa’s swing to the democrats over the current election cycle.

Kansas
Two term incumbent Pat Roberts has a 10% or so margin above his democratic opponent, Jim Slattery. I don’t really know much about the candidates or polling issues here.

Kentucky
Mitch Mcconnell, current senate minority leader, holds a narrow lead over his democratic challenger, proving that even high ranking republicans aren’t impossible targets. He’s a stalwart conservative on nearly all issues. Interesting the libertarian party candidate is Sonny Landham who is a former porno actor who also starred in Predator. Despite his high profile, I doubt that he will really impact Mcconnell’s re-election bid too much, and Mcconnell is apparently fundraising well, so will probably be re-elected.

Louisiana
Incumbent Mary Landrieu is being challenged by a defectee to the republican cause, current State Treasurer John Kennedy. Landrieu is currently maintaining a razor-thing lead. I imagine the result of this will go down to the wire.

Massachusetts
Early on in the election season it looked like John Kerry was going to be strongly challenged, but the polls have slowly slipped his way, as one would expect of a leading democrat in a democratically leaning state in a democratically leaning year. He’s currently miles ahead of his republican opponent Jeff Beatty and his re-election looks like a sure thing. Part of Beatty’s problem is that few locals even know who he is, polling data suggests that 44% of them have no opinion of him.

Michigan
Jack Hoogendyk, Michigan house of reps member, is running against 6 term incumbent Carl Levin. He’s behind in the polling, and was the only republican running for the position. In 1996 Levin was opposed by Ronna Romney, who is Mitt Romney’s sister in law.

Maine
Susan Collins, centrist republican incumbent, is leading democratic challenger Tom Allen in polls, but by a narrowing margin. Joe Lieberman has stated that he might campaign for her.

Minnesota
If you thought the pornstar running in Kentucky was interesting, this is a minefield. The incumbent is Norm Coleman, a strong Bush supporter was one of the people who accussed Galloway of abusing his relationship with Saddam Hussein. Al Franken, well know comedian, SNL alumni, author, etc. is running against him, with a strongly leftwing agenda, note the title of one his books, “Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right”. Currently Al Franken is behind in polls, though I’m sure his campaign is entertaining. On 9th July Jesse Ventura, former professional wrestler and governor, announced that he may run for office. Now Ventura bear Coleman in his 1996 election campaign, his entrance into the the campaign makes what the wrestling community might call a ‘3-way dance’. On his previous election effort Ventura won on the back of the Reform party ticket, its unknown who would back him this time. Ventura claims organised religion is a shame, has made numerous comments about drunken Irishmen, heavily invested in mass transit during his period as governor, is now massively bald, supports gay and abortion rights. He is generally fiscally conservative and socially liberal. Its already amusing, and if Ventura runs it will become hilarious.

I’ll leave it at that for now. Perhaps I might get round to finishing off the rest of the alphabet at some point in time.


June 13, 2008

David Davis

David Davis’ resignation appears to have caused shockwaves throughout British Politics. He could have stayed in the safe and comfortable position of Shadow Home Secretary, and pushed for his issues when the Conservatives get elected in two years time. Instead he has chosen to gamble.

Their Opinion

People’s reaction to David Davis’ actions seem to be strongly split among those who agree or disagree with his argument.

Jackie Smith, Home Secretary, and Hazel Blears, Communities secretary, when interviewed ignored the issues and just talked about Conservative ‘disarray’, and David Blunkett called it ‘political theatre’. Conservatives who made their opinion know publically seemed to back his decision, this includes David Cameron and Dominic Grieve, the new shadow home secretary.

Civil Liberties campaigning groups, such as NO2ID and Liberty have backed his stand. Newspapers position is consistent with their editorial stand on the issues, for example The Independant is describing him as a ‘Freedom Fighter’, whilst the Sun claims he has “gone stark raving mad”, is “a quitter” and describes it as “Treachery”.

A real Motive?

A lot of people have claimed that this isn’t the real motive for his resignation, but its quite clear that Cameron & Co are backing his move, albeit cautiously. His replacement, Dominic Grieve, takes the same stance as he does on the issues so there will be no change of Conservative Policy, which means there’s no rejection of his views in central office. Whilst I’m sure many Conservatives are pissed off that he taken an action that won’t improve their electoral prospects, I doubt he was being muffled by party policy.

Another assertion, made by both The Sun and The Daily Express, is that this is a politically motived act of treachery towards David Cameron. Its certainly not Cameron’s style of politics. Its hard to see what this gets David Davis politically. He has lost his position as Shadow Home Secretary, and may loose his seat as an MP. The level of risk to his seat is, I believe, quite low – he has a strong majority and liberal democrats won’t be opposing him, but certainly the move from his current position to a back bencher is a long step down. The Sun reconcile the lack of motivation with their cynical claims by asserting that he has gone mad, an unsound argument if ever I heard one.

Opposition

The liberal democrats won’t be standing against him, because they agree with him on the issues. If I were they, I would campaign for him, the only way you can get political advantage out of this is to show that you have a non-partisan principled stand on the issue.

The Labour party haven’t made their decision clear. I would be very surprised if they put a candidate forward, their narrative of these events is one that tries to undermine David Davis at every turn (‘disarray’, ‘theatre’) the most sensible way to continue this approach is to not stand a candidate against him. Furthermore, they are unlikely to win, (at the last general election their candidate placed 3rd with 6,000 votes to David Davis’ 22,000). It would also cost the party campaigning funds that it can ill-afford.

The BNP won’t be running a candidate against him, since they agree with his position, and UKIP don’t know what they are doing. Unsurprising for a party who published its manifesto for the 2005 General Election with a typo in the headline of its first page. Even worse than one of my blog entries!

Kelvin Mackenzie, former editor of the Sun, has said he will stand. This is the first time that Rupert Murdoch has directly pushed his own candidate, instead of backing existing parties. Quote of the week: “The Sun has always been very up for 42 days and perhaps even 420 days.” Since he will have financial support from Mr. Murdoch its highly likely that he will have a funding advantage. This entirely suits Mr. Davis, since it will result in a debate, it also suits the Labour party since they have someone to fight their battles. I doubt Mr. Mackenzie will win, since I find it impossible to believe that anyone could like an editor of a tabloid newspaper.

Observations

Don’t believe the ‘cost to the tax payer’ argument: the total cost of a by-election according to the BBC is £2000. The cost to political parties is far greater.

Whilst there are clear negative effects on the Conservative party, people are completely ignoring the positive effects: no news about nannygate! This is a far more interesting story than the alleged corruption of the Conservative Party Chairman, whilst the corruption story is potentially more damaging. The real concern people have here is the risk factor.

For years people have called on politicians to take actions that are nonpartisan, based on principle, and creative. This is certainly creative, due to its unprecedented nature, as already established this is based on principle and its clearly not a partisan act – the man is operating off his own bat. If there is a rejection of this action by the British public I can only conclude one thing: that they are more hypocritical and two faced than the politicians.


June 10, 2008

Benchmarks

I was playing around with scimark 2 this evening, and its vaguely interesting.  Over the last few years I've noticed some terrible benchmarks lying around online, but scimark seems to have gotten some things right.  Its identified what its laying performance claims about (sequential scientific computing) and implemented common algorithms to benchmark.  Unfortunately their code seems a little too amenable to optimisation.  There's no crazy control flow, or methods that are hard to inline, etc.  I suppose this is more the preserve of things like Spec Java business stuff, but still.

I decided to benchmark the scimark stuff in various forms, the numbers reform to claimed performance in MFlops.


sun-java6 -server sun-java6 -client GCC GCC -O3 Mono
Compsite 607.575 385.856 232.89 553.56 209.29
FFT 379.183 301.043 146.82 467.62 75.15
SOR 788.766 596.027 497.92 602.17 589.72
Monte Carlo 206.568 73.7055 49.9 79.89 6.96
Spare Matrix 444.312 386.757 204.16 639.38 200.97
LU 1219.05 571.748 265.63 978.73 173.65

GCC is version 4.3, Java is 1.6.0_06 and Mono is 1.9.1, all are using the packages from debian unstable.

I wouldn't draw too many conclusions from these benchmarks, since they probably aren't representative of anything many people are doing, just vaguely interesting to see how they panned out.  Its probably worth having a look at which jvm options hit performance here, or comparing the assembly output by hotspot with that of GCC at some point in time.  The implementation for c# that I found seemed to be a direct translation of the Java source, I have no idea if that is a sensible approach from a performance point of view.


June 09, 2008

Talks

Last week I gave a talk on Virtual Machines (their architecture, intermediate representation and JIT Compiler techniques) at the language club. I’ve finally got round to updating my talks/publications list on my website as a result, which now includes that talk, and past talks at the GNU/Linux user group as well as research related work.


May 23, 2008

Oil!

Recently Oil prices reached a high of $135/barrel, this appears to have caused consternation amongst many. Gordon Brown has noted this as a problem when reflecting on his loss in Crewe and Nantwich, whilst it cropped up in this week’s Question Time. , that also contained the ever-annoying Hazel Blears.

There are many proposed solutions here – hybrid cars, more fuel efficient cars, better public transport. These all reduce the amount of fuel consumed by the economy. The ever-annoying Hazel Blears argued that we should seek to increase supply – newer fuel reserves. Whilst it is obvious that rising fuel prices, will make utilizing more expensive fields profitable, and thus actioned, as a government strategy this isn’t viable.

Firstly because fossil fuels are an inherently finite resource – they will run out, so this strategy is only ever going to work in the short term. On a more practical note, many scientists seem skeptical about the viability of further north sea exploration. Apparently we gave most of the oil to the Norwegians when drawing the borders.

Unfortunately many ignorant talking heads appear to have taken it upon themselves to propose a tax decrease. This, again, is a short term solution – tax decreases, so the cost of fuel decreases, demand increases, so the price increases. This would encourage exploration – due to the long term price rise, but either way it encourages increased consumption – so the fuel reserves run out sooner. After the immediate gain, we loose out in the long run.

There is another alternative for improvement. It involves a fantastic piece of technology. Its very cheap. By consuming less fuel it also reduces environmental problems. Additionally its healthy for you (though not as much as people think). My suggestion is …

BUY A BIKE

Overwhelming people’s transport options can be fulfilled by cycling – very few people in the UK travel long distance as part of their daily journeys, many of those who do can get their fuel costs subsidized by their business (e.g. sales Reps, road haulage), most of our journeys consist of urban driving. These needs can nearly always be fulfilled by bicycling.

I don’t know how to ride a bike (I never learnt whilst a child) and I’m almost sorry that this isn’t more of a stigma. Does this make me a hypocrit? Of course not … I walk to work.


May 10, 2008

Clinton Out!

After Obama destroyed Clinton’s last chances of taking the popular vote or pledged delegates in Indiana and North Carolina – the knives were out in the American press. It had gone beyond any sort of reasonable analysis and had entered the realm of pop-culture references. For example Politico described her campaign strategy as the Death Star, whilst Huff Post went the more personal “EVERYONE BUT HILLARY KNOWS IT”, and CBS implies her campaign should be euthenized.

Clearly She can see the light at the end of the tunnel – but doesn’t know its the train thats coming to run her over. Anyhow, rumour mill suggests that Obama is going to claim victory on May 20th – so it’ll be interested to see if she intend to push it beyond then, or call it quits.


May 01, 2008

Johnson to win London Election

Based on the odds on Betfair, there is an 80% probability that Boris Johnson will win. I expect this will be outcome, rather than it being a ‘Dewey beats Truman’. Though that would be hilarious.


Pinch, Punch, first day of the month

For those of you who haven’t yet noticed May 1st is election day .

I’ve plotted the polling results below, and differentiated between those from yougov and from other polling organisations, since the yougov ones appears to favour Boris Johnson massively. Squares are Livingston, circles are Johnson, with the darker coloured polls from yougov. As you can see yougov have put out more polls than all the other organisations put together.

In summary yougov are predicting a Johnson walkover, whilst everyone else is predicting a much more hard fought battle. What isn’t shown by these polls is that a lot of people are favouring Johnson over Livingston in the second round of balloting. I’ve ignored Brian Paddock because, whilst an excellent candidate, he has no hope of winning, and will be lucky to get to 12% of the vote. I’ve ignored Sian Berry because, whilst a terrible candidate, she has no hope of winning and will be lucky to get 2% of the vote.

The history of these elections are very interesting – Ken Livingston has won both of the two preceeding London mayoral elections very easily – no significant challenge and considerable support. Early into his current term he managed to bring the Olympics to London – a general ‘feel-good’ boost, and his reassuring performance during the 7/7 attacks won him universal praise. Since this high point however, his star has faded. Recent allegations of sleeze, related to the Lee Jasper affair, and an increasing public dislike of ‘bendy-buses’ have made this race one that is challengable, however, Livingston is certainly a lot more popular than the Labour party as a whole at the moment, and at the close of 2007, if I were a betting man I would definitely have put my money on him.

Boris Johnson, on the other hand, is a man whose star has risen over the last few years, despite several scandals. In a climate cynical of the Labour Government, and where his public school mannerisms and eton demeanour are no longer considered ’’out of touch’, he becomes a formidable candidate. His ‘brand recognition’ is second to none, and frequent appearances in conjunction with poltical comedy (HIGNIFY) have not done him any harm in my opininon. Everyone expects poltiicians on shows of that nature to be taken to task by the likes of Hislop and Merton, and consequently Johnson’s buffoonery and playful vocabulary are shown off in their best light.

When Johnson chose to run, my initial expectations were that he wouldn’t have much of a chance of winning, but that a strong second place would bolster both his, and David Cameron’s, credentials. As the Lee Jasper scandal has grown stronger in the papers, however, his candidacy became increasingly threatening to Livingston’s relection prospects. This corresponds to the movement in the polling data, where Ken Livingston’s votes fall off. It seems reasonable to conclude that this is more due to Lee jasper, because a significant group of Livingston voters, don’t migrate to Johnson, but off to Paddick. If these are genuine anti-Livingston votes then on the second inevitable second round of polling they will mainly swing back to Johnson.

There then seemed to significant movement away from Johnson around the period of the debates, which tallies since his performance in them was heavily criticised by left wing supporters, and not much admired by his backers either. this corresponds to the sudden drop of blue dots on the graph. Again its a swing away from a candidate, so Livinston doesn’t pickup the votes on these measures, but might well do when second round voting comes into account. Its hard to say how much this has hurt him, overall, but I would certainly say that it has caused a strong swing.


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