Friday, August 28, 2015

Does God Really Dislike the Green Bay Packers?

Evidently, God dislikes the Green Bay Packers, at least if we're to take the theological musings of Seattle Seahawk Russell Wilson and Detroit Lion Glover Quin seriously. Wilson, if you will recall, declared that the Seahawks come from behind win over the Green Bay Packers in last year's NFC Championship game was set up by God ("The Gospel and Russell Wilson"):
That's God setting it up, to make it so dramatic, so rewarding, so special. I've been through a lot in life, and had some ups and downs. It's what's led me to this day.
Never mind that it wasn't so rewarding and special for Brandon Bostick, the Green Bay Packer who botched the on-side kick that helped the Seahawks comeback (Bostick was later released by the Packers). And now Quin claims that when Green Bay Packers wide receiver Jordy Nelson suffered a torn ACL in a preseason game last week and is most likely out for the season, God was behind it all:
I hated Jordy got hurt, but in my beliefs, and the way I believe, it was -- God meant for Jordy to get hurt.
So there you have it. Irrefutable evidence that God really doesn't like the Green Bay Packers. Or to put it differently, God really doesn't want the Packers to win the Super Bowl.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Hillary, Al, Joe, and Barry

So far, Donald Trump has attracted the most attention in the current election cycle, but perhaps a more interesting story is who will be the Democratic Party's nominee. It's Hillary Clinton's race to lose, but her use of a non-classified email account to (possibly) email classified information could derail her candidacy. We will have to wait and see. The betting (i.e., prediction) markets still place her probability of winning the nomination at quite high, around 70 percent (the general election is another matter, however), and make no mistake, the markets are taking her email problems into account.

If the Republican Party is "smart," they'll stretch out the inquiry into Hillary's email account as long as possible. Their goal should be to make sure she secures the nomination before too much "hits" the fan, for then it might be too late for the Democrats to recover if she was forced to drop out of the race for President. However, if the Republicans cannot resist the temptation to go after her (which has been difficult for them over the years), and they derail her candidacy early on, they may open the door for another candidate to take Hillary's place. Joe Biden is the likely alternative, but there are some trying to convince Al Gore to run (sorry Bernie Sanders fans, it won't be Bernie). At this point, if I were Joe Biden or Al Gore, I'd bide my time to see what happens to Hillary before throwing my hat into the ring.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Why Church?

I think it was the theologian Stanley Hauerwas who argued that following the liturgical year (i.e., Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, Pentecost, and "Ordinary Time") is crucial for Christians because it reminds us that God's time is not the same as the world's time, that God's values are not necessarily the world's values. Doing so is somewhat analogous to the Jewish notion of sabbath, which holds that people of faith should regularly take a step back from the day-to-day concerns of the world and reconnect with the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

I heard a story this morning (in worship, no less) that drove the importance of "sabbath" home to me. Evidently, a woman who works in the high-tech industry here in Silicon Valley was talking to her boss at 2:00 in the morning while breast-feeding her child, and when she announced that she had to hang up because she had to put her child to bed, her boss responded, "That's okay. Call me when you're done."

Attitudes such as this is why we need church (or synagogue, temple, mosque). We need a place or community to remind us that just because there are some in our midst who worship 80 hour work weeks, we don't have to.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015


There was a time when I could appear in public shirtless. That time has passed. Unfortu-nately, there are others in our world who have yet to realize that their time has passed too.

Monday, August 10, 2015

FiveThirtyEight's Endorsement Primary

In the interesting book, “The Party Decides,” which was published in 2008, the political scientists Marty Cohen, David Karol, Hans Noel and John Zaller evaluated data on endorsements made in presidential nomination contests between 1980 and 2004 and found that “early endorsements in the invisible primary are the most important cause of candidate success in the state primaries and caucuses." Why are endorsements so important? One reason is that they have a direct effect on voters who trust the judgment of governors and members of Congress from their party. Another is that endorsements serve as a signal to other party elites about who is acceptable and who isn't. The bottom line of their analysis is this: those who are ultimately nominated typically represent the consensus choice of influential members of the party, and rank-and-file voters serve mostly to vet and validate candidates in close elections. A bit discouraging, but there you are.

In light of this study, FiveThirtyEight is keeping a running tally of endorsements ("The Endorsement Primary"). It is updated daily, so if you care, it might be the place to turn rather than the various polls that will be released with increasing frequency between now and next June. If you're wondering, Donald Trump has yet to receive his first endorsement.

Note: The above graphic is from the FiveThirtyEight website.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Prediction Markets and Donald Trump

I've written about prediction markets before ("Election Update"). They are not popularity polls. Instead they are speculative markets where people "bet" on various outcomes (e.g., who will win the next Presidential election, whether the economy will go into a recession by December 2016, whether the Royals will win the World Series, and so on). People are rewarded for making accurate predictions and punished for making inaccurate ones, which is why they tend to be better at predicting outcomes than most polls. Why? Because with polls people often engage in wishful thinking; however, when they bet, they're more likely to put their money on the outcome they think will win (even if it's for one they don't want).

The way it works is that if you buy 10 shares of, say, Hillary Clinton winning the 2016 Democratic nomination for $7.78 (the current price on Betfair), then if she wins, you'll receive $10.00 and make $2.22. The current price of a share is interpreted as the probability that the outcome will occur. In other words, the prediction markets currently give Hillary a 77.8% chance of wining the Democratic nomination. That doesn't mean she'll receive 77.8% of the vote. It only means that she has a 77.8% chance of winning.

What does this have to do with Donald Trump? Although much has been made of his rise in the polls, there has not been a corresponding rise in the prediction markets. Just before tonight's debate, his share price for winning the Republican nomination climbed to as high as 10.0% but still trailed Jeb Bush and Scott Walker. Since the debate, his share price has dropped to 6.0%, and he now trails Jeb Bush (42.0%), Scott Walker (18.0%), and Marco Rubio (11.0%) ("2016 President - Republican Nomination"). Prediction markets aren't flawless, but right now, things are not looking good for Mr. Trump in spite of all the attention he is getting.

Note: Overnight, Trump's share prices rebounded to pre-debate levels before falling back to somewhere between 5.0% and 7.0%, which leaves him in fourth place behind Marco Rubio. He is in danger of being overtaken by John Kasich, who several people seemed to think "won" the debate among the so-called top-ten candidates, and Carly Fiorina, who almost won the earlier debate among the other candidates.