The final presidential debate

image courtesy of cnn.comThe third and final presidential took place tonight, and while I felt undecided on the results, an early CNN poll gave Kerry a substantial margin with a 59% to 39% victory over Bush. But first, a few words from our candidates (thanks to Microsoft Word):

Kerry in 100 words: 82,000 Arizonians lost their health insurance under President Bush’s watch. This president has turned his back on the wellness of America. President Bush has taken — he’s the only president in history to do this. 6 million jobs lost. This president has taken a $5. Once again, the president is misleading America. The president just said that government-run health care results in poor quality. The jobs the president is creating pay $9,000 less than the jobs that we’re losing. 6 million jobs. The president has denied 9. Let me pay a compliment to the president, if I may.

Bush in 100 words: My opponent talks about fiscal sanity. You voted to increase taxes 98 times. Most health-care costs are covered by third parties. If you have a child, you got tax relief. If you’re married, you got tax relief. If you pay any tax at all, you got tax relief. We passed tax relief. We’ll increase federal spending. We’ve increased funds. The people I talked to their spirits were high. My opponent, the senator, talks about foreign policy. I think people understand what she’s saying.

Kerry’s language in this debate focused on three phrases: minimum wage (8 mentions), health insurance (6 mentions), and social security (6 mentions), a recognizable platform for a democratic candidate.

Bush’s language on the other hand was less issue focused with the most popular phrases of my opponent (7), four years (6), and best way (5), a seemingly more defensive tone.

My personal reaction to the debate was that Kerry seemed overly repetitive and slightly less focused on the questions at hand, bringing terrorism and foreign policy into the debate too often when the focus was supposed to be on domestic issues. The CNN poll found however that viewers raised their opinion of Kerry more during the debate than Bush:

When asked who would handle domestic issues better, Kerry scored higher in health care (55-41). There was no clear leader on the economy (Kerry 51, Bush 46), education (Kerry 48, Bush 47) or taxes (Bush 50, Kerry 47). Kerry’s biggest win came on the question of who expressed himself better, where 61 percent of respondents chose him over Bush (29 percent).

I find it fascinating how bad my personal reaction is to the results of these political exchanges. After doing various forms of analysis for each of the debates, I feel like none of these methods have a predictive effect on the reaction of the voters. Or at least my reaction to the actual events and subsequent analysis seems to be contrary to the rest of the population. With that said, I guess it’s going to be a gripping election.

For more information on this analysis, please see analyses of the first presidential debate, vice presidential debate, and second presidential debate.

Telemarketing I can’t refuse

I’m a pretty harsh critic when it comes to telemarketing. I’m especially unhappy when these slimey creatures get my cell phone number. I can also be a bit unhappy when they wake me up on a Saturday. I’m not a housewife, I’m a grad student, and grad students need their sleep on the weekends. Doesn’t their detailed marketing data tell them that?

all telemarketers are this cuteSo this story starts with a phone call to my cell phone at 9am on a Saturday, and I’m about to rip this guy a few new eye sockets when he tells me he’s calling from Comcast. Ok, my bad, I’m the one that made the mistake of giving them my cell phone. Must have been a weak moment. Anyway, he tries to offer me a cable modem, I refuse, asks how much I pay for DSL and I say $30/mo., and he offers me cable for $23/mo. No contracts, no hidden costs, just 20% lower than their competitor. Suffice to say, once I had cleared the guck out of my eyes and realized the gravity of the situation, I accepted his offer.

So I’ve resolved that I’ll give telemarketers a chance in the future. I’ll constrain our interaction to the following dialog:

  • Me: hello?
  • Telemarketer: I am prepared to offer you a service you already have for 20% less than what you’re currently paying.
  • Me: ok. hit me.
  • Telemarketer: Knife sharpening for $3 per month.
  • Me: strings?
  • Telemarketer: one-year contract.
  • Me: deal. take care of the arrangements.

Any subtle deviation and I’ll revert to the old me. Truthfully, this was the first positive experience I’ve ever had with a sales person on the phone, and it was immediately followed by a speedy disconnection of my DSL and phone service immediately afterwards. Maybe these people are finally getting their act together.

Superman, RIP

Breaking news.. Christopher Reeve has just passed away. So sad.

Superman, RIP
Superman, RIP.

The strange thing about this news is that I immediately pasted that link to my blog and everyone in my buddy list still awake at the time without really considering why. It’s a flashbulb event, the kind of thing that, for whatever reason, emblazens itself on your brain to the effect of “I know where I was when so-and-so happened.” The amazing thing is, I knew immediately when I saw the BBC story that I needed to flood it.

Presidential Debate Redux

bush and kerryI’ve rerun my presidential debate analysis (see analyses from the first presidential debate and the vice presidential debate) on the scripts of the second presidential debate. I’ve also updated the Debate Spotter to include the new text. But this time I’ve taken a slightly different approach to the analysis. Instead of some complicated weighting scheme, I’ve decided to use a very simple technique to sort the phrases for each candidate:

  • Count the number of phrases for each candidate
  • Score each phrase as the difference between the number of times each candidate used the phrase
  • Favor longer phrases in sorting

The results follow, and I think you’ll find them much more revealing than the previous lists. I also fed both candidate’s transcripts into Microsoft Word’s AutoSummarize feature to produce a sub-100 word summary. The results are… umm… compelling. From my perspective, it seems as though Kerry is on the offensive, and Bush is backpeddling. But of course that’s just Microsoft’s take on the debate. Click on the following links to download the source Word documents. I’ll leave running the grammar checker as an exercise to the reader.

kerry041008.doc bush041008.doc
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Migrating to

social bookmarksI’ve been keeping a list of low threshold, or daily links here for over a year. My links were largely inspired by Joshua Schachter’s link list (Muxway) which he later turned into the popular social bookmarks engine. I remember trying the system out not long after I started my linkstream, but for some reason the idea didn’t really grab me, and the interface didn’t provide me much more over Movabletype.

Somewhere along the line though, became a much more streamlined means of posting and categorizing links. Moreso it became an independent subculture that really embodies a zero threshold mentality of linking. The system really benefits from people having almost no impetus to adding URLs, and it accomplishes this (quite wisely) by taking away any sort of identity or soapbox that could be used to influence other users of the system (more on that in a post coming up later today). Anyway, what I’m trying to say is that I wanted to use So I stopped posting my oddments and I started posting to my account.

Since then I’ve transferred my old links from Movabletype into and integrated my links into my weblog using some very hand Perl tools. More importantly I’ve kept all of the functionality of my old link list, including the ability to give credit to my source through a via link. Here’s how:
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Vice Presidential Debate Analysis

Akin to my last entry, I’ve run the transcript of the Vice Presidential Debate through a part of speech tagger and identified the most popular noun phrases for each speaker (listed below). I’ve also updated the Debate Spotter to handle both scripts. Simply change the debate field and the transcript and speakers will be changed accordingly.

Have fun, and of course let us know if you identify any interesting phrases.

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Presidential Debate Analysis

Whenever I watch a televised debate, I always wonder what percentage of the speaker’s message is actually thinking on the feet and how much is canned material. With the advent of available transcripts, these sorts of questions can be addressed with various computational methods.

A simple way to identify repeated statements is to count the number of times a particular noun phrase is metioned. Noun phrases act as both a proxy to the subject matter of a given piece of text, but also the way in which things are worded.

For this simple experiment, we’ll need four tools:

The results are quite interesting. Looking only at noun phrases of at least 2 words occuring at least twice for a given speaker, we arrive at some spectacular catch phrases. For Bush my favorite is “hard work,” which he said repeatedly. Apparently Bush thinks that the world is a difficult place to be. For Kerry, a salient phrase was “war as a last resort.”

The top 25 phrases for Bush and Kerry follow. The number following each phrase is a rank described by the length of the phrase and the number of times it appeared.

There are so many other types of analysis that could be run on these data. If you find anything interesting, please let me know. Also, the Debate Spotter allows for any query, so post any interesting phrases that you find.

Update: I have also analyzed the Vice Presidential and the Second Presidential debates.
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