Sunday, November 02, 2008

Election 2008: Thank God These Months of Massively Reduced Productivity are Finally Over

Back in 2006, the consulting firm with the strangest name of all last-name-based business entities – Challenger, Gray & Christmas – reported that the dollar value of the worker productivity lost due to the NCAA men's basketball tournament was somewhere in the neighborhood $3.8 billion. That number makes sense. For that first Thursday of the NCAA tournament, offices everywhere are paralyzed with worker bees refreshing webpages in the vain hopes that they are still competitive in the office pool.

$3.8 billion in lost productivity due to 63 basketball games may sound like a big number, but it's nothing when you think about the nonstop distraction that is a presidential election during the internet era. This appropriately (and profanely) named website sums it up well: This election feels like it began when God was a Boy and will continue at least until the next phase in human evolution.

If you're like me, your initial temptation when faced with the firehose of useful and useless, meaningful and meaningless information generated by this election is to attempt to drink it all up.

You load every webpage, thrice per hour. By the time you get to Political News & Commentary Website #8, enough time has passed that you decide you should probably restart the cycle of information consumption by returning to Political News & Commentary Website #1. You repeat this cycle during all waking hours, breaking only for the restroom, eating, sleeping... and for occasionally talking to your spouse, minimally tending to your dogs, attempting to contribute to your child's upbringing, or actually doing your job.

I feared the above condition this time around, and in January I wrote that I was hoping for strength to deal with this election year. Well, Election 2008 is almost over and I've survived. And I've got some people to thank.

Now, these people played almost no role in shaping my views about the content of the election. They did not shape my view on either of the general election presidential candidates or any of the stable of primary election candidates. What they did do was save me time and trouble, enabling me to spend less time following the election and more time doing everything else in my life.

Thank you, Nate Silver.
Nate Silver is easily the media darling of the pundit class for this election cycle. Silver is a statistician whose previous claim to something approximating fame was as an expert on baseball's sabermetrics, a movement within the culture of baseball statistics that questions whether traditional measures of baseball greatness (home runs, runs batted in, etc.) are actually the best measures of determining which baseball players were of the greatest value to their respective teams. This movement created a new generation of statistical measures like value over replacement player that effected big changes to major league rosters.

This March (only this March!) Silver started a website called (538 being a reference to the total size of the electoral college). On his site, Silver created a clearinghouse for state and national polls, handicapping the performance of polls against primary results, generally talking about polling methodology and why the methodology underlying some polls may be suspect.

Silver's site saved me from clicking all over the internet in search of which way public opinion was blowing in the states that will be determinative in the election this coming Tuesday. I went to 538 and felt like I knew what was going on. And I stopped surfing. Thanks, Nate.

Thank you, Jason Linkins.
I have a problem. I like the information conveyed on the Sunday morning political talk shows but I find all of them completely unwatchable.

Time and again, important news breaks on these shows, as policymakers, politicians, and wonks let slip something that hadn't really hit the airwaves before. Still, the valuable information that can occasionally be gleaned from these shows is outweighed in my eyes by the need to be exposed to so much hackery and blather. Plus, the shows take forever to watch.

This is where Jason Linkins comes in. Linkins, a contributor to the Huffington Post website/growing empire, TiVo's (TiVos? TiVoes?) each of the Sunday morning talk shows and summarizes the discussion for you. He watches the shows so you don't have to. This guy deserves a medal.

This would be a valuable service even if Linkens were submitting little more than Cliffnotes of the various shows, but Linkens is funny. I mean, really funny. Like, I-think-I-need-to-go-get-my-inhaler funny. I was pleased to see that Comedy Central recognized him as the funniest political blogger, speculating that he might be the funniest writer alive. I'm putting him in the same category as Greg Giraldo. That's some rarified funny air, if you ask me.

Linkens's yeoman's work on Sunday morning saved me time and frustration this election cycle. As Comedy Central noted, "he’s the only person in this campaign who’s ever really fought for you." Thanks, Jason.

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