Ronan Lyons | Personal Website
Ronan Lyons | Personal Website

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Last-minute prediction: Obama by a landslide! No, wait… a 269-269 electoral college dead heat

After all my poll-watching, I’ve decided to throw my hat in the rang one last time, and engage in that most dangerous of sports: the last-minute prediction. Last minute predictions give the predictor the least time to live in comfort in the time between prediction and outcome, and most danger of subsequent accusations of being wildly wrong despite having all the best poll data to hand. Hence, they’re not that popular.

Still, they are fun. So here goes. Let the ridiculing of me start in about 24 hours!

McCain has 134 votes from sixteen states ‘in the bag’, all unsurprisingly Bush states from 2000 and 2004: Texas, Tennessee, Arizona, Alabama, Louisiana, Kentucky, South Carolina, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Kansas, Mississippi, Nebraska, Utah, Idaho, Alaska and Wyoming. Of these, only Arizona even looks like wavering, and I think home bias will win through there. A further four states are going McCain’s way, worth 26 votes in total: Georgia, West Virginia, Montana, South Dakota. These twenty states would give McCain 160 votes.

Obama has 218 electoral college votes ‘in the bag’, it seems at this stage: all the Kerry-Gore states from the last two elections, plus Iowa (which went to Gore last time out) and New Hampshire (which went to Bush). That is, armed with little else but a range of polls and past voting records, I think Obama will easily win the following 18 states:

  • California, New York, Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Washington, Maryland, Connecticut, Iowa, Oregon, Hawaii, Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, DC, Delaware and Vermont

I also think it’s very likely that another 41 votes across three states are Obama’s, bringing him to 259 and just an Indiana or Missouri away from the US presidency: Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Wisconsin, again all Kerry-Gore states since 2000. (Although with Maine splitting its electoral college votes, technically he may only have 257 from these 21 states, but will more than likely make up for this by picking up two in Nebraska, which operates the same system.)

So Obama’s 21-20 victory in states would leave him 259-160 ahead.

What makes it ominous for McCain is that a further 47 electoral college votes look like they could be going Obama’s way – although these are most susceptible to a Bradley effect swing of say 5%, as his lead is smallest in these four states: Ohio (20), Virginia (13), Colorado (9), New Mexico (5). Of all these four states, only New Mexico in 2004 did not vote for Bush in the last two elections. If the Bradley effect or some other gap between poll and reality were to deny him even two of these states, Obama would still win the presidency.

And that’s before factoring in the six true toss-ups worth 72 votes, which interestingly are all Bush 2000-2004 states: Florida (27), North Carolina (15), Indiana (11), Missouri (11), Nevada (5), North Dakota (3). Current polls suggest this will probably split down the middle, maybe 32 to Obama and 40 to McCain. Taking these at face value, and assuming either (a) no Bradley effect, or (b) that the Bradley effect and the no-landline effect cancel each other out suggests a win for Obama in the region of 338 to 200.

If we take states like Arizona as safe and call this margin the top end, what’s the bottom end of the spectrum? A 5-point Bradley effect, or something similar, could cost Obama Florida (27), Ohio (20), Virginia (13) and possibly Colorado (9), worth together 69 votes. The mathematically sharp-minded amongst you will have spotted that a 338-200 outcome with 69 votes redistributed gives us: 269-269, a tie!

Personally, I think we’ll be closer to the upper end for Obama, but the fact that the polls leave us the possibility of a tie is certainly one to watch, if some states start falling unexpectedly on McCain’s side. Failing that, it may bring some electoral attention away from Florida and Ohio and Pennsylvania to Colorado for a change!

Breadcrumb history gets underway: So, who was "Bully" Egan?

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post about Dublin in the 1780s. While the whole idea of a suburb called ‘Hell’ was what got me writing, references to characters long since gone, such as “Bully” Egan and Yelverton, got me thinking: ‘What do we know about these guys? Can we bring them guys back to life, at least in some sense?’ But then I thought, hmmm, that’s a bit tangential – where would that lead me next? And then, I though – that’s right… where would it lead me next? Twenty iterations later, it would be quite a journey from start to finish.

So, welcome to “Breadcrumb History” – I’m hoping this will be an ongoing ramble, from Dublin’s 1780s Hell last time round, through today’s subject, the bauld “Bully” Egan himself, on to something else next time – more on that later! But first off, who was this legend, “Bully” Egan and what did he do to write himself into the history books?

It turns out that there are a few little scraps that can help us bring Mr. Egan back to life – there’s even a portrait, which for licensing reasons I won’t embed here, but to what he looked like, just click here.

John “Bully” Egan was born in 1754, in Charleville, county Cork, the eldest son of Carbery Egan, a member of the “ancient and numerous” Egan family, originally from county Tipperary. His father Carbery was also born in Cork, in 1720, and at the age of 20 entered Trinity College, Dublin, graduating twice, in 1743 and again with a Masters in 1747. In 1748, Carbery was ordained deacon in the Church of Ireland at Cloyne and served in the parish of Charleville until 1770 (he died a year later).

Like his father, John Egan went to Trinity College, Dublin, before going on to study law in London, returning back to Dublin to marry “a widow lady of some fortune”. Described frequently as a ‘corpulent’ man, he was admitted to the Irish Bar in 1788, and in 1789 entered Irish Parliament, as a member for Ballinakill, Queen’s County (Laois). From 1790 until 1800 and the Act of Union, sat for Tullagh, an area near Baltimore, County Cork (more on the Act of Union, which changed his fortuntes forever, later).

So far, so dry. We still have to get to why he would be remembered fondly as “Bully” Egan. To answer that, there are two more parts to the story – one on why he was remembered as a character, and the other explaining why he was called “Bully”. On the latter, from 1790 to 1800, he was Chairman of Kilmainham, in Dublin – i.e. he was County Court Judge. As part of the deal – jobs such as that being quite the prize back in the day – he owned some of the land out in Kilmainham. His nephew, Pierce Egan, probably the most renowned boxing correspondent in early nineteenth Century England, while in Dublin many years later, visited the grave of ‘Sir’ Dan Donnelly, the famous Irish boxer, at Bully’s Acre, near Kilmainham. In his work, Every Gentleman’s Manual (1845), Pierce states that ‘Bully’s Acre’ gave its name to his uncle John, its erstwhile owner. (Incidentally, Bully’s Acre seems to be quite a common term for older burial grounds in Ireland.)

That explains the Bully part, I guess. What about the implication that he was a bit of a character? Well, true to form, he did have an adventurous side, being a noted duellist (presumably being called “Bully” Egan, no matter how innocent a reason, helped strike fear into his combatant!). John Reid’s 1971 biography of Pierce Egan contains this interesting passage of the antics that Bully Egan got himself involved in:

He appears to have been celebrated less for his own wit than for being, like Falstaff, the occasion of wit in others. It is recorded that he once challenged his intimate friend, Curran, but when the time for the duel came round, Egan complained of the advantage his bulk gave to his adversary. ‘I’ll tell you what, Mr Egan’, said Curran. ‘I wish to take no advantage of you whatsoever. Let my size be chalked out on your side and I am quite content that every shot which hits outside that mark shall go for nothing.’ ‘Bully’ Egan’s retort, if any, has not come down to us, but the duel was fought without injury on either side.

Pierce Egan wrote that ‘in a law contest with that great wit and eloquent pleader, the Master of the Rolls, Mr Grattan, observed “if that latter did not leave off his abuse he would put him in his pocket”, an allusion to his being a small man. “If you do so,” replied Grattan, “you will have more law in your pocket than you ever had in your head”.’

Yep, that’s presumably the same Curran that was mentioned in the article on Hell. (Incidentally, the third name in that article – Yelverton – seems to refer to a lawyer and an MP from more or less the same time, according to one of his descendants still in the legal business.)

In the final debate in the Irish Parliament on the Act of Union, Bully Egan is said to have delivered a strong speech against the motion and is said to have exclaimed, after sitting down upon finishing his speech: “Ireland – Ireland for ever! and damn Kilmainham!” With the Act passing, his vote against Union saw him deprived of his ‘chairmanship’. John “Bully” Egan died in poverty in Scotland in 1810.

Fortunately, though, the Bully Egan story does not end there. James, one of his sons, went to Germany in the early 1800s and became a page at the Court of Zweibruecken, in that interesting period after the French Revolutionary expansion into German lands but before German unification later in the century. James later moved to Austria and had four sons. His eldest, also called James, became a professor at the University of Budapest. Another son, Alfred, became Chief Engineer to the Hungarian State Railways and acquired large land-holdings in Hungary. Alfred’s eldest son, Edward, that is Bully Egan’s great-grandson, was Inspector-General of Dairy Farming for the Hungarian Government, while Lewis, another great-grandson, was Chief Engineer to the Maritime Government of Fiume, better known to us now as Rijeka, in Croatia, a town I’ve passed through twice on my railway travels.

So, that was certainly some tangent, and it’s definitely presented a whole host of new tangents to look up… I’m happy to take suggestions for the next instalment of breadcrumb history – if my Polldaddy extension works, you should be able to vote on your choice below!

[polldaddy poll=1063622][polldaddy poll=1063622]

EDIT: I’m not sure why, but the poll doesn’t seem to be showing… Will try and fix. In the meantime, you can vote by clicking this link straight through to Polldaddy.

Eight weeks work yields seven states for Obama, just Montana (maybe) for McCain

Between mid and late September, the big story in terms of the state-by-state polls was McCain’s loss of his ‘medium’ states – i.e. those where he had some lead, but not a large one – such as Florida and North Carolina into ‘toss-up’ territory. Obama had managed to garner a few extra ‘strong’ electoral college votes, but nothing seemingly irreversible.

So, what’s happened in the last four weeks? Well, Obama’s overall increase in the national polls is very much old news at this stage, so what can state-by-state polls tell us above and beyond? Obama’s national performance is unsurprisingly replicated in RCP’s state-by-state poll statistics: he has managed to increase his vote by 3% or more in 22 of the 35 states covered by RCP, while McCain has only done similar in two states: Maine, which is solid Obama country, and Texas, which is of course safe McCain territory.

Of most note, from the state by state results, are the following:

  • Pennsylvania (21 votes), exceeded in electoral college votes by just four states, now looks like solid Obama territory, where his lead has increased from 48-44 to 51-41.
  • Ohio, worth 20 votes, has also moved from a toss-up towards Obama – four weeks ago, McCain had 1 point lead. Now, he trails 50-44.
  • Michigan (17) now looks unassailable for Obama, while the much-mooted Georgia (15) upset remains a possibility: in the last four weeks, McCain’s lead has shrunk from 12% to 6.8%.
  • There have been significant gains for Obama in other Tier 2 states, such as Virginia (13), and in particular Minnesota (10) and Wisconsin (also 10).

They are the most important changes – most other gains haven’t really had an impact. So where does that leave us all with only a couple of weeks left?

On September 1, McCain had 99 electoral college votes from 9 states of the 32 or so polled ‘in the bag’ (i.e. with a lead of 10% or more) and just one other state leaning (Georgia). Eight weeks on, all he has to show by way of gains are the three electoral college votes of Montana, where he enjoys a 5.6% lead.

Barack Obama could count, eight weeks ago, on the 156 electoral college votes of eight states, varying in size from California to Maine. Since then, he has added a further seven states – most notably Pennsylvania (21) and Michigan (17) as per above – and seventy-six electoral votes. Another 47 votes in four states are leaning towards Obama, including the sizeable Ohio (20) and Virginia (13).

So, with all that bad news for McCain, where are his glimmers of hope? Unfortunately, they don’t look like they’re hiding in the remaining undecided states. The five states that are still in toss-up territory, as per RCP’s listings, contain 69 electoral college votes – 42 of which are in Florida and North Carolina. Both of those states lean slightly towards Obama, as do two of the other three.

Perhaps his hopes lie in the possibility that people are more likely to say they’ll vote for Obama than actually will, as some have suggested. Or that the turnout from Obama demographics such as the young and African-American will be low. Then again, for each commentator saying that, there are others who believe that young voters are grossly under-represented in traditional polls conducted using landlines. Who knows?

Still, it could be worse… Just take a look at the Economist World Vote. Obama 8,957-31 McCain. Cuba’s status is surely the biggest turn-up for the books!

Economist.com World Vote, Oct 23 2008
Economist.com World Vote, Oct 23 2008

Altogether, a simple sum of all the strong, medium and weak votes for both candidates gives Obama a whopping 337-128 lead. As was famously once said, “they think it’s all over…”

"WARNING: Your investment may go up as well as down!" and other signs that you're in a financial crisis

Warren Buffet – no relation to the Pina Colada-swilling Jimmy – has been widely quoted in recent days giving his latest advice for the market. In short, what with everyone being fearful, he’s recommending that people be greedy. Take the long term view, he says, and the US stock market (and, based on his logic, most other stock markets) look like excellent value.

It seems that the value of investments may actually rise. To those of us for whom the period since February 2007 marks the bulk of our market exposure, this came as something of a shock. Not only this, it seems the Financial Regulator has found a clause in its Terms of Reference indicating that, to regulate financial organizations, it’s allowed find things out about them and so is going to employ people to do just that.

Given these twin bombshells, the pressure is surely mounting for the Financial Regulator to change the blurb that they give to their oversee-ees (digression: how many actual English words have the same letter more than two times in a row?) to put in at the end of their ads, to something along the following lines:

XYZ Bank is regulated by the Financial Regulator. No, honestly, we mean it this time. We’ve actually got people on the inside and everything.

Warning – your investment may go up as well as down. Past shocking performance is no guide to actual positive returns in the future.

Some other thoughts on how you know you’re in a financial crisis:

  • References to today’s losses of x billion euro on the stock exchange are the equivalent of the weather. You try your best to pay attention but it all sounds so similar that you just can’t help but switch off.
  • You’re shocked to get through an entire edition of Morning Ireland/Prime Time/Six-One News without one reference to ‘more news from the stock markets’ (as happened on Friday 17th, honest!)
  • Casual conversation in the pub may actually include a discussion of the liquidity and solvency of Icelandic banks. (Pre-post-Celtic Tiger references to Iceland’s economy would surely have just been a reference to some amazing off-the-plans property deal north of Dalvik.)
  • Every ad for your money – and have you noticed that there are an awful lot of them about at the moment? – makes absolutely no reference to average annual return year-to-date or even over the past 5 or 10 years.
  • Jokes not heard since 2001 are being reeled out. (Prime example: “Q: What’s the quickest way to become a millionaire? A: Lose your billionaire status.” Chortle.)
  • There is great demand for punters who even half sound like they know what they’re talking about when it comes to (a) what’s happened Japan since 1990, (b) the Great Depression or (c) the ability to Google Sweden’s early-1990s financial crisis.

Personally, I’m gambling it’ll only be a matter of time before someone wants a pundit on the Long Depression of the 1870s, 1880s and 1890s. That’s right… it spanned three decades! And when they do, then… BAM… I’ll make my move.

(Right after this guy.)

Brother, Can You Bail-out my Bank? (1931 revisited!)

Every crisis creates its own artistic genius – take for example Picasso, or the Credit Crunch Blues. Mere mortals mightn’t move in quite the same league, but we can try. So, with sincere apologies for the butchering of Jay Gorney’s lovely music and the usurpation of Yip Harburg’s original lyrics, Weird Al, this one’s for you!

Brother, Can You Bail-out my Bank, lyrics by Ronan Lyons, music by Jay Gorney (1931)

Once I built a hedge fund, I made it fly, made it rise all the time.
Once I built a hedge fund; now it’s gone. Trichet, can you bail-out my bank?
Once I bought a bank share, at the top, lent a mortgage, sub-prime;
Once I bought a bank share, watched it tank. Paulson, can you bail-out my bank?

Once in red braces, gee we looked swell,
Full of that Ghekko Doodly Dum,
Half a trillion bills went slogging through, Hell,
And I hit the NYSE gong!

Say, don’t you remember, they called it wrong; it was to go up all the time.
Why don’t you remember, before it sank? Darling, can you bail-out my bank?

Once in red braces, gee we looked swell,
Full of that Ghekko Doodly Dum,
Half a trillion bills went slogging through by the bell,
And I was the kid with the gong!

Say, don’t you remember, they called it wrong; it was to go up all the time.
Why don’t you remember, before it sank? Sucker, can you bail-out my bank?

(Next stop a recording studio!)

Will even one state vote for McCain? Unlikely, it seems…

Will even one state vote for McCain? Unlikely, it seems…

… if you take a look at the (nation) states included in the Economist’s ongoing survey, “Global Electoral College: What if the whole world could vote?“. That’s the quite frankly amazing conclusion of the early voting. In not one country on earth would the McCain-Palin ticket garner more votes, among Economist.com readers, than the Obama-Biden ticket. At first glance, the map below looks like a nice blue atlas, but then I realized the legend in the corner: blue means strong Obama (red, were it there, would indicate strong McCain).

Plucky El Salvador, worth 3 electoral votes out of the global 8,200 or so, is currently 50-50, having been pro-McCain earlier in the race (naturally, one does wonder about sample sizes, but let’s go with this for the moment). Interestingly, Kenya is most certainly a lock for Obama, it’s 100%-0% in his favour, due to his roots. If only US states were as loyal in elections!

The funny thing is, there’s a good part of the McCain team that probably wouldn’t even care about this result, were it to stay this way. McCain himself would presumably be somewhat hurt, given the relatively high levels of respect afforded to him by the typical non-American with an interest in US politics (such as myself). I’m guessing the Palin-side of the team, though, would be happy to interpret something like this as yet another indicator that Obama thinks too much like a non-American and not enough like the average American.

All in all, a fascinating exercise in global opinion polling, in my humble opinion.

Lean on who? McCain's problem – RCP poll analysis 09/29

A couple of weeks ago, at the height of Palin-mania, I did a quick cross-check of RCP’s electoral college polls compared to how they’d been at the start of September. At that time, there was lots of bad news for Obama, in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Indiana, in particular. To compound that, McCain had turned lots of his ‘weak’ electoral votes (EV) into medium and strong votes, in places like Florida, Georgia and Virginia. On Sep 12, according to my analysis of the RCP figures, McCain was only one strong EV behind Obama (130-129, strong being 10 points or more ahead in the polls).

I wondered at the time, whether it represented a shift change in the race, i.e. was the Palin announcement setting a new average around which the numbers would shift, that average being closer to 50-50 than before, or was the announcement and its aftermath just one of the ups and downs around the existing average, i.e. that the average was going to stay something like 53-47 in Obama’s favour? It seems, if the evidence of the last two weeks or so is anything to go by, that it is more the latter than the former. Maybe it is the turmoil in the finanical markets, maybe it is the public tiring of Palin for a while as they did with Obama earlier in the year, or maybe it is something else again, but the last 15 days or so will have left the Obama-ites a lot happier than the McCain-ites.

A first glance at the polls could leave one to argue that it is not as cut and dry as one might think. McCain has actually gained ground, in a statistically significant sense (i.e. 3% or more) in more states than Obama (3-2). However, it’s the composition of those gains that is important – McCain’s gains have been non-battleground states, including New York and Maine, where his team probably doesn’t rate his chances, and Montana, which he was probably counting on anyway. Obama’s two gains have come in very interesting states: North Carolina, where he has overturned an 11% poll deficit to now have the slenderest of advantages 46.8-46.5, and New Mexico, which (by the simple rule of 5% or more means leaning) is now leaning to Obama 50.3-44.3. In addition, Michigan is now leaning to Obama (+6.6%), while Florida is back to being a toss-up state (46.0-47.6, in McCain’s favour). Ditto Missouri.

Further down the electoral vote pecking order, McCain did get some good news: Minnesota and Wisconsin have moved from leaning to Obama to being toss-ups – interesting to see how much the location of the RNC affected the former. The net of it all, in electoral vote terms, is the following (and bear in mind that the RCP analysis only covers about 480 of the 540 or so electoral votes):

  • Obama’s has managed to take 17 weak EVs and move them to strong (+14) and medium (+3). His strong EVs amount to 144, up from 130 on Sept 12 (but still below the 156 on Sep 1).
  • At the same time, he’s upped his weak EVs from 56 to 73, giving him a total of 274 – enough to win the Presidency even without the 15 smaller states missing from RCP’s analysis, were results to go exactly as the polls.
  • McCain, on the other hand, has seen a slight fall in his strong votes, from 129 to 117. It’s his medium level votes, though (that is, those states where he has a 5-10 point advantage) that have collapsed. Literally. While there are 11 solid pro-Bush 2000-04 states that McCain has ‘in the bag’ so to speak, Florida and Missouri’s conversion to toss-ups means that there is not a single state in the USA that leans to McCain, i.e. where he has a lead of between 5 and 10 points.

The upshot is that the simple sum of RCP polls gives Obama an 83-vote lead, up from just 27 votes on Sep 12. Better still for Obama, that lead is entirely made up of medium to strong poll showings, i.e. a lead of 5 points or more. Still, elections can swing on small margins and it is worthwhile noting that there are now almost 150 electoral votes in toss-up states (i.e. where neither candidate has a lead of 5 points). Were something small to happen to push the marginal voter back to the GOP, who knows what could happen? Vice-presidential debate anyone?

Byrne, baby, Byrne… Wicklow inferno!

OK, my blog titles are getting worse not better! Welcome, nonetheless, to another Irish genealogy post.

Earlier this week, I was contacted by my fourth cousin, Stephen Macken. Like myself, Stephen runs a family tree website on myheritage.com. Stephen worked out, through the SmartMatch system, that we share a set of great-great-great-grandparents. Thomas Boyd, whose first name I hadn’t known until now. married Mary Fields in November 1841. (Until now, I hadn’t known any details about her at all, so I’ve just found my 20th of 64 surnames at the 3-times-great-grandparents!) One of their daughters, Catherine, married a German migrant, Philip Mannweiler, and they had ten children including my great-grandfather, while her elder sister, Mary Anne Boyd married Michael Kinsella, and their son John was Stephen’s great-grandfather.

It made me focus a little more on my Wicklow roots, which had suffered from a bit of neglect as I was busy chasing my Cork and Tyrone roots. In particular, I’m interested in finding out how surnames like Boyd and Fields crop up in seemingly earnest Irish Catholic families in Wicklow in the mid-19th Century. Part of the reason, I guess, is that if a Protestant man married a Catholic woman, while the surname came from the father, the mother would typically pass on the religion, turning previously Protestant names into Catholic ones!

The very useful Failte Romhat website has lots of data on Griffith’s Valuations, the best Census substitute for Ireland for the mid-19th Century. In Wicklow, the valuation was taken in 1852-1853, so it’s a good post-Famine snapshot of Wicklow. Taking the data for the various civil parishes in Wickow, the most common surname – by a good Wicklow mile – is Byrne. Don’t take my word, here’s the by now customary word cloud:

Given that I’m looking for Boyd and Fields, it’s interesting to see that pretty much all the top surnames are Irish Gaelic surnames – Byrne, Toole, Kavanagh, Cullen, Kelly, Murphy, Doyle… (If I’m honest, I do actually have a Farrell and a McGrath, more than likely Wicklow-based, in the same neck of the family tree woods.) I think you’ll agree that Byrne is a little overbearing, though! So I did the cloud again, this time without Byrne. It allows a slightly better perspective of some of the medium tier surnames – in particular some non-Gaelic surnames like Wilson and (if you’ve got your glasses on!) Hopkins, Gilbert and even Powerscourt!

Wicklow Griffiths Valuations, excluding Byrne
Wicklow Griffiths Valuations, excluding Byrne

The good news for those like myself looking into North Wicklow for their roots is that the Catholic records in Bray, for example, go back well beyond what’s typical for Ireland – to before 1800. For those with Protestant ancestors, the news is even better – records for Bray and Delgany go back to 1667! And while it looks like those records are probably not on familysearch.org, they will be on the Irish Family History Foundation’s site ‘soon’, to quote their site.

So who knows where we’ll end up – or rather what surnames we’ll end up with – soon?!

McCain solidifies his electoral votes – Pennsylvania, Michigan teeter

I had been wondering how long it would take for the electoral college system to reflect the polls, in the US presidential election. For quite a while, Obama seemed to be struggling in the polls but well ahead when all that was translated at the state level into electoral votes (EVs).

It seems that it’s finally happened! Real Clear Politics’ assessment of the polls and EV implications has Obama ahead by just one vote. I decided to have a look at the figures myself, as a non-expert of the whole college system. I looked at the figures from 1st September and from 12th September, to see where the change was happening, and drew out some ‘key points’, like a good consultant! First up, the bad news and the good news for Barack Obama – there’s more of the former!

Obama’s bad news

  • Pennsylvania (a chunky 21 EVs) has fallen from being an Obama likely to a toss-up – he was +6.8% and is now just +2.3% ahead of McCain.
  • Obama has also seen his lead shrink in the other large toss-up state that’s currently in his favour, Michigan (17 EVs), from +3.2% to +2.0%.
  • Indiana (11 EVs), a huge pro-Bush state in 2000/2004 (by 15-20%), was Obama +0.5% but has now swung substantially in McCain’s favour – he leads by 4.7%.
  • Obama’s is even taking a hit in states where he is probably safe, e.g. in New Jersey and Washington (together 26 EVs), his lead in both is has fallen by 1% and is now below 10% in each.

Obama’s good news

  • Minnesota (10 EV), however, has moved towards Obama, from +2.3% to +7.0%, while he has also almost doubled his lead in Iowa (7 EVs) to 9%.
  • Colorado (9 EVs) has gone from being a virtual tie (McCain +0.5%) to an Obama lead of +2.3%, while his lead in New Hampshire (4 EVs) is small but growing (from 1.4% to 3.3%).
  • His lead has grown in New York (31 EVs), already solidly pro-Obama.

So leaving out the solid states, there is bad news for Obama in states worth 49 EVs, and good news in states worth only 40 EVs. What about John McCain?

  • Florida (27 EVs) has moved from being a toss-up, McCain +1.8%, to looking little more solid for McCain – it’s now McCain +5%.
  • In Georgia (15 EVs), which was already leaning towards McCain, McCain’s lead in the polls has doubled to 13.4%.
  • North Carolina (15 EVs) has moved from toss-up with McCain tendencies (+4.3% in his favour) to being solid McCain ground (+11%).
  • Virginia (13 EVs) was a tie last time but is leaning towards McCain, by +2.6% – perhaps not a big surprise, as it was Bush +8% in 2000/2004.
  • Gained Indiana (11 EVs, as per above) and improved his lead in Missouri (11 EVs) from 2% to 7%

Nevada (5), New Mexico (5) and Montana (3) are new to the RCP polling stats. McCain is ahead by 9% in the latter, but the other two are both toss-ups and are split – Obama leads in New Mexico by 2.3%, while McCain leads in Nevada by 1%.

So, defining ‘Strong’ as a lead of 10% or more, ‘Medium’ as a lead of 5-10% and ‘Weak’ as a lead of less than 5%, how have things changed since the start of the month?

  • Obama’s ‘Strong’ count has fallen from 156 to 130 (269 are needed in total). The fall of 26 is spread relatively evenly across medium and weak Obama EVs, but by simple polls, it suggests that Obama would get 246 EVs out of the 35 states for which there are data available.
  • McCain’s big improvement has been turning his weak votes, of which there were 82, into Mediums or even Strongs – having trailed Obama 156-99 in strong EVs at the start of the month, he’s just one behind now (130 to 129). He’s also moved about 25 votes from weak to medium.

By my simple count of the polls, and including college votes of every strength, Obama still has a healthy 246-219 lead, although that’s almost a halving of his lead in about 2 weeks. It’ll be very interesting to check in again in two weeks and see whether that’s a temporary bounce due to the Palin effect or whether it’s the start of a prolonged trend!

Dublin in the 1780s: It's Hell, Jim, but not as we know it

Recently, as I trawled through Google Books archive looking for various tidbits that would service my twin Irish historical interests – economic history and genealogy – I stumbled across an edition of the Quarterly Review from 1852 which contained a fascinating lengthy article, essentially a proto-Lonely Planet for Dublin. I’m still going through it – there are an amazing amount of anecdotes about daily life in Dublin, as well as guides to all the sites of prominent buildings, still standing now, standing then but gone by now and those which had even gone by then.

Early in the article, there was a fascinating diversion in a footnote, containing a discussion of an area of Dublin long since gone – Hell. My first thought was that this must have been one of the slums of Dublin, possibly the most notorious. It turns out, however, that it’s just another example of Dublin wit. The area itself was quite posh – rooms in Hell for lawyers working in the nearby old Four Courts were advertised in local papers. Dubliners just liked the idea of having an area right beside the main Cathedral, Christ Church, called Hell. It even had a statue of the devil! To better follow the story, you might cross-reference against this map of Hell, Dublin, circa 2008, courtesy of Google Maps.

Dublin's Hell Region, circa 2008
Dublin

I’m hoping to dig out a series of little interesting anecdotes about Dublin from this excellent trove – I’ve spotted a list of pubs and gentlemen’s clubs later in the piece, so that might be up next! Here’s the footnote in full, though. The bulk of it is a direct quotation from about 1830, the reminiscences of an old man, presumably thinking back to his youth in the 1780s or so – enjoy!

The “London Tavern” appears to have been destroyed by a fire which broke out in 1729, in the “London Entry” between Castle-street and Fishamble-street, the greater part of the houses in these two streets, as well as in Copper-alley, close to the back of the “London Entry”, being then built of timber or “cage-work”.

The iron gate of the passage through which the judges entered the old Four Courts of Dublin, stood about ten yards from the present west corner of Fishamble street, in Skinner’s-row, now called Christ Church-place. The widening of the upper part of the west side of Fishamble-street and the adjacent alterations, totally obliterated this passage, which was known as “Hell”. The following description of it appeared in a Dublin periodical twenty years ago:-

“I remember, instead of turning to the right down Parliament-street, going, in my youth, straightforward under the Exchange and up Cork-hill, to the old Four Courts, adjoining Christ Church cathedral. I remember what an immense crowd of cars, carriages, noddies, and sedan chairs beset our way as we struggled on between Latouche’s and Gleadowe’s Banks in Castle-street – what a labour it was to urge on our way through Skinner-row – I remember looking up to the old cage-work wooden house that stood at the corner of Castle-street and Werburgh-street, and wondering why, as it overhung so much, it did not fall down – and then turning down Fishamble-street, and approaching the Four Courts, that then existed, through what properly was denominated Christ Church Yard, but which popularly was called Hell.

This was certainly a very profane and unseemly soubriquet, to give to a place that adjoined a Cathedral whose name was Christ Church; and my young mind, when I first entered there, was struck with its unseemliness. Yes; and more especially, when over the arched entrance there was pointed out to me the very image of the devil, carved in oak, and not unlike one of those hideous black figures that are still in Thomas-street, hung over Tobacconists’ doors. This locale of Hell, and this representation of his satanic majesty, were famous in those days even beyond the walls of Dublin. I remember well, on returning to my native town after my first visit to Dublin, being asked by all my playfellows, had I been in Hell, and had I seen the devil. Its fame even reached Scotland, and Burns the Poet, in his story of ‘Death and Doctor Hornbook’, alludes to it when he says –

‘But this that I am gean to tell, / Which lately on a night befell / Is just as true as the dell’s in hell, / Or Dublin city.’

As Hell has not now any local habitation in our city, neither has the devil – but I can assure you, reader, that there are relics preserved of this very statue to this day; some of it was made into much esteemed snuff-boxes – and I am told there is one antiquarian in our city, who possesses the head and horns, and who prizes the relic as the most valuable in his museum. At any rate, Hell to me, in those days, was a most attractive place, and often did I go hither, for the yard was full of shops where toys, and fireworks, and kites, and all the playthings that engage the youthful fancy, were exposed for sale. But Hell was not only attractive to little boys, but also to bearded men: for here were comfortable lodgings for single men, and I remember reading in a journal of the day, an advertisement, intimating that there were ‘To be let, furnished apartments in Hell. N.B. They are well suited to a lawyer.’

Here were also sundry taverns and snuggeries, where the counsellor would cosher with the attorney – where the prebendary and the canon of the cathedral could meet and make merry – here the old stagers, the seniors of the Currans, the Yelvertons, and the Bully Egans, would enjoy the concomitants of good fellowship – there Prime Sergeant Malone, dark Phil Tisdall, and prior still to them, the noted Sir Toby Butler, cracked their jokes and their marrow bones, toasted away claret and tossed repartee, until they died, as other men die and are forgotten.”