Sunday Night Cooking Roundup: 11 July, 2011

(Gosh, I haven’t done this in a while.)

Today’s Sunday Cooking Roundup is a litlte disappointing. There’s nothing vegetarian here, but I do have pescaterian and poultry friendly dishes.  What we do have, however, reflects what was on sale at the grocery store. In addition to the standard salad vegetables and herbs that I normally buy, this weekend they had chicken breasts, shrimp and mixed shellfish on sale.  There was no way I was going to miss out on buying these, so this week’s menu is heavy on all of them. Apologies to my veggie friends, and I’ll try again for next week.

Here’s what we have on the menu:

  1. Dheeraj’s Modified Shrimp Scampi,
  2. Garlic Chicken and
  3. Mixed Shellfish Soup.

Recipes and pictures after the jump.

Dheeraj’s Modified Shrimp Scampi

First of all, I hate the name “Shrimp Scampi”. It’s redundant. “Scampi” is Italian for “shrimp”. Really. Look it up.  But it generically means shrimp cooked up with oil and citrus.  I think that that’s okay, but a little boring. So here’s what I did, instead.

Ingredients

1 lbs peeled shrimp (I buy it and peel it, but do what you want)

1 yellow onion

1 green pepper

0.5 lbs sliced white mushrooms

2 Tbs. finely chopped garlic

1 Tbs. Black Pepper

1.5 finely diced habanero pepper

3 Tbs. Lemon juice

1 tsp. combined diced fresh rosemary, oregano and basil (Do not use dried Italian Herbs mix. It sucks.)

Steps

Well, so as part of my diet and training, I’ve given up rich cooking oils. I KNOW, RIGHT? WHAT A FUCKING DISASTER!  Anyway, I’m using a flavoured cooking spray now, and you can certainly use a cooking oil for this. In this case, I’d recommend using olive oil.  You’re going to add a lot to it, so just about any grade will do.   

So oil up a frying pan and let the oil start to warm up.  While that’s happening, dice up your onion, habaneros and green capsicum, and then stick in the oil on low heat to start to cook.  You want it to get soft, but you don’t want the onions to brown or the pepper to get too soft, so use low heat.  When the capsicum is about half-way to where you want it to be, add in the mushrooms and black pepper.  Mushroom consistency is critical, here. You don’t want them to be too floppy, but you want them to get the flavours and oils of the onion, habaneros and the capsicum. 

Keep this in mind: the shrimp will be cooking for about seven minutes. That will help you judge when the mushrooms are at the right stage of cooking to add in the shrimp.  When you’re ready, add the shrimp, garlic and lemon juice.  Mix it up and make sure that everything cooks together.

The end result should look like this:

Enjoy! 

Garlic Chicken

This is not really a recipe as much as it is me trying to recreate something that my mother used to make and trying to mod it up a little bit to accomodate what was on sale and what I needed to use up in the fridge.

Ingredients

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

1 finely diced onion

1 diced green capsicum

6 Tbsp chopped garlic

4 Tbsp garam masala

2 chopped serrano chillies

1/2 cup nonfat, plain yogurt

1/4 cup lemon juice

1/2 cup chopped coriander

1 tsp cumin seeds

3 tsp shredded ginger

Steps

Again, I’m not using oil, but if I were, I’d use vegetable oil.  Toss in the onions, capsicum, green chillies and ginger to get them cooking up.  When the onions start to turn translucent, add in the diced chicken, half the garam masala, half the garlic and half the cumin.   Actively stir and let the chicken get brown, while the chicken oils merge and mix in with the garam masala, cumin seeds, garlic and vegetables.  When the chicken is well browned, through everything else in.

Now, you stir it up to make sure everything is mixed up well, cover it up and step away for a while. You can tell that it’s finished when the chicken is soft enough that you can easily slice it in half with a fork. Yes, it’s that tender.

Results look like this

Mixed Shellfish Soup

This is the recipe I am seriously excited about!  The grocery store were having a sale on mixed shellfish, which included calamari, shrimp, scallops and small shellfish.  I was so pleased to discover this that I invented a soup on the spot.

Ingredients

1 diced yellow onion

1 bunch of green onions, diced

1 green capsicum

2 diced habanero peppers

8 diced tomatoes

1.5 cups diced coriander

1 lbs mixed shellfish

1 cup lemon juice

2 Tbs cumin seed

4 Tbs chopped garlic

Cinnamon to taste

Bay leaves to taste

6 Tbs garam masala

Liquid of your choice (I used water because of the diet, but I’d imagine that you could add in a lager and have amazing results.)

Steps

This can be done even if you don’t have a pressure cooker. I do, which made this a lot easier, but you can do it without one if you’re patient.  My advice is to start this before you start anything else and let it go in the background while you are cooking other things.

Take the green onion, white onion, garlic, habanero and tomato and put them into the pot you’re going to use.  Add just a little bit of your liquid, cover it up and let it sit there for a quite a bit.  You want this to start breaking down.  When your soup base is about 1/4 of the way to where you want it to be, add in everything else except the seafood. 

Now, you are cooking the base down till it gets to your desired thickness. Check on it every ten minutes or so. To make it thicker, I recommend using a habanero salsa of some kind, and to dilute, add more of your liquid.  When the base has reached the desired consistency, add in the shellfish and cook for no more than six minutes.

Results should look like this.

Garlic Chicken

Slow Roasted Beef With Pomegranate Molasses Sauce

This is another accidental recipe that turned out to be quite delicious. I don’t know how it is that I’m so lucky all the time with my experiments – as far as I remember, I’ve only had four experiments go utterly awry in the last seven years. 

This recipe came together out of a random set of circumstances. As I mentioned before, the Safeway near my old place had fantastic sales on roasts, and I wanted to play with one. I’d recently been to the Middle Eastern grocery store to get some bulk spices, and I had been thinking about how pomegranate molasses would serve as the basis for an Indian-ish barbecue sauce.

I adapted some of this from a bouef bourguignonne recipe, some from what my parents used to prepare for cookouts and some from what I know of Texas barbecue techniques. I would love to see some feedback on this recipe.

Once again, I didn’t take any pictures. Sue me.

Ingredients

1 4-5 lbs London  Broil

2 serrano chillies

5 medium yellow onions

5 Tbsp minced garlic

5 Tbsp minced ginger

1/3 cup balsamic vinegar vinegar

1 cup lemon juice

1 1/2 cup pomegranate molasses

2 tsp brown sugar

4 potatoes, peeled and chopped

6 rashers of bacon

1/2 cup finely chopped basil

6 Tbsp garam masala

1 Tbsp Freshly ground cinnamon (Do not use the powdered stuff – do it yourself)

3 Tbs Indian dried red chillies

Salt and Pepper to taste

Preparation

The first thing to do is boil the bacon a bit to get rid of the excess salt. So, take a large Dutch oven and fill it with water, bring to boil, and then stick your bacon strips in for about four minutes.  While this is going, dice one onion and your chillies as finely as you can, and slowly sautee in 1 tsp vegetable oil. When that’s done, drain the water and carefully pat down your bacon strips.  Cut the bacon into small strips, probably the size of a normal lardon, and add to the onions and chillies.  Let this go for a bit, till the lardons start to stiffen up a bit.

At this point, add the vinegar and the pomegranate molasses, and keep cooking on medium heat, stirring occasionally. While this is happening, finely dice two more onions and add them in.

Set your oven to preheat to 325.

Searing Your London Broil

Sear it as you would any other meat that you’re going to stick in the oven, and set aside.

Back to The Sauce

You should be getting quite a pungent smell by now, and it’s only going to get stronger.  Mix in the garam masala, ginger and garlic. You want this to form a somewhat thick paste for now. (Don’t worry, you’re going to add water into the mix later.) Keep cooking. If it looks like the paste is getting too think for your comfort, add just enough of the lemon juice to dilute it, but hold off on adding all of it for now.

Once you get a good paste, mix in the brown sugar, cinnamon, basil and remaining spices and the lemon juice.  Put in the chopped potatoes, and add your beef to the Dutch Oven.  If you’re like me, your Dutch oven isn’t big enough to handle a gigantic London Broil, and you’ll have to cut it into pieces to get it in there. That’s fine – don’t sweat it.

After you’ve tossed in the beef, add the final two onions, finely diced. Now, for the final step, add enough water to make sure that the beef is well covered, and stick it in the oven.

Checking On It

Normally, roasts like this will take hours to cook, but the pomegranate and balsamic vinegar will tear that beef to shreds. It’s probably good to go after two hours in the oven, but I let mine go to three because I love how soft it can get.

Serving

The Houston in me compels me to eat slow cooked meats with tortillas, at the very least, but I’d imagine that this would go well with a strong bread, maybe a sourdough.

Suggested Modifications

I think that this has the potential to turn out very sour, depending on your taste, so you may want to add more sugar to take some of the edge off.

You may also want to add more chillies. I like serranos, but that’s just me.

Pimm’s Marinated Grilled Swordfish With Lemongrass, Dill, Mint, Cucumber Sauce

A few people have asked me for this, so I’m sharing. Enjoy!

There are two parts to this: the marinade and the garnish.

Garnish

1. 1 Cucumber, peeled and finely diced
2. 2-3 diced bulbs of green onion
3. 1 diced green chilly (I use serrano)
4. 2 tsp freshly ground ginger
5. 2 Tsp fresh mint
6. 2 Tsp fresh dill
7. 2 Tsp fresh lemongrass
8. 3/4 cup white dry wine (I use Pinot Grigio)
9. 1/4 cup grapeseed oil
10. 1/2 cup lemon juice
11. Freshly ground pepper to taste
12. Salt to taste

Mix 8,9,10 together strongly.  This is the base of the garnish.  Add in 11 and 12.

At this point, you should add in everything else and mix thoroughly. You want to let the flavours steep in and mix with each other.

Let sit for at least an hour – I suggest that you make this an hour before you intend to plate your grilled swordfish.

Marinade

1. 3/4 cup Pimm’s No. 2
2. Salt and pepper to taste
3. 1/2 cup white dry wine
4. 1/2 cup grapeseed oil
5.  2 tsp fresh mint
6. 2 tsp fresh dill
7. 2 tsp fresh lemongrass

Mix all ingredients together, and add swordfish to the bowl. Let it sit for at least three hours, turning every half hour.

This gives you enough for six to eight generously sized steaks, eight to ten ounces each.  Grill the steaks and brush with marinade, say, twelve minutes each side.

When plating, pour a generous portion of the garnish on top.

Take The Boy Out Of Linux,…

So, yesterday, I bought a 15″ MacBook Pro. It’s gorgeous. I’m switching from Linux Mint, Helena.

To give you an indication of how deeply ingrained Ubuntu has become in my mind, this is the first thing that I issued in my new term:

Last login: Wed Dec 16 10:09:38 on console

Dheeraj-Chands-MacBook-Pro:~ dheerajchand$ sudo apt-get install electricsheep

Password:
sudo: apt-get: command not found
Dheeraj-Chands-MacBook-Pro:~ dheerajchand$

Wow, this is going to take some adjustment.  Just thought you’d be amused.

-dx

Sage Marinated Cornish Game Hens With Sausage, Rice and Mushroom Stuffing

I made this for Lisa not too long ago, but forgot to take pictures. I hope you guys still enjoy messing around with this recipe, though.

 

Sage Marinated Cornish Game Hens with Sausage, Mushroom and Rice Stuffing

Ingredients

Birds

2 Cornish game hens, normal size
1/2 bottle Italian medium-dry white wine (Pinot Grigio works well)
1 cup lemon juice
1 cup olive oil
Large amounts of sage, rosemary, basil and oregano (I use dried, but I’d imagine that fresh is way better)
Mixed colour peppercorns
Sea Salt (optional)

Stuffing

1 cups rice
1/2 bottle Italian medium-dry white wine (Pinot Grigio works well)
1 cup lemon juice
Large amounts of sage, rosemary, basil and oregano (I use dried, but I’d imagine that fresh is way better)
Mixed colour peppercorns
1/2 package sage country style sausage
1 pound sliced mushrooms
1 finely diced onion
3 tbs minced garlic (Feel free to use fresh instead – I’m just lazy)
Large amounts of sage, rosemary, basil and oregano (I use dried, but I’d imagine that fresh is way better)
2 Bay leaves
2 tbs butter

Preparing the birds

In a large bowl, mix olive oil, lemon juice and white wine together. Be sure to mix well, as they will tend to separate. Now, I use a hell of a lot of sage here, easily three or four tbs., but I’m using the dried stuff. If you’re using fresh, I don’t know how that translates. Part of the reason that you want to use so much sage is that it has a very subtle flavour, and you really want it to get into the skin of the hen. The olive oil makes the skin wonderfully rich and crunchy, and adding sage to that works out really well. The other herbs are there just as helpers. So, if you consider the rest to be generic Italian herbs, the ratio of sage to Italian herbs should be 3:1 or 4:1.   Grind in the mixed colour peppercorns to taste. You can also use some sea salt here, if you’d like, but I don’t cook with much salt for health reasons.

You now have your marinade. The longer you can leave your hens in here, the better. I’ve done up to twenty four hours before. Unfortunately, you can’t really score the meat, as it ruins the appearance of the hens when you serve them, so you have to rely on good old fashioned osmosis to get the job done.  If you’re in a rush, though, I’ve done it with as few as two hours, and I’d imagine that you could really get away with it one.

Anyway,  put these in the fridge for now.

Preparing the Stuffing

You’re going to have more stuffing than can fit inside the hens. This is fine. You can cook it outside the hens, as well, in the same baking tray and have dressing.

Set your rice to cooking in wine and lemon juice. Do this on low heat. Add in sage and Italian herbs as before, 3:1 or 4:1, but in smaller amounts. No more than 2 tbs sage – that’s a good guideline. When the wine and lemon juice start to bubble, add in the butter.  Cook till the rice is firm – you should still have some wine and lemon juice in there. This is fine.

While this is cooking, open up your package of country style sausage. This should be loose sausage without casing. If you have a casing, cut it out and cook the sausage loosely on medium heat. You want it to start browning and releasing its oils, but not to get completely cooked. Once it starts browning, add in the onion and keep cooking. Once the onions soften, add in the garlic. Now, you want to keep an eye on this and use your judgement a bit. At the end of all of this, you want the sausage to be about 85% done. Look at what you’re cooking and decide when you can throw in the mushrooms to get them well cooked and softened without going over that 85% cooked sausage point. Once you’ve reached that point, throw in the mushrooms, ground peppercorns and herbs.

Now, get another large bowl. Mix the rice, wine and lemon juice and sausage concoction together.

Cooking it all together

Take your hens out of the fridge. Stuff the hens as tightly as you can with them. You should probably be able to get one cup inside each hen, easily. Tie the hens legs together to enclose. Arrange the hens on a baking tray, and take the rest of your somewhat liquid stuffing and arrange all around them. Do not worry about the fact that your stuffing is somewhat liquid. This moisture is critical – it keeps the whole thing from drying out while you cook it and it provides a lot of moisture to the hens in the tray.

Stick the tray in the oven at 400 degrees for forty-five minutes to an hour.  You can tell they’re done when you poke with a fork and the juices run clear.

 

Beware of Flawed Polling

Originally posted at The Moderate Voice

The contrast in quality between the news and opinion divisions of The Wall St. Journal never ceases to amaze me.

While the news reporting has won award after award, and has become the definitive source of news for the American business and financial communities, the opinion pages are characterized by what some would consider mendacity and methodological sloppiness or a genuine lack of understanding of the subject matter. Indeed:

The 13 March, 2009, op-ed by Doug Schoen and Scott Rasmussen is just another indication of why one should beware of anything written in those sections. Both authors are pollsters, and should therefore know better, but they didn’t provide full cross-tabs, sampling information, fielding dates or questionnaires for the polls they cite, and their analysis meanders back and forth between different polls. It is impossible to take any of the claims in this article completely seriously on their own merits.

[…]

In my first piece for The Moderate Voice, I discussed the problems with Mark Penn’s holding back the data products from his clients. Journalistic best practices also involve making the data products available, usually in the form of a filled-in questionnaire. Without providing this information, he was basically telling his clients to take him at his word. In print, where real estate is at a premium, the full cross-tabs or a filled-in questionnaire is infeasible, so all we get is sampling and fielding information. It usually looks like this: “The New York Times/Gallup poll called 1,000 adults evenly distributed across the country on the evenings of X,Y and Z. Respondents were evenly distributed for gender and race.” That is the bare minimum of information required to report on a poll. In web journalism, hyper-linking abolishes the real estate problem: you can link to PDF’s of the data you’re citing. In fact, most people do. It’s responsible journalism.

This is not just a minor issue of protocol, but of great import to any poll or analysis. The means of verification of a poll consist of the sampling, and fielding. Without a carefully constructed sample, questionnaire and fielding plan, a the data in a poll are absolutely meaningless. The meaning of a poll is in precisely these details. Any credible pollster engaging in bona fide research knows this, which is why we spend so much time on these details. Pollsters will spend a lot of time and effort into making sure that all of these things are perfectly designed to acquire the right information to discover the answers to the questions being asked. Any discussion of a poll or its meaning will involve these details. And anyone who’s ever worked at a polling firm in any capacity knows this.

They say, “Polling data show that Mr. Obama’s approval rating is dropping and is below where George W. Bush was in an analogous period in 2001. Rasmussen Reports data shows that Mr. Obama’s net presidential approval rating — which is calculated by subtracting the number who strongly disapprove from the number who strongly approve — is just six, his lowest rating to date”, to which I ask, “Which data?” They haven’t provided any information about the polls, made the full tabs available or behaved as any responsible pollster briefing a client would. We’re basically being told to “trust them” that these data exist and indicate what they report without being able to look and see for ourselves. .To put it bluntly, we don’t know who was selected for the poll or what they were asked. All we have is their word that the polls they cite :

1. exist,
2. ask neutrally worded questions,
3. use a scientifically constructed representative sample of the population,
4. were called evenly
5. and actually say what Schoen and Rasmussen would have us believe that they do.

How many polls are they citing? Are they examining the shifts in a rigourous time-series analysis? We don’t know, because they won’t tell us. We don’t know when these polls were fielded, either, and whether or not these were all different polls with completely different questions asked of entirely different people, or if they were all different waves of the same poll.

Then, in a completely astonishing move, they shift from analyzing these elusive Rasmussen data and begin analyzing elusive Gallup data (they also fail to describe or cite these data in the same way that they do the Rasmussen data.), but fail to describe how they merged and reconciled two completely distinct datasets into one poll for analysis.

To put this into perspective, imagine a scientist writing a paper of his findings by writing about two completely distinct and unrelated experiments without doing any sort of work to show how these two distinct and unrelated experiments are actually neither distinct nor unrelated, and then moving back and forth between these two experiments at will, as portions of each may give him the findings that he wants. Such a scientist would be laughed out of academia, yet when social scientists are doing so, they are given prime journalistic real estate, the opinion pages of The Wall St. Journal.

In a nutshell, this is the problem. Some might suggest that Schoen and Rasmussen have engaged in such methodological sloppiness that one can only imagine that they were looking for anything that they could find to try and prop up a controversial thesis. Their seemingly magpie approach to data analysis would likely embarrass any entry level assistant analyst at any polling firm — but because most people are unfamiliar with the mechanics of polling, it has earned them headlines on the opinion pages of WSJ.

The Real Significance of The CBS AIG Poll

Originally posted at The Moderate Voice.

A CBS News poll fielded over the weekend shows a surprising finding: while a majority of Americans disapprove of AIG handing out bonuses, believe that the government should do more to recover them and specifically give Obama low marks for handling this issue, there is no appreciable change in his overall job performance and there is an increase in overall confidence in his ability to handle the economy. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, has slightly lower numbers.

[…]

q1 Do you approve or disapprove of the way Barack Obama is handling his job as President?
** TOTAL RESPONDENTS **
*** Party ID ***
Total Rep Dem Ind Mar09a
% % % % %
Approve 64 35 87 60 62
Disapprove 20 50 2 17 24
DK/NA 16 15 11 23 14

q2 Do you approve or disapprove of the way Barack Obama is handling the economy?
Approve 61 29 84 59 56
Disapprove 29 59 9 29 33
DK/NA 10 12 7 12 11

q3 Do you approve or disapprove of the way Congress is handling its job?
Approve 30 22 43 23 30
Disapprove 56 72 40 62 56
DK/NA 14 6 17 15 14

q4 blank

q5 blank

q6 How much confidence do you have in Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner’s ability to handle the nation’s financial crisis – a lot, some, not much, or none at all?

Weighted (227,354, 368)

Total Rep Dem Ind Mar09a
A lot 13 4 21 10
Some 41 31 48 41
Not much 20 31 12 21
None at all 15 28 6 15
DK/NA 11 6 13 13

The most striking feature of these data is the partisanship that they indicate: in each case, the respondents giving low marks to the subject of the question are the Republicans.

Democrats support Obama’s handling of the economy at 84%, Independents 59%. Democrats support Geithner at 69%, Independents at 51%. Republican respondents give Obama 45% and Geithner 34%.

While Independents remain the largest portion of the sample at 39% of the sample, they are strongly breaking in support of the administration. If one assumes that Democrats are likely to support Obama at high numbers, no matter the circumstances, and that Republicans are likely to oppose Obama at high numbers, no matter the circumstances, the view is still good for the administration. The total number of Democrats and Independents who approve of Obama’s handling of the economy is: (298 Dems) + (218 Independent) is 516, or 54%, without any Republicans. The total number of Republicans and Independents who disapprove of Obama’s handling of the economy is (134 Reps) + (107 Independent) is 241, or 25%, without any Democrats.

So, although Obama has low numbers amongst Republicans, if our hypothesis holds, these were voters he was never likely to retain anyway. The strong numbers amongst Independents and Democrats, the two largest blocs surveyed show him to be in a good position. The increase in approval, while at the same time shedding Republican support, shows that Obama is holding the voters he was supposed to hold anyway and winning over the Independents. In other words, he is winning the argument. The AIG bonuses issue, while changing the news for a few days, did not drag down his numbers or his trending support.

There are two questions missing from this poll that I would have liked to have seen there to make the Congressional approval question more useful: the approval of Democrats in Congress and the approval of Republicans in Congress. Given the strong power of the minority to block action in the Congress, it’s impossible to read determine the roots of Congressional approval without seeing how voters are favour both Democras and Republicans.

The important takeaway from this poll is that while voters are angry about the AIG bonuses, and think that the government should try to recover the money, they are still confident in Obama and Geithner. The dropping Republican numbers are predictable, and given the small number of people identifying as Republicans, of no worry to Obama. After all, he’s winning and growing his share with Democrats and Independents.

Dheeraj Chand has worked in Democratic polling since 2007. Prior to that, he was a political journalist, Democratic field operative and a high school debate coach.

Time For Mark Penn To Go

Originally posted to The Moderate Voice – I’ll be guest writing there on polling and polls for a while.

I’m a little late to the fight between Democratic pollsters Stan Greenberg and Mark Penn, but I thought it important to finish reading Greenberg’s book before I offered an opinion.

To those of us who work in polling, data or analytics, the revelations in Greenberg’s book provide few new revelations but replete examples of how far out of the mainstream of best practices and ethics Mark Penn’s work really is. This is also a perfect illustration of the problematic culture of Democratic consultants and their deleterious effects on Democratic campaigns.

But first, a little context.

Stan Greenberg is best known as the political scientist who first described and predicted the party switch of working class whites from Democrats to Republicans, and the pollster who guided Bill Clinton to a narrow plurality victory in 1992. Since then, he has founded the Democratic polling behemoth, Greenberg Quinland Rosner Research. Several of his employees have gone on to become prestigious Democratic pollsters in their own right, such as Diane Feldman and Celinda Lake. (Full Disclosure: I have worked for both.) Furthermore, Greenberg is generally considered a strong contributor to the Democratic analytics community through programs like Democracy Corps.

Mark Penn is best known as the former CEO of Burson-Marsteller, and the head of their political division, Penn Schoen Berland and Associates. His most prominent political work was as pollster and chief strategist for the 2008 Hillary Clinton campaign and a short stint as a pollster for Gore/Lieberman 2000. Prior to that, he was one of the pollsters, working with Dick Morris, who helped Bill Clinton in 1996, focusing on voter “segmentation” and devising policies that would appeal to those segments. Aside from his work for the Clintons, he mostly did (and has returned to) commercial work.

During the 2008 Democratic primary, Penn became a household name among political junkies and other high-information voters for the depth and breadth of his controversial statements and behaviours. In a widely disseminated piece in The Atlantic, it was reported that Penn would withhold data from key players in the campaign and insist that they just trust him, as well as advising a morally reprehensible strategy of racial division against Senator Obama. He also attempted to sideline anyone who disagreed with his methods and conclusions, and frequently overstepped his portfolio in an attempt to take undue credit for campaign victories. He is, to say the least, a highly polarising figure.

In his book, Greenberg describes a prior instance of Penn withholding data — Blair’s reelection campaign in Britain — and then goes further to describe how many believe Penn falsifies data to back up his own preferred readings. In other words, if the data don’t say what Penn wants them to say, he simply makes enough changes to get the outcomes he wants. Less politely, he lies to his clients and jeopardises their chances for success. Penn’s response was that Greenberg was out of the loop on Blair’s campaign, and so he would have had no way of knowing whether or not Penn was withholding data.

In turn, Penn’s defenders point out that, while he didn’t provide the actual data products (such as completed questionnaires, daily partial reports, and a full cross-tabular analysis of each poll as it was completed), he did provide written reports and analyses of what he’d derived from these polls, and that this contribution was useful. That defense seems reasonable until you consider it is a fundamental tenet of public opinion research that the clients own the data.

The job of the pollster is to collect the data, create legible products from them, provide reports on the meaning of the data and then house them for the client in a secure database — but ultimately, the data belong to the client. It is absolutely unconscionable for a pollster to refuse to provide data products upon completion, alongside his analyses of them. To further refuse to provide data products upon explicit request from the client, as Penn did in the Blair, Gore, and Clinton campaigns, moves beyond eccentricity or bad habit into the realm of malpractice and malfeasance.

In conversations, Penn’s defenders point out that Greenberg comes from academia, with its conventions on long-term research, validation and fact-checking, which is why Greenberg is so insistent on rigourously produced data products that are given to the client. In contrast, Penn , comes from the commercial world, which moves at breakneck speed, and often doesn’t have the time to create all the data products that an academic like Greenberg would deliver. That defense is both false and irrelevant.

It is false because Penn would have required those very products in order to produce the reports and briefings he delivered to his clients, and also because the world of commercial opinion research, especially at the higher dollar levels, is far more rigourous than the world of political research. In other words, if it’s true that Penn’s methodology is shaped by his time in the commercial world, then he should be inundating the client with data products and raw data.

Even if we grant Penn’s defenders their assumptions about the nature of commercial public opinion research, that defense is irrelevant because Penn chose to work in the political sphere, where Greenberg’s methods are the norm. Accordingly, the arguments of Penn’s supporters make about as much sense as saying that it would be okay for him to travel to the United Kingdom and drive on the right side of the road because he was raised in America.

Such conflicts might seem trivial to people outside the analytics community. Outsiders may wonder what such conflicts between rival consultants have to do with their daily lives and whether or not this is just another inside-the-Beltway tempest in a teapot. While understandable, such views miss the larger point: the money that we give candidates and parties we support might be wasted and spent badly, which means that our preferred outcome, the victory of our candidates, is jeopardised. The import of such waste is heightened when one considers the fact that many campaigns receive matching funds from government and hence tax dollars could go to malefactors.

I wish it were possible to say Penn is an isolated case, a single bad apple, in the field of Democratic consultants, but he’s not. While I have no direct knowledge of other Democratic pollsters behaving like Penn apparently did, Amy Sullivan’s 2005 article for The Washington Monthly argues that Democratic consultants have frequently abused the trust of their clients. In her article, Sullivan describes how personal loyalty, a cliquish mentality, and perverse structural incentives combined to have the same unsuccessful consultants get re-hired, move upward, and be able to charge more for worthless services, after every careless loss.

The fact that people like Penn continued to be hired is part of what led to low confidence in Democrats for so long. After all, if we couldn’t trust candidates to staff a campaign with competent people, how could we trust them to staff government? Things have changed since Sullivan’s essay: The 2006 midterms saw a lot of these people run out out of the consulting world, leaving the bona fide consultants in place and bringing in a world of new people and techniques. The 2008 campaigns continued that trend, and Penn is now a dinosaur trying to defend his record.

Polling provides a valuable service to candidates and elected officials. Without polling, the concerns of people who don’t have the time to visit or call the candidate’s office would go unheard. A poll is a way for a candidate to reach people he would otherwise never have a chance to talk to and hear what they think is important. If a candidate doesn’t make his campaign about helping the people he wants to serve, he doesn’t deserve to win. Unfortunately, people like Mark Penn might very well be turning this valuable service into something nefarious, with claims of secret data validating their strategies. The purging of such malefactors should continue.

Rick Perry’s Options For 2010

Originally posted at The Texas Blue.

The Houston Chronicle continues to report on the back-room preparations for the 2010 elections in Texas. As we have previously noted multiple times (among them here and here), how the election cycle unfolds really revolves around what happens in the governor’s race. There seems to be little doubt that Perry is going to try for an unprecedented third term, but there are a few things still up in the air:

  1. Will Senator Hutchison resign to challenge him?

    Sen. Hutchison has served three terms in the Senate, one more than the limit she initially promised the voters of Texas. She is limited in how much more she can rise in leadership or in national stature by both her lack of seniority and the fact that she is relatively pro-choice in a fervently anti-choice party. It was widely thought that she would resign her Senate seat to challenge Perry in 2006, but it’s very likely that the crowded field kept her out. Even though she handily defeated Democratic candidate Barbara Ann Radnofsky for reelection, the glass ceiling that she faces makes remaining in the Senate much less desirable for her.

    This is the linchpin: will she resign, and if so, when?

  2. Who will replace her in the Senate?

    The two big players in for the seat are State Senator Florence Shapiro (R) and current Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst (R). Shapiro already has the support of a few state legislators, but Dewhurst has demonstrated that he can win strongly in state-wide elections.

If Hutchison resigns to challenge Perry, everything is then on his shoulders. Perry will have to decide who he will appoint to fill Hutchison’s seat, and neither option open to him is without severe consequences. Hutchison is the first woman to represent Texas in the Senate, and Perry will be under a lot of pressure to appoint Shapiro to balance out her departure. Moreover, he will face a lot of pressure from his key religious conservative constituency to appoint a pro-life Senator to replace Hutchison. From this perspective, appointing Shapiro would be to his advantage. However, it would have the effect of possibly alienating his lieutenant governor, which could be disastrous for him. The Texas Constitution empowers the lieutenant governor to run the Senate, appoint committee seats, etc. With 2010 redistricting approaching and a challenge from the most popular politician in the state, Perry will need to have a smooth two years of governing to survive. A good relationship with Dewhurst would be critical to making the next legislative session work to his advantage.

No matter whom he appoints, Perry is going to anger someone and jeopardize his legislative agenda and survival against Hutchison. To paraphrase, for him, there is no royal road to re-election. It’s going to be interesting to see what he decides and when, and how he works to execute it.

Antigay forces don’t want a debate. They want their way

Every four years, the people of the United States of America engage in a grand debate. The two major political coalitions in the country marshal their arguments and do their best to convince the people of America that their vision of the country is the superior one. At all levels of government and society, we argue about policies, laws and values. Each election, be it for a ballot initiative, state legislature seat or even the Presidency, is a figurative competitive debate round in which the two parties represent the competitors, and the people of America, the adjudicators. Earlier last month, a broad coalition of businesses, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and the Catholic Church managed to convince people in several states to pass initiatives and referenda limiting and removing rights from homosexuals. After a contentious air and ground war, they are hurt and shocked that anyone would call for boycotts of the businesses or charge them with bigoted promotion of hatred. They claim that this stifles their ability to engage in political speech or promotion of their religious beliefs. This claim is fundamentally wrong and demonstrates a complete misunderstanding of the nature of democracy and free debate of ideas.

Liberal democracy requires and promotes a free and vigourous exchange of ideas. The freedom to say what you believe and act on it is one that only a few people in the world enjoy, and one that we should take seriously. It is these very freedoms that allow and justify the political advocacy of the Mormon Church, the Catholic Church et al. They are, and should be free to, say what they wish. And as we understand spending money to be a part of political speech, they are, and should be free to, spend money in support of ballot initiatives, propositions, referenda, etc. However, equally critical to the functioning of democracy is the right of response. Just as anyone is free to speak his piece and vote with his dollars, so to is anyone free to respond and vote with his dollars. It is this back and forth of ideas, proposition and counter-proposition, that is the very exchange of ideas that we rely on to make our democracy work.

Taken seriously, the anti-gay forces’ claim is that no one may ever disagree with them or organize opposition to their political action, as it would have the effect of canceling out their free speech. Moreover, anyone who would not want to spend his money supporting groups with whom he has massive disagreements must continue to do so, as not doing so would discourage them from speaking up in the first place. To put it more bluntly, their feelings are hurt that anyone would disagree with them and they think that no one except them should have the right to speak or vote with their dollars. This kind of special pleading is ludicrous, and has no place in a modern democratic society. Any forum of debate relies upon the rules giving everyone an equal starting point to compete. You start equally, and then based on your talent, resources and luck, you do better or worse.

Anyone knows that debates can be contentious, but you shouldn’t be awarded a win for being too afraid to speak in the first place. If you want an opportunity to convince people of your views, you have to accept the fact that people are going to try and convince them otherwise, as is their right. The desire of the anti-gay forces in America to silence their opposition and prevent them from speaking demonstrates the real goal: they don’t want to engage in political speech or political action. They want to get their way, no matter how antidemocratic their methods may be.

The problems confronting America in the twenty-first century are numerous, and will require incredible amounts of hard work to solve. The path to a solution isn’t always clear, as we have two wars, massive debt, unpopular bailouts and an economy that doesn’t show any signs of having yet hit bottom. If we’re going to pull out of the crises we currently live in, we’re going to require an energetic and vigorous debate in which everyone participates. Even if they want to promote first century positions, the anti-gay forces in America should recognise that in the twenty-first century, they get no special privileges.