Thursday, November 6, 2014

Comparing the 2014 US Senate Election Models

So how did all the modelers do? Pretty good overall. While all the models did pretty well, there were misses by all of them: specifically, none of the models predicted the outcome of North Carolina correctly.

Following Dr. Sam Wang from the Princeton Electoral Consortium, I have ranked the different models using a Brier score. It seems like my scores came out slightly different from his, probably because of the data I was able to find, but the results seem consistent.

As input the numbers provided by the New York Times Senate Model Comparison. I have converted each of the totals provided by them to the probability of a Republican win. Therefore, if they predicted a Democratic win by 75%, the number was converted to a Republican win by 1-D% resulting in a 25% chance of a Democratic win.

After calculating the Brier score for each of the models, here are the outcomes in order of best to worst (lower Brier score is better):

Place
Name
Brier Score
#1
Daily Kos
0.091
#2
Washington Post
0.104
#3
PredictWise
0.125
#4
538
0.126
#5
HuffPo
0.139
#6
NYT
0.139
#7
SanityIID
0.161
#8
PEC
0.172

As you can see, all the various models did really well.

Links:
Princeton Electoral Consortium – http://election.princeton.edu/
Wikipedia: Brier Score – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brier_score
New York Times: 2014 Senate Model Comparison – http://www.nytimes.com/newsgraphics/2014/senate-model/#comparisons

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

US Senate Final Update

These are the final predictions that will be released from "El" on this election cycle. It looks like it is going to be a Republican blowout unless there is something systematically wrong with the polling.

El is predicting 48 seats for the Democrats and Independents, and 52 seats for the Republicans. If Orman wins and caucuses with the majority party, that will make yield a total of 47 seats for the Democrats and Independents, and 53 seats for the Republicans and Independents.


The individual probabilities for each state as predicted by El are as follows:


And in non-graphical form:

Alaska
Sullivan 56% chance of winning
Begich 44% chance of winning

Arkansas
Cotton 86% chance of winning
Pryor 14% chance of winning

Colorado
Gardner 77% chance of winning
Udall 23% chance of winning

Georgia
Perdue 87% chance of winning
Nunn 13% chance of winning

Iowa
Ernst 68% chance of winning
Braley 32% chance of winning

Kansas
Roberts 37% chance of winning
Orman 63% chance of winning

Kentucky
McConnell 95% chance of winning
Grimes 5% chance of winning

Louisiana
Cassidy 95% chance of winning
Landrieu 5% chance of winning

Michigan
Land 5% chance of winning 
Peters 95% chance of winning

New Hampshire
Brown 30% chance of winning
Shaheen 70% chance of winning

North Carolina
Tillis 24% chance of winning
Hagan 76% chance of winning

Adding all these seats together gives us the following results for the elections. While there are some ties listed, in the prediction, any ties go to the one with any lead whatsoever. The easiest way to do this is to only look at the short term prediction. In the following chart, a "1" signifies that the state is predicted to be won by the Republicans. A "0" signifies that the state is predicted to be won by Democrats.


Finally, we want to look at the sums of all these numbers together with the states that either aren't up for election this year or are considered safe seats by both the Democrats and Republicans.


Thursday, October 30, 2014

US Senate Update for October 30, 2014

The races are stabilizing according to the El model. Republicans are still quite likely to take control of the Senate after the midterm elections.


Michigan, New Hampshire, and North Carolina are likely to go Democratic.

Kentucky, Louisiana, Iowa, Arkansas, and Georgia are likely to go Republican.


The remaining three states that I have been following are a little bit more erratic and unpredictable. I want to look at Colorado, Kansas, and Alaska a little bit closer.

Colorado has been leaning toward the Republicans for a while now. Recent polls that have been released, however, have had it tilting more toward a tie or even giving Udall (D) a slight lead over Gardner (R). But most of these polls are from Democratic partisans. While I'm not insinuating that the Democrats would purposefully skew the polls in their favor, I would like it better if there were some polls released from neutral or even Republican partisans to balance it out. This is a state that will need to be watched.

Kansas and Alaska, on the other hand, are closer to being actual ties. Their polling seems to have them switching hands quite frequently. Currently Kansas is leaning toward the Independent candidate, Orman; and Alaska is leaning toward the Republican candidate Sullivan (R). Will these slight leads continue to hold through the election or will they change hands yet again?


Monday, October 27, 2014

Update for October 27, 2014: Statistically, Republican Continue to Gain

The latest run of El shows that the Republicans continue to make slight gains almost across the board. This has the effect of solidifying their lead and increasing the chance that they will hold a majority of US Senate seats even before any potential runoff elections.


One of the few bright points for Democrats might be Alaska. While polls are always difficult to do accurately in Alaska, the recent polling has been showing improvements for Begich (D) in addition to the staggering number of people that his campaign has contacted in person. Putting these two factors together gives the Democrats at least a fighting chance in Alaska. Only time will tell whether Begich's get-out-the-vote plan will provide enough of a boost to counter Sullivan's (R) apparent lead in the polls.

Arkansas seems to be slipping further from the Democrats. Will the recent push by former President Bill Clinton make a difference? Has President Clinton already failed to produce results? While it is always possible for people – especially the undecided – to change their minds at the last minute, it looks more like anyone not already firmly supporting Pryor (D) is leaning toward Cotton (R).

Recent polling shows Colorado and, surprisingly, Georgia to be very volatile. There isn't enough stability in the polls for El to predict which candidate is actually leading. The short term predictions show that Udall (D) has at least tied Gardner (R) in Colorado, but we will have to see whether this is a polling anomaly or whether this is the start of a last minute movement. The long term predictions are still showing in Gardner's (R) favor. As for Georgia, it is trending in the opposite direction. In Georgia, the short term is trending in Perdue's (R) favor.

Iowa remains very close, but despite this closeness, Ernst (R) continues to maintain a lead even if it is by the closest of margins. While there is one recent poll that shows Braley (D) in a tie race, all the other recent polls are still pointing in Ernst's direction.

Kansas is finally showing more what I would expect. El's long term prediction shows that the race is now a tossup between Roberts (R) and Orman (I). Since the Republicans have increased their funding and the expertise of their personnel in Kansas after the strong showing of Orman, we will have to see whether the polls continue their trend past the even mark and toward a Roberts lead.

Kentucky? Almost assuredly Republican. Recent polls are showing McConnell at the greatest possibility to win that El will provide.

Louisiana? Most likely Republican as well. What will matter as far as Louisiana goes is whether Cassidy (R) can gain enough votes to avoid a runoff election with Landrieu (D).

Michigan and New Hampshire both look like wins for the Democrats. In Michigan, El gives Peters (D) a 95% chance of winning; that's the largest chance that the model will predict. And while not quite as good in New Hampshire, El gives a solid prediction of victory to Shaheen (D).

As for North Carolina, El still gives the race to Hagan (D) over Tillis (R) despite the recent close polling numbers by Tillis. The margin is just enough in Hagan's favor for El not to consider the race a tie from a numerical perspective.


Thursday, October 23, 2014

October 23, 2014 US Senate Update: Bad News for Democrats

The US Senate races seem to have mostly stabilized. This is not good news for the Democrats. Most of the states we are watching have stabilized in favor of the Republicans. While there is still a statistical chance that the Democrats can retain control of the US Senate, the probabilities are looking rather remote.


The statistics are favoring the Republicans heavily. In addition, if Orman wins and caucuses with the Republicans, decrease the Democrat count by one.

Here is how the statistics look from state to state:


I would argue that the mathematical model doesn't show the complete picture in Kansas. Because of Taylor (D) dropping from the race and Roberts (R) and the Republicans pouring money and talent into the state, the recent polls are showing the state in a virtual tie. Combined with the lack of a polling history with only Roberts and Orman (I) on the ticket, and I believe that our model is misleading.

If you are interested in seeing all the latest charts, please go to the "El -- US Senate Race at a Glance" page.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Georgia Goes North, Kansas Goes South, and Colorado Returns to the Middle

"El", the SanityIID model for the Senate race has been updated for October 19, 2014. The full set of charts can be found on the "El – US Senate Election at a Glance" page. Overall, the Democrats chances of maintaining control of the Senate have improved slightly to 33.4%, but the Republicans still hold a statistically significant probability of 63.4% of taking control of the Senate.


There haven't been many state level changes since my last writeup. Michelle Nunn (D) has the chance to gain ground in the Georgia race for the US Senate after the Democrats poured $1 million into the race. While Nunn (D) hadn't been far behind Perdue (R), she had been behind consistently. The latest three polls, however, have either shown Nunn (D) tied or slightly leading Perdue (R). While these results are interesting, it is too early to determine whether this is a short term gain or the start of a real movement for the Democrats in Georgia.

Kansas is having the opposite movement from Georgia. Republicans have come to the rescue of Senator Roberts (R). Roberts has access to new people and more money in an attempt to keep Orman (I) from taking the traditionally Republican seat. While Orman might caucus with either the Democrats or the Republicans, if Robers wins then the seat stays firmly in Republican control. And the money and expertise has been making a difference in Kansas. The latest polls show that Roberts is either tied or slightly ahead of Orman. The odds of Kansas staying in Republican hands is increasing with each passing day.

And a tiny bit of good news for Democrats in Colorado. Recent polling there has shown that, in the short term at least, the Democrats are pulling the state back to a tie status. Both of the recent polls that were released in Colorado were partisan polls done for the Democrats, so the gains have to be taken with just a hint of skepticism. Still, El takes all polls whether partisan or not and lets them average out over time. Even with the new polls, its only enough for Udall (D) to pull the state back to a short term tie with Gardner (R).

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Senate Race updated for October 16, 2014

Polling has been updated at "El -- US Senate Race at a Glance". Republicans continue to solidify their lead as we approach election day.


The most probable outcome is for Republicans to win 51 seats. If Orman then caucuses with the controlling party, that will give the Republicans a grand total of 52 seats.

One thing that has changed is that the second most probable outcome is that the Republicans outright win 52 seats, and, again, if Orman caucuses with them, getting a grand total of 53 seats.

More graphs, as well as a state by state breakdown, can be found at the "El -- US Senate Race at a Glance" page.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

October 11, 2014 US Senate Race Updated

The "El -- US Senate Race at a Glance" page has been updated. Quick overview? No significant changes since last run.


If you look at the graphs on the overview page, you can see that the model makes an error in a calculation. The error is caused by the latest polling being so stable. Since the short term polling is so stable, that collapses the "normal curve" for the statistics, an error that El doesn't currently account for. The end result is that El shortchanges the Democrats one seat in the state by state tallies. The overall statistics for the other graphs, however, are not in error.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

US Senate Update for October 9, 2014

The quick overview? The Republicans take a statistically significant lead.


It has been a while since I have posted an update, so let's give every state that El (the SanityIID model) is following.

In Alaska, El is still screaming a warning about a lack of data. There just isn't enough polling happening in Alaska for a race that appears to be this close. Still, the recent polls are all going in Sullivan's (R) favor.  The long term probability for a Republican win in Alaska is now at 65%. Expect this percentage to continue to rise unless Begich (D) starts getting better polling numbers.

The new polling in Arkansas shows that the state is slipping more firmly into Cotton's (R) hand. Current long term estimates show Cotton with an 81% chance of winning the state.

Colorado appears to be leaning Republican with Gardner (R) having a 65% long term chance of taking the state. Udall (D) has slipped behind and the race seems to be stabilizing in the Republican's favor.

Georgia seems to be leaning toward the Republican's as well. The lastest polls show Perdue (R) with a 77% probability of taking the state over the long term. Nunn (D) has been consistently falling behind in the polling. If upcoming polls don't any increase for Nunn, expect the probability of Perdue to win to increase over time.

Democrats are losing ground in Iowa as well. Ernst (R) currently has a 71% long term chance of taking the state. While the mid term and short term chances are a little less stable, they are all still showing strong support for Ernst (R) over Braley (D).

The Independent candidate, Orman (I), is still showing well in Kansas. There have been a few recent polls that are startling in their sudden change, but the long term chances are still showing solidly for Orman (I) over Roberts (R). We will have to wait and see whether the most recent polls in Kansas are outliers or whether they are the start of a comeback for Roberts.

Long term predictions for Kentucky are showing McConnell (R) with a commanding lead over Grimes (D). The long term predictions show McConnell (R) with an 86% chance of winning the election. The short and mid term predictions aren't quite as rosy for McConnell, but they still show him with a solid lead.

Louisiana? Republican. Virtually all polls have been favoring Cassidy (R) over Landrieu (D). While El does give a data warning for not enough polling, there is still a 78% long term chance of a Republican victory in Louisiana. The mid and short term probabilities only increase for the Republicans.

Michigan is the first good news story for the Democrats. Long term, Peters (D) has an incredible lead over Land (R). The long term probability of Peters winning is pegged at the limit of El's accuracy. It is also reported in the news that the Republican's are going to pull their television commercials in favor of spending that money on more competitive races. While there will always be a statistical possibility that Land (R) could win, the chances are very, very small indeed.

New Hampshire also looks good for the Democrats. Shaheen (D) is still holding a stable lead over Brown (R). Long term, the Republicans only have a 23% chance of having New Hampshire in their column.

And finally, the last state that the El model is following: North Carolina. North Carolina is another spot that looks good for Democrats. While the polling is close, it is also stable. Not a single poll is showing in the Republicans' favor. Hagan (D) is leading Tillis (R) by a margin that pegs the model in the Democrats' favor. The only clouds on the horizon is that it wouldn't take much of a change to begin dramatically swinging North Carolina toward the Republicans.

For the full details and charts of the latest model run, check the "El – US Senate at a Glance" page.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Senate race update: October 8, 2014

I am on vacation. Because of this, there won't be any write-up today on the Senate race. The totals and graphs of the latest polls have been updated, however. For a quick overview of how the Senate race is shaping up, please check the "El -- Senate Race at a Glance" page accessible from the top of this site.

Raw Graphs without explanation:





Monday, October 6, 2014

October 6, 2014 US Senate Update

A few small changes to the SanityIID US Senate model named "El", as well as some structural changes to the blog.

New polling data was reported after I finished updating El yesterday. I reran the data with the new polling information, but there isn't a write-up about the changes. Suffice it to say that the Republicans continued to gain slightly from the polls across all of our watched states.

The new graphs have been uploaded into a different page called "El -- US Senate Race at a Glance". The "El" model output is accessible from the header at the top of the SanityIID blog.

Since this is new, here are the outputs from El.





Sunday, October 5, 2014

And Just like that, the Republicans retake the lead in the race for the U.S. Senate

Today, we have five new polls covering four states since the last update. These new polls – even though they didn't change the lead of any state – have moved the probable outcome to a tie (or ever so slightly in the favor of Republicans).



The probability that the Democrats will control the Senate after the midterm elections has fallen to 49.9%. This percentage, however, is within the margin or error for the SanityIID model.

Alternately, there is a different way to look at the output from the model. Instead of calculating probabilities, the model also outputs the expected number of seats won by each party. It does this by assuming that the polls will be their eventual outcome instead of assigning them probabilities.

Using this method, we can see that the Republicans continue to gain ground:



Using this data, the Republicans are leading in the short, medium, and long term outlooks for the model. Even the states that are considered ties in the medium and long outlook are expected to go to the Republicans in the short term.

This is exactly what we would expect to see if the Republicans are indeed gaining ground in their effort to take control of the Senate.

As for the individual polls, a new NBC/Marist poll was released for Iowa. The poll put Ernst (R) in front of Braley (D) by 46 to 44. This, in addition to how well Ernst has been doing over the past several polls, has increased the Republican chance of taking Iowa from 60.6% to 71%

Kansas received two new polls since the last time I updated: NBC/Marist and CBS/NYT/YouGov. These polls were for Roberts (R) 38 and 40% respectively, and Orman (I) 48 and 40% respectively. Because of the one tie poll, the SanityIID model increased the chances of Republicans taking the state from 17% to 19%. Keep in mind, however, that the model is still warning that there isn't enough data to make an accurate prediction. In addition, Roberts is just starting to get his campaign machine geared toward Orman as a challenger.

The latest poll for Michigan was from Lake Research. It has Land (R) with 36% of the vote and Peters (D) with 45% of the vote. The SanityIID model essentially stayed the same at a 2% chance that the Republicans will win Michigan.

Finally NBC/Marist released a poll for North Carolina. This poll has Tillis (R) at 40% and Hagan at 44%. Essentially this changed the prediction from Republicans having a 2% chance to have no chance in North Carolina. Or course, since the model's margin of error is greater than this, the chance will be held at 5% chance for Republicans.

Friday, October 3, 2014

#Democrats retake the lead in SanityIID U.S. #Senate #polling model

A few days, several new polls, and the Democrats retake the lead. But don't get your hopes up too high. The Democrats lead is so slight that it is practically nonexistent. According to the SanityIID U.S. Senate model, the Democrats have about a 52% chance to retain control of the Senate.

Here is the statistical breakdown:


As you can see, the most probable outcome is for the Democrats to retain 50 seats. Of course, it is important to remember that this model both expects Orman to win Kansas and to caucus with the Democrats. If either of those assumptions prove to be untrue, then the Republicans would hold a substantial, but not insurmountable, lead.

As for the individual races that I am following here at SanityIID:

Rasmussen released a new poll that slightly helps Garner (R) in Colorado. Garner's chances increased from 50.9% to 53.7% This is still a virtual tie, but if this keeps up Garner will move out of the margin of error and have a real lead.

GQR released a new poll for Iowa. This poll helps Braley (D) ever so slightly. Current modeling suggests his lead has increased from 59% to 60.6%. While this latest poll helps us gain confidence in our model, it doesn't significantly change the outcome.

Suffolk/USA Today released a poll for Kansas. This poll favors Orman (I) to win. A note of warning: the SanityIID model is showing a data warning on Kansas. This is caused by their being a lack of polls to gain sufficient confidence in the model. While it is true that the model shows him as the current favorite by a significant margin, the lack of polling makes the margin suspect. I would personally give the lead to Mr. Orman, but it is still so close that anything could happen.

Mellman released a new poll for Kentucky. The poll doesn't significantly change anything as far as the statistics are concerned. The model still shows Mitch McConnell with about the best lead that this model can produce. Mitch McConnell's lead decreased from 94.9% to 93%. The only thing significant about this poll is that it is the first time that Alison Grimes has led Mitch McConnell. This poll by itself isn't significant. Still, if this turns into a trend then there might actually be something to watch over the next month -- if the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee doesn't pull the finding. It's going to be a difficult decision for the Democrats to decide whether money spent on Kentucky is a waste or not. Unfortunately, my model says that it is.

The latest Mitchell Research poll for Michigan shows that Peters (D) maintains his lead. The statistics provided by the SanityIID model show that his lead has increased to a point greater than the model's margin of error. The model shows that he has increased from 97% chance of winning to a 98% chance of winning. Take this with a grain of salt, however, since the model's accuracy is only 95%.

And finally New Hampshire. A new ARG poll in New Hampshire shows that Shaheen (D) is still winning. Even though the poll shows her ahead, the new poll pushed some old data out of the bottom of the queue. This, ironically, had the effect of decreasing her overall odds since the poll that was replaced showed her as doing better than the new ARG poll. The model is still showing her about a 76% chance of winning with increased short and medium term outlooks.

With a month and a day until the election, we can expect things to begin heating up from here.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

SanityIID #Senate #model for October 1, 2014

Welcome to October. Just a little over a month until the U.S. elections.

The SanityIID Senate model run for this morning shows the Republicans solidifying their lead in the short term and making the long term predictions more stable.


As you can see, the most likely probability is that Democrats will win 49 out of 100 U.S. Senate seats, giving control of the Senate to the Republicans. But remember, this model assumes that Orman will caucus with the Democrats. If he decides to caucus with the Republicans due to their taking control of the Senate, then the most probable outcome will be for the Democrats to win 48 out of 100 seats.

Since my last writing, I have added a few more predictions to the SanityIID model. These predictions use the same polling data, but they force the outcome into a win-lose-tie decision. While not as helpful overall as a probabilistic outcome like the above graph, it does help to see where the polling is going over time.

I have broken the data down into long term, medium term, and short term deterministic predictions. Here are the deterministic predictions from the SanityIID model:



Short Term

Democrat Republican Tie
Assumed Wins 44 45
Model Predicts 4 7 1
Total Seats Per Party 48 52














Med. Term

44 45

4 6 1

48 51












Long Term

44 45

4 5 2

48 50

As you can see, using the long term data, the Republicans win 50 seats, the Democrats 48 seats, and two seats are considered a tie. Medium term data gives one of the tie seats to the Republicans for a 51-48 split with one tie remaining. And finally, with the short term data, the final tie is given to the Republicans showing them at 52-48.

While these aren't necessarily the way I expect the elections to come out (I much prefer the probabilistic model as shown by the graph), it does show that the more recent the polling, the more likely they show the Republicans in the lead. Is this a trend? If so, will the trend continue? We only have a little over a month to wait to find out.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

US House Data

I currently don't have a model for the United States House of Representatives, but I am beginning to follow the data. As with all my data at the moment, this data comes directly from the HuffPost Pollster. The only real change is that I have put it in a form that is easier for me to follow.

This chart is for all the polls that have been completed in the past month:


SanityIID Senate model for September 27, 2014

The Republicans are coming! The Republicans are coming!

After updating the SanityIID Senate model with the latest polling data as reported from the HuffPost Pollster, the statistics show that the Republicans have expanded their lead this week.


The chart shows that the most likely scenario is for the next Senate split to be Democrats 49, and Republicans 51. But the next most likely split is Democrats 48, Republicans 52.

What happened? In a word, Alaska.


Just over a week ago, Dan Sullivan (R) took the lead back from Mark Begich (D). Since that time, as the polls have continued to come in, Dan Sullivan has continued to hold the lead all the way through our most recent polls.

All the other states have been relatively stable over the last week.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Small update to the SanityIID Senate model

While this isn't a regular day that I update my model, I made some changes and I wanted to post the results.

I added three new states to the model's statistics: Georgia, Kentucky, and Michigan. While these didn't really have any effect on the outcome, periodically there are political reports that discuss these three states. I guess you could say that I added them to the SanityIID Senate model just to be sure I wasn't missing anything.

Secondly, I made a change to the number of Monte Carlo iterations that the model performs. I originally didn't want to do this since it can give the impression of having more confidence in the model than the underlying numbers would justify; but on the other hand, it does keep the probabilities from swinging too far without any underlying polling behind the number.

Here is the histogram from the last run using the data from September 24, 2014:


Thursday, September 25, 2014

Republicans still on track to retake Senate

There's only been a few polls updated since the last run of the SanityIID Senate model. The changes those few polls made only had the effect of making the Republicans slightly more likely to retake the Senate.



As for the details; Alaska, Colorado, and Iowa are a tossup. Their mean (average) polling is so close that statistics aren't really meaningful. They are essentially a coin toss at this point in time. The Monte Carlo distribution I am using shows this in the elevated probabilities of 48, 49, or 50 seats.

As for Kansas, it desperately needs to clarify the issue of exactly which candidates are going to be on the ballot. Once that is done, there needs to be more polling if there is going to be better predictions.

As of this writing, my model is showing Kansas with about a 75% chance of electing Orman, but I also believe these percentages to be overly skewed toward him due to lack of polling. There are only four (4) polls that come from different polling places and are relatively new. Since the state of Kansas is still in flux, expect this to change in the coming weeks and months.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Inaugural run of the SanityIID Senate model

My new Senate model is finished! All the data has been updated and the programming is done. So without further ado, here is the results produced by the model:


As you can imagine, being a Democrat, I don't like the output of the model.

Each vertical line represents the probability that the Democrats will hold that number of seats if the election were held today. But remember, the Democrats need to hold 50 seats to be able to retain control of the Senate. And as this model shows, the most likely outcome is for the Democrats to retain only 49 seats.

Monday, September 22, 2014

New Election Forecasting Model!

I am so happy to announce that the mathematics is finished on my new election model. My old model, which worked pretty well in the previous elections, was a deterministic model. The new model uses the same basic inputs, but the output is now probabilistic.

While the math is done, I still have to program all the equations before I can run it for the first time. I am hoping to be done either today or tomorrow.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

If you like #statistics, the #Senate races are the best races in town.

The chances of the House of Representatives switching hands to Democratic control are best described as slim to none, with very little slim involved. Additionally, since this is a midterm election year, there isn't anything to look at concerning the President -- statistically speaking. That leaves us with the Senate to play with, and boy what fun we can have with the Senate.

The Democrats currently control the Senate, but there is a fairly good chance that it will switch hands after the midterm elections. This is the kind of year that the terms 'nail bitter' and 'cliff hanger' were made for. The most optimistic statistics that I can find give the Republicans a 30% chance of taking control of the Senate, while the vast majority of statisticians put the Republican's chance of Senate control after the midterms at 50% or greater.

It all comes down to the decisions of a few people in a few states that might be willing to switch their vote from one candidate to another. There haven't been margins this close (that I am aware of) since Gore vs Bush in the Florida elections of 2000.

So, where do we stand?

I have been limiting the statistics and polls that I have been watching. There is a little danger to this in the sense that something could happen in a state that I'm not paying attention to that would cause the probability of overall control of the Senate to switch without my knowledge. That being said, I am currently expect control of the Senate to rest on three states:

Iowa, Alaska, and Colorado.

Despite the most recent poll, my statistics still put Colorado into Democratic hands. Polling data also places Alaska into Democratic hands, but there are so few polls that my confidence isn't very high concerning Alaska.

But the state that is the most interesting is Iowa. Iowa is a scatter-shot pattern of polls all over the place. Even looking at the statistical median, that will help eliminate outliers, Iowa is a coin flip.

So how do all these different states fit into the overall picture of Senate control? As my statistics break down right now, the Republicans should have 50 seats. The Democrats, and the Independents that caucus with them, should have 50 seats (assuming that Greg Orman caucuses with the Democrats). That will keep the Senate control in Democratic hands since Joe Biden, being the Vice President, is the President of the Senate.

If the coin toss of Iowa goes the other way, then that will give the Democrats and Independents a 51-49 majority in the Senate. So despite the close race in Iowa, I give the Democrats good odds of retaining control of the Senate.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

#GamerGate and gaming content

Several years ago, when I played World of Warcraft (WoW) as many hours as I could, there was an interesting phenomenon with respect to the way that your player character dressed. The more armor that was visible on a male character, the better protected they were against the dangers of the game. Conversely; the less armor that was visible on a female character, the better protected she was against the dangers of the game. This phenomenon led to the joke that if you ever saw a female character running toward you wearing only pasties and a g-string, you had better run the other way as fast as you could!

If you assumption of a "gamer" is an adolescent, straight boy, then it could be seen as a reward for your character to become more skimpily dressed the more work you put into them. For others, this isn't the case. Blizzard helped tremendously with this problem by allowing players to change the look of the armor they were wearing to suit their own purpose. Suddenly you could be a female, playing a female character, and not look like a teenage boy's idea of a stripper.

It seems like GamerGate (Wikipedia link) might have started from the dislike of Zoe Quinn (Wikipedia link). It seems like after her game was published, she was accused of sleeping her way to better reviews by her ex-boyfriend. Later, the GamerGate cry expanded to Anita Sarkeesian (Wikipedia link) and her video series Tropes VS Women (feministfrequency YouTube channel) exploring the problems of the way women are treated by game designers. And finally, the GamerGate tags began to point toward game reviewers that weren't publishing reviews that "gamers" liked, such as GameSpot's Dead Rising 3 Review Justifies why we need #GamerGate (article link).

I have spent days reading over the material that people would send me on Twitter from the #GamerGate hash tag, but with few exceptions, it all turns out the same. People that like games don't want to take a risk that they won't be able to laugh at transsexuals or flamboyant gay stereotypes. They won't get to view scantily clad (sometimes dead) women under the guise of a video game. Or, heaven forbid, someone might make games for a broader demographic.

But what they fail to see is that there are more people that like to play games than just them. Some of us are women, or gay, or transsexual, or any other minority group. We want games for us where we aren't forced to look at degrading caricatures of ourselves or those we care about. If the aforementioned gamers really want the zenith of their gaming experience to be shanking a prostitute in Grand Theft Auto, I have no problem with that. But for those of us that want something different from our gaming experience, or simply don't want to feel degraded every time we play a game, we deserve the same consideration, development, and thoughtful reviews as the other gamers.

Everyone might not have been happy with the way that WoW developed over the years. I'm sure some people wanted wall to wall breasts every time they logged into the game. Regardless, Blizzard found a way where, if we couldn't all get along, at least we could all tolerate each other and the game.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

How God Made the Earth: Part 1

How God Made the Earth: Part 1

Hi, and welcome to another edition of modeling scripture. After going over the source material, I'm going to cut this model into two pieces. There is just too much information presented for one long blog post. Even the first part is really long due to it covering the entire chapter of Genesis 1. I do hope that you will read the post, or at least read the notes and get the feel of the order of creation and where we go wrong in reading this particular scripture.

TL:DR

Day 0: Forget your current knowledge.
Day 1: Light and Darkness.
Day 2: Firmament to divide the waters above from the waters below.
Day 3: Gathered waters below, formed land, created plants.
Day 4: Sun, moon, and stars; placing them in the firmament.
Day 5: Flying things and sea creatures (fish, etc...)
Day 6: Land creatures, insects, man, and woman.

It can be really difficult to understand the Bible for what it says instead of what we think it should say. It can be as difficult as leaving out a lifetime of education and taking the Bible at its word. After all, even before many of us started school we had learned the basics of astronomy. I learned about the sun, moon, stars, tilt of the Earth, and seasons long before I ever covered any of those topics in school. And to this day, astronomy is still one of my favorite pastimes.

But we have to forget all of our modern knowledge. They didn't have that knowledge in biblical times. They were brilliant people, but they didn't have our education, or scientists, or books. They didn't even have printing presses at the time. There were no mass produced books to purchase and teachers being paid to educate you simply for showing up at a school building. Every piece of knowledge you knew had to be painfully acquired from either your own experience or someone else that you could convince to teach you. That's one of the things that made the Bible so compelling: it was supposed to be divine knowledge direct from the creator or the world sent to all people without error. If the Bible was correct, you could actually learn real knowledge in bulk for, perhaps, the first time ever.

So let's look at how the author or authors of Genesis thought the Earth was created.

1 In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
2 And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.

So far so good. Notice right from the start there was already water, a void, and darkness.

3 And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.
4 And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.
5 And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.

Now we're making some headway. We now have light and dark. But here is where you have to set some of your knowledge aside. We don't have a sun, moon, or stars yet. This light doesn't have any source. It is just there. And not only is it there, it has been separated from the dark.

6 And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.
7 And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so.
8 And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day.

Now the preexisting waters from Genesis 1:2 have now been split by a firmament. Some of the water went above the firmament and some of the water went below the firmament. So what in the world is a firmament?


The word "firmament" is used to translate raqia, or raqiya`, a word used in Biblical Hebrew. The connotation of firmness conveyed by the Vulgate's firmamentum is consistent with that of stereoma, the Greek word used in the Septuagint, an earlier translation. The notion of solidity is advanced explicitly in several biblical passages.
The original word raqia is derived from the root raqa, meaning "to beat or spread out", e.g., the process of making a dish by hammering thin a lump of metal. Raqa adopted the meaning "to make firm or solid" in Syriac, a major dialect of Aramaic (the vernacular of Jesus) and close cognate of Hebrew.

So we have this dome-like thing -- probably solid -- that separates the water above from the water below. And this inverted bowl, or dome, he called Heaven.

Now the next day there is a little bit more going on, so we are going to take it in two parts.

9 And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so.
10 And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas: and God saw that it was good.

We finally have what we think of as Earth. Prior, their might have been a "heaven and earth" but they weren't what we think of as Earth since it had no land.

You have to forget what you learned about a spherical earth with water sitting on the outside. That isn't the model used by the Bible. The Bible seems to have all the dirt and water just sitting out there in the chaos -- or void -- waiting to be made into something. It is almost like raw materials waiting in a bin somewhere for a craftsman to make something out of it.

Now that God created land, he then got busy with putting things on it.

11 And God said, Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth: and it was so.
12 And the earth brought forth grass, and herb yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed was in itself, after his kind: and God saw that it was good.
13 And the evening and the morning were the third day.

In the later part of the third day God put all the plants and trees on the Earth. There was light and dark (day and night) from the first day, but there isn't anything causing the day and night. That wasn't an oversight though. We know that our day and night are caused by the rotation of the Earth, but they didn't know that in biblical times. They didn't know that the sun is the source of out light, and without the sun there wouldn't be enough light or heat for anything to survive.

14 And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years:
15 And let them be for lights in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth: and it was so.
16 And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also.
17 And God set them in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth,
18 And to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness: and God saw that it was good.
19 And the evening and the morning were the fourth day.

And now we have the sun, moon, and stars. The sun was created to rule the day, the moon was created to rule the night, and He made stars as well. Now we've had light and dark since the second day, but now we have the sun. Here is another place where you have to leave your present knowledge out of what the Bible says. The sun was created to rule the light. It doesn't have to be the originator of the light and heat that get to the Earth. It is more of a decoration that was put there for signs, seasons, days, and years. Think of it as a signpost telling you what the light and heat are going to do. Don't think of it as the source of light and heat.

The same is true for the moon. Forget your knowledge that the moon is simply reflected light from the sun. The moon was given its own light so that it could rule the night. As far as the stars go; since the sun, moon, and stars are all set in the firmament, the stars are more like little sparkly lights that are placed on a Christmas tree for pure entertainment (oh, and signs etc...). You have to forget the fact that they are the same size or larger than the sun and just farther away. They are hung in the firmament like cellphone charger lights stuck in your ceiling.

And now, on with day five:

20 And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven.

I would like to make a note here about the firmament. The fact that the birds can fly in the "open firmament" tells us that the firmament isn't all that far above our heads. We don't exactly know how thick it is yet, but we know that it isn't all that far up there.

21 And God created great whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind: and God saw that it was good.
22 And God blessed them, saying, Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let fowl multiply in the earth.
23 And the evening and the morning were the fifth day.

The fifth day was kind of busy, but it didn't have a lot of description. All the winged fowl and all the creatures of the sea. Since the model put forth in Genesis only includes land and sea, then every creature that lived in the water had to be made on the fifth day.

And now on with the sixth day, which was a lot like the fifth day except for the land instead of the sea.

24 And God said, Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind: and it was so.
25 And God made the beast of the earth after his kind, and cattle after their kind, and every thing that creepeth upon the earth after his kind: and God saw that it was good.
26 And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.
27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.

That was the last part of God's creation. He makes everything that goes on the land. He made all the cattle, beasts, and creeping things. Right at the end of the day -- or at least the end of His creation -- He created man and woman in his image. Creation is now finished. The only thing left to do is give us some directions and place humans in charge as a sort of landlord for the Earth.

28 And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.
29 And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat.
30 And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb for meat: and it was so.
31 And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day.

And there you go; creation in a nutshell. Even though the entire creation is covered in one chapter containing just thirty-one verses, it is still insanely difficult for me to keep my present knowledge from contaminating the clear directions from Genesis. As soon as I quit thinking about it my mind fills in the sun as the source of light and heat, water only being available on the land instead of half of it over a firmament, land coalescing first prior to liquid water, stars that are gigantic yet so far away that they look like dots and some farther than we can see, a reflective moon instead of a moon with its own light, and the list goes on.

Regardless of how difficult it is to keep straight, Genesis chapter 1 has all the raw material to assemble into our model of creation, which we will get to in How God Made the Earth: Part 2.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

The "You've Got To Be Kidding Me" God

The "You've Got To Be Kidding Me" God

There are some arguments that get so old, but they just won't go away. I don't know how many times I have been told that I have a god, and that my god is probably science. This argument is so wrong that it is insulting: it is insulting to me, it is insulting to them, and it is insulting to their god.

It often starts out something like this:

They say, "Everyone has a god, yours is just science."

And I say, "I don't have a god. Science is just a process of getting to the truth."

They say, "Whatever is most important to you in your life is your god."

I say, "That just defines away every form of atheism and agnosticism. We should agree on what a god is first."

They say, "OK."

I say, "I see gods as supernatural beings, incredibly powerful, and capable of affecting the material world."

They say, "That's it."

I say, "Science is nothing like that."

They say, "I thought we were talking about my god."

I say, "If that is the definition of your god, I will accept it."

They say, "But that's not your god. Your god is whatever you put first in your life."

I laugh, and say, "That's like saying rainbows are just like watermelons except one of them is fruit."

They say, "You don't understand."


Ah, but I think I do understand. I just think that they are wrong.

Let's change the object of the discussion a little bit to make it more clear.

They say, "Everyone has a favorite magazine."

I say, "I don't have a favorite magazine. I don't like magazines."

They say, "Sure you do. Whatever magazine you keep in your bathroom is your favorite magazine."

I say, "First let's determine what we are calling a magazine. It is a periodical publication. It contains articles and illustrations. It typically covers a particular subject or area of interest."

They say, "That's it. That's what a magazine is."

I say, "I don't have any magazines in my bathroom."

They say, "Then what do you keep in your bathroom?"

I say, "All I keep in my bathroom is a plunger."

They say, "Then that plunger is your favorite magazine."

It is the nonsense that religious people believe that make discussions difficult. They can't seem to see past the blinders that they have placed on themselves. They insist that everything has to fit into a framework that they provide. Regardless of how many times they insist they are the same, a plunger just isn't the same thing as a magazine any more than the most important thing in your life has to be a god.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Introducing Islam

As part of my continuous education, I have to take an eight hour course on Islam. Despite what some of my relation might think, I am actually happy to be taking this course.

The first part is an introduction from an old Geocities site that is no longer available. Since it was provided to me free of copyright information, I will repost it here as I found it.

NOTE: If there is an active copyright on this work, please let me know and I will remove it.

Introducing Islam
Source:
http://www.geocities.com/WestHollywood/Park/6443/Islam/Introducing.htm
I. Islam and Muslims
The name of this religion is Islam, the root of which, Silm or Salam, means peace. Salam is also part of the greeting of peace among Muslims. In addition, one of the beautiful names of God is As-Salam, meaning "The Peace." The word, however, means much more than just "peace." It means submission to the One God, as well as to live in harmony with other people and with the environment. A Muslim is, therefore, any person, anywhere in the world, whose obedience, allegience and loyalty are to God, Lord of the Universe, and who strives to live in accordance with God's laws.
II. Muslims and Arabs
The followers of Islam are called Muslims. We should not confuse Muslims with Arabs. Muslims may be Arabs, or they may be Turks, Persians, Indians, Pakistanis, Indonesians, Europeans, Africans, Americans, Chinese, or any other nationality. Islam is not limited to any nationality or race.
Arabs, also, are not limited to only one religion. An Arab may be a Muslim, a Jew, a Christian, an athiest, or part of any other belief system. Any person who adopts the Arab language as his or her mother tongue is called an Arab.
While there are one billion Muslims in the world, there are about 200 million Arabs, among whom about ten percent are not Muslim. Thus, Arab Muslims constitute only about twenty percent of the Muslim population of the world.
The language of the Qur'an, the Holy Book of Islam, is Arabic. Muslims all over the world try to learn Arabic so that they may be able to read the Qur'an and understand its meaning. They pray in the language of the Qur'an, but supplications to God may be in any language.
III. Allah, the One and Only God
Allah is the name of the One and Only God. Allah has ninety-nine beautiful names, such as: The Gracious, the Merciful, the Beneficent, The Creator, The All-Knowing, the All-Wise, The Lord of the Universe, The First, The Last, and many others.
He is the Creator of all human beings. He is the God for the Christians, the Jews, the Muslims, the Buddhists, the Hindus and all others, including those who do not even believe in Him. Muslims worship God, and put their trust in Him as they seek His help and guidance.
IV. Muhammad
Muhammad was chosen by God to deliver His Message of Peace, namely Islam. He was born in 570, C.E.* in Makkah, Arabia. He was entrusted with the Message of Islam when he was at the age of forty years. The rvelation that he received is called the Qur'an, whi9le the message is called Islam.
Muhammad is the very last Prophet of God to mankind. He is the final Messenger of God. His message was and is still to all of mankind, including the Christians and Jews. He was sent to those religious people to inform them about the true mission of Jesus, Moses, David, Jacob, Isaac and Abraham.
Muhammad is considered to be the summation and culmination of all the prophets and messengers that came before him. He purified the previous messages from adulteration and completed the Message of God for all humanity. He was entrusted with the power of explaining, interpreting and living the teachings of the Qur'an.
V. Sources of Islam
The legal sources of Islam are the Qur'an and the Hadith. The Qur'an is the exact words of God; its authenticity, originality and totality are intact. The Hadith are the reports of the sayings, deeds and approvals of the Prophet Muhammad. The Prophet's sayings and deeds are called Sunnah. The Seerah is the writings of followers of Muhammad about the life of the Prophet. Hence, it is the life history of the Prophet Muhammad which provides examples of daily living for Muslims.
VI. Some Islamic Principles
A. Oneness of God:
He is One and the Only One. He is not two in one or three in one. This means that Islam rejects the idea of trinity or such a unity of God which imnplies more than one God in one.
B. Oneness of mankind:
People are created equal in front of the Law of God. There is not superiority of one race over another. God made us of different colors, nationalities, languages and beliefs so as to test who is going to be better than others. No one can claim that he is better than others. It is only God Who knows who is better. It depends on piety and righteousness.
C. Oneness of Messengers and the Message:
Muslims believe that God sent different messengers throughout the history of mankind. All came with the same message and the same teachings. It was the people who misunderstood and misinterpreted them. Muslims believe in Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Ishmael, Jacob, Moses, David, Jesus and Muhammad. The Prophets of Christianity and Judaism are indeed the Prophets of Islam.
D. Angels and the Day of Judgement:
Muslims believe that there is a Day of Judgement when all people of the world throughout the history of mankind till the last kay of life on earth, are to be brought for accounting, reward and punishment.
E. Innocence of Man at Birth:
Muslims believe that people are born free of sin. It is only after they reach the age of puberty and it is only after they commit sins that they are to be charged for their mistakes. No one is responsible for or can take responsibility for the sins of others. However, the door of forgiveness through true repentance is always open.
F. State and Religion:
Muslims believe that Islam is a total and a complete way of life. It encompasses all aspects of life.
As such, the teachings of Islam do not separate religion from politics. As a matter of fact, state and religion are under the obedience of Allah through the teachings of Islam. Hence, economic and social transactions, as well as educational and political systems, are a part of the teachings of Islam.
VII. Practices of Islam.
God instructed the Muslims to practice what they believe in. In Islam there are five pillars:
A. Creed (Shahadah):
The verbal commitment and pledge that there is only One God and Muhammad is the Messenger of God, is considered to be the creed of Islam.
B. Prayers (Salat):
The performance of the five daily prayers is required of Muslims.
C. Fasting (Saum):
Fasting is total abstinance from food, liquids and intimate relations from dawn to sunset during the entire month of Ramadan.
D. Purifying Tax (Zakat):
This is an annual payment of a certain percentage of a Muslim's property, which is distributed among the poor or other rightful beneficiaries.
E. Pilgrimage (Hajj):
The performance of pilgrimage to Makkah is required once in a lifetime if the means are available. Hajj is, in part, a memorial to the trials and tribulations of Prophet Abraham, his wife Hagar and his eldest son, Prophet Ishmael.
VIII. Other Related Aspects.
A. Calendar:
Islamic practices are based on the lunar calendar. However, Muslims also use the Gregorian calendar in their daily religious lives. Hence, the Islamic calendar includes both the common era and the migration (Hijra) year of the Prophet of Islam from Makkah to Madinah in the year of 623 C.E.
B. Celebrations (Eid):
Muslims have two celebrations (Eid): the Eid of Sacrifice and the Eid of Fast-breaking. The Eid of Sacrifice is in rememberance of the sacrifice to have been made by Prophet Abraham of his son. The Eid of Fast-breaking comes at the end of Ramadan, the month of fasting.
C. Diets:
Islam allows Muslims to eat everything which is good for the health. It restricts certain items such as pork and its by-products, alcohol and any narcotic or addictive drugs.
D. Place of Worship:
The place of worship is called the Mosque or Masjid. There are three holy places of worship for the Muslims on the world. These are the Mosque of the Kaabah in Makkah, the Mosque of Prophet Muhammad in Madinah, and Masjid Aqsa, adjacent to the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem.
A Muslim m ay pray anywhere in the world, whether in a Mosque, a house, an office, or outside. The whole world is a place of worship. It is preferable that Muslims pray in a congregation, but he/she may pray individually anywhere.
E. Holiday:
The holy day of the Muslims is Friday. It is considered to be sacred, and the Day of Judgement will take place on Friday. Muslims join together shortly after noon on Friday for the Friday congregational prayer in a Mosque. A leader (Imam) gives a sermon (khutbah) and leads the congregational prayer.
F. Distribution of Muslims in North America:
There are approximately five million Muslims in North America and are distributed all around the continent, including major cities.
G. Contributions in North America:
Muslims are now established in North America. The Sears Tower and John Hancock buildings in Chicago were designed by a Muslim chief architect, originally from Pakistan. Muslims have established academic institutions, community centers and organizations, schools and places of worship. They live in peace and harmony among themselves and among other groups of people in the society. The rate of crime among Muslims is very minimal. Muslims in North America are highly educated and have added to the success of American scientific and technological fields.
The Muslims of the early period of the Islamic era were pioneers in medicine, geography, navigation, arts, poetry, mathematics, algebra, logarithms, calculus, etc. They contributed to the Renaissance of Europe and world civilization.
IX. Non-Muslims
Muslims are required to respect all those who are faithful and God conscious people, namely, those who received messages. Christians and Jews are called People of the Book. Muslims are asked to call upon the People of the Book for common terms, namely, to worship One God, and to work together for the solutions of the many problems in the society.
Christians and Jews lived peacefully with Muslims throughout centuries in the Middle East and other Asian and African countries. The second Caliph, Umar, did not pray in the church in Jerusalem so as not to give the Muslims an excuse to take it over. Christians entrusted the Muslims, and as such, the key of the Church in Jerusalem is still in the hands of Muslims.
Jews fled from Spain during the Inquisition, and they were welcomed by the Muslims. They settled in the heart of the Islamic Caliphate. They enjoyed positions of power and authority.
Throughout the Muslim World, churches, synagogues and missionary schools were built within the Muslim neighborhoods. These places were protected by Muslims even during the contemporary crises in the Middle East.
Ahmad H. Sakr, Ph.D.

Further in the introduction, we are introduced to some of the main types of Islam:

Sunni Islam,
Shia Islam (Shi'ite)
And then, because this course covers concerns more specific to the United States, Wahhabi Islam (Wahhabi movement)

In addition to some of the different types of Islam, the Koran was also introduced as well as the definition of hadith.

The only other major issue that was introduced to us was the Five Pillars of Islam and some geography like the location of the Middle East, Far East, North Africa, and United States.

I must admit that I don't have all that much knowledge about Islam. I am looking forward to seeing how this course fits in with my previous understanding on Islam. In addition, I am looking forward to having a good foothold to begin my reading of the Koran at some point in the future.