‘Nate Silver Is The Kurt Cobain Of Statistics’


BOSTON GLOBE: Nate Silver is the Kurt Cobain of statistics. Wait, bear with me! On Election Night 2008, Nate Silver went from just another political prognosticator – albeit one whose blog, Fivethirtyeight, was drawing million of page views a week – to a rock star. Many other analysts had, like Silver, predicted a big win for Obama; but Silver’s data-driven system had correctly called every state but Indiana, and had gotten all the Senate races right to boot.

Taking the analogy further–both Cobain and Silver were devoted to cultural practices that had previously been confined to a small, inward-looking cadre of true believers (for Silver, quantitative forecasting of sports and politics, for Cobain, punk rock.) And both proved that if you carried the practice out in public, with an approachable style but without compromising the source material, you could make it massively popular. (I think Fangraphs.com is Stone Temple Pilots in this analogy, but perhaps this goes too far.)

We don’t know yet whether Silver’s forecast of the 2012 election will be as accurate as it was in 2008. But he’s got a long track record of high-quality prediction, both in baseball statistics, where he got his start, and politics, where he made his name. His ambitious new book, “The Signal and the Noise”, is a practical handbook and a philosophical manifesto in one, following the theme of prediction through a series of case studies ranging from hurricane tracking to professional poker to counterterrorism. It will be a supremely valuable resource for anyone who wants to make good guesses about the future, or who wants to assess the guesses made by others. In other words, everyone. MORE

PHAWKER: Though preposterous on the face of it, upon closer inspection we are going to declare the Nirvana analogy to be credible, and wish Mr. Silver better luck than his namesake in being the Kurt Cobain of anything.

PREVIOUSLY: Sometime between Bleach and Nevermind, Kurt Cobain repurposed the Pixies’ patented lulling verse/volcanic chorus dynamic to prop up the enormous chip on his shoulder during the Frankenstein-ish gene-splicing experiments with the Beatles and Black Sabbath he was conducting out in rainy Seattle. The monster would, of course, rise from the slab and kill its creator in the end. In 1994, when Cobain bit down on the barrel of a 20-gauge shotgun and pulled the trigger, he killed a lot of birds with one stone. He widowed his wife and essentially orphaned his daughter, his art and an entire generation of disciples who hung on his every word. He also managed to freeze-frame his legacy into the hallowed halls of martyrdom, ensuring that every future assessment of his work would be filtered through the grim prism of his self-inflicted crucifixion. Doled out by the keepers of his flame to re-up the visitorship to the shrine of St. Kurt, With the Lights Out is a four-disc barrel-bottom-scraping time capsule of his electrifying tantrums and territorial pissings, and when he felt like it, his seemingly bottomless capacity for heart-shaped melodicism. There are three moments on this collection of 80-some tracks that make the hair on the back of my neck stand up: a demo version of “Rape Me” with a newborn Francis Bean Cobain crying throughout; a solo acoustic reading of “All Apologies” that has the same angel-wing flutter of John Lennon’s acoustic demo of “Strawberry Fields Forever”; and a filmed segment of the band in a Brazilian recording studio performing Terry Jacks’ maudlin ’70s soft-rock meisterwork “Seasons in the Sun” — with Cobain on drums, Dave Grohl on bass and Krist Novoselic on guitar–interspersed with home movie footage of the band members in younger days having joy and having fun, despite the growing sense that the hills they once climbed were just seasons out of time. Much of this material–home demo tapes, radio station performances and early acoustic versions of classic Nirvana tracks–has long been traded in the shadowy digital chop shops of file-sharing networks, but the true value in this enterprise is that, as you read this, a runny-nosed kid eating Froot Loops out of a dirty bowl in some flea-bitten double-wide in Cow’s Ass, Ind., is listening to With the Lights Out and realizing he can purge all his rage, self-loathing and ham-fisted fumbling for grace into three serrated guitar chords and a primal yowl. And one day he — or for that matter, she — will change music once again. — JONATHAN VALANIA

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EDITOR’S NOTE: If you play this backwards and listen carefully, you can actually hear Nate Silver saying ‘Obama by six in ’08’. Weird, right?

RELATED: Dave Grohl was in the habit of smiling and saying, “I’m only the drummer,” as a way of sidestepping conversations about the financial affairs of his most famous band, Nirvana. By all accounts, though, he’s one of the best in the business; if you look up Grohl on YouTube, you get a sense of just how good a musician he is. He’s also, according to Paul Brannigan, the Nicest Man in Rock.

That would present a problem for any biographer: it’s hard to write about nice guys. Wisely, Brannigan — a music journalist who first interviewed Grohl 15 years ago, and spoke to him both on and off the record while writing this book — fills his ­pages by turning “This Is a Call” into a rich history of recent pop music as it moves from punk and hard-core to ­grunge to indie bands, many of which, like Nirvana, ended up signing with major labels. For his part, Grohl flits in and out of this world like Candide, landing on his feet and making new friends at every turn.

Students of that period will find much to dwell on here, but there’s a second group that may also learn a lot from this book, and that’s parents of, shall we say, overly active boys. Grohl describes himself and others like him as “kids who grew up in the suburbs listening to rock ’n’ roll rec­ords, doing petty crime and drugs, just little vandals from the middle of nowhere.” MORE

DAVE GROHL: Hey everyone…Dave here. Just wanted to write and thank you all again from the bottom of my heart for another incredible year. (Our 18th, to be exact!) We truly never could have done any of this without you…Never in my wildest dreams did I think Foo Fighters would make it this far. I never thought we COULD make it this far, to be honest. There were times when I didn’t think the band would survive. There were times when I wanted to give up. But… I can’t give up this band. And I never will. Because it’s not just a band to me. It’s my life. It’s my family. It’s my world. Yes… I was serious. I’m not sure when the Foo Fighters are going to play again. It feels strange to say that, but it’s a good thing for all of us to go away for a while. It’s one of the reasons we’re still here. Make sense? I never want to NOT be in this band. So, sometimes it’s good to just… put it back in the garage for a while…But, no gold watches or vacations just yet… I’ll be focusing all of my energy on finishing up my Sound City documentary film and album for worldwide release in the very near future. A year in the making, it could be the biggest, most important project I’ve ever worked on. Get ready… it’s coming. Me, Taylor, Nate, Pat, Chris, and Rami… I’m sure we’ll all see you out there… somewhere…Thank you, thank you, thank you…Dave