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6 Ways to Compare the Candidates (Besides Electoral Votes)

When electoral maps overwhelm and statistical margins of error confound, pollsters and political commentators struggle to measure the outcome of the presidential race. Here are a few alternatives for predicting the election.

1. Check the CafePress Meter

CafePress, the maker of customized t-shirts and other swag, has been tracking the sales of candidate paraphernalia since January. The candidates have inspired the public to design nearly 5.8 million custom items for sale on the site. Obama's sales peaked in June, accounting for 77 percent of all sales through the website, and currently out-sell McCain. However, in mid-September, McCain merchandise outpaced Obama items. Throughout the campaign, Sarah Palin merchandise has almost always beaten Joe Biden's sales numbers.

2. Gauge Their Soda Pop-ularity

jones-soda-prez.jpgCampaign supporters vote by the bottle at Jones Cola. The company is tracking the candidates' soda pop-ularity at Campaign Cola 2008. Joe six-packs everywhere can choose between Yes We Can Cola and Pure McCain Cola, or even Ron Paul Revolution Cola and Capitol Hillary Cola if they're nostalgic for the primaries. (As of Tuesday afternoon, Obama was ahead of McCain, 15,216 bottles to 3,726. Ron Paul's soda-loving followers have put him in second place, with 6,606 bottles sold.)

3. Look to the Stars (We Don't Mean Matt Damon or Jon Voight)

At least one astrologer predicts that Leo Obama will win over Virgo McCain. Another astrologer predicts an Obama win with a margin of at least 10 percent. Astrologer Raj Kumar Sharma noted that America is entering the age of Aquarius. Also, by the Chinese calendar, 2008 is the year of the Rat, the same as McCain's birth year. Obama was born in the year of the Ox, and 2009 is also the year of the Ox.

4. Have a Facebook-Friend-Off

Facebook may not yet rule the world, but if it did, Obama would out-friend McCain more than 4 to 1. Of course, Facebook's younger crowd might skew the results, but according to professor Christine Williams, the social networking edge can translate into a real-world boost of 3 percent.

5. Poll the Trick-or-Treaters

Voting with Halloween costumes instead of ballots, Obama would be ahead 55% to 45%. The costume website also breaks down the presidential mask popularity by state, in case you want to compare it to the electoral college. Mask predictions held true according to statistics back to 1980. They might be more accurate than current election polls as well.

6. Let the Redskins Decide

Legend has it that the football forecasts the winning party of the presidential election. Since 1936, every time the Washington Redskins win their final homegame before the presidential election, the incumbent party wins. This did not hold true in 2004 when the Redskins lost but incumbent Republican Bush won. Good news for Democrats—last night, the Pittsburgh Steelers marched into Washington and defeated the Skins 23-6.

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Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
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History
Did Queen Victoria Really Save Prince Albert From Drowning in an Icy Lake?
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Not many British queens have also served as daring emergency rescuers. But when the moment arose, Queen Victoria was ready to save the day. In 1841, she saved her husband, Prince Albert, from an icy lake he had fallen into while skating.

The incident didn't need much dramatization when it was included in an episode of the PBS drama Victoria. It really was a life-or-death situation, and 21-year-old Victoria was the hero.

On a cold February day in 1841, Victoria and Albert, who had married almost exactly a year earlier, went for a walk around the gardens of Buckingham Palace. Albert, an avid sportsman who loved to skate and play hockey, strapped on his ice skates and headed out onto the lake. In a diary entry, Victoria wrote that the ice was smooth and hard that day—mostly. As he skated toward her, she noticed that the ice around a bridge looked a little thin.

"I, standing alone on the bank," she wrote in her journal that evening, "said, ‘it is unsafe here,' and no sooner had I said this, than the ice cracked, and Albert was in the water up to his head, even for a moment below." By her own telling, Victoria screamed and reached out her arm to him, holding onto her lady-in-waiting, the only attendant present.

Albert grabbed Victoria's arm and she was able to pull him to safety. He had cut his chin and was dripping wet, but returned home, took a hot bath and a nap, and was up a few hours later to socialize when their uncle Leopold (Victoria and Albert were first cousins) came to visit.

"Her Majesty manifested the greatest courage upon the occasion, and acted with the most intrepid coolness," an account of the event that appeared in The Times a few days later proclaimed. "As soon as the Prince was safe on dry land, the queen gave way to the natural emotions of joy and thankfulness at his providential escape."

Albert recounted his side of the experience in a letter to his step-grandmother, Duchess Caroline of Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg. "I was making my way to Victoria, who was standing on the bank with one of her ladies," he described, when "I fell plump into the water, and had to swim for two or three minutes in order to get out. Victoria was the only person with the presence of mind to lend me assistance, her lady being more occupied in screaming for help." (Both the queen's diary entry and the newspaper account give the lady-in-waiting a little more credit, suggesting that she at least served as an anchor for the queen as she reached out to the prince.)

According to The Times, the problem was bird-related. That morning, the groundskeepers in charge of the various waterfowl that called the lake home had broken the ice around the edges of the water so that the birds could drink. By the time the queen and the prince arrived, those spots had frozen over with a deceptively thin layer of ice.

Thanks to Victoria, though, Albert emerged from the incident with little more than a bad cold and went on to live for another 20 years.

Had Albert died that day on the ice, it could have completely changed European history. Victoria and Albert had already had a daughter, and the future King Edward VII was conceived around this time. If Albert had died, seven of Victoria’s children wouldn’t have been born—children who were married to nobles and rulers across Europe (during World War I, seven of their direct descendants were on thrones as king or queen). And if the future Edward VII hadn’t been conceived, Albert died, and everything else remained the same, it’s possible Kaiser Wilhelm II may have become the ruler of both Germany and the United Kingdom.

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John Phillips, Getty Images for Tourism Australia
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Animals
New Plankton Species Named After Sir David Attenborough Series Blue Planet
John Phillips, Getty Images for Tourism Australia
John Phillips, Getty Images for Tourism Australia

At least 19 creatures, both living and extinct, have been named after iconic British naturalist Sir David Attenborough. Now, for the first time, one of his documentary series will receive the same honor. As the BBC reports, a newly discovered phytoplankton shares its name with the award-winning BBC series Blue Planet.

The second half of the species' name, Syracosphaera azureaplaneta, is Latin for "blue planet," likely making it the first creature to derive its name from a television program. The single-cell organisms are just thousandths of a millimeter wide, thinner than a human hair, but their massive blooms on the ocean's surface can be seen from space. Called coccolithophores, the plankton serve as a food source for various marine life and are a vital marker scientists use to gauge the effects of climate change on the sea. The plankton's discovery, by researchers at University College London (UCL) and institutions in Spain and Japan, is detailed in a paper [PDF] published in the Journal of Nannoplankton Research.

"They are an essential element in the whole cycle of oxygen production and carbon dioxide and all the rest of it, and you mess about with this sort of thing, and the echoes and the reverberations and the consequences extend throughout the atmosphere," Attenborough said while accepting the honor at UCL.

The Blue Planet premiered in 2001 with eight episodes, each dedicated to a different part of the world's oceans. The series' success inspired a sequel series, Blue Planet II, that debuted on the BBC last year.

[h/t BBC]

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