Joho the BlogNovember 2012 - Page 2 of 2 - Joho the Blog

November 15, 2012

The person who beat Nate Silver – DailyKos and journalism

One political analyst was actually ever so slightly more accurate than Nate “Poll God” Silver: Markos Moulitsas, the founder of DailyKos.

I’ve always checked in on DailyKos occasionally, but over the past year or so it’s become a multi-daily stop, and was one of my primary sources of news about the campaign. It embodies a lot of the good stuff the Net is doing to news, and some of the bad.

DailyKos is obviously a partisan site. It’s perfectly clear about that. In fact, it wants to build its followers into an effective political force. The news it presents takes sides. Yet, I find it a really useful source of political news, for a few reasons:

1. I’d rather have the bias visible than hidden.

2. My understanding itself is biased: I have political views and commitments. DailyKos generally is in line with my views. So, when I want to understand the impact of some event political event, DailyKos’ contextualization is immediately helpful; I don’t have to read through it, unpacking the assumptions that I don’t share. Reading the Republican contextualization is an interesting and even an important anthropological exercise, but DailyKos gets me to understanding much faster.

3. Although it’s a partisan site, it’s also reality-based. For example, when DailyKos happily reports today that opposition to Obamacare is at its lowest, it prominently adds, “That doesn’t mean that America is suddenly in love with Obamacare, though. The support/oppose numbers remain in the range they’ve been in since the law was passed…” It’s what keeps DailyKos from being a standard-issue echo chamber.

4. It’s a community. The people writing on the front page are generally on staff, but there are thousands of bloggers (or “diarists” in Kos nomenclature) writing on the site and a useful system for bringing them to attention.

5. It’s funny. Often the humor is biting, and it frequently is more negative and personal than I’m comfortable with. But it’s also frequently damn funny.

You can find as much to not like at DailyKos as you want. With all those diarists, there’s no shortage of bad ideas and nasty edges. And the staff writers give plenty of materials to critics. So? DailyKos is one good model for tribal news.

But…

Of course I’d say that. People in echo chambers always think their echo chambers are Halls of Truth. That’s what it means to be in an echo chamber. So, is DailyKos any better than, say, Fox News?

I think so. But, again, that’s #1 and trending at ThingsPeopleInEchoChambers Say.com.

I’d point to a few reasons DailyKos is (a) a better echo chamber than Fox, (b) is not an echo chamber, (c) is a good echo chamber, (d) something else.

1. DailyKos seems to me to be more willing to point to negatives in its own positive news — it’s got more respect for reality.

2. DailyKos seems to me to be more often right at the level at which facts are checked. It also has not been caught as often at Photoshopping (taking “Photoshopping” literally and metaphorically). There have been times when I think DailyKos has taken candidates’ remarks out of context — I still think Romney’s “Corporations are people, my friend” may have meant to point to the consequences for real people when corporations fail. But I haven’t seen (or haven’t recognized) the massive and I believe Fox’s knowing editing of quotes to get them to sound like people are saying something entirely different (“You didn’t build that”).

3. DailyKos seems to me not to spend as much time on paranoid theories. There is nothing that I know of that DailyKos has pursued that sinks to the level of birtherism, or that is pursued with as much single-minded intensity as “You didn’t build that.”

4. DailyKos is genuinely committed to building a community in which all have a voice. Yes, not everyone has an equal voice, but the upvoting mechanism and the ability to follow favorites helps people further down the long tail.

5. DailyKos does not pretend to be non-partisan as the news part of Fox News does. Of course, no one is fooled by Fox’s protestations.

I may be falling prey to the Echo Chamber Fallacy — the belief that my echo chamber isn’t really an echo chamber — but even if I am, there’s no reason to think that all echo chambers are equally bad. And there is, I believe, reason to think that an echo chamber can in fact be a useful way of getting information…and of forming a movement that can then act on that information.

 


I sent the link to this post to Markos, and he replied in part:

I often see people accuse me of “preaching to the choir”. My response is if that’s so bad, why do churches exist?

People want that tribal experience. So Daily Kos is like a church for the progressive movement — a place where people come to get informed, get validated, find community, and get organized so they can evangelize outside its walls.

Not to mention, anyone who thinks that Daily Kos is an echo chamber didn’t see the site in 2010, when we spent months preparing our readers for the electoral catastrophe that would inevitably hit in November. We were the exact opposite of Republicans this year.

2 Comments »

November 14, 2012

Daily [Intermittent] Open-Ended Puzzle: Camera shutters

Why do digital SLR (single lens reflex) cameras have shutters?

In analog days, the shutter let light in for some determinant time. That caused the film to be exposed for that duration. But in the digital age, why doesn’t “setting the shutter speed” just tell the internal computer how long it should record data from the sensor? What good does it do to actually open and close a physical shutter?

Just curious. And probably misinformed.

3 Comments »

November 13, 2012

New BradSucks album lyrics

Brad Turcotte, AKA BradSucks, has put out his new album, Guess Who’s a Mess. It is tuneful, dark, and remarkably well done. I like not only his music, lyrics, and voice, but also his skill as a producer. He is, in fact, a one-man band++.

So, you ought to buy his album, first because I think you’ll enjoy it; you can listen for free to decide. Second, Brad’s exactly the sort of artist the Web should support: no DRM, tracks posted for remixing, continuous interaction with his listeners as he develops new songs. He trusts the Web. We should repay that trust. It’s the least we can do.

At my request, Brad sent me an unedited copy of his lyrics. He’ll undoubtedly post a better version soon. But for now, here they are.

Comments Off on New BradSucks album lyrics

November 9, 2012

[2b2k] What do we learn from our failure to believe the polls?

There’s lots being written about why the Republicans were so wrong in their expectations about this week’s election. They had the same data as the rest of us, yet they apparently deeply believed they were going to win. I think it’s a fascinating question. But I want to put it to different use.

The left-wing subtext about the Republican leadership’s failure to interpret the data is that it’s comeuppance for their failure to believe in science or facts. But that almost surely is a misreading. The Republicans thought they had factual grounds for disbelieving the polls. The polls, they thought, were bad data that over-counted Democrats. The Republicans thus applied an unskewing algorithm in order to correct them. Thus, the Republicans weren’t pooh-poohing the importance of facts. They were being good scientists, cleaning up the data. Now, of course their assumptions about the skewing of the data were wrong, and there simply has to be an element of wish-fulfillment (and thus reality denial) in their belief that the polls were skewed. But, their arguments were based on what they thought was a fact about a problem with the data. They were being data-based. They just did a crappy job of it.

So what do we conclude? First, I think it’s important to recognize that it wasn’t just the Republicans who looked the data in the face and drew entirely wrong conclusions. Over and over the mainstream media told us that this race was close, that it was a toss-up. But it wasn’t. Yes, the popular vote was close, although not as close as we’d been led to believe. But the outcome of the race wasn’t a toss-up, wasn’t 50-50, wasn’t close. Obama won the race decisively and not very long after the last mainland polls closed…just as the data said he would. Not only was Nate Silver right, his record, his methodology, and the transparency of his methodology were good reasons for thinking he would be right. Yet, the mainstream media looked at the data and came to the wrong conclusion. It seems likely that they did so because they didn’t want to look like they were shilling for Obama and because they wanted to keep us attached to the TV for the sake of their ratings and ad revenues.

I think the media’s failure to draw the right and true conclusions from the data is a better example of a non-factual dodge around inconvenient truths than is the Republicans’ swerve.

Put the two failures together, and I think this is an example of the the inability of facts and data to drive us to agreement. Our temptation might be to look at both of these as fixable aberrations. I think a more sober assessment, however, should lead us to conclude that some significant portion of us is always going to find a way to be misled by facts and data. As a matter of empirical fact, data does not drive agreement, or at least doesn’t drive it sufficiently strongly that by itself it settles issues. For one reason or another, some responsible adults are going to get it wrong.

This doesn’t mean we should give up. It certainly doesn’t lead to a relativist conclusion. It instead leads to an acceptance of the fact that we are never going to agree, even when the data is good, plentiful, and right in front of our eyes. And, yeah, that’s more than a little scary.

7 Comments »

November 7, 2012

1.5 minutes of First Family beautifulness

Go ahead an give yourself a little treat. Here’s 1.5 minutes of the First Family last night.

Comments Off on 1.5 minutes of First Family beautifulness

Morning after hodge of podge-thoughts

1a. I know there are serious and real differences among us. Some can be argued, and some cannot. If you are as depressed and sad this morning as I would have been had the night gone differently, then I hope over the next four years you’ll choose to advance both your goals and our country by working together. Obstructionism does not stop the clock.

1b. DailyKos this morning reminds us of Molly Ivins’ words:

First rule: No gloating. Actually, there is gloating allowed, but only in the exclusive presence of other Democrats

Of course, the blogger, Bill from Portland, can’t resist adding: “Since I’m, indeed, exclusively among Democrats here, I’ve got three gloaty words about our landslide victory last night: ‘We Built That!'” [Yes, “landslide” is not the right word.]

2.DailyKos runs this chart, based on CNN exit polls:

We aging white guys are still in charge when it comes to most big businesses and government functions. But we are no longer in charge of elections. Which means that we aging white guys are toast. And nothing could make me happier.

3. Last night, Chuck Todd on MSNBC allowed himself a moment of self-congratulations, saying something like, “A lot of people didn’t trust the polls, but it turns out that to a remarkable degree the polls were right. I’m proud of our polling efforts.”

Ok, fine. Then why did the media so consistently insist that this was going to be a squeaker? If the polls were right, then why didn’t you read them right? (Obligatory genuflection in the general direction of Nate Silver.)

4. If you voted for Romney, you won’t want to hear what I’m about to say. In fact, many of my liberal friends — my co-religionists, so to speak — will find what I’m about to say ridiculous. Nevertheless: I think Obama is the most un-flawed president in my lifetime. Not perfect, but the least deeply flawed.

I acknowledge that this is based on my assessment of his character, and such assessments are notoriously unreliable. I’ve seen this throughout my lifetime: I watch Reagan in a debate and think he’s a silly old actor that no one could take seriously, and most of the country sees a visionary patriot whose visage would look good carved into Mount Rushmore. I watch Robert Kennedy and see a deeply empathetic person, and most of the country sees a selfish opportunist. George Bush looks into the eyes of a totalitarian thug and sees a good man. Our unmediated assessments of character are unreliable and unarguable. So I offer my sense of Obama’s character without argument.

In my lifetime, I think you’d have to go back to Dwight Eisenhower to find a president with fewer debilitating character defects, but Ike was uninspiring. JFK? A bag of MadMen vices. LBJ? A close to pathological bully. Nixon? Yikes. Gerald Ford seems to have been an upstanding person, but lacked the drive and vision to be an effective president. Jimmy Carter is universally lauded as an exemplary person and ex-president, but could neither inspire nor effectively lead. Reagan’s grasp of facts and reality was (in my view!) dangerously unreliable, and his commitment to the Constitution was problematic. Bush senior is a patriot and a family man, but lacked vision. Clinton had some famous weaknesses, of which triangulation was the most troubling to me. Bush junior is 189 lbs. of daddy issues.

And there’s Obama. I’ll skip the list of adjectives, since you either already agree or will think I’m crazy. But let me just say this: We have seen Obama tackle issues that other presidents have for decades simply kicked down the road for someone else to solve. That requires patriotism, courage, a willingness to pay the price, perseverance, vision, political skills, and leadership. I’m hopeful that in the next four years we will see similar focus on issues such as immigration reform, climate change, maybe even Mideast peace. We won’t get it all, and we’ll won’t get all that we want. But I frankly thought that we’d never have a president willing to step forward to work on the issues that have scared off generations of political leaders.

3 Comments »

November 6, 2012

Keep your ballots private

In 2008 I posted a photo of myself holding my filled-in write-in ballot next to a cardboard cutout of Obama. I thought it was a little amusing, and I had made no secret of who I was voting for. But I got chided via social media, for what seems to me to be a good reason: we wouldn’t want the posting of ballot photos to become a common practice since it could lead to social pressure on people who don’t want their actual vote to be known. Imagine, say, a coal mine owner who is pressuring employees to vote for a particular candidate, and who puts up a “voluntary” “Post your Ballot Photo!” page. An employee might assume that a failure to post would be taken as a vote for the “wrong” candidate, and thus would be in a difficult position.

Now, that’s a hypothetical of course, but it captures a reason to preserve the norm that actual ballots are private, not public. Brag all you want about who you voted for — please! — but I think it’s a good idea to keep your actual ballot secret.

On the other hand, if you posted your ballot, it’s not something I find publicly chide-worthy.

(PS: I voted for President Obama. Quelle surprise!)

1 Comment »

November 4, 2012

Your vote counts, but exactly that way

If when the votes are counted you feel betrayed because you were told “Your vote counts!” but it turns out that the election would have gone the same way even if you had stayed home, I understand. If you take “Your vote counts” as really only being true when your vote determines an outcome, then in my lifetime of voting, my vote has never counted. (For a different reading, see the the incredibly smart Peter Norvig’s election FAQ.)

Still, I vote and I hope you do too — even the young, despite some contempt for them). But my reasons have more to do with community than outcomes.

First, voting is a a rite that affirms the most basic and magnificent thing about our country: We believe everyone has an equal voice.

Second, my vote is unlikely to determine an outcome of an election, but it is certain to affect — fractionally, for sure — the total number of people who have voted. And that bears on our sense of the success of our democracy and of our national community. This is not merely information about community, but is information that forms community.

Third, if you don’t vote, you have no right to complain. So, vote or for God’s sake STFU.

As for who to vote for: (a) check my Twitter feed for links to the vids etc. that I find amusing/moving, and (b) really?


(To volunteer to help Pres. Obama’s Get Out the Vote effort, click here. And because I’m a liberal, here’s Romney’s GOTV site.)

1 Comment »

November 2, 2012

[2b2k] How students e-research…and is it helping?

Pew Internet has been producing some important and interesting studies on how students do research in the world of e.


A couple of weeks ago, Pew released a report on how Americans 16-29 use the library. Here’s Pew’s highlights:

  • 83% of Americans between the ages of 16 and 29 read a book in the past year. Some 75% read a print book, 19% read an e-book, and 11% listened to an audiobook.

  • Among Americans who read e-books, those under age 30 are more likely to read their e-books on a cell phone (41%) or computer (55%) than on an e-book reader such as a Kindle (23%) or tablet (16%).

  • Overall, 47% of younger Americans read long-form e-content such as books, magazines or newspapers. E-content readers under age 30 are more likely than older e-content readers to say that they are reading more these days due to the availability of e-content (40% vs. 28%).

  • 60% of Americans under age 30 used the library in the past year. Some 46% used the library for research, 38% borrowed books (print books, audiobooks, or e-books), and 23% borrowed newspapers, magazines, or journals.

  • Many of these young readers do not know they can borrow an e-book from a library, and a majority of them express the wish they could do so on pre-loaded e-readers. Some 10% of the e-book readers in this group have borrowed an e-book from a library and, among those who have not borrowed an e-book, 52% said they were unaware they could do so. Some 58% of those under age 30 who do not currently borrow e-books from libraries say they would be “very” or “somewhat” likely to borrow pre-loaded e-readers if their library offered that service.


The report usefully breaks its population into three age groups.


Then yesterday, Pew Internet released a report called How Teens Do Research in the Digital World. It surveys Advanced Placement teachers and National Writing Program communities. Her’s Pew’s overall summary:

Overall, teachers who participated in this study characterize the impact of today’s digital environment on their students’ research habits and skills as mostly positive, yet multi-faceted and not without drawbacks. Among the more positive impacts they see: the best students access a greater depth and breadth of information on topics that interest them; students can take advantage of the availability of educational material in engaging multimedia formats; and many become more self-reliant researchers.

At the same time, these teachers juxtapose these benefits against some emerging concerns. Specifically, some teachers worry about students’ overdependence on search engines; the difficulty many students have judging the quality of online information; the general level of literacy of today’s students; increasing distractions pulling at students and poor time management skills; students’ potentially diminished critical thinking capacity; and the ease with which today’s students can borrow from the work of others.

These teachers report that students rely mainly on search engines to conduct research, in lieu of other resources such as online databases, the news sites of respected news organizations, printed books, or reference librarians.

Overall, the vast majority of these teachers say a top priority in today’s classrooms should be teaching students how to “judge the quality of online information.” As a result, a significant portion of the teachers surveyed here report spending class time discussing with students how search engines work, how to assess the reliability of the information they find online, and how to improve their search skills. They also spend time constructing assignments that point students toward the best online resources and encourage the use of sources other than search engines.


But the most distressing takeaway is: “87% say these technologies are creating an ‘easily distracted generation with short attention spans’ and 64% say today’s digital technologies ‘do more to distract students than to help them academically.”

Comments Off on [2b2k] How students e-research…and is it helping?

November 1, 2012

Lazy impressions

I am in London as part of my stitched-together path home in the wake of Sandy, so yesterday afternoon I went for a walk and on a whim decided to duck into the National Gallery. (Free museums are so Open Access!)

I am ashamed that once again I gravitated to the Impressionists. I take it as due to a typical American’s lack of education about art. My taste is so conventional and so lazy. For example, my wife likes Medieval art in part because she knows the backstories of the religious scenes depicted, while I, on the other hand, know a handful of saints. (Hint: If he’s got arrows stuck in him, he’s St. Sebastian.) My ignorance keeps me from appreciating what I’m looking at, much less knowing enough about the history of art to perceive the telling differences in the portrayals. (Simon Schama’s Rembrandt’s Eyes is an astounding example of how knowing stuff helps to see things. (And here’s a rather snippy review of it [pdf] by one of the greatest art historians, E.H. Gombrich.))

The Impressionists are easy because you’re not looking at history or religion. You’re looking at looking. Although that’s not all. I also often have a strong desire to be in the place depicted, even though I’m not much of an outdoors guy. For whatever reason, I don’t have the same reaction to Renaissance landscapes or to the awestruck vistas of the American frontier. Those seem like a lot of work. I want to be on a blanket in Monet’s hayfield or sitting on a rock in Van Gogh’s meadow. It’s easy to like a painting of a place where you want to be, although in real life I’d last for about four minutes before checking my phone for email. So I guess the Impressionists get credit for making me desperate to be somewhere I wouldn’t actually like.

This is related to another aspect of the laziness I feel in my attraction to the Impressionists. They’re not taking commissions to commemorate ugly rich families or to paint a church with heroic scenes. They’re painting fields they don’t till, fruit they don’t pick, and gardens they don’t weed. The social Impressionists are at revels or performances, or watching ladies dry themselves. Of course many of these artists were thereby impoverished, at least for a while, but they were doing exactly what they wanted. So, laziness is the wrong word. Is “self-indulgent” any closer?

[Now for some backpedaling: Monet did a lot of weeding, but had a large staff of gardeners. Not all the scenes the Impressionists painted were happy. They were far from the only artists in history to paint for themselves and not for commissions. And I do understand that they were bravely asserting a human sensory aesthetic, which was not an easy or popular thing to do. So there goes my entire argument. Still, I feel lazy for being drawn to them.]


But screw it. The National Gallery has some beautiful, beautiful paintings. I found myself once again inevitably drawn to Monet. In this case, I was looking at a perfectly rendered painting of the beach at Le Havre, admiring how crisp and precise it was, even though many of the strokes are, well, impressionist. Yet it’s in hyper-focus. In fact, the sharpness of the mountain’s edge where it meets the sky is quite dramatic. It turns out the painting is by Monet. (The National Gallery has put these images on line. Thank you!!)


On the opposite wall, there’s a late Monet called “Water Lillies, Setting Sun,” which is much more vividly red than the online image appears. It shows lilies, the surface of the water, the water’s depth, a reflection of a willow tree, and the redness of a sunset. It took a moment to snap into focus, but when it did, I thought, “Wow. You really have to be a human to see this painting.” Send it in a space ship and aliens would never figure out what it’s a painting of. But if you are an earthling, it’s all there – earth, sky, water, life, surface and depth, reflection and shadow, days and nights. Everything except for humans of course. But we’re the ones who can paint this and see it.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I do not respond only to Impressionism. I also am moved by other artists easy to like. Rembrandt does it for me just about every time. The Renaissance Italians had a way with a brush and chisel. But no artists make me feel simultaneously as moved and lazy as the Impressionists.

 


I had dinner with Suw , and it turns out that we both admire the Paul Delaroche painting The Execution of Lady Jane Grey, so I thought I’d put in the link to it.

1 Comment »

« Previous Page