Joho the Blog » politics

January 21, 2013

Popular for the right reasons?

Note that I understand that in what follows, I am wildly projecting my own feelings, without any data to support my hypothesis. So be it!

Americans by and large like Barack Obama. They like his wife more, but they do like the guy. My hypothesis is that people like Obama for the right reasons.

People liked W, too. I mean, I didn’t, but I’m a shallow, petty person. But people famously liked W because he’d be good to have a beer with. My data-free hypothesis is that people like Obama for better reasons. He isn’t particularly fun to have a beer with (although I am totally open to that invitation, Mr. President), but he is a thoughtful, sincere person who accords each person dignity.

If you’re one of those who don’t like President Obama as a person, none of this applies to you. But if you’re one of us who think it’d be fun to hang out with him (note to White House: Operators are standing by), I bet it’s for perceived qualities that are actually admirable.

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December 15, 2012

I’d rather we had a right to an open Internet than a right to bear arms.

No, I’m not suggesting that we amend the Constitution to guarantee American citizens a right to access the open Internet. I’m suggesting that it’s weird that from all the rights we could imagine — a right to an education, to adequate health care, to equal pay for equal work — we continue to enshrine a right to carry guns.

Why guns of all things? Because of a fear of an armed federal take-over that made sense in 1787 but now is merely paranoia? Besides, when the feds have actually used armed force against states claiming rights, the states were defending slavery and segregation. Besides, if you’re hoping to defeat the US military, you better be pressing for a right to own tanks, jets, and, for those states with beachfronts, some battleships.

So, no, I’m not suggesting we pass an Internet Rights amendment. I am suggesting that we pass an amendment nullifying the right to bear arms. Let guns be regulated the way we regulate other objects that can harm us and kill our kids.

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December 10, 2012

Senator Colbert? Meet Beppe Grillo

Those of us who are not-so-secretly hoping that Stephen Colbert might actually run for Senate should take a look at Beppe Grillo‘s career in Italy.

A controversial political comedian and a leading blogger — he’s got some Al Franken and some George Carlin as well as some Colbert in him — Grillo formed the Five Star Movement, which organizes Italian citizens to back politicians who support the movement’s anti-corruption, green, Euro-skeptical, pro-Internet principles. In October, it led the voting in Sicily. Now the Five Star Movement is holding an online vote to choose which candidates to support.

There are certainly skeptics. But Grillo’s career as a comedian and blogger who has become a political force is pretty amazing.

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November 18, 2012

An open letter to Rep. Joe Kennedy on seizing the copyright initiative

Dear Joe,

Congratulations on your victory! I’m proud to have you as our new Congressperson from the 12th district here in Brookline and environs. Barney Frank has left you some big shoes to fill, and I’m looking forward to watching you lace up.

Barney did a great job representing our local interests. But our district, and our Commonwealth, has always looked beyond what’s good for us locals. We’ve always had an eye out for the larger common good. That’s why we keep electing Kennedys.

An issue has arisen that not only needs your support, but could help you make exactly the right kind of early mark. Forgive me if you are already on top of it, but, briefly, the Republican Study Committee on Friday issued a report on copyright reform that was — from the point of view of many of us on the Web — shockingly helpful. I say “shockingly” because Congress overall has been woefully one-sided and antiquarian on the question of copyright, taking laws designed for previous centuries and actually making them far worse.

That was Friday. By Saturday afternoon, the Hollywood lobbyists had forced Paul Teller, the head of the RSC, to withdraw the report on the specious grounds that it had not gone through “adequate review.” If so, perhaps Paul Teller should resign. But, I’m willing to bet 10,000 RomneyBucks that instead the young author of the report, Derek Khanna [twitter:dkhanna11], will take the fall.

Anyway, the report punctures three myths about copyright, and proposes four areas of reform:

  • Statutory damages reform

  • Expand Fair Use

  • Punish false copyright claims

  • Heavily limit the terms for copyright, and create disincentives for renewal

I urge you to take a look. Imagine a world with copyright reformed in this way. And if you think the proposals are wrong-headed, impractical, or whatever, at least embrace them as a starting point for a conversation this country very much needs.

This could be a great issue for you, Joe. You’ll find a whole lot of constituents who would be thrilled to see you take a leadership role in this important discussion.

And it won’t just be your constituents. You’ll find yourself surfing a wave — the Internet constituency that represents the future of our party, nation, and globe.

Looking forward to seeing you show the bold leadership your family is famous for and that has so many of us excited about your first term in Congress — the first of many, we hope!

Best,

David Weinberger
Constituent

Note: The original report was here, but people have put up extra copies in case the RSC physically removes the report from the Web. Here’s the copy I posted.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.)

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