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August 31, 2012

How Mitt made himself the Invisible Man

[Note: I am Democrat and an enthusiastic Obama supporter. Surprise surprise!]

It took the tweetstream (Ana Marie Cox, for example. Baratunde for another) to get me to watch Mitt Romney’s speech last night. I get too wound up, so I was planning on first reading about the speech and then watching it the next morning (= today). But the tweetstream provided the distance I needed, so I turned on the TV. And then, inevitably, not only did I start tweeting, I couldn’t stop.

I came out of the speech feeling even better about President Obama’s chances. I think Mitt turned himself into Clint’s empty chair last night.

Mitt’s speech was poorly crafted. Oh, I got verklempt when he talked about waking up to a pile of children; that concrete detail did indeed remind me of that ineffably full phase of my life. But like bad fiction where you see the writer’s intention too clearly, it was too apparent that Mitt was telling us these stories in order to get us to see him as a warm human who has shared the elemental moments of life. I do not doubt at all that Mitt loves his family, but the fact that he felt that he had to convince us of that emphasized that the Party feels there’s a question about Mitt’s shared humanity.

Put this next to Clint Eastwood’s bizarre performance art piece, and I think the two elements will quickly merge in America’s mind: An empty chair will symbolize not President Obama, but Mitt as a man who is worried about being perceived as empty. After all, the empty chair trope is usually reserved for a candidate who skips a debate out of fear, which makes no sense in the context of the Republic convention. So, it had to be a way of making the emptiness of character into an issue. And that’s not a winning issue for Romney.

Then add to this the fact that the Net broke the old record for Speed of Satire. Eastwooding became an instant meme. Someone took the Twitter handle “InvisibleObama“and got 22,000 followers by the end of the speech (44,411 right now). Then check the headlines about last night. “Invisible” has become the word of the night.

So, I think Mitt’s speech has set the subtextual agenda: The Invisible Man versus Barack Obama’s character and substance. Even if you don’t much like Obama’s policy proposals, Obama doesn’t have to convince us that he is real, and that his policy comes from his substance as a person.

As early evidence of this, check the response — brilliant, I think — from the official “BarackObama tweetstream:

Obama sitting in a chair

Personally, I think Obama should and will win on the basis of the content of his policies. I would prefer that the campaign be about the policies that matter. But the Republican Party made its choice last night, for example, reducing the peril of climate change to a shameful punch line, and issuing a “five-part plan” that stated zero plans. Too bad for all of us, but especially for them. You don’t make “healing the family” your capstone if your acceptance speech plays like a rejected audition tape for Ward Cleaver’s role in “Leave it to Beaver.” The Republicans will lose because last night they made their fears about Mitt the center of the election: He’s just a man in a suit who’s looking for his next promotion.

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August 29, 2012

Moving Day in Boston is so confusing!

Moving Day in Boston ought to be declared a holiday since no one can get to work anyway. The streets are chockablock (and the blocks are chockastreet) with vat migrating herds of UHauls.

To make matters worse, I can’t tell if this sign means what it says or means the opposite of what it says:

I’m leaning toward the opposite: You don’t threaten to tow cars that are in motion. And if it just meant to say “No standing” for any car, it wouldn’t have put in the clause about moving cars. I think.

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August 27, 2012

[2b2k] Knowledge barrelling down both tracks

Atul Gawande has a provocative and interesting article in the New Yorker on what medicine can learn from The Cheesecake Factory: training practitioners on carefully considered standard ways of diagnosing and treating diseases.

This is a hugely important side of knowledge that Too Big to Know doffs its hat at now and then, but doesn’t discuss much. the Net has commoditized knowledge, making it incredibly easy to look up facts. In the same way, the Net is automating processes that used to require human intervention. ATMs did that for most of the transactions that used to occur in local banks, and the Net has already done it for most of the calls we used to make to the help desk of a company.

In fact, it seems that these two approaches are becoming increasingly bifurcated. (Does bifurcation admit of degrees? Oh well.) What’s automated is automated, and what is not is not. This actually feels inevitable: as our automated systems become more sophisticated, they handle more of our problems, so the problems we take to human support people are the trickier ones, and getting trickier as automation gets smarter.

We may be seeing a similarly increasing bifurcation when it comes to knowledge across the board. As more commoditized knowledge comes on line — more facts, more answers to more questions — we are freed to engage with the hardest, trickiest, most recalcitrant sorts of knowledge. The more cognitive surplus, the better.


Big Data on broadband

Google commissioned the compiling of

an international dataset of retail broadband Internet connectivity prices. The result was an international dataset of 3,655 fixed and mobile broadband retail price observations, with fixed broadband pricing data for 93 countries and mobile broadband pricing data for 106 countries. The dataset can be used to make international comparisons and evaluate the efficacy of particular public policies—e.g., direct regulation and oversight of Internet peering and termination charges—on consumer prices.

The links are here. WARNING: a knowledgeable friend of mine says that he has already found numerous errors in the data, so use them with caution.

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August 26, 2012

GOP outreach to women

More or less as a public service, here’s a message I just received. I am apparently on the GOP media list, which is fine with me. (I’ve removed her phone number.)

Good evening!

I wanted to take a moment to introduce myself to you and your media outlets. My name is Lindsey Mask, and I am assisting with women’s media at the GOP National Convention in Tampa. Throughout this week, there will be several briefings, panels and events, which I will be sure to share as they come, and there are a number of dynamic women available for on-the-record interviews, etc.

Just as an example, there is a briefing set for tomorrow afternoon (official media advisory pending) with the following details:

Press Briefing for the Women and Family Press Corps

Monday, August 27 at 1p.m. in the Press Conference Room (18/19 in the Tampa Convention Center)

Topic: Economy

The following Republican leaders will be available for on-the-record comment:

  • Courtney Johnson, Director of Women’s Outreach, Romney for President

  • Jovita Carranza, Former Deputy Small Business Administration Administrator

  • Karin Agness, Founder of Network of enlightened Women (NeW)


  • Cherylyn Harley LeBon, Senior Advisor for Women & Family Media, Romney for President

I hope this is helpful! I am looking forward to being in touch this week and helping you identify people for your coverage. Please feel free to call or email me at any time as well: or [phone number].

Best –

Lindsey Mask
Women’s Media
Republican National Convention 2012
[phone number]

If you’re wondering, according to their Web site, the Network of Enlightened Women is the

nation’s premier organization for culturally conservative women. Started as a book club at the University of Virginia in 2004, NeW cultivates a community of conservative women and expands intellectual diversity on college campuses through its focus on education. NeW members meet regularly to discuss issues relating to politics, gender and conservative principles. NeW has expanded to over 20 college campuses nationwide.

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Singing the news

I’m reading Robert Darnton’s Poetry and the Police, a fascinating history that uses the Affair of the Fourteen — which resulted in the downfall of an important government minister — as a way to explore the social networking of news in pre-Republic France.

In 1749, the police cracked down on citizens reciting particular popular poems that were considered seditious. Prof. Darnton has done prodigious research exploring how the poems moved through the culture, being altered along the way. It’s the basic folk movement that we see on the Web now, albeit the Web speeds things up a wee bit.

Here’s a paragraph about how these poems/songs spread news:

By the time “Qu’une bâtarde de catin” reached the Fourteen, it included a little bit of everything that was in the news. It had become a sung newspaper, full of commentary on current events, and catchy enough to appeal to a broad public. Moreover, the listeners and singers could adjust it to their own taste. The topical song was a fluid medium, which could absorb the preferences of different groups and could expand to include everything that interested the public as a whole.” (p. 78)

This is a reminder of two things: the most basic elements of human sociality change less than we think, and deep experts who write beautifully are a treasure.

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August 25, 2012

St. Crispin’s Day

And while we’re YouTubing Shakespeare, here’s Sir Larry himself as Henry V exhorting his men:

And what the heck, here’s Kenneth Branagh:

And what the heck the heck, here’s psychoholic Mel Gibson’s proof that Shakespeare is immortal for a reason:

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August 23, 2012

Time inflation: A 100 years is a snap

Tomorrow, a 100-year-old Norwegian time capsule is going to be opened. (Here’s the Norwegian link, or, see Reddit.) It could be interesting, but my main reaction is: Just a hundred years?

My time scale has shifted.

This may simply be because I’m almost two-thirds of the way through a hundred years. But maybe not.

We’ve got good enough at preservation that it’s hard for me to imagine that there’s anything in that time capsule that will teach us something new, other than what Norwegians in 1912 thought would be interesting to preserve. And for time capsules created these days, I assume our future fellows will just look up the contemporaneous posts about the content. The past becomes less distant when you can just google its wave front.

It may also have something to with the 10,000 year clock project (known officially as the Clock of the Long Now). This is such a powerful idea that it may have reprogrammed my inner clock. How would you build a timepiece that will last for 10,000 years? What a great question! And here’s The Long Now‘s answer:

Designed by Danny Hillis, the Clock is designed to run for ten millennia with minimal maintenance and interruption. The Clock is powered by mechanical energy harvested from sunlight as well as the people that visit it. The primary materials used in the Clock are marine grade 316 stainless steel, titanium and dry running ceramic ball bearings. The entire mechanism will be installed in an underground facility in west Texas.

I know about link rot, and I’ve lived through enough technological change to see how quickly data becomes inaccessible because its required hardware is in the scrap heaps. I know that in a hundred years we may have killed ourselves off, and we may have continued with policies that turn the Internet into nothing but cable tv. So, I’m not making a prediction about the future. What I’m saying is that living on an open Net with indefinite capacity has changed my time scale. The Net can do a hundred years in a gulp. Ten thousand years is the new century.


August 22, 2012

White House Innovation Fellows

The White House is announcing the White House Innovation Fellows who are going to work on five projects.

Here are the projects:

1. RFP-EZ – twitter: @ProjectRFPEZ

Building a prototype process for federal agencies to source low-cost, high-impact solutions from innovative tech companies and startups.

2. My Gov – twitter: @ProjectMyGov #gov

Building a prototype that streamlines the 1,2000+ government/service websites, with more intuitive interfaces and the ability to accept feedback.

3. Open Data – Twitter: @ProjectOpenData #opengov

Open Data will continue the path set by NOAA’s release of data by further scaling the Health Data Initiative and releasing new databases in the energy, education, public safety, and nonprofit sectors

4. 20% Initiative – twitter: @ProjectTwenty

USAID-led project to transition from cash to electronic payments across public and private sectors. Aims: reducing corruption, improving safety, further opening the door to entrepreneurial innovation. (The name comes from the aim of getting 20% more bang per buck.)

5. Blue Button For America – twitter: @ProjectBlueBtn

Developing tools that enable individuals to utilize their own health records – current medications and drug allergies, claims and treatment data, and lab reports, etc. – to empower them to improve their own health and healthcare.

700 people have applied for the Fellowships. They’ll be announced on Thursday. The fellowships last for six months. The projects will combine the private and public sectors, and will be done in full public, with as much crowd participation as possible. (TechPresident has a good post about it.)

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