Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Too little too late?

Obama, in an interview this afternoon with progressive bloggers:
Obviously a huge part of my base reads you guys, cares about what you do. The staff does as well. I think that what the blogosphere has done is to create a conversation that encourages activism across our citizenry, and I think that's absolutely crucial.

We benefit from the constructive feedback and criticism that we get, and it helps hold us accountable.
Regardless of whether this is true or not, it's about what you might think the White House would/should say, strategically speaking. So what's odd is that this is more or less a new, post-Rahm public position for the White House.

What exactly the White House thinks and how that has or hasn't changed is a whole different question.

But while a change of official message here is welcome, it will take time to work back trust or good will after months on end of talk from Gibbs/Rahm of the "professional left" and such.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Mexican Coke also has corn syrup, not sugar

It may well be true that Coca-Cola in glass bottles from Mexico has a different recipe and/or tastes better. But if so, it's not, as is commonly alleged, because that Mexican coke uses sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup. It may once have been true, but right now, new research confirms that the stuff from Mexico has just as much HFCS.

Via Marion Nestle.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Washington Post tea party investigation: good research, not great analysis

Sunday's Post has an extensive investigation of the tea party; they contacted hundreds of groups across the country, all that they could, to survey them. Kind of impressive.

The conclusions are interesting and up for varying interpretations.

The Post says at the outset that tea parties have "[upended] the existing political order, reshaping the debate in Washington, defeating a number of prominent lawmakers and elevating a fresh cast of conservative stars." I think that's basically right.

And then after that here's the primary findings of the investigation:

But a new Washington Post canvass of hundreds of local tea party groups reveals a different sort of organization, one that is not so much a movement as a disparate band of vaguely connected gatherings that do surprisingly little to engage in the political process.


Seventy percent of the grass-roots groups said they have not participated in any political campaigning this year. As a whole, they have no official candidate slates, have not rallied behind any particular national leader, have little money on hand, and remain ambivalent about their goals and the political process in general.

It's interesting that 70 percent haven't "campaigned" -- and hard to know what to make of that. Are the other 30 percent doing all that campaigning that is having such a big effect in GOP primaries? Perhaps. Or maybe what they define as campaigning is different from what others do. Certainly tea parties have had a huge effect on these primaries; maybe it wasn't through traditional "campaigning" activities, though.

Anyhow, the part I disagree with is how the Post belittles the tea party for being fairly non-hierarchical. I'm talking these parts: "not so much a movement as a disparate band of vaguely connected gatherings that do surprisingly little to engage in the political process..." and " official candidate slates, have not rallied behind any particular national leader, have little money on hand, and remain ambivalent about their goals..."

Washington and much of the press just can't get this decentralized thing, or the thing about being politically involved in ways other than through elections.

Of course, in this country we have a rich history of many social movements that have been decentralized and non-hierarchical. And at one point widespread engagement in the democracy was not just about voting (or giving money to candidates!) but about so much more.

The Post is having trouble getting that most of these tea partiers, according to the Post's investigation, want to stay independent of the GOP and also do not want to incorporate as a political party. That they remain independent, without an official leadership structure, is something the Post sees as a problem to be fixed. The Post even thinks these characteristics of decentralization make the tea party "not so much a movement."

The tea partiers have had an impressive (in a bad way) influence. That they have done this in a relatively independent way should be a lesson that independence can be powerful.

New Robert Pape book

Robert Pape is one of relatively few people who studies terrorism -- like actually studies it, not just expounds about it on cable TV.

His 2005 book (see NYT op-ed) was about the "strategic logic" of suicide terrorism -- showing that attacks are almost always part of broader campaigns, largely aimed at getting concessions from democratic governments, and that they are relatively effective.

His new book, with James Feldman, goes through all of the suicide attacks of the last several decades and shows that they are overwhelmingly based on trying to combat foreign occupations. Religion sometimes plays a role, sometimes not, but it is not an overwhelming force.

I know, we already knew much of this, but this is where the numbers are actually put together to show it. See Pape's article in Foreign Policy.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Eleanor Clift: Deficit is "Top Issue" on Voters' Minds

Over at FAIR Blog, Peter Hart points out that in a recent column, Newsweek's Eleanor Clift wrote: "Why is the deficit the top issue in voters' minds?"

Back in the real world, the polling continues to show that the deficit is not exactly a high priority for the public.

Dan Savage responds to Obama's "It Gets Better" Video

Here's Dan Savage on CNN from Friday morning. I think he's pretty darn good on TV.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

DCist Picks Up Story on Stewart / Colbert Rallies Not Having Enough Porta Potties. Too Bad It's Not True

Update 10/22: DCist has a new post correcting the record.

Yesterday I wrote about how the NYT's story on porta potties and the Stewart rally had no news ("The NYT's Bullshit Story on Porta Potties and the Jon Stewart Rally (Or: In Defense of Bill Line, the Ornery NPS Spokesman)")

There wasn't actual evidence of the Stewart/Colbert rallies not being able to get porta potties, and the Times didn't claim there was. No news.

Ryan Kearney of, who confirmed yesterday from Comedy Central that the porta potties are indeed under control, today points out newer problems: yesterday WTOP ran a story that appears to have been based largely on the old NYT story, and then DCist picked it up ("Stewart/Colbert Rally Has A Potty Problem"). Oy. I think the term here is Hamster Wheel.

In related news, last night Larry King gave Jon Stewart the gift of a porta potty (Stewart added that "we have a ton of them.")

On momentum

Nate Silver explains how the notion of 'momentum' in political polls is basically not true. If a candidate does better on a new poll than on a previous one, that's not a predictor of what will happen in the future.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The NYT's Bullshit Story on Porta Potties and the Jon Stewart Rally (Or: In Defense of Bill Line, the Ornery NPS Spokesman)

There was a bit of a kerfuffle yesterday over Bill Line, a spokesperson for the National Park Service. Apparently he's a jerk.

It came up now because of the Oct 7 NYT article "Runners and Rallies Will Not Share Toilets" (print version: "Marathon on Mall Has a Lock on Portable Toilets").

The reporter, Juliet Macur, was writing about porta potties and the Stewart/Colbert rally, which is a day before a marathon here. She included this:

“It is common, typical, regular, ordinary for us to handle multiple events on the National Mall at any given time. Do you get that?”

When asked if the rallies and the marathon might create a problem regarding the availability of toilets on the Mall, Mr. Line sounded incredulous.

“I have every right to ask questions, and I am asking questions that I would like an answer to,” he shouted. “Who’s making these allegations? I want to know who is saying there will be a problem with portable restrooms.”

The case against Line was laid out by Lydia DePillis of the City Paper. I have no doubt that he's a jerk.

I just don't think the Macur article is an example to further the thesis; if anything, it shows that Mr. Line sometimes has to deal with absurdity.

Take a look at the Macur article. It's bullshit. Ooh, so the marathon people won't share their porta potties with the Stewart/Colbert people. Not news. If there was actually any evidence that the Stewart/Colbert were having serious trouble acquiring the necessary number of porta potties, that would be news. The Times reports nothing of the sort (the print edition headline borders on misleading). That leaves it as a pointless article.

The article quotes Steve Albani of Comedy Central, who deserves some blame here for not getting an answer to the reporter's question. (After the article was published, Rally4Sanity tweeted: "Rumors of a Port-a-Potty shortage completely unfounded. Feel free to bring all your bodily wastes to Rally for Sanity.")

Macur gets this line from the marathon organizer guy:
“I understand that they were having problems ordering Porta Potties, that they might have to go as far as Baltimore to get them, but I just didn’t want to share,” he said.
Ok, but it doesn't sound like the end of the world.

Sure, Line should have been nicer. But Macur could have also stopped bothering him after he made clear that from his experience with multiple events on the mall, there was no reason to believe this was going to be a problem.

Coda: Ryan Kearney of got a final answer to the question. He writes today that he spoke to Comedy Central spokeswoman Renata Luczak, and she said "We have our own Porta Potties. We're all good."

I'm sure the NYT will do a follow-up, "sorry we wasted your time trying to print a clever article" etc.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

WashPost's Bizarre Watergate Mistake Latest Example of Paper Not Correcting Errors Flagged by Readers

In an October 5th profile of Daniel Inouye, the Washington Post's Jason Horowitz wrote this of the Senator:
Twenty years later, with political-celebrity status attained in Hawaii, he came to national prominence by leading the 1973 Senate Watergate Committee investigating President Richard M. Nixon.
But Inouye didn't lead the committee. He was very active in the proceedings, but the committee was chaired by Sam Ervin of North Carolina.

The error was pointed out in a letter by one Peggie Lewis that the Post printed on October 9. But it hasn't been corrected.

In fact, the Post regularly prints letters (either on the editorial page or in the "Free For All" page on Saturdays) that point out errors, but then does not actually print a correction on A2 or append a correction to the article online.

For example, the Post still has "Inventory Uncovers 9,200 More Pathogens" as the headline on an article from more than a year ago. That's despite the paper printing a letter a week and a half later (6/27/09, available through Nexis) noting an error:
9,200 Vials, Not Pathogens

The June 18 headline "Inventory Uncovers 9,200 More Pathogens" was more exciting than the facts in the story. The headline inaccurately implied that 9,200 different pathogens were found at Fort Detrick, instead of 9,200 vials of pathogens, as was actually the case.

-- Daniel Michels
Silver Spring
The error hasn't been corrected.

Neither has a funny error that ran a few months later. The Post's Martin Ricard wrote of a "penitentiary in rural Pennsylvania about 50 miles east of Philadelphia..."

The error was noted soon after by letter writer Shawn McHale.

I could go on. I just saved these ones because I thought they were nice examples. They print these things all the time. The errors are rarely corrected. I haven't been able to determine where the problem is in the system (do the errors not get passed over to corrections? do they get passed over and then nothing happens?)

Andy Alexander, the Post's ombudsman, has successfully pushed the paper to make significant progress on corrections. Over the last year or two, the paper has corrected many articles that went unfixed for years. Alexander's ability to shine a spotlight on the problem had a significant effect. But some errors still go uncorrected, even front page mistakes that are brought to the paper's attention.

Will the Post make more progress? I hope so.

In May, Alexander wrote this on his blog:
And sometimes it takes too long to run a correction that should have appeared within days. For example, reader Jack Toomey of Poolesville sought a correction the day after a May 6 story erroneously reported that an Amtrak “Chicago Limited” train struck a man near Germantown. As Toomey noted, the accurate name of the train is the “Capitol Limited.” His request still lingers in the system. A correction should have run immediately.
Five months later, the Post hasn't fixed that error. When even the ombudsman's public shaming doesn't move the paper to action, it's not good.

Update: Thanks Regret the Error for the link!

Monday, October 18, 2010

That Malcolm Gladwell article

There's been a lot of response in the organizing worlds to that Malcolm Gladwell article from the other week, "Small Change: Why the Revolution Will not be Tweeted."

I think there are lots of great examples from the last few years of the importance of social networking being oversold (Twitter revolution in Moldova! Not!).

But this topic also often entails knocking down straw men: skeptics argue "Twitter isn't a replacement for talking to people, for old-fashioned organizing." Some of us respond, "We never said it is."

Gladwell used the civil rights movement as an example of how hierarchies work effectively. Critics -- see Jeremy Brecher and Brendan Smith -- argue that Gladwell is getting the history of the movement fairly wrong.

Correction: One GOP Senate candidate recognizes climate change

I wrote last week that no GOP Senate candidates currently recognized the science of global warming. A NYT editorial today notes that Mark Kirk, in Illinois, does. I had misread the earlier Wonk Room report on this. There's also some question how you'd define the position of Len Britton in Vermont.

WSJ busts Facebook

The WSJ's Emily Steel and Geoffrey Fowler report:
Many of the most popular applications, or "apps," on the social-networking site Facebook Inc. have been transmitting identifying information—in effect, providing access to people's names and, in some cases, their friends' names—to dozens of advertising and Internet tracking companies, a Wall Street Journal investigation has found.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Taking pictures at sunset or sunrise

These tips are useful.

Friday, October 15, 2010

That NYT story about bee die-offs

This is a bit over my head. But I just wanted to note that there are smart people out there arguing that the NYT front-pager on this last week got it very wrong. See Tom Laskawy.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

WashPost Editorial Page Messes Up

From Wednesday's editorial page:
Fred Bergsten of the Peter J. Peterson Institute for International Economics has suggested intervening in global currency futures markets to bid up the yuan indirectly.
Haha. It's Peter G. Peterson. Come on, guys. It's almost as if we shouldn't be trusting you to get stuff right!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Gap logo

Gap introduced a new logo, people complained on twitter and facebook and elsewhere that they wanted the old one back, and Gap brought the old one back.

It's all a giant PR victory for the Gap, which has gotten tons of free press in the last few days.

Was it on purpose? I don't know. I think the logo they introduced sure looked pretty bleh. Maybe I'm just comfortable with what I'm familiar with.

Anyhow, I can't believe the Gap just got this blog post out of me. But I'm not overly worried everyone's going to go run to the store right now.

The Brooklyn hail storm

See photos from last night via Gawker and Gothamist.

The state of climate denialism

Some backstory: several years ago, the shape of the climate change debate had changed. No longer was it fashionable for all Republicans to completely deny climate change. Instead, many recognized it publicly as a problem. Some even said some pretty good things about what needed to be done (i.e. John McCain). The scope of the debate had been moved: it was finally no longer about whether there is climate change or not, but about "but how much will it cost to do something about this?" That became a pretty messed-up debate itself, but at least it was progress.

Now, in the last year or so, the debate has moved back. In fact, every single Republican senate candidate is now on record saying the science on global warming is either up for debate or wrong. (UPDATE: Correction: One GOP Senate candidate recognizes climate change). For a number of the candidates, that's a change from their previous positions.

As David Roberts argues in Grist, in other rich countries, there aren't any major parties that have this position. On the US exceptionalism:
You'd think widespread anti-scientific sentiment would be an embarrassment to the right, or at least something they'd have to answer for, but the Beltway press doesn't treat it as radicalism, like it would if Republicans denied, say, the cosmic significance of the long-term budget deficit. In the political tabloids, climate change is treated as a kind of game, a contest between conservatives and environmentalists to move the needle on public opinion polls. (Environmentalists are down this month!)
Roberts argues that it's good politics in the long term for Democrats to talk climate change (rather than run away from it) because in the end, they'll be right, and that gets them a certain amount of respect from the public. Hard to know. Of course, the Democrats aren't always so hot at doing what's best even for their own political future.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Carla Cohen

Carla Cohen, co-owner of Politics & Prose, died this morning after a long battle with cancer. More on Carla from the store and the Post.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

LAT and AP beat the pack on Sherrod follow-up

The LATimes and AP had stories a few days ago on how the decision-making went down at USDA during the Shirley Sherrod firing. The stories are based on information released through FOIA requests.

More than ever it's clear the folks at USDA were crazy. As for the White House role, there's still no evidence that they made this happen (no proof in either direction), though we know they complimented USDA on their fast response after Sherrod was forced to resign.

In any case, LAT Washington bureau gets credit for beating its competition on this. The paper and the bureau may be decimated, yet this still happens remarkably frequently.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Chris Christie's legacy

NJ Governor Chris Christie's announcement Thursday that he is effectively stopping the project to construct an additional pair of rail tunnels into NYC won't have visible implications for a long time. The second pair of tunnels probably wouldn't have been ready for nearly a decade or so. And for now, NJ Transit can continue to run basically at capacity, with moderate delays but on most days not too crazy.

In the long term, the implications start looking bad. The population of New Jersey, and the number of people who want to commute into NYC at the busy hours, goes up. How much, no one knows. You can make more people stand on the trains, or you can eventually buy more double decker cars on some of the lines. Some lines (NE Corridor/Trenton) are already double deckered, so to add capacity on that line you have to start adding more trains and thus taking away from frequency on other lines. It gets not good quickly. Oh, and forget about restoring service on any of the lines that had it decades ago but lost it.

So you can squeeze a few more people through the existing tunnel, yes, but it starts getting more and more inconvenient. Commute times become longer, delays more regular. People are pushed toward commuting at non-ideal times. People start to realize it's gone downhill and eventually it starts having an effect on real estate values and ultimately the growth of the tax base.

The problems aren't just for NJ Transit and the commuters from Jersey, but also for Amtrak. When Amtrak wants to add more trains going southward out of NYC in 4pm-7pm (if they don't already), they won't be able to. This is not good.

When crisis time comes, and funding is eventually given to build the new tunnels, then it of course takes a while to do it. That's why it should have happened now.

For more, from Streetsblog, "ARC Post-Mortem: Chris Christie Afraid to Bite the Bullet."


The Onion: American People Hire High-Powered Lobbyist To Push Interests In Congress

Monday, October 04, 2010

A Week After TARP Error, Post Prints Letter Noting Mistake -- But Doesn't Correct Error

Six days after falsely writing that TARP came under President Obama ("WashPost Includes Bank Bailout in List of Obama Administration Action"), the Washington Post printed a letter, on Saturday, pointing out the error.

The letter, by Andrea Banyas, is pretty simple and straightforward.

The Post, however, has still not corrected the error. The Post's policy on corrections is for errors to, you know, be corrected; there's no clause saying that printing a letter pointing out the error suffices.

The Facebook movie

I'm in the "it's a fun movie, but it doesn't really have much to do with actual history" camp.

In Slate, Nathan Heller argues that while some factual liberties are of little consequence, the factual liberties regarding the culture of Harvard (the whole finals club thing, etc) mean that a fairly central premise of the movie is false.