Archive for January, 2009

Johnston on the Obama Press Operation

Saturday, January 31st, 2009

This piece by David Cay Johnston was interesting to me: Who’s undercutting Obama? I’m not in a position to pass judgement on Obama’s press operation with regard to whether people answer the phone, get snippy when asked to spell their names, or assume they can unilaterally declare their comments off the record. But I do feel qualified to judge the changes to

I know J.A.Y.S.O.N. thinks it’s a much better-designed website than it was under Bush, and since he knows a lot more about design than I do I’ll take that as a given. I’m more of a content guy. The thing that gets me excited in a website is content. Ridiculous amounts of content. Stacks of content. Reams of content. Browseable. Linkable.

For all Bush’s failings (at least a couple of which I seem to recall mentioning before), the White House website under Bush was a vast improvement over his predecessor’s. And from the perspective of content, Obama’s version of the site, at least so far, looks like a big step backward.

It’s not just that many thousands of pages went fwap! and disappeared overnight. That’s a serious issue (in light of the intent behind the Presidential Records Act, I’d think it might even be a legal issue, or at least ought to be, if and when the law catches up). But I can understand that requiring a new president to maintain the web content of his predecessor might be problematic, and would become moreso over time. But maybe the former site could have been transitioned to a permanent home at the Library of Congress, with the old URLs being redirected? Massive amounts of linkrot isn’t the sort of change I believe in.

(Update: Well, duh. It’s at the Bush Library: Welcome to the White House.)

Setting that aside, and judging the new site on its own merits, it just isn’t very good from a content standpoint. Yes, it has a some nice images and an actual “blog” that dares to speak its name, and the link farm at the bottom of every page has been helpful as I poke around. And yes, I know that Obama has been putting out videos on YouTube. But the press materials at are seriously lacking, which I assume is related to the press office problems that David Cay Johnston is griping about.

It looks like we’re getting briefing transcripts, which is nice. But the old site had transcripts and full audio files and full video streams of all news conferences and press briefings. I really liked that stuff. And lest you think I’m being all rich-media snobby, allow me to repeat: I’m a content guy from way back. I think putting out a ridiculous profusion of primary source material in every conceivable format and getting the fuck out of the way is, or should be, a web content creator’s first responsibility. And as much as it pains me to say it, at this point Team Obama’s geeks are getting their web-content asses handed to them by Team Bush. They’re thinking small, in an area where their small-minded predecessor thought big (or at least was oblivious enough that some geeky underling was able to think big on his behalf).

What’s up with that?

Giordano, Hilzoy, Wikipedia on the Benefits of Not Being a Dick

Thursday, January 29th, 2009

Synchronicity is in the air.

Al Giordano, whose opinions on things like this were borne out repeatedly during the presidential campaign, wrote the other day on what Obama has really been up to with the stimulus bill: The partisanship trap:

…Obama’s strategy is to set [Congressional Republicans] up for another rout in the 2010 Congressional elections and to hasten, in the meantime, the process by which they wake up and realize their seats are vulnerable. The President doesn’t need their votes on the Stimulus (therefore, this maneuver is not about the Stimulus, but more akin to a football team calling a running play to set up a later passing play). The truth is that so many Congressional Democrats are so undependable that Obama will need some Republican votes later on other legislative priorities, particularly in the Senate in order to get 60 votes for “cloture” to allow bills to be voted up or down: On the Employee’s Free Choice Act, on Immigration Reform (and now he needs one more to offset the anti-immigrant junior Democratic Senator from New York), on children’s health care and much, much more. To get to that point, he has to make individual Republicans feel vulnerable at the ballot box to Democratic challenge. Today’s events are speeding that process up.

In the end, Obama’s “bipartisanship” is one of the most Machiavellian partisan maneuvers we’ve seen in Washington in a long while, and I use that description in its most admirable context. The Republicans fell right into the trap today. Progressives that urge Obama to be more “partisan” should pay close attention to how the GOP is getting pwned before falling into the same trap themselves.

hilzoy is likewise someone who has emerged from the last few years with many of her interpretations vindicated by subsequent events. She makes a similar argument in Bipartisanship and the stimulus:

If Obama had gone to the Republicans and said: I propose a bill entirely made up of things Democrats really want and you really hate, but please, do join us in supporting it!, that wouldn’t work at all. But he didn’t do that. He went the extra mile. When Republicans protested about particular things, he dropped some of them (though not all: he was not, for instance, willing to compromise on refundable tax credits, and he was right not to compromise on that one.) There’s a fine line between being willing to compromise and being willing to surrender, and I think Obama generally stayed on the right side of it, while being open enough to compromise that he will get real credit for trying.

The House Republicans, by contrast, looked silly. They were carping about tiny bits of the stimulus (the capitol mall?!). They changed the bits they objected to from one day to the next, and looked for all the world like what I take them to be: people who were determined to oppose the stimulus bill from the outset.

This reminds me of a recent bout of Wikipedia editing I got involved in. As always, I came away with the feeling that it’s the people on your own side who are the biggest pains in the ass when trying to craft a consensus on a controversial article. Case in point: user hrafn’s one-man campaign to “win” the evolution/creationism debate for the evolutionists at the Strengths and weaknesses of evolution page. More detail (much, much more detail) about my views on how this runs counter to Wikipedia’s neutral point of view policy is available on the article’s talk page, if you’re interested.

I made it a personal challenge to try to do everything “right” in Wikipedia terms. I assumed good faith. I made it about improving the article, not about the personalities. I worked for consensus on the Talk page, rather than getting caught up in revert wars in the article itself. It took a long time, and ultimately, while I think I made some good points and achieved some small, but measurable, improvements in the article, I gave up. Life’s too short, and I’ve got other things I care about. You win, hrafn. For certain values of “win”.

The “big three” core policies of Wikipedia, the so-called Trifecta, are these: 1) Remain neutral. 2) Don’t be a dick. 3) Ignore all rules. Taken together, I think they really do offer hope for building consensus on controversial questions. But it’s not a quick process. Quoting hilzoy, again:

To my mind, it is generally a good idea to act on the assumption that your opponents are reasonable people. (There are, of course, exceptions: e.g., when you don’t have time.) It’s the right thing to do morally. But it’s also generally the right thing to do tactically. I think this is especially true when you suspect that your opponents are, in fact unreasonable. You should always hope to be proven wrong, but if you are not — if your opponents are, in fact, unreasonable — then by taking the high road, you can ensure that that fact will be plain to the world.

Anyway, this is a long way to go to get to it, but I’m hereby apologizing to shcb for losing my cool with him in the comments about global warming science. It’s understandable that people who aren’t climate scientists (which, as far as I know, none of us around here are) are going to have different views on the degree of scientific consensus (or its lack). And while I can have my own opinion on the bad reasons someone might have for elevating the views of people like Joel Kotkin or Larry Summers or James Inhofe over those of the scientific mainstream, it doesn’t buy me much to make accusations in that area.

Evaluating the claims of science is actually fairly hard, in that science asks us to transcend traits that have been baked into us over the course of millions of years of primate evolution. Meanwhile, recognizing whether or not someone is being a dick is pretty easy. Given that, being dickly is a good way to lose the argument, at least in the eyes of a substantial chunk of whatever audience you have. Most people don’t keep score on the basis of journal citations and scientific reputation. They keep score on the basis of who sounds more reasonable. So it’s important to sound reasonable.

One last synchronistic item: I liked the op-ed piece in today’s edition of the Incredible Shrinking Print Media by Deborah Heiligman: The Darwin’s marriage of science and religion.

Although they never were able to see eye-to-eye on the question of religion and God, [Charles and Emma Darwin] were able to reach their hands across the gulf. In the end, each of them accepted and, it seems, truly understood what the other believed.

If it is a sign of intelligence to be able to hold two opposite thoughts or opinions in your head, then it is a mark of a successful marriage to be able to truly see the other person’s point of view. This is also the mark of a successful society.

Yahoo Answers: I’m concerned that my son has a secret girlfriend

Tuesday, January 27th, 2009

Via Hiro, via Yahoo Answers: I’m concerned that my son has a secret girlfriend?

My 17 year old son has been very secretive with me lately, recently he has started to refuse to go to church with the family and tonight when I was going through his room I found a magazine with naked men in it. He obviously has a girlfriend that he is hiding from me that brought that magazine into my home and I am afraid they are having intercourse and I am greatly concerned that he is going to get her pregnant.

What should I do about this?

Linda’s response when I read this to her (after she stopped laughing): “Don’t worry, ma’am. Your son won’t be getting his secret girlfriend pregnant.”

David Roberts’ Heresy on Climate Change

Tuesday, January 27th, 2009

David Roberts has some very insightful things to say about the next steps in the battle over climate change: Heresy of the day: More science is not the answer.

It pains many geeky progressives to realize it, but science is largely beside the point here. It informs the strategy, but it is not itself a strategy. The relevant realm is sociopolitical, and so the strategy must be values-based, rhetorically savvy, and emotionally resonant. Repeating the facts won’t help.

The actual detail of his argument is right on. It’s not about “raising awareness” about what science has discovered. People are “aware” already, to the extent they’re willing to be. They need to be engaged not with more science per se, but with more detail on just how they stand to be affected by climate change, and how they will benefit from taking action.

What’s Been Going on at Guantanamo

Tuesday, January 27th, 2009

I really can’t feel anything but a sick sense of shame at what Bush and Cheney (and Rumsfeld and Gonzalez and Addington and Yoo, among other enablers) did at places like Guantanamo and Bagram. As more details come out I expect that feeling to strengthen. The latest update from hilzoy (There are no files, part 2) was the latest thing to bring that home to me.

RSS feeds are funky, too

Saturday, January 24th, 2009

And another wordpress-upgrade-related issue (I assume): The RSS feeds are broken. Sorry. Working on it.

Update: And now, I think, fixed. Huzzah.

Commenting Is Funky?

Thursday, January 22nd, 2009

The commenting system is semi-busted, in the sense that you get an error message after posting a comment. The comment is actually posted, however. I’m not sure what the story is; investigating.

Update: Should be fixed now. Thanks.

Congratulations President Obama!

Tuesday, January 20th, 2009

I for one welcome our new crypto-islamoid, neo-marxist commie, oath of office mangling lizard people overlords.  Heck, they couldn’t do worse than that last bunch! 

Hilzoy on Obama’s Affirmative Obligation re: Torture

Thursday, January 15th, 2009

What Hilzoy said: Some facts for Obama to consider.

On punditry and discourse

Wednesday, January 14th, 2009

I’ve been critical of the style of argument for a long time. This little clip was very eye opening to me, confirming what I’ve suspected for a long time. Shows like Hannity’s America or Hardball have has much to do with debate as professional wrestling has to do with prizefighting.

BoBo’s Global Warming Denial

Tuesday, January 6th, 2009

Over at The Bobo Files, another blog I don’t actually read under normal circumstances, I was interested to see this passage from The Bobo Carnival of Politics (in a discussion of whether Bush will be seen as one of our best presidents with the benefit of historical hindsight):

As for one of your responses listing scientific reasons why you think he’s one of the worst – global warming denial – I would say you are in denial as it has been proven we have been in a cooling spell for the past 7 years and we will continue to cool for another 3 at minimum. You’re the scientist – you know that this is all natural and cyclical. The top scientists and meteorologists in this country have all come out saying man-made global warming is a hoax.

Um, no, not so much. From the current edition of the endlessly debated, ruthlessly edited, and sourced-to-death Wikipedia entry on global warming:

Global surface temperature increased 0.74 ± 0.18 °C (1.33 ± 0.32 °F) during the 100 years ending in 2005.[1][2] The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concludes that most of the temperature increase since the mid-twentieth century is “very likely” due to the increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations.[3][2] Natural phenomena such as solar variation and volcanoes probably had a small warming effect from pre-industrial times to 1950 and a small cooling effect from 1950 onward.[4][5] These basic conclusions have been endorsed by at least 30 scientific societies and academies of science,[6] including all of the national academies of science of the major industrialized countries.[7][8][9] While individual scientists have voiced disagreement with these findings,[10] the overwhelming majority of scientists working on climate change agree with the IPCC’s main conclusions.[11][12]

So, what can a reasonable person conclude from this? Well, for one, that BoBo is getting his information from some very unreliable sources, and isn’t bothering to fact-check. In the context of his clearly being Internet-saavy, willing to host a blog carnival, and on familiar terms with lefty sciencebloggers like grrlscientist, that tells me that he’s using this amazing communications technology, the perception engine that has done for research what steam engines did for manufacturing and internal combustion did for transportation, in a very specific manner: actively seeking out information that confirms his preexisting biases, while actively avoiding (and doing a damn fine job of it) information that conflicts with those biases.

Sigh. You know the expression about opinions? How they’re like a certain body part, because everyone has one? In the Internet age, substitute “blogs” for “opinions”.

Greenwald on Goldfarb on the Desirability of Killing (Some) Innocent Civilians

Sunday, January 4th, 2009

The last time I was talking about McCain campaign advisor and Weekly Standard editor Michael Goldfarb, it was for his famous “dead-air” moment on CNN back during the campaign, when anchor Rick Sanchez asked him to specify who the shadowy anti-semites were that Obama liked to pal around with, and Goldfarb, having started down the path of playing the Jeremiah Wright card, couldn’t come out and actually say the guy’s name (since, as we now know, McCain had explicitly ordered his campaign not to mention Wright). Goldfarb talked about that incident some with Ben Smith on this bloggingheads segment, which I found pretty interesting. Goldfarb basically said he did that as a “cathartic moment for the campaign,” because at least some of McCain’s staffers apparently really, really wanted to take the gloves off and attack Obama over his past membership in Wright’s church.

Now Goldfarb is back on the lefty-blog radar. This time it’s for his approving attitude toward the Israeli defense forces’ having blown up a Hamas leader in Gaza (along with 18 assorted bystanders). Writes Goldberg in his Weekly Standard blog (Ruthless):

The fight against Islamic radicals always seems to come around to whether or not they can, in fact, be deterred, because it’s not clear that they are rational, at least not like us. But to wipe out a man’s entire family, it’s hard to imagine that doesn’t give his colleagues at least a moment’s pause. Perhaps it will make the leadership of Hamas rethink the wisdom of sparking an open confrontation with Israel under the current conditions.

Glenn Greenwald (yes, I know) points out that Goldfarb, by talking up the salutary effects of killing a military target’s family, is basically making himself indistinguishable from terrorists. From Orwell, blinding tribalism, selective Terrorism, and Israel/Gaza:

There are few concepts more elastic and subject to exploitation than “Terrorism,” the all-purpose justifying and fear-mongering term. But if it means anything, it means exactly the mindset which Goldfarb is expressing: slaughtering innocent civilians in order to “send a message,” to “deter” political actors by making them fear that continuing on the same course will result in the deaths of civilians and — best of all, from the Terrorist’s perspective — even their own children and other family members.

To the Terrorist, by definition, that innocent civilians and even children are killed isn’t a regrettable cost of taking military action. It’s not a cost at all. It’s a benefit. It has strategic value. Goldfarb explicitly says this: “to wipe out a man’s entire family, it’s hard to imagine that doesn’t give his colleagues at least a moment’s pause.”

That, of course, is the very same logic that leads Hamas to send suicide bombers to slaughter Israeli teenagers in pizza parlors and on buses and to shoot rockets into their homes. It’s the logic that leads Al Qaeda to fly civilian-filled airplanes into civilian-filled office buildings. And it’s the logic that leads infinitely weak and deranged people like Goldfarb and Peretz to find value in the killing of innocent Palestinians, including — one might say, at least in Goldfarb’s case: especially — children.

Sigh. The downward spiral continues.

Charlie Daniels on God’s Role in Preventing Post-9/11 Terror Attacks

Sunday, January 4th, 2009

From country singer Charlie Daniels, marveling that atheist Michael Newdow is willing to sue to try to prevent religious content from being included in the Obama inauguration ceremony: He must be a miserable man:

If we deny God His rightful place in the affairs of this nation should we expect Him to intervene when we need protection? Just what do you think has kept us safe from terrorist attacks since 9/11? It certainly wasn’t the atheists.

Disclaimer: I came across this quotation at PZ Myers’ Pharygula (Old, senile, and ignorant). I do not actually read Charlie Daniels’ blog under normal circumstances.

Romm on the Top 10 Global Warming Stories of 2008

Sunday, January 4th, 2009

Good, if depressing, stuff from Joseph Romm: The top 10 global warming stories of 2008.