Archive for the 'the_usa' Category

David Roberts Shames the Outliers

Friday, September 7th, 2012

If I could take just two bloggers with me to read on a desert island, David Roberts would be one of them. Here he is talking about Obama’s Democratic Convention speech last night: The part of Obama’s speech that was about climate without saying so.

Here’s how I see it: The modern U.S. conservative movement has opted out of that sense of citizenship and civic responsibility. It has become a tribal, revanchist force for the preservation of demographic privilege. It does not acknowledge the legitimacy of the president. It rejects the social-democratic consensus in place in every other wealthy democracy (“Europe!”). It rejects the consensus standards of science and journalism. It does not recognize many of the people and groups with which it shares a country as “real Americans.” I know I overuse this quote from Thomas Mann and Norm Ornstein, but nobody has described better what the GOP has become: “a resurgent outlier: ideologically extreme; contemptuous of the inherited social and economic policy regime; scornful of compromise; un-persuaded by conventional understanding of facts, evidence, and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.”

It’s not that Obama or anyone else thinks Republicans must become Democrats or liberals to be citizens. It is simply that they must regain their sense of citizenship, their sense that adherence to a shared set of norms and willingness to compromise are what make a society function. They must come in from the cold.

It’s not just the right, of course. To coordinate, to accept risks, to share costs and benefits, to move together into the unknown with resolve, we all need to recapture that sense of civic spirit and common purpose. But in U.S. politics today, there is a distinct outlier. Bringing the American community back together must begin with identifying that outlier and subjecting it to social disapprobation. In his speech, Obama rather deftly attempted to do both.

Hoffman on Ending the Climate Science Culture War

Thursday, September 6th, 2012

Andrew J. Hoffman (joint PhD in Management and Civil and Environmental Engineering from M.I.T.) writes interestingly about the climate change debate: Climate Science as Culture War. The piece is long, but definitely worthwhile, with lots of good references to people like Dan Kahan and Roger Pielke, Jr.

Drum on Political Lies vs. Deception

Tuesday, September 4th, 2012

No time to obsess, but I loved this piece from Kevin Drum the other day: We Should Focus on Deception, Not Lying.

There are two big problems with getting obsessed about “lies.” The first is that it’s usually too hard to prove. You have to show not only that something is unquestionably factually wrong, but that the speaker knew it was wrong. That’s seldom possible. The second problem is that it’s too narrow. Politicians try to mislead voters all the time, and only occasionally do they do this with flat-out lies. Bottom line: if you focus only on actual lies, you miss too much. But if you try to turn everything into a lie, you sound like a hack.

A better approach is to focus instead on attempts to mislead. But how do you judge that? A few years ago I developed a three-part test that I use to check my immediate emotional reaction to things politicians say. I’ve found it pretty useful in practice, though it’s not perfect and it doesn’t apply to every kind of slippery statement.

Did I mention that I love this piece? I do.

Paul Ryan’s Least-Consequential Lie

Friday, August 31st, 2012

I was once a teenager. I’ve also got one kid who’s 21 and another who’s 14. In other words, I have both direct personal experience and a couple of recent refresher courses in the tendency of a certain egotistical stage in human development to lead to routine lying.

It’s a natural tendency. We all have that realization at some point of hey, I don’t actually have to take the trash out. I can just say I took the trash out, and the person asking me will probably be satisfied, and I can go on playing Pokemon or reading this book or whatever.

As a parent observing those sorts of lies, it’s interesting to see the progression. At least in my experience, there’s a rapid evolution from “I’ll lie once in a while when it’s important” to “hell; I’ll just lie every time. Why not?”

I think it might be useful to view the Romney-Ryan ticket as the political equivalent of a 12- or 13-year-old who has discovered the usefulness of lying, but has yet to experience the consequences that (hopefully) instill the lesson that it’s not just morally wrong, but is a losing strategy if you go to the well too often.

I offer as evidence the following story from Runner’s World magazine: Paul Ryan Says He’s Run Sub-3:00 Marathon.

In an interview with radio host Hugh Hewitt last week, Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan said he’s run a sub-3:00 marathon.

In the interview, after Ryan told Hewitt that he ran in high school, Hewitt asked if Ryan still runs. Ryan replied, “Yeah, I hurt a disc in my back, so I don’t run marathons anymore. I just run ten miles or less.” When Hewitt asked Ryan what his personal best is, Ryan replied, “Under three, high twos. I had a two hour and fifty-something.”

Runner’s World has been unable to find any marathon results by Ryan. Requests for more information from Ryan’s Washington and Wisconsin offices, and from the Romney-Ryan campaign, have so far gone unanswered.

If Ryan has broken 3:00, he’d be the fastest marathoner to be on a national ticket. John Edwards has run 3:30; George W. Bush has run 3:44; Sarah Palin has run 3:59; and Al Gore has run 4:58.

The thing is, marathon finishing times are more or less public information. And having dug into it some more, Runner’s World now has turned up what appears to be a finishing time for Ryan from the period in question (1990, when he was 20). Ryan’s time? 4:01:25.

Now, it’s possible that the Paul D. Ryan who ran in that race is a different Paul D. Ryan than the one now running for vice president (though the race in question is one that the magazine was led to by a Ryan staffer’s response to their inquiries). It’s also possible that that time was an anomaly for the young runner, who really could, and did, post a time under 3 hours, either before or after the 4-hour time he recorded in 1990.

But as a rational grownup, I think it’s much more likely that Ryan simply lied. Or, if you want, “bullshitted”, in the sense of just throwing a truthy-sounding statement out there because it sounded good, without bothering to really think back or be intellectually rigorous about whether or not the statement was actually true.

Which is not a huge deal. I mean, clearly it doesn’t make any difference in terms of his qualifications for vice president if he ran a sub-3-hour marathon 22 years ago, and lying about it shouldn’t disqualify him.

Except.

Except that, as a parent, I feel like I’ve seen this pattern before. I know what it means. And yeah, on a certain level, it kind of does matter. Not because of the marathon time 22 years ago. But because of the pattern of routine, casual dishonesty it reveals in the Paul Ryan of today.

Update: Ryan (through a spokesperson in the campaign) comes clean (sort of). From Nicholas Thompson, writing in the New Yorker’s News Desk blog: How fast can Paul Ryan run?

I contacted the campaign this evening about the discrepancy. Ryan, through a spokesman, responded that he’d just mixed things up: “The race was more than 20 years ago, but my brother Tobin – who ran Boston last year – reminds me that he is the owner of the fastest marathon in the family and has never himself ran a sub-three. If I were to do any rounding, it would certainly be to four hours, not three. He gave me a good ribbing over this at dinner tonight.”

A couple of things:

1) This may be exactly what it appears: “Ha ha, yeah, you got me. That inconsequential thing was me misspeaking. No biggee.” Or it might be an example of how good Ryan is at this sort of routine lying: To instantly (and correctly) assess that as soon as this became A Thing (which it did as soon as it escaped the low-stakes, no-pressure realm of the friendly Hugh Hewitt interview), it was in his interest to defuse it as rapidly and thoroughly as possible. He needed to “get out in front” of the story, acknowledging the (obvious) truth that he did not, in fact, come anywhere near running a sub-3-hour marathon, and doing his best to frame it as a silly (but honest) mistake. In which case, it’s actually quite slick the way he incorporated the “good ribbing” Tobin gave him over dinner. And of course, if we accept the possibility that this is all artful spin, that ribbing from Tobin is just as likely to be a lie as the original claim.

2) I know this comes off as me sounding petty. But again, the framing of the original act of “misspeaking” in a way that makes me sound petty could just be part of the artful dodging on display here.

What I mean is this: Ryan, post-confession, would have us believe this was an innocent mistake. He didn’t consciously lie about his marathon time. “If I were to do any rounding, it would certainly be to four hours, not three,” he said (the report says that statement came through a campaign spokesperson, but it’s offered as a direct quote of Ryan, so presumably the spokesperson is telling us that Ryan actually said that).

But the thing is, as any number of commenters at both the New Yorker and Runner’s World pieces have pointed out, that has a hard time passing the smell test. A marathon runner would be very, very unlikely to accidentally mistake the difference between a sub-3-hour time and a 4-hour-plus time, even 22 years after the fact. The two performances are qualitatively, not just quantitatively, different. A sub-3-hour marathon is, if you’ll pardon my French, really fucking fast. It isn’t just a time you’d post as a dedicated amateur. You’d have to be a dedicated amateur who had undergone extensive painful training and (probably) who had an innate body type conducive to fast times. Ryan’s actual 4-hour marathon was an accomplishment. But it was an accomplishment that is well within the reach of many serious runners. As Thompson put it in his blog post:

A 2:55 would have put Ryan in a hundred and thirtieth place, out of the thirty-two hundred and seventy-seven men in that race. A 4:01 put him in nineteen hundred and ninetieth place. It’s the difference between racing and running.

But in the Hugh Hewitt interview, Ryan was quite specific. He didn’t simply misspeak. He went into detail: “Under three, high twos. I had a two hour and fifty-something.” Even with the passage of 22 years, I don’t believe it’s possible to construe that as an innocent misstatement. It’s a knowing lie.

Politicians embellish their own credentials. They do it routinely. They put themselves in the best possible light. In that sense, what Ryan did here was nothing special.

Except.

Except that it illustrates the aforementioned pattern. Kevin Drum talked about that pattern today in Paul Ryan’s Grim Vision for America.

It’s a struggle to truly explain Paul Ryan. He seems so reasonable. Why, in his speech on Wednesday, he told his audience about all the tough choices ahead but then added, “We have responsibilities, one to another – we do not each face the world alone. And the greatest of all responsibilities is that of the strong to protect the weak.” How could you dislike a Republican who says stuff like that?

It’s hard. And it’s hard to convince people that this is, basically, an elaborate and finely honed act. After all, we’re not used to politicians getting up on a stage and just flatly hustling us. We give them the benefit of the doubt, especially when they speak in sober tones and make a point of sorrowfully acknowledging how tough things are for everyone.

Nonetheless, an elaborate act is what this is. You see, Paul Ryan prides himself on being a numbers guy, and his vision for America can best be seen in his long-term budget plan.

Drum goes on to lay out the numbers, and he’s right: When you look at what Ryan actually proposes, it just isn’t possible to square it with the language he used in his speech. The compassionate speech-making was an act. And just like casually misrepresenting himself as having been an elite marathoner in his youth, then swiftly and artfully minimizing the damage (at least for listeners who aren’t themselves runners) by painting it as an innocent mistake, it’s an act that Ryan appears to be really good at.

Later update: Here’s Drum again, on Ryan’s sub-3-hour marathon claim: Paul Ryan likes to supersize it.

Does Ryan deserve a bit of mockery for this? Sure. But if there’s anything really telling about Ryan’s character here, it’s the fact that when he misrepresents himself, he doesn’t do it in a small way. Ryan didn’t just shave five or ten minutes off his time, the way some of us might if we were bragging about an old athletic accomplishment that no one could check up on, he shaved off a full hour, giving himself an extremely respectable, elite amateur time. This doesn’t quite rank up there with Kim Jong-Il carding eleven holes-in-one on his first round of golf, or Pat Robertson leg-pressing 2,000 pounds at age 76, but it’s in the same ballpark.

Keep this in mind when Ryan talks about his tax and budget plan and promises with a straight face that it will slash the deficit, benefit the middle class, protect the social safety net, and supercharge economic growth all at once: lying is easier when you tell a big lie.

The Other (Other) L-Word

Thursday, August 30th, 2012

I thought this was cute: Cable news coverage, as summarized by TPM, in which newsfolk try terribly, terribly hard not to say, of Paul Ryan’s convention speech last night, “He lied.”

The President We Deserve

Thursday, August 30th, 2012

An interesting series of Romney articles crossed my newsreader over the last few days. Something appears to be happening.

Kevin Drum, in Lies, Damn Lies, and Mitt Romney, talks about the outright lies (on Obama’s alleged “you didn’t build that” quote, his alleged undercutting of Clinton-era welfare reform, and his supposed diversion of Medicare funds into Obamacare) that currently form the central elements of Romney’s campaign messaging, and observes as follows:

I know, I know: politics ain’t beanbag. And past campaigns have hardly been simon pure. But there’s something more….what? Cavalier? Routine? Brazen? Don’t give a shit? What’s the right word to describe the Romney campaign’s approach here?

This is hardly the worst campaign attack ever. Swift boating was worse. Willie Horton was worse. The endlessly twisted quotes of Al Gore were worse. But those attacks were all based on at least a kernel of truth that was twisted for political ends. That’s not admirable, but it’s hardly unusual either. But Romney’s lies aren’t even remotely defensible, and the campaign barely even bothers to try. The welfare attack works, so they’re going to use it.

I think “brazen” is a good choice. And realistically, if a politician can get away with just making things up about his opponent, it would be naive to expect that there would not be some politician willing to do so, and that the ranks of elected leaders would swiftly come to be dominated by such people. So, what’s to prevent that?

The public’s ability to identify the lies for what they are, and punish the perpetrator by voting against him.

Newspapers, TV, radio, and magazines are the traditional way the public has obtained that kind of information. Drum wrote approvingly last Tuesday, in LA Times Gets It Right on Welfare Attack, that the LA Times’ willingness to use the headline “Santorum repeats innacurate welfare attack on Obama” is exactly the sort of coverage that needs to be present wall-to-wall if the Romney campaign’s strategy is going to be dialed back.

Looking at one of the lies in detail, Ron Fournier wrote yesterday in the National Journal about the Romney campaign’s emphasis on the “Obama is undercutting welfare reform” lie. This came to a head in a panel discussion in which Fournier accused senior Romney campaign adviser Ron Kaufman of “playing the race card” by running ads making misleading claims about welfare reform in swing states where racial animus among blue-coller whites runs high.

It’s worth watching the video to get a feel for how this is playing out:

Writing about the exchange in Why (and How) Romney is Playing the Race Card, Fournier wrote:

Kaufman, who I’ve known and respected for years, accused me of playing the race card – a fair point, strictly speaking, because I raised the question in a public setting: a joint interview with CBS’ John Dickerson before a large audience and live-streamed.

Still, Romney and his advisors stand by an ad they know is wrong – or, at the very least, they are carelessly ignoring the facts. That ad is exploiting the worst instincts of white voters – as predicted and substantiated by the Republican Party’s own polling.

That leaves one inescapable conclusion: The Romney campaign is either recklessly ignorant of the facts, some of which they possess – or it is lying about why (and how) it is playing the race card.

Look: We’re not children here. The Romney campaign is not recklessly ignorant. It’s lying. And it’s lying in a way that cynically encourages racial resentments as a way to try to peel off the crucial 2-3% of voters in a few swing states that they need if they’re going to have a credible path to 270 electoral votes.

Josh Marshall wrote yesterday about the Fournier/Kaufman panel discussion, and Fournier’s resulting article, in Outbreak of conscience?

Again, pretty much everyone knows this is true. You’ve either got to be a rube or a jackass not to see it [that Romney is intentionally exploiting racism]. But it’s … well, it’s indelicate to say it. And once you do, appealing to racism isn’t just one view against another. It’s something our society has decided is simply wrong. Could it be that the Romney campaign is just finally doing it so transparently that at least a few of the biggs will come out and say it?

Again, it’s not just the racism. It’s the brazen lying. Writing later yesterday at TPM, Brian Beutler had this analysis (A critical juncture):

If Romney relents [i.e., if he stops running the misleading ads because the media begins to lead with the ads’ dishonesty in its coverage], it’s a big deal for both the obvious reason that candidates looks terrible when they backpedal. But also because he’d have to return to old, ineffective themes, or find new and inspiring things to run on, which he pretty clearly doesn’t have.

On the other hand if he ignores all the pushback from the press, the political establishment will be facing something very new: a candidate – not his surrogates or outside supporters, but the top of the ticket – ignoring fact checkers, traditional campaign reporters, and even a few conservatives, all of whom have determined and publicly declared the attacks false.

That effectively pits the media against the Romney campaign in a test of will and influence. And it’s disconcerting to imagine that a determined media might not be able to effectively neutralize a presidential campaign intent on flooding the airwaves with false attacks. But that’s where we might find ourselves in the next couple weeks.

Commenting last night on day 2 of the Republican convention, Josh Marshall wrote (in Doubling down):

No question. The Romney campaign has doubled down. All in on the race/lazy/dependency groove from here on out. No going back.

In private they’re all but bragging about it – specifically their run of welfare-centric commercials which they’re running at a red hot clip in swing states all across the country. It’s working, they say. The fact-checkers can go screw themselves.

This shouldn’t be surprising. In some minds, it was McCain’s unwillingness to run dishonest racist ads in 2008 that allowed Obama to win. Romney, having demonstrated over and over that there is no principle of personal integrity that he will let stand between him and his shot at the White House, is not going to make that mistake. If he loses, he’s going to go down swinging.

So at this point I have to think that it’s really up to Obama. Not the media; they won’t, and can’t, do much of anything on their own. We don’t live in the Aaron Sorkin universe; there’s no Will McAvoy who’s going to grill the liars on TV every night. But the news will report on what the campaigns say about each other, and if the Obama campaign can succeed in painting Romney as dishonest, they’ll report that. The question then would be, would it stick? Or would it just play into the 5-to-1 onslaught of Citizen-United-funded pro-Romney advertising, which would mine quotes selectively or just lie outright to portray Obama as just another angry black man out to take your job while (paradoxically) lying around on welfare?

Are we, the voting public, dumb enough to fall for that? Or rather, is the teency slice of swing voters in a few key counties in a few key states dumb enough to fall for that? I guess we’re going to find out.

This interval, between the Republican convention and the Democratic one, was always going to be a scary time. This story makes it scarier. Because there really isn’t a cushion in the polls. In the basketball analogy Obama has been using on the stump lately, we’re midway through the fourth quarter, and Obama’s ahead, but not by enough to try to run out the clock. With these welfare attacks, Romney has taken the momentum, and it’s going to take some solid defense from Obama to stop the run and actually play some basketball himself if he’s going to win.

I don’t know what’s going to happen. But it’s not inconceivable that we could end up with a President Romney. For more on how that might look, I recommend the following article by Matt Taibbi in Rolling Stone: Greed and Debt: The True Story of Mitt Romney and Bain Capital.

Oy.

The Exceptionally Dishonest Romney Campaign Ads

Friday, August 10th, 2012

There was a brief flurry of media/blogger chatter this week about the fact that the Romney campaign’s advertising seems to be setting a new standard for, if not outright reprehensibility, at least a casually blatant dishonesty that manages to be noteworthy.

Skeptical jbc is skeptical.

Drum on Romney’s ‘Creepy Small Lies’

Thursday, July 26th, 2012

Kevin Drum remains my favorite political blogger. I find his views congenial (obviously), but more than that, I like his commonsense take on things. Here he is with a headline dear to my heart: The Creepy Small Lies of the Romney Campaign. Drum links to an item from David Weigel at Slate, It’s a Weekday, So It’s Time for Another Misleading Edit of an Obama Quote, in which Weigel points out how the Romney campaign is taking an Obama remark about Clinton-era tax rates producing better economic results than Bush II-era tax rates and selectively misquoting it to make it sound like Obama is claiming the economy has done great on his (Obama’s) watch.

Drum continues:

We’ve now seen the Romney campaign make hay out of three wild misquotations: 

* "If we keep talking about the economy, we’re going to lose," which turned out to be Obama in 2008 quoting John McCain. "What’s sauce for the goose is now sauce for the gander," Romney said in his defense.

* "If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that," a statement that quite obviously referred to the "roads and bridge" of the previous sentence. This one is so bad that supporters have taken to splicing it together with an earlier part of Obama’s speech and simply removing the "roads and bridges" reference entirely.

* "We tried our plan — and it worked."

As Weigel says, "At this point, getting video clips of Obama from Republican campaigns is like getting an article pitch from Jayson Blair. It might tell a good story, but you need to run down the source and triple-check."

I know I keep asking this, but has any previous campaign ever done this on such a routine basis? I don’t mean to suggest that no campaign has ever been as nasty. Obviously Willie Horton and "creating the internet" and the Swiftboating of 2008 were worse. And both sides traffic in distortions and cherry picking all the time. But there’s something about the methodical small lies of the Romney campaign that seems quite new. And frankly, just plain creepy.

Agreed.

Romney on Obama’s “You Didn’t Build That”

Monday, July 23rd, 2012

Hey, it’s time for campaign ads. (Apologies to those of you who’ve been suffering from them for a while. I live in a non-swing state, so they, like Aaron Sorkin, are still kind of fresh-sounding to me.) You’ve probably heard about this already, but I wanted to note it in passing. Here’s Obama speaking at a campaign event in Roanoke on July 13:

I think it’s pretty obvious that the “you didn’t build that” line was meant to refer to the bridges and roads Obama mentioned just before that. Romney, though, has cut that part out, making it sound like Obama was saying small business owners didn’t build their businesses:

It’s fairly small potatoes, I realize, as political fibs go. But it’s early days. I’m sure we’ll get better whoppers as we move closer to election day.

Roberts Sums Up the Climate Change Debate

Monday, April 23rd, 2012

Sorry for the long hiatus. Other priorities have been taking my attention; after a concentrated obsessive bout on the Peter Gleick “trial”, I’ve experienced a not-atypical mental backlash.

One article I read today seemed very worthy of posting, though: From David Roberts: Watch the climate conversation run aground. He describes a recent debate in the Iowa state legislature concerning climate change, and sums up as follows:

Hogg and Johnson are both a little confused, though obviously Hogg much less — and much less detrimentally — so. But neither perspective is the one that does most damage to the prospects of progress.

No, the most dangerous perspective is expressed at the end of the rambling and fruitless hour-long debate, by Republican Sen. Randy Feenstra:

“Honestly, on that subject I think we should just agree to disagree because it’s not going to get us anywhere.”

This is the climate conversation in miniature. The problem is raised. Conservatives forecast economic doom. The economics show that we can do a great deal at comparatively moderate cost (certainly moderate relative to the cost of climate change impacts), but it’s very difficult to overcome fear with promises. So advocates make dramatic, often exaggerated claims about proximate impacts. Deniers dismiss the science altogether. And then people who aren’t committed to one “side” or another get sick of it and want to move on — to “agree to disagree.”

This is why conservative deniers have a built-in advantage on climate. They don’t have to win the argument. They just have to keep arguing until everyone gets sick of it.

Ayup.

Russell to Daisey to Gleick

Saturday, March 17th, 2012

There’s a weird synchronicity in all these stories floating around lately about people, nominally good guys, trying to raise public awareness about nominal bad guys, but doing it by exaggerating or outright lying. When the nominal good guys succeed in raising that awareness, and a wider audience is suddenly up in arms about the nominal bad guys, what does it mean when it emerges that while those bad guys really are pretty bad, they’re actually not bad in the particular way or to the particular extent that the nominal good guys made them out to be?

The nominal good guys should have been more honest, right? Ideally, they would have raised awareness without resorting to deception. But what if being honest about the bad guys means that the narrative exposing their wrongdoing is not compelling enough to go viral and get the kind of traction that leads to real pressure for change? Is it okay in that case to stretch the truth a little, to embellish the storyline? Is it okay to stretch the truth a lot? Where do you draw that line? And if the nominal good guy does stretch the truth, only to have the deception come to light later on, is it all just “pearl clutching” for the nominal good guy’s nominal allies to call foul at that point?

I don’t actually know the answers to any of these questions. I’m curious what you think. In particular, I’m curious about the following three cases:

Jason Russell: This is the guy who made the “KONY 2012″ video via his nonprofit, Invisible Children, Inc.:

I still have not watched KONY 2012, though with 81 million YouTube views (and counting), I’m apparently one of the few who can say that. Among those who have viewed it, there exists a subset of people who have checked into the claims it makes, and pointed out that while this Kony guy really is a legitimately bad guy, the monstrous depiction in the video glosses over or outright misstates some important facts. Like, Kony is not currently operating in Uganda, and hasn’t been since 2005. He doesn’t have an army of 30,000 child soldiers; that number in the video apparently was based on an estimate of his actions over several decades. And so on.

From an article by Demian Bulwa in sfgate.com (Kony video quickly raises awareness, skepticism):

In a response to criticism on its website, Invisible Children highlighted its education and rehabilitation programs in the region and said it had “sought to explain the conflict in an easily understandable format.

“In a 30-minute film,” the group said, “many nuances of the 26-year conflict are admittedly lost or overlooked. The film is a first entry point to this conflict for many, and the organization provides several ways for our supporters to go deeper.”

[snip]

Sean Darling-Hammond, a 27-year-old student at the law school, said he was becoming skeptical about all the skepticism.

“Criticizing the efforts of others has become the currency of relevance in social media,” he said. “If this video had been about the group’s cotton project in Africa, they would have gotten 200 views. The sad reality is that narrative sells, and catch-the-bad-guy is a classic narrative.”

I guess. But apparently the stress of his newfound success in selling a not-quite-factual bad-guy narrative — or maybe the pushback from people who want to hold the video to a higher standard of accuracy — has been having a negative impact on filmmaker Jason Russell. From the NYT (Police Detain Maker of Uganda Video):

SAN DIEGO – A co-founder of Invisible Children, the nonprofit organization whose video “Kony 2012” has become an Internet sensation, was detained by the San Diego police on Thursday, after they said he was found in the street in his underwear, screaming and interfering with traffic.

The police found Jason Russell, the filmmaker behind the video, after responding to calls about a man who was acting irrationally, including one call that alleged he was naked and masturbating, a San Diego police spokeswoman said. He was taken to a hospital for evaluation and treatment, and the police have no plans to charge him.

“It’s our belief that a medical condition would explain his irrational behavior as opposed to criminal intent,” said Lt. Andra Brown, the spokeswoman. “If we thought he was under the influence, we wouldn’t have taken him to a hospital; we would have taken him to jail.”

The 30-minute “Kony 2012” video has been viewed nearly 80 million times on YouTube since March 5. It has thrust a sudden celebrity upon Mr. Russell, 33, who narrates the video and appears in it with his young son, appealing to viewers to bring more attention to the Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony and advocating his arrest.

That success has brought criticism of Invisible Children for the way it spends its money, for a photograph of its founders, including Mr. Russell, holding rifles, and for other matters.

That criticism took its toll on Mr. Russell, according to his wife, Danica Russell, who released a statement Friday.

While the attention the film has drawn has brought increased awareness of Mr. Kony, Ms. Russell said, “it also brought a lot of attention to Jason — and because of how personal the film is, many of the attacks against it were also very personal, and Jason took them very hard.”

Mike Daisey: Because I’ve switched to mostly telecommuting lately, I don’t listen to nearly as much This American Life. As a result, I missed an episode, aired back in January, in which reporter thesbian Mike Daisey gave a first-person account of his investigation into the surreal and horrible working conditions at Foxconn, the Chinese manufacturing company where my iPhone was probably made.

The episode became the most-downloaded TAL episode ever, and apparently played a role in a massive petition campaign that pressured Apple into pressuring (some) of its Asian suppliers into improving working conditions for (some) employees, or (some)thing.

Except it turns out that many of the “facts” narrated by Daisey were not, in fact, factual. This weekend’s This American Life episode consists of an apology, including a detailed account of what went wrong: Retraction. See also this blog post (and attached press release) from TAL host Ira Glass: RETRACTING “MR. DAISEY AND THE APPLE FACTORY”.

Some of the falsehoods found in Daisey’s monologue are small ones: the number of factories Daisey visited in China, for instance, and the number of workers he spoke with. Others are large. In his monologue he claims to have met a group of workers who were poisoned on an iPhone assembly line by a chemical called n-hexane. Apple’s audits of its suppliers show that an incident like this occurred in a factory in China, but the factory wasn’t located in Shenzhen, where Daisey visited.

“It happened nearly a thousand miles away, in a city called Suzhou,” Marketplace’s Schmitz says in his report. “I’ve interviewed these workers, so I knew the story. And when I heard Daisey’s monologue on the radio, I wondered: How’d they get all the way down to Shenzhen? It seemed crazy, that somehow Daisey could’ve met a few of them during his trip.”

In Schmitz’s report, he confronts Daisey and Daisey admits to fabricating these characters.

“I’m not going to say that I didn’t take a few shortcuts in my passion to be heard,” Daisey tells Schmitz and Glass. “My mistake, the mistake I truly regret, is that I had it on your show as journalism, and it’s not journalism. It’s theater.”

Daisey’s interpreter Cathy also disputes two of the most dramatic moments in Daisey’s story: that he met underage workers at Foxconn, and that a man with a mangled hand was injured at Foxconn making iPads (and that Daisey’s iPad was the first one he ever saw in operation). Daisey says in his monologue:

“He’s never actually seen one on, this thing that took his hand. I turn it on, unlock the screen, and pass it to him. He takes it. The icons flare into view, and he strokes the screen with his ruined hand, and the icons slide back and forth. And he says something to Cathy, and Cathy says, “he says it’s a kind of magic.””

Cathy Lee tells Schmitz that nothing of the sort occurred.

Here’s Daisey’s response, as posted on his personal blog (Statement on TAL):

I stand by my work. My show is a theatrical piece whose goal is to create a human connection between our gorgeous devices and the brutal circumstances from which they emerge. It uses a combination of fact, memoir, and dramatic license to tell its story, and I believe it does so with integrity. Certainly, the comprehensive investigations undertaken by The New York Times and a number of labor rights groups to document conditions in electronics manufacturing would seem to bear this out.

What I do is not journalism. The tools of the theater are not the same as the tools of journalism. For this reason, I regret that I allowed THIS AMERICAN LIFE to air an excerpt from my monologue. THIS AMERICAN LIFE is essentially a journalistic ­- not a theatrical ­- enterprise, and as such it operates under a different set of rules and expectations. But this is my only regret. I am proud that my work seems to have sparked a growing storm of attention and concern over the often appalling conditions under which many of the high-tech products we love so much are assembled in China.

Peter Gleick: You don’t really need me to summarize this, right? Just go back and read the last 50,000 words of drivel I’ve spewed in this blog. Note that for the purposes of the current comparison, I’m crediting Gleick with having forged the 2012 Heartland Climate Strategy memo. I’m also crediting him with having created at least some degree of heightened public awareness of what Heartland is up to, awareness that would have been less if he hadn’t “sexed up” his document leak with the forged memo.

So, here’s my actual question: Were these guys (Russell, Daisey, and Gleick) in any sense right to do what they did? All appear to have been willing to deceive the public as part of crafting a more-compelling narrative fiction. And in each case it appears to have worked (at least in a certain sense). Their acts of public deception gave their stories “legs,” making it so more people heard about them, were outraged by what they heard, and were motivated to pass the stories on. The fictions contributed to, and may actually have been essential to, the stories “going viral.”

With the benefit of hindsight, was that a good thing? Is the “it’s not journalism; it’s theater” defense valid?

Murphy on Torture, Then and Now

Tuesday, January 24th, 2012

From Cullen Murphy writing in the Atlantic: Torturer’s Apprentice. Well-written, but heartbreaking, commentary on how little separates our enlightened selves from our Medieval ancestors.

The Coming Republican Assault on the EPA

Friday, January 6th, 2012

Man-crush David Roberts has a great article in the latest Washington Monthly on what it is that makes the EPA — and the Nixon-era environmental laws that underlie it — so special (The end of the EPA as we know it):

The core laws that shape the EPA’s mission — the Clean Air and Water Acts, passed in the early 1970s — are among the most dynamic and aspirational ever to issue from the U.S. Congress. It’s not that the standards in the original bills were all that strict, but that they were designed to evolve. The laws mandate that the EPA regularly revisit its standards and update them based on the latest science.

Take the Clean Air Act, the main target of recent GOP attacks. It not only establishes specific rules for an enumerated class of pollutants, it also instructs the EPA to set standards for “any air pollutant” that “may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare,” and to review and update those standards every five years. That makes the law a living, breathing thing. Congress or the president must intervene to prevent stronger and stronger clean air protections.

Environmental law, in other words, is one of the few federal domains where political gridlock can work in favor of science-based policy. All elected officials have to do is stay out of the way. Scholars David Sousa and Christopher Mc- Grory Klyza call this fitful but persistent advance of the law “green drift.”

Roberts goes on to talk about the TRAIN and REINS Acts, which the Republicans calling the shots in Congress would love to pass, and which would gut the EPA. So even given the disappointments that people like me are feeling about Obama, it’s important to realize that any of the current Republican would-be nominees (including Ron Paul, who believes that the right way to deal with air and water pollution is for the victims to sue the perpetrators) would be disasters if actually elected. At least for people who breathe air and drink water.

Republicans (!) in New Hampshire Talk about Climate Change

Thursday, January 5th, 2012

What it sounds like when Republicans talk sanely about the climate:

Dads and Their Daughters

Thursday, January 5th, 2012

I actually intended to include this video in the previous post about the whole gender-differences-on-the-Internet thing, but then forgot and was too lazy to go back and add it. But then my daughter Julia mentioned that I should post it, and I’m a pushover where she’s concerned. So here it is (if you haven’t seen it already, which you probably have; it was making the rounds):

If you find Riley adorable you should check out her puppet show, too.

Next up is a video that actually came up as a Public Service Announcement promoting fatherhood during a Lakers game I was watching the other night. Apparently there’s a whole genre of “homecoming soldier surprise videos.” (I originally wrote that as “homecoming soldier surprise porn,” but that just felt wrong, and then I realized that there’s probably lots of that, too, though I didn’t look.) Anyway, I’ve spent the last few days watching too many of these, but this one is still my favorite:

Finally, I wanted to conclude with this one. See what you get for encouraging me to post things?

Krugman on Romney on Obama

Saturday, December 24th, 2011

Cool NYT column from Paul Krugman on Mitt Romney’s apparent strategy of just making stuff up about Barack Obama: The Post-Truth Campaign.

Mann on Schneier on the TSA’s ‘Security Theater’

Saturday, December 24th, 2011

Charles C. Mann profiles Bruce Schneier’s view on the TSA’s “security theater” in the latest Atlantic: Does Airport Security Really Make Us Safer?

The first time I met Schneier, a few months after 9/11, he wanted to bet me a very expensive dinner that the United States would not be hit by a major terrorist attack in the next 10 years.

Recommended, and not just because Schneier won this would-be bet. He knows his stuff.

The DADT-repeal Sequel That Everyone Can Feel Good About

Wednesday, December 21st, 2011

For whatever reason, the homophobic bigots seem to have a bigger problem with public displays of male-on-male affection than they do with the occasional girl-on-girl smooch. So presumably even the homophobes were relatively unthreatened by this fun event: The first-ever traditional “first kiss” for a homecoming sailor in which both parties were of the same gender:

Oh hey, look: The fabric of the nation did not come apart just because we let two people who happen to be wired differently than the majority be who they are. Good.

More backstory, courtesy of reporter Corinne Reilly (Lesbian couple’s first kiss at homecoming a first for Navy, too):

It’s Wednesday morning around 10:30 when the Oak Hill finally comes into view, its steel-gray bow peeking out from behind a grove of green trees at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek.

It’s been three months since the dock landing ship left home for Central America, and all of the usual fanfare is waiting to greet its crew: crowds of cheering families, toddlers dressed in sailor suits, and the lucky, excited woman who’s been chosen to take part in a time-honored Navy tradition, the first homecoming kiss.

In this case, that woman is 22-year-old Citlalic Snell. She’s a sailor herself, assigned to the destroyer Bainbridge, but today she’s in civilian clothes – jeans, boots and a stylish leather jacket. Watching pierside as the Oak Hill pulls into port, she absentmindedly twists the small diamond ring on her left hand.

A uniformed liaison who is with her explains how it’s going to work: Snell’s sailor will be among the first off the ship, and when it’s time, Snell will be escorted onto the pier for the kiss.

The liaison asks if she’s nervous.

“Sort of,” Snell admits.

As it starts to drizzle, the brow is finally lowered. A handful of top officers are first off the ship, and then comes a young woman in dress blues, Petty Officer 2nd Class Marissa Gaeta.

Snell cracks a wide smile.

“That’s her,” she says.

When Gaeta spots her, she smiles, too. They embrace. With all eyes watching, they keep the kiss short, and the crowd cheers.

McKibben and Lessig on the Corrupting Effect of Money in Politics

Thursday, December 15th, 2011

Bill McKibben had an op-ed in today’s LA Times in which he described being on a panel with Congressmen Ed Markey (D-MA) and Lee Terry (R-NE): What stinks in D.C.

I was a little nervous, because Terry had recently introduced a bill to force the rapid approval of the Keystone pipeline, overriding the president. But we talked back and forth amiably enough, as I explained why the jobs figures for the proposed project he kept repeating were wrong. Markey pointed out that the Canadian tar sands oil that would be transported through the pipeline, far from enhancing U.S. energy security, was destined to be sold abroad. It was all “agree to disagree” harmony.

But then, in passing, I said something that to me seemed so obvious it didn’t even occur to me anyone would object: that it was clearly Big Oil that wanted the pipeline revived, and that it was using the congressmen it funded heavily to make it happen.

Beside me, I could feel Terry bristle. He quickly interjected, something to the effect of, are you saying that we’re “bought off”? And I suddenly felt bad, as if I indeed had said something wrong. I stammered; I tried to say I didn’t know anything about him in particular, that I was sure he’d eventually be part of the solution and so on. But the frost stayed in the air; he seemed genuinely hurt that anyone could think he had a conflict.

McKibben goes on to describe how he looked up Terry’s record afterward, and verified that yeah, he gets lots of contributions from the oil and gas industry, and does indeed vote for their interests 100% of the time. The part that Terry took offense to, it seems clear, was the implication that his votes were in some sense a quid pro quo for the contributions.

This was all very familiar, in that it’s pretty much the whole point of Lawrence Lessig’s Republic, Lost, about which I’ve previously gushed. And in a nice case of synchronicity, there was Lessig on last night’s Daily Show, explaining his campaign against the corrupting influence of money in politics:

They ran out of time, so the interview continued in this online-only clip, which is handy because it gave Lessig a chance to explain his plan for campaign finance reform:

Comically Outlandish Videos from Perry, Rove

Friday, December 9th, 2011

Just to change the subject for a moment, here are a couple of videos that have been making the rounds, and struck me as worthy of consideration.

First up, Rick Perry’s Strong video:

Apparently it’s surpassed Rebecca Black’s “Friday” as the most disliked video on YouTube. But the part I hadn’t realized until it was pointed out to me was that Rick Perry really does appear to be wearing Heath Ledger’s jacket from Brokeback Mountain (see the previous link for images and decide for yourself). Was that just coincidence? Some weird subconscious choice by Perry’s image people (or Perry himself)? Or was it on purpose? And if it was on purpose, why would they do that?

The second fun video I’ve wondered about is this one: It’s an attack ad against Massachusetts Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren that has been put out by Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS super PAC:

The thing that’s interesting here is how over-the-top dishonest the ad is. Kevin Drum explains in Elizabeth Warren: Wall Street Shill:

Here on Earth Prime, of course, Warren is perhaps one of the financial industry’s most loathed figures. Saying she’s too close to Wall Street is sort of like saying Ralph Nader is too close to General Motors because, you know, he spent a whole year researching a book about the car industry.

Drum talks about this as representing possibly the most out-there attempt yet by Rove to neutralize a political opponent by using a head-on attack on his or her greatest perceived strength. That’s been Rove’s trademark over the years. Warren is a champion of the middle class who strikes terror into the hearts of bankers? Then run an ad that pushes the fear that actually no, she’s really in bed with those hated bankers.

I’d like very much to believe that low-information voters aren’t that stupid, that the attempt will fail, and fail badly, and that Warren will be elected. But I’d also like to believe that Exxon and BP will wake up tomorrow, realize the error of their ways, and instantaneously transform themselves into companies that use their expertise with drilling to launch a no-holds-barred effort to develop clean geothermal power sources to save civilization from the effects of profligate fossil fuel emissions over the last few centuries.

Clearly, my liking the idea of something doesn’t carry any particular weight with the universe. I’ll just have to wait and see.