The Things on My Mind

Trying to make sense of the world, one post at a time

Short Post

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A short post this week, as it’s turned into a bit of a hectic one. But I did read today an interview today that builds on last week’s post. Christopher Robichaud, a professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, has a book coming out – Ignorance, Lies, Hogwash and Humbug: The Value of Truth and Knowledge in Democracies. It’s a great read and gets at the heart of the matter: if we don’t have an honest debate about what’s wrong or worse, can’t agree on what’s wrong in the first place, we’re spinning our wheels.

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7 March 2012 at 02:11

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Entering Uncharted Waters

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It’s funny, as I realized that my schedule that I set in my comeback post has me (likely) doing the posting on Mondays. Which led me to remember the writings of a Detroit legend, Bob Talbert. His tagline for his first column of the weeks was “Out of my Monday Moanin’ Mind”. They would have a tendency to be little snippets of sentences. Think Andy Rooney, or better yet, the old Larry King columns but with more joy. It’s my brain playing tricks on my jumping around like this but I’m burying the lead…

I’m generally a live-and-let-live sort of guy. Most people that know me would probably leap to “nice” as the word to describe me. But as the election season has been heating up, and I’ve been doing my best to keep up with it on the local and national levels, I read a few things this week that I felt compelled me to focus this post on what’s passing for politics right now.

It started with this post by Digby, the gist of which is the more politically knowledgable a conservative is, the more likely they are to discount the science behind global warming and other politically charged subjects. Which at first glance seems counter-intuitive since you would assume that there would be a certain amount of respect given to those who had dedicated their lives to studying things like weather patterns, those ice cross-sections from Antartica, and the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. All this based on a post by Chris Mooney (which is really just an excerpt from his upcoming book).

The reasoning behind all of this is that conservatives have a preference for, as Digby put it, “tribal solidarity”. They tend to get all their news from sources that reinforce what they already believe in and don’t feel the need to reach out beyond that comfort zone. They would prefer to argue that their facts are “more righter” than the real facts. It’s truthiness, writ large and (with apologies to Stephen Colbert) at its most damaging.

I guess I felt so strongly about it because I fall on the liberal side of things and like Mr. Mooney says:

Let’s face it: We liberals and progressives are absolutely outraged by partisan misinformation. Lies about “death panels.” People seriously thinking that President Obama is a Muslim, not born in the United States. Climate-change denial. Debt ceiling denial. These things drive us crazy, in large part because we can’t comprehend how such intellectual abominations could possibly exist.

And not only are we enraged by lies and misinformation; we want to refute them—to argue, argue, argue about why we’re right and Republicans are wrong. Indeed, we often act as though right-wing misinformation’s defeat is nigh, if we could only make people wiser and more educated (just like us) and get them the medicine that is correct information.

Turns out, the logic and reasoning isn’t going to get us anywhere with the people we’re trying to convince. What it does raise as an interesting point is proposing a solution of more “emotional”-based arguments. Again, logically this makes sense but given the state of the Democrats, it’s going to take some getting over knowing logic and reasoning aren’t going to work. President Obama was very good at this in his first campaign and as he starts to move into re-election mode, expect to see more of the same if he wants to win.


 

This post by Ezra Klein is a perfect example of the factual arguments that have “changed” over the years. The idea that holding any given position could put you on either the left or the right depending on when you held it should blow your mind. His explanation, as I see it:

Consistency is an overrated virtue. But honesty isn’t. In many of these cases, the parties changed policy when it was politically convenient to do so, not when conditions changed and new information came to light.

sums up a lot of what’s wrong with the political debate now. It’s not even about the win anymore, it’s about beating the other side. So when you’re in power and you want to change the rules of the Senate to aid you and your agenda, it’s fine. If the other guys take that control away from you and are now proposing the same changes you wanted to make, you don’t get to call them a threat to democracy. You need to either accept the fact that when you’re not in power, you’re going to get screwed or everybody needs to take a breath and (gulp) work through our differences together like adults! The winners and losers in November aren’t just going to be those voted in and those voted out, respectively. The government and the Republic will continue to exist after the election. That’s where the fun really begins.


 

As a preview of what to expect over the next eight months, this post from Laurence Lewis seems to me to be a good assessment. The Republicans are likely to nominate Gov. Mitt Romney, Sen. Rick Santorum and Speaker Newt Gingrich are going to continue to say wack-a-doodle things that will infuriate me and lots of other people while continuing to shift the Repubilican Party ever right-ward into Unelectable-land, and Rep. Ron Paul will keep alternately making sense and sounding as presidental as the guys who hand out leaflets near Port Authority telling the “truth about what’s really in Fort Knox!!! (SPOILER ALERT: ALIENS!)”. As the Romney campaign tries to walk back some of the odder things that their candidate has said to alienate the electorate, President Obama can swoop in and win over the majority of voters with the 1-2 combination of emotion and facts that he can be very good at delivering (see 2007-8).

There are big problems in our country. Big problems call for big solutions. The past four years have seen a political system that has been used to stymie any size solution based purely on the fact that no one can let the other side even be perceived as having a victory. I’d like to think that someone in a position of having already made history might be willing to burnish that reputation with a few more dalliances with greatness, damn the consequences. If that happens, if there’s even a chance that we could see some truly bold thinking, there could be a renaissance of political literacy and a change in public opinion about our democracy that we all could be proud of. I think I’d like that. I’d like it very much.

Written by thethingsonmymind

28 February 2012 at 05:00

Posted in Politics

Discipline: The New Watchword

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Dormancy aside, I’m bringing it back to life. I won’t dwell on the hows and whys of the lack of posts, I’ll just give the summing up:

  • Right around the time of the last post, my wife and I found out we were having a baby. He’s now 21 months old and The Kid is awesome. So much so, the second one is on the way.
  • After nearly destroying an antique chair, I buckled down (pun intended) and lost 60 pounds and I mean to keep it off. People keep asking me how I did it. The pithy answer I give is “It turns out when you don’t eat a lot of food, you lose weight.” The slightly longer version is I found an iPhone app called Lose It and by diligently entering the data, I knew where my limits were and stuck to them.
  • Still have the same job with a little more travel as I’m taking on some new accounts based out of Philly. It’s an adjustment but it’s just starting up really and I think it’ll be good.

That’s the gist. I’m sure all me of you reading this will be clamoring for details.

Now back to the show. Discipline is the first word that came to mind when sitting down to get back on this blogging track as I recently came to the conclusion that in order to accomplish a series of personal goals, I was going to have to step up to a level of discipline that a year ago I wouldn’t have thought possible for me. The weight loss (I know this is going to sound cliched) proved to me that I could be more mindful of my actions. So I’ve set myself a pretty rigorous schedule that will provide the structure for improving myself. Things on my list:

  • Keeping my weight loss off and getting into better shape.
  • Refreshing my Spanish language skills plus add Italian for my wife’s family plus Latin (just ’cause but it’s related)
  • Getting back into math. I’m a nerd.
  • Getting back into coding and keeping up with the ever-changing digital landscape. See above re: nerd.
  • Keeping better track of my poker playing and working on my game. It can’t be all heavy lifting.
  • Reviving the blog to create an air of external accountability and bring back the outlet for my blathering opinions. Even if no one’s reading this, it’s out there.

What I’m really hoping for is that the structure will allow me to make some progress (slow progress is still progress) on all fronts but I’m also smart enough to be flexible and that I’ll miss some days. The true goal is to keep the misses to the minimum and be come a better me. It’s apropos that this is all coming as Lent is starting. I’ll be going with what has become my standard Lenten sacrifice the past few years, thanks to a work buddy: I’ll be giving up the elevators at the office. Nine floors up, nine floors down. I’ll probably add something else too but I’ve got a whole day to figure that out.

So here’s to a new discipline. I, for one, am looking forward to it. Meanwhile, I’m going to figure out the best place for me to get a paczki.

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21 February 2012 at 05:37

Posted in Administrative

Welcome FFFF!

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That’s Fancy Fast Food fans. My buddy Erik was on Nightline last night, plugging his blog about dressing up value meals. We’ve worked together in the past and share an obsession with food (both fancy and fast). So when he was looking for recipe suggestions for mole, I suggested the coolness of the Frosty combined with a Spicy Chicken Sandwich from Wendy’s and, lo and behold, it made it on TV. Watch for yourselves!

If you’re coming here from FFF, welcome and poke around! I’ve been swamped at work so the posts have been thin lately but will be picking up again soon. And to my loyal reader, thanks for sticking around!*

*Assuming I have at least one reader.

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30 September 2009 at 15:04

Posted in Uncategorized

Elegy on a season

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Last night was the end of another softball season. It was probably the best season of sports that I was personally involved in. There’s a little backstory but even though the ending wasn’t what I was hoping for, it just makes me excited for the next one.

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26 August 2009 at 05:07

Posted in Personal, Sports

Back in the saddle

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Yeah, so I ended up doing the one thing I didn’t want to do: I started a blog and then left it sitting idle for months. So here I am, recommitting myself to posting. I’m not setting as schedule for myself (although I probably should) and I’m not planning on rethinking my overall philosophy of why I’m doing this. I guess I’ve actually read/saw/heard a few things recently that I want to talk about.

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11 August 2009 at 03:11

Finally going home

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In a cab after a long, long day at work. No energy for real post but did want to give a shout out the the boys in Green and White. Go Spartans!

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31 March 2009 at 05:06

Posted in Personal

Looks like I picked the wrong week to start blogging…

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Ugh. It’s Saturday afternoon and I haven’t posted in a while. Not really by choice, mind you. It’s been so busy that finding the time to post has been harder that I would think. Here’s a short list of the events of the past week:

  • Got my temporary crown installed put in crowned. The story behind this is last week, I was having a apple for breakfast and I felt/heard a “pop” at the back of mouth as I bit down. So off I went to the dentist who told me I had cracked my tooth and that I would need a crown. But she couldn’t do it that day because the whole thing was going to take two hours. Tuesday was the big day and it went about as good as oral surgery could go. By the time I got home, I was so exhausted, sitting down in front of the computer was not in the cards.
  • Wednesday was a fantastic 13-hour workday where I spent eight of those hours in front of my computer reading through, editing, and reassigning issues and bugs for the project I’m working on at work. Needless to say, getting away from the computer was a necessity for my sanity’s sake
  • Thursday was poker night. Not my game but a friend’s game. It’s a dealer’s choice, $1/2 fixed limit game with a $40 buy-in and a good group of guys. I was not playing well and knew it at a few points. But I managed to eke out a profit of exactly one dollar. Mainly due to two hands of razz: one where I made a wheel against two opponents that went all the way to showdown and another where (if I recall correctly) I made a 76 against an 86. Next Thursday is poker at my place and I’ll try to pay closer attention and give a detailed report.
  • Friday was fantastic. A birthday dinner at one of the best steakhouses I’ve ever been to: Keens Steakhouse. It’s decorated with clay pipes all over the ceiling, as it used to be a pipe club for the celebrities of the early 20th century. They’re known for their mutton chops but I opted for the surf ‘n’ turf. We started with whiskey. Well, I had whiskey, some had bourbon, some had rye, and some had whisky. Then came the oysters, which led to a call of bullshit on my oyster taste. I dissed West Coast oysters to a foodie from Portland, Ore. and he chastised me. So we ended up ordering a dozen, half East Coast, half West. After eating, I stood and yea, still stand, by my original assumption. Two bottles of red (I think a Cab and a Haut-Medoc; the Haut-Medoc was very good), a rare filet mignon, lobster, and a grappa for dessert. A cigar between bars and another whiskey to close out a fantastic night. I think it was best I wasn’t writing anything when I got home.

Which leads to today. I was supposed to start it off playing softball but the previous nights activities led to me sleeping through the alarm and mild headache. Dreams of accomplishing things slipped away as I vegged out. I’m off again for a continuation of the birthday celebrations in a bit. I’ll be back to some substantive writing in a bit. Just need to catch up with the rest of the world…

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29 March 2009 at 00:23

Posted in Personal

No (real) post today

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At the dentist getting a crown. Thought I might use the opportunity to try the iPhone WordPress app. Wish me luck.

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24 March 2009 at 17:58

Newspapers vs. the Internet – Deathmatch!

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Last week, I was out to dinner with a group of friends. At some point in the meal, the topic of newspapers and print and their future. This was a table with over 50% of those seated at it making their living off people reading things printed on dead trees. The discussion came around to the death the newspapers in Seattle and Denver. I brought up a point that I had read in the New Republic:

Whether the Internet will ever support general-interest journalism at a level comparable to newspapers, it would be foolish to predict. The reality is that resources for journalism are now disappearing from the old media faster than new media can develop them. The financial crisis of the press may thereby compound the media’s crisis of legitimacy. Already under ferocious attack from both left and right for a multitude of sins, real and imagined, the press is going to find its job even more difficult to do under economic duress. And as it retrenches in the face of financial pressures, [director of Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, Tom] Rosenstiel says, “More of American life will occur in shadows. We won’t know what we won’t know.”

Paul Starr’s point is that without local journalism, the lesser Blagos of the world will run rampant. Throw in that the formerly two-paper towns will be losing one side of the story, and you start to get the picture: the views that people will be exposed to will be narrower and less in-depth.

Enter the hero of our story: the Internet! Yes, one of the things that brought about the all of the above will actually save the day. Besides, as one of my friends mentioned, those guys weren’t doing a very good job anyway. There are always standouts, but most of the time, local newspapers (due to declining ad revenues—we’ll get those momentarily) were laying off Starr’s venerable reporters and serving as reprint services for the wire services like AP and Reuters. The variety of views online will replace those reporters and keep our public officials honest. Well, almost. Much of what it found online is just aggregation of and commentating on existing sources, including those being “driven out of business” by the situation at hand! Are we caught in some sort of vicious circle?

Well, there are some innovators out there. There are places like ProPublica, trying to do unbiased reporting as a non-profit. Think PBS or, better yet, NPR but as an online-only newspaper. “ProPublica is an independent, non-profit newsroom that produces investigative journalism in the public interest,” reads their About Us page. Their funding right now comes from the Sandler Foundation. There are questions about the possibilities of bias but from what I’ve read, I don’t see it but it is worth noting. Much like the one-paper town only getting half the story, it can’t be ignored.

Another story (in fact, the one that inspired me to finally get all these thoughts organized) is that of GlobalPost. They’re starting from the premise that ad-supported news sites (there’s that advertising thing again — I promise we’ll get there) can essentially be loss leaders. In yesterday’s NY Times, there’s was a borderline hagiography of the idea that it would be possible to *gasp* make money in the news business on the internet! It’s by harnessing the latest trend in media—communities and user-generated content— and making it feel more like being part of the club. By signing up for their Passport service (currently $199 or $50 for students), you not only get exclusive content but you actually get to help shape the content. The Passport “allows you to join [them] in the editor’s chair. As an active member in an elite community, you’re invited to present story ideas on topics you think matter, stories that you want to read and share with your Passport colleagues.” It seems great on paper but here’s the key grafs from the Times piece that puts the lie to their plans:

Only a couple of dozen people have signed up for Passport, said Philip Balboni, GlobalPost’s other founder and the president and chief executive. The site is depending on marketing partnerships to generate subscriptions, some discounted, and hopes to have more than 2,000 by year’s end.

Two months in, the Boston-based company says demand for the free site — the mainstay of the business — is ahead of expectations. It has logged 250,000 unique users who have visited at least once, compared with the 90,000 Mr. Balboni had hoped for by now, and 1.1 million page views, more than half from returning visitors.

I give them points for coming up with something new but most users are used to free content. The Internet is littered with the bits and bytes of failed attempts at subscription-only content: TimesSelect, Salon Premium (which still exists but loses money and can be gotten around by viewing an interstitial ad). Eric Clemons writes very clearly about this in the fantastic article Why Advertising is Failing on the Internet. This is something that’s near and dear to my heart since this is how I’m making my living. He’s spot on in that people don’t want, need, or trust advertising. People like Clemons have some good ideas. The ideas of social search, a hybrid of a search engine and your social network, and contextual mobile advertising, which is really only limited by mobile technology but could be a big growth opportunity, are the ones that make sense to me.

I’ll admit, I’m don’t know where all this is going to end. I do know I get my news from a variety of sources online, both “traditional” and “new” media. I don’t think that print newspapers are going away. They’ll probably continue to consolidate or just plain go out of business. I think new publications like ProPublica and GlobalPost are going to be great. They’ll probably fail too and be replaced by those who will learn from their mistakes. Clay Shirky said it best:

For the next few decades, journalism will be made up of overlapping special cases. Many of these models will rely on amateurs as researchers and writers. Many of these models will rely on sponsorship or grants or endowments instead of revenues. Many of these models will rely on excitable 14 year olds distributing the results. Many of these models will fail. No one experiment is going to replace what we are now losing with the demise of news on paper, but over time, the collection of new experiments that do work might give us the journalism we need.

Coming Soon: The Kindle, the ebook, and print – living in harmony

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24 March 2009 at 05:21

Posted in Culture

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