If you have no electricity, check your computer

My nomination for the Pulitzer Prize for letters to the editor, if there were such a thing, in the aftermath of the great power outage:

Monday, July 2, my third morning in the heat without power (and no power at my workplace), imagine my relief when I saw on the middle of the front page of my print version of the paper, topics listed with potentially helpful information about “The commute,” “Government workers,” “Summer school,” “Weather” and, most importantly, “Heat survival.” Then imagine my utter shock when we were directed to find this information at washingtonpost.com! Was I supposed to turn on my fan to cool off, and listen to my radio while I looked this up on my dead computer? I looked through the paper’s articles about the storm for any references to what seemed available only online. Not a trace. I was aghast. Was it a joke?

It was incomprehensible to me that those of us struggling with power outages were told to use our computers to find this much-needed information. Please use your heads.

Sharon Dodd, Rockville

via Without power, help online is lost – The Washington Post.

40 years of Watergate

Yesterday was the 40th anniversary of the burglary of the Democratic National Committee office in the Watergate office complex.  That event on June 17, 1972, would bring down the presidency of Richard Nixon.

I remember news of the burglary and the subsequent dripping out of details and the final whole cascade vividly.  I was a college student at the time.  I realize many of you weren’t even born yet.  So I first ask those of you who remember it:  What has changed since the Watergate scandal?  Did it change the way you view the office of the president or our government or journalists?  Did it make you the cynic you are today?

To the rest of you and to anyone, what, to use grandiose language, is the legacy of Watergate?  It was uncovered largely by old-fashioned investigative journalism, as well as bipartisan Congressional investigation.  Do you think if an event like this happened today, in our media environment of 24-hour news, the internet, and yet cash-strapped newspapers, that it would be that big of a deal?  Are we in a state of scandal overload, so that the serious gets lost in the trivial?

Watergate scandal – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Obama’s data mining

Yesterday we posted about mining “big data,” how corporations, politicians, and researchers are delving into Twitter, Google,  Facebook, and other online information to forecast trends, target customers, and gain various competitive advantages.  Well, it turns out that the Obama campaign is mining such data on voters on a massive, unprecedented scale.  Politico’s Lois Romano reports:

On the sixth floor of a sleek office building here, more than 150 techies are quietly peeling back the layers of your life. They know what you read and where you shop, what kind of work you do and who you count as friends. They also know who your mother voted for in the last election.

The depth and breadth of the Obama campaign’s 2012 digital operation — from data mining to online organizing — reaches so far beyond anything politics has ever seen, experts maintain, that it could impact the outcome of a close presidential election. It makes the president’s much-heralded 2008 social media juggernaut — which raised half billion dollars and revolutionized politics — look like cavemen with stone tablets.

Mitt Romney indeed is ramping up his digital effort after a debilitating primary and, for sure, the notion that Democrats have a monopoly on cutting edge technology no longer holds water.

But it’s also not at all clear that Romney can come close to achieving the same level of technological sophistication and reach as his opponent. (The campaign was mercilessly ridiculed last month when it rolled out a new App misspelling America.)

“It’s all about the data this year and Obama has that. When a race is as close as this one promises to be, any small advantage could absolutely make the difference,” says Andrew Rasiej, a technology strategist and publisher of TechPresident. “More and more accurate data means more insight, more money, more message distribution, and more votes.”

Adds Nicco Mele, a Harvard professor and social media guru: “The fabric of our public and political space is shifting. If the Obama campaign can combine its data efforts with the way people now live their lives online, a new kind of political engagement — and political persuasion — is possible.”

Launched two weeks ago, Obama’s newest innovation is the much anticipated “Dashboard” , a sophisticated and highly interactive platform that gives supporters a blueprint for organizing, and communicating with each other and the campaign.

In addition, by harnessing the growing power of Facebook and other online sources, the campaign is building what some see as an unprecedented data base to develop highly specific profiles of potential voters. This allows the campaign to tailor messages directly to them — depending on factors such as socio-economic level, age and interests.

The data also allows the campaign to micro-target a range of dollar solicitations online depending on the recipient. In 2008, the campaign was the first to maximize online giving — raising hundreds of millions of dollars from small donors. This time, they are constantly experimenting and testing to expand the donor base.

via Obama’s data advantage – Lois Romano – POLITICO.com.

Do you think all of this data the president’s campaign is collecting is a game changer or ultimately trivial?  Does gathering so much information about you for political purposes bother you?

VeggieTales creator repents of moralism

More on our continuing series on Christianity & the Arts, how the Christianity part has to include not just law but gospel. . .

Phil Vischer, the creator of Veggie Tales, went bankrupt in 2003, sold the franchise, and turned to other ventures.  In an interview with World Magazine, he says how he realized that the “Christian” message of those talking vegetables was not Christianity at all.  (This is from last Fall, but I appreciate Norm Fisher, via some other folks, for bringing it to my attention.)

I looked back at the previous 10 years and realized I had spent 10 years trying to convince kids to behave Christianly without actually teaching them Christianity. And that was a pretty serious conviction. You can say, “Hey kids, be more forgiving because the Bible says so,” or “Hey kids, be more kind because the Bible says so!” But that isn’t Christianity, it’s morality. . . .

And that was such a huge shift for me from the American Christian ideal. We’re drinking a cocktail that’s a mix of the Protestant work ethic, the American dream, and the gospel. And we’ve intertwined them so completely that we can’t tell them apart anymore. Our gospel has become a gospel of following your dreams and being good so God will make all your dreams come true. It’s the Oprah god. So I had to peel that apart. I realized I’m not supposed to be pursuing impact, I’m supposed to be pursuing God. And when I pursue God I will have exactly as much impact as He wants me to have.

via WORLDmag.com | Not about the dream | Megan Basham | Sep 24, 11.

Democrats turning against Obama

Maureen Dowd–liberal, Democratic, erstwhile Obama supporter–expresses her frustration with him and his presidency, citing other Democrats who agree with her.  Read her entire analysis of Obama’s presidency at the link below.  An excerpt:

A Times article by Jo Becker and Scott Shane revealed that the liberal law professor who campaigned against torture and the Iraq war now personally makes the final decisions on the “kill list,” targets for drone strikes. “A unilateral campaign of death is untenable,” the editorial asserted.

On Thursday, Bill Clinton once more telegraphed that he considers Obama a lightweight who should not have bested his wife. Bluntly contradicting the Obama campaign theme that Romney is a heartless corporate raider, Clinton told CNN that the Republican’s record at Bain was “sterling.”. . .

In his new book, “A Nation of Wusses,” the Democrat Ed Rendell, the former governor of Pennsylvania, wonders how “the best communicator in campaign history” lost his touch.

The legendary speaker who drew campaign crowds in the tens of thousands and inspired a dispirited nation ended up nonchalantly delegating to a pork-happy Congress, disdaining the bully pulpit, neglecting to do any L.B.J.-style grunt work with Congress and the American public, and ceding control of his narrative.

As president, Obama has never felt the need to explain or sell his signature pieces of legislation — the stimulus and health care bills — or stanch the flow of false information from the other side.

“The administration lost the communications war with disastrous consequences that played out on Election Day 2010,” Rendell writes, and Obama never got credit for the two pieces of legislation where he reached for greatness.

The president had lofty dreams of playing the great convener and conciliator. But at a fund-raiser in Minneapolis, he admitted he’s just another combatant in a capital full of Hatfields and McCoys. No compromises, just nihilism.

via Dreaming of a Superhero – NYTimes.com.

There’s more!

African-American activist Fredrick Harris is  disenchanted with how little Obama has done for his causes, to the point that he says that we are still waiting for our first black president.

And liberal columnist Ezra Klein says that Romney might be better for the economy because that would break the political gridlock.  Republicans would no longer obstruct everything if we had a Republican president.

Be skeptical about political journalism

The New York Times broke a shocking story:

Joe Ricketts, an up-by-the-bootstraps billionaire whose varied holdings include a name-brand brokerage firm in Omaha, a baseball team in Chicago, herds of bison in Wyoming and a start-up news Web site in New York, wanted to be a player in the 2012 election. On Thursday he was, though not in the way he had intended.

Word that Mr. Ricketts had considered bankrolling a $10 million advertising campaign linking President Obama to the incendiary race-infused statements of his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., brought waves of denunciation from Mitt Romney, the Obama campaign and much of the rest of the political world.

via Joe Ricketts Rejects Plan to Finance Anti-Obama Ads – NYTimes.com.

It seems Ricketts, an owner of the Chicago Cubs, started a Super-PAC to support Mitt Romney.  One of the proposals put forward by a political operative was to associate President Obama with Rev. Jeremiah Wright, his radical former pastor.  Apparently, the proposal was “racially tinged.”   So Ricketts and Romney are getting slammed accordingly.

But Mitt Romney has repudiated the tactic.  Even more to the point, RICKETTS repudiated the ad.   There is no ad!  Ricketts refused to fund it.  Not once it hit papers, at the time it was proposed!   Somebody suggested doing this, but everyone said “no.”

So what is the story?  There is no story.

It would be as if a reporter from Fox News was in a bar and overheard some drunk say, “I’m for Obama, and I gave his campaign twenty bucks!  And I think the first thing he should do is kill all the capitalists!”  The reporter then runs a story with the headline, “Obama supporter calls for killing capitalists.”