What Twitter can’t do

Twitter* has hit the mainstream with a vengeance. The final sign of this was yesterday when John McCain – who during the campaign admitted his own computer illiteracy – did an interview (called a “twitterview” YUCK) with George Stephanopoulos. I guess they both wanted to show how “down” they are with all the latest hep-cat cool jive.

Many people are hailing this as some sort of breakthrough for the media. They also point out how much faster news is reported on Twitter than via other mediums – including the non-Twitter web. These writers seem to be implicating (or maybe I am inferring) that Twitter is supplanting or showing up regular news gathering/disseminating organizations.

While I doubt it is true, I also believe that if it is true we are all totally screwed. Twitter is good for distributing information that people need to know. I get updates from the Boston Police via Twitter – just one of many cop shops now Tweeting.

Twitter is good for the headline, not the actual story.

  • “AIG giving out million$ in bonuses.” Yes.
  • “Rep. Maxine Water’s husband gets bailout funds from Treasury Dept. for bank where he is a boardmember and bank would never have gotten the bailout money unless he was husband of a Dem. on the House Banking Committee.” No.

You can make the claim that Iraq is getting radioactive material from Nigeria on Twitter but you can’t refute it or give it any context.

It is hard to think of a technology less suited to interviewing than Twitter. If you ask me a question and we both know I am limited to a 140 character answer (or can act like I am) I can evade, obfuscate and spin like a maestro.

“Why do u oppose this plan?”

“It will put people out of work (or make America less safe or whatever…”

“But you voted for a similar plan b4?”

“That was totally different in what it was trying to do.”

Etc. Etc. (For a great example of why Twitterviews are an absurd source of information see this post by Derek Showerman.)

As Jon Stewart made clear with the (professionally) late Jim Cramer, you want to give your subject enough time to respond in depth. We call it “giving them enough rope.” It is not just rope to hang themselves with – it is also information that will tell you whether your questions/information are on-base or not.

Another thing  –as any good reporter knows — when interviewing people the long, awkward silence is your friend. Ask a question. Listen to the answer. If it doesn’t seem complete then wait. People don’t like dead air. It makes them nervous. After a while, they start to say more. Try doing that with a 140-characters.

Finally, my favorite derisive comment about Twitter v. Media is that twitter has stories faster than other news sources. Case in point – the airplane landing on the Hudson. Speaking strictly in terms of time-to-dissemination you’ll find no argument here. BUT, as I twittered earlier today (oh irony)

CurseYouKhan people surprised twitter reports faster than Media on some things. DUH! Media needs to get facts. takes time to try & get it right.

Somebody tweets there’s an earthquake in Melbourne – which he knows because he feels the earth shaking beneath him. A reporter CAN’T write a story about this even if he is standing next to the person who just tweeted. Reporters have to find out how big the earthquake is – if it’s a small tremor and I’m standing at the epicenter I am likely to overestimate its strength. Or if it’s the first earthquake I’ve ever been through then I am even more likely to overestimate its impact.

No one ever mentions the false or misleading tweets that news orgs research and disprove. It would be great to track those but you can’t. There is no way to know how many times the media has been offered (or thought it had) a story that was totally false or a misinterpretation and then found out the truth with further reporting. Sadly, that’s one of the press’s most essential functions and one that will never be appreciated.

*What is twitter? It’s a cross between a blog and a bumpersticker. Say whatever you want in 140 characters or less (surprising how much you can get into that space, really.) And have a channel to see what everyone else you are following is also saying in 140 characters or less.

Obama carried all the “really” red states

My latest from BlownMortgage (with charts and facts and everything!):

Popular opinion has it that Barack Obama won because he took some red states away from John McCain. Nonsense. Obama won all the red states. And McCain won all the black states. But this has nothing to do with that stupid red state/blue state dichotomy. This is about the much more tangible difference between red (ink) states vs. black (ink) states.

As this chart from the Wall Street Journal shows, Obama carried 18 of the 20 states where housing prices have dipped into the red – according to the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight house price index for the second quarter. Those two that went for McCain? Arizona and Alaska – which makes their anomalous standing understandable.

Election snoozer

The press has been trying not to call this one for days. A careful reading of the stories has shown journalists who felt obliged to offer a McCain win as a plausible outcome.  The only thing at issue is the size of the Democratic victory. Given the condition the nation is in this is hardly surprising. My sympathies to Sen. Obama. I do not envy anyone who gets the job.

Who’s winning the World of Warcraft vote?

While McCain’s ad hominem attack on Dungeons & Dragons earlier this year would seem to put him at a distinct disadvantage, the poll results are surprising. And incredibly funny.

Thanks to Mike Elgan who writes the wonderful blog Raw Feed for this one!

Company introduces “Sarah-Cuda” hunting bow

What’s pink, cuddly and can bring down a moose or at least a Biden? The GOP hopes it’s Sarah Palin, they might want to invest in Lakota Industries adorable new hunting bow. While the pink camo is certainly fitting  … you really have to hope anything your hunting is color blind. Or maybe it will distract Dick Cheney if you ever have to go hunting with the current VP.

Other potential candidate/product tie ins:

  • The Joe Biden Leaf Blower — How much hot air do you need?
  • The John McCain Pistol Holster — Allows you to shoot from the hip and automatically hit your own foot.
  • Barack Obama Holy Water — Everybody keeps telling me he can perform miracles.
Are Bidens in season?

Are Bidens in season?

Nice move: The company will donate 10 percent of Sarah-Cuda proceeds to the National Association for Down Syndrome.

Strategy and tactics fail at the debate

I gotta say that Friday night’s debate brought out a feeling of bipartisanship in me. I was equally irritated both of them. Obama was testy and McCain was dismissive. By the end of it I had thoroughly switched my vote: Jim Lehrer for president.

One thing in particular that irritated me was the pissing match over the definition of the word “strategy” and how it differs from the definition of the word “tactics.”

MCCAIN: I’m afraid Senator Obama doesn’t understand the difference between a tactic and a strategy.

Obama responded that he did know the difference and I’ll tell you that neither one knows the difference because there isn’t one.

Via Encarta

Tactic: a method used or a course of action followed in order to achieve an immediate or short-term goal

Strategy: a carefully devised plan of action to achieve a goal, or the art of developing or carrying out such a plan

This isn’t just some semantic nitpicking thing of mine, military types from generals to historians have had long discussions on just this topic without coming to anything like an agreement on it. The debate boils down to this: How can you tell the difference between a tactic and a strategy? In some popular usage tactics are believed to apply to smaller efforts and achieving, as the definition says, short-term goals — whereas strategy means grand plans.  Right. Even if we accept those definitions the fact is that one defines and determines the other to such an extent that there’s no real line about where one ends and the other begins.

So as McCain and Obama tried to play king of the hill on this one, I just sputtered. I knew they were either posturing, lying or wrong. What else is new?

Quick links

Expert & McCain adviser says Palin couldn’t run Hewlett-Packard

When it comes to not being able to run HP it’s hard to get a more reliable source than former CEO Carly Fiorina.

“Do you think [Palin] has the experience to run a major company, like Hewlett Packard?” Fiorina was asked on a St. Louis radio show.

“No, I don’t,” Fiorina said without further explanation.

“I would just remind you that it is Barack Obama who is running for president,” Fiorina said. “Sarah Palin has more experience than Barack Obama has.”

Under Fiorina’s tenure at HP, the company’s stock went from 45.36 to 20.14.

Forecast: Mud with more mud followed by a storm of masculine bovine feces

I have no idea where he got it, but CollateralDamage Sr. sent along the following. No matter where you stand politically this seems to me to just be good comedy.

Elsewhere:

Hard to believe that truthiness — the quality of preferring concepts or facts one wishes to be true, rather than concepts or facts known to be true –was the 2005 Word of the Year.  Can you have a repeat winner?

OK and for the record … I was right when I said Palin was a brilliant pick for McCain. I just didn’t know how right I was. And for the record, I also predicted that Obama would win by a lot. Hmmmm …

Bitter dispute over sugar ad may bounce Czech government

A Czech government ad touting its turn to hold the presidency of the EU may and featuring a sugar cube may actually result in the downfall of the government.

The ad, built around the claim that the Czech’s invented the sugar cube (I always thought it Bjork), features the slogan, “We sweeten it for Europe.” However it “can also be translated in Czech as promising to give Europe a bitter lesson, making trouble for it or causing disgust. … [However] this has soured relations within the ruling coalition, with traditionally pro-European Christian Democrats attacking it.”

Apparently this kerfuffle is because the ruling party is split between pro & anti EU types.

Further confusing the issue is whether or not the Czech’s should claim ownership of the sugar cube. The ad claims it was a Czech invention dating from 1843. However reporters at the daily Lidove Noviny pointed out that the although it was created in what today is the Czech republic but was then an outcropping of the Austro-Hungarian empire by a Swiss named Jacob Christoph Rad. Speaking as a professional journalist, this is what’s known as a fun story.

Silly Czechs. How stupid to take an argument over sugar so seriously. They should follow our lead and argue about lipstick and whether it is placed on pigs or pitbulls.

For those of you not up on leading-edge political stupidity: The McCain campaign (slogan: “Truthiness is everything!”) is attacking O’Biden for saying “that Sen. John McCain’s claim that he will shake up Washington after agreeing with President Bush for so long is like ‘putting lipstick on a pig.‘”

It is a disingenuous attack, at best, given that McCain himself has used repeatedly, even to describe a health plan put forth by Hillary last year. Trotting out former acting Massachusetts Gov. Jane Swift as the attacker is a nice sound-bite move that looks really dumb if you examine the facts.  True Ms. Swift is A) female, B) a mom and C) was sort of governor.

However her time in office was not a pretty one. She was named acting governor when her predecessor decamped to become ambassador to Canada. Despite having the governor’s office she couldn’t even carry her own party in her one attempt to win the job for herself and was defeated by Mitt Romney, a name you may have encountered. She was a notably inept governor:

By the end of her term, Swift was extremely unpopular with voters in the state (at one point having the dubious honor of a single-digit approval rating). This unpopularity was due in part to a perceived lack of effectiveness and in part to apparent abuses of her gubernatorial privileges, including: her use of a Massachusetts State Police helicopter to commute cross-state, from Boston to her home in North Adams; and, the use of State House aides to babysit her children.

Given all that is surfacing about Ms. Palin’s troubles in Alaska, Swift is not the best shade of lipstick for this issue.

Apparently the lesson Sen. McCain learned from his 2000 primary loss to Pres. Bush was that voters really don’t care that much about facts. I wish I could argue that it was a bad conclusion to come to.

BTW, Talking Points Memo has the following: A former McCain spokeswoman — who defended the senator when he made a joke about a woman raped by a gorilla — is also author of a book about being a political flack. The book’s title? Lipstick on a Pig.

During McCain’s 1986 Senate race, McCain was hit with allegations from women’s groups in Arizona that he’d told this knee-slapper (as quoted at the time by the Tucson Citizen)…

“Did you hear the one about the woman who is attacked on the street by a gorilla, beaten senseless, raped repeatedly and left to die? When she finally regains consciousness and tries to speak, her doctor leans over to hear her sigh contently and to feebly ask, ‘Where is that marvelous ape?'”

McCain was defended by Torie Clarke who said, “John does not recollect telling that joke … And he has a very good record on women’s issues.” The reporter who wrote the original story disagreed then and now with Ms. Clark.

I want to see a pitbull put some lipstick on that pig.

The real question about Sarah Palin

I do not care about her kids. Anyone asking how she couldn’t be home with the new born and/or oldest daughter is a sexist idiot. I hope the experience with her eldest makes Gov. Palin give a long rethink on the topic of abstinence only education, but that is an issue that is for her and her heart and not germaine to what it is she will be asked to do.

I am fascinated by the fact that she is the only candidate who will get a raise if she wins. The governor of Alaska currently earns $83,280. The veep gets $208,100.

The chief reason I think she shouldn’t be a heartbeat away from becoming president has nothing to do with her gender. it is that she is a creationist. If she herself doesn’t believe in creationism she has said that it should be taught in schools. If you are going to teach creationism as science — as opposed to teaching the Bible as literature which I am all in favor of — then you must also teach the Cthulhu Mythos and Flying Spaghetti Monster as science.

Still there is one essential question that I am positive was overlooked in the vetting process: Has the governor or any one in her family ever played Dungeons & Dragons?

C’mon you intrepid journalists! This one has Pulitzer all over it!

The tea leaves continue to suggest that things are not going well for Sen. McCain. David Frum, NPR’s token conservative, said that the Palin pick came about because McCain had seen some troubling internal poll numbers that said he had to make a big risk if he wants to win.

Also Political Wire says

My prediction: This is not going to be close in the final count.

McCain returns fire brilliantly

The senator’s pick of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin is brilliant. Far better than either of the two people I suggested yesterday. Now if he can just let her do the talking and get everyone else in the campaign to shut up.

Ooooh, it’s going fo be a fun 67 days. And by fun I mean really really ugly.

Tea leaves not looking promising for McCain

I hesitate to make a prediction but the race for president may not wind up being as close as it currently looks.

First the TV audience:

  1. Hillary Clinton’s speech (26.0 million viewers) had higher ratings than Michelle Obama’s speech (22.3 million viewers).
  2. Almost five times as many people (26 million) watched Day Two coverage in 2008 vs. Day Two in 2004 (5.9 million) when only the cable networks covered the convention

It will be interesting to see the numbers for tonight. But last night’s numbers don’t suck either:

  1. More than 24 million people watched the third night of the 2008 Democratic National Convention — a 7.5% decrease from 26 million viewers on day two of the convention.
  2. Wednesday night’s speeches, which featured Former President Bill Clinton’s endorsement of Senator Obama and Senator Joseph Biden’s acceptance of his party’s nomination for vice president, drew 12.2% of all African American viewers — down slightly from the prevous night when Hillary Clinton addressed the convention (12.7%), but up from day one (12%), when Michelle Obama spoke.
  3. Viewers age 55 and older continue to dominate the DNC’s TV audience, with 18.1% of all Americans in that age group — 12.5 million people — tuning in to Wednesday night’s convention coverage on ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, FOX News Channel, MSNBC, BET, and TV One.

Perhaps most telling is this: The 24 million who watched last night was a third larger than the 18 million who watched day three of the 2004 Democratic snooze fest.

Then the live audience:

According to the Dayton Daily News, Sen. John McCain is still giving away tickets to his Friday rally where he will unveil his running mate. He’s having trouble filling a 10,000 seat arena.

(BTW, all 75K seats seem filled for tonight’s speech at Mile High Stadium by Mr. Obama)

All of which may be caused by the McCain campaign’s astounding ability to say exactly the wrong thing. First there was former advisor Phill Gramm’s “American’s are whiners” reaction to the current economic troubles. This of course was still eclipsed by the candidate himself saying he didn’t know how many houses he had. While nothing will ever top that one there’s today’s wonderful bon bête on how to deal with the health insurance issue:

“The next president of the United States should sign an executive order requiring the Census Bureau to cease and desist from describing any American – even illegal aliens – as uninsured. Instead, the bureau should categorize people according to the likely source of payment should they need care. So, there you have it. Voila! Problem solved.” — John Goodman (not the actor), president of the National Center for Policy Analysis, a right-leaning Dallas-based think tank, and the person who helped draft. Sen. John McCain’s health care policy.

Best line in the story: “Goodman said anyone with access to an emergency room effectively has insurance, albeit the government acts as the payer of last resort.” I believe Goodman was quoting a classic solution to problems of the poor originally conceived of a by a Mr. Dickens. Too bad he hadn’t read Mr. Swift.

Suddenly the malaprops of Dan Quayle and even the our current Inarticulator-In-Chief don’t seem so bad.

All that said, the good senator from Arizona is hardly out of it by any account. Should he pick either Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison or Christine Todd Whitman (former governor of New Jersey and ex-chief of the EPA) as VP he could really make it close. That would get him a lot of Hillary defectors. While the senator has been mentioned as a possible veep it is as the longest of shots, the governor has not even got that close.

BTW, you could save some time and read this stuff at the place I get it: Taegan Goddard’s Political Wire. I  recommend it highly.

Covering O’Biden or McCan’t conventions a giant waste of media money

The political conventions are perfectly timed this year, serving as a perfect antidote to the just finished Munich Beijing Potemkin Olympics. Whatever their many moral faults, the Olympics weren’t boring.

This year I became entranced with field hockey. That was fun to watch. Not as much fun as Usian Bolt, but nothing is as much fun as watching Bolt. The fun couldn’t even be spoiled by the commentator kvelling about how if Bolt had just really focused when he won the first two gold medals he really could have done something. A) He won the damn races going away, so shut up. B) He showed plain old fashioned joy while doing it, so shut up.

The only thing that could have made these games better would have been if NBC had dedicated one channel to a constant live feed of the complete lack of activity in the officially sanctioned protest sites. Oh wait. One other thing could have made this better… any sign of moral cojones on the part of the athletes. Dudes & Dudettes this is the 40th anniversary of Tommie Smith & John Carlos simply raising their fists in salute during the Mexico City games. Yeah, they had to put up with a feces storm the likes of which I can’t imagine. But they never had to wonder about their own integrity. I wish one medal winner had had the courage to receive his or her award with a piece of tape over his or her mouth. That’s all it would have taken. It’s not like you were being asked to stand unnarmed in front of a tank. My self-righteousness is unjustifiable. I participated too. I watched the damn things.  I wasn’t even willing to sacrifice changing the channel, who the hell am I to ask others to do anything?

But I digress …

Now our dusk to dawn interlude of strange and interesting sports and moral peregrinations is about to give away to O’Biden vs. McCan’t. At a time when the press is bleeding money it is impossible for me to understand the amount of money that is spent covering two events with practically no news value whatsoever. I have been told there will be some 4,000 15,000 (thanks Tim!) members of the media covering each convention. 4K people spend a week hoping one person — any person — makes a mistake by straying from the script.

It would be tougher — and more interesting — to cover a house fire. (Actually I’ve never covered a pre-scripted event, so maybe they are tougher than they look. I have covered fires. I know those are tough.)

And just a note to the O’Biden team — WHO THE HELL DOES A MAJOR NEWS RELEASE ON A SATURDAY IN AUGUST? Any bump from the announcement is dead by the time Monday rolls around and people start paying attention again. It almost looks like you didn’t want the pick of The Human Wind Tunnell to get much play.

Suffice to say, we will all be well and fully informed watching whatever snippets The Daily Show and Colbert Report decide to run.

Just as idiotic as the resources spent on covering the conventions is the importance given to them. It will be banner headlines everywhere when Obama gets the official nod but I have no idea why. I always thought news was supposed to contain … well … news. It would be amazing if anything that happens at either confab rises to a level that justifies putting them above the fold on the front page. (Note: This is jargon from back in the time when dead trees were kings of the media world. Above the fold means the news is important enough to be on that prime piece of real estate first seen by the consumer. Below the fold means it is important but still on the bottom of page one and therefore on the side of a folded paper away from the consumer. Anyone wishing to learn more useless newspeak from back when mastodons roamed the media should email me. -30-)

McCain blows saving throw in attack on Dungeons & Dragons

I’ve tried to be bipartisan in both my support and bashing of the two presidential contenders but Sen. McCain has just crossed the line. His campaign is trying to say that playing Dungeons & Dragons is a BAD THING!!! In a blog post on McCain’s site some NPC named Michael Goldfarb wrote:

It may be typical of the pro-Obama Dungeons & Dragons crowd to disparage a fellow countryman’s memory of war from the comfort of mom’s basement, but most Americans have the humility and gratitude to respect and learn from the memories of men who suffered on behalf of others.

T-shirts & bumper stickers may be purchased here.

Nor is this the first time that McCain’s campaign has tried to make D&D the equivalent of being called a “pinko.”

In an earlier post Goldfarb described the editors of the NYTimes as having “all the intelligence and reason of the average Daily Kos diarist sitting at home in his mother’s basement and ranting into the ether between games of dungeons and dragons.

After that first ad hominem attack scads of Wingnuts stood up and proclaimed that they too were out and proud about playing D&D.  Mr. ‘Farb responded to one of them (Ace of Spades) with the following:

If my comments caused any harm or hurt to the hard working Americans who play Dungeons & Dragons, I apologize. This campaign is committed to increasing the strength, constitution, dexterity, intelligence, wisdom, and charisma scores of every American.
–Michael Goldfarb

Not surprisingly Mr. Spades is now doubting the sincerity of that apology.

T-shirts & bumper stickers may be purchased here.

I think there is more outing to do here. I think that Mr. Goldfarb is covering for the fact that he, too, is or was a D&D player. This fits into the classic behavior pattern of closeted homosexuals joining with gay bashers in an attempt to deny their own behavior. It is time for some enterprising journalist to get their hands on a copy of Mr. Goldfarb’s high school yearbook and start making some calls! C’mon, doesn’t this look like the face of someone who cried when his 10th level magic user died after failing to check for traps? I find it difficult to believe that this man has NOT spent many Saturday nights playing with his 20-sided dice.

Gotta say Mike, Dungeons & Dragons is not going to be the next “limousine liberal” or “brie-eating” in the political lexicon. This is especially poor timing given that the pale and the (usually) dateless like myself are still mourning the death of Gary Gygax.

Mr. Mencken’s quote was never more apropos: “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.” I wonder how many attack die that hobgoblin gets?