Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Twitter Tool

"We came across the word `twitter,' and it was just perfect. The definition was `a short burst of inconsequential information,' and `chirps from birds.' And that's exactly what the product was."

-Twitter creator Jack Dorsey

When Twitter first burst upon the scene, it seemed innocent enough. Another high-tech, whiz-bang communication tool whose primary job was to help people avoid the scourge of social isolation. After all, there are always millions of close personal friends to talk to on a networking site.

I never bought into it. I didn't believe my friends were interested in how I enjoyed Taco Tuesday at the local Mexican joint or that I was standing in line at Trader Joe's.

It turns out, however, there is a huge appetite for "inconsequential information." As of June 2010, about 65 million tweets are posted each day, equaling about 750 tweets per second, according to Twitter.

Everybody's doing it, even politicians. Which is surprising considering that our public servants aren't always quick to spot a trend.

Why are they suddenly embracing social networking with such vigor?

Example A is John McCain, who is the top-ranked tweeter on Capitol Hill, with more than 1.7 million followers. This from a 74-year-old guy who in 2008 admitted he had to rely on his wife to access the Internet.

Perhaps the answer can be found in the words of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who believes tweeting is a useful political tool.

"Using Twitter to bypass traditional media and directly reach voters is definitely a good thing," Gingrich said.

Aha! Bypass traditional media. That means he can get his message out without dealing with bothersome details such as context, opposing viewpoints and factual evidence.

What a breakthrough for technology. What a setback for informed political discourse.

So far, political tweets are a mixed bag. Many are downright benign. Take Arkansas Congressman John Boozman for example. "Eating breakfast with a constituent," he tweeted. "Honored to receive the National Farmers Union's Golden Triangle Award," tweeted Connecticut Congressman Joseph Courtney.

Some are happy ("Great afternoon watching skijoring in Wisdom, Montana," wrote Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont.) and some are angry ("Accusations against me unfounded. No benefit, no improper action, no failure 2 disclose, no one influenced: no case," argued Los Angeles Congresswoman Maxine Waters, who is facing ethics charges).

Sometimes political satire makes an appearance: "1 in 5 Americans believe Obama is a Muslim. 1 in 5 also believe in alien abductions and can't find the U.S. on a map." Or "Outrage Over Plans to Build Library Next to Sarah Palin."

Trash-talking tweets are not unknown, even at the highest levels. After a recent front-page New York Times story painted House Minority Leader John Boehner as beholden to special interests and swayed by his large network of lobbyists, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs tweeted, "Story on Boehner covers some of his greatest hits - handing out checks from lobbyists on the House floor" - referring to a 1995 incident when the Ohio Republican doled out contributions on the House floor, an act later outlawed. Gibbs then disseminated Boehner's quote about how passing out checks probably "doesn't look good."

But, the Politico website reported that Boehner was not to be outdone. He tweeted about a June 24 Times story describing how members of the Obama administration were meeting with lobbyists at Caribou Coffee on Pennsylvania Avenue near the White House. "@PressSec forgot to Tweet about Dems meeting w/lobbyists @ Caribou." He added that Gibbs "also hasn't explained how raising taxes on small businesses will create jobs. We're still waiting."

Twitter is also no stranger to deception and tastelessness. Washington Post columnist Jonathan Capehart used a tweet from Rep. Jack Kimble of California as a launching pad for a blog post on who is to blame for the current federal deficits. The problem? There is no Rep. Jack Kimble; that Twitter account is a spoof.

And when Sen. Ted Kennedy died, conservative commentator Andrew Breitbart tweeted, "Rest in Chappaquiddick."

Twitter at the very least runs the risk of being a source for political misinformation, rained down on the public in 140-character bites.

California political advertising watchdogs agree, proposing that online advertising and paid political postings on social networking sites be regulated the same way they are in other media.

Fair Political Practices Commission Chairman Dan Schnur told the San Francisco Chronicle that the goal is to apply the same rules, regardless of the media chosen.

"Whether the message is delivered by mail or by e-mail, or by television or online video, the same principles remain in place: Voters should know who's responsible for the information they are hearing and seeing."

Monday, September 13, 2010

Sarah Speak

It's not often that you find Sarah Palin, Shakespeare and the Merriam Webster Dictionary all mentioned in the same breath.

But that's what happened recently when the former Alaska governor and potential Republican presidential candidate drew the ire of the grammar cops (and her political opponents) when she used a mystery term in a text message.

"Ground Zero Mosque supporters: doesn't it stab you in the heart, as it does ours throughout the heartland? Peaceful Muslims, pls refudiate," she tweeted.

Peaceful Muslims can't refudiate, however, because there's no such word.

We can assume that Ms.Palin somehow mixed "refute" and "repudiate" to coin a new word, as in "I refudiate Tea Party philosophy."

The result is that "refudiate" quickly led to more searches on the Merriam Webster online dictionary than any real words in circulation.

But Sarah didn't bat an eye. "'Refudiate,' `misunderestimate,' `wee-wee'd up.' English is a living language. Shakespeare liked to coin new words too. Got to celebrate it!"

Remind me not to play Scrabble with her.

Perhaps it was an incident that is, as her fellow word coiner Shakespeare wrote, "full of sound and fury signifying nothing."

Except that verbal miscues follow politicians around like lost puppy dogs. Often, history remembers not how they walked the walk but how they talked the talk.

Mention former Vice President Dan Quayle and what do you remember?

That at 33, he was the youngest person ever elected to the Senate from Indiana? And reelected by the largest margin in state history?

Nope. What we remember about Quayle is his foot-in-mouth disease ("The holocaust was an obscene period in our nation's history. ... No, not our nation's, but in World War II. I mean, we all lived in this century. I didn't live in this century, but in this century's history.") or "I have made good judgments in the past. I have made good judgments in the future"). Or "I was recently on a tour of Latin America, and the only regret I have was that I didn't study Latin harder in school so I could converse with those people."

Speaking of vice presidents, how has Joe Biden performed his duties? We're not really sure but we do know he is a one-man gaffe factory. Examples: "Stand up, Chuck, let `em see ya." Biden, to Missouri state Sen. Chuck Graham, who is in a wheelchair. Or "If we do everything right, if we do it with absolute certainty, there's still a 30 percent chance we're going to get it wrong." Or Joe on Barack Obama: "I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy. I mean, that's a storybook, man."

While we are on the subject, a few more personal favorites:

"What right does Congress have to go around making laws just because they deem it necessary?" - Marion Barry, former mayor of Washington, D.C.

"I've looked on many women with lust. I've committed adultery in my heart many times. God knows I will do this and forgives me." - President Jimmy Carter, in an interview with Playboy one month prior to the 1976 election.

"People have got to know whether or not their president is a crook. Well, I'm not a crook. I've earned everything I've got." - Richard Nixon at a Nov. 17, 1973 news conference.

"Rarely is the questioned asked: Is our children learning?" - George W. Bush, Jan. 11, 2000.

"This was a war of Obama's choosing. This is not something the United States has actively prosecuted or wanted to engage in." - Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele, rewriting history while speaking at a Connecticut fundraiser about the war in Afghanistan, which President Bush launched following the 9/11 terrorist attacks (July 2, 2010).

"It depends on what the meaning of the words `is' is." - Bill Clinton, during his 1998 grand jury testimony on the Monica Lewinsky affair.

"Facts are stupid things." - Ronald Reagan, at the 1988 Republican National Convention, attempting to quote John Adams, who said, "Facts are stubborn things."

"My answer is bring `em on." - President George W. Bush, challenging militants attacking U.S. forces in Iraq, July 2, 2003.

"Byaaaahhhhhh!" - Howard Dean, 2004.

So Sarah Palin is in pretty good company, Indeed, she is popular with the public, is raising cash by the bucketful and has momentum, yet polls show most Americans don't think she's qualified to be president.

That's because she may think like Reagan but she talks like Quayle.

If she wants to succeed, she had better "refudiate" her speech writers and start making sense to all Americans.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Beck Orates, Obama Redecorates

NEWS: A labrador that ate a beehive containing pesticides and thousands of dead bees has won an award that recognized the most unusual pet health insurance claim in the United States.

American pet-insurance adjuster Veterinary Pet Insurance (VPI) Co. selected the four-legged Ellie from a dozen pet-related insurance claims nationwide.

Ellie, who fully recovered from her encounter with the beehive in Southern California, beat an insurance claim from a border collie that ran through a window to get at a mailman and a terrier that bit a chainsaw.

Views: I wonder if any of these claims are denied because being a dog is a pre-existing condition? Just asking.

News: Glenn Beck's "Restoring Honor" rally at the Lincoln Memorial draws thousands, or tens of thousands, or hundreds of thousands, or millions, depending on who you ask.

Views: CBS News commissioned the company AirPhotosLive.com to offer an independent estimate of how many people showed up for the event.

AirPhotosLive.com calculated that there were approximately 87,000 people there, plus or minus 9,000 people. It was the only scientific estimate made of the number of people at the rally.

Beck said he drew at least 500,000. Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minnesota, at her own rally held on the edges of Beck's event, said, "We're not going to let anyone get away with saying there were less than a million here today because we were witnesses."

Suffice to say a lot of people showed up. And just to make sure attendance wasn't spotty, Beck announced before the event that it may be the last chance to attend a large rally at the historic Lincoln Memorial.

"The government is trying to now close the Lincoln Memorial for any kind of large gatherings," Beck said. "This may be the last large gathering ever to assemble at the Lincoln Memorial. Historic, historic."

Beck is no Honest Abe. Because, according to the National Parks Service, the Lincoln Memorial remains open for business.

"There is absolutely no attempt by the government to restrict gatherings at the Lincoln Memorial or at any of our sites," said Margie Ortiz, a National Park Service spokeswoman in published remarks. "There is zero basis for his claim."

Rehabilitation work on the Lincoln Memorial reflecting pool and grounds will begin soon, and could continue for two years, but National Park Service officials said that work will not prevent the use of the facilities for gatherings, though the size of a gathering would be considered when weighing applications during the construction period.

News: President Obama redecorates the Oval Office.

Views: To the chagrin of his detractors, he didn't install a Muslim prayer rug and a minaret.

Instead, the makeover, by California decorator Michael Smith, (and paid for by donations) has drawn reactions ranging from "less intimidating and more comfortable than previous Oval Offices" to "too brown, too modern, and too much like a basement rumpus room."

The most striking feature: a rug adorned around the edges with some of the President's favorite historical quotes:

"The Only Thing We Have to Fear is Fear Itself" - President Franklin D. Roosevelt. "The Arc of the Moral Universe is Long, But it Bends Towards Justice" - Martin Luther King Jr. "Government of the People, By the People, For the People" - President Abraham Lincoln. "No Problem of Human Destiny is Beyond Human Beings" - President John F. Kennedy. "The Welfare of Each of Us is Dependent Fundamentally Upon the Welfare of All of Us" - President Theodore Roosevelt.

Someone soon will undoubtedly read into these quotes a nefarious plot to turn us all into Prius-driving, Quran-quoting socialists who love gay marriage and hate the Fourth of July.