Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

The White House switch to open source: Tim O’Reilly’s thoughts

27 Oct
Over the weekend, the White House new media team announced (via AP) that now runs on the open source content management system Drupal. Tim O'Reilly puts this news into context:
drupal.jpg This move is obviously a big win for open source. As John Scott of Open Source for America (a group advocating open source adoption by government, to which I am an advisor) noted in an email to me: "This is great news not only for the use of open source software, but the validation of the open source development model. The White House's adoption of community-based software provides a great example for the rest of the government to follow."

John is right. While open source is already widespread throughout the government, its adoption by the White House will almost certainly give permission for much wider uptake. Particularly telling are the reasons that the White House made the switch

Thoughts on the switch to Drupal []


Infographic: Left vs Right

21 Oct

Clark Kent told us about this "thought-provoking, artful schematic that explains the differences in basic political philosophy between progressives and conservatives."

It was created by David McCandless and Stefanie Posavec, and appears in The Visual Miscellaneum, which comes out on November 10.

I'm looking forward to the book. Below are some of the other infographics that are in it:

20th Century Death: What's Killed the Most? • 22 Stories • 30 Years Makes a Difference Alternative Medicine • Amphibian Extinction Rates • Articles of War: Most Edited Wikipedia Pages • Bee Limit Warning • Behind Every Great Man • Being Defensive • Better than Bacon • The Billion Dollar-o-Gram • Body by Insurance Value • The Book of You: Your Complete DNA • Books Everyone Should Read • Calories In, Calories Out • Carbon Aware The Carbon Dioxide Cycle • Celebrity Causes • Chatterboxes • Cocktails • Colors and Culture Cosmetic Ingredients • Creation Myths • The Creationism-Evolutionism Spectrum • Daily Diets • Dance Genreology • Dangers of Death • Enneagram • Fast Internet • Feeding Frenzy: the Organic Food Market • Food Coloring: Unpleasant Health Effects • The Future of Energy • The Future of Our Future • Global Media Scare Stories • The Global Warming Skeptics vs. the Scientific Consensus • Good News • Google Insights • The Great Firewall of China • Immortality • In 25 Words or Less • The "In" Colors • The "Interesting" Colors International Number Ones • Internet Virals • Kyoto Targets • Left vs. Right • Looking for Love Online • Low Resolution • Mainstream-o-Meter • Making the Book • Man's Humanity to Man • The Media Jungle • Microbes Most Dangerous • The Middle East • Moral Matrix Most Common Avatar Names • Most Popular Boys' Names • Most Popular Girls' Names Most Profitable Stories of All Time • Most Successful Rock Bands • Nature vs. Nurture The One Machine: Map of the Internet • Painkillers • Personal Computer Evolution Peter's Projection • Postmodernism • Red vs. Blue • Rising Sea Levels • Rock Genreology Salad Dressings • Selling Your Soul • Sex Education • Snake Oil? • Some Things You Can't Avoid • Stages of You • Stock Check: Nonrenewable Resources • Taste Buds • Things That'll Give You Cancer • Three's a Magic Number • Time-Travel Plots in TV and Film • Tons of Carbon • Types of Coffee • Types of Facial Hair • Types of Information Visualization Vacation Time by Country • Varieties of Romantic Relationships • Vintage Years • Virtual Kingdoms • Water Towers • We Broke Up Because ... • What Are the Chances?: Survival Rates • What Is Consciousness? • When Condiments Go Bad • Which Fish Are Okay to Eat? Who Clever Are You? • Who Owns the Top 100 Websites? • Who Reads the Most? • Who Runs the World? • Who Really Runs the World? • World Religions • X Is the New Black

Infographic: Left vs Right


Meet the 42 lucky people who got to see the secret copyright treaty

14 Oct

The Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement is a proposed copyright treaty that contains provisions that criminalize non-commercial file-sharing; require net-wide wiretapping for copyright infringement and border-searches of hard-drives and other devices; and disconnection from the Internet for people accused of violating copyright. The actual text of these provisions is a secret, though, as the treaty is being negotiated away from the UN, behind closed doors; the Obama administration denied a Freedom of Information Act request for it on the grounds that it is a matter of "national security."

The NGO Knowledge Ecology International pressed the US Trade Rep on this, and received a reply stating that 42 DC insiders -- including some reps from activist groups -- have been shown the treaty, after signing a vow promising to treat it as classified. KEI has researched the 42 people and their bios and corporate affiliations. Sherwin Siy of Public Knowledge describes his experiences with the secret treaty:

Our first exposure to any text was on fairly short notice. We were allowed to view a draft of one proposed section as we sat in a room at USTR with some of its negotiators and counsel. We were not allowed to take any copies of the text with us when we left the meeting about an hour later.We were urged to keep any notes we took secure, and not to discuss the substance of what we saw unless USTR confirmed that the other party had also seen the text. The meeting proceeded with USTR discussing each point of the text in turn as we viewed it for the first time and compared the text to existing statutes, trade agreements, and treaties.

We were invited to set up additional meetings or call USTR to confirm our recollections if we wanted to verify what we remembered from the meeting, as we were not allowed to photograph, scan, or (presumably) transcribe the documents. We were told that some edits might be made in the near future to account for various concerns.

A meeting a few weeks later convened a range of people who had been cleared to see the text, and functioned as a roundtable, at this meeting, a slightly altered version was shown, which in some areas was slightly better, in some slightly worse, but without some of the most troubling aspects resolved.

White House shares the ACTA Internet text with 42 Washington insiders, under non disclosure agreements


Olympic Committee Member to Chicago bid team: US Customs is “harrowing experience”

02 Oct
Chicago may have lost its Olympic bid due to the insane fingerprints-and-photos regime at the US border: the Chicago bid team was questioned by an IOC member who called the US border "a rather harrowing experience." I've actually found the O'Hare border procedure pretty painless, but God help the foreigner who lands in Texas. At DFW, I was told by a border guard that I wasn't allowed to listen to headphones in the (two-hour-long) line; at Houston, we once stood in line for three hours just to change planes between Honduras and the UK.
Among the toughest questions posed to the Chicago bid team this week in Copenhagen was one that raised the issue of what kind of welcome foreigners would get from airport officials when they arrived in this country to attend the Games. Syed Shahid Ali, an I.O.C. member from Pakistan, in the question-and-answer session following Chicago's official presentation, pointed out that entering the United States can be "a rather harrowing experience..."

"It's clear the United States still has a lot of work to do to restore its place as a premier travel destination," Roger Dow, U.S. Travel's president, said in the statement released today. "When IOC members are commenting to our President that foreign visitors find traveling to the United States a 'pretty harrowing experience,' we need to take seriously the challenge of reforming our entry process to ensure there is a welcome mat to our friends around the world, even as we ensure a secure system."

Chicago's Loss: Is Passport Control to Blame?


Medicare Would Rather Buy $8000 Computer than $150 iPhone App [Politics]

15 Sep

Say that, all things equal, you could fix a problem for $8000 or fix the same problem for $150. Which would you choose? Clearly, you are not Medicare.

Proloquo2Go is a text-to-speech iPhone app that's meant to aid those with autism, cerebral palsy, ALS, Down Syndrome—pretty much anyone who has a disability that makes speaking a difficult venture. It costs $150.

But Medicare/Medicaid restrictions won't pay for this software or the accompanying iPhone because the iPhone is not a uni-functional device. (A person with autism might play games on it, after all! Or call a doctor!)

One family's alternative, as documented by the NYTimes, is a government-funded $8000 desktop computer that can have no other function than text-to-speech. No emailing doctors. No browsing the web for medical research. So, this pricey clunker sits at home while the family pays out of pocket for the iPhone app that can operate in their real, mobile life.

Medicare acknowledges the situation. They have heard of the iPhone, as they explain in their official statement on the matter: "We would not cover the iPhones and netbooks with speech-generating software capabilities because they are useful in the absence of an illness or injury."

But with the nation's eyes on our healthcare policies, there's never been a better time to reassess such archaic thinking. All things equal, a company like Apple or RIM will always make superior hardware to that of some boutique electronics company, and they'll do so for pennies on the dollar. Even more importantly, these better distributed hardware platforms will be rewarded with greater enthusiasm and expertise from software designers—the real innovators in today's design-heavy electronics industry.

I'm no health care expert, but it's obvious that reform in this sector would be a win-win. Taxpayers would save money. Government programs would aid more individuals. And those being helped would simply be helped better, with more options and ultimately in a way more specific to their particular problem.

But the government can't subsidize a semi-open platform that would drive both technological innovation and market competition. That's crazy talk! [Proloquo2Go and NYTimes]


Dwindling options

09 Sep

There’s one thing that all Americans, be they liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican, rational or loony, seem to agree on. Our current medical system is broken, and needs to be fixed. You can listen to personal experience. You can look at pretty graphics. You can read expert discussion. Health care in the US is in need of Change.

Listening to the current health care debate is unbelievably depressing. It isn’t really a debate about healthcare at all. Instead, it has devolved into a debate about all the conservative boogeymen: big government, high taxes, Obama personally telling your doctor what to do. The “debate” is fundamentally unmoored from the actual proposals being set forth. This is one of the most important public discussions this nation has had in recent memory. The results will directly impact each and every American. And yet, the entire debate is completely incoherent and misleading.

The possibility of a “single-payer” healthcare program has fallen off the table. I’m not sure exactly how or when this option became untenable, but it shows how quickly the efforts of pharmaceutical and insurance companies can reframe a discussion. After all, there are billions upon billions of dollars at stake, which is precisely why it is such a profound issue for our long-term fiscal health. It is not at all surprising that these companies are spending millions to defeat meaningful reform. The essential goal of this reform, after all, is to reduce the amount of money our nation spends on health care (while improving overall care). Which is not at all in the interest of these companies. What is astounding is that they are actually succeeding in derailing the discussion into lunacy.

Now it looks as if a “public option” will fall victim as well, and be eliminated from consideration. An (incredibly vocal) minority has become convinced that the public option will destroy capitalism, and that Obama is the second coming of Hitler. Really. These people live in an alternate Universe. Here is a two-minute summary of the public option by Robert Reich:

As Paul Krugman says, “the argument against the public option boils down to the fact that it’s bad because it is, horrors, a government program.” In addition, “the argument against it is sheer nonsense. It is nothing but the insurance lobby.”

In a few minutes Obama will give a much-anticipated speech on healthcare. We can only hope he is able to change the nature of the discourse. We are at a critical juncture. The whole nation is focused on fixing healthcare. The diagnosis is clear. The patient is in crisis. Prospects for recovery are increasingly slim. Heroic action is needed.

Update: Text of the speech can be read here. Obama made a range of proposals, including a public option. He tells us: “Well the time for bickering is over. The time for games has passed. Now is the season for action. Now is when we must bring the best ideas of both parties together, and show the American people that we can still do what we were sent here to do. Now is the time to deliver on health care.” I hope he can.

As if on queue, a Republican from South Carolina interrupted Obama in the middle of his speech, yelling “You lie!”. The irony, of course, is that at that very moment Obama was busy decrying the absurd claims being widely promulgated by those who aren’t interested in civil dialogue, but aim to “kill reform at any cost”. It gives a good sense of the current state of affairs: that a Congressman would actually interrupt the President, and accuse him of lying, to his face, on national TV. And, needless to say, the Congressman was absolutely, unequivocally wrong. And, “surprise”, he receives lots of money from healthcare industry lobbyists, and is basically a nutcase.


Greasemonkey Shows Off Political Colors

10 Oct

Memeorandum colored by Greasemonkey script

Andy Baio, a prominent blogger and creator of, has released a Greasemonkey script to visualize the perceived political bias of linked content on the political news aggregation site Memeorandum. If a site tends to link to more left-leaning stories, it’s colored blue. Right-leaning linkers are red.

With the help of Delicious founder Joshua Schachter, Baio used a recommendation algorithm to analyze the last three months of linking behavior for each news source. With that data stored in a Google Spreadsheet, Baio used the Ajax support in Greasemonkey to grab a JSON feed and colorize the links. Those with Firefox’s Greasemonkey extension and Baio’s script installed will see the colorized links when viewing Memeorandum. Baio also released a full-fledged extension that does not require Greasemonkey.

This is a great example of how Greasemonkey can be used to change the way you view a page. In Baio’s case, he wanted to see the perceived bias of a site at a glance so he could choose a balanced view. The code from this project is available under the free and open-source GPL license. You could use it to create other ways of visualizing data on the web.

GreasemonkeyIf you’re brand new to Greasemonkey, be sure to read my new Greasemonkey tutorial on the versatile Firefox extension. If you’ve ever written JavaScript before, you’ll quickly learn the ways of Greasemonkey, which essentially gives you the ability to insert your code anywhere in someone else’s site, but only for your own use on your local machine.

You don’t need to bite off as much as Baio, who admits this is his first Greasemonkey script. One of the biggest benefits I’ve found is that I can write code to pull out the important stuff already in the page. My tutorial shows a simple example of that, where I create a floating menu of all <h2> tags on the page. It turns out this is useful for long Wikipedia entries… and Webmonkey tutorials.

See also:

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Geek Apparel of the Week: Star Wars ’08

09 Oct

Since the economy is screwed and we're all going to hell in a handbasket anyways, there's only one election that really matters—the Rebel Party or the Imperial Party. Zazzle has these and dozens more Star Wars/election themed shirts, including the Obama-inspired "A New Hope," "Vote [Your Name] for Grand Moff '08" and many more (oh, there's an AT-ST Imperial Party shirt too, if you prefer it over the AT-AT, in which case we can't be friends because AT-ATs fucking rule). You can get any of them in a variety of styles, colors, or as buttons and mugs—look, just go here, I can't do all the work for you.

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Posted in Movies, Politics


Obama iPhone App Provides Platform for Supporters

02 Oct

I don’t know how accurate it is to say Senator Barack Obama is a Mac to Senator John McCain’s PC, but those convinced of this premise will either delight in or scorn the fact that the Obama for America campaign has presented a free iPhone and iPod touch-compatible application called Obama ’08 [iTunes URL] for supporters to use.

Having browsed the application myself, I can tell you that the experience is commendable. The 1MB download is thoroughly polished, and covers nearly everything its larger relative, has to offer. Technically speaking, the development is appreciable.

Though it does not harbor a connection to the social network, the application is, design-wise, very much in line with the campaign website. No question about that. But how it functions is far more noteworthy. If you wish to read news highlighted by campaign operatives, you can do so, with the option to specify a national or local view. If you want to browse photos and videos, you may. Events are posted, too, and the campaign’s stated issues and its positions on those issues are noted in full. (Nearly all of these items can be emailed at will.)

You can also sign up to receive email and/or SMS notifications, and call anyone within your phone’s contact list, with each noted as “have not called” until you connect with them. This is obviously meant to increase outreach. (Placing calls is of course not possible with an iPod touch.)

Digging into the menu is easy enough. There’s really no trouble to be had with navigation. You can never go deep enough to get lost, to be honest. Which is just as well, because it’s an application for a political campaign, after all. There’s only so much a user can do given the matter at hand.

Nonetheless, there are some issues to be had. Browsing media isn’t handled the best way possible. For one, it would of course be a great convenience to see video playback within the application itself, but interacting with titles simply brings you out of the Obama ’08 application and over to the device’s YouTube application. This wouldn’t be something to nitpick over, but when you do venture out of the latter piece of software and back to the Obama ’08 application, you’re shown the start page once more, not the menu of videos from where you originally departed.

On the photography side of things, the supply of images is all but useless. Not because the content or presentation of individual photos doesn’t satisfy, but rather because the sheer number that is uploaded on any given day hardly makes it worth your while. The menu only allows for twenty images to be viewed, and my own time spent with the application today has shown nothing but photos titled “YouthVoteSurrogatePic….” This is not something to enjoy with any measure of frequency, that’s for sure.

Be that as it may, visual media is not the main draw here. It’s more about what the campaign is doing now and in the next few weeks leading up to Election Day, not a compendium of the last year and a half of canvassing that’s been done. For that, it will likely suffice for most users. You might not enjoy having a ‘Donate’ button that simply shows a translucent pop-up asking you to connect by phone to a campaign representative. Nor will some users like that you can only call contacts, and not send them email or SMS messages. Still, it is for the most part a solid collection of information pertaining to the Democratic ticket, making it enough of a download for iPhone-wielding Obama supporters to draw interest in.

Related Articles at Mashable | All That's New on the Web:

Obama on LinkedIn
Make Your Own Obama Logo, With Your Face
World’s Simplest iPhone App
Obama Does the Twitter
Guiliani’s Own Daughter Shows Support for Obama on Facebook
AirBed & Breakfast: For Obama’s Sake, Skip the Hotels

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Obama Campaign Ad Attacks McCain For Lack of l33t Skillz [Politics]

12 Sep

It's a new era for political mudslinging. I, for one, can't wait for the instagib republican vs democrat fragfests coming next. McCain may be a war vet, but he's no match for Obama's Covenant Carbine amd 4,000DPI mouse! (On a side note, how hard must it be to run for president these days without email and stuff?) [Valleywag]

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