Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Akron Press Club Presents "Buckeye Battlefield"

There is still time to reserve a spot for the Akron Press Club "Buckeye Battlefield" program this Thursday. The panelists will be:

  • John C. Green, Director, Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics, The University of Akron
  • Jason Johnson, Assistant Professor, Communication and Political Science, Hiram College
  • Connie Schultz, Columnist, Cleveland Plain Dealer
Check here for reservation info.

Monday, September 29, 2008

InterviewPalin.com: Computer Generated Satire

Computer algorithm parody sites have been all the rage this election cycle -- the '08 equivalent to You Forgot Poland and johnkerryisadouchebagbutimvotingforhimanyway.com. Sandy Levinson at Balkinization put me on to my fav so far -- a Sarah Palin interview generator. The site clicks you through a series of questions, answered by a program using a Markov chain. Here's a sample.

    Q: Why should the US elect Senator McCain?

    McCain has done, that has shown his foresight, his pragmatism, and his leadership abilities. And that contract that should be inherent in corporations who are spending, investing other people's money, the abuse of that closed door, good old boy network that has to be in, if we were to allow that to happen. We have got to get a more coordinated and a much more than smaller democratic country, unprovoked, is unacceptable and we need to implement those. We cannot just concede that, oh, gee, maybe they're going to continue good relations with Saakashvili there. I think that I am so proud of his desire to control and to control and to control energy supplies, also, coming from and through Russia, that's a dangerous position for our world is and how important it is the foundation of our best interests to fight against a regime, especially Iran, who would seek to protect the good guys in this, the leaders of Israel and her friends, her allies, including the United States of America, where do they go? It's Alaska.
Spot on.

Oh, and Hi again.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

R.I.P. David Foster Wallace.

Tonight came the heartbreaking news that writer David Foster Wallace apparently took his own life. Close readers of the Pages have heard at least a little of how much Wallace means to me as an influence and inspiration.

It would be easy to write up Wallace being the Great Underappreciated Artist, the agony-and-ecstasy archetype. Certainly that type has come and (too quickly) gone frequently enough to give the story as we know it tonight a familiar ring. But the trope gets more tired with each passing year. And Wallace got plenty of appreciation.

Which leaves whatever was going on inside. I can't understand how someone so gifted, so successful, so wise could be so apparently unhappy. What I know is that he was the best working writer of fiction and nonfiction I've read over the past ten years. I pray for his friends and family, mourn his passing and miss everything he leaves unwritten.

No, I didn't know him, but yes he was a man of infinite jest.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Brunner v. GOP, Absentee Ballot Edition

Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner is again under attack from the state Republican party. Today the occasion is her decision regarding applications for absentee ballots prepared by the McCain/Palin campaign for supporters. Brunner ruled that if voters have not checked a box next to a statement that the applicant is a qualified elector, the application is not valid.

Abentee ballots are governed by section 3509.03 of the Ohio Revised Code, which states in part:

    Except as provided in section 3509.031 or division (B) of section 3509.08 of the Revised Code, any qualified elector desiring to vote absent voter’s ballots at an election shall make written application for those ballots to the director of elections of the county in which the elector’s voting residence is located. The application need not be in any particular form but shall contain all of the following:

    (A) The elector’s name;

    (B) The elector’s signature;

    (C) The address at which the elector is registered to vote;

    (D) The elector’s date of birth;

    (E) One of the following:

    (1) The elector’s driver’s license number;

    (2) The last four digits of the elector’s social security number;

    (3) A copy of the elector’s current and valid photo identification, a copy of a military identification , or a copy of a current utility bill, bank statement, government check, paycheck, or other government document, other than a notice of an election mailed by a board of elections under section 3501.19 of the Revised Code or a notice of voter registration mailed by a board of elections under section 3503.19 of the Revised Code, that shows the name and address of the elector.

    (F) A statement identifying the election for which absent voter’s ballots are requested;

    (G) A statement that the person requesting the ballots is a qualified elector;

    (H) If the request is for primary election ballots, the elector’s party affiliation;

    (I) If the elector desires ballots to be mailed to the elector, the address to which those ballots shall be mailed.
At issue, obviously, is subsection G in bold. The McCain campaign topped their application with a legend in (est.) 20 point type "I am a qualified elector and would like to request an absentee ballot for the November 4, 2008 election." The type for this heading is larger than any of the information below. And the infamous check box appears at the front of it. Cincy Inquirer has posted a pdf of the form so you can follow along.

The GOP argument is that by signing the form the applicant makes the statement that he/she is a qualified elector. Brunner counters that because there is a check box, the implication of not checking is that the statement isn't true.

Generally speaking, I'm inclined to err on the side of voting and, based on her political persuasion, I expect Brunner is as well. But the legislature has spoken, and that isn't their inclination. With the passage of Ohio's voter ID law, the legislature has added a different guiding principle -- combatting the voter fraud chimera. Guiding principle like this serve as a touchstone for interpreting a statute -- if you know what was on the legislature's mind, you can interpret the statute in the way that best achieves that end.

Viewed in this light, the required statement of eligibility to vote serves two purposes. One is to put the applicant on notice that he should only be getting an absentee ballot; the other is to make it easier to prosecute Rampant Voter Fraud.® When applicants don't check the box in the form as constructed, neither purpose is served. We don't know that applicants have gotten their notice because they may well have blown past the header. And as a prosecutor, I wouldn't be very confident that I could prosecute someone for falsely claiming that he was an eligible voter when he doesn't check the box saying that he is an eligible voter.

And no, the signature doesn't cut it. Generally when a form requires a signature to certify something, the statement appears directly over the signature line and explicitly states the effect of the signature: "By signing below I certify that . . . etc." Without that, a prosecutor can't prove that a defendant knowingly made false statements, which is the standard for prosecuting fraud.

Sadly, the papers, especially the Inquirer, seem to be accepting the GOP's line that Brunner is making a technical ruling on a close question. Her ruling is right down the middle of the law. With the check box unchecked the application includes no statement that the applicant is a qualified elector. If Brunner had made the opposite ruling on a Dem application, you would hear weeping wailing and gnashing of teeth from the right.

Not to mention the hypocrisy. The line we hear over and over again from the GOP on voting is that if an elector makes a mistake so be it, his fault, if you want to vote, be responsible. But now it's their voters who can't negotiate the maze, so it's all someone else's fault. As happens so often, conservatives are for personal responsibility until they are against it.

I Never Metaphor I Didn't Like

But obviously McCain/Palin have. The big political news this week was a fluffy controversy over whether Obama called Sarah Palin a pig.1 Some of my friends have suggested that Obama set himself up for the attack by referencing "lipstick." But with McCain/Palin so settled on calculated umbrage as a campaign tactic, it seems unlikely Obama could have found a metaphor to convey the message that

  • Can't polish a turd: Sly reference at Palin changing diapers; subliminal attempt to touch off Mommy Wars.
  • Deja vu all over again. Quote comes from Yogi Berra who is old and dottering (though he was dottering when he said it and is old now). Clearly an agist attack on McCain.
  • Can't teach an old dog new tricks: Calling Palin a dog now? Completely inexcusable. Bonus campaign flip-flop after Biden opined that she is good looking.
  • A leopard can't change it's spots. Does Palin wear animal print?
  • Putting old wine in a new botttle. Now it sounds like he's asking her on a date.
  • The more things change, the more they stay the same. The original is in French -- Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose. 'Nuff said.
Everyone has advice for Obama this week. The clear lesson from L'affair de la cochon? Stop speaking. Now.

1Here's a close as I can come to a complete transcript of the infamous remark splicing together MediaMatters and Ben Smith:
    Let's just list this for a second. John McCain says he's about change, too. Except -- and so I guess his whole angle is, "Watch out, George Bush, except for economic policy, health-care policy, tax policy, education policy, foreign policy, and Karl Rove-style politics. We're really gonna shake things up in Washington." That's not change. That's just calling some -- the same thing, something different. But you know, you can't -- you know, you can put lipstick on a pig; it's still a pig. You can wrap an old fish in a piece of paper called change. It's still gonna stink. We've had enough of the same old thing
And as for Obama's second metaphor? I'm not going near that.

The Palin Mud Wrestling Strategy

In the classic vulgar comedy Stripes, John Candy gets talked into Um, it was the Eighties. Anyway, the best bit is when he hits one of his opponents who cries "You hit me and I'm a girl." He lets his guard down to apologize and she decks him. I don't entirely trust AOL's embed code, but here goes. Warning, not entirely SFW.

"You hit me and I'm a girl" seems to be the running slogan for the McCain/Palin campaign. Specifically, Gov. Palin will feel free to jab at Obama/Biden (and embellish her own record) but any critcism of Palin causes collective vapors in the McCain campaign. "You can't hit her like that, she's a girl," they cry as she's rearing back for a roundhouse.

Jill opines that the campaign is sequestering her out of sexist concern for her weakness. I think it's a conscious strategy to immunize her from criticism. The Candy bit is funny because it touches on something primal -- we have a problem with seeing a woman being, well, manhandled. Whether it's cultural or instinctive doesn't matter -- it's there and it's powerful.

So will it work? That depends entirely on the willingness of voters to call BS, something we collectively seem incapable of doing. The media didn't help with their many missteps in the first week of Palin vetting. (It's reassuring to know that we don't have to worry about Palin cozying up to a treasonous separatist party just because it was falsely reported that she was a member.) Still, the capacity of McCain/Palin to piss on our collective legs and convince us it's the weather has thus far been breathtaking.


Wednesday, September 10, 2008

A New Knight Center and a New Freelance Piece.

My latest step in my slow ascent up the ladder of freelance respectability is here, a lead in the Knight Foundation newsletter about the Knight Center of Digital Excellence. Attentive readers may recall that when the Knight Foundation and OneCommunity announced plans for an Akron WiFi zone, they announced creation of this Center of Digital Excellence as part of the overall effort. They moved into their new offices in the United 1 building a couple of weeks ago and hired me to cover the event for their members.

If you aren't inclined to click through to review my work I'll say that the Knight Center (still getting used to saying that and meaning something other than the Convention Center) is a nationwide pro bono networking consulting service run in partnership by the Knight Foundation and OneCommunity. They work toward community internet access by playing what baseball teams call small ball -- small, focused connectivity projects here and there build out networks (mostly in what tech guys call the middle mile) and communities build on that to connect their populations.

It's no small thing for Akron to have gotten this. The effort is getting serious looks as a sort of next generation collection of connectivity models now that some high-profile muni wireless efforts have cratered. I was honored to have been present, if not at the creation, at least on moving day.

(Just so we're clear, my contract with the Foundation was fulfilled by the article; I'm writing this on my own because it's pretty cool and Pho-phriendly news regardless.)

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Plain Dealer Among Papers Teaming with Politico

From Editor and Publisher:

    Politico, the online political news site, has launched a new content sharing network that will provide news items to other news outlets -- including several newspapers -- in exchange for ad placements on their sites, the Web site revealed Tuesday.

    In an announcement, Politico states that it has partnered with Adify, a vertical ad network management company, to launch the Politico Network. Through the new venture, media organizations selected by Politico editors will have access to the site's top stories for use online and in print.

    "The Politico Network also brings a new revenue model to these media partners: Politico will sell national advertising to be placed on partners’ websites, and revenue from those ads will be shared between Politico and the media outlets," the release stated.

    Among those news outlets already signed up for the network are The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Denver Post, and The Plain Dealer in Cleveland, Politico stated.
In fairly short order Politico has become a journalistic force, though who knows how the economics look. The received wisdom at the time of launch was that Politico needed a viable print counterpart to survive. This may be a way to accomplish that.

News organizations are working on all sorts of content/ad revenue sharing models as the economics of news gathering shift and tighten. The value of an outfit like Politico is that it can serve multiple segments simultaneously. They report the deep minutiae for us political junkies, but can synthesize that into more reader-friendly stories for normal people.

Something's Coming to Highland Square

Once again, anonymous construction is happening in the new buildings in the Square. The last time a dumpster and Portajohn appeared in the parking lot and people were moving stuff around inside, Metro Burger happened. This time someone is building out the space next to Metro Burger, leaving two others to be finished. Thus far it looks like they have studs up for the internal wall and are roughing out electrical.

My usually well informed Highland Square elves haven't heard anything, nor has the Neighborhood Association, though they are somewhat preoccupied by billboards. The building permit is posted facing the inside, so whatever-it-is remains a mystery for now.

If you have info, feel free to drop a comment or an email.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Preachers Pulpits and the Proper Separation

The hard right Christian exceptionalists at the Alliance Defense Fund are on one of their favorite crusades again -- challenging restrictions on political activity by churches. This time they are advising pastors to defy the restriction and preach political endorsements from the pulpit on September 28, and offering to defend anyone brought up on violation of IRS violations.
Not to be outdone in the Dubious Tactics category, an Ohio UCC minister has filed a complaint against the effort alleging that . . . um, they are trying get complaints filed against them. According to a WKSU story (which hopefully will be posted sometime) they are also planning a Sunday of celebrating separation of church and state.
I'm big on church/state separation, but that's not what this is about. Separating church isn't the same as separating religion and politics, which is probaly impossible. The IRS regulations are about separating partisan politics and charity. All nonprofit organizations -- not just churches -- are prohibited from engaging in electoral politics. In other words, the taxpayers don't underwrite political campaigning. What the Alliance wants is an exception for churches and churches only.
This sort of exceptionalism is the norm for groups like ADF, which is ironic. Their rap on opposing gay rights is that they are "special" or "exceptional" rights. The right to keep one's job irrespective of sexual orientation is exceptional. But the use of state resources to "celebrate" the country's Christian heritage (but no other) is simply curtailing discrimination against Christians.
It's so . . . special.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

The Jennifer Brunner Rorschach

Tell me what you think of Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner and I'll tell you your politics. If you love her, you are a mainstream Democrat. If you think she's well meaning but doesn't do enough to secure, you are a Dem, but farther out on the left wing. If she's a useful idiot duped by the ongoing Diebold/Rove conspiracy to steal elections, you are a Green (genus Fitrakis.) If you don't have much of an opinion one way or the other, you are somewhere in the middle of the spectrum and/or one of those wise people who doesn't pay attention to politics until about mid-October.

And if you gnash your teeth at the very mention of her name, you are a Republican.

The obvious explanation for the Brunner Rorschach is 2010 reapportionment. If Gov. Ted Strickland and Secretary Brunner retain their seats, Democrats will control the reapportionment board which will influence what the legislature looks like which will in turn determine who Congressional districts are drawn. That's important any decade, but assuming Ohio will lose two Congressional seats as projected, it's crucial. At her Akron Press Club appearance Thursday, Brunner acknowledged the importance of her seat to both sides and noted dryly "It becomes a little prickly sometimes."

Throughout her presentation and the Q&A after, Brunner cited the work she is doing to make voting easier and more reliable for Ohioans. Her office is turning out directives to Boards of Elections, in an attempt to offer what she calls a library of resources for a variety of contingencies. She's working to get voter rolls online so people can verify that their registration is up to date. She is requiring counties to have backup paper ballots in case machines go down or lines get too long (touchscreen machine voting routinely runs longer.) She's rolled out uniform poll worker training, in part to make sure workers across the state enforce rules consistently.

Again and again Brunner talks about working proactively to guarantee people the right to vote. Which offers a second explanation for why she vexes Republican so. Democrats and Republicans simply have different philosophies about how to govern voting. For Democrats, voting is a fundamental right that the government should take pains to guarantee, if not encourage. For Republicans, voting is a privilege to be earned by just following a few simple rules, dammit, and pulled out of reach of anyone who even looks like he might commit voter fraud.

It is again, easy to dismiss all this as simple politics. Historically Democrat's coalition have included more population segments susceptible to vote suppression -- primarily poor folks who have less job flexibility and minorities for whom voting is associated with a long history of intimidation (these are the sorts of voters you get when you are the elite

  • I forgot my camera, so a crappy image from my cell phone will have to do. As you can see, she spoke next to an open nuclear reactor.
  • She began the talk with an anecdote related to her that some professer told someone from Uganda that he was from Ohio and the Ugandan asked if that was where Blackwell was from, and "Isn't he the one who stole the election for Bush?" Her point was that Ohio shouldn't have election problems that make news halfway around the world.
  • Stolen Election Guy wasn't there, nor was his Republican counterpart, Rampant Voter Fraud Guy. At least they didn't ask questions, and the odds of either Guy sitting on his hands for an hour are at least as long as the odds of a valid Columbus Dispatch poll.
  • Notwithstanding that, Brunner talked quite a bit about security. She is trying to get rid of touchscreen machines because, among other things, they aren't secure. She's also getting rid of "sleepovers."
  • She's predicting an 80% turnout in November.
  • She lauds Summit Co. for "superior" vote security. She also noted that she has to break BoE ties and some in places -- again Summit -- the boards deadlock a lot.
As usual, the program will be rebroadcast on local public access. Keep an eye out. Brunner's not the most dynamic speaker, but the program was heavy on information.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Righty Bloggers Complaining About RNC Treatment

If you followed the convention posts on BSB or especially from Jeff, you know that they had impressive access. Indeed, the rise of the blog was a major story line, with the only point of controversy being who got the state credentials. Whatever bad feelings may linger from that apparently do not compare to blogger complaints from the Republican convention.

From Pajamas Media:

    Here on what is passing for “Bloggers Row,” there is plenty of grumbling about the accommodations supplied by our hosts. Some descriptives are not printable. Most reflect a huge disappointment with the way the GOP has shunted most of the bloggers off to the side, far from the action, dispersed throughout a gigantic “Press Filing Center” where the working media comes to hook up to the net and file their stories.
And in PM tradition, the post is hilariously overwrought: "The dungeon that the GOP has put bloggers in this time around would be familiar to Torqumada and his buddies who made the Spanish Inquisition such a great party."

Snark aside, wonder why the RNC has become so much less accomodating. My theory is that bloggers for a party in trouble are less likely to toe the party line (see also, lefty bloggers c. 2004) and therefore of less use to the party.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Do You Know "Did You Know?"

The story I'm currently working on covers a meeting where we saw the viral Did You Know video. It was the first time I saw it. The story goes that after video-savvy teacher Colorado Karl Fisch produced it for his colleagues, a friend encouraged him to give it a broader distribution. He took out the Colo-specific info, added this and that and posted on the Yube. If you haven't seen it yet here's release 2.0:

ShiftHappens has spawned a wiki space and Fisch has an education-related blog.

And I'm working on some original content for tomorrow.