Alas, Poor Seamus, We Knew You Too, Too Well

I try to avoid being an advocate of the eat-your-peas model of campaign coverage. If the campaign were nothing but competing position papers, it would be terribly boring. Politics is compelling because it affects all of our lives, but also because it features interesting characters engaged in furious conflict. All that being said, however, a focus on trivia can be taken too far, and it usually is. Which is why I'm glad that NPR's David Folkenflik did a story on New York Times columnist Gail Collins' bizarre obsession with Mitt Romney's dog. In case you're unfamiliar with the story, in 2008 it came out that Romney once took his family on a vacation with the dog strapped to the roof of the car. The dog was in a carrier, but it still struck many dog owners as a little crazy. So what does this reveal to us about Romney? That he's indifferent to the risk of animal injury in high-speed crashes? Or what? Here's an excerpt from the story: "I don't know what it is about that factoid that...

Happy Hanukkah to All, and To All A Good Night

It starts at sundown tonight. In honor, here's the Maccabeats' big (and catchy) hit from last year.

Hard to Remember Things: Birthdays, Appointments, How Much TV You Watch

The short answer: not very well. That’s the subject of my first post over at the Washington Post’s polling blog, Behind the Numbers. It features this graph from Lynn Vavreck and Michael LaCour . See the post for more.

Friday Miscellany

A little bit of this, a little bit of that: So you're a conservative Republican mayor, deep in Mississippi, who ran for Congress in 2008 "on a conservative, family-values platform," according to the Memphis Commercial Appeal. Wouldn't you think you'd keep yourself from using your official credit card "at a visit to an adult store catering to gay men while on a recruitment trip to Canada"? #justsaying A review by The CA shows that Davis spent thousands of dollars at the Mesquite Chop House in Southaven and thousands more at local liquor stores. Also included in the receipts is a charge for $67 at Priape, a store in Toronto that is described by its website as "Canada's premiere gay lifestyle store and sex shop." New York City is reporting a drop in its schoolchildren's obesity rates. If the drop is real, and if Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Dr. Thomas Farley, the city's activist health commissioner, have really caused it with their recent multi-pronged anti-obesity campaign (bans on...

Capitalism by Any Other Name

Republicans are fighting to rebrand capitalism as economic opportunity but their agenda remains the same.

I've been thinking about the term "capitalism" since Frank Luntz, the renowned pollster, told Republicans to quit saying it. The Occupy Wall Street movement has turned "capitalism" into a dirty word, he said. If Republicans want to win in 2012, they'd better stop worrying and learn to love "economic freedom" instead. It's a stunning turning of the tide. No matter the kind of conservative—Southern, evangelical, libertarian, Tea Party, or old-school Rockefeller patrician—conservatives have never hidden their allegiance to the moneyed class and power elite. I have never in my lifetime seen a conservative counsel against expressing one of the major tenets of conservative ideology. You might as well advise the GOP to stop trying to repeal the New Deal and start defending labor rights. I've been thinking about this rhetorical shift while riding the bus in New Haven every day. The passengers are typically at the bottom of the 99 percent. Some are destitute; some are unemployable. Most are...

Meta-Commentary on End-of-Year Lists

Over at NPR's website, Linda Holmes had herself some meta-fun in a post called The 20 Unhappiest People You Meet In The Comments Sections Of Year-End Lists. For instance, 6. The Read A Book Guy. "Not one of these movies is as good as reading a book." On a list of books, by the way, he will say none of the books is as good as books used to be. He also hates Kindles, which he may or may not mention. It's the kinda thing we wouldn't even have imagined writing a top-twenty list about even five years ago, which makes it very of-our-moment—and made me actually LOL. Check it out if you've ever rolled your eyes at your fellow online commenters and would like a nice, knowing meta-snicker at their anonymous expense. Because you and I have never left comments like this, now, have we?

Why Did MSNBC Apologize to Mitt Romney?

AP Photo/Frank Micelotta
You may have said to yourself when you got up this morning, "You know what I could use? A mini-scandal that I'll forget about in a day or two!" No? Well anyway, this one is actually kind of interesting. You see, Mitt Romney has periodically used the slogan "Keep America American," which is obviously an attempt to appeal to various strains of xenophobia and resentment that run through the American electorate but are particularly strong in the Republican base. It also dovetails nicely with the attacks he and others make on Barack Obama, charging that the president has foreign ideas and is trying to turn America into a nightmarish Euro-socialist hellscape. The slogan would be pretty repugnant on its face, but it turns out, as John Aravosis of AmericaBlog discovered , it's been used by other people before Romney, including the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s. As Rick Perry might say, "Oops." So MSNBC picked up Aravosis's post and did a brief story on it. Among other things, the story included a...

From London, With Angst

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy chronicles the last days of Britain as a superpower.

AP Photo/Matt Sayles
Spying is popularly conceived of as a glamorous line of work. The James Bond, Jason Bourne, and Mission Impossible films are all cocktails, trysts, gunplay in the tropical sun, and evil brought to heel. The audience gleefully absorbs the antics of the hero-spy, a romantic figure who easily escapes the institutional harnesses of his superiors. Tomas Alfredson’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy takes place in a different world. There is no super spy here, just a vision of the claustrophobic, embittered world of the intelligence community and its human cost. Based on the novel by John le Carré, Tinker, Tailor is concerned with the hunt for a Soviet mole who has infiltrated the highest levels of the British intelligence establishment, an agency known at “The Circus”. (Le Carré’s work popularized “mole” as a term for a double agent.) Gary Oldman plays George Smiley, Tinker Tailor ’s rumpled, aging hero. Smiley, enmeshed in a corrupt institution, represents an elite obsessed with perceived...

The Fanatics of the Center

Moderation has its zealots, so convinced of their righteousness that they ignore the likely impact of their actions.

Thomas Friedman via Center for American Progress
T he political center has an undeserved reputation as the home of the most dispassionate and reasonable people. According to a strain of thought that stretches back to the 18th century, parties endanger democracy; partisans see only their side of the truth, pursue their own narrow interests, and aggravate tensions and conflict. The rational course supposedly lies in the middle, where champions of civic virtue counsel compromise and invite us to put the public good first. The anti-partisan story is a seductive myth, and a dangerous one. Those who represent themselves as standing in the center have their own partialities. Many people who call themselves nonpartisan or independent actually lean left or right but for one reason or another resist coming out of the closet as Democrats or Republicans. Some people who tell pollsters that they’re independents don’t follow politics closely or care about it enough to risk taking sides. They’re hardly model citizens. Besides this muddled middle,...

Department of Overreaction: Fa-la-la-la-la-la-la-la

Longtime gay community reporter Rex Wockner passes along this story of a Wisconsin teacher who has taken the "gay" out of Deck the Halls. You can't really blame her, what with "gay" being a common grade school slur, and all: The music teacher at Cherry Knoll removed the word "gay" from the song Deck the Halls because the children kept giggling. Instead students were taught to sing "don we now our bright apparel". That's not so gay, now, is it? If you watch the video, the principal has all the right reactions, saying he wished the teacher had used the song as "a teachable moment," building on their anti-bullying policy and support for diversity in sexual orientation, explaining what "gay" used to mean, and reinforcing the idea that "gay" is not a bad word. What do you think: Will this incident join Fox News' "war on Christmas" seasonal parade, in which the homos are joining in with the secular elites to ruin the holiday?

He Lied/She Lied

PolitiFact, which has become the premier fact-checking entity in American journalism, just announced its nominees for its annual "Lie of the Year" award. This is, of course, a gimmick designed to bring more attention to the group's work. There's nothing wrong with that—lots of organizations do similar things. But because PolitiFact has built a good reputation among journalists (not unchallenged, though—it's been criticized by both the right and the left at various times, and some of those criticisms have been valid), it has a good deal at stake in making sure its "Lie of the Year" is as persuasive as possible. In other words, the decision will be political. There's just no way to avoid it. So here's my prediction: It's going to pick a "lie" told by Democrats, even if the one it picks is far from the most egregious lie told this year, or even really a lie at all. This is the third time PolitiFact has declared a "Lie of the Year." The first , in 2009, was Sarah Palin's "death panel" lie...

The Journal vs. Fox (Huh?)

Hard though it be to believe, a Wall Street Journal editorial Monday actually had the temerity to criticize Fox News. Not by name, of course—Murdoch editorialists are nothing if not discreet when going after other parts of the Murdoch empire—but the criticism was directed at some unnamed organization that puts Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly on television every night. The criticism came in an editorial on the late, lamented Herman Cain campaign. After noting that Cain was in no way ready for prime time, the editorial asserted that Cain had too many flaws to take on President Barack Obama. At that point, the Journal dipped its toe, gingerly, into criticism of the right-wing media. Cain’s unelectability, it said, is the weakness that the talk-radio establishment overlooked when it dismissed the sexual-harassment accusations against Mr. Cain as one more left-wing conspiracy. Whether true or not, the accusations resulted in settlements by the National Restaurant Association, where he had...

Siri, Sexism, and Silicon Valley

Siri might not be sexist, but that doesn't let Apple—or the tech world—off the hook.

At this point, I think it’s fair to say that there is nothing intentional in the fact that Siri, Apple’s AI assistant for the iPhone 4S, has a hard time providing information for abortion clinics, birth control, and other reproductive health services. As both Amanda Marcotte and Jill Filipovic have pointed out, Apple relies on external databases for Siri, which often offer faulty or inconclusive information for reproductive health services. What’s more, because of the difficulties inherent to location-based search algorithms, it’s likely that Siri has a bias toward avoiding all but the most unambiugous results, which—given the extent to which abortion providers often demure about their identity—would explain the presence of crisis pregnancy centers in results for abortion-related queries. As for the responses Siri gives when you say “I was raped” (“Really!”) or “Are you pro-life?” (“I am what I am”), it’s likely that those are canned responses to declarative statements or questions...

The (New York) Times, They are A-Changin'

Last Sunday, I got silly-happy when I came across the Vows column in the Times' Style section. (For those who don't know, every week NYT highlights one couple's wedding with a little feature story and pictures, among the wedding listings.) Usually I simply scan that section briefly, checking up on how many same-sex couples appear, almost by habit. Since the NYT started allowing same-sex announcements in its wedding section in September 2002 , a few prominent couples have crashed that Vows feature. If I remember correctly (and if I'm wrong, please let me know!), the first was folksinger Janis Ian's marriage to Patricia Snyder, whom I assumed was the same person Ian had, in her Advocate columns, been entertainingly referring to as "Mr. Lesbian." After that came Tony Kushner and Mark Harris's wedding. After that I stopped keeping such close track, but, and somewhere along the line, got married myself. (Thank you for asking, but no, we did not send a notice to the Times.) This past...

Just TELL Me You're Gonna Invade My Privacy

Federal regulators have reached a settlement with Facebook over privacy violations—but it's just a slap on the wrist for an industry that regularly sells user data.

Washington, D.C., and Facebook Inc. took part yesterday in another round of what we might call "working on their relationship." But that we're fixated on specific privacy violations rather than the day-in-day-out use of our personal data lets us know that there's a limit to the conversation in which they're engaged. What happened is this: The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reached a settlement with Facebook that requires the company to stop engaging in privacy-violating practices and to participate in regular third-party privacy audits for the next 20 years. The agreement, prompted by a complaint by privacy-advocacy groups, is meant to address several places were Facebook was found to have gone astray in recent years—not truly deleting deleted user accounts, sharing friend lists that had been marked private, and changing privacy settings without really telling anyone. The agreement still needs to be approved by FTC commissioners at the end of December, after a period of public comment...