Texas SOS not making sense

The week that Ohio’s Republican Secretary of State booted Diebold for failing to fix security holes, the Texas Secretary of State claims that advocates for “safe voting” are mere “special interests.”
The Secretary of State contends that the Texas process to certify voting systems is rigorous — even though our certification process didn’t pick up on Diebold’s problems, didn’t notice thatthe audit feature in ES&S systems is broken — a system used in Dallas, Chambers, and Bexar Counties.
He says the fact that we haven’t had a massive failure yet proves that the system is safe. Not good to have government officials with their heads in the sand.

Why do blog-readers make political donations

Farhad Manjoo at Salon wonders whyreaders of political blogs make campaign contributions.
That is the silliest question ever.
Why do wealthy people put on uncomfortable clothes, eat mediocre food, and listen to boring speeches, sitting around white tablecloths with their friends, while giving thousands of dollars to political candidates?
People like to gather in groups to reinforce shared opinions. They like to make a difference, to further a cause they believe in. It’s more compelling to give $20 when you see that it helps create a $20,000 joint donation that will make your candidate more viable.
Sure, there’s some e-bay like psychological re-inforcement when you see others give. But not necessarily more than when a wealthy person gives $10,000 to match the $10,000 contribution of a wealthy neighbor.
Same game, there’s just more of us playing.

Heart vs. Head

I hear a piece of conventional wisdom that the Republicans are the party of the Heart, and the Democrats are the party of the Head.
Oddly, because days gone by, the smear was “bleeding heart liberal.”
In the glory days of liberalism, heart and head went together. Rivers were burning, and enviromentalists wanted to clean things up. Black kids weren’t allowed to go to school with white kids, neighborhoods were zoned “whites only.” Tensions were very high at the time, but the liberal position had the emotional and intellectual advantage.
The conservative critique attacked excesses of liberalism – identity politics that read small insensitivities as major discrimination, civic spending that exceeded ability to pay, belief in hedonism as self-fulfillment, leading to drug abuse and endemic divorce.
There’s a good letter to Andrew Sullivan’s blog saying that so-called conservatives aren’t making sense anymore. Big deficits instead of fiscal reason, imperial adventurism instead of strong defense, big-government in our bedrooms and snooping on our library checkouts and credit cards, crony capitalist corruption.
So, maybe its true that Republicans are the party of the heart, but if so, it means what “bleeding heart liberal” used to mean — that an ideology that once had head and heart together has gone over the edge — they’re not making sense anymore.

OutFoxed in Austin

I was also at the MoveOn sponsored showing of OutFoxed that Tim Trentham wrote about. The video shows how the partisanship of Fox news trumps the pretense of news reporting. Funny but telling bit included a reporter assigned to provide stirring and dramatic coverage of Reagan’s birthday at the Reagan library a few years ago, even though there was nobody there but a group of fourth graders; and watching the Fox team echo RNC talking points, like the day they repeated the ridiculous meme mocking John Kerry for knowing French. The scarier parts were the news anchors calling anyone opposed to the Iraq war unpatriotic, and the surveys falsehoods believed by many Fox viewers, like WMD discovered in Iraq,.
The follow on actions promoted by MoveOn, Common Cause, and other sponsoring groups include
* opposing media consolidation
* asking local networks for fairer news coverage
* supporting AirAmerica, a new, left-of-center radio network, and other alternative networks. (Added. Note. I haven’t seen AirAmerica – don’t have an opinion about it).
* a campaign to legally challenge the Fox News “Fair and Balanced” trademark. One the one hand you can’t trademark a phrase, so the suit has grounds. On the other hand it seems rather goofy to sue about a marketing slogan (“Coke doesn’t really add life….”).
What really struck me, watching the debased state of corporate media, was the role that we can play. It’s not just about begging the mass media to do a better job (in conflict with their mission to make a profit by selling violence and sex).
It’s about being the media. Local news is understaffed and insubstantial. If a blogger goes to a meeting and writes about what happened, we can cover the story.
And it’s about using the access we have to to get more sources of media. John Robb does a much better job of covering international terrorism in Global Guerrillas than the mainstream press. Google News provides a selection of stories from worldwide media. It’s eye-opening to see the take on the day’s news around the world.
So, we need to fight the system, but it’s as important to create the new system.
More – nice piece by Lessig disarming criticism of the film.
Still more, via Joi Ito — 80% of of blog readers read blogs for “news they can’t get elsewhere.

Outsource your brain

Ross Mayfield says that paid PR is less important when the CEO blogs, responding to a PR and blogging event.
Ross is overstating a bit — he has PR background, and is really good at it.
On the other hand, the PR responses to this post overvalue outsourcing. Traditional PR and marketing agencies developed as intermediaries to bridge the vast gulf that opened between producers and consumers in a world of mass production, mass distribution and mass advertising.
Real people can now talk to each other across the gulf. Intermediaries are less important when the parties can talk to each other.

Blogging Ghosts

A PR and blogging discussion is full of PR pros eager for a new world where they ghostwrite corporate blogs. The idea makes me vaguely nauseous.
Blogging becomes a sub-discipline of speechwriting — execs and politicians hire wordsmiths, and celebrities hacks to answer fanmail and ghostwrite bios.
I’ve always been skeptical of the Romantic pose of the Cluetrain guys — blogging is the true, authentic voice, cutting through the phony, saccharine hype of marketingspeak.
But an outsourced PR blog is a corporate newsletter — it’s the pep-talk tone of the American Airlines letter from the CEO, multiplied by a million.
Then again, if it’s really boring, we don’t have to read it. In the world of blogging, the limit is the number of blogs a reader can scan in a day. If a CEO blog is interesting, it will get linked and found. And if the propaganda is BS, easier to link and puncture the bubble — viz the response to Movable Type’s new pricing.
With comments and trackback and Technorati and Feedster, there are more ways to find the real conversation.

Cafe Mundi

It’s been here forever — tucked behind warehouses on E 5th street across from railroad tracks. Only a few minutes from my house, but it’s one exit on 35 and an unmarked street. I found it for an AustinBloggers meetup that I came late for. Patio and uncombed garden, decor is austin boho pseudo-ruin. Outdoors which looks comfy but I’m shunning the mosquitoes.
Free wifi, good coffee, and excellent vegetables with breakfast. The (only) problem with Green Muse is the extremely limited menu — their coffee cake is great but not so healthy as regular breakfast food, and the panini sandwich is… edible. Nice to have coffee, wireless, lectric, and nutrients in the same place.

Toll roads create traffic jams

Apparently there’s a backlash against the unpopular plan to put toll roads on Austin highways. There’s a petition to recall Mayor Wynn for his pro-toll position.

Despite public input 10-to-1 against, CAMPO Transportation Policy Board members passed a modified version of the toll plan Monday 16-7. Loop 360 will require another vote, but parts of Mopac, US 290, US 183 and the new SH 45 will be converted to toll roads.

What on earth are the politicians thinking! I lived in New England for a long time, where there was a long tradition of toll roads. They were wildly unpopular, because toll roads create traffic jams.
In 1996, Massachusetts governor Bill Weld made a big popular splash when he presided in person of the destruction of tollbooths on the Massachusetts turnpike.
Even the new electronic systems make cars slow down to pass through the lanes. This is not what you want during rush hour and during holiday vacation exodus periods.
I hope we can stop this before Austin learns the hard way.

Laptop back from the shop

Thanks to the techs at PC Guru on South Lamar, and no thanks to Fujitsu. The inside portion of the power connector was loose and needed resoldering. I needed to hold the power cord at an angle just so to keep it from depowering, and it didn’t seem that far from not working at all.
I called Fujitsu tech support. The repair would take 5-7 days. The guy on the service line wanted a deposit of $100, and said the repair would be up to $600, if they determined I did anything that broke warranty.
And the kicker — they wanted advance permission to reformat the hard drive. “Why on earth do you want to reformat the hard drive?” “We want to do the best possible job at warranty service. ” “Sure, we’ll mow the lawn. Please give us advance permission to cut down the trees if we need to.”
At PC Guru, the repair was $120 with one-day turnaround. Nobody threatened to reformat the hard drive. What a pleasure to deal with real live geeks, who chat about Linux in the background, and are authorized to use their brain on the job.

Political convention on Cluetrain

So, my colleague Rick Klau has been invited to speak on the blogger’s panel at the Democratic National Convention.
Very very cool. Something is inching toward change. Though rumor is they don’t have wifi.
Hmm…. I wonder what they do at party conventions, other than schmooze and put on a TV show. I wonder what a party convention would look like, if a large part of communication was done by bloggers talking to people who talk back? What would a political convention look like if it caught theCluetrain?
p.s. good explantion, via David Weinberger of how conventions became tv shows, and how the media is part of the show