Monday, August 25, 2008

Monday: They'll Sell You the Whole Newspaper, But You'll Only Need the Edge

Emeritus: One who is retired but retains an honorary title corresponding to that held immediately before retirement. (

Mr. Toland? Do you know something we don't know?

It is always gratifying when our humble Comet merits a mention in the P-G's Cutting Edge. Once upon a time, Comet Senior Political Analyst Morton Reichbaum would have been ecstatic as well. Now however, it only mollifies him -- if two or three weeks pass without ourselves having been quoted in the paper, he starts to inquire gently if we've been slacking off or have given up.

Our only wish this time is that the P-G had picked a selection that bespoke more of a grammar of goodness and a punctuation of propriety -- a lyricism that was at once more natural and readable together with pacing that was superior yet not pompous -- and perhaps most importantly of all, a proofreading that had existed.

The Edge also beat us to something from Metroblogging Pittsburgh that we'd been meaning to amplify:

You may still vaguely remember the Propel Pittsburgh Commission, Mayor Ravenstahl’s plan to get together a bunch of smart young people to find ways to keep other young people in Pittsburgh. So far, it’s been a little less than stellar; we’ve been around for a year, and we’ve yet to even make a single formal recommendation, let alone start trying to do something. At our meeting this week, we were told in no uncertain terms that His Honor The Mayor is aware of this, and he is not pleased.

Mayor Ravenstahl, every ounce the young professional himself, chairs the Propel Pittsburgh commission according to the city website.

Chair: to preside over; act as chairperson of: to chair a committee. (


The SEA wants another $2 million in RAD money to stay afloat, an annual tradition; Jim Ferlo wants it to come out of that hapless Visit Pittsburgh instead of the same pool as arts and cultural organizations (or whatever else RAD supposedly funds). (P-G, Mark Belko)

The United States has more medals than any other country -- however, China boasts far more gold medals than anybody else. Just for fun, can we start comparing who has the most LEED silver, gold and platinum certified buildings? (P-G, Mark Roth)

Ed Rendell's pick to head the Department of Environmental Protection is controversial because he is viewed as tougher than most? Maybe? It's hard to tell from this. (P-G, Don Hopey)

We're sure there are counterarguments, and no situation is ever so clean and simple, but we're getting tired of this Taze first, Taze second, and Taze last mentality. We assumed until recently that electric shock was sort of a second-to-last resort. (Trib, Karen Roebuck)


Still, if we agree that radio (which helps explain Franklin Delano Roosevelt's sway) and television (which was central to John F. Kennedy's -- and, when trained on Vietnam and the 1968 Democratic National Convention, helped end Lyndon B. Johnson's reign and stymied Hubert H. Humphrey's campaign) were transformative elements in American politics, then how can we deny the potential political power of the information revolution and the Internet-based social networks? (P-G, David Shribman)

We can be reflexively apprehensive when a veteran of the "old media" attempts to wax philosophic on the Interweb's socio-political impact -- but this article is as good a stab as we've seen. We've long reflected, for example, that the Howard Dean bubble of 2004 was the forerunner, the not-yet-totally-baked version, of the Obama loaf we see today.

Although only a "Pre-millenial" ourselves (having been born in 1975), we think the Comet can help to refine the picture just slightly.

"As a result, the way they make decisions is to find out what their peers think and reach a consensus. They're not into expert wisdom and people with long resumes. They're much more likely to respond to messages in social networks like MySpace or Facebook than to traditional campaign messages."

Thus says the wise expert which Mr. Shribman sought out for his article. That part really did make us cringe.

The medium doesn't make the difference -- one is as likely to get junkmail over MySpace, Facebook, Twitter or Twinkleberry as from the United States Postal Service. The kids can recognize inauthentic or uninteresting missives through any of these. Moreover, this latest generation is no more innately amenable to peer pressure, or any less individualistic, than any other.

The difference today is that it is far easier for anybody to quickly and cheaply share huge chunks of information -- there is far more information out there at our fingertips -- and that information is relayed in an almost infinite variety of voices.

Let us say there is some data out there -- "Barack Obama wants universal access to health care, but does not want to nationalize the health insurance industry." Time was, there were relatively few places and voices capable of relaying that information.

Assuming one decided of one's own accord to track it down, what if the language was stuffy and formal -- or worse yet, if it was trying too hard to appeal to your demographic -- or what if it came from a source you were unfamiliar with, or with which you had disagreed previously? One might totally miss it, even if one would otherwise be interested.

Today, each set of data is reprocessed and repackaged in an almost infinite variety of flavors -- though notably, the "expert", long-resume'd source is usually still cited at-minimum and duly respected. Blogs (and let's face it, magazines and television shows across the 24-hour cable spectrum) break down and rebuild the data in an infinite variety of ways, with an infinite variety of attitudes. It's not all MTV, either -- sometimes you need to go upscale to hit somebody, or eliminate the fluff. Everyone's different.

Given the ease of quickly and inexpensively giftwrapping and sharing information, it is far more likely that the data you may be interested in will wind up in your e-mail inbox (which for our money is still the place to find most of it -- though again we are only "pre-millenial") and in a format that appeals to you.

Now, let's take this a step further.

It is now possible for sophisticated information to be spread quickly in a tone that will adapt -- by natural selection -- wherever it will be welcome. What you have, then, is the possibility that geek-level (sorry, wonk-level) quantities of political data will be processed by people who are twelve and 13 years old. This is where it gets interesting.

Swimming in political data for years already, having grown acclimatized to it, having followed several election cycles and even having developed some healthy coats of cynicism, there is now a new political animal on the scene -- the 18 year-old veteran organizer. There are creatures in high school, incapable of voting themselves, who nonetheless possess the motivation and the sophistication to evangelize 100, 200, 500 or more voting-age individuals to the polls. Often as not, they do it face-to-face, no Internet required.

At the far end of the chain, now -- think about it -- are you personally more likely to be open to an earnest and innocent-looking child prodigy than you are to a grizzled old pol?

We don't want to suggest that Barack Obama and Obamism merely or exclusively appeals to "Millenials". Yet when you add this factor in:

"They [Millenials] tend to favor government intervention in the economy," says Mr. Hais. "They tend to be multilateralists in foreign policy. They tend not to be concerned with social issues. Those things are decided for them: They're not upset about gay marriage, for example."

Is it any wonder Obama is out there leading a change movement? True leadership is figuring out where the mob is headed, and jumping out in front. We created the possibility of an Obama because that's what we decided we required.

We enjoy this theory because it is less about the ancient and omnipresent political machines figuring out new ways to manipulate the electorate through new technologies, but more about technology fundamentally opening the power-field into a space full of players that had never fully engaged with it -- the very young. It also gives us great confidence that the youngsters who turned out during the primary to enable Obama's victory over Clinton will remain on the field in November and forevermore.

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