Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Twitter, Hurricane Irene, and Mayor Bloomberg

There's a fun article in today's NYT about @ElBloombito, the 25 year old native New Yorker, Rachel Figueroa-Levin, who passed time during the storm tweeting about Mayor Bloomberg's attempts at communicating in Spanish. As the article in the NYT notes:

"By Sunday morning, @ElBloombito had about 2,000 followers. By Tuesday afternoon, there were nearly 15,000, among them Mr. Bloomberg (@MikeBloomberg)."

Rachel Figueroa-Levin, more commonly known as @Jewyorican on Twitter even exchanged some messages directly with Mayor Bloomberg's staff. 

The whole @ElBloombito story and the burst of attention Figueroa-Levin received is a great example of how Twitter and social media can change the communication landscape and bring 15 minutes of fame (or more) for the average American citizen. Seems Twitter has the potential to make newsmakers out of us all.

Monday, August 29, 2011

August's best political comedy: Blog post for bthesite/Baltimore Sun

My top 5 comedy picks for August are now online at Luke Broadwater's Ridiculous Report, a blog for Baltimore Sun.

Here's the video for pick #1:

And here's the video for pick #2, a close second: 

Learn why I picked these clips and three others as the top political comedy of August 2011 by reading the full blog post, available here.

Asking Presidential Candidates about their Religious Beliefs

Bill Keller, the Executive Editor of The New York Times, has an interesting piece in this Sunday's NYT Magazine. In the essay, Keller suggests that:

"when it comes to the religious beliefs of our would-be presidents, we are a little squeamish about probing too aggressively."

Keller is correct in making his claim about our reluctance to ask the hard questions regarding religion. In the piece, Keller subsequently argues that we need to ask candidates for honest answers about their religious beliefs, their adherence to religious doctrine and deference to biblical authority, and the influence that religious values and convictions play in shaping attitudes toward science and social policy. In other words, understanding what a candidate believes and how they apply these beliefs to political and national life is of paramount importance. As an academic who studies how religious and ideological value predispositions shape public opinion and political participation, I can't agree with Keller more. 

Keller concludes by posting a general set of questions for candidates Perry and Bachmann and some additional concerns for each politician. Here are the main questions:

•Do you agree with those religious leaders who say that America is a “Christian nation” or a “Judeo-Christian nation?” and what does that mean in practice?
•Would you have any hesitation about appointing a Muslim to the federal bench? What about an atheist?
•What is your attitude toward the theory of evolution, and do you believe it should be taught in public schools?
Now, we'll have to wait and see whether Keller and in turn The New York Times actually get some answers.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Art of the Text Message

For many who live on the East Coast, the quickest way to reach friends and family after the 5.9 earthquake was to send a text message.

It seems that prominent politicians around the world are experts in the language of SMS, Twitter, Facebook, etc. (Anthony Weiner notwithstanding of course).

The Huffington Post has a great series of entertaining photos of politicians using smart phones, tablets, and yes even feature phones to text. Check out the full series here.

My personal favorites:

Doesn't Hillary look kind of angry?

I really wonder what Howard Dean is looking at in this picture.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Obama: Time for Vacation?

President Obama and his family have plans to vacation on Martha's Vineyard later in the month. Some have questioned whether the President should take a vacation while the country is experiencing such economic uncertainty.

I offered some commentary on Obama's pending vacation for an article in the Christian Science Monitor today.

The bottom line: Obama should go on vacation ... perhaps it's the American public who needs a vacation from Congress and all things Washington?!

In keeping with the theme of this post, I too am about to head off on vacation. See you at the end of the month.

In the meantime, here's a picture from Obama's vacation on Martha's Vineyard last summer. I'm glad to see he's wearing a helmet.

Colbert Super PAC Ads Air in Iowa: Vote for Parry, not Perry

Stephen Colbert and his Super PAC are supporting Rick Parry in the Iowa Straw Poll. That's right, PARRY not PERRY. Colbert is encouraging Iowa voters -- in a series of TV ads -- to write "Rick Parry" in on their ballots this weekend, in the effort to continue the quest of "Making A Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow." Too bad so many media outlets are suggesting that Colbert and his SuperPAC are supporting Perry with an "E". According to the ads, it's Parry with an "A" for America and Iowa.

You don't have to live in Iowa to catch the ads. As with traditional political ads, the reach or impact of the ads is often better measured by subsequent media attention and the number of individuals sharing the content with members of their social network. Simply put, it's not just about viewing the ads on TV in Iowa, but the national attention given to these messages put out by Colbert Super PAC. Check them both out below.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Pictures of the Week

While the media tends to pay greater attention to what presidential candidates say during the early days of primary campaigns, photojournalism and the images of the primary campaign are also particularly important for voters.

Two interesting (and scary) photos emerged this week. The first was featured in The New York Times' coverage of Texas Governor Rick Perry's Christian-themed prayer rally held in Houston over the weekend.  For more, check out this post on The Caucus. Here's the photo:

So much for the separation of church and state ...

The second photo is on the cover of Newsweek and displays a "deer in the headlights" image of candidate Michele Bachmann. Some critics in the media have suggested that the photo is unflattering and that the use of the word "rage" is problematic especially because it appears only on the cover, not in the article. Take a look for yourself.

Without question, both candidates represent conservative political agendas that are guided by strict moral and religious values. The image from the Perry rally is just straight photojournalism. The picture of Bachmann however is a different story. Is Newsweek trying to make a political statement here or are they just trying to up their circulation numbers?

Jon Stewart presented an interesting take on the cover on last night's The Daily Show.

While the Bachmann image has certainly attracted more attention, both photos stand out as images of the week.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Scientists, the Public, and Engagement with Science and Technology

While my research primarily focuses on political entertainment, public opinion, and new media, I also spend a fair amount of time looking at issues in science communication -- everything from public participation on controversial issues like stem cell research to studying how citizens learn about and engage with new scientific and technological advances like nanotechnology.

When asked to name a scientist, Americans are stumped. In one recent survey, the top choice, at 47 percent, was Einstein, who has been dead since 1955, and the next, at 23 percent, was “I don’t know.” In another survey, only 4 percent of respondents could name a living scientist.

Dean continues on to chronicle the efforts of groups like Ben Franklin's List (the scientists' version of Emily's List), AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science) and Sefora (Scientists and Engineers for America) that are trying to create a larger role for scientists in public life -- as politicians and as researchers willing and able to engage with the public sphere.

These efforts are designed to increase technical and scientific understanding among citizens and politicians and to encourage the application of scientific principles to public policy debates. Unfortunately, one of the stumbling blocks for these efforts is the nature of the scientific field itself which often promotes research and discovery within the internal scientific community, not engagement with the broader public.

What then is the future of science communication and how can scientists pursue science while also engaging with the public sphere? Science communication scholars Matt Nisbet and Dietram Scheufele offered their suggestions in a 2009 piece in the American Journal of Botany:

We emphasize the need for science communication initiatives that are guided by careful formative research; that span a diversity of media platforms and audiences; and that facilitate conversations with the public that recognize, respect, and incorporate differences in knowledge, values, perspectives, and goals.

While still gaining in visibility, groups like Ben Franklin's list and Sefora seem to be part of the solution here -- they represent science communication initiatives informed by research. At the same time, efforts to promote greater levels of scientific literacy and public engagement with science are still an important part of efforts to make science accessible. 

In the meantime, I for one would like to hear more about scientists in Congress:

For example, according to the Congressional Research Service, the technically trained among the 435 members of the House include one physicist, 22 people with medical training (including 2 psychologists and a veterinarian), a chemist, a microbiologist and 6 engineers.

After all, we've certainly heard enough about the debt ceiling for a while ... 

Monday, August 8, 2011

Voters Lack Preference for Divided Government

Hendrik Hertzberg presents an interesting essay in The New Yorker. In the piece, Hertzberg refutes Obama's recent statement:

“Voters may have chosen divided government,” President Obama said Tuesday, just after signing the debt-limit bill, “but they sure didn’t vote for dysfunctional government.”

Hertzberg suggests that voters actually prefer united not divided government -- specifically a government that is united under the banner of the political party they support. To choose divided government, means engaging in "split-ticket" voting, a practice that most voters -- many of whom rely primarily on heuristic cues when making political decision making  -- don't actually engage in on a regular basis. 

Rather as Hertzberg and political scientists Barry Burden and David Kimball argue (in a more academic fashion in their 2002 book), divided government is a result of the political system rather than the preferences of voters. 

Specifically, the changing dynamics of the political campaign environment, the blurring lines between the political parties, and the cyclical shift from large-scale general elections to midterm Congressional elections with lower rates of voter turnout all contribute to the reality of divided government. 

At the same time, voters really dislike dysfunctional government, especially in the wake of the debt ceiling debate. With 82% of Americans expressing disapproval for Congress in the most recent CBS/New York Times Poll (the highest level of disapproval since the question was first asked in 1977), it looks like Democrats and Republicans alike will need to use the recess to connect with voters at home. 

The question remains, will voters renew their faith in Congress even in this time of divided and dysfunctional government?

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Dick Durbin Interview on Thursday's episode of The Daily Show

Interview segments on The Daily Show and The Colbert Report are a must for those looking to promote a new book or movie and for political candidates looking to promote their campaigns.

In my July blog post for The Baltimore Sun/b the Site's Ridiculous Report I lamented the fact that GOP candidate Herman Cain cancelled his interview appearance on The Colbert Report. While Cain is not a serious contender for the GOP nomination, the publicity the appearance would have generated is something not to be passed up.

At the same time, these interviews are often the least watched segments of both programs, with viewers primarily taking interest in watching the upfront news segments. Jon Stewart's Thursday interview with Senator Dick Durbin is a bit of an exception to the rule. The actual interview exchange offers some serious commentary on the state of Congress, the national debt, and the American economy. Plus, both the original on-air interview and the extended portions (parts 2 and 3 available only online) have already been accessed by a significant number online viewers since the Thursday evening broadcast. Seems Americans are still interested in hearing more about the debt controversy even after all of the frustration surrounding the intense, down to the wire legislative debate.

Parts 2 and 3 offer some interesting commentary about war spending and campaign finance reform.

To get caught up on the fundamentals of the debt debate in a serious yet engaging way and to hear more about defense spending and campaign finance reform, take a look at the original interview and extended segments.

Wisconsin Recall Elections Makes The Colbert Report

Seems Americans for Prosperity are at it again in Wisconsin. The conservative interest group sent out absentee ballot applications with an August 11th return deadline. Too bad the real deadline for returning absentee ballots is August 9th. The Washington Post offers an update on the developing story.

Americans for Prosperity claims, among other things, that the mistake is just a typo. Stephen Colbert also addressed the "typo" date mistake on his August 4th broadcast. It's remarkable how far apart 1 and 9 are on a keyboard, isn't it? Take a look at the video:

Monday, August 1, 2011

Top 5 Political Comedy Clips from July: Blog Post for The Baltimore Sun's Ridiculous Report now online

What did I pick as the best in political comedy this month? The Daily Show's coverage of the debt ceiling crisis -- the series was entitled Armadebtdon 2011.

Why was this the best and what else made the list?

For the answers, check out my July round-up of the best in political comedy for The Baltimore Sun. My top 5 picks are now online over at The Ridiculous Report, Luke Broadwater's blog for The Baltimore Sun/b the Site.

I hope you found July as "funny" as I did.