Friday, November 30, 2007

Why is anyone shocked that YouTube debate questioners are plants?

I never thought I'd post uncritically to a Michelle Malkin post, but this brings up some very interesting issues.

No, not about the fact that CNN did a piss poor job of background checking those questioners, though it did. And no, not that CNN has a liberal bias, which I don't really think it does.

The issue it really raises is... Who has the time and motivation to submit a video for a YouTube debate? Mostly committed political activists looking to make a point, of course. It's the same as with any online poll: the results can't be trusted because a vocal minority will overwhelm an unmotivated majority. So it's no shocker that someone who works for a union is going to ask the candidates how they will make sure we "have safe toys in American again and keep jobs in America." Why wouldn't a union take the opportunity to try and raise the salience of an issue that works well for it?

Plus, these CNN/YouTube debates are premised on the idea that a broad cross section of Americans are into making and posting personal videos online. Totally untrue. The vast majority of content on YouTube is either pirated professional content, stupid videos made by teenagers, or low budget professional stuff (like mine!). Personal video diaries are, by and large, a media myth. Lonelygirl15 is phony, remember. (and that, btw, is why the much hyped new Web series Quarterlife, premised on the idea of 20-somethings who keep Web diaries, feels so fake).

Finally, don't forget the fact that very few people actually watch these early presidential debates. Most Americans, even those who vote in the primaries, probably didn't even know there was a YouTube debate.

To summarize:
-very few average people watch these debates or care about them
-very very few regular people actually make personal videos for youtube and could thus be expected to shoot a video of themselves asking the candidates a question
-in any survey open to anyone to answer on the Internet, we regularly find results skewed by an active and vocal minority.

So... we shouldn't be surprised that we don't get many "real" questions at a YouTube debate. Frankly, the idea that any regular people are going to take the time to shoot, edit, and upload a question that has a small chance of being asked at a debate that they probably wouldn't watch anyway is ludicrous.

I love the idea of letting citizens ask questions at debates. But if we're going to try an experiment like this again, can we please use some basic scientific methods to make sure we're starting with a pool that's actually representative of the population (or of Republican primary voters, or whatever group it is) BEFORE we start letting them submit questions? Can you imagine how mobilized the interest groups will be to get a question in if we have a similar YouTube debate next fall for the general election? It'll be a nightmare.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

My first NPR story

I'm starting to semi-regularly freelance some pieces for "The Business," a nationally syndicated NPR show done out of KCRW in Santa Monica, about videogames since I have, surprisingly, become something of a videogames expert. If anyone is wondering how annoying my voice is, or wants to find out more about Guitar Hero and Rock Band, go to this page and click "listen." My piece is right at about 20 minutes. I think it came out pretty well, mainly thanks to my awesome producers.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Andrew Sullivan: Down with affirmative action; Up with Obama because he's Black

Andrew Sullivan seems to have a bit of schizophrenia when it comes to affirmative action. It's kind of like the opposite of liberals who support affirmative action, but hate Clarence Thomas.

Here he is today, in another example of his many denunciations of affirmative action:

[Affirmative action] asserts as an irrefutable fact that any racial discrepancies in college selection are a function of either college-imposed or societal racism. Once the left put the blank slate on the table, and actively supported racial discrimination as public policy as a consequence, they begged the question of whether they had the empirical data to back up their social engineering.

A quick google search also finds numerous other examples of Sullivan saying he's against affirmative action.

Which is all well and good. Except I'm not sure how it jibes with this point from his recent love letter to Barack Obama in the Atlantic Monthly:

Consider this hypothetical. It’s November 2008. A young Pakistani Muslim is watching television and sees that this man—Barack Hussein Obama—is the new face of America. In one simple image, America’s soft power has been ratcheted up not a notch, but a logarithm. A brown-skinned man whose father was an African, who grew up in Indonesia and Hawaii, who attended a majority-Muslim school as a boy, is now the alleged enemy. If you wanted the crudest but most effective weapon against the demonization of America that fuels Islamist ideology, Obama’s face gets close. It proves them wrong about what America is in ways no words can.

Apparently, to Sullivan, the color of Barack Obama's skin and his ethnic background are a significant argument in favor of electing him president. Compare that to admitting an African-American into a selective college over a similarly qualified White student as part of an affirmative action policy. What's the difference?

Personally, I would guess that foreigners are much more concerned with how the next president will conduct our nation's foreign policy than what color their skin is. I highly doubt Condoleeza Rice would be a popular choice for president in the Muslim world.

But that's beside the point, I suppose. All I really wanted to say is that Andrew Sullivan should decide whether he supports Barack Obama purely on his merits, or if he supports affirmative action. He can't have it both ways.