Josh Harkinson

Josh Harkinson

Reporter

Born in Texas and based in San Francisco, Josh covers tech, labor, drug policy, and the environment.

Get my RSS |

Politics 2.0 Strikes Back

| Wed Oct. 17, 2007 7:01 PM EDT

The July/August issue of Mother Jones roiled the blogosphere with an irreverent take on so-called Open-Source Politics. Web pundits inveighed against yet another print magazine (nevermind our blog and website) questioning the impact of Web 2.0 on political campaigning. A flash point in this flame war was the mock Wikipedia entry that we published in print and on our website. It claimed Open-Source Politics would "revolutionize our ability to follow, support, and influence political campaigns," but then wryly added: "And if you believe that, we've got some leftover Pets.com stock to sell you." Our goal was to mirror the way that Wikipedia and other Web 2.0 pages often get pranked, and slalom between extreme views, even as they move towards a middle ground and, hopefully, the truth. But the critics complained that our definition was a gimmick with little connection to the way Netizens actually thought of themselves.

At the time I wondered if the critics really spoke for the Web masses. Given that Web 2.0 is supposed to enshrine Web users (and not Web pundits) as the arbiters of truth, I decided to see what the Web actually thought about our mock Wiki. So in early July I posted our definition of OSP as an actual entry in Wikipedia. I cut only the Pets.com quip and the reference to Karl Rove, thinking that would get the entry booted. And then I waited. Three months have passed, and I think I can now say the results are in. Not only is my mock Wiki still the official entry for "Open Source Politics," it now comes up as the top hit for the term on Google.

There have been a few changes along the way. Most significantly, the entry is now titled "Open source political campaign" instead of "Open-source politics." But it still goes on to use "open-source politics" as the official term throughout and most of my original text is unchanged. The reference to "party bosses in smoky backrooms" was deleted, but the language about how Web 2.0 will "revolutionize our ability to follow, support, and influence political campaigns" still remains. It seems that what stuck our blogger critics as gimmicky hype strikes Wiki users as a pretty reasonable definition.

The other dramatic change to the entry is how official it now looks. Someone added a list of references that I'd cited, a bevy of links to ideas such as "open source governance," a table of contents, and a list of related terms under the header "see also." I should hope the page looks good, given that on Google it outranks every blog, outranks The Nation, Wired, MSNBC, and Slate, and yes, outranks Mother Jones (which ranks 14th in a search for the term). It's all quite frightening, or flattering, or humbling, depending on how you look at it.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

My Park(ing) Day

| Fri Sep. 21, 2007 7:57 PM EDT

Lunch in a parking spot is never much fun, unless it's Park(ing) Day in San Francisco. Seizing the moment this afternoon, I packed a bowl of curry and headed two blocks down Sutter Street to a metered spot in front of the Charles Schwab building. I entered the space from the curb, ambled along an extremely short yet artfully snaking pathway lined with potted salt rush, blue squirrel tail and California lilac, and took a seat on a wooden park bench. Three park attendants watched eagerly. "Welcome to our park!" one of them said. They snapped photos as I stirred my rice. A bus blew by frighteningly close.

In 2005, Rebar, a San Francisco art collective, laid a parking space with sod, a bench and a large potted tree, creating the first of what would become many guerrilla parks. The event has grown into an international phenomenon, with participants this year in more than ten cities worldwide. The mission is "To rethink the way streets are used, call attention to the need for urban parks and improve the quality of urban human habitat. . .at least until the meter runs out!"

While I ate my chicken korma on the park bench, a park(ing) attendant handed a complimentary packet of poppy seeds to a businessman who'd stopped by. The businessman said, "Do they grow indoors? Or. . ."

"No, but you can try if you want, as long as you soak them first. . ."

My cell phone rang. It was a friend calling from Boston. "I'm at a guerrilla park," I told him.

"That sounds awesome," he said. "A very San Francisco day."

A bit too San Francisco, perhaps. It was 3:00, and the inevitable, frigid Pacific gale was nearly toppling the shrubbery. Then the meter ran out: I still hadn't finished my lunch when a woman arrived in a Volvo to haul the bench away. "I'm sorry, but we have got to take this," she said. A park(ing) attendant quickly added: "Thank you!" I probably would have fared better in the Presidio, but the fact that other people had actually been excited to see me take up a parking spot--instead of scowling or writing me a ticket--made the trip well worth it.

Ignite! Sparks More Controversy

| Wed Sep. 12, 2007 7:58 PM EDT

Ignite!, Neil Bush's educational company, has received thousands of dollars from school districts through the federal No Child Left Behind program even though it doesn't meet the program's standards, a DC watchdog group reported today.

"NCLB requires any kind of educational products to have been scientifically peer-reviewed, and Ignite! has not," Melanie Sloan, Executive Director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, told me. Today CREW sent a letter to the Dept. of Ed Inspector General asking him to investigate the company. "NCLB is really benefiting cronies rather than kids," Sloan added. "I frankly don't understand why so many Democratic senators and congressmen, like George Miller and Kennedy are being so supportive [of NCLB] in the face of these problems."

Ignite! did not return a call from Mother Jones.

Neil Bush, the family's ne'er do well, is best known for his adventures in the savings and loan industry, which led to a taxpayer-funded bailout of $1.3 billion and a lifetime ban from the banking industry. In 1999, with no educational experience, he founded Ignite! with money from his family and international investors. For years Ignite has been dogged by questions about its effectiveness, and its reliance on donations from foundations to fund its purchase in schools. Last year, the Houston Chronicle reported that a donation from Barbara Bush to a Katrina relief fund was earmarked to Ignite! None of this has really slowed the company down of course. As of late it has been working in Russia and China, where I'd expect business will soon be booming.

Scientific Proof That Liberals Are Smarter

| Tue Sep. 11, 2007 3:33 AM EDT

Ok, so not proof exactly, but man we are really smart. And I'm not talking about knowing geography or spelling or history. I'm talking about the alphabet. We know it, while conservatives are apparently blinded by ideology. In certain situations their rigid brains cannot distinguish among different letters of the alphabet, a major study has found, and this explains why they can't tolerate ambiguity and conflict as well as liberals.

"Political orientation is related to how the brain processes information," reports the UCLA and NYU study, as detailed in the LA Times:

Participants were college students whose politics ranged from "very liberal" to "very conservative. They were instructed to tap a keyboard when an M appeared on a computer monitor and to refrain from tapping when they saw a W.

M appeared four times more frequently than W, conditioning participants to press a key in knee-jerk fashion whenever they saw a letter.

And conservatives were by far the worst knee-jerkers, routinely mistaking a W for an M, or vice versa when the weightings were changed. This has happened before. Mole hill or WMD? Morass or winnable? Melting ice or wacko science? In all seriousness, Frank J. Sulloway, a researcher at UC Berkeley's Institute of Personality and Social Research, told the Times that the results could explain why Bush demonstrated a single-minded commitment to the Iraq War and why "liberals could be expected to more readily accept new social, scientific or religious ideas."

This study is by no means the first to suggest that one political persuasion or another is more fit for duty in the battle of ideas. A few years ago I wrote about a University of Texas study that found residents of Houston suffer from a quasi-clinical condition known as "war fever." But this newest study at least takes the political debate back to the ABCs. Now if only conservatives could go back to kindergarten. . .

Chevron Releases Video Game

| Wed Sep. 5, 2007 3:20 PM EDT

Energyville is like Sim City where the laws are written by Chevron. You must power your city with a mix of energy sources, and, of course, you can't win without oil. The game is part of Chevron's "Will you join us?" campaign, a dubious effort to spark dialogue about energy and the environment. I can't imagine who Chevron sees as its target audience—kids will find the game all too 1997; any adult who buys the pitch might also be interested in a REQUEST FOR URGENT BUSINESS ASSISTANCE from Nigeria. Still, the game is getting lots of press.

Driven by novelty and interactivity--never underestimate the interest of bored office workers--advergames are becoming hot marketing tools in the political realm. The outfit Persuasive Games will whip one up for $40,000, complete with Sim City street grids or flash-animated conveyor belts. My favorite is Airport Security, a game in which you're a TSA baggage screener. (Courtesy announcement: "Please be advised: Security personnel are authorized to use groping.") For other examples, see page 86 of the Sept/Oct issue of Mother Jones.

Wed Jan. 22, 2014 8:38 PM EST
Thu Oct. 3, 2013 12:30 PM EDT
Mon Aug. 19, 2013 12:47 PM EDT
Thu Jun. 27, 2013 6:00 AM EDT
Mon Jun. 10, 2013 3:45 PM EDT
Tue May. 21, 2013 9:56 AM EDT
Mon May. 20, 2013 11:38 AM EDT
Mon May. 6, 2013 6:00 AM EDT
Sat Apr. 20, 2013 6:00 AM EDT
Mon Apr. 8, 2013 5:00 AM EDT
Mon Mar. 4, 2013 10:56 AM EST
Fri Mar. 1, 2013 7:06 AM EST
Thu Feb. 28, 2013 7:31 AM EST
Tue Feb. 19, 2013 6:41 PM EST
Tue Feb. 19, 2013 7:02 AM EST
Mon Feb. 11, 2013 7:36 AM EST