Josh Harkinson

Josh Harkinson

Reporter

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

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Google Reveals Everything Important About America

| Thu Aug. 9, 2007 5:45 PM EDT

For the first time since February, Google has updated its Google Trends database, allowing me to give you an up-to-date look at our nation's most important issues--or at least its most important internet searches, which we all know is the same thing.

War

Iraq: blue / Star Wars: yellow / Halo: red / World of Warcraft: green

Iraq-Google-Trends.gif

When it comes to war, this easily generated chart shows fantasy war has been a more popular Google search this year than real war, except in late April and early May when the "Iraq" search term (blue) claimed fleeting victory over "Star Wars," "Halo" and "World of Warcraft." My guess is that kids were kicking the video game habit for a moment while researching end-of-semester term papers on foreign affairs disasters. If you run the search yourself and look at the localized stats, you'll see that the only cities where "Iraq" won were Washington, DC (of course) and Columbus, Ohio. Will somebody from Columbus explain? On the other end of the scale, Salt Lake City dominated each fictional war category. But then, I'm not sure Salt Lakers consider Star Wars to be fiction. (Mormons believe Native Americans descended from the 12 tribes of Israel, and before that, Jedi Masters). Anyway, combining all three fantasy wars leaves Iraq totally dominated. As for other real wars, the "Global War on Terror" doesn't even rank, but I'm not sure that bothers me seeing how GWOT is only slightly less fictional than World of Warcraft.

Climate Change

Global Warming: blue / Hummer: red / Air Conditioning: yellow / Al Gore: green

Global-Warming-Google-Trend.gif

As of late July, after dominating the field for months, "global warming" has fought "Hummer" to a bitter draw. Meanwhile, "air conditioning" was lying in wait during the cool spring months, only to crank up in May and blow past "global warming" in June in a cloud of CO2 emissions from dirty coal plants in the sweltering South. "Al Gore" came to the rescue when he announced a surprise Live Earth concert on July 7th, but within a week he had dropped to the bottom of the pack. (Al: We need more concerts. Can you play tambourine on a tour with Willie?)

The Presidential Election

Hillary Clinton: light blue / Barack Obama: red / Rudy Giuliani: green / Fred Thompson: yellow / Ron Paul: dark blue

Candidate-Google-Trends.gif

The internet has spoken: Ron Paul will be the next president. Everyone else might as well pack up and go home, because this 71-year-old libertarian from Lake Jackson, Texas is on fire with the power of bored IT workers Googling him on lunchbreak. And Digging him, and searching for him on Technorati, and demanding him on Eventful and befriending him on MySpace and pumping him on Meetup and submitting more questions to him than any other candidate during his rockstar appearance in Silicon Valley at Google Talks. Pretty much anywhere you look in cyberspace, he's kicking ass. Nevermind that he wants to abolish the IRS, the Department of Ed and the EPA. They're already irrelevant. . .

The Role of Government

Government: blue / Google: red

Government-Google-Trends.gif

This is why Silicon Valley rules America.

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KA Paul Says Bush Has Brought Death Upon "Thousands of Orphans and Widows"

| Mon Jul. 16, 2007 3:27 PM EDT

The reverend KA Paul is at it again. The self-proclaimed advocate for the Third World poor, conscience of Third World dictators, and peddler of poorly inspected brands of snake oil, has stepped up his rebellion against his erstwhile patrons in the Republican Right, this time, through the court system in his native India. According to a press release, Paul has filed suit in Bangalore on behalf of thousands of widows and orphans who supposedly died after President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice exerted their influence to cancel a peace mission with former Indian Prime Minister Deva Gowda to Iran, Libya, Sudan, Venezuela and Syria. I'm not sure how Bush was allegedly involved, how orphans allegedly died, and why anyone in India is still talking to Paul, who has been widely exposed as fraud, because the release didn't explain it. Still, I can't help but marvel at how Paul manages to keep getting attention. In October, I reported on his meeting with Rep. Dennis Hastert, in which he claimed to have convinced the embattled Speaker to resign over the Foley sex scandal. Ironically, Paul is now wrapped up in his own sex scandal: he was arrested in Los Angeles in May on suspicion of "lewd and lascivious acts with a minor." What's safe to say is that Paul (whom The New Republic once called "The world's most popular evangelist") will crusade on in his pirate ship as reliably as the political winds will blow him to some modicum of fame. Perhaps that explains his uncanny popularity with some evangelists here in America.

Open Source Politics, the Wiki

| Mon Jul. 2, 2007 3:09 PM EDT

When Mother Jones launched its "Fight Different" package about politics and the Internet, it introduced the stories and interviews with a rumination on the term Open Source Politics. The short, irreverent definition was presented as a mock-Wikipedia entry, under the classic Wiki red-flag: "The neutrality of this story is disputed." And I tell you what, the neutrality of our approach has been disputed, and disputed, and disputed. And in this case, that was exactly the point: the new arbiter of truth in politics is increasingly you, dear reader. If you're sick of bias and spin, speak up, and change it.

That, at least, is the idea behind Wikipedia, which now accounts one out of every 200 page views on the Internet. No format on the web is better at reaching a consensus on objective truth in the most touchy and politicized of subjects. For a glimpse of Wikipedia's potential in the political realm, see our interview with Jimmy Wales here.

But don't stop there. Do you disagree with our definition of Open Source Politics? Are there counterpoints to what Wales has told us that you don't think are being aired? Well, feel free to offer your thoughts in this blog. Or even better, check out the real entry for Open Source Politics in Wikipedia, and edit it. If I had to guess, I'd say a Google search of the term will soon yield the popular view of the idea over anything a magazine writer has had to say.

What is Jay Rosen For?

| Fri Jun. 29, 2007 10:36 PM EDT

For the past three days, writers and editors at Mother Jones have been engaged in a flak session over at the blog Press Think, and more recently, the Huffington Post, where NYU professor Jay Rosen has lambasted the magazine's package of stories and interviews on "Politics 2.0." Or rather, he has lambasted the "framing" of the stories, which is to say he's unhappy with the way we introduced the stories in our press release and in the opening essay. Thousands of words have been expended on the subject, but Rosen's beef can be summarized (I think) like this: In a shameless ploy to promote itself, Mother Jones has set up a false tension between the idea that Politics 2.0 is revolutionary and the idea that it's irrelevant, and then congratulated itself with showing how neither one is true. "The Mother Jones editors," Rosen writes, "had a great story about politics and the web within their grasp, but they were too busy fabricating myths they could bust up later— and so they missed it."

Personally, I haven't felt a need to respond to Rosen in our own blog because I feel his critique is, on its face, kind of silly. But I think some of the issues that have come out in the discussion of his post are worth talking about, and so I'm going to wade through this. First, in response to Rosen, I wrote in his blog:

Much of your argument against our Politics 2.0 package presupposes that the extremes of thought on net politics--"revolutionary" or "irrelevant"--do not exist. I will grant that people who are truly informed on the subject don't hold black and white views, but the rhetoric that they and the press employ frequently comes off as totally unambiguous, and results in a mistaken impression that things really are that simple. It is thus unfair to say that we are setting up two straw men. The straw men are already there. Yes, knocking them down is easy, but it's also a way to, in the process, explore a lot of interesting issues raised by politics 2.0 with more complexity and nuance. . . .

What we have done is allow people in the field--actual bloggers, actual professors, actual online political consultants--to weigh in themselves, and we're allowing anybody to comment on their thoughts at the end of each article and interview online. Our "idea," in short, is have a bunch of people talk about their ideas. It's not revolutionary, but it's very Web 2.0, and it differs from the I'm-an-expert-so-let-me-tell-you-how-it-is approach that bloggers have come to expect and loathe in the print world. I fear that if we had opted for the latter, you'd simply be caviling over that instead.

In response, Rosen said that we should have simply "framed" the package as an exploration of "the complex landscape of Politics 2.0 with some of the world's best guides." He wrote:

But... and here we come to the contradictions at the heart of this little episode... that isn't the stance you wanted to take. Doesn't feel tough enough. Non-dramatic. It lacks that savvy sheen print journalists like to have on the surface of their work. Your desire, I believe, ran counter to your concept.

Rosen is missing several important points, I believe. For one, he's writing from the perspective of an avid blogger who is familiar with the ins and outs of the Politics 2.0 world (I think) and doesn't seem to realize that some of our readers, especially of the print magazine, are not. People with less exposure to that world need to understand the big questions at play--What's the deal with this grand Politics 2.0 talk?--before they will see a reason to read about it. So we use that question as a starting point and then flesh it out with more nuance. It is a classic element of magazine journalism: Will Al Gore stop global warming? Well, here's Al Gore, and here's what he says and what he'd doing. And so on.

Rosen believes that this approach, in its more intellectually lazy forms, is associated with the print media. The thread over at HuffPost has veered off into condemnations of the mainstream media and exaltations of the blogosphere as a less spin-oriented alternative. I do think that blogs serve as a crucial check on journalistic folly, but I don't think that they have proven to be any less susceptible to the same "framing" issues. Case in point is Rosen himself. Over at HuffPost I noted that Rosen had written his post under the headline: "Printing Press Progressives at Mother Jones Try to Debunk the Political Web." Talk about framing. I wrote back:

Are we printing press progressives? Then what about our well-established blog? Are we trying to "debunk the political web?" We're certainly interested in dispelling hype when it exists, but the way you phrase it makes it sound like we are out to expose the political web as a sham, which we aren't, and it isn't. Indeed, we are a part of the political web (or did you mean to say citizen journalism?) So who is guilty of lazy and self-serving framing here? This question leads naturally to ones about your motives for attention, which mirror your questions about our motives for attention. Pretty mind bending. But hey, I'm sure you can handle it since you're a salaried NYU professor.

So this leads to the question: What is Jay Rosen For? (His book was called "What Are Journalists For?). I'm sure he's good for something, but I'll let him answer as to what that is. Meanwhile, he still hasn't responded to my question about why he is accusing us of setting up straw men, only to do so himself.

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