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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Is Someone Gaming Obama's YouTube Site?

| Tue Mar. 27, 2007 10:15 PM EDT

Over at Techpresident, a group blog on web politics, blogger Joshua Levy is making an interesting case that something's amiss. Obama's YouTube channel has 2,700,000 views--35 times as many as the second most-popular political site, that of Hillary Clinton. While people trolling for the 1984 video may have skewed web traffic to a degree, that's still a huge disparity. "There are a few reasons why the high number of channel views looks fishy," Levy says:

First, the total number of views of Obama's individual videos is nowhere near the total number of channel views. When you first load the channel, a video automatically plays, which may or may not contribute to that video's total views (the relationship between channel and video views is sketchy, though we're told by sources at YouTube it should be cleared up soon). But if we take the total number of video views as accurate this means that only about 24% of visitors to his video-sharing web site are actually watching videos, while over 2 million people are visiting the channel but not watching any videos.

Second, it appears that there's a way to game the system. Last fall a social networking news site called Mashable published a post about "Gaming YouTube for Fun and Profit," in which they described how to artificially increase the number of video views on YouTube. Essentially, if you set your browser to auto-refresh a YouTube page (a Firefox extension does it), every time the browser refreshes the video has a new view added to it.

(To test this idea, Levy made a video of himself discussing the problem, uploaded it to YouTube, and set his browser to auto-refresh every ten seconds for 12 hours. The strategy yielded 1200 views).

Third, Levy notes the Obama channel's unusually small number of viewers compared to subscribers. See his post for the cagey response from YouTube.

If gaming is indeed at play, it wouldn't be a first for Web 2.0, nor would it be all that surprising. Elliot Schrage, Google VP of Global Communications, recently predicted the advent of political spyware in this year's election and wondered whether people will attempt to track candidates using GIS chips in their cell phones. As David Weinberg of Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet and Society put it to me today: "Anything that you can imagine happening online, eventually, probably will."

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The Secret Plan to Gut the Endangered Species Act

| Tue Mar. 27, 2007 1:12 PM EDT

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility has posted a draft of a proposal by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to eviscerate the Endangered Species Act. The proposed changes would accomplish administratively much of what the Bush Administration may have hoped to push through Congress before the Republicans were ousted in November. The 117-page document is likely the brainchild of Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne, who, Salon writes, "has been an outspoken critic of the act.

The proposed draft is littered with language lifted directly from both Kempthorne's 1998 legislation as well as from a contentious bill by former Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Calif. (which was also shot down by Congress). It's "a wish list of regulations that the administration and its industry allies have been talking about for years," says [Kieran] Suckling [of the Center for Biological Diversity]. . . .

One change would significantly limit the number of species eligible for endangered status. Currently, if a species is likely to become extinct in "the foreseeable future" -- a species-specific timeframe that can stretch up to 300 years -- it's a candidate for act protections. However, the new rules scale back that timeline to mean either 20 years or 10 generations (the agency can choose which timeline). For certain species with long life spans, such as killer whales, grizzly bears or wolves, two decades isn't even one generation. So even if they might be in danger of extinction, they would not make the endangered species list because they'd be unlikely to die out in two decades. . .

Perhaps the most significant proposed change gives state governors the opportunity and funding to take over virtually every aspect of the act from the federal government. This includes not only the right to create species-recovery plans and the power to veto the reintroduction of endangered species within state boundaries, but even the authority to determine what plants and animals get protection. For plants and animals in Western states, that's bad news: State politicians throughout the region howled in opposition to the reintroduction of the Mexican gray wolf into Arizona and the Northern Rockies wolf into Yellowstone National Park.

By last week, as MoJo blogger Jen Phillips wrote about here, Interior had already launched a salvo against the ESA, announcing a proposal to stop protecting species based on their historical range and use their current range instead. That would mean that if a species of salmon is extinct in nine of 10 streams, but doing fine in the 10th stream, then the Fish and Wildlife Service would see no problem.

When I met with the folks at Earthjustice last week, we discussed what attacking the ESA might do to Bush's already-weak political capital. It's an interesting question. The move would probably hurt Bush with the nation at large, but endear him to his base, or at least certain parts of his base, like ranchers and developers. But it could also exacerbate a split in other parts of his base, such as between conservative evangelicals and those who are now embracing "creation care." Looks like that's gamble Bush is willing to make.

The Scoop on the Future of America's Wetlands

| Tue Mar. 27, 2007 12:20 AM EDT

A staffer with the environmental public interest law firm, Earthjustice, has seen a draft of the Supreme Court's latest guidance on wetlands development and tells me "it will be confusing as hell." That's probably bad news for some 20 million acres of the nation's wetlands--20 percent of the total--which in 2003 were opened to development by the Bush Administration. The court's guidance might lead to more protections, but it could very likely open the floodgates even wider to developers. This is what we know:

One group of four judges led by Justice Antonin Scalia wants to protect--and I'm quoting Earthjustice's paraphrase here--"continuously flowing waterways and waters with a continuously flowing connection to navigable waters." That could rule out some 60 percent of America's wetlands, Earthjustice estimates. The other judges, led by Justice Anthony Kennedy, are proposing a "significant nexus test," which would be broader, and would require that protected wetlands be connected to navigable waters in some way that might be chemical, physical or biological. But he hasn't specified how the nexus would be measured, which might leave the Bush EPA with a lot of leeway.

What all of this means, in short, is that saving America's wetlands will probably fall to Congress, where next month Democrats plan to introduce a bill called the Clean Water Authority Restoration Act, which languished last year under the Republicans. It would restore wetland protections to the way they were before a 2001 Supreme Court gave Bush's Army Corps of Engineers an excuse to dramatically scale back protections. The question, of course, is whether Bush will veto it.

Back in 2003, you might recall, Bush planned to gut wetland protections in the Clean Water Act, but pulled back after meeting with the NRA, Ducks Unlimited and Pheasants Forever. Since then, the alliance between hunters and greens has only strengthened as sportsmen have seen their stomping grounds ravaged by oil drilling in the mountain west. So in my view a Bush veto is somewhat unlikely. Look at it this way: it pays to have people with guns on your side.

Gingrich Admits to Having Affair While He Pushed to Impeach Clinton over Lewinsky

| Fri Mar. 9, 2007 2:59 PM EST

He admitted this in an interview with Focus on the Family that will air today. No big deal though, because Gingrich has repented. "I've gotten on my knees and sought God's forgiveness," he says. Now that that's been taken care of, it's on to selling his new book: "Rediscovering God in America."

Bring in the Cops! Schwarzenegger's Bodybuilder Appointees are Chiropractic Fanatics!

| Thu Mar. 8, 2007 8:01 PM EST

bodybuilders.jpg

Who needs to watch "Conan the Barbarian" when there's the California Board of Chiropractic Examiners? The board, which includes two friends from Schwarzenegger's bodybuilding days, one of whom played a part in the film, has launched a coup. They've ousted the board's executive director and ejected their own lawyer, a deputy attorney general, from a meeting. The board is so mired in controversy, reports the Sacramento Bee, that five California Highway Patrol officers were called into a meeting last week to keep the peace.

The fracas centers around the regulation of California's chiropractics industry, which, second only to Hollywood and bodybuilding, is to Schwarzenegger as oil is to Bush. The Governator holds an honorary degree from Cleveland Chiropractic College. In 1999, the Bee reports, he granted an interview to a magazine called Dynamic Chiropractic, in which he said, "People who don't believe in chiropractic always ask me about it. I have now become like a spokesperson for chiropractic."

Schwarzenegger's chiropractic crusaders include Franco Columbu, a two-time Mr. Olympia and occasional actor, and Richard Tyler, the editor of a bodybuilding magazine who picked up Schwarzenegger from the airport when he first arrived in California in 1968, the Bee reported. Both men are also chiropractors, and have bristled at what they see as too many restrictions on the industry. They approved a resolution last week supporting a controversial chiropractic practice known as "manipulation under anesthesia," which was shot down in 2005 by the state's Office of Administrative Law and is the subject of lawsuits filed against chiropractors in the state for unlicensed practice of medicine.

At a meeting of the board in December, shortly before director Catherine Hayes was ousted and Tyler took over as "interim director" of the board, the Bee recounted that she clashed with Tyler over what chiropractors were capable of curing:

Tyler insisted that he had cured earaches in children by adjusting the atlas, the vertebra closest to the head, and using homeopathic remedies.

He then took Hayes to task for signing a pending review of a case stating that "no forensic or scientific evidence" supports claims that chiropractic and homeopathic remedies are helpful in curing earaches, adding that there is more than 100 years of proof.

The debate, though imbued with Californian flapdoodle, ultimately sounds reminiscent of the creationist textbook wars in Kansas. And the Lord said, be gone, earache! (and that'll be $19.95, in four easy installments!) Political Muscle, the Arnold-centric LA Times political blog, seems to agree that this whole scandal defies credulity. "There is nothing left to blog after that," they write. "Schwarzenegger has exceeded all expectations."


UPDATE: In a follow-up piece in the Bee yesterday afternoon, Schwarzenegger threw fuel on the flames. Though the board's website says it's supposed to "protect Californians from fraudulent or incompetent" practices, Schwarzenegger told the Bee that the board "represents the chiropractors." Ouch, my ears are hurting. I guess I need my atlas adjusted.

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