M e r d e k a × S e v e n
Let’s face it: We are who we are, and we will carry ourselves into the New Year with all of our glorious character defects intact. It’s no sin to be imperfect. God made us this way, or our genes did, or our mom did, and it’s never too late to say Screw change, I hate myself just the way I am.
OMG?! Did you read about this?

You’re gonna be upset with me. And that’s fair, because this is an example of headline optimization. It’s a practice that is growing with online publishers of written content, such as the Huffington Post and even the online versions of traditional media like the Wall St. Journal.

image

Based on a casual read of the headline alone, you’d assume Jordyn Wieber, the US female gymnast competing at the Olympics, threw a hissy fit and spoiled what should have been a proud national moment. 

It’s true she did cry when she found out she didn’t qualify for the women’s all-around, but she sucked it up and was sporting about it afterward. In fact, the text of the article says pretty much the same thing.

http://www.slate.com/blogs/five_ring_circus/2012/07/30/u_s_gymanst_jordyn_wieber_cries_after_failing_to_qualify.html

It’s a deceptive practice that speaks to something that I’ve long disliked about the latest efforts to optimize the internet experience and, by extension, social media: the obsessive focus on trying to attract attention at any cost and by any means.

It’s similar to a friend pleading with you to “like” something or to vote for one of their competitions, etc. There’s nothing wrong with letting me know about it, but don’t tell me what to do and certainly don’t try to manipulate my interest. 

It is in poor taste and bad practice. Let’s focus on the fundamentals - if you want me to read your articles, like your latest adventure, or otherwise respond favorably to whatever my attention is supposed to be drawn to, then at the very least make the content interesting. While good marketing is always to be applauded, it’s never a replacement for actual substance.

Writing a good article is difficult. Writing a catchy headline is, by comparison, much easier. But publishers who focus on the headline with poor content risk going the way of tabloids and the subway-grade newspapers that end up on the floor of the local 6 line.

Now all you gotta do is put a ring on it… #Election2012

Now all you gotta do is put a ring on it… #Election2012

Nate Silver’s prediction model for Obama was SPOT ON FOR ALL 50 STATES. Read it and WEEP haters. All the data doubters gotta eat his heteroskedastic dust.
Seriously, though, well done on the model and sticking to your guns despite all the unskewed hot air spinning around. I kneel and bow before your mighty predictiveness.

Nate Silver’s prediction model for Obama was SPOT ON FOR ALL 50 STATES. Read it and WEEP haters. All the data doubters gotta eat his heteroskedastic dust.

Seriously, though, well done on the model and sticking to your guns despite all the unskewed hot air spinning around. I kneel and bow before your mighty predictiveness.

College majors: Less tuition for Sciences than Arts degrees?

An article from The Atlantic discusses one proposal (of many) put forth by a task force in Florida to incent students to study topics in high demand amongst the state’s employers, which would likely be in the fields of science, tech, engineering, and math (also known as STEM majors).

It’s a topic I’ve pondered as well, as there is indisputable value to quantitative skills. But I’m not sure having state schools play around with tuition rates would be a step in the right direction. As it is, the free market already has a heavy say in major selection - those with more quantitative majors typically have a greater shot at better employment for higher pay than many arts degree graduates. I don’t think any college student is unaware of this dynamic. And the free market is much quicker at making these distinctions than a college or governmental body.

Ignoring the specifics of this proposal, though, I believe we’ve underinvested in STEM as a nation. It’d be great if we could give math and science a better name starting well before college, similar to the subjects’ heyday during the Soviet space race, but not sure what practical approach can be taken to make it a priority.

How New Yorkers stick together during a hurricane

Sitting here in the Upper East Side while riding out the hurricane, I’ve spent the last few hours looking around at other buildings. Many of the units are lit up and, more interesting, almost all of them have their blinds wide open. While there’s a perverse desire to grab my binoculars and compare the living rooms of my neighbors to mine, I think part of the reason is a desire to feel connected to…something.

This probably seems silly to people who live just about anywhere else, but NYC is a city noted for not knowing one’s neighbors. It’s an irony that in the country’s most populous, densely packed city we tend to value a certain level of privacy and isolation.

There’s a certain comfort in the middle of a dark storm to see patches of light dotting the horizon, bouys of humanity extending across a pitch black, tempestuous sea.

It’s a way to say, “Hi, neighbor,” without having to say, “Hi, neighbor,” and still have that warm, fuzzy feeling in your gut.

Pitfalls in a debate: quick notes on the 2nd presidential debate

Last night’s debate offered some interesting observations to those interested in the skill of rhetoric and oratory. I’ll focus on the tactics of debating rather than the words or positions, since that’s being dissected and discussed ad nauseum elsewhere. While this evaluation is more “stylistic,” when you’re being televised nationwide on 3 major networks, appearances matter.

These are good lessons for any future argument or any other highly contentious discussion.

1. Don’t ask questions if you don’t know the answer. A shorter version of this would be, “Don’t ask questions.”

Romney cost himself precious speaking time by asking Obama pointed, hypothetical questions. A good example was Romney’s questioning of Obama’s energy policies early in the debate.

Unfortunately for Mitt, Obama was only too happy to oblige by getting off his seat and answering away. Romney realized his error and tried to talk over the president, but the tempo of the moment already shifted in Obama’s favor.

(Photo source)

Only a few minutes after this mistake, Romney asked Obama ANOTHER question! However, he caught himself much quicker this time and clarified that it “wasn’t a question” and continued on. Nervy stuff for any Romney supporter, though.

2. An attack can be effective. A counter-attack is devastating. During debates, we expect attacks. They’re well-rehearsed and we know they’re coming.

But counter-attacks feel more natural, spontaneous, and unscripted. So when there is an opportunity to counter-attack, even if it was well-rehearsed all along, as long as it is delivered naturally, the counter-attack is an effective way to disrupt the other party’s rhythm.

It’s also the ideal time to plant a memorable one-liner. The best counter-attack is short, punchy, and disorienting for the other side.  

Both Mitt and Barack were likely briefed on possible counter-attacks they could use when the opportunity arose. During the 1st debate, Mitt responded with a good line on the president’s entitlement to a plane but not to his facts. Paul Ryan pushed Biden into an awkward position saying the country knew Joe was under a lot of pressure to make up for his mate’s lackluster performance.

Last night, though, Obama made more of his counter-attacks. He baited Romney with a dig regarding his 14% tax rate and set the lure by attacking Mitt’s investments in China (which he doesn’t have control over as they are managed by an unrelated 3rd party). Mitt stepped up and tried to throw it back to Obama, asking whether the president had looked at his own pension (again, see point #1: Don’t Ask Questions). Obama hooked Mitt hard with deadpan delivery: “My pension isn’t as big as yours.” Cue peals of laughter from the live audience and viewers at home.

(Photo source)

Romney walked into the trap. A better response would have been to state that the president was guilty of the same crime (this would have allowed Obama to still use the line, but likely to less effect). Or Romney could have ignored the attack - when you are wealthier than 99% of the nation, arguing about investments is inevitably a losing game. 

I’ll say it again, don’t ask open questions to the opposing party. It leaves openings for them to exploit and Obama was very nimble that night. 

3. If you can’t answer, pivot, pivot, PIVOT. Both candidates did this during the debate, though I think Obama wiggled a little freer of pain points. There were a few areas where I thought Romney would hammer Obama: (1) Libya and (2) the Fast and Furious operation. 

Libya was always going to be tricky since foreign policy is Obama’s strong suit. However, this was a chance for Romney to pin Obama on being negligent about security, not doing enough to protect our vital assets and interests in the region, and so on.

While Romney made these points, Obama very quickly focused on Mitt’s one weakness on the topic - Romney’s clumsy response in the immediate aftermath of the consulate attack. Obama assumed full responsibility for the failure in Benghazi and related it in a personal way, noting that the Americans killed were “my folks” and mentioning his somber duty to pay respect as the caskets returned to the US. 

Obama was confronted with a question about a security and intelligence failure, but came out looking presidential and personal. 

Obama put in a similar performance regarding the questioning around Fast & Furious. It’s been an unmitigated failure by any measure. Romney should have scored easy points here. Instead, Obama brushed it off, Romney didn’t do any meaningful follow-up, and the Administration’s fiasco on the matter has been largely forgotten. 

Where Romney did well was tying many of the topics - no matter how tangential - back to the dismal economy and the stuttering pace of job creation over the last 4 years. Consistent messaging is key. Even so, Romney had moments where he could have done a better pivot. When asked about equal pay for women, his most memorable line will be “binders full of women,” a rather indelicate, unnatural phrase, and it became clear it was a topic that he is not experienced or comfortable discussing in meaningful depth.

(Photo source)

I expect the candidates will continue to hone the art of debating in preparation for their final appearance next week. Based on last night’s performance, I’d say the key point to drill in both candidates’ heads (though perhaps a bit more for Romney) is to avoid open questions. While many have complained that Obama got about 9% more speaking time, Romney has only himself to blame for at least half of that amount as he repeatedly kept inviting Obama to respond.

Should be fun.

High School Musical 4: Tea Party Edition
Disney is proud to celebrate the start of a new school year during an election season, and presents HSM4: Tea Party Edition, blending education and politics through song and dance!
Buy today! 
Note: bottom 47% of customers - who are driftless, non-taxpaying deadbeats, am I right? - will be inspected to ensure this CD was not shoplifted.
High School Musical Cast members
Official soundtrack:
  1. We’re all in this together You’re on your own
  2. Where’s Waldo? Also, Obama’s birth certificate?
  3. Wash your mouth with SOPA 
  4. The school’s on fire! Save it by cutting taxes for the job creating 1%
  5. "Legitimate" rape, feat. the Transvaginal Ultrasounds
  6. Party in the U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!
  7. "Death panels"
  8. Raise the roof, but not the (debt) ceiling
  9. My honey chews tobacco but she don’t choose Obamacare
  10. Boy Scouts  Chick-Fil-A, no homo
  11. Let’s be civil: Unions are the hallmark of Satan
  12. WWJD? And WTF is Palin doing?
  13. Special Feature: America the Beautiful, feat. M. Romney
  14. Reprise:  We’re all in this together No, seriously, you’re on your own
Happy Birthday to a super badass: Dan Inouye!

Happy 88th Birthday to Dan Inouye, the senior senator of the great state of Hawaii!

So, you might be asking what makes an 88 year-old guy such as badass. What, he ghost rides his motorized wheelchair?

Do this, type in your Google Search bar “Dan Inouye”, and add a space…and what’s the second suggestion in your search bar? The phrase “Dan Inouye BADASS.”

Curious much?

(Source: FishbowlDC)

First, he’s an ice cold congressman. He took a leading role in the Iran Contra affair of the 1980s and exposed the poor oversight and governmental malfeasance of that particular scandal during the Reagan Administration.

But whatever. Who cares? That was like, a generation ago.

Fine, I’ll see your stand up congressman…and raise you a Medal of Honor. Boom! And here’s how he got it:

In April 1945, toward the end of World War II, Dan Inouye was fighting along a heavily defended ridge near San Terenzo, Italy. He was a 2nd Lieutenant with the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, the most highly decorated unit in the entire history of the US Army. Ever.

And to top it off, it was entirely comprised of Japanese American volunteers, people who more likely than not had family members held in internment camps due to suspicions over their true loyalty to the country.

As Inouye led his troops in an assault against the ridge, a nest of three machine guns opened up from 40 yards out - less than half the distance of a football field. Inouye stood up and took a bullet in the stomach for his troubles. Unfazed, he charged the first machine gun nest and cleared it out with hand grenades and a barrage of shots from his M1 Thompson submachine gun.

Despite being warned of the severity of his stomach wound, he organized his men for an attack on the second machine gun position and took it out before collapsing from blood loss.

Regaining consciousness, he crawled toward the third machine gun nest while his squad distracted the German gunners. Managing to sneak within 10 yards of the enemy, he readied a hand grenade and cocked his right arm to throw - when a rifle launched grenade struck him on his right elbow, severing most of his arm.

Miraculously, his hand was still reflexively gripped around the grenade and its release handle. Some of his men tried to run to his aid, but he told them to hang back out of fear the grenade could go off at any point. 

He managed to pry the grenade from his right hand and transfer it to his left, lobbing it at the bunker just as a German soldier was preparing to finish him off. 

Getting back on his feet, Inouye finished the last German resistance with a one-handed burst from his Tommy, holding it in his weaker hand.

He finally took a hit in the leg, passed out, and fell to the bottom of the ridge. When he came to, he saw his men standing over him, and immediately ordered them back to their fighting positions, noting that “nobody called off the war!”

BADASS!

He was initially awarded a Distinguished Service Cross, which was only upgraded to a Medal of Honor in 2000, 55 years after his heroic actions (likely due to latent racism at the time. Eighteen others in his unit would be similarly upgraded in 2000, years after their honorable deeds.)

If you want an even better, hilarious narrative of Inouye’s courageous action, you can read it here:

http://www.badassoftheweek.com/inouye.html

So Happy Birthday to a great American!

Bill! Bill! Bill! Bill! Bill Nye the Science Guy!

Bill Nye: Creationism is Not Appropriate for Children

The Science Guy laying the smackdown on creationists:

http://youtu.be/gHbYJfwFgOU