Brits Investigate Politicians

It seems that some Members of (the UK) Parliament have been rather… irregular in their expense claims. In order to investigate the expense claims thoroughly, it is necessary to trawl through hundreds of thousands of documents.

The Guardian decided to crowdsource the trawling, by setting up a web site with copies of expense documents and an interface allowing visitors to classify each document. Michael Andersen at Harvard’s Nieman Journalism Lab presented four crowdsourcing lessons, based on an interview with Simon Willison, who developed the web application.

Two of the lessons are psychological:

  • your workers are unpaid, so make it fun
  • attention is fickle, so launch immediately.

The other two are technical:

  • speed is mandatory, so use a framework
  • participation will come in one big burst, so have servers ready.

Note that the technical reasons follow on from “attention is fickle.” The framework was Django, and the servers were in the cloud, at Amazon’s EC2. Glyn Moody remarked that open source made this crowdsourcing project feasible. I’ll be more explicit (or perhaps more glib) and remark that this is an example of open source serving the cause of open government.

Is this an example of citizen journalism? It’s certainly an example of investigative journalism, with much of the investigation done by citizens.

Two Examples of Political Intelligence

globeiqGallup recently surveyed Americans on what the federal government should do about banks. A majority of Americans (54%) favor a temporary government “takeover” of major U.S. banks.

So most Americans would support bank nationalization? Not exactly: when Gallup used the n-word (nationalization) itself, support dropped to 37%.

If, in the search for political intelligence, we turn to our local Boston broadsheet, we find, in today’s Globe, new of Michelle Obama’s sleeves, or lack thereof.

Two Days in the USA

MLK Day and Inauguration Day, that is. It seems fitting that the inauguration of the first black president of the USA is the day after the celebration of MLK’s legacy.

I wondered about the algorithms for assigning specific dates to these days. I should probably have known, and maybe most citizens do, but I didn’t. An article that popped up on Yahoo News today told me that the 20th amendment moved inauguration day from April 30 to January 20. There were technological reasons for the switch to the colder time of year. A senate committee put it like this.

Under present conditions [of communication and transportation] the result of elections is known all over the country within a few hours after the polls close, and the Capital City is within a few days’ travel of the remotest portions of the country.

That was in 1937. It’s somehow cool to juxtapose that with the thought that Obama is taking a train, rather than jet plane, to DC.

On the other hand, it’s somehow strange to see how white the world is this MLK day. I refer to the snowstorm that went on rather longer than the forecasters thought it would. MLK day is “observed on the third Monday of January each year, around the time of King’s birthday, January 15” (from Wikipedia).

Change of President

usofobamaI just watched John McCain’s concession speech. It was, I thought, very gracious, especially the obvious embarrassment at some of the more boorish crowd noise.

Cartoon by Ed Stein, via Daryl Cagle and Johnny Drawn! It looks as though Alaska has seceded (along with Hawaii). Do Ed Stein and Sarah Palin know something we don’t?

President of Change

We (our rather, the citizens of the country in which I reside, but cannot vote) are about to get a new president. Central to the discussion has been change. Obama notoriously uses the word at every opportunity.

But McCain and Palin have been talking about the concept of change just as much. It’s just that, while Obama has owned the word itself, McPalin have found other ways to refer to, and attempt to claim, the concept. In particular, Palin has used the word maverick almost as often as Tina Fey has.

A maverick is an unbranded range animal, especially a motherless calf. It can also mean a person who thinks independently, a lone dissenter, a non-conformist or rebel. There’s other good stuff at Wikipedia, but the point is that Palin associates herself and McCain with change by describing the two of them as non-conformists. (If you want to address the question of how each can be both a lone dissenter and the running mate of the other, please do so in the comments.)

Now, if you wanted the American people to associate you with change, which word would you choose? A one-syllable word, preferably change itself? Or a three-syllable word meaning a motherless calf? And, if your opponent has already claimed the C-word for himself, would you reinforce the central place of change in the discussion? Perhaps you had to, unless you wanted to campaign on four-letter words like Bush and same.

By the way, Changing Way makes no official endorsement of either candidate. But you can probably detect endorsements unofficial and subliminal.

Obama Bumper Sticker

That One/The Other Joe in 08 bumpersticker
I was inspired by John McCain’s showing in the presidential debates. To be more specific, I was inspired by his reference to Barack Obama as “that one” and to his many references to Joe the plumber. Hence this bumper sticker.

As you’ll see if you follow the link (from the image to Zazzle), others have already been similarly inspired. I’m not even sure if I’m the first to refer to that one and to JtP on the same item.


If you can vote, do so. Spoiling your ballot to indicate that no candidate is worthy of your vote is better than not voting at all. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.

The image comes from the Threadless shirt “The Tree Referendum.”

Andrew, victim of US taxation without representation.