Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Of plucky blogging candidates, storybook endings, narrative bias and weblog triumphalism

wed: minor edits, added photo

As reported by Yubanet yesterday, counting the remaining absentee ballots has increased Barbara Coffman's lead over Kerry Arnett from 4 votes to 19. While the outcome isn't yet final*, it's looking final enough.

So - provisionally -
Congratulations to Barbara Coffman; voted onto Nevada City's City Council despite
  • accepting no campaign contributions;
  • having no campaign staff*;
  • having no signage (in marked contrast to the other candidates* - like African flamingos, flocks of signs brightened and befouled a plethora of lawns and corners)
  • mailing no campaign literature;
  • and buying no media advertising

How did she do it?

The secrets: door to door campaigning, word of mouth recommendations, a superb performance at at least one candidate's forum* ...and ... a weblog.

A weblog.
What sweet justice: the modern candidate, reaching out to speak to the populace online, overturns conventional wisdom, negates the naysaying of self-styled pundits*, and wins the prize.

Or so the story could be shaped; and, given the structural biases of journalism (specifically narrative bias) and the blogosphere (weblog triumphalism), it's how the story badly wants* to be shaped.

Disclosure: the truth looks different.

  • Barbara also benefited from serendipity; aiding her were:
    1. the weather; heavy rains this spring begat monstrous potholes which brought home, viscerally, the sorry state of Nevada City's infrastructure;
    2. consequent increased disaffection for the incumbents;
    3. entreaties from those supporting the other challenger*, for voters to choose Barbara too.

  • It wasn't her idea to blog; the nagging NCFocus proprietor cajoled, led and pushed her into it.

  • We never put a sitemeter on the blog, so she never knew how many were reading it.
    And it's unlikely that many did read it; it received next to no publicity.
    (Most online traffic would have come by way of Yubanet, which - in a wonderfully bloggy piece - published the list of candidate blogs*; to my knowledge, The Union didn't even provide candidates' website URLs.)

  • She doesn't think she wants to do it anymore.
    (Perhaps this vignette will help to keep her in the fold?)
    (hope does spring eternal...)

So, fellow blog triumphalists, she's no longer willing to be our stooge.

I hate it when that happens.

(maybe if she heard pleas to continue her blog, from her constituents and far-flung visitors...? you could put it in the comments below...or send her an email, or, if you're here, stop by Java John's on Broad St in the early morning...?

[photo of Barbara Coffman doing crossword puzzle at Java John's]

or - after telling her "two tickets please", at the Nevada Theatre's Sunday night movie - add "and please keep doing your weblog"...?)


maxr99 said...

It's more likely that Ms. Coffman won by riding the coat-tails of Sheila Stein, who campaigned aggressively and the anti-incumbent mood that has permeated Nevada City this election cycle.

I'd be willing to venture that most NC voters have no idea about Ms. Coffman's platform or would consider Sheila's to also be Barbara's.

Bruce said...

I don't think so Max. I was at the league of Women Voters meeting at the City Hall. Barbara knew exactly what was and was not happening in the city. Both she and Sheila pretty much wiped the floor with the candidates when it came to facts vs. blather. Many know her, trust her and respect her, me being one. Her success gives me some hope.

Anonymous said...

Here's a more likely situation:

The city manager pulled the trigger on the city clerk scandal at a beautifully placed time.

This was worth a chunk of votes for both non-incumbents. I imagine it only takes a small clump of swing votes to turn any election.

Anna said...

And here's another:
Results can and do have multiple significant causes.

re Bruce's
> Both she and Sheila pretty much wiped the floor with the candidates when it came to facts vs. blather

I don't have much info on Sheila, but I do appreciate Barbara's willingness to speak her mind. It's refreshing.

which is why it seems like such a loss to have her depart the blogging scene, right when she's positioned to be the Sandy Carmany of the western United States.

I'm terrible at persuading people to do anything, so I'm handing the job over to you.

notbruce said...

"And here's another:
Results can and do have multiple significant causes."

Unless, of course, the single cause advocates are Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner.

Anna said...

Another thing I appreciate about Barbara is her willingness - you could call it courage - to own her words.

Exposing the logic -

L&D asserted - and provided quantitative evidence to support it - that a change from a former state could be accounted for by one particular perturbation to the system.

Max believes 2 things:
1) factors X and Y were sufficient to cause event Z
2) a third factor, W (voters recognizing Barbara's fitness for the job) was insignificant. (not what Max said, but in the context that's what I took him to mean)

Bruce asserted that both parts of factor W are strong - Barbara's good, and many people in town knew it.

he-who-must-not-be-named speculated that another factor, X, was essential.

My belief is it's likely that _all_ of these factors were necessary for Barbara's success; and had any one of them gone missing, she would have lost to Kerry.

Not sure if that clarifies it for you (who-must-not-be-named) - I guess I'd summarize the difference between our situation and L&D's as "L&D had data and were trying to explain a _change_, we don't have data and are trying to explain an _event_".

I read an interesting speculation/observation the other day that conservative thinkers are less willing to accept that a result stems from multiple contributing factors - which leads them to seize on _one_ factor and insist that _it_ is the only legitimate 'cause' of the result, and thus the only place where pressure should be applied, if we want to change the result.
(not sure if this helps to shed light here, also I really wish I could find the URL...)

maxr99 said...

I was also at the LOWV forum and went away feeling that all four candidates more or less held their own on any particular topic. However...I was less than impressed with Ms. Coffman's ( and all other candidates) plan to clean up the local park on Broad Street, leaving it to individual citizens to 'call the police' if they witness an illicit drug transaction. That park, in which sits three dimensional objects of historical interest to locals and tourists alike, has been abandoned to drug abusers, brown-bag bottle alkys and assorted thugs. It could be cleaned up in a matter of weeks, there are resources available through state programs designed for just such settings. Instead, due to the lack of initative by the chief of police and city council it remains a tourism killer. If you were a tourist with a family who pulled into NC, and your first vision is what goes on in that park, would you stay or hustle the family back in the car and head for somewhere else?

I never heard how that could rectified.

Anna said...

> I never heard how that could rectified.

Max, I don't know either, or have any answers myself, and your comment's been chewing on me for several days now.
(here I'd assumed you were a bleeding-heart leftie... :-}

Question for you (and anyone else) -
What would be a libertarian's take on this issue?

Anna said...

also max, let me ask the retrospectively obvious question - when I talked to Barbara about this issue, this morning, she wanted to know, what would you propose?

maxr99 said...

If being a bleeding heart leftie means that it's ok to allow people to urninate in the park, deal and consume illegal drugs, drink alcohol until they're falling down, fist-fight, pan-handle from the tourists and deface or otherwise vandalize public property, then no, I'm not one. I'm not so sure the BHLie's actually believe that's acceptable public behavior.

What do I propose? Well...if I were a city council member, the first thing I would do is spend time, a good amount, covertly observing the comings and goings in the park. I would meet with merchants whose business are near--Broad Street Furnishings, Bank of America, National Hotel, and listen to their concerns. I would spend time with law enforcement, the cops on the beat, and hear from them. It might also be worth finding out if the CoC and BID have anything to offer. I venture that Ms. Coffman will discover that the problem of the park is far larger than she realizes.

It's no secret that the park is a trouble spot for the city, and it's been, to their detriment, ignored for years. Piping in classical music isn't going to change things any more than it changed Elisabeth Daniels park in Grass Valley. It didn't do a darned thing. To say that it did is simply repeating a myth. Finally fed-up with the ongoing difficulties with their downtown park, GV closed the Elisabeth Daniels and then restructured it.

NC has a tiny police department. If someone spots a drug transaction or other illegal and unacceptable activity occuring, by the time they call the police, report it and they respond, everyone and everything connected is long gone. There are public safety resources available from the state, at ~no cost~ to combat such situations.