Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Blog comments etiquette question

Scientific experiments get their illuminatory power from the researcher's willingness to specify, before s/he sees the results, what a 'fair' process for interpreting them would be.

Thus research is the opposite of public relations - if we consider "spin" to be "creative interpretation of the data so as to support a predetermined conclusion", PR flacks try to maximize 'spin', researchers try to eliminate it.

And the way they eliminate it is by deciding ahead of time, "if the data were to come out looking like X, I would conclude Y" - in other words, by posing and answering hypothetical questions.

This is a hugely powerful tool, that goes a long way toward controlling for our natural tendency to interpret the data so as to favor our preferred conclusion.

And - coming from a science background - I hate to see a perfectly good tool lying unused, when it could be so helpful.

Which is why it drives me batty when NCFocus blog commenters refuse to answer hypothetical questions - it says to me that their goals aren't mine, they're here for fighting/winning, not for learning.

(some people would disparage this as a "litmus test" - but one man's litmus test is another woman's valuable tool for discerning mindsets.)

So, the etiquette question is this: is it reasonable for the blog owner to say "I want the comments to be worth my time, I want them to be for learning not for fighting", and to achieve this by restricting commenting to those individuals who will answer hypothetical questions?

If the site was my living room, I'd definitely want to invite learners in and not invite fighters back.

So it's tempting to do the same here, but it also brings to mind the adage "if you want to test someone's character, don't give them adversity, give them power" - i.e. this might be a very bad idea, either inherently or as the start of a slippery slope toward comment-toadyism.

And there's a BIG positive externality, that comes from having a place where people from different walks and philosophies of life talk to each other, even if nobody's mind gets changed on the specific issues - and if you narrow the functionality and prerequisites, you'll lose that.

(State: still a little bit cranky, thinking aloud, not ready to stand behind any conclusions, feeling a bit guilty about coming down too hard on today's commenter whose comment I haven't approved (yet), and definitely in need of sleep. I will be wiser tomorrow.)

Monday, July 10, 2006

Councilmember Barbara Coffman selects Dix Sullivan for Planning Commissioner

An NCFocus scoop:

Earlier this morning, incoming Nevada City councilmember Barbara Coffman* selected local business owner Dix Sullivan as her planning commissioner. Mr. Sullivan owns the Golden Flower Trading Co. on Commercial Street below York St., abutting the back of Broad St.'s Posh Nosh restaurant. Sullivan was instrumental in bringing the Chinese Quarter Monument(*) into existence, and can be seen on the far right in the photo here.

According to Yubanet, incumbent councilman (and looking soon to be mayor; my idea* was never implemented) Steve Cottrell is appointing local architect Greg Wolters, who:
graduated from Cal Poly with honors, has been in business for twenty years and been involved with a wide range of architectural pursuits including passive solar and other energy-efficient designs.

According to The Union here:
  • Incumbent Councilmembers Sally Harris and David McKay's planning commissioners are John Parent and Evans Phelps, respectively.
  • Sheila Stein is appointing local attorney and software consultant Robert Bergman, saying:
    "He will bring common sense, an analytical mind, great integrity and a calm presence to the commission table...Applicants will find him to be fair, consistent and objective."

In other news, Ms. Coffman's city council suggestion box, "Tell It to Barbara", has been installed on the wall at Java John's on Broad St.
Many thanks to Mr. U. Utah Phillips for conjuring up the box, title, notebook, and inaugural suggestion*, and for co-conjuring up the original idea.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Roger Ebert reviews An Inconvenient Truth

Appended comments from Andrew Tobias.

From Ebert's review of An Inconvenient Truth:
Global warming is real, and unless it is reversed, the planet will pass a "tipping point" in about 10 years and start a slide into the destruction of civilization. ... This documentary...[is] fascinating and relentless.
In 39 years I have never written these words in a movie review, but here they are: You owe it to yourself to see this film. If you do not, and you have grandchildren, you should explain to them why you decided not to.

Am I acting as an advocate in this review? Yes, I am. I believe that to be "impartial" and "balanced" on global warming means one must take a position like Gore's. There is no other view that can be defended.
Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), chairman of the Senate Environment Committee, has said, "Global warming is the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people." I hope he takes his job seriously enough to see this film. I think he has a responsibility to do that.

And Andrew Tobias:
I’ve gotten a lot of very smart people emailing me to debunk the movie. To each, I always answer: have you seen it? And in each case the answer has been: no.

The feeling of many ... is that so long as there is some chance we are not doomed, we should not act. ...

But the feeling of most who go see the movie is that everybody else ought to see the movie.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

New comments policy, hopefully temporary

Too many people have been interpreting the NCFocus comments policy as literature rather than instructions, so I've instituted comment moderation for now. Comments that I don't see as adding value will not be published, and I'm a bit cranky at present, thus perhaps less able to see value which would otherwise be apparent.

Corollary: I'm instituting a moratorium on movie criticisms from people who haven't seen it.
(Although if you want to just email me with your real name and say "I would like to criticise the film although I have not seen it", I will happily publish your name with this statement; this information _is_ valuable.)

Today's words of wisdom:
Never mistake a mirror for a window.

p.s. for those who are now at loose ends, here's a constructive use for your time - the Sunlight Foundation (link) needs your help for their project to scrutinize the financial disclosures of all members of Congress and the House of Representatives.

All members; surely at least one will pique your interest.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Meanwhile, back in the state of denial

no substantive responses to yesterday's post asking for insight into how we can get a critical mass of the community to see An Inconvenient Truth.

Mind if I join you, in turning away and slapping the blinders back on?

Yesterday was the deadline for the county Recorder's Office to certify the June 6 election results*.
The final vote count (reported June 24 here) landed Barbara Coffman* upon Nevada City's City Council, by a margin of of 31 votes. She will be sworn in next Monday, July 10.
Disambiguation: she is the attorney in Nevada City, not the therapist in Grass Valley.

Articles in The Union mentioning Barbara are here.

Her office hours will be 8-9am most mornings at Java John's. However, you need not show up in person; our hyperlocal luminary is scouring the thrift stores for a Suggestion Box to hang upon the wall, that those who are shy or late to rise might nonetheless deposit their intellectual capital for our City's benefit.

(A man of many and varied talents, he also contributes the inaugural suggestion: raise revenue for infrastructure repair by holding muleback rides down into the potholes, for tourists.)

"Reality is that which, when you refuse to believe in it, doesn't go away."

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

An Inconvenient Truth, a pressing question

edited Wed a.m.

I saw An Inconvenient Truth tonight.

"the atmosphere is as thin as a coat of varnish on a globe ..."

"we probably have about 10 years left to do something"

"it's no longer a scientific issue, it's now a moral issue."

It shows the most compelling graphs I will ever see.

Everybody whose mind isn't locked needs to see this film.

Our community leaders need to see the film.

People who tend to see government as a team sport need to see the film.
How do we reach these people, and get them to see it?

We can't just agree to disagree and freely do what we want here, we only have the one planet among us. It's the ultimate externality; we have to pull together on this one.

Apologies for the trite sincerity here, but I really _am_ stumped on how to get through the ritual warfare. The war now is against an enemy of our own making.

(Starting tomorrow it's at Del Oro for at least a week.)

Michael - and other readers for whom global warming hasn't been high on the priority list - you've got a perspective that I lack, and we need your input here - what would encourage people who're skeptical to go and see the film?

and YES I realize I'm part of the problem. I'm sorry.
Added wed. eve, via Agricola over at Xark:

Robert Samuelson's The Real Inconvenient Truth:
The practical conclusion is that, if global warming is a potential calamity, the only salvation is new technology.... Only an aggressive research and development program might find ways of breaking our dependence on fossil fuels or dealing with it.

The trouble with the global warming debate is that it has become a moral crusade when it's really an engineering problem. The inconvenient truth is that if we don't solve the engineering problem, we're helpless.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Backtracking - Qs on ethics of payola punditry

In discussion with a commenter on yesterday's "Dubner Oath" post, I realized that I jumped the gun by hauling out the Oath; it would have been better to ask about values instead. So, in accordance with best practices of the Better Late Than Never school of citizen journalism:

Russ and George, on the record, do you believe that payola punditry is an unsavory practice?
(And if there are circumstances under which it would be morally acceptable, what are they?)

Please answer in the comments here, if you want to answer, or remain silent if that's your preference; I'm asking not because I want to hound you but because I'd be remiss if I didn't ask.

(in brief, for readers: a payola pundit is someone who publicly marshals arguments and evidence to support a particular viewpoint without disclosing that he or she is being compensated, directly or indirectly, for doing so.)

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Resurrecting the Dubner Oath

Jeffrey Dubner started it here:
I swear that I have never taken money -- neither directly nor indirectly -- from any political campaign or government agency -- whether federal, state, or local -- in exchange for any service performed in my job as a journalist (or commentator, or blogger, or whatever you think I should be called).

Lex Alexander took it here:
I swear that I have never taken money -- whether directly or indirectly -- from any political campaign or government agency in exchange for any service performed in my job as a journalist and/or blogger.

I took it here:
I swear that I have never taken money or received services -- whether directly or indirectly -- from any political campaign or political group or government agency -- whether federal, state, or local -- or anyone else -- in exchange for any service performed in my job as a journalist (or commentator, or blogger, or whatever you think I should be called).

George and Russ, will you take the Dubner Oath?
I swear that neither I nor others of my family have ever received money or services -- whether directly or indirectly -- from any political campaign or political group or government agency -- whether federal, state, or local -- or anyone else -- in exchange for any service I have performed in my position in my organization or having to do with my or my organization's website or weblog.

You can probably word it better than I did here.

Gladwell on Levitt

Just a quote.
[during a debate between Malcolm Gladwell and Freakonomics author Stephen Levitt]
I glanced over at Levitt and had a realization that I'm not sure I've ever had before with an intellectual opponent - that if I made my case persuasively and cogently enough, he would change his mind. He was, in other words, listening.
(from Time, via TED)