Browsing the archives for the US culture category.

Annals of Scientific “I Thought So!”s: Recess

education, Uncategorized, US culture

Some people get annoyed when a scientific study goes and proves something that seems obvious. I love it. I find it very satisfying somehow — I don’t have the capability to go and do original research on all of this stuff, so it’s fun when someone else does the hard work and I get to say “I thought so!”

Here‘s the latest:

Children who misbehave at school are often punished by being kept inside at recess. But new research shows that recess helps solve behavioral problems in class.

Researchers from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine reviewed data on about 11,000 third graders, collected in 2002 as part of a large study, financed by the Education Department, to determine how an array of family, school, community and individual factors affected performance in school.

The study, published last week in the journal Pediatrics, found that about one in three of the children received fewer than 15 minutes of daily recess or none at all. Compared with children who received regular recess, the children cooped up during the day were more likely to be black, to come from low-income and less educated families and to live in large cities.

Children who had at least 15 minutes of recess scored better than the others on teachers’ behavioral ratings. Dr. Romina M. Barros, a pediatrician and assistant professor at Albert Einstein, said the data were important because many new schools were being built without adequate outdoor space for students.

“We need to understand that kids need a break,” Dr. Barros said. “Our brains can concentrate and pay attention for 45 to 60 minutes, and in kids it’s even less. For them to be able to acquire all the academic skills we want them to learn, they need a break to go out and release the energy and play and be social.”

This has been kind of a bugbear for me. When my daughter was in kindergarten, there was no recess at ALL. They were supposed to have recess but they didn’t because it was half-day kindergarten and they had so much to fit into their brief day. (The fact that kindergarten has become the new first grade is another bugbear but I’ll save that for another time.) They just didn’t have as much time to socialize as I thought they needed, and even though they were there for only a few hours, it was a pretty intense time.

Since she’s started all-day grade school, though, I have noticed a definite correlation between behavior and recess. They normally have two recesses of about half an hour each, but they don’t if the outside temperature goes below 20 degrees. We’ve had a lot of that, which means a lot of “indoor recess,” and a lot more behavior problems. While taking a break and socialization are big parts of why recess is important, just plain running around and burning off energy is another huge part of it.

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I was wondering how this would play out…

US culture, US Politics
I took this photo of Obama volunteers in Columbus last fall (I dont know their names).

I took this photo of Obama volunteers in Columbus last fall (I don't know their names).

During the presidential campaign, I kept having the same conversation with fellow Obama campaign volunteers — that win or lose, we were going to keep doing stuff once the election was over. These volunteers all seemed to feel like they wanted to make the world a better place, and while that was part of why they liked Obama, they planned on doing that no matter what — and they were happy to meet others who felt the same way and to forge alliances and make contacts.

I’ve already seen a few large-scale manifestations of this, starting with the Obama-run “Day of Service” on January 19th, and going through various MoveOn and TrueMajority appeals I’ve seen that use the email lists they amassed when they were working on behalf of the Obama campaign.

But I’m now seeing the first truly grass-roots manifestation. There have been a spate of robberies in our area and one of the people I worked with on the campaign decided to do something about it. She’s forming a standard Neighborhood Watch program, but then also is organizing a series of informational events by the police department, covering ways that you can increase your security. (A neighbor had been robbed and then was given pointers on how he could help prevent it in the future, and she thought those pointers were worth sharing with the community.)

She fired up the old Obama volunteer email list (local version) and we’re all pitching in same as before. Someone’s designing fliers to advertise the meeting, someone else is covering printing costs. We’ll each be taking a street or two to do literature drops, and we know the drill (can’t put them in mailboxes, etc.)

It’s fun to be talking to people I know through volunteering but not in everyday life again, and the project is working out fantastically well so far.

I can easily see this becoming a regular thing. The infrastructure already there can be put to quick and painless use for any number of purposes. I may even think up a cause to take up next time. (Hmmm….)

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Will the grapes of the House GOP’s wrath turn out to be sweet for the Democrats?

Culture, Politics, US culture, US Economy, US Politics

I already noted that the significant dilution of the stimulus bill, when it was only going to be rejected unanimously by the House GOP anyway, drove some people up the wall. “Now that [Obama has] offered concrete concessions to the GOP only to have them publicly throw them back in his face, there simply isn’t any super-secret strategy that can [..] make it all make sense,” wrote Stephen Suh angrily at Cogitamus. Why bother even striving for compromise?

This question will get more acute by the day, as a recent post by Kevin Drum illustrates. He reports on the Obama administration’s push to extend the February 17 deadline for TV stations to switch from analog to digital transmissions. Not exactly a hotly partisan issue, right? The Senate promptly arrived at a bipartisan bill – which it passed unanimously. Every Republican agreed. But then the bill went to the House.

Only 22 House Republicans voted in favour. 155 voted against it. Drum: “100% of Senate Republicans voted in favor but 90% of House Republicans voted against. Shazam! Apparently the House GOP caucus really has decided to blindly stonewall everything Obama wants, no matter what.” He posits: “This is even more of a wakeup call than the vote on the stimulus bill.”

Right. The House GOP leadership is startlingly open about its intentions too, observes Dan at Bleakonomy. It will block and obstruct whatever comes its way, so Republicans can freely blame the Democrats for everything when the economy hasn’t recovered yet in six months. Yes, six months – if things haven’t improved in six months, the Republicans intend to say that it’s all the Dems’ fault and that the stimulus “didn’t work” because they ”didn’t have the input in this”.

Of course, the current crisis is turning out to be the worst in almost three decades and is guaranteed to have an impact lasting (much) longer than six months, so … GOP profit!

Yet still there are valid reasons not to come down on Stephen’s side of the argument … yet. (I mean, apart from the stimulus bill not actually being all that bad.) The obvious one is the enormous contrast between House and Senate Republicans on the TV bill. If the Senate GOP shows any remotely similar divergence from the House Republicans’ obstruction course on the stimulus as well, Obama’s strategy may still come to “make sense”.

Then there’s the question of strategy. I already linked to Josh Marshall’s argument that offering the Republicans significant compromises, only for them to reject everything anyway, will help to brand them as the party of ‘no’. Which will marginalise them even further in 2010 so the Dems can go the long haul. Kevin Drum links to more evidence on that count too: a poll conducted by Democracy Corps on January 14-19.

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Questions and answers

Culture, European Politics, Media / journalism, Politics, US culture, US Politics

First things first

Foremost (h/t The Plank): The question to guide your day-to-day life in this new era.

Rush Limbaugh, conservative giant

Also via The Plank: Who is Rush Limbaugh? According to Republican Congressman Phil Gingrey, yesterday, “it’s easy if you’re Sean Hannity or Rush Limbaugh or even sometimes Newt Gingrich to stand back and throw bricks. You don’t have to try to do what’s best for your people and your party. You know you’re just on these talk shows and you’re living well and plus you stir up a bit of controversy and gin the base and that sort of that thing.”

But he had that all wrong, he realised today, after some constituents helpfully called in to remind him. In reality, he corrected himself in a statement titled “Gingrey comments on Rush misunderstanding,” Rush Limbaugh is not just a ”voice [..] of the conservative movement’s conscience”, but … a “conservative giant”.

Who are the hottest professors?

In love with your prof? If so, he/she is likely to lecture languages. There is “Real Social Scientific Data” (mind your footnotes) on the relative hotness of the different disciplines, which comes via Prof. Henry Farrell (Political Science, ranked fifth) at the Monkey Cage.

Law and criminal justice take a prominent second and fourth place (out of 36) in the ranking, which might please fellow blogger Joefromchicago. Unsurprisingly, engineering, computer science and chemistry rank at the bottom, so pity the poor professors in those duller disciplines — after all, tenure without temptation is like aspersions without alliteration.

Economists, however (ranked 30th) have reason to harbour hope, judging on Shivaji’s observation that they’re up next to be fetishized by pop culture:

After the phenomenal success of books such as Freakonomics, Undercover Economist, Armchair Economist [..], every economist is under pressure to come up with some innovative approach to explain mundane things in life. Forget earlier topics like “Why aid doesn’t work in Africa” or “Implications of direct cash grants on Philips curve” that used to keep economists intrigued; the best talent in business are now looking for more relevant topics. And even though some of the most pressing issues facing mankind such as “Overpricing of the hotel mini-bar” (Tim Harford) and “socioeconomic patterns of naming children” (Steven Levitt) have already been worked upon, there still remain some fundamental questions that remain unanswered. For example, “How many love songs are written for every break-up song and why” or “why do men wash underwear less frequently than women”, or “Why does Ronald McDonald not get fat”? 

Where are Americans moving to? And from?

Talking about comparative hotness – which states of the US are hemorrhaging homes, and which ones are rapidly reeling in the residents? Earlier this month, Patrick Ottenhoff dug into the demographics on domestic migration between 2000 and 2008, and put up a map on The Electoral Map. It’s not as simple as cities versus flyover country, he emphasises: loser states cover a contiguous chunk of territory from Massachusetts to Nebraska, while most of the states strongly gaining ground are clustered together in the West and on the Atlantic seaboard from Virginia to Florida.

What’s the real reason Putin handpicked Medvedev for President?

Of course, or so the cheekier of conventional wisdoms go: term-limited out of the Presidential office, Putin needed someone to keep his seat warm while he played Prime Minister for a few years, so he could return to the Presidency soon enough. But why Medvedev?

Why, his luxurious head of hair of course. It’s the only way the steely-eyed leader could deal with the longstanding law of succession when it comes to ruling Russia. Lenin – bald; Stalin – hairy; Khrushchev – bald; Brezhnev – hairy; well, you get the idea. Gorbachev was bald, Yeltsin hairy, and well – let’s be honest, Putin isn’t particularly blessed in this regard.

By choosing Dmitry last year, Putin bent the Bald-Hairy Theory of Russian Leaders to his will to power – and the two can rule till death do them part.

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Washington DC, the inaugural address – ninetynine years ago

Culture, History, Politics, US culture, US Politics

The inauguration speech, to the year one century ago:

Hence it is clear to all that the domination of an ignorant, irresponsible element can be prevented by constitutional laws which shall exclude from voting both negroes and whites not having education or other qualifications thought to be necessary for a proper electorate. The danger of the control of an ignorant electorate has therefore passed. With this change, the interest which many of the Southern white citizens take in the welfare of the negroes has increased. The colored men must base their hope on the results of their own industry, self-restraint, thrift, and business success, as well as upon the aid and comfort and sympathy which they may receive from their white neighbors of the South. [..]

There is in the South a stronger feeling than ever among the intelligent well-to-do, and influential element in favor of the industrial education of the negro and the encouragement of the race to make themselves useful members of the community. The progress which the negro has made in the last fifty years, from slavery [..], is marvelous, and it furnishes every reason to hope that in the next twenty-five years a still greater improvement in his condition as a productive member of society, on the farm, and in the shop, and in other occupations may come.

This, it should be noted on behalf of William Taft, from a speech that spoke both of and for America’s blacks as no inaugural address before had done, and must to contemporary standards have pressed hard for their case.

America – as they say … you’ve come a long way, baby.

P.S. Explore past inaugural addresses with this nifty word analysis tool. “Locusts,” alas, appears only once, as in “We are stricken by no plague of locusts”.

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David Palmer, Barack Obama

Culture, History, Media / journalism, Presidential Elections, US culture, US Politics
Dennis Haysbert as David Palmer, President

Dennis Haysbert as David Palmer, President

The New York Times has an article today called, “How The Movies Made a President,” (which includes a cool slide show). It examines various black archetypes in movies and TV and how they may have helped to prepare the ground for the ascendancy of Barack Obama. I had similar thoughts a few months ago but never got around to making a blog post out of ‘em (I know, all the bloggers say that, right?). The article mentions Dennis Haysbert and the show “24″ in passing — that was the starting point of my train of thought earlier.

I think the significance of that show is not only that it was popular and that the black President Palmer was a good guy, someone the audience is rooting for, but that Keifer Sutherland’s character Jack Bauer is a pretty Republican character, at core. He’s all about stoppin’ those damn terrorists by any means necessary. This wasn’t some lefty liberal show, at all.

I started thinking about this after seeing a Dennis Haysbert commercial for State Farm. He’s all calm, reassuring authority. I saw the commercial soon after some sort of political television — a debate, perhaps — and I thought at the time that it had to help Obama. There are just all sorts of resonances there. The phrases I transcribed from the commercial at the time were, “If this isn’t a recession, it sure feels like one,” (spoken wryly but seriously by Haysbert, standing in a grocery store) and then the standard State Farm tagline; “Are you in good hands?” Haysbert’s hands, the commercial clearly implies, are very good ones.

As of a year ago, Dennis Haysbert was willing to take some of the credit, too:

“As far as the public is concerned, it did open up their minds and their hearts a little bit to the notion that if the right man came along… that a black man could be president of the United States,” Haysbert, who believes that Obama is the “right man,” said in the January 21 [2008] issue of TV Guide. “People on the street would ask me to run for office… when I went to promote [24].”

[...]

“I think we both have a similar approach to who and what we believe the president is,” Haysbert said in another interview with the Los Angeles Times. “Barack doesn’t get angry. He’s pretty level. That’s how I portrayed President Palmer: as a man with control over his emotions and great intelligence.”

I don’t think anyone’s claiming that there is a direct line from one to the other; that if these black fictional representations hadn’t existed, Barack Obama wouldn’t have won, or that the fictional representations meant that any black politician could make it that far. Obama’s achievement is significant and singular. I do agree with Manohla Dargis and A.O. Scott, though, authors of the NYT article, that

The presidencies of James Earl Jones in “The Man,” Morgan Freeman in “Deep Impact,” Chris Rock in “Head of State” and Dennis Haysbert in “24” helped us imagine Mr. Obama’s transformative breakthrough before it occurred. In a modest way, they also hastened its arrival.

(Another thought I had while reading the NYT article — Michelle Obama is SO Clair Huxtable, isn’t she? Smart, polished, down-to-earth, nurturing, funny…. Is this not a total Clair Huxtable moment?)

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Of donuts and wingnuts

Culture, Funny, Politics, US culture, US Politics

This story, surely, could. Not. Possibly. Be. True.

Krispy Kreme decided, just for Inauguration Day, to “honor [..] American’s [sic] sense of pride and freedom of choice [..], by offering a free doughnut of choice to every customer on this historic day”. Check.

Bigwig wingnut is wingnutty and takes offence. Okay … I suppose. In the nature of things.

Bigwig wingnut in question is Judie Brown, President of the American Life League, who sent out a news release headlined KRISPY KREME CELEBRATES OBAMA WITH PRO-ABORTION DOUGHNUTS.

What?

It’s for real, alas. The news release is on the ALL website, in all its incredible, batshit insane glory. Choice snippets:

The next time you stare down a conveyor belt of slow-moving, hot, sugary glazed donuts at your local Krispy Kreme you just might be supporting President-elect Barack Obama’s radical support for abortion on demand [..]

The unfortunate reality of a post Roe v. Wade America is that “choice” is synonymous with abortion access and celebration of ‘freedom of choice’ is a tacit endorsement of abortion rights on demand. [..]

A misconstrued concept of “choice” has killed over 50 million preborn children since Jan. 22, 1973. Does Krispy Kreme really want their free doughnuts to celebrate this “freedom.”" [..]

We challenge Krispy Kreme doughnuts to [..] separate themselves and their doughnuts from our great American shame.”

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Yeah, But We Have a Black President So Nanny Nanny Boo Boo

Culture, International Politics, Politics, Presidential Elections, Uncategorized, US culture, US Politics

T-shirt made by a bar in Georgia

I’m starting to see Obama being held up as an indication of how advanced America is compared to other countries when it comes to race relations. On the one hand that’s so awesome! Yay us! I do still get this little shock every time I realize that it’s actually true, and what it means.

On the other hand, it’s a bit too easy and pat. The fact that Obama was elected doesn’t mean that America no longer has any problems with race.

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Politics Detox

Presidential Elections, US culture, US Elections, US Politics
I took this photo of an voting information flier on the ground on election day.

I took this photo of a voting information flier on the ground on election day.

I’ve been interested in politics forever but this election year was one for the ages. And all of that excitement wasn’t even crammed into a single election year — candidates announced that they were running for president about two years before election day (of the major candidates, John Edwards was first in December of 2006, and Barack Obama was last in February of 2007), and there was speculation and buzz well before anyone announced anything.

All told, this election cycle took up about three years of my life, with the intensity ratcheting up and up and staying at fever pitch from about the Iowa primaries (January 2008) through election day.

So perhaps it’s unsurprising that after the initial euphoria of election night, I’ve settled into a period of politics detox. I no longer obsessively click on the acronymed sites crowding my bookmarks toolbar (TPM, FR, DD, WM, 538) — several of them haven’t been touched since November 4th. I still read my daily New York Times but I glide over the politics and intrigue and pay more attention to the arts section and special sections like Science Times. The TV stays away from CNN and MSNBC and C-Span.

I believe this has been better for my mental health — but man, that was sure a fascinating election cycle.

I can sense that things are starting to change already. For one thing, I am so watching the inauguration. My daughter has the day off of school (hooray!) and we’re gonna make a day of it. That’ll invite CNN back into my living room, and I’ll want to see what Kevin Drum and Andrew Sullivan and Matt Yglesias and Hilzoy and everyone are saying about it. And I’ll disagree with some of it, probably, and write them emails and write stuff here and then see the counterarguments and that’ll probably be that. Detox completed, politics part of my brain re-engaged.

But for now, I’m still really enjoying ignoring politics in favor of things like the Science Times. Did you know that it’s been proven that lack of sleep is closely related to catching a cold? I thought so…

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The casual sadism of the US criminal justice system: exhibit 397.

Culture, Politics, US culture, US Politics

In the category “horrifying yet somehow unsurprising,” the NYT had this on Thursday:

As His Inmates Grew Thinner, a Sheriff’s Wallet Grew Fatter

Alabama has an unusual statute on the books that “allows the state’s sheriffs to keep for themselves whatever money is left over after they feed their prisoners. The money allotted by the state is little enough — $1.75 a day per prisoner — but the incentive to skimp is obvious.”

Indeed, and skimp he did. While “the prisoners in the Morgan County jail here were always hungry,” sheriff Greg Bartlett pocketed $212,000 over the last three years. A Redditter does the math:

If he profited $212,000 over three years, as the story claims, he profited about $194 a day. Morgan County has a bed capacity of 212. Meaning the Sheriff profited $0.90 per bed. Meaning the Sheriff was spending $0.85 per bed. That’s harsh.

‘Tis. The judge called the Alabama law “almost an invitation to criminality,” and sent the sherrif to jail – “until he indicated a willingness to comply.” Meaning just for one night, because as Sir Charles at Cogitamus put it: “In a startling display of the rehabilitative powers of incarceration, after only one night in jail Bartlett came up with the creative idea of not skimming any of the food money going forward, and the judge released him.”

As Charles concluded: “One is struck once again with the casual sadism that we seem to find appropriate in our criminal justice system.”

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Bennet’s been there

Culture, Politics, US culture, US Politics

The New Yorker is a pricey purchase here in Central Europe, but every so often I make it anyway, because its in-depth reportage is often unparalleled. One such piece of reportage I still vividly remember one or two years later dealt with valiant efforts to reform the education system in Denver. Nominally, at least. In truth, it was a both heart-wrenching and challenging panorama of how deep the roots are of the inequality of educational opportunity, and the problems of poverty, exclusion and ghettoisation that underlie it.

Even as the article covered chunks of policy debate, it didn’t get abstract and made you feel the human challenges involved. It resonated with personal experience, and I felt like forcing people to read it. Foremost those with glib answers about poverty and how people should just get themselves to work and pull themselves up by their bootstraps. It sounds stupid when you try to explain that even just getting yourself to another part of town for a job or better school can be an insurmountable obstacle if you’re – well, fill in your cliché – on the outside. But this article made you feel it.

Reading it you couldn’t help identifying with the Schools Superintendent who was trying so strenuously to make sense of it all, and to undertake a daunting effort, from the ground up, to make changes that would spread the benefits of education beyond the middle class.

Michael Bennet with family and, behind him, Governor Ritter. (Image used under CC license from Jeffrey Beall)

Michael Bennet with family and, behind him, Governor Ritter. (Image used under CC license from Jeffrey Beall)

Well, that Superintendent, Michael Bennet, last week was selected by Colorado Governor Ritter to take Ken Salazar’s seat in the Senate.

All I know about him is that New Yorker article. Taniel at Campaign Diaries, however, explains that “Bennet looks to be among the most centrists of Ritter’s potential choices” and that “Ritter himself emphasized Bennet’s centrist politics, describing him with the “postpartisan” terminology that has become the cloak of the ideological center.” Practical, pragmatic, not dogmatic, that kind of thing.

Bennet himself pledged to follow in Salazar’s “bootsteps”, which are distinctly conservative for a Democrat. In short, the Bennet pick will “be frustrating progressives”, and he might oppose card check. Not exactly encouraging stuff.

And yet I can’t help feeling happy about the pick. Such is the power of good journalism. Happy except, of course, for the fact that the man will now no longer be heading Denver’s school system. When one of the major problems with the efforts there have been to improve the school system is inconsistency. The lack of follow-through: a burst of activity as the latest reform model is implemented, and just as effects start moving some of the intractable problems, a change in regime or a new model. Maybe you should make Schools Superintendent as prestigious a position as US Senator …

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Blogs – “hitting the mainstream” or the new “old media”?

Culture, Media / journalism, US culture

In my previous post I wrote about the under-30s who are supposed to be the “digital natives”:

And yet they seem to be very much adapting still. After all, in 2006 and 2007 just a third of 18-29 year olds listed the Internet as a main source of news and information. It’s only this year that the big push to 50%+ came. And that’s America; I assume developments in Europe are lagging.

As a footnote of sorts, the world of blogging in Europe, in any case, definitely seems to lag behind its US counterpart, Technorati’s study of the State of the Blogosphere 2008 showed last September. The most conspicuous difference: both European and Asian bloggers are overwhelmingly male (73%); in the US, women have almost caught up, and men only make up 57% of bloggers.

Image used under CC license from Flickr user minifig

Image used under CC license from Flickr user minifig

In Europe and especially Asia, bloggers are also more likely to be youngsters, or students specifically, whose income logically tends to be below-average. Although previous editions of the report don’t give data by continent, I’m guessing this is a question of development over time. As in: older and wealthier people in the US have already gotten in on blogging more – presumably also involving a higher share of professional and corporate bloggers. Unsurprisingly, then, US bloggers also tend to invest more money in their product.

Nevertheless, the Technorati report asserted that “All studies agree [..] that blogs are a global phenomenon that has hit the mainstream” and that “Blogs are Pervasive and Part of Our Daily Lives”. Go, digital adaptives: 63% of bloggers is 25-44 years old.

Marshall Kirkpatrick at RWW, however, panned these conclusions. For one, according to Technorati’s own data, the number of blog posts written each day has been fairly stable for a couple of years or is even slowing down, so what’s that about “hitting” the mainstream? Secondly, well:

Although reading blogs is becoming increasingly mainstream, is writing them? [..]

Of those 133 million blogs that Technorati has indexed – guess how many of them have been posted to in the last 7 days? 1.1% of them, or 1.5 million total. [..] Globally, fewer people are posting to their blogs each week than go to the Minnesota State Fair or speak Esperanto.

Kirkpatrick’s description of the future of blogging, in fact, make blogs seem like the new “old media”, at least in America. “Blogging may become centralized, profesionalized and increasingly scarce – just like other forms of media have, perhaps to a lesser degree.” Digital natives, meanwhile, are going elsewhere to air their thoughts:

Reading blogs is becoming increasingly mainstream and the line between a blog and another kind of website is growing increasingly blurred. Writing full length blog posts even as regularly as once a week is hard, though. We expect that microblogging may become more popular than blogging, if it hasn’t already! From updating your status message on Facebook or MySpace, to posting 140 word updates on lunch or politics on Twitter [..] – there are a whole lot of people already microblogging, if you will.

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