Archive for February, 2010

My first piece for the Observer is now online! It has audio interviews! It has archival photos! It has … a few tech issues, honestly. But read it anyway!


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Interesting article, via a friend’s blog.

In December 2001, following the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, the tapes were acquired by CNN from a prominent family in Mr. bin Laden’s former neighborhood. CNN turned the tapes over to the FBI, which eventually deemed them of limited intelligence value. The FBI passed them along to the Afghan Media Project at Williams College. That’s when Mr. Miller’s phone rang.

The tapes he found most intriguing were those that captured everyday, unscripted conversations between jihadis. In a recent paper presented at the American Anthropological Association’s annual meeting, he focused on one tape in particular. It begins with mysterious hissing and popping noises. When he first heard it, Mr. Miller imagined militants in a remote outpost fixing a communications balloon or perfecting some as-yet-unknown terrorist weapon.

Turns out, they are making eggs. They are having a hard time, too—the kerosene stove is being uncooperative. Here is Mr. Miller’s translation:

Speaker A: Give it to him … Give it more, more, more … No, don’t stop too early … Aaaaay! Too early, too early … Give it more … Give it more until …

Speaker B [admiringly]: Oooooo!

Speaker A: Huh? You see now? … Engineers are we!

Speaker B: Engineers of … eggs.

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A couple of weeks ago, the CPPP had our biggest press event of the year: the publication of our annual Kids Count book, a county-by-county breakdown of child well-being across Texas. Our annual publication is part of a national Kids Count effort under the umbrella of the Annie E. Casey foundation, which publishes an annual state-by-state child well-bring analysis. We focus on things like education, rates of child abuse, child hunger, and child poverty. In Texas, particularly, the results tend to be pretty bleak—the 09-10 data book found that Texas has some of the highest rates of child poverty in the nation, with child poverty rates of 20 to 25 percent in almost every county of the state. Child poverty is one of the most consistent indicators of all the other threats to child well-being that we account for. Even worse, our findings are likely severe underestimates—data lag means that the numbers in the 09-10 report are actually from 07-08—before the economic recession that saw unemployment—one of the most consistent indicators of child poverty—skyrocket across the U.S.

My role in the process, as a communications person, was to make sure that folks found out about the publication. It was an onerous task: our custom is to send an customized press release to news media in each of Texas’ 254 counties, an effort that took me most of a week. We held a “breakfast briefing” to coincide with the release of the book, and were able to draw 3 TV stations, a reporter from Texas Public Radio and a reporter from the San Antonio Express News. And with each press release that I sent out, a felt a little twinge of satisfaction, imagining that as newspapers and local TV stations ran stories on the numbers, county-level policymakers and voters would be spurred to action. Surely, even the most hard-hearted fiscal (more…)

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I’ve come across a couple of pretty good quotes in my morning news skim, and just had to share them here.

The first is from my CPPP co-worker, our budget analyst, Eva DeLuna Castro (who is, along with our tax analyst, Dick Lavine, one-half of the CPPP dynamic duo, Tax and Spend). In a Dallas Morning News story about inadequate funding to Texas public schools that has only be exacerbated by the recession, she said that “The recession basically pulled the sheets off the bed and exposed our shortcomings.”

And, in a Quorum Report item on the Texas Hospital Association legislative conference over the weekend, the keynote speaker, Len Nichols, a health policy analyst at the New America Foundation, which seeks “to create space for a bipartisan conversation on issues that require bipartisan solutions,” adeptly summed up the partisan spread in Washington: “You can make a very fine living and have a long, distinguished career pretending to believe things that are not true. And you can also make a very fine living and have a long, distinguished career demanding things that cannot be. And, if you think about it, my self-appointed task is to piss them both off every day but to keep them talking to each other.”

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From the nytimes obituary of white house chief of staff and secretary of state Alexander M. Haig:

He had a unique way with words. In a 1981 “On Language” column, William Safire of The New York Times, a veteran of the Nixon White House, called it “haigravation.”

Nouns became verbs or adverbs: “I’ll have to caveat my response, Senator.” (Caveat is Latin for “let him beware.” In English, it means “warning.” In Mr. Haig’s lexicon, it meant to say something with a warning that it might or might not be so.)

Haigspeak could be subtle: “There are nuance-al differences between Henry Kissinger and me on that.” It could be dramatic: “Some sinister force” had erased one of Mr. Nixon’s subpoenaed Watergate tapes, creating an 18 1/2- minute gap. Sometimes it was an emblem of the never-ending battle between politics and the English language: “careful caution,” “epistemologically-wise,” “saddle myself with a statistical fence.”


his ambition to be president was thinly veiled, and that was his undoing. He knew, Reagan’s aide Lyn Nofziger once said, that “the third paragraph of his obit” would detail his conduct in the hours after President Reagan was shot, on March 30, 1981.

That day, Secretary of State Haig wrongly declared himself the acting president. “The helm is right here,” he told members of the Reagan cabinet in the White House Situation Room, “and that means right in this chair for now, constitutionally, until the vice president gets here.” His words were taped by Richard V. Allen, then the national security adviser.

His colleagues knew better. “There were three others ahead of Mr. Haig in the constitutional succession,” Mr. Allen wrote in 2001. “But Mr. Haig’s demeanor signaled that he might be ready for a quarrel, and there was no point in provoking one.”

Mr. Haig then asked, “How do you get to the press room?” He raced upstairs and went directly to the lectern before a television audience of millions. His knuckles whitening, his arms shaking, Mr. Haig declared to the world, “I am in control here, in the White House.” He did not give that appearance.

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Former Hewlett Packard CEO and senate candidate from California Carly Fiorina’s campaign released a video yesterday attacking her primary opponent, Tom Campbell, as a “FCINO” (fiscal conservative in name only). It is, without question, the longest, and strangest, political ad I’ve ever seen. The really juicy bits are at 2:26 and 2:50.

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