The Death of the Follow-up Question and other short notes

Here’s the decline of journalism in one exchange: PBS’ Judy Woodruff is interviewing Herman Cain when he says the Chinese have:

indicated that they’re trying to develop nuclear capability and they want to develop more aircraft carriers like we have. So yes, we have to consider them a military threat.

If you’re feeling generous, you can believe what Cain claimed later, that he meant that China was trying to develop a nuclear capability to rival ours. But the other possible interpretation was that Cain either didn’t know or got confused about the fact that China has had nuclear weapons since the 1960s — an appalling bit of ignorance in a presidential candidate.

Either way, it should be obvious to a trained reporter that some people were going to interpret Cain’s statement as ignorant (as they did). So whether an interviewer feels like nailing Cain or protecting him, his statement cries out for a follow-up question: “What do you mean by ‘develop nuclear capability’?”

But no. Follow-up questions are so 20th century. The 21st century interviewer just lets public figures blather and moves on, so Woodruff’s next question is about Cain’s position in the polls.


If you care about food-quality issues, you should be reading Bruce Bradley’s blog. Bradley is a self-described “food industry insider” (Pillsbury, General Mills, Nabisco) who now is trying to tell the rest of us what the food industry is doing.

He has a down-to-earth manner that comes through nicely in this demonstration of what’s wrong with processed tomatoes. Basically, after you process all the flavor out of a tomato, you have to add a bunch of garbage to make it taste like something.


You know those climate-change “alarmists”, the ones who exaggerate everything and make off-the-wall predictions? Like the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change?

Well, CO2 emissions in 2010 turned out to be higher than the worst-case scenario in IPCC’s 2007 report.


Joe Walsh was the only Illinois congressman to get the Family Research Council’s “True Blue” rating for his “unwavering support of the family”. The irony: He doesn’t support his own family. He’s more than $100,000 behind on his child support payments.


Two women’s stunning encounter with starlings


Dilbert creator Scott Adams is only sort of joking when he asks: What if Government Were More Like an iPod? His specific suggestions for reform are mostly unworkable, some of them intentionally ridiculous. But I think he’s got the framing right:

I like to think of the government as a big, complicated machine. We citizens are the users. What we’ve always lacked is a well-designed user interface.


The vote to watch in tomorrow night’s election returns is the Issue 2 referendum in Ohio. Ohio’s Republican-dominated legislature passed SB-5, a union-busting bill similar to the one that started the demonstrations in Wisconsin last spring. Issue 2 puts SB-5 up to popular vote. Polls show a significant majority for repeal.


It’s been 20 years since Magic Johnson announced he was HIV-positive. At the time, not many people thought he’d be around to celebrate the anniversary.


Who’s to blame for the filibuster making the Senate unmanageable? A simple chart explains: When Democrats are in the minority, they filibuster about as much as the previous Republican minority. When Republicans are in the minority, they take filibustering to whole new level.


What do past elections predict about 2012? Nate Silver is the ideal person to answer that question: Obama is vulnerable, but any perception of an improving economy could save him. Or the Republicans could save him by nominating anybody other than Romney.

And by the way, Obama still has a huge advantage among younger voters. The whole election will come down to how many of them vote.


An electrical engineer explains the importance of the smart grid, an electrical system that can interact with your appliances rather than just fulfill their demands for power. Short version: What power companies do is match supply to demand. The power source that’s easiest to adjust to changing demand is natural gas as opposed to oil, coal, nuclear, or any of the green sources. And more and more, natural gas means fracking. But a smart grid could adjust demand quickly, making gas a less vital part of the system.

As wind becomes a more important electricity source, power surges become a problem to manage. Another way to add flexibility to the power system is to let utilities store excess power in your water heater or some other heat sink.


If you set up your tripod and get an entire thunderstorm on one photo, it looks like this:

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  • By Seemingly Moral « The Weekly Sift on November 7, 2011 at 2:29 pm

    [...] The Death of the Follow-up Question and other short notes. Herman Cain’s China problem, a food-industry insider defects, a true blue supporter of the family is a deadbeat dad, the iPod of government, SB-5 is going down tomorrow, the importance of the smart grid, a couple particularly stunning scenes from nature, and more. [...]

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