Once upon a time in the fairytale land of politics, there was an epic clash of magical beasts.
On one side, the sea-unicorn called the narwhal. With a wave of his single tusk, he could muster thousands of volunteers, knock on millions of doors and direct a laser-beam of votes on behalf of Barack Obama.
On the other side, the narwhal’s natural enemy, the orca, tasked with unearthing voters across the realm for challenger Mitt Romney. This may sound too fantastical to believe, but it’s actually closer to reality than you think.
The presidential race of 2012 did indeed see such a contest, between the President’s Project Narwhal team and Mitt Romney’s Project Orca. But the contest wasn’t waged on Middle Earth, it was waged online, by Silicon Valley hackers wielding the power of…database computing.
For many, the showdown between the two digital camps came to symbolize the growing and dominant role technology has come to play in today’s politics. But that story is, well, a fairy tale, according to the man behind Project Narwhal.
“It wasn’t technology. The answer was that we had a great field team and we had good volunteers and our grassroots was on point ,” says Harper Reed, former Chief Technology Officer for President Obama’s 2012 campaign. “We raised all the money and the finance team did this really great work. Technology just helped a little bit to make some of that stuff faster.”
On this week’s podcast, host Andrea Seabrook sits with Harper Reed to recount a story that ended up being too good to be true, about a Narwhal, an Orca, and the real magic behind campaigns that help a candidate’s dreams come true.
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There’s been a major development in the wake of a Scripps News Investigation featured in a DecodeDC podcast last December.
Congress has now passed legislation that requires the Department of Defense to register sex offenders directly with an FBI database available to civilian law enforcement agencies and the Dru Sjodin National Sex Offender Public Website prior to an offender’s release from a military prison.
Of 1,312 cases, at least 242 were not on any public U.S. sex offender registry.
In this podcast, DecodeDC Andrea Seabrook talks with Mark Greenblatt, Scripps News Investigative Correspondent, about the story behind the investigation.
In Baltimore it was Freddie Gray. In Ferguson it was Michael Brown. on Staten Island it was Eric Garner.
And in many other places, poor black men and boys have died in confrontations with police. On this week’s DecodeDC podcast, we talk with author, journalist and historian Isabel Wilkerson, who says the social unrest we’ve seen in some of these places shouldn’t be shocking at all—it’s absolutely predictable.
“What we’re seeing right now when we look at Ferguson or we look at Baltimore in this moment, we have to remind ourselves that this is a screenshot at the end of a very long running movie that is still not over,” Wilkerson said.
Wilkerson spent 15 years researching and writing her book, “The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration.” The book is among the most important ethnographies of the 20th century experience, which is the story of nearly 6 million African Americans who migrated out of the South.
Wilkerson’s book describes the Great Migration and the families who sought lives and opportunities they thought would be more readily available outside the grip of the South’s rigid Jim Crow caste system. But Wilkerson says that in some ways, African Americans found a mutation in the North of the resistance and hostilities they experienced in the South.
“We still live with the after effects of assumptions and stereotypes of structural inequalities that grew out of that era,” Wilkerson said.
Wilkerson says we have to take a hard look at the lessons from the Great Migration, or we’re bound to repeat history, and the social unrest will continue.
For the past 20 years, Dr. M Sanjayan has devoted his life to environmental policy and the protection of wildlife. After decades in the environmental movement, Sanjayan has come to realize that you can’t separate humans from the natural environment around them.
That’s a pretty radical idea in the environmental movement and a theme that pervades his new PBS series, "Earth: A New Wild." On this week’s podcast, host Andrea Seabrook speaks with Sanjayan about his television series, his views on preservation and what Washington can and must do about its environmental policy.
“When I started in the environmental movement I thought my whole goal was to take things back to some point in the past. Then, during graduate school I thought my whole plan was to stop the train wreck and leave enough pieces that something could be rebuilt,” Sanjayan tells DecodeDC host Andrea Seabrook. “Now I think my whole purpose is to really remind people that we’re part of nature and start to explain and understand all the ways in which nature materially impacts our lives.”
Sanjayan says that when it comes to making policy about nature, there are two big challenges to good decision-making. First, we consistently undervalue the role nature plays in our lives, the way it affects our jobs, the economy, even our security. And second, people who are closest to the problem often feel like policy decisions are made far from them and their concerns. That sets up a conflict situation that’s often difficult to overcome.
What would the noted environmentalist do if he was in charge? Surprisingly, Sanjayan says that environmentalists and advocates have to make a case for valuing nature beyond a love of natural beauty.
“Love alone is not enough. And I think that after spending half my life working to try to convince people why nature is so beautiful, I kind of threw my hands up and said I’m not a good enough story teller,” he says. “I would love it if there comes a day where people value nature just because it ought to exist right alongside of us. We’re nowhere near there.”
“Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind” by Yuval Noah Harari is a book that has more ideas per rectangular page than anything I have read in years. I was lucky enough to have a long conversation with Harari for this week’s podcast.
Harari is a historian at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. “Sapiens” was published in Hebrew in 2011 and has since been translated into 26 languages. It is a challenging, serious book, and it is a best seller all over the world. I suspect that is because the questions Harari asks are so unlike the traditional ones in history.
Harari isn’t so concerned with the rise and fall of civilizations, wars, great figures and discoveries but with how it all affected or changed the well-being of homo sapiens – not the species as a whole, but the daily lives and contentment of us humans. Did the invention of planting actually improve life? What about bridges, gunpowder or antibiotics?
These are weird questions for historians and they are what make “Sapiens” such an incredibly fun, almost mischievous book. It is a genre buster. I hope this podcast gives a good feel for this strikingly original thinker.