Recently, in the Politics category…

Diagram of the Yahoo Pipe described in this post Do you know what your Representative is doing? How about your Senators? I typically don’t, unless they do something embarrassing or are running for re-election. So how can you, concerned citizen, keep up with what your congresscritters are doing?

I’m glad you let me ask on your behalf!

OpenCongress, which I’ve mentioned before, provides three feeds for each Congress person: voting, news, and blogs. You could simply subscribe to all those individual feeds, but that would get you back to work too quickly. Instead, we’re going to build a Yahoo Pipe that combines these feeds and mangles them in useful ways.

If you’ve never used Yahoo Pipes before you should sign up and play with it a little first, otherwise you will have no idea what I’m talking about here. I also recommend looking at the Pipe I built to understand what’s going on. You could even clone it to make creating your own easier. But, again, think about why we’re doing this to begin with: to avoid real work.

You need to start by looking up your representatives on OpenCongress. If you don’t know who they are, visit here and here to find out, then search for them on OpenCongress.

Feed Looking at the page for each congress person, you’ll see three orange “Feed” buttons. Copy the locations of those feeds — we’ll need them in a minute.

Diagram of the modules used in the following text Now, create a new Yahoo Pipe and add the following: 3 Fetch Feed modules, 3 Filter modules, 3 Regex modules, 1 Union module, 2 Unique modules, and a Sort module. In one of the Fetch modules add the three feeds for a particular Congress person. Connect that module to a Filter module. The Filter should be set to “Permit items that match any of the following.” Then add rules like this:

content Contains Thomas Coburn

content Contains Tom Coburn

Why are we doing this? Well, the OpenCongress news and blog feeds are doing “AND” searches on names — basically, looking for any article that has both Thomas and Coburn in it. This is not so much a problem with a name like Coburn, but with Representative Frank Lucas I kept getting news about Frank Smith and Lucas Tyler and all the fish they caught on their last excursion.

In my example above, the second line is probably wasted, but I throw it in anyway just to be complete. If you do something like that, be very sure you set the Filter to match “any”. I forgot to do this on one of mine and couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t getting any items about Senator Inhofe.

Now, link the Filter to a Regex. Your Regex rule should be like this:

In title replace ^(.+)$ with Tom Coburn: $1

We do this so that it’s easy to glance at headlines and know which representative the item is about.

Diagram of the Yahoo Pipe described in this post Now, repeat what we just did for each of your other two Congress people. Then connect each Regex module to the Union module. Connect the Union to one of the Uniques and set it to filter based on link. This will remove any article that shows up twice, perhaps because it had two or more of your representatives mentioned. Connect this Unique module to another Unique module and set the second one to filter on title. This will remove some (but not all) instances where an AP article shows up on multiple sites. Attach the second Unique to the Sort module and sort on pubDate. Finally, connect the Sort to the Pipe Output and you’re done.

And see? Now’s it’s almost time to start your weekend. Want the procrastination to last a little longer? Blog about it!

I wish I could create a Pipe that would allow people to input something (name, ID, etc.) and get a feed just for them. OpenCongress assigns unique IDs to each Congress person, but their feeds contain both the ID and the name, and all the string manipulation required to deal with names would be problematic.

If you do create your own Elected Representatives Pipe, I encourage you to Publish it and either leave a comment here or blog about it on your own site. That way, other people in your district can find it and make use of it. Who knows? If people start paying attention to what Congress is doing, all kinds of interesting things could happen.

As I started thinking about an election Pipe, I had this grand vision of an uber-feed that would pull together news, blog, and Congressional voting (when applicable) information on all candidates into a political information overload.

That didn’t so much pan out. Apparently, there is a limit to the number of feeds — or possibly feed items — that Yahoo Pipes can handle. Somewhere around 12, 13 feeds the Pipe got clogged and wouldn’t return any results. And since that was less than half of the list of feeds I had, I decided to scale things way back.

So I created the 2008 Presidential Candidates, Congressional Votes Pipe. As far as Pipes go, it’s as simple as it gets — it just pulls the voting record feed from for each Congressperson that is running for President. It seemed useful to see how the candidates are voting (or if they’re voting) in the months before the election. And if you want blogs and news there are plenty of Pipes that provide that.

I’ll do my best to keep it updated as people drop in and out of the race.

This MSN article about obesity rates by state caught my eye because I always like to see how Oklahoma does on such charts.

Fourteenth. I figure, by the end of football season we should be at least third.

Anyway, I started noticing how many southern states were in the top ten. Which made me wonder: Is there any correlation between obesity rates and how a state votes for president?

Oh, c’mon. You were wondering the same thing. Admit it.

So, I took the data from the article and matched it with the current map at the Electoral Vote Predictor. Here’s what I found:

  • Average adult obesity rate across all states: 22.8%
  • Average adult obesity rate among states voting for Kerry: 21.3%
  • Average adult obesity rate among states voting for Bush: 23.4%

So there you have it: Scientific evidence that weight determines a person’s political affiliation. Or vice versa. Or not.

More importantly, if you hurry, there’s still time to register or before the election.

I watched the presidential debate the other night. Actually, I’ve watched all of them. I keep hoping to see one of those movie moments where someone says or does something and everybody knows that’s it: The tide has turned because of that one moment. Because of that one moment, we will have a clear winner on November 2, not the debacle that occurred last election.

Unfortunately, that never happened. Thank the Commission on Presidential Debates. It’s their job to insure that nothing significant happens at these events. They’re very good at what they do.

However, lost among all the issues was one little statement that really irritated me. When asked what he would say to a worker who lost their job to outsourcing, President Bush responded:

…Here’s some help for you to go to a community college.

What a lovely idea. Why didn’t the 140,000+ white-collar workers who have lost their jobs to outsourcing, most of whom probably already have at least a bachelor’s degree, think of that? They can just go to a community college so they can get a completely different job that makes no use of their current skill set. If they work hard, in 10 years they just might make it up to the same salary they were at … when they took their first job out of college.

Now, I don’t know what should be done about outsourcing, but telling people they just have to start over isn’t a very encouraging answer. And it wasn’t just what he said, it was how he said it. As if professionals should be happy the government will help them throw away all their training and experience and get a lower paying job. Personally, I would prefer a president who offers hope instead of defeatism. Help people keep their current jobs, or get better ones. Instead of sending them to community colleges, pay for education that will advance them in their current career field. Better yet, spend that money on research and development that will create new markets and new jobs. Then, everybody wins.

I debated about writing this (Debated, get it? Oh, well, nevermind then.), because I’m trying really hard not to write about politics. But, since I haven’t seen it mentioned anywhere else, I felt it needed to be said.

I don’t write about politics very often. There are a variety of reasons for this, the main one being that I just don’t like writing about politics. In the past few years I’ve become very interested in the political process, so I read a lot about it and try to follow the current issues and trends. But, in this particular area, I’m a sponge and not a faucet. There are many people who write about politics much better than I could, so I leave it to them.

I’m making an exception today for two reasons: First, I truly believe this year’s presidential election is one of the most important in U.S. history. There are so many issues that have been building up over the past twenty years or so that will be coming to a head soon, probably within the next decade. It is so important that we make informed decisions now to insure freedom and prosperity in the future.

My other reason for bringing this up is also about prosperity in the future: I would really like to win a hundred thousand dollars. But, I’m not just thinking of myself — you can win a hundred thousand bucks, too. If you are a registred U.S. voter, go to Vote or Not and sign up for their sweepstakes. Not registered? You can do that while you’re there. And, if you win, I win. Isn’t America great?

Now that you’re registered and have that all-important right to vote, make the most of it. Visit Project Vote Smart and learn about the candidates and where they stand on issues that are important to you. Then, choose wisely.

Cam just announced his latest project: WatchBlog, a multi-editor blog ala BlogCritics. This one focuses on the 2004 presidential election, with a separate blog for each of the three major political affiliations.

It looks interesting, and it could be a good source of information for the upcoming election. I only hope they will setup a RSS feed soon. Or, more appropriately, three feeds — one for each affiliation. I also hope he posts statistics some time about which sections get the most hits.

Update: Cam has now added RSS feeds for all the blogs. Thanks, Cam. I have added them all to my news reader.