Post readers debate the Boston bombings
Those who write comments to washingtonpost.com have been understandably obsessed the past few days about the Boston Marathon bombings. We have received thousands of comments as I write this. There are expressions of horror, theories about whatever might have inspired the Tsarnaev brothers, praise for the police work and a certain amount of nuttiness.
The surviving suspect, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, was charged by federal prosecutors Monday with using a weapon of mass destruction, which can carry the death penalty. Several commenters have noted that Massachusetts does not have a death penalty and cite that as a reason for the federal charges, instead of letting Massachusetts prosecutors carry the ball. There have also been attacks on President Obama for an alleged "pro-Muslim bias," for reasons that escape me.
We'll start with a positive comment, from TomR3 , who wrote, "Here is an example of real American Exceptionalism: You are accused of doing something godawful that, yes, you probably did -- and you still get a fair trial according to the laws. That's exceptional."
Familynet asked, "How exactly is "mass destruction" weaponry defined? If a killer drives his Humvee into a crowded street at high speed, is that mass destruction? What if the engine dies before any pedestrian, is it still an attack deserving of the crime of WMD? Yes, I know that many were seriously wounded, but is the govt using this terminology to make it a federal crime and remove it from the anti-death penalty jurisdiction of Massachusetts?"
Familynet agreed, writing, "I think the charges are just to provide an excuse to take away the case from an anti-death penalty state. If this happened in Texas or Virginia it would be state-prosecuted."
Gneubeck said, "The characteristics of the recent Boston bombings should have been a wake-up call for all Americans motivated by concerns for our nation's security. The inexplicable pro-Muslim bias residing in the WH in the form of Barack Obama has once again reiterated its refusal to label Islamic extremism as the source of the evident Jihad being waged against American interests at-home and abroad."
To which HeavilyinfluencedTexan replied, "Now now let's not get carried away."
Quillerm wrote, "First order of business with Terrorists, protect your Cell from authorities. Don't divulge the names, places, or dates of contacts with other extremists. The older brother met SIX times with terrorist agents in Russia. Will the FBI be ordered to ignore all those meetings as insignificant? This PC garbage will get more people killed. This guy is feeding the media and FBI what Obama wants to hear, not the truth."
Mklvntwar asked, "Where are they supposed to find an impartial jury? On another planet? Won't find one here."
But RetiredOfficer replied, "People take jury duty as a very serious, precious business. There is no doubt a jury can be seated to make the right decisions based on the facts presented."
hit4cycle said, "Government malfeasance is largely to blame for the bombings. First, they allowed Muslim Chechens to immigrate here (dumb) and then they failed to act on intelligence that the elder brother had spent time in Russia and had become more radicalized."
seattlenerd wrote, "It is fairly obvious that the existence of the death penalty is no deterrent to murder or mayhem. It is fairly obvious that the death penalty is not cost-effective. So, arguments justifying capital punishment must seek support elsewhere."
We'll close with SeaTigr, who said, "He's an American citizen. Ergo, he is to be afforded all the protections of the Constitution of the United States of America."
Opting out of school tests: Readers respond
Lyndsey Layton's terrific story this morning on growing resistance to standardized testing has generated hundreds of reader comments on the state of education and the role that such tests play. Some parents and students are opting out of tests, arguing, as Layton writes, that they "cause stress for young children, narrow classroom curricula, and, in the worst scenarios, have led to cheating because of the stakes involved teacher compensation and job security."
The comments have Republicans blaming Democrats and vice versa; teachers blaming students and parents; parents blaming teachers; educators and parents blasting the testing companies and the never-ending debate about whether public or private schools do a better job.
We'll start with glenglish, who wrote, "What we need to use the test scores for is evaluating which schools need help in which areas and focus on what the students need to perform better, what the parents need to help their children learn and how to help the teachers at these schools get the job done. Very few teachers need to be fired; schools closed; parents blamed for their terrible upbringings; and or students made to feel like idiots (if any at all)."
Recursion said, "The problem with US public schools is an extension of the problem with the education in America, colleges included. Students go to secure a credential; it's understood that very little of the information being taught will bear upon the student's eventual career, so flouting the expectation of learning it is a cherished custom -- not just with prep for standardized tests but generally as well. Teachers understand that their performance is gauged on a few select stats. Further up the chain, people understand their roles all too clearly as well. The debate over "creative thinking" versus learning facts and figures is irrelevant because sufficiently fine-grained instruction does not exist to implement any kind of intellectual program; it is sufficient to go through the motions, pass the test at the end of the week and forget it all in time for the next. Learning butters nobody's bread, so why bother?"
Gregegger wrote, "There are several problems with standardized tests, the first being that when students do poorly, often the teachers get punished. How about we test like the top countries, where those tests determine whether a student goes on to the next grade? Let's make students responsible for their part in learning. The second problem is that when schools control the testing, everyone tries to cheat. Testing should be done by contractors, online, and not proctored by school employees."
Billisnice suggested, "Dump the test. We test these kids and still they need remedial classes in college. Let's just start teaching remedial in high school and drop a few feel-good courses. 60% of first-year community college students need remedial math and English."
spamsux1 asked, "How do you measure without tests? Do we wait until it's too late for the kids and just measure dropout rates vs. on-time graduation rates?"
denver13 said, "Focus on knowledge, not standardized testing. Hell, what decent parent can't tell if his child can read or do math. Seeing my grandchildren spending hours at home 'drilling' for tests makes me think the educational system is cranking out robots."
Spartacus713 said, "And the sad truth is, there is nothing you can do to compensate for parents who are unhelpful in the education process. Nothing. These kids will, in many cases, not succeed in school, and there is nothing that can be done to adequately compensate for that."
Where Congress stands on guns: The team project with ProPublica
On Tuesday, we launched a new project with ProPublica, that shows where Congress stands on gun control. You can use the graphic to see the NRA ratings, Brady Campaign scores and NRA contributions to lawmakers, as well as how members of Congress are planning to vote on upcoming legislation.
The news apps team at ProPublica, a nonprofit news organization geared toward investigative journalism, and the graphics group at the Post joined forces to create the app. The partnership stemmed from a mutual interest in building a project centered on the issue of gun control as well as in encouraging public participation in the debate
In an early meeting, we talked about how we could share resources. Lena Groeger from ProPublica had already built a version of the "Where Congress Stands" graphic, which presented a multifaceted picture of the current state of Congress on gun issues. We decided to use that framework, and layer in a new section looking toward the future: to upcoming legislation.
Groeger also added several features to the original project, including the cartograms that you can see if you click the 'map' tab. Dan Keating from the Post gave her data for NRA campaign contributions going back to 1990, and I built the mobile version.
The crowdsourced segment is a key new feature of the project. We're asking readers to help us track how the vote is shaping up by calling their elected officials and asking them how they plan to vote. Amanda Zamora at ProPublica and Haley Crum at the Post are leading that effort. So far, 25 senators have been contacted by readers of the Post and ProPublica.
Help us make the presentation more complete by contacting your member of Congress and telling us how they will vote on upcoming legislation.
Take a minute to find your lawmaker and let us know what you think in the comments section.
Kat Downs is Deputy Graphics Director for The Washington Post.
The case of the vanished print button
I have now spent three weeks in my new position as reader representative at The Post and can report that the biggest issue to come to my attention was the disappearing print button on the article pages of washingtonpost.com. Dozens of people wrote to ask where it was; some assumed that it had been deep-sixed by some thoughtless troll in The Post's employ.
Well, the button still existed, but it had been moved. To get to it, you had to click on a label that read "more." That nuance was not immediately apparent.
After it became obvious that people couldn't find it and wanted to use it, the print button was returned to the main article page, alongside a list of sharing buttons for Facebook, Twitter and the like. Who says print is dying?
Would that every issue were so quickly and easily resolved.
There have also been a few complaints about a paywall that washingtonpost.com users will face sometime this summer, if they click on more than 20 articles or multimedia features a month and do not subscribe to the printed Post. The specifics will be detailed later. The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and many other daily newspaper Web sites are doing the same thing.
As for the journalism itself, I have been impressed with the wide variety of questions we get about the news, how we cover it and whether we're being fair. Stories on the Mideast inevitably draw many questions and charges of bias. One article some readers regarded as racist noted that most of the mass-shooting incidents that have distressed our nation in recent years were committed by white males. Sadly, facts are facts.
I'll be coming back more often as I get settled in. I always welcome your questions and comments.
'Read In': How readers are consuming our journalism across the country, in real time
We just soft-launched a new feature that shows where readers across the country are consuming Post journalism, in real time. Our "Read In" heat map displays popular stories on washingtonpost.com dispersed across the country. Take a look.
Every hit to washingtonpost.com is analyzed for geographic location and topic. When you open "Read In," you will see the map move automatically to the top state in which our politics journalism is being consumed. The map will then drill down to specific areas in the state to show the top three headlines in that specific region. You can also click around by state and drill into the regions themselves. Each headline is clickable and will take you to the blog or article.
What you see is a working beta version. And right now it is limited to the United States as our location and with politics as our topic -- the plan is to scale this out to all of our Post offerings and all the places in the world that our journalism is consumed. We'll build it out and integrate it into our site in various ways. We think showing users what other folks are reading can be interesting. If you have ideas on what you'd like to see, let us know -- haikc [at] washpost [dot] com.
Cory Haik, Executive producer for digital news
Siva Ghatti, Director, Application Development