Nerds, 1; Spies, 0

Enter Bob Graham, ex-Governor and ex-Senator from Florida. Graham has been keeping careful handwritten records of his daily life since 1977, when he first ran for governor. He tracks a lot of things: weight, diet, what he wears, his location (down to the room), and of course the names of the people he meets with, his questions and their answers, his promises and theirs. 

Good idea, right? Well, it was considered such an inexplicable eccentricity that some in the press actually speculated it made Al Gore think twice about offering him the vice-presidential nomination in the 2000 U.S. election season, and three years later, when the next round of presidential campaigning got underway, Adam Nagourney of The New York Times wrote: 

“The penchant of Senator Bob Graham to keep detailed notebooks chronicling the most mundane of chores — think: got up, got out of bed, dragged a comb across my head — may give Democrats pause.”

Why? It’s too geeky, that’s why. Who cares if it helps you perform your job better, focuses your mind, and keeps details from slipping from your grasp. Who cares if it helps you manage your diet, maintain your weight, and understand your colleagues better. Don’t you understand? It’s geeky!

Well, there was a noisy politically controversy recently over whether culpability for torturing suspects arrested after the terror attacks of 9-11 should be shared by Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House of Representatives. The CIA claimed that Pelosi had been briefed in detail about the torture, and didn’t make any objection until long afterward. Therefore, if there is to be any kind of sanction for torture, it should hit the top Democrat who approved it as well as members of the Republican administration who ordered it. Pelosi, though, denies having been briefed about the torture.

Well, it turns out that Bob Graham was also supposed to have been briefed on these topics, and the CIA forwarded to him the dates of the meetings he supposedly attended. But the CIA records were inaccurate, according to his own personal records. Such was the respect for Graham’s notebooks, that this line of attack was closed within 48 hours.

This is interesting for several reasons. First, it’s worth noting that one man’s spiral bound notebooks were able to accumulate enough credibility to defeat the records of an organization whose very reason for existence is to collect information, communicate it to trusted members of government, and keep records of these communications. Anybody who has been following some of the controversy about patient records can add this strange example to their list of favorite anecdotes. Personal data, kept by a dedicated and interested party, even using yesterday’s technology, will trump large scale collection systems managed by bureaucrats.

-Gary Wolf, from


1 Comment»

  Cobiggene wrote @

Nice blog! Very interesting themes. I will often read it. Also e-mailed on rss.

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