WASHINGTON/NEW YORK (Reuters) - Thousands of people poured
into the streets outside the White House and in New York City early on Monday,
waving U.S. flags, cheering and honking horns to celebrate al Qaeda leader Osama
bin Laden's death.
Almost 10 years after the September 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington
that killed nearly 3,000 people, residents found joy, comfort and closure with
the death of the mastermind of the plot. For many, it was a historic,
"I never figured I'd be excited about someone's death. It's been a long time
coming," firefighter Michael Carroll, 27, whose firefighter father died in the
September 11 attacks, said in New York. "It's finally here. ... it feels good."
At Ground Zero, site of the World Trade Center Twin Towers toppled by al Qaeda
militants flying hijacked planes, thousands sang the U.S. national anthem,
popped champagne, drank from beer bottles and threw rolls of toilet paper into
the air. Another big crowd gathered in New York's Times Square.
"With all the gloom and doom around us, we all needed this. Evil has been ripped
from the world," said Guy Madsen, 49, a salesman from Clifton, New Jersey, who
drove to Lower Manhattan with his 14-year-old son.
Many in Times Square recalled the thousands of New Yorkers who perished on a
clear September Tuesday almost a decade ago. Some people held pictures of loved
ones who died.
In Washington, people gathering outside the White House soon after the first
reports that bin Laden had been slain in Pakistan by U.S. forces and even before
President Barack Obama announced the news. The boisterous crowd swelled into the
thousands and chanted "USA, USA, USA."
'OH MY GOD'
"We had to be there to celebrate with everybody else. I'm very happy with the
outcome of today's news," said Stephen Kelley, a Gulf War veteran and former
U.S. Marine, who said he rushed to the White House after his wife told him the
College students, who were just children when the attacks took place, turned out
in huge numbers, like Jennifer Raymond, 18, wrapped in a huge U.S. flag outside
the White House.
"We were all in our dorm rooms and everyone's Facebook was blowing up," Raymond
said. "It's like 'Oh my God, Osama bin Laden's dead.' Everyone in the dorm was
screaming. Everyone decided to come to the White House."
The celebration may well have been the biggest crowd to gather spontaneously
outside the White House since Obama's election in November 2008.
In New York City, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in a statement: "New Yorkers have
waited nearly 10 years for this news. It is my hope that it will bring some
closure and comfort to all those who lost loved ones on September 11, 2001."
Firefighters hold a special place in New Yorkers' memories of September 11, as
hundreds died in the collapse of the Twin Towers while racing up flights of
stairs to rescue trapped people on upper floors.
"This is a tremendous moment, and hopefully it will bring us together, it
doesn't matter if you're Muslim or Christian or whatever," said Patrice McLeod,
a firefighter dressed in uniform. "We'll never give up."
It was also a night to remember the 100,000 or so U.S. troops deployed in
Afghanistan. Elaine Coronado, 51, whose brother served a year in Afghanistan,
said that joining the crowd outside the White House was a way of showing her
support to U.S. military families.
Donna Marsh O'Connor, who lost her pregnant daughter in the 2001 attacks and is
active in the group September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, watched
events unfold on television.
"Osama bin Laden is dead, and so is my daughter," she told Reuters. "His death
didn't bring her back. We are not a family which celebrates death, no matter who
Human beings, the philosophers tell us, are social animals. We emerge into
the world ready to connect with mom and dad. We go through life jibbering and
jabbering with each other, grouping and regrouping. When you get a crowd of
people in a room, the problem is not getting them to talk to each other; the
problem is getting them to shut up.
To help us in this social world, God, nature and culture have equipped us with a
spirit of sympathy. We instinctively feel a tinge of pain when we observe
another in pain (at least most of us do). We instinctively mimic, even to a
small extent, the mood, manners, yawns and actions of the people around us.
To help us bond and commit, we have been equipped with a suite of moral
sentiments. We have an innate sense of fairness. Children from an early age have
a sense that everybody should be treated fairly. We have an innate sense of
duty. We admire people who sacrifice for the group. We are naturally embarrassed
when we’ve been caught violating some social code. We blush uncontrollably.
As a result of this sympathy and these sentiments, people are usually pretty
decent to one another when they relate person to person. The odd thing is that
when people relate group to group, none of this applies. When a group or a
nation thinks about another group or nation, there doesn’t seem to be much
natural sympathy, natural mimicry or a natural desire for attachment. It’s as if
an entirely different part of the brain has been activated, utilizing a
different mode of thinking.
Group-to-group relations are more often marked by calculation, rivalry and
coldness. Members of one group sometimes see members of another group as less
than human: Nazi and Jew, Hutu and Tutsi, Sunni and Shiite.
Political leaders have an incentive to get their followers to use the group mode
of cognition, not the person-to-person. People who are thinking in the group
mode are loyal, disciplined and vicious against foes. People in the
person-to-person mode are soft, unpredictable and hard to organize.
There’s a scene in Anthony Trollope’s political novel, “Phineas Finn,” in which
young Phineas, about to enter Parliament, tells a party leader that he is going
to think for himself and decide issues as he sees best. The leader, Barrington
Erle, looks at him with utter disgust. To Erle, anybody who thinks that way is
“unstable as water and dishonest as the wind.”
In the United States, leaders in the House of Representatives have done an
effective job in getting their members to think in group, not person-to-person,
terms. Members usually vote as party blocs. Individuals have very little power.
That’s why representatives are often subtle and smart as individuals, but crude
and partisan as a collective. The social psychology of the House is a clan
psychology, not an interpersonal psychology.
The Senate, on the other hand, has historically been home to more
person-to-person thinking. This is because the Senate is smaller and because of
Senate rules. Until recently, the Senate leaders couldn’t just ram things
through on party-line votes. Because a simple majority did not rule, and because
one senator had the ability to bring the whole body to a halt, senators had an
incentive, every day, to develop alliances and relationships with people in the
For decades, individual senators have resisted their leaders’ attempts to run
the Senate like the House and destroy these relationships and these humane
customs. A few years ago, when Republican leaders tried to pass judicial
nominations on party-line votes, rank-and-file members like Barack Obama, Joe
Biden and Hillary Clinton spoke out forcefully against rule by simple majority.
But power trumps principle. In nearly every arena of political life, group
relationships have replaced person-to-person relationships. The tempo of the
Senate is now set by partisan lunches every Tuesday, whereas the body almost
never meets for conversation as a whole. The Senate is now in the process of
using reconciliation — rule by simple majority — to try to pass health care.
Reconciliation has been used periodically before. That was bad enough. But at
least for major legislation like the first Bush tax cuts, there was usually
significant bipartisan support. Now we have pure reconciliation mixed with pure
Once partisan reconciliation is used for this bill, it will be used for
everything, now and forever. The Senate will be the House. The remnants of
person-to-person relationships, with their sympathy and sentiment, will be
snuffed out. We will live amid the relationships of group versus group, party
versus party, inhumanity versus inhumanity.
We have a political culture in which the word “reconciliation” has come to mean
“bitter division.” With increasing effectiveness, the system bleaches out normal
behavior and the normal instincts of human sympathy.
Computers may be good at crunching numbers, but can they crunch feelings?
The rise of blogs and social networks has fueled a bull market in personal
opinion: reviews, ratings, recommendations and other forms of online expression.
For computer scientists, this fast-growing mountain of data is opening a
tantalizing window onto the collective consciousness of Internet users.
An emerging field known as sentiment analysis is taking shape around one of the
computer world’s unexplored frontiers: translating the vagaries of human emotion
into hard data.
This is more than just an interesting programming exercise. For many businesses,
online opinion has turned into a kind of virtual currency that can make or break
a product in the marketplace.
Yet many companies struggle to make sense of the caterwaul of complaints and
compliments that now swirl around their products online. As sentiment analysis
tools begin to take shape, they could not only help businesses improve their
bottom lines, but also eventually transform the experience of searching for
Several new sentiment analysis companies are trying to tap into the growing
business interest in what is being said online.
“Social media used to be this cute project for 25-year-old consultants,” said
Margaret Francis, vice president for product at Scout Labs in San Francisco.
Now, she said, top executives “are recognizing it as an incredibly rich vein of
Scout Labs, which is backed by the venture capital firm started by the CNet
founder Halsey Minor, recently introduced a subscription service that allows
customers to monitor blogs, news articles, online forums and social networking
sites for trends in opinions about products, services or topics in the news.
In early May, the ticket marketplace StubHub used Scout Labs’ monitoring tool to
identify a sudden surge of negative blog sentiment after rain delayed a
Yankees-Red Sox game.
Stadium officials mistakenly told hundreds of fans that the game had been
canceled, and StubHub denied fans’ requests for refunds, on the grounds that the
game had actually been played. But after spotting trouble brewing online, the
company offered discounts and credits to the affected fans. It is now
re-evaluating its bad weather policy.
“This is a canary in a coal mine for us,” said John Whelan, StubHub’s director
of customer service.
Jodange, based in Yonkers, offers a service geared toward online publishers that
lets them incorporate opinion data drawn from over 450,000 sources, including
mainstream news sources, blogs and Twitter.
Based on research by Claire Cardie, a former Cornell computer science professor,
and Jan Wiebe of the University of Pittsburgh, the service uses a sophisticated
algorithm that not only evaluates sentiments about particular topics, but also
identifies the most influential opinion holders.
Jodange, whose early investors include the National Science Foundation, is
currently working on a new algorithm that could use opinion data to predict
future developments, like forecasting the impact of newspaper editorials on a
company’s stock price.
In a similar vein, The Financial Times recently introduced Newssift, an
experimental program that tracks sentiments about business topics in the news,
coupled with a specialized search engine that allows users to organize their
queries by topic, organization, place, person and theme.
Using Newssift, a search for Wal-Mart reveals that recent sentiment about the
company is running positive by a ratio of slightly better than two to one. When
that search is refined with the suggested term “Labor Force and Unions,”
however, the ratio of positive to negative sentiments drops closer to one to
Such tools could help companies pinpoint the effect of specific issues on
customer perceptions, helping them respond with appropriate marketing and public
For casual Web surfers, simpler incarnations of sentiment analysis are sprouting
up in the form of lightweight tools like Tweetfeel, Twendz and Twitrratr. These
sites allow users to take the pulse of Twitter users about particular topics.
A quick search on Tweetfeel, for example, reveals that 77 percent of recent
tweeters liked the movie “Julie & Julia.” But the same search on Twitrratr
reveals a few misfires. The site assigned a negative score to a tweet reading
“julie and julia was truly delightful!!” That same message ended with “we all
felt very hungry afterwards” — and the system took the word “hungry” to indicate
a negative sentiment.
While the more advanced algorithms used by Scout Labs, Jodange and Newssift
employ advanced analytics to avoid such pitfalls, none of these services works
perfectly. “Our algorithm is about 70 to 80 percent accurate,” said Ms. Francis,
who added that its users can reclassify inaccurate results so the system learns
from its mistakes.
Translating the slippery stuff of human language into binary values will always
be an imperfect science, however. “Sentiments are very different from
conventional facts,” said Seth Grimes, the founder of the suburban Maryland
consulting firm Alta Plana, who points to the many cultural factors and
linguistic nuances that make it difficult to turn a string of written text into
a simple pro or con sentiment. “ ‘Sinful’ is a good thing when applied to
chocolate cake,” he said.
The simplest algorithms work by scanning keywords to categorize a statement as
positive or negative, based on a simple binary analysis (“love” is good, “hate”
is bad). But that approach fails to capture the subtleties that bring human
language to life: irony, sarcasm, slang and other idiomatic expressions.
Reliable sentiment analysis requires parsing many linguistic shades of gray.
“We are dealing with sentiment that can be expressed in subtle ways,” said Bo
Pang, a researcher at Yahoo who co-wrote “Opinion Mining and Sentiment
Analysis,” one of the first academic books on sentiment analysis.
To get at the true intent of a statement, Ms. Pang developed software that looks
at several different filters, including polarity (is the statement positive or
negative?), intensity (what is the degree of emotion being expressed?) and
subjectivity (how partial or impartial is the source?).
For example, a preponderance of adjectives often signals a high degree of
subjectivity, while noun- and verb-heavy statements tend toward a more neutral
point of view.
As sentiment analysis algorithms grow more sophisticated, they should begin to
yield more accurate results that may eventually point the way to more
sophisticated filtering mechanisms. They could become a part of everyday Web
“I see sentiment analysis becoming a standard feature of search engines,” said
Mr. Grimes, who suggests that such algorithms could begin to influence both
general-purpose Web searching and more specialized searches in areas like
e-commerce, travel reservations and movie reviews.
Ms. Pang envisions a search engine that fine-tunes results for users based on
sentiment. For example, it might influence the ordering of search results for
certain kinds of queries like “best hotel in San Antonio.”
As search engines begin to incorporate more and more opinion data into their
results, the distinction between fact and opinion may start blurring to the
point where, as David Byrne once put it, “facts all come with points of view.”