Weblog on the Internet and public policy, journalism, virtual community, and more from David Brake, a Canadian academic, consultant and journalist

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7 November 2004

The BBC World Service has taken a look at the issue in a four part programme (on the web and in archived streaming audio) – Profit and Loss: The Story of African Oil. It looks at two countries where oil wealth has spectacularly failed to bring prosperity to most of the populations of the countries (Gabon and Nigeria) and two countries hoping to do better with their newfound income – Chad and Sao Tome.

Also see “earlier stuff”:http://blog.org/archives/000864.html on a similar topic (which is not too encouraging).

6 November 2004

And now Google’s ad policies are public. Google will not run ads promoting gambling, beer or spirits (wine is apparently fine), fireworks and a long list of other banned subjects. Of course you can always argue about what they should have added and what doesn’t belong there – I also expect a number of objections by borderline cases. For example, they ban advertising of ‘miracle cures’ (but seem happy to allow ads for homeopathy). And I expect there may be a couple more exclusions they don’t mention. Would they allow dissidents to advertise the “anonymous proxy servers”:http://www.samair.ru/proxy/index.htm that would enable Chinese people to get around their government’s “internet filtering”:http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/filtering/china/? Would they let people advertise “Nazi Paraphernalia”:http://www.metronews.ca/tech_news.asp?id=2702 as Yahoo got prosecuted for? (the stuff arguably isn’t in itself ‘advocating against a protected group’ (which they ban) but I don’t see any ads come up if I search for ‘nazi for sale’).

Nice at least to see some openness from Google about the ethical policies they have exercised until now without scrutiny.

5 November 2004
Filed under:Current Affairs (US) at11:47 am

CNN has a very interesting list based on exit polls of what kind of people voted for which candidate and why in the US election.

Personally I found the figures on the effect of education disturbing. Admittedly 55% of Postgrads voted Kerry, but 52% of university graduates voted Bush. What were they learning? Also revealing was the issues people thought were most important. Of those who said Iraq (15% of all voters), 73% went for Kerry, while those who said “terrorism” (19%) voted 86% for Bush but the biggest issue for the largest number of voters (22%) was ‘moral values’, and 80% of those voters voted Bush. Conversely, for those who thought the biggest issue was the economy and jobs (20%), 80% voted Kerry.

4 November 2004
Filed under:Current Affairs (US) at10:11 am

Certainly if you read some of the (understandably) “depressed”:http://www.zephoria.org/thoughts/archives/2004/11/03/the_mourning_after.html and “very”:http://www.boingboing.net/2004/11/03/kerry_concedes.html “angry”:http://alex.halavais.net/news/index.php?p=891 Democrats you could feel that there is now a culture war between the red and blue states (thanks to the idiotic electoral college and its all or nothing state-based counting mechanism). If you look at the electoral maps there seems to be a clear divide, but look at this:

from Jeff Culver via
Boing Boing. There are still plenty of Democrats in most of the “red” states – just not enough to swing the election this time around. My principal political worry is that this will encourage the Democrats to lurch into centrist populism instead of looking for appealling new ideas and genuinely charismatic leadership, but there will be plenty of time for healing and sober reflection in the next four years.

Update: “Robert J. Vanderbei” has produced a similar ‘purple’ map but “county by county”:http://www.princeton.edu/~rvdb/JAVA/election2004/ instead of state by state with finer detail. “Informedpublic”:http://www.informedpublic.com/ has a “modest redistricting proposal”:http://www.informedpublic.com/redistrict.jpg.

3 November 2004
Filed under:Current Affairs (US) at11:44 am

Here is something that I learned about recently which is an example of the kind of information I would have thought would be important to discuss during the election debates – at least the information did get published (in the Washington Post). A recent report by the “Pew Hispanic Center”:http://www.pewhispanic.org/ revealed that:

As of 2002… the median Hispanic household had a net worth of $7,932 and the median black family had $5,998… The median white family, by contrast, had more than 10 times either amount — $88,651. Nearly a third of blacks and over a quarter of Hispanic households had zero or negative net worth in 2002, compared with 13 percent of whites.

I hadn’t realized that the cumulative effect of years of inequality was that severe. And of course it is getting worse:

In 2002, white families’ median net worth was up $13,169 from 1996. Hispanic households’ median worth stood at $7,932, $1,000 more than before the boom, but down from 1999. Black families had about $1,000 less than in 1996.

Needless to say four more years of Bush is not likely to help here. The full report is “here”:http://www.pewhispanic.org/site/docs/pdf/The%20Wealth%20of%20Hispanic%20Households.pdf but it is also worth reading the “Washington Post’s account”:http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn/A40455-2004Oct17?language=printer for the human story behind the news.

Perhaps because I’m a European I would’ve been more interested to know the wealth differences between, say, the the median wealth of the middle class and the wealth of the lowest fifth of whatever race. The figures are around somewhere and I imagine they are broadly similar.

I suppose I should have posted this sooner to try to influence the results but I guess that anybody who actually cares about this one way or the other would have voted for Kerry anyway.

2 November 2004

I was going to recommend last minute voters take a look at Presidential Guidester which I read about in Wired News but then I checked it out. It asks how important a variety of issues are to me but not what stance I take on them which to my mind makes it at least a useless and at worst a dangerous way to ‘help’ people make decisions. For example taxes are a very important issue to me – I would like to see them higher. Job creation is important to me, but I see free trade as the best way to ensure this happens. Gas prices are very important to me – I would like to see them raised dramatically (over time). The Presidential Guidester doesn’t offer me any way to even express those views so that I can see which candidate matches them. If I say taxes are important to me I assume that answer pushes me more towards the Republican point of view.

Some things I was expecting that don’t seem to have turned up:

1) Whatever happened to the ‘October surprise’ that both parties were rumoured to be cooking up? (I don’t count “Bin Laden’s pre-election address”:http://blog.octobersurprise.net/ – it is hard to see which candidate it would favour). There is so much ideologically-led error and just plain sleaze around the Bush administration I was waiting to see if the Dems were holding back on some of it to use at the last minute but if there was a ‘smoking gun’ they didn’t use it. Neither did the Republicans try to pull anything major after the swift boat veterans garbage.

2) Where was the serious issue-led debate? Iraq dominated but most of the discussion about that was on the now out-of-date question of whether the war should have been started rather than looking seriously at how things should be done differently to end it successfully. Where was the discussion of a wider middle east peace process? I guess it’s probably too much to ask politicians in an election campaign these days to grapple with these issues however…

3) Why is it the press continued to obsess about minor scandals like the faked (?) bush war record memo, and horse race/process stories and largely failed to force the politicians to face issues like the the social security crisis, the budget deficit and the ongoing healthcare crisis? Jon Stewart of the excellent “Daily Show”:http://www.comedycentral.com/tv_shows/thedailyshowwithjonstewart/ seems to be one of the few high profile figures to complain about this but why do we need to rely on comedians to tell us democracy is in trouble?

update: I just listened to “this realaudio report”:http://www.thislife.org/ra/276hitt.ram from NPR’s “This American Life”:http://www.thislife.org/ about how senior Republicans have been caught blatantly trying to make sure Democrats don’t get registered to vote. (Democrats have done this too but it appears not to the same extent). Why didn’t we hear more about this stuff?

4) Where were the much-vaunted weblogs? It seems to me that they played a very similar role to that of the mainstream media – concentrating on minutiae, the process and the occaisional whacky conspiracy theory and completely failing to engage with the bigger picture. Admittedly most webloggers are normally not going to have the time to investigate issues like health care in depth but what they could do is draw journalist’s attention to the valuable work of academics and think tanks and even more importantly attempt to provide some of the colorful first person accounts of where things are going wrong with the US that might spur both journalists and the wider public to action. As far as I could tell political weblogs were just ways for activists and policy wonks to talk among themselves during this election (and to raise money).

To tell the truth these impressions are off the top of my head and not based on any kind of rigorous research. I don’t spend my day reading the American political weblogs or even watching American news (I mostly listen to NPR streamed online and even that was pretty poor!) but I would hope that if the media and the blogosphere had been doing a good job of serving democracy during this election I would have heard more about it. If you disagree with me and you can come up with some more positive examples I would love to hear about them.

Meanwhile if you’re American and in America don’t forget to vote (and please vote Kerry)!

1 November 2004

It seems – contrary to suggestions made earlier by Cass Sunstein in Republic.com and “essays”:http://bostonreview.mit.edu/BR26.3/sunstein.html (and by many others) – people using the Internet don’t tend to just get more political information that agrees with their previously-held beliefs – they are better informed about both sides than their offline counterparts – at least according to the latest report based on a large scale survey from the excellent “Pew Internet & American Life Project”:http://www.pewinternet.org/.

Before you say ‘well that is just because Internet users are on average better educated or of higher social status’ (as I admit I was tempted to do) they found:

Simply being an internet user, controlling for demographic factors such as gender and education, as well as the other factors already discussed, increases the likelihood that a person has heard more arguments about a candidate.

This seems quite persuasive to me but I doubt this argument will go away in a hurry!

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