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5 March 2005

I hadn’t realised this inegalitarian idea rightly mocked when it was touted by Forbes in his US presidential bid has been gaining so much leverage. The Economist points out Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Serbia, Ukraine, Russia, Georgia, Slovakia and Romania have introduced them.

15 November 2004
Filed under:Current Affairs (US),Personal at10:11 am

Like Danah I plan to stop taking as obsessive an interest in US politics since there is nothing much I can do about it in the next four years.

I’ll still be paying attention to various other political issues, however, here in the UK and Europe…

12 November 2004

Over in the Live Journal of “blog sociology”:http://www.livejournal.com/community/blog_sociology/ here’s a reference to a pair of matching sites – the sorry’s and the not-sorry’s. Both feature pictures sent in by Americans who are (or aren’t) sorry that Bush was re-elected.

This is interesting to me from an academic point of view as an example of how ‘ordinary people’ can use Internet technology to make political statements that have the power of authenticity precisely because of their ordinariness but which have a very low ‘barrier to entry’. You don’t need to be clever or articulate to express your views on the site – you just need a camera.

update Along similar lines “Geodog”:http://www.thebishop.net/geodog/archives/2004/10/08/late_night_thoughts_on_browsing_the_iraq_tag_on_flickr.html points out that services like Flickr make it easy to find photos about what’s going on in Iraq – many of them taken in Iraq. Also see “my earlier blog posting”:https://blog.org/archives/cat_current_affairs_world.html#001222 about this…

9 November 2004

In an hour-long segment on Chicago Public Radio’s Odyssey. Both guest speakers had interesting things to say about the changing media and its impact on politics – I can’t do better than to quote the description given here:

Most Americans used to get their political information primarily from the evening news. But with the rise of cable TV and the Internet, there are countless venues for political news and opinion. How are new media shaping what we learn about politics? Political scientist Arthur Lupia and communication scholar Bruce Williams join Chicago Public Radio’s Gretchen Helfrich for the discussion. Lupia is coauthor of The Democratic Dilemma: Can Citizens Learn What They Need to Know? Williams is director of the Institute of Communications Research at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. He’s working on a book project entitled, And the Walls Came Tumbling Down: The Eroding Boundaries between News and Entertainment and What They Mean for Politics in the 21st Century.

“Listen to the realaudio”:http://www.wbez.org/DWP_XML/od/2004_10/od_20041008_1200_3415/episode_3415.ram

8 November 2004

An illuminating account of the truth behind the movie revealed that the real-life head of Strategic Air Command was prepared to attack the Soviet Union whether or not the president gave him an order if he thought the Russians were going to attack and the Dr Strangelove character himself was likely based on “Herman Kahn”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herman_Kahn who was at the Rand thinktank and who wrote books about the aftermath of nuclear war containing references to the need to preserve humanity in mineshafts. Daniel Ellsberg who leaked the Pentagon papers and worked at RAND joked when he first saw the film that it was a documentary.

If that doesn’t scare you enough, it turns out that for about a decade “the ‘top secret launch code’ for US nuclear weapons was 00000”:http://www.cdi.org/blair/permissive-action-links.cfm because Strategic Air Command didn’t agree the security systems were necessary.

And I haven’t heard anything about the security systems and the thinking in the defense departments of the Soviet Union at the time – I imagine what we may learn if and when when that leaks out would be just as scary. It’s a wonder we made it through that period in one piece…

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)!

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