Never has so much been written about so little that’s been read by so few

January 18, 2008

Most people would say that shitting on your own doorstep is a bad idea…but here goes anyway…

Steven Stark of the not-particularly-reputable Boston Phoenix has written a piece that (mostly) hits the target on something that’s been concerning me for a while now: internet punditry in relation to the 2008 US presidential elections. Frankly, many of Stark’s points could apply equally to the print and broadcast media (particularly in the UK, where coverage is for the most part just plain offensive to anyone with even a little in-depth knowledge of the candidates, issues and processes), but Stark is right – the sheer volume, novelty and speed of internet commentators makes them worthy of special comment.

The problem seems to be two-fold. Firstly, there simply isn’t enough ‘news’ going on (and there aren’t enough astute commentators either). Secondly, the constant need to report something drives the pundits to fixate about deeply unimportant events in an effort to sustain public interest. They may commission a new poll or sponsor a debate just so as to be able to report it. In the worst cases they simply make things up.

(a typical online pundit at work)

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American pessimism and the perception gap

January 2, 2008

The Christmas edition of The Economist features an article on American pessimism. Americans are gloomy at the moment, they say, but this isn’t warranted by the facts.

unhappy-uncle-sam.jpg

Fair enough – insofar as facts relate to our cultural consciousness at all. But they forget to mention the perception gap – without which, any discussion of this issue is half empty.

Or should that be half full?

Happy New Year everyone.


Panic On The Trail/Romney Speech Update

December 4, 2007

Overreactions, as Howard Kurtz cool-headedly point out in today’s Washington Post, are common on the campaign trail.

To read most accounts, it’s been a frantic few days. Hillary Clinton has been hitting back at Barack Obama now that he has (finally, some might say) stepped up his rhetoric against her. Mitt Romney is to give the long-awaited ‘Kennedy speech’ in an attempt to allay doubts (and fears) about his suitability for the highest office on the grounds of his Mormon religion. Both Clinton and Romney have been front runners (Clinton nationally and Romney is several early-primary states), but now the race is beginning to tighten as we approach the Iowa caucuses (less than one month to go). Is Clinton’s campaign machine floundering now that it’s being seriously tested for the first time? Is Romney lying awake at night haunted by visions of Mike Huckabee – the ghost of Christmas yet to come?

Panic

Kurtz paraphrases the media’s considered reaction:

“OMG they must be panicking!!!!”

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Elephants never forget – Are Republicans just smarter?

December 1, 2007

According to data from the last four November Gallup Health and Healthcare polls, Republicans are significantly more likely than Democrats or independents to rate their mental health as excellent. Fifty-eight percent of Republicans report having excellent mental health, compared to 43% of independents and just 38% of Democrats.

What is more, this relationship between party identification and reports of excellent mental health is evident even within sub-categories of income, age, gender, church attendance, and education.

gop elephant 

How can this be explained?

Does mental health improve on joining the GOP? Does a healthy psyche predispose an individual towards becoming a Republican? Or perhaps, are Republicans just more likely to be convinced of their own virtue and sanity?

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A Revisionist Thanksgiving

November 21, 2007

Not being American I have no particularly strong feelings about Thanksgiving (aside from a weakness for pumpkin pie) and I’ve only ever eaten one proper Thanksgiving dinner – after which I had to lie down for four hours. In fact, the bulk of my knowledge about the holiday derives solely from the West Wing.

Yet I do feel strongly about historical accuracy – and it’s a happy coincidence that the biggest Thanksgiving story of the year has, to my mind at any rate, a Jed Bartlet link.

According to the Washington Post we have been misled for years as regards the origins of the famous annual pre-Thanksgiving presidential turkey pardoning. The picture below has formed the basis of the near-universal belief that it was President Harry S. Truman who initiated the ceremony in 1947. But new research has come to light indicating that Truman was merely accepting a turkey as a gift from the National Turkey Federation rather than pardoning a condemned bird.

Truman Turkey

Shocking as it may seem, the first turkey pardoning actually took place only in 1989 on the first presidential Thanksgiving of President George H.W. Bush. What’s more, no-one really knows why he did it. Speculation has so far been muted, but I’m sure that once more people hear this story the public outcry will force the former president into making an explanation.

Unlike in the West Wing where C.J. was faced with the dilemma of which Turkey (out of two finalists) to have pardoned, it seems that the current (real life) president is perfectly happy to pardon turkeys in pairs. This year’s lucky gobblers were ‘May’ and ‘Flower’ – better names, the president quipped, than those suggested by the vice-president: ‘Lunch’ and ‘Dinner’.


All that glitters is not gold

November 16, 2007

I note with interest that Ron Paul attributes his dizzying recent fund-raising performance to his opposition to the Federal Reserve and support for the gold standard.

The dubious economic merits of a return to the gold standard have been discussed in detail elsewhere. Two facts are worth mentioning here. One: there’s not enough gold in the world anymore. With China and India expanding global wealth to levels never before seen, a relinking of money supply with existing gold stocks would require a massive global contraction of prices, severely retarding economic growth and development. Two: a gold standard system means workers have to accept periodic bouts of recession or deflation. The very reason most developed countries operate floating rates is that imposing such costs on labour became politically unfeasible in the latter half of the 20th century. Nothing suggests this has changed.

This notion of bearing costs leads us to the real problem with Ron Paul’s position. It’s statist and repressive. Libertarian philosophy tells us that the laissez-faire operation of the market (as would happen under a gold standard) is preferable to government intervention, because it preserves peoples’ natural freedom and keeps the state at arms length. Mr. Paul needs to pick up his Karl Polanyi; the association of laissez-faire with freedom is a myth. In its supposed heyday in the 19th century, laissez-faire was never so: it was a planned system designed to support a particular set of economic interests. And it involved significant statecraft to assert itself. Workers don’t enjoy sudden bouts of mass unemployment; farmers don’t relish the prospect of increased import competition; neither celebrates when entitlements to assistance are unilaterally cut. Making ordinary people bear the costs of the system requires repression; the state, far from giving people back their freedom, imposes its power over them even more.

If repression was needed to make 19th century workers – who had no labour representation, no unions, and no sympathetic ideology – adjust with the gold standard, what kind of state power would it take now? As far as I can see, Ron Paul’s libertarianism would mean the grossest intereference by the state in peoples’ lives. So no thanks Ron, I’ll keep my worthless piece of paper. And my freedom.


A long way from Camelot

November 14, 2007

James Piereson’s new book on the grassy knoll and all that eloquently describes how JFK’s assassination shattered American liberalism.

“It did this in two decisive ways”, he says in an interview with National Review. “First, by compromising liberals’ faith in the future. Kennedy’s assassination suggested that history is not in fact a benign process of progress and advancement, but perhaps something quite different”.

dennis-kucinich.jpg

“Second, by undermining their confidence in the nation. The thought that the nation itself was responsible for Kennedy’s death suggested that the United States, far from being a “city on a hill” and an example for mankind, as Kennedy had described it, was in fact something darker and more sinister in its deepest nature”.

Forty-five years later, Camelot’s great scribe intervenes in the race for the Democratic nomination.

Gore Vidal’s endorsement for Representative Dennis Kucinich appeared in The Nation last week.

How swiftly tragedy turns to farce…