Friday, October 31, 2008

Something's happening here...

Let's just hope it is a positive something.

From a FiveThirtyEight.com report on the "enthusiasm gap" between the two campaigns, based on systematic visits to Obama and McCain local offices around the USA:

These ground campaigns do not bear any relationship to one another. One side has something in the neighborhood of five million volunteers all assigned to very clear and specific pieces of the operation, and the other seems to have something like a thousand volunteers scattered throughout the country.
A comment:
I live in California and volunteered one weekend for Obama in Washoe County Nevada and was so impressed by the size and organization of the Obama campaign. There were at least 1,000 of us ready to work for Obama at 9AM on a Saturday morning, and the campaign said that what we were doing had been happening every weekend for weeks.
Another comment:
Frankly, I'm appalled at the blatant journalism that is evident in this story. It's almost as though you've gone around the country actually observing what is going on in terms of the ground game, and reported on it.

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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

More sense, less nonsense on "socialism"

Down at the Greatest Show on Earth, the word "socialism" is being kicked around in a comical manner. Phil Paine rides to the rescue with Sense and Nonsense About "Socialism:"

The word “socialism” is used to mean virtually anything imaginable, but if it means anything at all intelligible, it is “control of productive enterprise by the state”. More exactly, it means that the people who control production and the people who control the state are the same people. Most states in human history have been predominantly socialist....Many countries preserve that pattern today, though sometimes it is masked by a thin veneer of pseudo-democracy. Sometimes the pattern is specifically called "socialism", and sometimes not, but there is no important difference between those which use the term and those which do not...

The state can control production through a variety of techniques. Productive enterprises can be administered through a state bureaucracy, they can be parceled out to a hereditary or military aristocracy, or to corporate bodies which are theoretically (but not actually) "separate" from the state. All these configurations can logically be called “socialism”. If large portions of productive enterprise are engaged in military production, whose only customer can be the state, then that too should rationally be called “socialism”. Any country that engages in protracted and extensive warfare is, ipso facto, socialist. If large portions of productive enterprise are tied to government through special privileges, subsidies, bailouts, or government contracts, that is socialism as well. Any country whose economy is dominated by giant corporations, which manipulate and determine state policy, is socialist.

The United States has long engaged in extensive socialist practices. The American Conservative movement has been the most aggressive promoter of socialism, by encouraging rampant military spending, and promoting the concentration of state-corporate power and privilege. The U.S. is far more “socialist” than, say, Canada, where there is considerably less of these activities. To repeat what should be obvious, you have socialism when the people who control production and the people who control the government are the same people. Nobody with an ounce of common sense would deny that this is the case in the United States, today, and anybody who bothers to think straight should see that this is the central ideological desideratum of the Conservative movement. America's socialism is the product of its domination by Conservative ideology.

Socialism has nothing to do with the provision of government services. Risk-reduction services, such as Canada’s health insurance systems, or pension plans, or welfare services, or educational services provided by government, are not control of production. They are not “socialism” or “socialist”. Progressive taxation is not "socialist". Measures to protect the public from fraud, or promote public safety, or to overcome injustice or to protect the rights of labourers are not "socialist". There is no connection whatsoever between these things and socialism.

In fact, the more socialist a state is, the more power it can exert over its people, and the less it has to answer to them. Consequently, it is less likely to provide these services, and less likely to create social justice. ...You find good quality public services in democratic regimes, where the people have been strong enough to limit corporate-state control of production. Canada has better health care than the United States partly because it is less socialist than the United States. The United States has inferior health care because it is more socialist than Canada.

The aim of truly progressive political and economic thought is to prevent the concentration of power in the hands of the few, and the concentration of property in the hands of the few. It should seek to prevent concentrated corporate power or aristocracy from gaining control of production. Progressive thought is then, by logical necessity, anti-socialist and anti-corporate. But progressive thought embraces the utility of government services whenever they enable and enhance the freedom and autonomy of the individual (as, say, our health insurance system does in Canada). It just as firmly rejects sham government "services" that are merely stratagems to give power over the people to a managerial elite. Thus, a Progressive who gladly supports health insurance reform should oppose state plans to herd "the lower class" into state-controlled housing. Progressive thought embraces a social "safety net" under all our feet, provided it is not rigged to control its recipients, and always rejects handouts and subsidies for the rich. Democracy's meaning is clear: the people should rule; they should not be ruled.

The revolutionary aim of democracy is to create a society where every individual has a significant share of property and exercises practical autonomy, where the opportunities and fruits of enterprise are open to everyone, and where no privileged clique exercises power over the majority. The democratic state is supposed to serve this aim, and never to promote the interests of an elite, whether it dresses up as mandarins, dukes, commissars, or CEOs. Whatever moves society in this direction is "progressive". Let's get our concepts and terminology in order.

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A useful basemap of the USA: the Electoral College


While the Greatest Show on Earth roars to its astonishing conclusion -- whatever it may be -- polls and predictions proliferate. Most graphic presentations, however, are bedeviled by basemaps that depict area rather than political clout. But the Princeton Election Consortium has avoided that trap -- voila!

Now you can go there every day and shout at the screen that they are wrong, wrong, wrong. But at least they will have a sensible basemap.

Thanks to Brad DeLong for alerting me.

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Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Who's the myth?


Over at Vanity Press a couple of days ago, Chet Scoville noted this story from Yahoo News, which I copy in its entirety:

LONDON (AFP) - Britons are losing their grip on reality, according to a poll out Monday which showed that nearly a quarter think Winston Churchill was a myth while the majority reckon Sherlock Holmes was real.

The survey found that 47 percent thought the 12th century English king Richard the Lionheart was a myth.

And 23 percent thought World War II prime minister Churchill was made up. The same percentage thought Crimean War nurse Florence Nightingale did not actually exist.

Three percent thought Charles Dickens, one of Britain's most famous writers, is a work of fiction himself.

Indian political leader Mahatma Gandhi and Battle of Waterloo victor the Duke of Wellington also appeared in the top 10 of people thought to be myths.

Meanwhile, 58 percent thought Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's fictional detective Holmes actually existed; 33 percent thought the same of W. E. Johns' fictional pilot and adventurer Biggles.

UKTV Gold television surveyed 3,000 people.


Chet found this depressing, but since last year I do my best to avoid letting anything depress me, since that improves nothing. So, trying to take a more positive view, I ask myself these questions:

How, in a world saturated with fiction, can people who are not historians keep the mythical and the real sorted out?

How many historical figures do even intelligent people have filed away in their memories? How sure of their reality can they be -- if put on the spot by a pollster?

Is it amazing that people think Richard Lionheart is a myth, since most accounts (Ivanhoe-inspired) are pretty mythical?

Didn't medieval people think Arthur is real? Don't a lot of people think that now?

Isn't it perhaps understandable that someone with the poetic last name "Nightingale" associated with saintly charity, might be considered a legend?

Shouldn't literature profs be pleased that Dickens has more public reality than Churchill?

On to another myth. One spinoff of the Greatest Show on Earth is a debate about Barack Obama, and whether he's like JF or RF Kennedy. I was around for Kennedy's assassination, and was much affected by it, but have in the last 20 years or so have come to think he was mostly image. The issue of Kennedy's true standing was interestingly raised today at Ezra Klein's blog, by him and his commentators. Have a look.

P.s. My youthful Kennedy infatuation makes me very wary of discussing certain issues with people who were teenagers when Reagan was president.

Image: Mother Teresa. Or somebody.

Update: As Prof. Nokes points out, Will McLean looked farther than I did, and found the top 10 list of fictional characters believed by the public to be real. And behold, Will shows that the people who made the poll don't know their history very well.

Here's the list,

  • 1) King Arthur – 65%
  • 2) Sherlock Holmes – 58%
  • 3) Robin Hood – 51%
  • 4) Eleanor Rigby – 47%
  • 5) Mona Lisa -35%
  • 6) Dick Turpin – 34%
  • 7) Biggles – 33%
  • 8) The Three Musketeers – 17%
  • 9) Lady Godiva – 12%
  • 10) Robinson Crusoe – 5%

and here are Will's remarks. My own addendum: I'm pretty sure Dafoe modeled Robinson Crusoe off a real shipwreck survivor. Ah, yes, Alexander Selkirk.


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