Archive for the ‘current events’ Category
My colleague Bernice Pescosolido, one of the leading social scientists who studies mental health, has some insightful commentary on violence and social isolation:
Adam Lanza’s mother, Nancy, took him out of Newtown High School and home-schooled him to get his GED. Ryan Lanza said he hadn’t seen his younger brother since 2010, and reports indicate that Adam Lanza hadn’t even left the confines of his home for some time.
“Isolation is more deadly than smoking in terms of mortality,” said Pescosolido, an authority on medical sociology and social issues in health, illness, and healing. “People who are not engaged are more predisposed to suicide,” she pointed out. “Those who don’t have a meaningful connection to norms in society are more predisposed to take their own life.”
There is an article on The Daily Beast website about Susan Rice, who may be the next Secretary of State. Written by Peter Beinart, the article makes a simple point. There is nothing terribly controversial about Susan Rice. In fact, she embodies a sort of timid and very traditional thinking found within the Democratic Party. She may be the kind of person who will yell at people in the UN, but she’ll quiet down when people call for invading another country. From Beinart’s article:
To understand what’s at stake in Rice’s potential nomination, it’s more useful to listen to a different set of interviews, conducted roughly a decade ago. Between the fall of 2002 and the spring of 2003, NPR’s Tavis Smiley interviewed Rice four times about the Bush administration’s looming war with Iraq. I’ve spent the better part of an afternoon listening to those interviews and I still can’t tell whether Susan Rice supported the war or opposed it. That’s the real scandal, and it says a lot more about Susan Rice, and the entire Democratic foreign-policy class, than anything that happened in Benghazi.
Exactly. When push comes to shove, Democrats become timid on issues of war and peace. If we look at the post-war American history, we see many wars, but few clearly good outcomes. Vietnam cost tens of thousands of lives. Afghanistan still winds along with no end in sight. Iraq cost nearly five thousand American lives and tens of thousands of Iraqi lives, all in response to a threat that turned out to not be there. In the 2000s, we’ve spent an extra trillion dollars on these fights. The argument for war becomes very weak when you count the lives and money. At the beginning of each war, great promises are made, though they rarely pan out.
Yet, decade after decade, the Demcoratic Party acts like a wall flower at the high school dance. Susan Rice, as Beinart writes, is just a symptom. Lot’s of Democrats waffle when the case for war is made. The Democratic Party’s version of being strong on national security is to acquiesce to hot heads, not to be strong in the case of peace. I don’t how they are going to do it, but if they want to be serious about national security they’ll have to grow a backbone and oppose wars where thousands of American men and women will die or be crippled for life.
Did you guys notice that eerie silence? That’s the sound of Ron Paul not having an impact on the Republican party.
Here’s a flashback. According to some folks, the Republican party was supposed to have been taken over by Mises reading Tea Party fanatics. Ron Paul was the hero to the new crowd of limited government radicals. Well, yes, there are some folks who claim to read Mises and love Ron Paul. But the last presidential election cycle shows how misguided the prediction of the Tea Party take over. Some evidence:
- The general election simply didn’t focus much on the size of government. It was mainly about Romney’s work at Bain, whether Obama was doing a decent job, and defending healthcare reform.
- A lot of GOP candidates decided to focus on abortion.
- Romney was awfully vague about what was going to get cut if he became president.
- The two hard core libertarian candidates in the GOP primary did not perform well. Paul couldn’t even beat out Herman Cain (!) for the privilege of being the non-Romney of the month. Johnson’s showing was a statistical error.
In other words, the GOP is really a coalition of business interests and social conservatives who like the rhetoric of small government. Those who actually favor a roll back of the the state, such as reducing the military or ending the drug war, don’t get very far.
Barack Obama’s electoral career is now over and it’s time for the body count. Barack Obama beat the following folks in elections:
- Alice Palmer
- A bunch of Republicans who ran in Hyde Park’s state senate district
- Jack Ryan
- Alan Keyes
- Hillary Clinton
- John McCain
- Mitt Romney
When you lay it out, you see a pattern. The victims tend to come in two categories. First, there are people who, for structural reasons, never had a chance at winning (e.g., Republicans in the South Side). I’ll toss John McCain in this category because no Republican could have won with a major recession and two wars hanging on his neck. Alan Keyes’ candidacy was hopeless because he’s, well, Alan Keyes.
Second, there are what I like to call the “high altitude” candidates. The high altitude candidate is a very wealthy or very prestigious person who has not worked their way up the ladder. These candidates have relatively little political experience. Hillary Clinton, for example, cruised to two very easy Senate wins in New York in 2000 and 2006. She had no serious primary or general election challenge. The second time, the GOP didn’t even bother running a serious opponent. Romney has an almost identical record. Using his large war chest, he easily rolled over all GOP challengers in Massachusetts. He was once spanked by Ted Kennedy and then went on to win the governorship a few years later.*
You know who was *not* an Obama victim? Bobby Rush, who represented District 1 in Illinois. That guy beat Obama in a primary challenge 59% to 29%. So bad was the beating that Obama admitted that he seriously considered dropping out of politics. Why was Rush the only politician to beat Obama? Well, he paid his dues and learned politics the hard way. He founded the Illinois Black Panthers and was a big player in SNCC. He ran for City Council and lost. Then, later, he won election as an Alderman. After that, he ran in 1992 for District 1. By the time Obama showed up, Rush, by my count, had fought at least 6 or 7 very nitty gritty local elections and was deeply rooted in the South Side. No way was he going to be bounced out by a Spider Man comic reading nerd from the University of Chicago.
The lesson I take from this history is that Obama is a truly skilled politician, but he was often lucky and took advantage of candidates who weren’t used to having serious opposition. That’s why he was always underestimated. The Clinton’s and Romney’s of the world are used to just rolling over people and have little experience with intelligent and well organized challengers who can exploit the political system in novel ways. But when confronted with a determined politician who had paid his dues, Obama showed he was as human and fallible as any other politician.
* What about Palmer? She’s a weird case that doesn’t fit either the loser or high altitude category. Obama’s people found that her paperwork was out of order and she was bounced from the ballot. She then decided not to run or contest the disqualification. Sui generis, but et tu BHO.
Traditionally, national defense was an issue the benefited Republicans. Symbolically, it allowed Republicans to appeal to nationalists who wanted to see America on top. Also, it is a hand out. The bigger the defense budget, the more contracts and jobs you can give to constituents.
In view of the recent election, I’ve come to believe that we have reached a turning point. Increased defense spending is now slowly eroding the Republican party’s position in national politics. The reason is that “defense” is no longer is limited to what we normally think of as the armed forces – soldiers, tanks, ships, and so forth. Now, defense means a very expansive “homeland security” apparatus.
The new face of defense is a vastly expanded community of contractors, consultants, engineers, and computer programmers. These people do not need to be spread out across the country. Instead, this new bureaucracy is concentrated around Washington, DC and its suburbs in Virginia and Maryland. These people do not always vote Republican. In fact, highly educated scientific types like to vote Democrat.
Of course, the suburbs of Virginia are expanding for many reasons, but one important reason is that massive expansion of “homeland security” and other Washington bureaucracies in the 2000s. This shifts Virginia from being a primarily rural conservative state to a slightly liberal urban state. And without a solid lock on the Southern electoral votes, it is very hard, if not impossible, for Republicans to build their coalition with a monopoly on Southern whites and Midwestern conservatives.
In no order:
- Math 1, Republican Pundits 0. As comedian Yakov Smirnov used to say, “the Polish are the most powerful group in America. When politicians say the Poles are wrong, they always lose.”
- Drug legalization: I am not surprised that some states would eventually legalize recreational marijuana. The real question is whether the Federal government will allow this to stand. I am very curious to how the Department of Justice will respond. Will Obama refrain from prohibition enforcement? When this goes to court, because state and federal law conflict, which side will the Obama administration take? Obama has been very careful in distancing himself from this issue, but the referendums in Colorado and Washington put him on a crash course with this issue.
- Immigration reform: People say that immigration reform will be an Obama priority. Not so fast. What can Obama do to actually change things? The House won’t cooperate and the Dems are far from having 60 in the Senate. Reagan was able to enact immigration reform because he was able to peel off enough GOP and Dem votes. Unclear how Obama does this.
Consider this an open thread on yesterday’s election results.
Last presidential politics post before Tuesday. A few comments:
- In July, orgtheory readers estimated that Obama will carry about 51%-52% of the vote.
- My hypothesis is that the popular vote is only close because of extreme anti-Obama sentiment in the south.
- The polls are showing a slight Obama tilt nationally, but consistent Obama leads in the important swing states.
- My theory of the election is that Obama will slightly outperform the “fundamentals.” Normally, it’s really, really hard for the incumbent party to win the White House with nearly 8% unemployment. But I think non-Southern voters like Obama and don’t blame him that much for the slow recovery. There’s also Romney’s less than effective campaign (other than debate #1). That’s why he’s doing well outside the South. And in the South, there’s an unusually large drop in Obama support that’s hard to explain.
- As of the evening of November 4, Intrade is at .65 for Obama and the Iowa Market is at 50.7% vote share/72% winner takes all for Obama.
Post your last minute comments, predictions, and questions in the comments.
Remember a few months ago when a Romney staffer compared election campaigns to an Etch-a-Sketch? Each time, you shake things up and start over. People were appalled, but Romney’s staffer was correct. The reason is that elections are not driven by high information voters with strong opinions. They are driven by low information voters with no opinions. The reason is that people who know politics tend to know what they want. To get 50%, you need to focus on the weakly committed, low information voter. The person who still isn’t sure what they think of an incumbent – after four years!
The result? Once you win the party’s nomination, you can say more or less anything you want. The people who actually remember what you said won’t change their vote, unless you say something that directly and violently attacks a core belief of your base. The people who can be influenced don’t remember much and have a relatively limited knowledge of politics. Say what you want. They won’t remember.
While people may view politicians as evil, I say they are responding to the incentives given to them. If your job depended on pandering to amnesiacs, wouldn’t you keep fishing until you found something they liked?
The polls are ambiguous these days. First, after trailing by about 2-3% during the entire election cycle, Mitt Romney has now gained a consistent 1/2% to 1% lead in the polls. Second, the Obama campaign is still on track to win the election because he has retained leads in a lot of swing states, including Ohio. The only big swing state to switch to Romney is Florida.
How do we reconcile this split? Here’s my theory of the 2012 election: the South hates Obama a lot, but the rest of the nation is relatively satisfied with a modest economic recovery. Consider the following cross-tab from a recent mid-October 2012 Gallup poll:
This chart explains why Obama is trailing in the polls right now. The South really, really hates Obama and the lopsided polls cancel out modest Obama leads in the rest of the country. Also, it explains why Obama is doing well (for now) in the Electoral College. Florida is the only swing state in the South. In other words, if it weren’t for the South, Obama would be cruising to a modest, but easy, victory due to a slowly recovering economy.
RNC delegates heckling a Puerto Rican speaker. This is unacceptable.
The Republican party has often been a force for good in history. In the 19th century, the party stood strong against slavery. Defending black freedom remained a notable feature of Republican party well into the 20th century. As late as the 1920s, Republican presidents, such as Warren Harding, spoke out against lynching and racial segregation. In the mid-20th century, the Republican party aligned itself with anti-communists, who rightly saw the brutality of Soviet communism.
But the Republican party we have today has not lived up to the standard created by the party’s founders and early leaders. By strongly courting social conservatives and relying on their votes for success, the Republican party has drifted far from its original goal of promoting people’s rights. Instead, we have a party that promotes voter ID laws that undermine black rights that the Republican party won with the blood of American soldiers. It is also a party set firmly against immigration. The mantra is that the party only opposes illegal immigration, but the policy proposals indicate an opposite view. There are many calls for walls, fences, and deportations. There are few demands for an immigration system that makes it easy for people to legally exercise their right to live or work in the place of their choice.
Those who care about civil liberty and individual freedom may recoil, but this is unwarranted. Instead, people who care about the rights of blacks, women, and immigrants should draw upon the Republican’s rich history to bring out the best in the party. This is important because democracies are built on rivalry. Major parties take turns in government. Thus, the Republican party is an essential feature of American government, not an aberration. If the Republican party can return to its roots, and work to make America a place for all, then the Republican party can use its time in office to be the promoter of freedom that it used to be.
Breaking news: The ASA has decided to change next year’s theme to Unreal Dystopias. The meetings will begin with a randomly chosen member of each section being locked in the grand ballroom, leading to a conference-long struggle for survival and paradigm supremacy. Start stockpiling your survival gear now.
I am really excited to join the fray again as a guest contributor, and thankful to the team for inviting me. In my other posts I’ll be speaking on behalf of Steven Tepper and Danielle Lindemann (both of Vanderbilt University), my collaborators in the Strategic National Arts Alumni Project (SNAAP). This one’s just me.
We’ve been asked to post on the state of arts graduates and artistic employment and skills in the contemporary U.S. I think the topic is timely and appropriate for this blog as we’ve discussed the value and relevance of an arts or humanities degree in the past. In particular, OrgTheory hosted a discussion in November titled, “why job hungry students choose useless majors.” The gist of Fabio’s argument, I think, is that college students are practical credentialists who want a BA to avoid service sector and manual labor; the least talented of these are drawn to majors that require the least “academic ability,” namely, the arts and humanities.
I won’t comment on the claim that arts and humanities disciplines require less “academic ability” (except to say that I think it’s bonkers), but I do want to remark upon the fiction that a firewall exists between math and science on the one hand, and the arts on the other. Read the rest of this entry »
Over the weekend, the public radio show This American Life created quite a stir when they retracted a story that appeared on their show earlier this year. The retracted story was a segment from Mike Daisey’s one-man play, The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs. (I blogged about Daisey’s story when it originally came out, saying “the voices that will remain in your head after the podcast are those of the mistreated workers whose bodies and souls are slowly being sacrificed on the factory line.”) It appears that Daisey fabricated parts of the story, like claiming that he met underage employees outside of a Foxconn plant where parts for Apple’s iPad were made. Many of the most moving parts of the story never actually happened. The story began to unravel when a reporter for another NPR show, Marketplace, realized that some parts of Daisey’s account didn’t sound accurate and began to do some fact-checking and discovered that Daisey’s accomplice in all of this – a translator named Cathy – disagreed about the basic facts. Anyway, it’s a big mess because NPR holds itself to high journalistic standards and they needed to cleanse themselves of Daisey’s fabrications before it all went public in some other forum. Here’s a full transcript of the retraction episode.
Needless to say, the media is having a field day with Daisey’s debacle, in which he first appeared to contritely apologize and then later defended himself as presenting a truthful representation of factory workers’ experience. For more in-depth coverage, check out these articles posted on the New York Times, The Atlantic, and Slate. Daisey has responded by claiming that his show is a work of art, not journalism, and that the central message he hoped to convey is true – that workers in factories where our precious technologies are employed in inhumane conditions and that this should affect how we feel about consuming these products. From Daisey’s own blog:
I apologized in this week’s episode to anyone who felt betrayed. I stand by that apology. But understand that if you felt something that connected you with where your devices come from—that is not a lie. That is art. That is human empathy, and it is real, and even if you curse my name I hope you’ll recognize that and continue reading, caring, and thinking.
I feel bad for Daisey because I do think that his message is an important one, and I’m glad that he got the message out there. The show was incredibly popular. The radio segment was the most downloaded show ever on This American Life. But I think Daisey created a major mess for himself. His sin is not fabricating a story, but rather it’s presenting that fabrication in the media as if it were journalism. If Daisey had never set foot on the set of public radio this would have never become a problem. Daisey’s theater performance is not the first, nor the last, piece of muckraking to dramatize truth. People have compared his work to that of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, which fictionalized turn-of-the-century factory conditions in Chicago. I think another apt comparison is the movie, The Social Network. Like Daisey’s play, The Social Network draws on archival material to create a semi-fictionalized account of Mark Zuckerberg and the creation of Facebook. The movie is so compelling because of the emotional moments in the plot, which portrays Zuckerberg as coolly calculating, insensitive, and desperate for recognition. This version of Zuckerberg is the one that the public has come to know. We believe this is the real Zuckerberg. But like Daisey’s play, many (or most) of the scenes in the film are fabricated. The screenwriter, Aaron Sorkin, gets away with it because everyone knows he’s writing a movie and not a biography. So we let him play fast and loose with the empirical details and we love him anyway. Daisey is doing the same thing in his play. Unfortunately, what he was doing changed when he moved from the theater to the radio studio and began presenting his work as factually true (which he undoubtedly did). It’s hard to look past this error on his part.
Daisey isn’t the only person to tread the thin line between factual reporting and fiction. Recently John D’Agata and Jim Fingal wrote a book about this issue called, The Lifespan of a Fact, which relays exchanges between a writer and his fact-checker (here is a review of the book by Jennifer McDonald at the New York Times). The writer, D’Agata, wrote an essay about a 16-year old boy who committed suicide by jumping from Las Vegas’s Stratosphere casino. In fact-checking the essay Fingal found over a hundred inaccuracies. D’Agata defended the inaccuracies, claiming that they helped him to artistically convey the truth of the story he was trying to tell. The fabrications, he argued, helped to uncover the basic truths the piece was about. Is this what Daisey believes he was doing? If so, why not allow people to decide for themselves by revealing the inaccuracies up front? Of course, regular listeners of This American Life know that not every story appearing on the program is factually true. They regularly present short stories or memoir-like accounts told at The Moth, none of which I assume are fact-checked. Listeners would not be dismayed to learn that a humorous anecdote from one of these storytellers was not completely factually correct. People writing memoirs, after all, remember a distorted version of the past. Psychologists tell us that memories are malleable. Novelists are professional liars. We praise them for their ability to make their fabrications believable. Occasionally, they reveal truths in the process of fabricating. We live in a subjective world, and so we’re comfortable intermingling fact and fiction. We just need better labels to tell us how to process it.
You’ll see the media hype the GOP primary. They’ll point to the upcoming Southern primaries as evidence that the race isn’t over. Let’s do a reality check:
- 23 states have already voted.
- Delegates: Romney has 415 confirmed delegates. Other candidates have about 328 – combined.
- Raw vote totals: Romney has about 3.1 million total votes. Santorum has about 1.9 million.
- States won: 14 Romney, 9 for the rest combined.
Romney has some big winner take all/nearly all states coming up like California and New York. As long as he avoids blow outs in all the remaining big Southern and Midwest states, he’ll continue padding his lead in delegates, vote count, and states. The only question is when and how Santorum will end the race.
The results are in. Romney averted disaster by winning the Michigan primary. Santorum’s surge will soon come to a grueling end. The next contest is Washington, which should be Romney friendly. Then, a split on Super Tuesday would still leave Romney ahead in states won, total vote count, and delegates. Not a knock out victory, but enough to guarantee that a long slog will leave him ahead at the end of the day. Santorum’s money will dry up sooner or later.
So how does Ron Paul fit into this? There’s some evidence that Paul pulled his punches w/Romney and focused on the non-Romneys, especially Santorum. Paul’s campaign ran anti-Santorum adds in Michigan, a state where he’s clearly not a factor. Paul may have helped Romney get the extra points that he needed to get a win and close Santorum’s window of opportunity.
The reasons may be unclear, but the effect is not. By attacking Santorum, Paul has ensured that the next nominee will *not* be a guy who is opposed to birth control, thinks Satan runs our colleges, and trashes well regarded dead presidents. If the economy is improving, any Republican candidate will have a tough time. But Paul’s attacks on Santorum in Michigan may have saved the Republican party from a disaster of Goldwater proportions.
Over at the Andrew Sullivan blog, Zack Beauchamp picks up on my post about Ron Paul’s failure to significantly transform the Republican Party. He thinks that Paul doesn’t represent the best of libertarian face. Paul is tainted by state’s rights fanaticism, association with racists, and homophobia:
The real test for libertarianism will be when it gets a champion equipped to stand up for the ideology’s social views as well its economic and international ones.
Actually, there was one politician who might be considered a test of Beauchamp’s hypothesis – former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson. He’s pretty much a hard core libertarian who is both an economic and social liberal. He’s anti-tax, pro-gay rights, drug decriminalization, and has never dabbled in the race mongering that tainted Paul. The result? Johnson did worse than Huntsman. Barely topping 2% on polls, Johnson dropped out in November and bought a ticket to Irrelevant Land by running for the Libertarian Party nomination.
This evening, Santorum is enjoying a second surge, upsetting Romney in Minnesota and possibly Colorado. Paul’s best showing is second place in Minnesota, but still not winning a single state. Paul barely broke single digits in the other states. The message is loud and clear from the GOP primary electorate. The Wall Street republican, the anti-abortion crusader, and the hot head all get a thumbs up. Libertarians need not apply.
Here are some more Anonymous links:
- The group has big plans for 2012, here’s the announcement (watch the video).
- You can follow Anonymous on twitter, @Anon_Central.
- There’s a new documentary, We are legion: the story of hacktivists (it’s now playing at Slamdance Film Festival, the alternative to Sundance).
Also, Anonymous has recently retaliated against the shutdown of the filesharing site Megaupload (wiki site here) and the arrest of its Finnish-German hacker-founder Kim DotCom. Here’s the NYT story about the arrest. This fella is a piece of work: he was arrested at his $30 million dollar mansion in New Zealand (yes, with Finnish flag flying), and apparently about $6 million worth of vehicles were also confiscated. Yes, he made his money via illegal filesharing (of music, movies etc) – about 50 million people visited the site daily. Anonymous retaliated by hacking various sites, including the DOJ, MPAA, Universal. Interesting issue: free filesharing, important to the Anonymous ethos, has now created the type of concentration of wealth that the movement is fighting against. Robin Hood got rich.
Kim Dotcom managed, just last month, to get some music celebs (Will.i.am, Alicia Keys, Kanye West, etc) to endorse Megaupload:
Needless to say, Universal did not like the song or video.
Despite its many problems, I use wikipedia, a lot. Too much. Sure enough, just now I tried to dig something up – and got the wikipedia blackout page. Given the blackout- where will we quickly read up on SOPA (or whatever else)?
The SOPA thing is a complicated matter – a fascinating tension between protecting intellectual property and free speech. At the extreme – should online sites like Pirate Bay (free movies, music and books) be allowed to operate freely? Few people say “yes” to that one (including Jimmy Wales), so the questions emerge in the gray areas. But SOPA itself is a mess, no question.
According to the NY Times, Jim Huntsman will drop out soon. Some might say that being moderate sank him, even though he’s fairly conservative. My lesson is different and much simpler: candidates who refuse to seriously run in the first primary and reject the base’s rhetoric do badly. Unless the first state is going to be won by a local, you must try. See also: Rudy, Fred.
The latest episode of This American Life is a breathtaking first-person account of a Mac aficionado’s visit to an electronics manufacturing plant in Shenzhen, China. Here he meets some of the workers who put iPhones together and discovers that the entire manufacturing process is done by hand! He learns of the incredible toll this process of constructing little electronics goods has on their health and lives. The account, partly due to Mike Daisey’s engaging monologue style, is really unforgettable and disturbing. One of my favorite lines from Daisy’s account:
How often do we wish more things were hand-made? Oh, we talk about that all the time, don’t we? I wish it was like the old days. I wish things had that human touch. But that’s not true. There are more hand-made things now than there have ever been in the history of the world. Everything is hand-made. I know, I have been there. I have seen the workers laying in parts thinner than human hair, one after another after another. Everything is hand-made.
In typical TAL style, they try to get the other side of the story and the last ten minutes of the episode really grapple with the effects of sweatshop labor on economic mobility. Still, the voices that will remain in your head after the podcast are those of the mistreated workers whose bodies are souls are slowly being sacrificed on the factory line.
I’m sort of intrigued by the various innovations emerging from the Occupy Wallstreet Movement (I posted at strategyprofs about some of the tech ones, specifically apps).
One of the cooler, more low-tech innovations (ok, ok, these have been around for a long time – but still) is the use of the “human microphone” – note that the wiki entry was initiated just two weeks ago. Occupy also has its own hand signals (and, check out the hand signals for consensus decision-making). Cool. Twinkles.
Here’s a hand signal tutorial:
Hosted over on my own blog, mostly because it’s a little long, here’s A Sociology of Steve Jobs.
You’ve undoubtedly seen the announcements. But an orgtheory tribute seems warranted for this legend. Here’s the Stanford address Kieran linked to, a classic.
So, what are the specific demands and aims of the Occupy Wall Street protest? Here are some sources of information on the protest -
- An active twitter presence, @OccupyWallSt.
- A very active #occupywallstreet twitter hashtag (as well as #ows).
- A relatively detailed wikipedia site.
- A live stream of the ‘global revolution.’
- Or, see globalrevolution.tv.
- A New York Times piece and short video on “Wall Street Occupiers, Protesting Till Whenever”
- There is OccupyTogether.org.
- Adbusters is involved.
- As is Anonymous.