Electoral Geography 2.0

Whilst researching political trends in Serbia recently, I discovered a brilliant site called Electoral Geography 2.0 that contains election result maps of just about every major international political election, going back in some cases to 1867.

But that is not all. It introduces the field of Electoral Geography, something I had never heard of before. The website founder, Alexander Kireev, explains:

All socials processes develop non-uniformly in geographical space.
There are no exceptions. Take any social phenomenon and you will see
that it has some geography. Electoral geography, for example, studies regularities and patterns of election results.

Electoral geography is a constituent component of
political geography, a science which studies development of all
political processes inside geographical space. However, election
results are only natural result of numerous social, economic and
political processes. Studying the geography of elections is senseless
without knowing what is behind these results and what political
processes preceded them and what these results mean. It is also
senseless to study electoral geography without thorough knowledge of
the socio-economic characteristics of the territory where the election
is taking place. That is why electoral geography is
an exceptionally integrated science: it cannot exist without its
constituting sciences, especially political science and geography.
However, history, economics and sociology also play important roles.

Here is, for example, a map of the election results in the 2008 Serbian legislative elections:

 

If you are a map lover, this is a fascinating site. Please note the appeal from the founder:

I would be very grateful if you could send me any interesting electoral statistics or maps, especially if you speak a language that I don’t speak, which obviously makes it more difficult for me to find electoral statistics.

Michael Totten again, this time On the Road to Kosovo

“Lippmann…argued in his best-selling book called Public Opinion that democracy was fundamentally flawed. People, he said, mostly know the world only indirectly, through “pictures they make up in their heads.” And they receive these mental pictures largely through the media. The problem, Lippmann argued, is that the pictures people have in their heads are hopelessly distorted and incomplete, marred by the irredeemable weaknesses of the press. Just as bad, the public’s ability to comprehend the truth, even if it happened to come across it, was undermined by human bias, stereotype, inattentiveness, and ignorance. In the end, Lippmann though citizens are like theatregoers who “arrive in the middle of the third act and leave before the last curtain, staying just long enough to decide who is the hero and who is the villain“. – “The Elements of Journalism” by Bill Kovac and Tom Rosensteil (2001)

In day-to-day life, as in science, we all resist fundamental paradigm change. Social scientist Jay Stuart Snelson calls this resistance an ideological immune system: “educated, intelligent, and successful adults rarely change their most fundamental presuppositions” (1993, p. 54). According to Snelson, the more knowledge individuals have accumulated, and the more well-founded their theories have become (and remember, we all tend to look for and remember confirmatory evidence, not counterevidence), the greater the confidence in their ideologies. The consequence of this, however, is that we build up an “immunity” against new ideas that do not corroborate previous ones. Historians of science call this the Planck Problem, after physicist Max Planck, who made this observation on what must happen for innovation to occur in science: “An important scientific innovation rarely makes its way by gradually winning over and converting its opponents: it rarely happens that Saul becomes Paul. What does happen is that its opponents gradually die out and that the growing generation is familiarized with the idea from the beginning” (1936, p. 97). –  “How Thinking Goes Wrong: Twenty-five Fallacies That Lead Us to Believe Weird Things” by Michael Shermer

Michael Totten has posted the latest in his series on the Balkans, this time covering Serbia (outside of Belgrade), Republika Srpska and Bosnia & Hertizigova, Croatia and Montenegro.

After massive battles in the first two parts (1 & 2), I was pleased to see this one was much more balanced and fair.

The report is only mildly anti-Serb in the sense that all the nasty characters and places are Serb, all the decent folks are non-Serbs. That said, he did plug “Old” Belgrade nicely.

What follows is my response to Michael. It will make no sense unless you read the original article.

These articles and their subsequent discussions highlight the Serb predicament.  The double standards, the denial of Serb victimhood, the libels against the Serbs (as though they did not have enough real crimes to be guilty for) and a distinct lack of empathy, it is all there, mostly in the comments. They highlight the fact that what was true of Lippmann’s 1920’s America is doubly true of the Balkans today (and the ongoing debates about its past, present and future).

The Serbs are permanently established as villains, the rest – Croats, Albanians and Bosnian Muslims – are all designated victims or heroic resistors of Serbian aggression. The very word “Serb” is a loaded word. One finds that even on websites like Michael Totten’s, commentators are welcome to post openly hateful libels against Serb whilst merely pointing out that the libels are based on half-truths, cherry picking, hasty generalization or lies,  will get your banned or warned.

As H. L. Mencken noted “For every complicated problem there is a simple and wrong solution”. In the Balkans it is blame the Serbs. In the Middle East, blame the Israelis, elsewhere it is typically blame the Americans.

As I noted in my Pajama’s Media article I believe that most Serbophobia is based on what British journalist Nick Davies calls “flat earth news”, a story – in this case Serb villainy – that appears to be true and is widely accepted as true, such that eventually it becomes a heresy to suggest that it is not true — even if it is riddled with falsehood, distortion, and propaganda.

People are deeply ignorant about the Balkans and its recent history (not to mention medieval or pre-history). All they know is what they picked up in that third act, namely that the villains are Serbs. This exploited by  anti-Serb bigots whose favourite tactic is to point out Serbs wrong-doings, but out of context and without comparison. This is, of course, the fallacy of Selective Observation.  When  one addresses this fallacy by noting the wider picture or pointing out that Serbs comparatively blameless/innocent/not guilty, one risks being accused of being a bigot attacking the groups one is comparing the Serbs against.

A good example of this is the Serbs-as-WW2-collaborators-and-Jew-killers libel. One an Albanian-American commentator kept trying to claim that “Serbs” were anti-Semites becuase – oh the irony – a Croatian documentary about Serb collaborators in WW2 claimed as much.

As I noted in the comments:

Lets say that it is true that 11,000 Jews were killed by Serb collaborators in WW2, how does that crime stack up against the crimes in context of the time and region?

The US Holocaust Memorial Museum states that:

“The Croat authorities murdered between 330,000 and 390,000 ethnic Serb residents of Croatia and Bosnia during the period of Ustaša rule; more than 30,000 Croatian Jews were killed either in Croatia or at Auschwitz-Birkenau.”

At the same site we read that Romania killed 270,000 Jews and Hungary killed 500,000 Jews.

The People of Albania, to their credit, were heroic in hiding and protecting Jews in Albania. To their discredit, though, they had an Albanian SS Division and they too had collaborators who handed over Jews. The number of Jews handed over was tiny, but this is because there were only 2-300 Jews in the entire country.

The picture was different outside of Albania proper.

“Between 1941 and 1944, nearly 600 Jews from Greater Albania were sent to their deaths in various concentration camps around Europe. It is for this reason that many historians disagree over the role of Albanians in the Holocaust. While Albanians may have attempted to rescue the Jews in Albania proper, the government was aware of the round-up and deportation of Jews from the Kosovo region.” [Jewish Virtual Library]

She kept trying to libel the Serbs as anti-Semites based on their putative historical crimes and I was forced to post Jewish and Israeli holocaust sources to expose her blood libel, but in doing so I was forced to point out Albanian and Croatian wrongs.

She was doing to Serbs what was done to Jews for centuries, making up lurid and patently false charges of brutality and evil that the ignorant and bigoted public accept as true. And this is just one example of many. The anti-Serb comments on the Totten articles are a veritable example sheet of fallacies: Proof by Anecdote, hasty Generalizations, Straw Man, Guilt By Association, Biased Sample…the list goes on.

Oddly enough I am not that worried about the more active and open bigots. Their one-sidedness and extremism tend to serve as warning to the more intelligent readers (the ones who matter) . Self-advertising hater-mongers are not the danger, it is the soft bias that causes the most trouble.This is where people like Michael enter the story. Despite his protests to the contrary, I detected a clear, lack of sympathy towards the Serbs (so far anyway).

This conforms with what I have observed about biases in general, even in their mildest forms, they strangle empathy. On example is Michael driving around with a Belgrade registered car getting paranoid about being mistaken for a Serb, but yet completely failing to imagine what it must be like for a real Serb to face that constant aggression and hostility.

Who cares if some independent US journalist “does” the Balkans and comes out against the Serbs based on his few hours in country?

Well I care.

Michael certainly seems to have left with a negative impression of Serbia (and Serbs) that is completely at odds with experiences reported by most visitors I have spoken to. I think this is becuase he arrived with that “impression” and he saw only what reinforced it, not what is really here at all.

His visit was way too brief for him to really experience the country and he spoke to only the ultra-liberal wing of the political spectrum (imagine getting your US “facts” from Michael Moore, Noam Chomsky, John Berger and Naomi Klein). No wonder he left with the same impression he arrived with.

The problem, as I note below, is that this is an influential independent journalist who is also, I believe,  a completely honourable and well intentioned person.  His voice carries weight and it is precisely people like him that need to be engaged or otherwise, lies pass into history.

The basis of so much Serbophobia and anti-Serb reporting is that so many lies have already passed into history about this country, its people and its recent history.

One of the gravest problems is that the urgent requirement for Serbs to own up to and repudiate what was done in their name is scuttled by gross exaggerations, lies and being blamed for things they did not do. It is further aggravated by negative characterizations of the Serbs growing like mushroom on the back of previous negative characterizations.

Serbs will not be able to grant justice to those they wronged until the wrongs against them are at least recognised, if not redressed. It is for this reason that I take the fight to the comment sections of blogs and spend my precious time countering the bigotry I find there.

Here are my commerts posted on Michael Totten’s blog post.

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Inside the Tokyo Traffic Control Center

 

“Tokyo traffic can be crazy. Perhaps not as crazy as it is frustrating, but it’s certainly a lot easier to get through the mess on a Monkey rather than in a car.

However, despite our gripes about traffic lights that seem very poorly timed, it turns out that the entire system is much more centralized than we could have imagined.”

Trends in Japan » Inside the Tokyo Traffic Control Center

HOW-TO: Make your own annotated multimedia Google map

Incredible fun with Google Maps hacking. Pity is US only at present. I particularly love uses like the live Seattle 911 incidents map.

Several years ago after reading about then Mayor Giuliani ‘s CompStat crime tracking system, I wanted to plot crime incidents onto a live map of London. The idea was scotched by the non-availability of crime data from the Metropolitan police and the sheer technical difficulty of it.

Today’s semantic web is making those sorts of ideas relatively easy to realize. I might just mail the Met again…

Remembering Dresden

Every year I post bout the firebombing of Dresden and Hamburg. This year is no different, except that at my source is the new English langue version of Der Spiegel launched recently:

VICTOR KLEMPERER’S DRESDEN DIARIES: Surviving the Firestorm

Once, as she was searching, she had wanted to light a cigarette and had had no matches, something was glowing on the ground, she wanted to use it — it was a burning corpse.

THE DESTRUCTION OF DRESDEN: A Multimedia Overview of the Firestorm [Excellent]

The firestorm that destroyed Dresden on Feb. 13, 1945 wasn’t an accident. Rather, it was the result of years of lessons learned and research. New aerial photos provided to SPIEGEL ONLINE from Keele University in England show the horrific extent of the damage.