Sunday, August 31, 2008

Palin and Exurbans

So the question on everybody's mind is: who the hell is Sarah Palin?

McCain must be a asking himself this question, since he only met his vice presidential pick once before offering her the job.

Howard Fineman has an interesting article about a demographic he calls "Exurban America," people who have moved to the limits of society to escape the stress and perceived danger (mortal and cultural) of urban and suburban life.

An excerpt:

In Exurban America, you can buy a new home with a driveway and enough bedrooms for a big, traditional family. You can be near to nature, and big playgrounds and spaces. You can be far away from the fears and fractiousness of an old downtown, but close enough to go t0 the zoo or a concert or take in a ballgame.

And (assuming gas prices aren’t insane — a fateful assumption, of course) you can buy a big home on less than a six-figure family income. You can therefore get close as to “Leave it to Beaver" America as most middle-class folks can afford or even find.

ExAm is where the country that traditionalists think existed decades ago still exists – and where people fervently want it to exist.

That makes it, on balance, more socially conservative than other, closer-in suburbs, not to mention core cities. Eager for a settled, traditional life amid the hustle and chaos of modern, 21st century economic competition, ExAm families tend to favor rule-setting religion, old-fashioned family values — and ample but efficient government that has no ties to old arguments over Business and Labor.

This is an interesting take on what Palin brings to the McCain campaign. McCain has long been criticized for not appealing to the conservative base of the Republican party due to his reputation as a maverick, although on issues like the war, tax cuts for the wealthy, immigration, health care, and civil liberties he has almost always toed the Republican line. But Palin not only votes consistently with conservative ideology, she has built her public image around it as well.

The Exurban lifestyle represents a revision of the American dream for 2st Century social conservatives, and this is where Palin brings in the cultural element to the McCain campaign; this is a purebred conservative who opposes abortion in any form (even for rape survivors) and appears to believe in conservative mainstays of guns, god, and government. According to Fineman, many of the Exurbans are conservatives, and may respond well to Palin's stances.

Palin also presents a curve ball for the Obama campaign. Like Obama, Palin is an outsider with a reformer attitude and her lack of experience means that she hasn't had the chance to make embarrassing gaffs, mistakes, and flip flops like McCain or Biden. At this point even Obama has had some political backtracking with his support of the FISA bill and his willingness to compromise on offshore drilling. But Palin has no such record, at least in part because she has not been in government long enough to have much of a record on anything.

There are two components of gender that are in play here. One, this is a fairly obvious lure for disgruntled Hillary Clinton voters, those for whom getting a woman into office, whether she is qualified or not, is of primary concern. It would be ironic for Hillary Clinton voters to turn to Palin as their New Hope since Palin is the polar opposite of every issue Clinton stood for.

The second gender issue is sexism, but it plays against the Democrats. If the Obama campaign criticizes Palin too harshly or if Biden verbally assaults her in the vice presidential debate, there is the risk of yoking sympathy for her. I know this isn't politically correct, but I will go ahead and say it anyway: if the Democrats are characterized as "hitting a girl," they could lose the election. Consider the spike in Hillary Clinton's primary results when she cried at a press conference. Now imagine if Biden completely and utterly destroys Palin in the debate, making her look like an incompetent idiot. If he did that to a male candidate it would be characterized as a triumph, but depending how it goes down, Biden could win the argument but lose the debate and be characterized as a bully.

I'm not sure if Palin is an asset or a liability for McCain. Probably a little of both. But it's going to be an interesting couple of months.

Friday, August 29, 2008

ACLU: Know Your Rights

The Republican National Convention begins Monday in St. Paul. The American Civil Liberties Union has put out a "Know Your Rights Card" as a pdf file. It can be downloaded from this page.

Here is the body of the text:

Criminal Laws Impacting Demonstration Activity

  • You must give your name to law enforcement if you are under arrest or reasonably suspected of a crime. If you do not, you might be detained until they identify you.
  • Illegal trespassing includes interfering with signs that mark a legal boundary, entering private property without a claim of right, or refusing to leave when the owner demands it.
  • Minnesota law forbids you from wearing a mask, or other disguise to hide your identity unless it is based on religious beliefs, entertainment, medical treatment or the weather.
  • You can be arrested for terroristic threats for directly or indirectly threatening violence in order to terrorize others or cause an evacuation of a building, place of assembly, vehicle
    or transportation facility. It is a crime to intentionally obstruct, interfere with or make
    passage dangerous on any public right-of-way.
  • You can be charged with disorderly conduct for disturbing an assembly, speech or conduct that is likely to provoke a violent reaction, or inciting an immediate breach of the peace.
  • A group of three or more people can be arrested for unlawful assembly for disorderly conduct that unreasonably interferes with or obstructs another’s use of public or private property. You can be arrested for not leaving an unlawful assembly when ordered by law enforcement.
  • Intentional acts or threats of unlawful force to a person or property by three or more people is considered an illegal riot.

What To Do If You’re Stopped By The Law Enforcement: RNC Edition

You have the right to engage in peaceful, protest activity in Minneapolis and St. Paul. However, the cities and the police department impose certain restrictions on these activities to
ensure public safety. This card guides you basic information on your rights as a protester demonstrating at the Republican National Convention (RNC), and what do to do if you are
stopped, arrested, or injured by law enforcement.

Your Rights As A Protester
You have the right to protest peacefully in public areas like streets, sidewalks or parks. But, the government can have ‘time, place and manner’ restrictions on speech. You may need to obtain a permit. Restrictions are permissible as long as they are reasonable but not permissible if based on the message content of a certain speaker or group.

  • Generally, you have the right to distribute literature, hold signs and collect petition signatures on sidewalks or in front of government buildings as long as you do not disrupt other people, force passersby to accept leaflets or obstruct traffic.
  • Drumming, dancing, singing and chanting are First Amendment protected activities. Street performers, mimes or puppeteers are also protected.
  • The USA PATRIOT Act prohibits willfully and knowingly engaging in disorderly or disruptive conduct near or obstructing access to national political conventions. The penalty can include one year or more in federal prison.

To complain about police actions at the RNC, contact the ACLU of Minnesota by
visiting our website at and filling out an online form.

If arrested at an RNC-related protest and in need of a lawyer, call the ACLU-MN RNC-arrest hotline: 651.789.0443

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Colleges: Drinking age 'not working'
By Stephen Kiehl, Baltimore Sun
August 19, 2008

Top university officials in Maryland - including the chancellor of the state university system and the president of the Johns Hopkins University - say the current drinking age of 21 "is not working" and has led to dangerous binges in which students have harmed themselves and others.

Six college presidents in Maryland are among more than 100 college and university presidents nationwide who have signed a statement calling for a public debate on rethinking the drinking age.

"Kids are going to drink whether it's legal or illegal," said Johns Hopkins President William R. Brody, who supports lowering the drinking age to 18. "We'd at least be able to have a more open dialogue with students about drinking as opposed to this sham where people don't want to talk about it because it's a violation of the law."

The presidents of the University of Maryland, College Park; Towson University; the College of Notre Dame of Maryland; Goucher College; Washington College and the University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute signed the statement, along with the presidents of Duke, Dartmouth and Ohio State University.

"How many times must we relearn the lessons of prohibition?" the statement says. "Adults under 21 are deemed capable of voting, signing contracts, serving on juries and enlisting in the military, but are told they are not mature enough to have a beer."

Each state has the authority to set its own drinking age, but in 1984 Congress passed the National Minimum Drinking Age Act, which says that states with a drinking age lower than 21 will lose 10 percent of their federal highway money. After that law passed, all 50 states raised their drinking age to 21.

The first step for the presidents is to work for repeal of that law as part of next year's transportation reauthorization bill. They recognize the challenge, given the passions ignited by the issue, but say they are desperate to confront the problem of drinking on and off college campuses.

Read the full article here.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

The Science of Diversity

Peter Wood has published an essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education in which he links the shrinking interest in math and science to larger cultural forces at work in academia. An excerpt:

The precipitous drop in American science students has been visible for years. In 1998 the House released a national science-policy report, "Unlocking Our Future," that fussily described "a serious incongruity between the perceived utility of a degree in science and engineering by potential students and the present and future need for those with training."

Let me offer a different explanation. Students respond more profoundly to cultural imperatives than to market forces. In the United States, students are insulated from the commercial market's demand for their knowledge and skills. That market lies a long way off — often too far to see. But they are not insulated one bit from the worldview promoted by their teachers, textbooks, and entertainment. From those sources, students pick up attitudes, motivations, and a lively sense of what life is about. School has always been as much about learning the ropes as it is about learning the rotes. We do, however, have some new ropes, and they aren't very science-friendly. Rather, they lead students who look upon the difficulties of pursuing science to ask, "Why bother?"

Success in the sciences unquestionably takes a lot of hard work, sustained over many years. Students usually have to catch the science bug in grade school and stick with it to develop the competencies in math and the mastery of complex theories they need to progress up the ladder. Those who succeed at the level where they can eventually pursue graduate degrees must have not only abundant intellectual talent but also a powerful interest in sticking to a long course of cumulative study. A century ago, Max Weber wrote of "Science as a Vocation," and, indeed, students need to feel something like a calling for science to surmount the numerous obstacles on the way to an advanced degree.

At least on the emotional level, contemporary American education sides with the obstacles. It begins by treating children as psychologically fragile beings who will fail to learn — and worse, fail to develop as "whole persons" — if not constantly praised. The self-esteem movement may have its merits, but preparing students for arduous intellectual ascents aren't among them. What the movement most commonly yields is a surfeit of college freshmen who "feel good" about themselves for no discernible reason and who grossly overrate their meager attainments.

Read the full article here.