Nov 09

Do collegiate teabaggers want limited student government?

The rational, principled argument for a Republican or Independent college student would of course be “no”.   The theatrics of yesterdays tantrum in a teapot on Capitol Hill (contrasted by the killings at Fort Hood and within the context of Guy Fawkes Day) really obscures how most people feel about government.

People generally don’t care about government, or at least will tolerate the status quo so long as their lives are comfortable,   the mail gets delivered, and the trash gets picked up.   As soon as effective governing becomes impossible via scandal, ideology, or externalities (like the economy), any politican, regardless of party, is vulnerable.   You can see it in the polling data from the 2009 NJ Governors race, based on voting priorities (summed-up by taxgirl):

Despite three campaign appearances by President Obama, Governor John Corzine lost his gubernatorial seat in New Jersey to GOP challenger Chris Christie last night. Exit polls showed that the top two concerns for New Jersey voters were the economy and the state’s high property taxes.

How high are those property taxes? For the year 2008, New Jersey holds the distinction of the state with both the highest property taxes per capita and the worst business tax climate in the nation, according to the Tax Foundation (note: report will download as a pdf). New Jersey residents also ranked highest in the nation last year with respect to state and local taxes as a percentage of income. New Jersey taxpayers paid a whopping 11.8% of income in state and local taxes, more than 2% above the national average.

Of course, this is nothing new for New Jersey. Residents have generally put up with higher taxes because of what they thought it bought them: some of the best schools in the country, for example. But in the midst of a bad economy, that has changed. New Jersey residents increasingly believe that higher taxes buy them very little (ask Robert Flach) except possibly more corruption.

I mention Student Government (in the title) as UPenn’s Undergraduate Assembly moves to democratize the election process, allowing the entire student body to vote for the top two executive positions, and that those candidates need not have prior UA experience.     The conversation illustrates that democracy is a messy business, institutions are self-preserving, and that low-information voters are quick prey for predators plying populism.   You will find no one comparing student government to Nazis, the Holocaust, socialism, or communism.   The UA occasionally tackles the mundane, but essentially exists to address issues which directly effect the student body.   This comes down to a balance of electoral engagement by democratic elections and effective governing via republic(an) representation.

The referendum is explained thusly (as reported in the Daily Pennsylvanian):

[It] would rename the chair and vice chair for external affairs the UA “president  and “vice president.  These positions would be elected directly by the student body, rather than internally by UA members, as currently is the case.

Candidates for both positions would require no previous experience on the UA. However, they would have to attend at least one information session held by the UA and the Nominations and Elections committee to be briefed the functions of the UA and the requirements of the president’s job.

Some have concerns :

College sophomore and UA member Ariella Chivil supports the idea of having the head of the UA be directly elected by the students, but said she thought it would be “extremely irresponsible  to allow a non-UA member to run for the position.

Chivil, who was echoed by College sophomore and UA member Andrew Lum, cited the UA’s routine functions and the sense of commitment to the body as something a non-UA member might not grasp.

Populism and an apatheric constituency are also mentioned in an opinion piece by Katherine Rea:

The groups that mobilize their constituencies best will have their interests best represented. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, if certain groups are able to raise awareness and voter turnout more so than others, then perhaps they deserve to have their interests more highly prioritized. But the drawback to that system is that it becomes easier to turn the position from a relatively sober policy position ” one with the capacity to cope well with minute details ” into a position better suited for a campaigner with grand, interest-driven schemes. The impartiality of the current UA chairman position redounds to the system’s credit. The UA has no mandate from the students, and I believe its members recognize that better than anyone. They know they weren’t elected as representatives because people agreed with their policies. They were elected for catchy slogans and silly posters, a process Vernon has characterized as “more high school than high school. 

I fear many of the political participants on the local, state, and national level will (again) come to the wrong conclusions about the 2009 elections.   The ideological circus of the summer’s healthcare townhalls has surfaced a fear of pitchforks, torches, and angry (national) mobs,   shaping the actions of politicians and the coverage of the press.

In one sense, these races clearly indicate economic anxieties, as in New Jersey, suffering under the highest taxes in the nation.   The extremist tack of NY-23 candidate Doug Hoffman and carpet teabagging likely alienated moderate Republicans.   The presence of a GOP-lite candidate in Creigh Deeds failed to engage the Democratic base in Virginia,   depressing turnout and reversing a Democratic trend.   The few Republicans left are far more determined and much more extreme in their ideology.   Low Democrat turnout – an effect of low enthusiasm – and engaged Conservatives was the story of the day, not a rejection of liberalism or Obama.   As always, all politics is local.

The punditocracy will quickly state that Democrats were too far to the left of an increasingly right leaning country, without any supporting evidence, and ignoring a small “d” democratic trend.   In this sense, the election was all about Obama.   The reality is that the millions of voters who were engaged by the Obama campaign were expected to just “show up”, without any of their day-to-day concerns being addressed by the local Democratic parties.   The state and local Democratic parties need to hone both public policy   and campaign messaging and demonstrate technical competencies, and not just depend on electoral coattails.

I have suggestions, but that’s a post for another day.

Oct 09

Daily Links for October 10th through October 12th

All excerpts are quoted from the respective link(s).

Oct 09

Daily Links for October 2nd through October 4th

All excerpts are quoted from the respective link(s).

  • Choosing the Correct Statistical Test in SAS, Stata and SPSS
  • United States Gross National Happiness on Facebook – But grouped together, the status updates of millions of Facebook users from every demographic in the nation can work together to say something about how we as a nation are doing. Measuring how well-off, happy or satisfied with life the citizens of a nation are is part of the Gross National Happiness movement. This graph represents how "happy" the nation is doing from day to day, by looking at how many positive and negative words people are using when they update their status: When people are using more positive words (or fewer negative words) in their status updates than usual, that day is happier than usual!
  • Fruzsina Eordogh – Subcultured Chicago – Cat Poop Mind Control – True/Slant – Toxoplasma gondii can be carried by a variety of animals, but really only wants to live in cats stomachs. Robert Sapolsky, the neuroscientist on the show, goes on to explain the effects of toxoplasma gondii on rats; toxoplasma gondii travels to the rat’s brain and messes around with the circuitry to make the cat attractive to the rat. The end result has the rat approaching the cat to be eaten. Sapolsky goes on to mention that it is not “speculative” to think that Toxoplasma gondii might be doing the same thing in humans. Research done on toxoplasmosis in humans has revealed a link between toxoplasma gondii and schizophrenia. Dr Fuller Torrey explains during the show how rates of schizophrenia “exploded” around the same time humans began keeping cats indoors as pets.
  • tiltshiftmaker.com – Transform your photos into tilt-shift style miniatures – Tilt-shift miniature style photos are pictures of real-life scenes that are manipulated to look like model photographs.

    Now you can easily transform your existing digital camera photos into tilt-shift style miniatures using tiltshiftmaker.com. Our online photo editing tool is fun and requires no registration or signup.

  • Ethan Porter – Mr. Obama’s Neighborhood – Obama: He’s smarter than you think – True/Slant – Think of it this way. Did Barack Obama want Chicago to win? No one’s a mind reader, but we do know one thing about this guy: he’s got an acute sense of politics. And politically, having Chicago host the Olympics in 2016 was close to a sure-fire loser. The city’s residents seem opposed to hosting it, for one thing–that matters. If the Windy City had won, activists would be making a stink for seven years. More importantly, we all know about Chicago’s political culture of corruption. If Chicago had won, the RNC, RSCC and other right-wing apparatchicks would run countless advertisements alleging amorphous connections betweeen the President and the developers who would likely benefit from the Olympics.

Sep 09

Daily Links for September 27th through September 29th

All excerpts are quoted from the respective link(s).

  • Student Loans: Studen Loan Interest and Total Cost of Student Loans | MintLife Blog | Personal Finance News & Advice – Sadness.
  • Colleges Cut Costs – TIME – A funky roommate named recession is settling in on campuses this fall as colleges and universities slash budgets for virtually everything from salad bars to ski teams. U.S. colleges and universities suffered, on average, a 23% endowment drop in the second half of last year, according to a study by a group of campus business officers. That reduction in funding has set off a scramble to freeze hiring, cut hours and hunker down until the economy improves. "Institutions will have to manage with less," says Oberlin's vice president for finance, Ron Watts. Here's a look at how schools are getting creative with their wallets.
  • 500 Internal Server Error – 500 Internal Server Error
  • 20+ Powerful WordPress Security Plugins and Some Tips and Tricks : Speckyboy Design Magazine – If your WP development knowledge is limited, your best option is to download and install plugins. They are easy to install and manage and will give you all the power and security you could ever hope for. Of course, no plugin is powerful enough to protect you from everything, we can only minimize the possible intrusions.
  • Detroit: Now a Ghost Town – TIME – Once a crowded urban center, Detroit has become a large city with many buildings and too few people. By mid-2008, its population had dropped to 912,062, about half the number of residents in 1950

Sep 09

Daily Links for September 18th

All excerpts are quoted from the respective link(s).

  • Daily Number: A Scarcity of Car Lovers – Pew Research Center – Americans' romance with the automobile seems to be cooling off a bit. A Pew Research survey conducted in 2006 found that just 23% say they consider their car "something special — more than just a way to get around," barely half of the 43% who felt this way in 1991.
  • Social Networks Pressuring Traditional Email, IM Channels – People are spending less time on communication sites that are focused around email and instant messaging, according to an analysis released today by the Online Publishers Association, a trade organization, a decline it attributes to the rising popularity of social networks such as Facebook, MySpace and Twitter. Indeed, posting photos and videos to social networks is an easy way to engage people in your social graph and show them what’s going on in your life, and many feature their own built-in email and IM capabilities. And Facebook’s internal user engagement numbers back up the OPA’s findings; it claims some 1 billion chat messages are sent each day and 2 billion photos are uploaded to the site each month.
  • 14 Best Times to Make Major Purchases – When it comes to major purchases – like cars, computers, airline tickets – simply buying them “whenever” rarely get you the best deal. The top bargain hunters strategically delay these purchases until off season sales or manufacturer discounts kick in. Applied consistently across all of one’s major spending, this technique delivers savings that many shoppers are completely oblivious to. Furthermore, knowing with certainty when these items can be bought for less takes the annoying guesswork out of endlessly hunting for sales. Here are 14 examples of big purchases and their ideal buying times to get you started saving cash.
  • Flip And Pop My Collar Like The Fonz – Ta-Nehisi Coates – But Barack Obama, bourgeois in every way that bourgeois is right and just, will not dance.He tells kids to study–and they seethe. He accepts an apology for an immature act of rudeness–and they go hysterical. He takes his wife out for a date–and their veins bulge. His humanity, his ordinary blackness, is killing them. Dig the audio of his response to Kanye West–the way he says, "He's a jackass." He sounds like one of my brothers. And that's the point, because that's what he is. Barack Obama refuses to be their nigger. And it's driving them crazy.
  • What to do when all else has failed to change your kid’s behavior. – By Alan E. Kazdin and Carlo Rotella – Slate Magazine – You know your child is physically capable of doing what you're asking because he has done it on occasion, but he will not do it with any regularity. In fact, he actively opposes you. Your intense—OK, desperate—interest only seems to inspire more opposition. The more you need your child to do what you want, the less likely it is to happen. You're stuck and frustrated, and you don't know what to do.
  • Mint Map: America’s Most Frugal Cities | MintLife Blog | Personal Finance News & Advice – An infographic displaying the most frugal American cities based on discretionary spending, and shows which cities spend the most in given categories. Philadelphian Mint-users apparently spend the most on electronics gadgets.