Civic Knowledge

I discovered this latest "Civic Knowledge" quiz via one of my students.  I was pleased to get a perfect 33 out of 33 score (average score for "college educators" 55%.  I was pretty determined even before answering the questions that any I missed would surely be invalid questions.  Some of these definitely had very little to do with civic literacy.  As Kevin Drum suggests, is it so bad if Americans don't know what philosophical points of agreement Aristotle, Plato, and Thomas Aquinas shared?  He also points out that the kids are alright.  All sorts of tests like to make fun of how little our High School students know, but tell us how little ordinary adults know.  This one does and the results really are not that pretty regardless of age (age breakdown and fascinating comments over at Drum's link). 

I'm going to be bold and enable comments so you can tell me how you did (feel free to be anonymous).  Of course, if nobody comments, I'll just get depressed and disable them.  [Or so was my intention except for the fact that the new blogging software NCSU installed (after keeping the blogs down for some time and ruining the font in all my old posts) does not seem to want to allow comments for this post, as I designated, but rather the previous post, for which I did not designate comments.]


Hardware woes

Thought I'd go with two technology/computer posts in a row and get that out of my system for the next year.  Most of my work at home is done on a desktop upstairs connected to our main downstairs computer by a wireless network.  For the first several months, this computer used to lose the wireless signal all the time and I'd have to patiently sit through a network reset before continuing what I was doing.  I chalked this up to electronic interference from cordless phones, microwaves, etc., which I had read so many dire warnings about.  Turns out it was none of the above.  I simply bought a new wireless network card for this computer and haven't had a network signal dropped since.  Frustrating to think how much time was wasted over a malfunctioning part I did not even realize was not working.  So, much better, but then for the longest time webpages up here did not want to load in and I would have to reset the browser to get them to work.  Again, I figured probably not much I could do about it.  Then, my wireless router goes completely dead, I buy a new (cheaper, no less) one and all of a sudden, the internet works perfectly up here.  Again, I think of all the time I wasted when I could have just replaced a $30 part.  I'm not entirely sure what the moral of this story is, but it feels good to share.  And now, back to politics (and urinal technology).

My email woes

Turns out that I was about the only person left using Eudora for email.  I've been using this so long that I cannot remember when I started (presumably sometime in the mid 1990's at Ohio State).  I've been using this on borrowed time for quite a while, as Qualcomm stopped making and supporting Eudora.  Alas, I finally lost full functionality in my Eudora 6.2 which I should have lost a year ago and didn't.  Eudora 7 never worked with NCSU email servers and it turns out that Eudora 8 is not Eudora at all, but Mozilla Thunderbird.  So, my obsession the past three days has been to find a suitable replacement for Eudora.  Simple, you'd think.  But I spend more time on email than anything except web-browsing and it turns out I'm pretty particular with my email software– unlike the rest of my life ;-).  So, I must have tried at least half a dozen email programs this weekend and they all seemed to have some fatal flaw (for my purposes, at least) as compared to Eudora.  In the end, I've decided to join the masses and use Thunderbird–largely so I can stop obsessing.  But I'm not happy about it.

Obama and change

Kevin Drum made a really good point earlier in the week that I've also been hearing/reading a lot of rumblings on:

CLINTONITES….Just a quick comment on a common
meme: Why is Barack Obama surrounding himself with so many Clinton
retreads? That's not change we can believe in!

Sure, sure, but look: anybody who's been active in liberal
governance for more than eight years is likely to be a Clintonite. It
was the only game in town during the 90s. And anybody who's been active
less than eight years probably doesn't have the experience to get a top
level position. So there's really no way around this. There are some
fresh faces around for Obama to tap, but for the most part, when you're
staffing highly visible and responsible positions, you want someone who
has at least some experience to fall back on. And since Bill Clinton is
the only Democrat to hold the presidency in the past 28 years, that
means someone who served in the Clinton administration.

If you want change (which, let's be honest, basically means a liberal policy agenda) you really need experienced operators who know what they're doing in order to bring about change.  Who all these "new" people without Clinton administration experience that Obama should bring it that will actually be able to get things through Congress is a mystery to me.  I love the choice of Tom Daschle as HHS Secretary and to push Health care reform.  More on my personal connection to Daschle later.



I stop blogging for a few days to discover that the Wolfblogs system is down for a couple days for a big update– the main effect of which seems to be to make all my existing entries look really ugly.  Hopefully, new entries won't be so ugly.  I guess I'll see in a few minutes.  So, keeping with the yuck theme, one entry I meant to write earlier this week was about this fascinating article about no-flow urinals.  I must say, I feel quite eco-friendly whenever I use of these and no flushing is required, but it turns out they are not all they are cracked up to be.  From the N&O:

Men since Adam have survived without urinals that flush. By the early
1990s, concerns over water shortages and environmental impact spawned a
garage industry for urinals that don't use water.

Since then, the
devices, which rely on special oil-filled drain traps, have become the
rage in eco-conscious communities nationwide, especially in
water-worried California and the arid Southwest. They're now
fastest-growing segment of the U.S. urinal market, accounting for
250,000 of its 12 million units, thanks largely to powerful advocates…

Still, an inconvenient truth hovers over the no-flush urinal industry.
It's that many buyers and one-time fans say that the urinals are icky,
tricky and costly to maintain…

The feature in question is the no-flush urinal's trap. It's the size
of a coffee mug and locks into the urinal drain. Urine flows under the
trap's layer of scented blue oil much as vinegar flows through salad
oil. At the same time, the oil blocks release of sewer gases in the
drain line.

"They're not a problem if they're maintained
properly," said Falcon vice president Daniel Gleiberman, whose products
are also sold under the Sloan Valve Co. name. Customers with
well-trained, well-managed and low-turnover maintenance staffs tend to
agree with Gleiberman.

Alas, apparently things are so pretty when they are not properly maintained.  If something goes wrong with the seal, it's not pretty.  Just keep flushing.


No communion for Obama supporters

This really annoys me

COLUMBIA, S.C. – A South Carolina Roman Catholic priest has told his
parishioners that they should refrain from receiving Holy Communion if
they voted for Barack Obama because the Democratic president-elect
supports abortion, and supporting him “constitutes material cooperation
with intrinsic evil.”

This priest has quite a way with words, too:

“Voting for a pro-abortion politician when a plausible pro-life
alternative exits constitutes material cooperation with intrinsic evil,
and those Catholics who do so place themselves outside of the full
communion of Christ's Church and under the judgment of divine law.
Persons in this condition should not receive Holy Communion until and
unless they are reconciled to God in the Sacrament of Penance, lest
they eat and drink their own condemnation.
”  (emphasis mine).

I fully understand and sympathize with the Catholic Church's position on abortion.  What I hate is when Catholic leaders (e.g., my bishop here in Raleigh), put abortion so far above all other issues.  I fully believe that a fetus is a human life,  and surely the Catholic church has a legitimate interest and a political role to play in advocating to protect that life.  But I think the position of this priest and much Catholic leadership places the interests of these unborn humans above the millions of Americans already living post-birth lives.  One of the reasons I am proud to be a Catholic is the tremendous commitment to social justice of the Catholic Church.  Things like just wage, concern for the poor, environmental stewardship, etc., materially and profoundly affect the lives of millions of already living people.  Heck, most of the principles of Catholic Social Teaching (abortion aside, obviously) could hardly be distinguished from the Democratic party platform.  I just do not buy the logic of putting aside all these other principles which just as clearly affect human lives in favor of a single principle.  (And not even a whole principle at that– capital punishment does not exactly support “the life and dignity of the human person”).  Not to mention the fact that the policies of the Democratic party are probably much more likely to ameliorate the social circumstances most likely to lead to abortions. 

All that aside, I think this article is also an interesting reflection on the fact that the media just loves communion denial stories.  Back in 2004, we had the “wafer watch” with John Kerry.  There are thousands of priests across America.  The pronouncements of a single priest, speaking without authority from his Bishop, simply to not amount to news.  When this priest's Bishop makes this argument, okay, it is real news.  Until then, the AP should save stories like this for the Greenville News

Speeding tickets and lawyers

Fortunately, it has been about 10 years or so since I last got a speeding ticket.  I'm pretty sure, that like Tuesday's ticket (63 in a 45), that one was also for 18 over (53 in a 35, that so should have been a 45).  In Ohio, they just let me pay my $100 or so and be done with it.  Here in NC, at 18 over, I apparently have no choice but to go to court.  Or so I thought.  Just 3 days after I got the ticket, I have now received at least a dozen solicitations from lawyers telling me they'll take care of it all for me for just $200 or so.  Seems like a pretty good little system they've got.  In NC, we have this oddly-named every-three-year forgiveness policy termed “Prayer for Justice Continued.”  Apparently, you ask for this, almost always get it, and you are out $120 in court costs but no points on your record.  For $200, the lawyers will “pay all your costs.”  So, my guess is for a less than 5 minute conversation with the traffic ADA, they earn $80 or so.  Not a bad deal.  I am pretty impressed by the efficiency of all the traffic attorneys
sending me letters with the details of my case so quickly.  I'm planning on being brave and asking for the PJC myself and saving the $80.  I'll report back on the matter December 18.

Emerging Democratic Majority?

I think one of the most interesting aspects coming out of the exit polls in last week's election is that they have so thoroughly validated the theory laid out in John Judis and Ruy Texeira's 2002 book, The Emerging Democratic MajorityBasically, they argue that the demographic portions of the electorate that are growing the most are the same ones that are increasingly becoming Democratic.  Republicans, in contrast, fare best among the ever shrinking portion of America that is white people in non-professional occupations.  One of my favorite aspects of the book is that they actually feature the Raleigh-Durham area as an “ideopolis” which typifies the changes in the electorate.  Here's Judis in a TNR piece after the election:

The new Democratic realignment reflects the
shift that began decades ago toward a post-industrial economy centered
in large urban-suburban metropolitan areas devoted primarily to the
production of ideas and services rather than material goods. (In The Emerging Democratic Majority,
Ruy Teixeira and I called these places “ideopolises.”) Clustered in the
regions that have undergone this economic transition are the three main
groups that constitute the backbone of the new Democratic majority:
professionals (college-educated workers who produce ideas and
services); minorities (African Americans, Latinos, and Asian
Americans); and women (particularly working, single, and
college-educated women).

As late as the
1950s, professionals were the most Republican of all occupational
groupings, but they were also relatively small in number–about 7
percent of the labor force. Today, professionals (who are the brains,
so to speak, of the new post-industrial economy) make up 20 percent of
the labor force and are a quarter or more of the electorate in many
northern and western states. They range from nurses to teachers to TV
producers to software programmers to engineers. They began voting
Democratic in 1988 and have continued to do so ever since.

census data, Teixeira and I calculated that, between 1988 and 2000,
professionals voted for the Democratic presidential candidate by an
average of 52 to 40 percent. I don't know exactly what percentage of
professionals voted for Obama this week because exit polls don't
include professionals as a category. Still, as an approximation, I can
use a somewhat smaller (and maybe even slightly more conservative)
group: people with advanced degrees. Obama won these voters by a
whopping 58 to 40 percent. He even won college graduates as a whole, 50
to 48 percent. (It may be the first time that a Democrat has ever
accomplished this. In 1996, for instance, Clinton, even while beating
Bob Dole handily, failed to carry college graduates.) Moreover, if you
look at states Obama carried and compare them to the states that have
the highest percentage of people with an advanced degree, you find that
he won the top 19 states–all of them, which together account for 234
electoral votes. He also won 21 of the top 24, accounting for 282
electoral votes. McCain, by contrast, won the six states that have the
lowest percentage of people with advanced degrees.

As for minorities: Most–with the exception of
Cubans, Chinese-Americans, and Vietnamese-Americans–have voted
Democratic since the 1930s. But, with the shift of the economy and the
liberalization of immigration laws, the number of Latinos and Asian
Americans has expanded. Some of the new immigrants are professionals,
but others form the working class of the post-industrial economy. They
are orderlies, child-care workers, janitors, fast-food cooks, and
servers. As late as 1972, minorities accounted for just 10 percent of
the electorate. In this election, they made up 26 percent. Blacks, of
course, went overwhelmingly for Obama, but he also won Hispanics by 66
to 31 percent and Asians–who as a group used to split their vote
between Democrats and Republicans–by 62 to 35 percent.

too, were once disproportionately Republican–in 1960, Richard Nixon
won the women's vote. But their voting patterns began to change as they
entered the labor force. In 1950, only one-third of women worked;
today, 60 percent of women work, making up 46 percent of the total
labor force. Over 70 percent of working women have white-collar jobs,
and 24 percent work as professionals–compared to 17 percent of men. In
1980, women began disproportionately backing Democrats, and the trend
has continued. This year, Obama enjoyed a 13-point edge among women
voters and only a one-point edge among men. He carried working women by
21 points. If you add these numbers to the Democrats' advantage among
professionals and minorities, that is a good basis for winning

Obviously, one does not want to extrapolate too much from a single election, but the demographic trends are clearly moving in the Democrats' direction.  So long as demographic groups continue to align with the parties in roughly the ways they do now, Democrats only stand to gain.

Actually, was just about to post this and came across this article by Salon's Gary Kamiya which is even better.  I should be quoting from it, but I don't feel like re-doing the post. 

Annals of crazy customers

I think I'll go for two posts in a row inspired by my wife.  Kim always enjoys telling me tales of crazy customers to vent and get things off her chest.  I think today's story might be the best.  She got a phone message from a customer who was upset because the “Pirate tee” she ordered had a picture of a pirate ship on the front.  Apparently, her family does not dress their children in pirate-themed clothing.  Oddly enough, this did not stop her from ordering a clothing item clearly labeled “Pirate tee.”  And for the record, despite the name, the pirate ship could easily be mistaken for any large sailing vessel.  Her loss– Alex wears one of these all the time and it is a great shirt.

Waiting lists for Downs adoptions

Kim sent me a really interesting Washington Post article about the fact that there is actually a waiting list for people wanting to adopt babies with Downs Syndrome (this may be the first time Kim has sent me a Post article, rather than vice versa).  This is especially noteworthy as most pre-natal diagnoses of Downs end in abortion (though, it should be noted that many people choose not to have this in utero genetic test):

For many parents, a diagnosis of Down syndrome can be overwhelming as
they face the likelihood that the child will struggle to live
independently and will require intensive medical, financial and social
support. Most prenatal diagnoses of Down syndrome lead to abortion.

Yet almost 200 families are on a waiting list to adopt a child with Down
syndrome in the United States. Others are seeking to adopt such
children overseas. Many of those interested in adoption, such as the
Curtises, have a child with the genetic condition; some are
special-education teachers or motivated by religious beliefs or

This month, President Bush
signed into law a bill meant to help families who confront questions
about Down syndrome or other disabilities. It promotes initiatives to
give new or expectant parents up-to-date information about the
conditions, as well as referrals to support services. It also
authorizes the government to help create a national registry to connect
birth parents with people who want to adopt a child with Down syndrome.

In 2005, Brian Skotko, a resident physician at Children's Hospital Boston,
surveyed more than 1,000 mothers of children with Down syndrome. He
found that information mothers got from doctors was often “incomplete,
inaccurate or offensive,” he said. “Rarely was the option of adoption
mentioned” to those diagnosed prenatally, he said.

 The article actually leads off with a story about a family who adopted additional Downs kids because they did not want their Downs child to get lonely:

Jonny and Madeleine, the eighth and ninth children in the Curtis
family, were born 54 weeks apart but grew up in many ways like twins.
Best friends from the beginning, they learned to walk and sound out
words together. But Madeleine's development soon outpaced her older

Looking ahead, Barbara and Tripp Curtis worried that Jonny, who has
Down syndrome, would be alone as his siblings grew up and left home.
And so they adopted Jesse, Daniel and, finally, Justin. All three have
Down syndrome.

Now the four brothers, ages 8 to 16, share a bedroom decorated with posters of SpongeBob SquarePants and a framed picture of Jesus in their sprawling Loudoun County house. They also share a love of the Beatles, the Everly Brothers and Special Olympics basketball.

I know that aspect of the article grabbed attention, as in our own family Evan's development has outpaced Alex's.  Safe to say that three kids of any variety is more than enough for the Greene family. 

Exit polls

Kevin Drum makes a great point about interpreting this years exit polls relative to 2004:

First things first. In 2004, Kerry lost to Bush nationwide by 2.4
percentage points. In 2008, Obama beat McCain by 6.3 percentage points.
That's a swing of about 9 points nationwide, which means that any group
that also swung by 9 points in Obama's favor was doing nothing except
following the national trend.

The interesting question, then, is which groups significantly over-performed or under-performed this 9 point trend.  Drum provides the answers:

  • Income $200,000 or more (+34)

  • First-time voters (+33)

  • No high school (+27)

  • Latinos (+27)

  • 18-29 year olds (+25)

  • Under $15,000 (+21)

  • Full-time workers (+19)

  • Urban (+19)

  • Non-gun owners (+18)

  • Non-religious (+16)

  • Parents with children under 18 (+16)

As for the underperforming groups:

  • Gay/lesbian (-11)

  • Last minute voters (-8)

  • Union members (0)

  • “Other” religions (0)

  • Gun owners (+2)

  • White women (+4)

  • 45-59 year olds (+4)

Among the most notable… Obama really did kick butt with young people.  They only went up a percent as a portion of the electorate, but they overwhelmingly supported him.  Given Republican rhetoric in recent years, it is also not surprising that Latinos went hugely for Obama.  And check out the swing among $200K earners.  Nice to see they realize things are more important than their marginal tax rate going up 3%.  I read a comment somewhere today referring to wealthier white-collar workers voting against their economic interests, but I think that is a really narrow way of looking at things.  Maybe in the short-term their marginal tax rates go up, but long-term, everybody does better with a healthy and robust middle class and less extreme income disparities– i.e., a Democratic economic program.  Given that I'm trying to finish up a book on parenthood and politics, I'm very intrigued to see the huge bump in parents for Obama and looking forward to figuring out what is going on there.

The pinnacle of punditry

Well, I've been working my way up, and I have finally reached the apex of political punditry–The New York Times.  I spent an hour on the phone yesterday with the reporter talking about exit polls and such.  So, needless to say I would have been pretty disappointed had I not made it in the article.  The whole article is short and pretty good.  Here's my part:

Steven Greene, a political scientist at North Carolina State University,
said people had invested so much hope in Mr. Obama that there would
inevitably be disappointment. But Mr. Greene predicted that Mr. Obama’s
support among young people augured well for the Democrats’ future.

Actually, my great hope was that my name would get mentioned twice, so I would have that oh-so- New York Times, “Mr. Greene…”  Mission accomplished.

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