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Perspectives on American Politics
by William Lasser
402 pages (trade paperback)
Genre: Nonfiction/History/Politics

I found this (text)book randomly on my desk one day, presumably left over from Modern American History. Since politics is more interesting to me than history, I started reading it on a whim. I skimmed through several essays; here I'm going to discuss the three that I found most intriguing.

First, Peter H. Schuck's "Affirmative Action--Don't Mend It or End It--Bend It" presents a sensible and moderate suggestion for reforming affirmative action: ban it in the public sector but allow it in the private sector as long as the preferences are publicized and transparent. His main issue with affirmative action as it stands is also mine--that the principle requires deviating from that of nondiscrimination (defined as not "treating people differently because of their race, ethnicity, or other protected characteristics" (122-3)). Schuck cites Hubert Humphrey, Ted Kennedy, and MLK as civil rights leaders who rejected preferences as the best path to racial equality. There are also some interesting statistics on blacks' social gains, of which I'm not sure how much to believe since it involves complicated economic controlling factors and separating variables; however, his point sounsd true. "My point, emphatically, is not that blacks have achieved social equality--far from it--but that the situation facing them today is altogether different than ti was when affirmative action was adopted" (123). And he goes on to assert that this correlation is not causal.

Former Ivy League presidents William Bowen and Derek Bok conducted a study on admissions outcomes, race, and SAT score (however flawed that measure of merit may be) at highly selective colleges. The conclusion I found most notable: "with a score of 1500 or above, more than a third of whites were rejected while every single black gained admission" (124). The narrowing of the race gap in higher education, moreover, does not prove affirmative action's effectiveness because one can never know what would have happened if the blacks who displaced higher-scoring applicants at elite schools had gone to less prestigious universities; would they have done as well? Affirmative action does not end at the undergraduate level; in law school admissions, a highly numbers-based process, Schuck claims that in the early 1990s "only a few dozen of the 420 blacks admitted to the 18 most selective law schools would have been admitted absent affirmative action" (124). Furthermore, those black students statistically have a lower first-time and overall pass rate for the bar exam than white students. Preferences also overwhelmingly benefit immigrants (of black or Latino descent), the upper middle class, and multiracial students who self-identify as white.

Thus the solution: hold public institutional to the standard of nondiscrimination, while regulating private institutions' use of preferences on conditions of transparency and protected classes (that is, a private policy favoring whites would be illegal because "Caucasian" is not a protected class). Schuck argues that a public law affirming racial preferences is pernicious and societally damaging in a way that voluntary private provisions are not. Affirmative action fails to treat the underlying problem, but that does not mean that it should exist until the root cause is treated; the time for reform is now.

In "Breaking the Two-party Monopoly," Douglas J. Amy details the problems inherent in a dominant two-party political system. Plurality rules often result, even in multi-party systems, in minority parties being underrepresented with regard to seats vs. votes. Amy argues that the solution is proportional representation, "an antitrust law for the party system" (249), which would allow but not require a fair multiparty political framework. He supports this by examining U.S. cities that have adopted PR; for instance, Cincinnati still has essentially two parties but New York City's 1947 council consisted of 12 Democrats, 5 Republicans, 2 Liberals, 2 Communists, and 2 American Laborites. Sounds like an interesting and effective method that would force politicians to actually utilize cross-party coalitions. Amy admits that PR would be unfeasible in presidential elections due to plurality, but this does not necessarily preclude the existence of a multiparty parliamentary legislature.

Finally, Mark C. Miller argues in "Judicial Activism in Canada and the United States" that activist roles are common only to U.S. judges; Canadian judges more often pride themselves on judicial independence and nonpartisanship. I found the piece illuminating as well as illustrative of my shameful depth of knowledge regarding Canadian history or government.
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* Via Dave Wolverton's email list, how to sketch a novel in an hour (a free writing exercise). I'm going to try this tonight, hopefully--the Snowflake Method is a bit too overwhelming when I've only got a tiny inkling of what's going on.

* [ profile] yhlee and [ profile] rachelmanija have launched [ profile] springfluff, "a no-stress, no-deadline fandom gift exchange"!

* Why skilled immigrants are leaving the United States--the same reason why my father, who has a Ph.D. and is a Canadian citizen (so not even from the high-immigrant countries of China and India), waited five years to receive permanent residency.

* Jo Walton ([ profile] papersky) on real world reading for fantasy writers. An old link, but obviously still relevant.

* The Bush Administration's memos regarding the War on Terror.

* For Asian faces, M. Night Shyamalan goes to Virginia--not the most informed news article ever, but it does give [ profile] aang_aint_white much-needed press coverage.

* Via [ profile] yhlee, Cake Wrecks on the problem with phone orders. Laugh-out-loud funny.

* Did you know there's a Discworld MUD? I haven't tried it yet, but it tempts me...
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* An old TIME article called Between Two Worlds, on feeling like the hyphen in Asian-American.

* Greta Christina's obligatory Sarah Palin column, or, Why I Don't Care About A Pregnant 17 Year Old.

* Greta Christina again (her blogging is quite link-worthy!) in defense of atheist blogging.

* If you don't like gay marriage, don't have one. Really.

* On "militant" atheists, a term that I like to think I've redefined a la Gloria Naylor and Christine Leong with nigger and chink respectively.

* EXPOSED: Gravity is absurd, and here's why.

* From [ profile] shadowhelm, a 12/15 step guide to gaining good writing habits. I really need to follow this advice.

Also, sorry for the abundance of controversial/trigger-issue links recently.
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* Literary agent Jenny Rappaport on counting spoons, or living with a chronic illness.

* TIME magazine has an article on how McCain makes Obama conservative, in the small-c sense.

* Via Mir at Want Not, Lean Cuisine is selling limited-edition lunch bags with half of each purchase going to the Susan G. Komen Foundation. They are mainly pink, of course, but very pretty and for a good cause!

* Try Ruby (programming experience recommended)! Ruby is the prettiest programming language I've ever seen. This should be of interest to linguists, too, but a little coding background helps if you insist on understanding the entire tutorial, like me.

* Via Strange Horizons, a poem by C.S. MacCath entitled, "Upon the death of my host and waiting for uplink: by Event Horizon, formerly of the Oracle Duality Liselle Marie Michaud / Event Horizon." In a shape-poetry form that I can't remember the name of.

* Via yhlee, [ profile] jenwrites on artistic works being too long for your skill level. Does that mean I shouldn't bother trying to write a novel (and failing, repeatedly)?

* Also via [ profile] yhlee, a fascinating article on tone deafness and/or bad singing. I've never considered myself tone-deaf, but I have both a terrible ear for flat/sharp (although I do hear discordances if the correct form is engrained in my memory from repetition) and the inability to carry a tune. I can match pitches if you give me a few seconds, but I can't reproduce them. And nothing (in terms of music) gets stuck in my head. Not always a good thing, when you're a musician.
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* Comcast will cap broadband data transfers for residential customers at 250 GB per month, after the mini-scandal over it secretly blocking BitTorrent / P2P traffic.

* On the middle-class salary, which is not $250k a year, with a dash of politics thrown in for good measure.

* Obama picked Biden, and McCain has picked Sarah Palin. A smart move on his part, as much as I hate to admit it; he has a good chance of luring the Hillary-lovers who still dislike Obama, especially considering McCain's age and health history. Personally, I'm not swayed because pro-life and conservative outweighs gender.

* Via [ profile] ellen_kushner, two touching firsthand articles about gay marriage: We'll Marry Each Other as Often as Needed, and A Marriage Form Will Just Be Icing on Our Cake.
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* Via StumbleUpon, examples and explanations of 20 Amazing Optical Illusions.

* [ profile] coalescent points out a modern version of an old-fashioned game: 3D Pong. I still need to find my old-school Bubble Pong, though.

* Via Mir at Want Not, a back-to-school sale at Threadless. Many tees are $12 apiece, including two of my favorites: Splatter in D Minor and Birds of a Feather. Too bad I already have way too many T-shirts, including a music one (from Delia's, a birthday gift, and awesome-looking).

* Via various blog carnivals pointed at by Greta Christina:
- Religious atheism / Quaker nontheism. The latter basically describes one of my friends (who went to a Quaker school for nine years), and maybe me one day as well. Who knows. If I ever get tired of the atheism racket, I'd be either a nontheist Quaker or a nontheist Buddhist.
- Three Reasons Why Republicans Are Wrong. I especially like #2: America is not a Christian nation. Yes, please. I'd like to hear a compelling, non-faith-based argument against gay marriage. If you're morally against it, where does that particular moral stem from?
- Four Key Battleground States for the upcoming November election. I totally support the popular vote initiative because the electoral system renders certain individual votes useless if you happen to be in the overwhelming majority (or minority) in your state. And because no one ever campaigning in Delaware makes me sad. (Though this might change, now that Biden is running for VP. We'll see.)
keilexandra: Adorable panda with various Chinese overlays. (Default)
Via [ profile] coalescent: The only debate on Intelligent Design that is worthy of its subject. [statement of faith] Also, the wife John McCain callously left behind. Look, Ma, religion and politics in one neat paragraph!

Daniel Abraham ([ profile] bram452)'s excellent story "The Cambist and Lord Iron: A Fairy Tale of Economics" is now up online, albeit in a weird print-scan flash format. It's worth the hassle though, especially if you like the style of Theodora Goss or Ellen Kushner.

Definr is a super-fast online dictionary lookup; it works in the form, too, if you want to set up a keyword bookmark or just like working from the address bar.


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January 2011



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