Friday, February 29, 2008

We're Number One

America is the world’s leader in incarceration. We don’t like immigrants, we lock up 1 of every 15 adult African Americans; 1 in 36 adult Hispanics. Crime has been flat to falling for the last decade or more. Yet, our prisons are bulging. Are we any safer? If we had locked up even more, would that have stopped the deranged student from shooting up NIU or Virginia Tech?

We waste so many people in the US.

The madness of Indiana politics (property taxes)

I live in Indiana, which certainly has some goofy politics and culture. In a low tax state, one in which when I moved to in 1987, my property tax bill was $186 per year. We were reassessed and our bill was reduced to just $83 per year. I wondered if the police or fire dept would even come if we called given that miniscule tax bill.

Of course, the reason for this ridiculously low tax bill was because the local assessors were not assessing property correctly. In short, businesses were getting soaked while homeowners were not paying their share.

Along comes the Indiana Supreme Court responding to a lawsuit by one or more businesses and the state was given 10 years to fix the problem. All property needed to be assessed on its market value.

After 8 years, the reassessment came and boom, folks taxes went UP. No sense among Hoosiers that they had been paying way too little tax, instead, the call went up for property tax caps. And to eliminate property taxes altogether. The latter seemed ridiculous in relflexive conservative Indiana.

Yet, the Democrats who contol the Indiana house, just threw out property tax caps indeed, they threw out property tax altogether and substituted a property tax based on ability to pay. Isn’t that called an income tax?

Not sure how that is going to work with business.

And why isn’t this seen as an increase in income tax?

Imagine the possibilities. I should put my mothers name on my house, her income is so low, I’d probably be paying just a few dollars instead of he $2600 a year based on the value of my home.

Why, why, why do we not want to tax property, just work?

So, there will be extremely rich folks who live off muni bonds nad capital gains who will have a rather low income, pay a couple of $100 on their multi-million dollar home.

Islam and Change

I heard a report that polls indicate the key middle eastern politicians don’t want to see the US leave Iraq. These were the same folks who also didn’t want us to invade Iraq in the first place. They argue that Iraq would fall aprt.

So I’ve been thinking about this. Not in some strategic way, but thinking about Islamic culture. Without too much buildup, here is my thinking: Muslims are more fatalistic than Christians. Consider he common Arab phrase, ensha Allah (God willing). Not that there are many Christians who believe the same thing, but fatalism is not what I would call mainstream American culture. Perhaps it is mainstream in Arab culture.

Christianity is about change, is Islam? I am not sure. Sure, Christianity has its conservative aspects, but there is an emphasis on major personal change. I don’t know enough about Islam, but it seems to me, that Christianity has blended well with change while Islam has not.

Sunday, February 24, 2008


Linda Chavez had an interesting article on patriotism. Of course it is partisan, slamming liberals, would you expect anything differently? Anyway, it is an interesting read Without reproducing the entire article, here is the gist of it:

Patriotism is a lot like the unconditional love of a parent for a child. A parent doesn't demand a child be perfect in order to love him. Nor does that love mean that a parent does not recognize a child's faults.
Conservatives seem to understand this almost intuitively, but liberals seem to struggle with it. Liberals' patriotism often seems grudging — as if they believe it's the country's duty to win their love rather than their duty to love their country.

I have always distinguished between patriotism and natonalism. Chavez, to me is writing about nationalism...American love it or leave it. Patriotism is about the defense of an idea. But, I think now, I am incorrect on this.

Two weeks ago I was at an international conference on living with climate change. I was impressed that this conference was really academic even though so many of the papers could have lent themselves to highly political posturing.

But, the keynote address by Bob Watson, who was part of the intergovernmental panel on climate change which won the Nobel Prize last year, wasn't quite so academic.

Now, there were 275 scholars there, but very few Americans, and I only saw two Americans who were from the US, intead of living the expatriot life in Europe.

Prof Watson really harangued the US. He made vicious fun of Pres Bush and criticized the US for its stance on climate change. I agree with his criticisms. The US is the most energy gobbling and greenhouse gassing nation. There is little chance to reduce greenhouse gases if America doesn't do same. I guess if I were a patriot of the kind Chavez lionizes, I would have protested this treatment. Prof Watson's harangues were such that the others at my table began glancing at me to see my reactions. That was weird, I must say.

A "real" patriot never criticises their country I guess. A duty for me to love my country?

So, Chavez' patriots just love whatever country they live in?

Chavez' patriots would have hated Jefferson and his merry band of revolutionaries by that standard. Shouldn't they have loved their colony?

What is the relationship between Chavez' kind of patriotism and ethnocentrism? I am not ethnocentric. If I were, I think I would have an intuitive understanding of Chavez' version of patriotism.

I hate slavery, does that make me not a patriot? It was, and continues to be an imporant legacy of our country. I am proud that we eventually ridded ourselves of it and ashamed that we as a naiton refuse to really confront that legacy. To use Chavez' analogy, I can be disappointed in my kid, but still love her. Maybe that is a level of complexity conservatives aren't capable of dealing with. They prefer black and white and "liberals" can deal with shades of gray.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Is gender and race no longer an issue in Presidential Politics?

As a sociologist I thought the first woman or African American to be President would have been a republican. Think Margaret Thatcher.

Fact is, research on women and African Americans who have made it to the top power positions in the military, economy, and the executive branch of government make tremendous sacrifices that white men don't.

So Condoleeza Rice is the perfect example. She has no family, she is not married.

Hillary Clinton, however, has not sacrificed. She has made it in a largely male world, law, but not by sacrificing. She is the feminist dream in so many ways.

Obama, however, is winning the race for the democratic nomination. He, however, fits more the profile of the minority member (race or gender minority) who makes it to the top of the powerful. Although he is not a republican, he is impecaably educated at the pinnacle of white powerful connections, Harvard. He has also shed all trappings of what frighten whites about blacks.

Black women also indicate that they experience more discrimination as women than as African American. Tell that to the too many African American men in prison, but that is another story.

So, bottom line is this: Clinton challenges the prevailing gender beliefs more than Obama does about race beliefs. Hence, Obama is the more acceptable (and less threatenening). The early arms length that other Black leaders and Black voters held him, probably helped him tremendously among white voters. I'm referring here to the whole "he isn't black enough" junk that came out about him early in the campaign. You don't hear much about that any more.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Poverty isn't just a social disease, it is also "brain poison"

Here is a link to Paul Krugman's missive on poverty and brain development.

In it, he cites a paper delivered at last weeks American Association for the Advancement of Science, by a psychologist/nueroscientist that provides evidence that the conditions of poverty "poisons the brain" of developing children.

I tried to find the original source or more coverage of it, but couldn't find much.

the authors suggested reading to kids as an antidote to the stress that poverty causes, which in turn, hurts developing brains.

If I understand this, stress is the proximal cause, with distal causes being poverty.

Nevertheless, it better explains the persistence of poverty in America than apologetic evolutionary theories.

Almost 1 in 5 US children live in poverty. Makes a shambles of such approaches to education as NCLB, doesn't it?

When are we going to realize that our own poverty puts us at a competitive disadvantage around the world?

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Cosmopolitan London Quickly Sheds Stereotypes

published February 17, 2008 in the Terre Haute Tribune Star

I spent the first week of February in London. This was my first time traveling outside North America. I was there on academic business, a conference and meetings with new colleagues at King’s College.

I did very little “typical” tourist things, although Monday was my lightest day, made more so by an ill colleague who cancelled our meeting. Like a cancelled class, I made the most of it. Within sight of the campus is the London Eye. Think of a huge, slow moving Ferris Wheel, owned by British Airways. I purchased a ticket and got in line for my 36 minute “flight.” Before boarding the “capsule,” passengers go through a security check point. My bag was searched, I was patted down, wanded, and just before we entered the capsule, a 2-person security team swept the capsule with electronic devices. These were greater security precautions than on my overseas flight!

I expected Londoners to be pasty and tweedy. They are pasty but not tweedy. I was a bit disappointed with the lack of tweed because I wore my tweed jacket in order to “blend.” According to my new British colleagues, I looked “very American” in my tweed blazer. I also felt very large. I rode the Tube (the subway) to downtown London every morning. I saw very few people as large as me, both height and girth. I noticed there were very few “fat” people in London. Could it be that when you go through “passport control,” if you can’t fit through the rather narrow turn styles, that the British authorities just don’t let you in the country?

A “row” occurred in London while I was there. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, said he could see a future where Sharia (Muslim religious law) is recognized in Britain. That caused quite an outcry. It dominated the headlines for two days in the tawdry British tabloids. London is multicultural. The two college campuses I visited both had Muslim prayer rooms as did Heathrow Airport. I found restaurants offering cuisine from all over the world in a three block area, including fish and chips and scones. My “full English breakfast” was prepared and served by two Filipinos. My fish and chips and two British brews were chosen and served by an east European. My hotel’s front desk was staffed by a Lithuanian, a Swede, a Bangladeshi, and a Romanian. A Russian straightened my room every day.

There is assimilation. There is pluralism. There is separation and segregation. I suspect it has always been this way in London and in all other cosmopolitan cities of the world. Cosmopolitan or a “world” city is multicultural. French Huguenots built a church in London. They later joined the Church of England, only later to become Methodist, then the church became a Jewish synagogue and is now a Muslim mosque. The original building remains but its inhabitants changed. Isn’t that evidence of adaptation and integration?

I am encouraged when I watch a young Hindu man tutor a Muslim family trying to figure out the rail transportation system. I know exactly how the Muslim family feels because a Londoner did the same for me on my first day at Paddington Station.

Londoners are very polite; even the transplanted ones. Despite “suspended” trains, “diabolical” delays, and very intimate stranger contact on packed “tubes,” I never saw any bad behavior. Even when things screwed up, Londoners responded in a calm and civil manner. This is made even more amazing given how diverse London is; it is one of the most diverse in the world.

Even the dogs are polite! I crossed Hyde Park to get to my conference at the Royal Geographical Society. The British love their dogs. Lots and lots of dogs and only about half are leashed. This worried me because I thought surely the ruffian dogs would jump up on me and get me muddy. But the dogs were very much like the people: civil, polite with a quick nod and smile and on their way.

This baffled me. Did the British train their dogs that well? Was I succumbing to the stereotype of the proper British Higgins character on Magnum, PI?

On my last day I figured it out. While walking around the Long Water in Hyde Park I happened upon a most British sign. It read: “Do not allow your dogs to chase, worry, or injure the wildlife.”

Tourists are just part of the wildlife in London Town.
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