Category Archives: Social Sciences

Deciding Who to Vote For

Tomorrow is primary day in Virginia. Since we have open primaries here, you don’t have to be a registered Republican or Democrat in order to vote in the primary; the only rule is that you can only have one ballot on a given day, so if both parties have their primaries on the same day (like tomorrow), you have to pick which ballot you want. If they were held on separate days, you could vote in both.

I only decided that I’d vote in this primary a few days ago. The main reason for my ambivalence was that I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to vote Democrat or Republican. I mean, I know which candidate I want for Governor, but I expect him to get the nomination, so it felt silly to actually bother voting in the primary. It was receiving a fabulous pamphlet in the mail (addressed to my husband, actually) that made me really care about the state delegate race. The reason I normally don’t care about the state delegates because the candidates usually don’t care; plus, I’m from Norfolk where the districts are usually not very competitive.

Since I was drawn towards voting for a specific candidate, deciding which ballot to choose tomorrow morning was easy: Democratic.

So, what follows is me examining the candidates to show why I will vote the way I’ll vote. And since I’m a glutton for punishment, I suspect I’ll be doing a similar review for the Republicans, though there will be a lot more partisanship for that one!

Governor:

The Democratic candidates for the Governorship are Ralph Northam and Tom Periello.

I’m 100% for Ralph. I’ve liked him ever since he ran for state senate. He doesn’t run negative ads and this is important to me. Yes, Political Action Committees (which I feel should be illegal) do send out negative ads to support him, but honestly, the one I have next to me right now from “Virginians for a Better Future” that says that Perriello “supported the controversial amendment to the Affordable Care Act that would have barred health insurance plans that cover abortion from receiving federal assistance”, which is true (Perriello doesn’t deny it), even if it is old. In the grand scheme of things, this isn’t that negative! If we divide a (roughly) 8.5×11 double sided ad into 4ths, 3/4ths of the ad is on topic while the negative is the last 4th. This is very different from most ads of the same size which are so entirely about the “bad” candidate that you don’t even know who you are supposed to vote for!

When I’m evaluating a candidate for voting, the only things that matter to me are good investigative journalism and their website. Negative ads will make me dislike a candidate, but sometimes they’re alright (I couldn’t get mad at Hillary’s negative ads about Trump because it was all shit he’d actually said).

A candidate’s website should have a minimum of two things: a good biography and a thorough issues page. I count too much reliance on news articles and videos as a negative.

I prefer that the issues be broken down into bullet points rather than long paragraphs. This is because in the real world of governance there will be compromise and I’ve found that it is more effective to start with simple ideas and hash out the gray areas during the debates. Too much detail implies that there won’t be enough room for compromise.

Really, Perriello and Northam end up looking very similar on their websites. It comes down to my own previous feelings on it and an issue I have with Perriello implying that he has an endorsement from Obama this election when he’s really using endorsements from his previous (successful) Congressional campaign. I don’t like subterfuge like this. For me, endorsements expire after the election is over and must be actively renewed to be valid. This is because the candidates are different for each specific election and if we were to assume that endorsements are always “the best of the options available” then changing the collection of candidates will change the dynamics of the options. If a candidate is the best of everyone conceivably possible then they will get an important endorsement every time it’s requested! Yes, it is important that Obama didn’t endorse Perriello during this cycle! I will not speculate as to the whys and it wouldn’t matter if we’re talking about the former president or the local newspaper: a lack of endorsement is a lack of endorsement.

Lt. Governor

This is the race that I’m really undecided for. I’m currently tempted to vote Republican for the November General Election, though it will depend on the actual candidates involved then.

Justin Fairfax, Susan Platt, and Gene Rossi are the candidates for this position.

First thing to note: McAfee is throwing up a warning about Susan Platt’s website. This is a wee bit concerning, but without knowing exactly what McAfee considers “risky behavior”, I can’t make a judgment one way or the other.

Let’s start with Rossi’s website because I’ve already looked at it earlier today and wasn’t impressed. His “priorities” page involves only 4 topics. Sorry, but he needs to have opinions on and plans for a lot more stuff and not just additions hidden within these 4 overarching topics. The other issue with Rossi is that this is a Virginia election. I was reading through his biography and realized that most of what he was saying involved Connecticut, where he was raised. Sure, he moved to Virginia in 1989, but the only thing it appears he’s done in Virginia is graduate 3 kids from a public school, work as a federal prosecutor, with a minor sentence about being on the board of a program that helps women after incarceration. Honestly, I think he should be running for FBI director!

Susan Platt’s website is still giving me fits. Now, it appears to have one of those “pop-ups” that has darkened the background to emphasize itself and is playing some kind of audio (there’s a video auto-playing), BUT I cannot locate the “pop-up” itself in order to close it and bring the main screen back up to full brightness.

User-friendly webdesign is really important to a good campaign! What’s funny is that this website worked fine on my tablet earlier today. Ooh! Esc worked to at least brighten up the page (closing out the hidden annoyance?). Still, she’s getting a frowny face right now from me.

I like that she has lots of work experience both in Washington and in Virginia. I feel that there are some jobs that benefit from a lot of specific experience in a few choice positions and some jobs benefit from a resume that appears to spread yourself too thin. For the higher levels of government, I think it’s important to have your hands in a lot of different pots simply because it indicates that you’ve interacted with a lot more people and are more prepared to work with people who have differing opinions.

Note: it looks like all 3 Democratic candidates for Lt. Governor are relatively new to elected positions in politics.

I love that Platt’s list of issues is extensive while being concise.

Okay, now for Justin Fairfax’s website.

He has way too much reliance on news articles! His “Frequently Asked Questions” is written in 3rd person and I don’t like that. I don’t want to know what other people say about him, I want to know what he says about what he’ll do. The saving grace of his website is that it is possible to find his campaign literature, which includes a concise, bullet pointed list of issues which sound like they could come out of his own mouth instead of being written by a friend about him. The problem is that you have to hunt and peck for this pdf.

I think I’ll vote for Mrs. Platt for Lt. Governor tomorrow.

State House: 64th District:

Rebecca Colaw, John Wandling, and Jerry Cantrell

I’ll start with the easy one: I had to use Google for Rebecca Colaw’s website because for whatever reason VA’s election commission didn’t have a direct link for her. This is a problem! I think that a state’s election commission should always be a person’s first stop for investigating the candidates and in 2017, not submitting a web address in time for it to go on their website is inexcusable.

Her work experience is the Air Force and being a lawyer, which is fine, but remember what I said about spreading yourself thin being an asset here? Yeah, some extra curriculars would go a long way.

As for her platform, it has many topics, is bullet-ed, but generally is too vague. Yes, apparently I’m very picky about this. There is being open to compromise, but there is also not having a solid plan to start with.

Anway, moving on.

John Wandling is a blogger (amongst other things). Hmm…This kind of turns me off. I mean, bloggers are great, but it doesn’t mean that we’re the best choice for government. This is because bloggers have their soapboxes. They have their rant-inducing issues. I know what mine are! But this is not necessarily good for governance! Remember that compromise thing?

His issues page only has 3 topics and ends with him telling us to go to his blog to see his opinions “on many subjects that might interest voters”. Uh, why not give us a concise and extensive list of these subjects and opinions right here on the page that is supposed to do this? I call this laziness in favor of an easier format.

I don’t want to make this final criticism, but I must. He’s an IT consultant, but his website looks like it belongs on Netscape…I guess I’m showing that I’m a millennial because I expect better from people working in the technology industry. Whereas Platt had too much, Wandling needs more.

Okay, I’ll finish with the guy who made me want to vote tomorrow. I didn’t look at his website earlier, so let’s hope that it’s as good as the pamphlet he sent.

Damn. How the heck did I pick the most Christian candidate available?!? Haha. Discalimer: He’s a Mormon, which I understand isn’t Christian according to many denominations of Christianity, though I certainly consider it Christian. He’s noticeably omitted any reference to women’s reproductive rights, which is unfortunate, but not unexpected. But, when you compare these three Democratic candidates, he has the most information on what he will do for healthcare and it is a very liberal platform. Only Colaw says that “women have the right to make their own choices”, but that’s it and it makes me uncomfortable to assume that this statement means she’ll approve broad protections for women when it could just as easily mean passing laws that close Planned Parenthood locations because their hallways are 6 inches too narrow so long as there is one location that exists in the state (Roe only provides that women be allowed to get abortions without unreasonable inconvenience, but doesn’t define what is unreasonable). Just because women have the choice doesn’t mean that the choice is an easily obtained one. This is why it’s important to write what you mean!

This is a relatively conservative part of Hampton Roads, VA, so I’m not surprised by any level of conservativeness on the part of Democrats. I prefer this middle ground.

 

 

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Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell

“Miss Jenkyns wore a cravat, and a little bonnet like a jockey-cap, and altogether had the appearance of a strong-minded woman; although she would have despised the modern idea of women being equal to men.  Equal, indeed! she knew they were superior.”

 I picked this one up to satisfy my continued need for period pieces written in the period as well as it being the novel a TV show I watched was based on. It’s a nice tale, a stream of consciousness view of life in small town England with all it’s quirks. I’m still not sure what to think about the husband who wrote to their son that his wife had sprained her ankle and therefore wasn’t able to hold a pen. Considering her note on the back of the page, I guess the pain in her foot didn’t affect her hand that much. I don’t know whether to laugh at the obsurdity or to suspect that something more sinister was amiss.

I wouldn’t consider this a special piece of literature per se, but it’s definitely a good introduction to social history and viewing historical figures as they viewed themselves.

Flapper in a Feathered Turban
Flapper in a Feathered Turban by hermoines
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Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning

11/1/15: I did not finish this book and right now I have no intention of picking it back up. It’s not a bad book, per se, but it’s not what I enjoy in a history book. I like social history, which to me means lots and lots of personal anecdotes that help describe why things happened the way that they did. I’ve never cared much for political history, which is (again to me) all the wheeling and dealing that goes on behind closed doors within governments that make for the “big” changes like war. Political histories tend to be full of analysis because I’m supposed to walk away with the same conclusions that the author did. This is a political history with, as far as I can tell, not very much social history included. It’s an interesting book, don’t get me wrong, but there are simply too many names to remember and places to keep straight to make it a “fun read” and since I’m no longer in school, I can afford to focus on the fun reads instead of trudging through books that don’t maintain their hold on my interest.

If you like dense political analysis, then you’ll like this book. If you like books that focus on regular people, like I do, you probably won’t make it very far in this book. My conclusion is that you’ll either like it or you won’t. There’s nothing wrong with the research or even the style–it’s just not my cup of tea.

10/10/15: I’ve been slow reading this one. It’s a fascinating book and what I consider to be my first real delve into the history of the Holocaust, but it’s dense. Like, really dense. So much information and detail. I guess I was hoping for something with more first hand accounts and less political discussion. I honestly find treaties to be dull reading, but leading up to WWII, that’s what it was. Still, there is a lot of really fascinating instances here, like how Britain and France handed Hitler Czechoslovakia and how Germany blamed the Kristallnaught on a displaced German (Polish? Russian?) Jew who killed a German minister in France.

Granted, this time was all about political intrigue and shifting border lines and it was complex and we have to really look it instead of making broad blanket statements like “Nazi gun control caused the Holocaust” (–Ben Carson), but what I want to know about the Holocaust is how could non-Jews have let it happen. And that, my friends, has been summed up on page 88: “Of course, it was possible for Germans not to wish to see violence inflicted upon Jews while at the same time not wishing to see Jews at all.” The one common thread between EVERY nation involved in this atrocity (to which I include every country that didn’t open their arms to the Jewish people) is that they didn’t want to have a Jewish population. There was the “Madagascar Plan”, which was the generic name for moving the Jewish people out of what they were currently calling “home” be it in Poland, Russia, or Germany and putting them either on the Island of Madagascar or in Palestine (the two leading destinations though the actual destination didn’t particularly matter). Britain considered going along with this plan (as the owners of Palestine), but decided that it’d be worse to anger the Arabs already living there than the Jews who would be moving there.

This whole mentality of “out of sight, out of my way” disgusts me and as someone who has never been the biggest fan or Israel today, I’m starting to have even less respect for the way they constantly defy current boundaries in their own ambition to have “manifest destiny”. The idea that that is their “homeland” is a crock when in 1938 Jews were being forced out of the HOMES they’d established in Europe–HOMES that they’d hoped to live in for generations! Don’t get me wrong, first and foremost, I believe that EVERYONE has the right to live where ever they damn well please so long as the property is bought legally and doesn’t harm anyone else in the process. That is NOT what’s going on in Palestine where the land in question is under investigation to determine ownership. It’s like a Zombie House (one that the owner has left because they expected a foreclosure, but then the bank decides not to foreclose). It would not be legal to sell the house to a new owner without finalizing the paperwork to establish who the owner really is. Some may argue that the land in Palestine is unoccupied and therefore up for grabs, but when there’s global interest in establishing real boundaries, no one should live in the area until the paperwork is finalized. Otherwise, we should just say “screw it–if one side gets to live there then both sides do” and open the area to ALL migrants (much like the homesteads of the US). Be like, “you’re all one country now, congratulations”. You’d think that the Jews who were forced out of Europe would have more of a claim to those former homes and businesses that they’re family used to own instead of claiming “historic ownership” to land they personally have no tie to.

Anyway, I’m writing the above as I take a break on page 100. I’m hoping that once all the background information is done (and the war finally begins) this book will move faster. But we’ll see…

Heh. I just read a truly interesting view of the alliance between Germany and the Soviet Union. Apparently Evangelical Americans saw it as “the realization of a biblical prophecy (Ezekiel 38) of an alliance between Gog and Gomer that would attack the Land of Israel and thus fulfill on of the preconditions for the return of the messiah.” This is what I meant above about claiming Palestine as “the Land of Israel”–these Americans and probably most Jews as well didn’t view that land as their homeland then, why should they view it as such now?

Also along Biblical lines, aren’t there a couple of passages about how God mandates (or at least doesn’t frown upon) “his people” invading nearby towns and destroying them? That sounds a lot like the way Hitler believed it was his right to completely annihilate the countries around Germany because they weren’t German.

Unfair: The New Science of Criminal Injustice by Adam Benforado

“It is better one hundred guilty Persons should escape than one innocent Person should suffer”

–Benjamin Franklin

I first heard about Unfair via NPR (not sure which program the author was speaking on) and was amazed at the idea of using Avatars and recorded testimony to better present information to a jury at a trial. Turns out that this book is full of a lot more than just this idea for reforms.

This book looks into the science behind why people do what they do: the perpetrators, the judges, the lawyers, the witnesses, the jury, the public. While reading it, I started wondering which of my extended family members (a group that succumbs to many of the fallacies listed here) would most benefit by reading this. My conclusion was probably none. Even if they were able to finish reading it, they’d still probably label it “liberal rubbish”. What I find ironic is that these types are covered within: the ones who when presented with overwhelming evidence that their beliefs are misguided (at best) they will still find a reason to reject the evidence.

I don’t know if I’m simply more educated than the general public, but a lot of what I read in Unfair seemed to be common knowledge now. I thought people were aware that eye-witness accounts are more often than not limited if not completely incorrect. Benforado makes it seem like no one in the public sector knows this, but I can imagine that in especially a trial setting, lawyers will overstate the importance of eye-witnesses and other facts.

I certainly will forever question the validity of an eye-witness after reading about at 74 year old woman who identified the wrong man even though the actual rapist was also in the line-up (put there simply as filler by the police). Especially when you look at a photo of the line-up and only the real rapist looks like the original description, given 5 weeks prior.

In this era of what appears to be more police brutality, I thought that there were a few quotes that maybe some folks should take to heart.

The first comes during the chapter on why the public seeks to find someone to blame when a crime is committed, even if that means taking a pig or dog literally to court, or the public thinking it’s okay for a pitcher to hit an innocent player during a baseball game in retaliation for one of his own teammates getting hit. “[W]hen a harm has been committed, our desire to find a culprit and reset the moral scales by inflicting punishment may sometimes override out commitment to fair treatment.” I was immediately reminded of watching the latest video evidence of the shooting of Walter Scott. Officer Slager claimed that it was in self-defense or otherwise was in defense of the public, because they’d just emerged from a scuffle on the ground when they got up and Scott started running again so Slager used his gun. You see, when I hear that story (of a scuffle and the retaliation), I picture me acting in “hot blood” to hurt the person who just hurt me. Officer Slager had just (probably) gotten hit in the nose (or somewhere else that resulted in injury or at least insult) and in anger pulled out his weapon and fired. I suspect this “hot blooded” approach to justice occurs in more cases of police brutality than anything else (Unfair does touch on the Rodney King case, but only from the perspective of the expert witnesses).

The second quote that stuck out to me was “Numerous studies have shown that those who have murdered a white person are more likely to be sentenced to death than those who have murdered a black person.” Well, this is a statistic that the Black Lives Matter cause should pick up. Currently the debate seems to be centered on police brutality towards black suspects with opponents saying “well, what about Black on Black violence?” It seems to me that the Justice Department is making a statement that White Lives are more important than Black Lives simply because they go after harsher punishments when the victim is white rather than black.

The third quote is “In one recent experiment, researchers had two groups of participants read about a fourteen-year-old with seventeen prior juvenile convictions who raped an elderly woman. Participants were then asked to what extent, in general, they supported sentences of life without parole for juveniles in non-homicide cases. The texts given to the groups were identical, aside from one word: for the first group, the defendant was described as black; for the second group, he was described as white. Participants who had read about the black teenager expressed more support for the severe sentence and for the notion that kids are as blameworthy as adults.” I think this should give EVERYONE cause to stop and reflect on their own preconceptions. Of course, this is also discussed in Unfair: jurors are told repeatedly that they are completely capable of being impartial and most of us want to believe that even though there is mounting evidence that at least some amount of bias skews our judgments. People are so certain that they would never discriminate that they are blind to the fact that they do it daily.

I think this is one of those books that should be required reading. Even if it doesn’t have an effect on the Criminal Justice department, at least it will shed more light on the social issues that cause crime. Armchair politicians like to admit that lack of education and poverty contribute to the crime problem, but when it comes to saying where tax dollars should be spent, it’s usually on a bigger prison rather than a new school. I’ve heard more people talk about the waste of throwing money at education, but not the same about the waste of throwing money at jails. Except when some new jail can’t be used because of a wonkie law–then the complaint isn’t that the jail was built, but because it cannot be used.

I received this book for free via Blogging For Books, but as always the review/commentary is all mine.

You Just Look Guilty
You Just Look Guilty by tpenry
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Christmas Jury
Christmas Jury by Christmas_Galore
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I Am America (And So Can You!)

I really liked this book. I was slow to become a fan of Stephen Colbert even after I started watching his show. I thought him too crude and annoyingly stupid and preferred the more serious Jon Stewart’s straight-man portrayal of current events.

I still prefer Jon Stewart’s style, but I absolutely fell in love with Colbert when he really started his own Super PAC to show the public how completely screwed up the system is when it comes to political funding.

I Am America reads exactly like the Colbert Report segment “The Word”, including the handy notes in the margins and footnotes. This is definitely the book you hand without introduction to your slightly clueless ultra-conservative relatives and coworkers and see if their mind gets blown.

I thought the epilogue chapter that included his Press Association Dinner speech was interesting for a few different reasons. For one, I didn’t know much about the content of that speech except that when it ended the pundits didn’t know what the hell had just happened because no one knew that he was doing satire (they just thought him completely batshit crazy). Secondly, after reading the speech, I could conclude that half of it did indeed come across as completely batshit crazy, haha. For me, it read like a really awkward speech. There were moments of brilliance when Colbert shined with a well placed joke that was fully in character. There were moments when he seemed to fall out of character in order to do the standard shoutouts to folks in the crowd (the ones where he didn’t include a good joke). And then there were moments when what he was saying might have been in character, but was so completely in left field it just came across as stupid and not even remotely funny (actually, these moments weren’t presented the same way as the jokes, so maybe this was an attempt to stay in character while not saying something that’s supposed to be funny…I’m not sure). But then, I reminded myself that this speech was given in 2006. While the character of Stephen Colbert had been used on the Daily Show, he’d only had his own show for one season as of April 2006. In other words, at the time he was still working out the kinks in the character.

America is Number 1 Mouse Pad
America is Number 1 Mouse Pad by PunchDrunk
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I Don'T See Color T-shirt
I Don’T See Color T-shirt by worldsfair
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Auto Biography

A brilliant blend of Shop Class as Soulcraft and The Orchid Thief, Earl Swift’s wise, funny, and captivating Auto Biography follows an outlaw auto dealer as he struggles to save a rusted ’57 Chevy—a car that has already passed through twelve pairs of hands before his—while financial ruin, government bureaucrats and the FBI close in on him.

Slumped among hundreds of other decrepit hulks on a treeless, windswept moor in eastern North Carolina, the Chevy evokes none of the Jet Age mystique that made it the most beloved car to ever roll off an assembly line. It’s open to the rain. Birds nest in its seats. Officials of the surrounding county consider it junk.

To Tommy Arney, it’s anything but: It’s a fossil of the twentieth-century American experience, of a place and a people utterly devoted to the automobile and changed by it in myriad ways. It’s a piece ofhistory—especially so because its flaking skin conceals a rare asset: a complete provenance, stretching back more than fifty years.

So, hassled by a growing assortment of challengers, the Chevy’s thirteenth owner—an orphan, grade-school dropout and rounder, a felon arrested seventy-odd times, and a man who’s been written off as a ruin himself–embarks on a mission to save the car and preserve long record of human experience it carries in its steel and upholstery.

Written for both gearheads and Sunday drivers, Auto Biography charts the shifting nature of the American Dream and our strange and abiding relationship with the automobile, through an iconic classic and an improbable, unforgettable hero. –From Amazon

My dad got this book, I believe, because it was mentioned in the local paper during a story on Bank of the Commonwealth which went under during the “Great Recession”. Turns out that some of BoC’s top folks were doing some illegal things which is what got Arney in trouble–his friends at the bank offered him cheap property and he put his name on it. But actually, this part of the story is the 3rd string plot of this book. First is the car, a 1957 Chevy and it’s history as it passed from owner to owner 12 times. Generally it’s nearly impossible to trace all the owners after it’s had 3. The second plot is the attempt to rebuild her, which is where BoC comes in. You don’t have to like classic cars to enjoy this people oriented book.