On One Hand

April 29, 2009

The Coolest Political Web Graphic Ever

Filed under: Uncategorized — ononehand @ 2:05 pm
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The coolest political web graphic ever comes from my favorite Online news magazine, Slate.com.

The graphic, here, represents Democratic and Republican senators as a bunch of blue or red dots, and, like a Facebook friendship network, draws lines between them if they are connected. The criteria is this: two senators are connected if they voted together at least 65 percent of the time in 2009.

The computer initially randomizes the dots but gradually moves them into a more “balanced” physical map – it pulls together those who are connected by a line, and pushes apart those who are not connected. Democrats and Republicans almost immediatly separate into two distinct camps. Some breakoffs appear: the two moderate Republican senators from Maine, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, isolate themselves between the parties. In some scenarios they even start in the Democratic cluster and graduately migrate outward to a position in the middle.

You can mouse over unlabeled dots to see which senator they represent, and the program will also highlight all other senators with direct links.

After a while, moderate Democrat Ben Nelson pops out of the Democratic pack, and Republican senator George Voinovich graduately migrates to the Democratic side of the Republican mass. Republican-turned-Democrat Arlen Specter, the purple dot, is still more conservative than some Republicans but distinguishes himself from the pack as having few allies in either party – only 14 Republicans and one Democrat.

The scenario does not have any initial tendency to place the party extremists at any location in the map; the diehard liberals do not gravitate toward either the center or the far edge of their party’s node, as might be intuitive. That’s because almost all senators in either party are already connected to nearly everyone else in their own party, be they liberals, conservatives or moderates. But it’s interesting to see who the real “mavericks” are, and there are only five. Hint: John McCain isn’t one of them.

I left the window open for a solid half hour and the Democratic side was still bumping and nudging around a little bit to find a better equilibrium, though the Republican side was completely satisfied.

April 28, 2009

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The Death Spiral of the Republican Party

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I never thought I’d see the day when the Republican party came to be completely marginalized. Yet today as moderate Republican Arlen Specter leaves the party after it threatened to run an ultra-conservative against him in a primary, members of the party are collectively shouting “good riddiance.” They don’t need weak-willed moderates among their ranks! Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins and John McCain can go too!

It’s hard to figure out exactly what the Republican party considers “acceptable” given that a president who lays out what are essentially Ronald Reagan’s tax policies is labeled SOCIALIST. The range of views they’ll approve of are exceedingly narrow, and simultanneously vague. Activists have contradictory libertarian and authoritarian currents; what they call the decay of our morals is simultanneous with the installation of a fascist state.

Liberal Democrats are currently in love with a surprisingly incrementalist and balance-minded leader in Barack Obama, who manages to win their approval even with fairly pro-market and pro-business policies. He doesn’t want to remake the market, he simply wants to patch it up, which is all the American left ever wanted. It’s fair to say he has had his ideological counterparts on the Center Right, including John McCain himself, a group which constitutes the perhaps one third of the country that stands to the left of the 20% that still indentify as Republican. That group is exceedingly abandoning the Republican party, or are forced out.

It’s hard to imagine what kind of candidate Conservative Republicans want to see elected. Sarah Palin frightened America with her lack of intellectualism and base rhetoric but the Right loved her. Yet her left-wing counterpart, probably somebody like Ralph Nader, wins no friends among Democrats.

I think this is the moment when the American Right finally realizes, once and for all, that what they always thought of as the destiny of America is an illusion; that we will continue to lose our identity as a white, Christian nation, and that the days of the Wild West and segregated South are over. The flat tax will likely never happen. We will never declare a formal allegiance to Christ or install the Ten Commandments plaques in all state capitol buildings. Meanwhile my generation has always perceived a steady march towards a progressive and tolerant society, towards increased secularism and diversity alike, and see that as inevitable now. America’s future indeed looks more like modern Western Europe than the individualist’s utopia they’ve always beleived in.

What will emerge in the place of the Republican party? It would be interesting to see the Libertarian party become elavated in status but the reality is the American electorate is just as opposed to ideological economic conservatism as it is to ideological social conservatism. That’s especially true as Americans generally don’t think taxes on the wealthy are too high, and like the programs those taxes pay for. I see the nationwide ceiling of a pure libertarian movement (without social conservatism) being twelve or fifteen percent of the electorate. Meanwhile something has to appeal to the social conservatism of the Evangelical movement – and a socially conservative party that is open to social welfare – essentially a Southern Christian populism – probably wins more support, by numbers, than a purely libertarian movement.

The biggest problem that any new party would face – including a new, re-made Republican party – is that it is easier for Democrats to take a step to the center and become the moderate party than it is for Republicans to do the same. That is increasingly true as the nation itself takes a step to the left, and as moderate Republicans defect and become moderate Democrats. If moderates in the Republican party leave, Conservative Republicans are left to select increasingly unapalatable far-Right candidates in their primaries.

It’s ironic to hear the radical Right comparing Obama to a Nazi or a fascist (they use those terms interchangeably). The things that made the Nazi party dangerous were extreme racism, rabid nationalism that excluded many residents of the country from the national identity, the willingness to use violence or physical coersion as a political tool, and ambitious militarism. None of those things are remotely characteristic of Barack Obama’s policies – indeed they are policies and sentiments that Barack Obama specifically and unambiguously opposes.

April 27, 2009

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April 26, 2009

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April 24, 2009

Can Good Urban Planning Reduce Racism?

Filed under: Uncategorized — ononehand @ 12:04 pm
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Can good urban planning reduce racism? It’s a pretty audacious point, but Nate Silver, numbers wizzard at fivethirtyeight.com who predicted the 2008 Presidential Election outcome to within fractions of a point, says so.

His argument is, essentially, that people living among those of other races and cultures have been shown, through fairly well-grounded scientific analyses, come out more tolerant. The first two thirds of Silver’s presentation go over the scientific examination of where more people with self-identified negative attitudes towards people of another race (focusing on African Amerians) live. In this case, rural uneduated states that are traditionally associated with social conservatism had the most people citing race as their reason for voting against Barack Obama in 2008, and there Obama did the worst compared with Bill Clinton in 1996. (The states include Arkansas, Tennesee, West Virginia, Kentucky.)

The second part of the argument is that people in cities have more interaction with people of other races or cultures. That is obviously true because more diverse people happen to live there, but Silver also argues that a way the city is laid out can play a role in how often people walk around and meet their neighbors.

One possible counter-argument Nate Silver failed to address is the causality problem, or the chicken-or-the-egg argument. Do people living in rural areas naturally become more racist, or is it, rather, that racists choose to move to rural areas? Do people in a winding, suburban-style subdivision evolve to have more racially problematic attitudes over time or are those neighborhoods just a magnet for people who didn’t want to live among blacks in an inner city? One could easily argue that “White Flight” to the suburbs in the 1960s left the tolerant white populations in the city while those seeking to escape the influx of non-white newcomers were less tolerant to begin with.

Still, it’s fairly easy to see how growing up among people of other races and occasionally identifying them as part of your peer group would prevent stereotyping and vilification of those groups.

And to counter cries of “rampant black racism against whites” rural or socially Conservative circles launch at American black communities, this information indicates that white populations would have more negative attitudes towards people in another racial group than blacks or latinos would have towards whites, since it is easy to be white and never interact with a black person but relatively difficult to be a person of color and never interact with a white person in the United States.

Transportation Freedom Day

Filed under: Uncategorized — ononehand @ 10:54 am
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http://www.azcentral.com/news/articl…eedom0330.html

The Arizona Republic reports that the average American spends at least 3 months pay on transportation.

Libertarian organizations push Tax Freedom Day, which they say is the day that Americans have worked to pay off their tax burden. Now consider transportation freedom day – the day that you’ve earned enough to pay off the cost of getting to work. That includes buying cars, paying for car insurance, paying for gasoline and dropping extra dollars here and there for repairs. In most cases the two days are very close together – the tax burden costs around four and a half months of income while transportation costs are three and a half months on average.

The article says that sprawled cities or residents of suburbs spend far more on transportation than people in urban areas with subways or light rail. In Phoenix the day fell on March 23 but in San Francisco it was March 1. Houston paid until March 25 and Stockton, California paid until April 3.

This is part of why I argue that public transportation is a social justice issue. Owning a car is all but necessary to living and being employed in most cities, and carries with it a huge financial burden that raises the cost of living to, in many cases, higher than the wage-earner can afford in the first place. A low-income person obviously pays a far greater percentage of her or his income on gasoline than a high-income person, unless that person forgoes having a car and uses public transit when its available.

It’s also a clear demonstration of why a progressive tax system is necessary and a “flat tax” would be intolerably immoral. If a poor person spends three months wages paying for gas, he or she should not be taxed the same rate as a rich person who only needed to spend one month’s salary on that gas, and choose to spend the other two months’ on a fancier car plus a few airplane tickets for vacation.

All these “freedom days” represent money spent on some necessity that goes entirely somewhere else. If you were to calculate “housing freedom day” for people paying rent (not mortgages) and add it to tax freedom day and transportation freedom day, you’d find that low-income people pay till a date later in the year than rich people do.

So when tax dollars are used to make transportation cheaper or faster, is that a positive or a negative? It might push your “tax freedom day” back by one day, but brings your transportation freedom day forward by two – in other words, leaving you with more cash in your pocket. But we spend billions of government dollars per year on roads and highways anyway, which means that including the most affordable forms of transit – trains and busses – so that as many people as possible can be able to use it, is a bare minimum when it comes to fairness.

See the full list of “transportation freedom days” by city here: http://www.uspirg.org/uploads/mE/PH/mEPHVUKABlbc94ShtPZrvQ/TFD-Metros.pdf

April 21, 2009

Anti-Tax Tea Parties in Perspective

Filed under: Uncategorized — ononehand @ 2:14 pm
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This year on Tax Day, hundreds of thousands of people from across the country gathered at state capitol buildings, city halls, busy street corners and parking lots to protest government and Barack Obama’s policies.

The “Tea Party Movement” draws inspiration from the Boston Tea Party of 1773, when American protesters dumped boxes of tea off a trade ship to protest British taxes on American goods, levied without American representation and without American benefit. The Boston Tea Party is known as a major political incident leading up to the American Revloution.

The modern tea party movement also draws inspiration from Conservative pundits and the Fox News Channel, who pose the vaguely directed protests as powerful movement sweeping the nation, attracting young and old.

The Denver Post published an estimate of 5,000 people gathered at the Colorado State Capitol building on April 15, drawing from the entire Denver Metro Area and representing one of the largest groups in the United States. Fivethirtyeight.com estimated that 300,000+ people attended Tea Parties across the United States on April 15.

Any movement that inspires nationwide protests has far more supporters than are present during protests, as one could easily argue that far more than 300,000 Americans oppose taxes, Barack Obama or corporate bailouts.

But I still say that the numbers are hardly significant, in light of another kind of gathering that occured just 5 days later on April 20.

Remember that the Denver Metro Area drew just 5,000 protesters on April 15. Then on April 20, over 10,000 people gathered on the University of Colorado campus to smoke pot publicly at 4:20 pm. I love big gatherings of people so I had to be there, and captured these photos (click to enlarge):

Looking East:

Looking West:

At 4:21PM:

This is a crowd drawn to a movement as obscure as marijuana usage, just as vague and undirected as the tea party protests. One could argue that it is more geared toward the legalization of cannabis, and could also argue that it’s just a party. But in any case, this is the kind of spontanneous energy that is available drawing from a single community. My guess is that the campus police are also intentionally understating the size of the crowd, since they judged last year’s to be 10,000 people and this one was noticeably bigger.

As a more direct contrast to tea parties, on November 04, 2008, I watched about two thousand people spontanneously erupt with joy and pour onto the 16th Street Mall in Denver when CNN announced Barack Obama had won the election. There were other crowds in other parts of Denver, because it was unplanned and people just ran out into the street wherever they happened to be at that moment. My roommate who was at home in Boulder told me about an even bigger mob that erupted there, and pointed me to videos on youtube.

My generation is the Obama generation, and as they mature and vote in increasing numbers – bringing along people who are now too young to vote – they support liberal policies in huge numbers. It’s not just social conservatism that turns young people off to the Republican party, it’s their seeming insistance on choosing, again and again, ideology over pragmatism.

There are surely a lot of young urban hipsters who hate the idea of “big government” and would love to let the big banks fail. They’ll complain that a 35% tax rate is awfully high even if it’s just the richest bracket. But if you get into the details and ask exactly WHICH programs they want to get rid of, they don’t know. They like trains. They like public schools and universities. They think universal healthcare is a moral responsibility. They want the federal government to expand national parks.

All these things requre taxes to take place, and despite vocal protestations, the “don’t tax me” crowd is at a long-time low in energy level.

This also tells us a little bit about how news coverage works, since the tea party protests were all over and 4:20 – despite its huge gatherings – are still esoteric to college students. Maybe the news organizations are compassonate to the stoners and don’t want to incite public outrage and mass-arrests – knowing what kind of habits Journalism majors have makes me beleive this is possible – but in any case, it means that 4:20 drew twice as many people as the tea parties even as its basically a secret.

April 19, 2009

What’s Wrong with Zoos

Filed under: Uncategorized — ononehand @ 2:03 pm
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I’ve slowly come to the realization that I don’t think zoos are ethical. We treat the process of trapping and caging large animals like some progressive fountain of civic utility and ecological awareness – but instead zoos are weirdly voyersistic housings, where animals are kept in an artificial vegetative state by small enclosures and unnatural settings.

If a tiger is used to a range of over 25,000 acres, putting him in a pen the size of a living room seems downright barbaric. It would be like keeping a human being inside a bathtub forever. Would anyone expect an animal to behave “naturally” under those circumstances? It should be no wonder that zoo animals tend to appear antsy, lethargic or neruotic as they pace back and forth in the enclosed area. If a psychiatrist peered into that animal’s psyche, he would probably find anxiety, obsessive-compulsive behaviors and clinical depression.

I’m not saying “down with zoos,” I’m saying zoos need to change. I’m for drastically reorganizing the physical layout of zoos in an intelligent way to maximize the benefit to the animals and also, hopefully, enhance the educational experience.

Every zoo of sufficient size could be ancored by ONE habitat for megafauna based on a single natural ecosystem, which would take up at least half of the total area in the zoo. By “megafauna” I mean any animal larger than a dog. Zoos should network with other zoos to choose who gets which exhibit and trade animals to fit the pieces together. One can use half of its property to construct a large Savannah habitat for zebras, warthogs and hippos. The organization will give its camels to another zoo that can construct a large Desert habitat for camels and goats and desert foxes. The habitat doesn’t have to be perfectly round or square shaped – it should wind and weave and be stretched out so that most of it is near the viewing area – but the animals’ living area should be at least one and a half square miles in size, which is about half the size of a large zoo and means there won’t be more than one exhibit in an urban zoo.

By trading animals, Association of Zoos and Aquariums can hang on to all its animals it keeps for “conservation” purposes, but give them a life that is of some semblance to what they get in the wild. The visitor’s experience with the zoo is not as broad, but instead goes in-depth into the particular ecosystem it focuses on most. Then tourists have an incentive to visit the other zoos when they vacation in other cities, and the entire association can benefit.

Living areas of a square mile or more would be an improvement for any large animal, but still aren’t big enough for every kind of animal. Zoos bill thesmeslves as scientific places so I think it’s appropriate for science to play a role in what stays and what goes – ecologists can determine if an animal’s natural range is comparable to 1.5 square miles. An elephant’s range is hundreds of square miles, so it’s clear that 1.5 isn’t big enough and they wouldn’t be kept in any standard zoo.

If the zoo’s space is not conducive to the needs of the animal, the animal shouldn’t be kept there. Sadly, that means that many animals we typically associate with zoos will have vto go: elephants, tigers, wolves and others – especially most predators – can’t be kept in urban zoos anymore.

But perhaps a hippopotamus and an ostrich could be comfortable in a space of under 2 square miles, and zookeepers can determine which species get along with each other well enough to go into the exhibit. They don’t necessarily have to be from exactly the same geographical region, as long as zookeepers can be sure they won’t attack each other.

Meanwhile, zoos can have other exhibits outside their main anchor exhibit. Smaller habitats can house snakes, lizards, turtles and rodents that don’t need a large range. Even some monkeys could live in a smaller caged space granted there is plenty of intellectual and environmental stimulation there, as well as natural light.

I forsee futuristic zoos where the animals roam free in their habitat and the humans are in the small spaces. A pathway, completely enclosed in glass, could snake through a large network of greenhouses – housing a manmade rainforest – where New World monkeys and parakeets and taipirs mingle together. Insect populations living there give the animals natural feeding habbits, and also add to the fauna for viewers to appreciate. The monkeys have plenty of full-grown trees to play around on giving them a multi-dementional and naturalistic home. The key is for the animals to share a large space rather than being separated, so that they have more mobility and can interact with a wide variety of peers and plants.

That way people pass through the confined tube and the animals get some freedom. In some cases the pathway doesn’t even have to be in glass – if the animals are small, shy or tame enough, and you can be certain people will behave and stay on the trail, a fence is sufficient barrier.

I like how the Denver Zoo lets peacocks wander free in public areas, which means they have a relatively boundless range. Wild geese land and raise young in the park and eventually lose their fear of humans. That’s the kind of thing I’d like to see happening in zoos more often, where animals are interacting with human beings but still have roaming freedom. Animal rights activists might complain this human-animal mixing is still “unnatural” but I think it represents a fair balance that focuses on the animal’s interest. I’m not a nature-supremacist who thinks any human alteration of the wilderness is bad, but I’m concerned with the interests of the animal as well as the scientific accuracy of how they are presented.

So the zoo of the future I am envisioning looks like this:

The visitor enters the zoo and in one direction is an enormous “ecosystem” where animals selected for co-habitability will mix and mingle. Trails that people can walk on will surround the ecosystem and bridge over it, allowing visitors to walk into the heart of it and look down from a safe distance. Part of the housing area – where animals can get shelter when the weather is bad – will be accessible from the path as well.

In the other direction will be 2-3 smaller “ecosystems” for small animals, similar to the large one but without megafauna. Most zoos already have these, but they often keep large animals in them when those animals need more space.

Beyond that will be single-species habitats for small animals that don’t need large spaces; insects, snakes, turtles and fish can fit in there. There will be no birds in small habitats since birds should have room to fly long distances.

Near the entrance area will be an educational center – something most zoos already have – with a theatre with videos of animals that don’t fit in the zoo, so the visitor can learn about elephants and cheetahs and jaguars and everything that was lost. If I were the designer I’d also have an exhibit explaining old inhumane zoos where animals were kept in cells behind bars, and the exhibit would explain how the new scenario is better.

Some zoos are already trying to achieve what I am saying, and I’m fairly confident that 50 years from now this is how they will all work. The only thing I am suggesting beyond where most zoos are now is that they have one large ecosystem for medium-sized animals and that they get rid of most large animals altogether.

April 18, 2009

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