Bookbyte Blog

Posts tagged ‘2012 election’

The Finest Acts of Wikipedia Vandalism

It’s nothing short of shocking that Wikipedia is as useful, functional, and accurate as it is, considering the incredibly high potential for sabotaging edits. Instead of having a scholarly Encyclopedia Britannica-style essay or a random collection of gibberish, we have both, where you can occasionally find an insane gem hidden in the otherwise staid article. Here are a few of the best of those insane gems.

(Always remember, college students, Wikipedia is not an acceptable citation, but it is a pretty great springboard for primary sources. Scroll down to “References.”)

  • Pony controversy. People tend to get passionate about their hobbies.pony
  • Hockey player Zach Parise officially elevated to “hero” seconds after scoring a goal in 2010 Olympics. At the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Zach Parise scored a game-tying shot 24 seconds before the end of the gold-medal match between the US and Canada. Canada would eventually secure victory in overtime, but for several minutes, Parise was king in the eyes of Wikipedia and all Americans watching.Zachary Andrew Praise (born July 28, 1984) is an Goddamn American Hero and the US Olympic Team..."
  • Gary Oldman is a really, really good actor. oldman (more…)

Could Facebook Affect How You Vote?

Message saying "I voted... did you?"

Anybody who logged onto Facebook on election day got hit with a crazy number of “go vote!” messages. Most were from your friends, many were from the companies you’ve Liked. (We tried to make ours go down easier by pairing it with a picture of an adorable puppy.) But there were also some messages from Facebook itself. They were either just general messages to go vote or a list of your friends who’ve already voted (who then told Facebook that they voted, of course).

But here’s where it gets interesting. Not everybody saw these messages. Four percent of Facebook users got no message. Why?

Facebook button saying "Remind Friends to Vote"
Because they were all being subjected to a big social experiment.

The Atlantic explains:

By splitting up the population into these experimental and control groups, researchers will be able to see if the messages had any effect on voting behavior when they begin matching the Facebook users to the voter rolls (whom a person voted for is private information, but whether they voted is public).

Researchers want to know if social pressure from Facebook affects people’s decisions about voting. So, with Facebook’s cooperation, they’re seeing if the “your friends are voting” messages gave people the final push to perform their civic duty.

For most people, Facebook and politics are like potato chips and cupcakes — addictive on their own, but pretty revolting when paired together. The number of posts for (or more likely, against) a candidate before the election was topped only by the number of posts by people complaining about their Facebook feeds being hijacked by friends talking politics.

(Somebody could make a killing on a Facebook app that blocks all references to specific candidates. Get on that, innovators.)

But maybe the constant politi-chatter is reinforcing your political beliefs as it annoys you. You might roll your eyes when one of your friends posts “NOBAMA!”, but maybe that post is a reminder for liberal voters to cancel out that guy’s vote and a reminder for conservative voters to back that guy’s vote up. Maybe individual political messages all blur together after awhile, but the combined effect of seeing them again and again every day helps you develop your opinion.

Think about it this way: Ask the next person you see which presidential candidate they voted for. Most people will answer quickly. Now ask someone how they voted for a specific local ballot measure. Many people won’t even be able to remember.

And which are you more likely to see as a Facebook post — “NOBAMA” or “MEASURE 82, I CHOOSE YOU!”?

(Note to self: Make Pokémon themed bumper sticks supporting ballot measures that end in 2′s.)

Is Voting a Practical Choice or an Idealistic One?

A sample ballot for the 2012 presidential election

This article from The Atlantic is surely one of the most hotly debated articles I’ve seen lately. In it, writer Conor Friedersdorf declares flatly that he will not vote for President Obama because of moral objections to (a) drone strikes in Waziristan, (b) the President’s “kill” list, and (c) how Libya was handled. In a follow-up, Friedersdorf shared some of the responses he received from the article, particularly framed around the question of having certain issues be “dealbreakers” for candidates.

Here’s the binary decision: Are there certain issues that will make you refuse to vote for a candidate or, not, because every vote is a compromise already?

Friedersdorf insists that the first is true, not simply because it’s the stance he’s taken, but because he believes that everyone draws their own personal moral lines in the ground. But the examples he gives are of situations that would never happen:

“If two candidates favored a return to slavery, or wanted to stone adulterers, you wouldn’t cast your ballot for the one with the better position on health care.”

That’s probably true. But it’s doesn’t change the fact that, for better or worse, most people at some point will support something they find morally reprehensible with a vote. Obviously not all people are neatly categorized as either Republicans or Democrats. Even once you add in Libertarians, Socialists, the Green party, the Constitution party, or the Modern Whig party (yes, that’s a thing), you can’t possibly encompass the full spectrum of political and moral opinion. And just because someone calls themselves a Republican, Democrat, or whatever, doesn’t necessarily mean they subscribe to every platform of that party.

So people will indirectly support things they find vile, as long as it’s something vile that we, as a society, have still marked as up for grabs. The most contested social issues are ones where both sides feel they have the moral high ground: abortion, gay marriage, gun control, capital punishment, etc. While many people will draw their moral lines in the ground over one of these issues, many more people ignore them all together. For some of those people, it’s because they have no interest in getting bogged down in moral debate. For others, it’s the belief that the candidate ultimately doesn’t have that much of an impact on moral issues.

Martin Sheen playing President Bartlet on "The West Wing"At this point, I’d like to turn the article over to conversation. What do you believe is the purpose of voting? Is it strategic, made to help whoever you think would be the most capable leader to win? Or is it to take a stance, to say “This is what I believe,” and strategy be damned? (Even if casting a vote for what you believe is by writing in a vote for Martin Sheen or Oscar the Grouch.)

Are Students IDs Good Enough Proof to Vote?

McLovin's ID from "Superbad"

Quick quiz: How many forms of ID do you have?

Modified question: How many forms of ID do you have on you right now?

Once we exclude the passports, Social Security cards, birth certificates, and all those other documents that you usually just cram into that single, unsorted drawer of important papers that you never open, most of us only carry around a single form of ID.

For people who drive, it’s their driver’s licenses. For college students, it’s typically their student IDs, which most colleges demand that you carry at all times.

But that’s based on my experience. I grew up in Virginian suburbs where it’s impossible to get around without a car. What about college-age people who grew up in cities, where public transportation makes learning to drive mostly pointless? What about people who’re from a socio-economic background where getting a car while in their late-teens and early-twenties is impossible? Other than proving you’re old enough to buy cigarettes and alcohol, what’s the point in getting an ID?

A number of states — specifically Kansas, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Wisconsin — are in the middle of legislative debates over what should be considered an acceptable form of ID. The anti-student ID group feels that non-government issued documentation is too easy to fake, so allowing student IDs is just an invitation to voter fraud. The pro-student ID group feels banning student IDs is going to disenfranchise young voters, particularly lower-income young voters who aren’t rushing out to get driver’s licenses as soon as they are of age.

There’s a lot that could be said about political motivations. Since the young and lower-income demographic tends to lean left, the Left is naturally the side complaining about disenfranchisement.  And just as predictably, the Right is the side claiming that this is really about preventing fraud. But nobody can have a reasonable debate when you just start throwing out accusations of motivation, so let’s throw that discussion out entirely.

Does voter fraud happen? Sure. But virtually never with people showing up at polls claiming they’re someone they aren’t. South Carolina’s State Election Commission ran a study of 900 suspicious votes credited to dead people. They only made it through 207 of the votes before they decided the study wasn’t worth continuing. 106 were clerical errors. 56 were people who weren’t, as it turned out, actually dead. 32 were caused by stray marks picked up by scanners. And 3 were absentee ballots cast by people who died before election day.

I can understand how jarring it seems requiring government-issued ID for college students to buy beer but not to vote. But take into account the absurd lengths college students will go in pursuit of beer. If only college students were that passionate about voting…

I am sympathetic to the idea of tightening up restrictions on voter ID… at least I can see where it’s coming from, but I think it’s ultimately overstating a problem. If voter fraud is an issue, banning student IDs is the equivalent of “duck and cover” to protect yourself from a nuclear blast. It’s not going to stop the problem, even if it makes you feel better. If someone is going to commit voter fraud, it’s going to be electronically. That’s a much more efficient means of screwing things up than spending all day waiting in polling lines with fraudulent IDs.

I can sympathize with the logic, even if I think it’s flawed, of the legislators in Kansas, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Wisconsin. Florida, on the other hand, gets no such sympathy. Between the recent vote purge (comparing voting lists with DMV info and eliminating 100,000 people’s votes) and recent legislation against third-party voter registration groups, I have a lot of trouble giving that state the benefit of the doubt. That’s not just “duck and cover.” That’s blowing up the desk before the nuke gets the chance.

“As Much Education As They Can Afford” — Gaffe or the Plain Truth?

Presidential candidate Mitt Romney (R)

At a rally in Virginia, Mitt Romney said that he wanted to make sure that America remains “a place of opportunity,” where “everyone has a fair shot” and “get[s] as much education as they can afford.”

Now, we’re not a political blog. And we really, really don’t want to be one. A political blog latches on to every bit of phrasing and twists and turns it around to try to reveal some hidden truth or underlying theme about a candidate, a party, an organization, whatever. The knee-jerk reaction to Romney’s phrasing is easy: “What do you mean as much as they can afford? Are you saying the financially privileged deserve better educations than other Americans?”

That’s a boring conversation. Is Romney’s phrasing a subtle hint at an underlying bias toward the wealthy? Who cares? The last thing I want to do is contribute to the always petty conversation around election season.

But we are (or at least we’d like to think we are) a blog about ideas. And at the root of over-analyzing Romney’s statement is an interesting discussion: How much education should be free, and how much should you have to pay for?

First of all, education is never free. It can’t be. Even if, in the future, our current concepts of classrooms, degrees, and homework are completely unrecognizable, students will always need two things: equipment (books, computers, art supplies, etc.) and teachers (professors, coaches, etc.). Even if the students of the future consume all of their education through all-purpose interactive tablets, someone needs to buy the tablets. Even if the students of the future are all taught by very life-like robots, someone needs to pay the programmers and engineers making robots. Because teachers will always need salaries and equipment will always need to be purchased, someone always needs to pay for education, whether parents, taxpayers, grant donors, or the students themselves.

So when we say “free” what we really need to be saying is “accessible.” Should everyone have the same access to education? Well, sure. That should be an easy answer. That’s only what’s fair, right? No sane person would claim that the very poor don’t deserve to be just as informed as anybody else. That’s the reason why it’s important to make sure resources like libraries and public schools allow anyone to access them freely. We can’t claim to be a democratic society and prevent accessibility of information.

But at the same time, we can’t really claim that all education is created equal. Obviously, some schools are going to be better than other schools. A lot of that depends on the quality of the teachers. A lot of that depends on the quality of the administrators. But most of it, unfortunately, has to do with money. Schools with more money will be able to pay teachers better, provide better tools for their students, fund more extracurricular activities, and provide more out-of-the-classroom experiences. So while we should certainly always strive to make education be as universally accessible as possible, the sad fact is that it won’t be.

Let’s take it back to Romney’s words, specifically, the word “afford.” Naturally, when we think about affording something, we think about money, but that’s actually a secondary definition. The primary, according to Merriam-Webster anyway, is “to manage [or] to bear without serious detriment.” So “affording” education means more than just paying for it. It means being able to dedicate the time and energy necessary to achieve your goals.

Again, I’m not here to nitpick word choice of a person who’s on camera 24/7, I’m just making a point. An education is always going to be an investment. Even if you didn’t have to pay for four years of undergraduate studies, you still were dedicating four years of your life toward making your future opportunities better. That’s a cost in itself. And that’s a cost that not everyone will be able to handle.

Getting a good education is achieved through hard work and good resources. That’s always going to take money and energy. The more we can help one another have access to quality education, the better. But there will always be a personal cost to a student: long-term, like loans, or short-term, like choosing to be a full-time student instead of having a job. We can (and should) keep the cost as low as possible, but a student needs to be willing to make that personal investment.


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