Thursday, February 28, 2013

section five

the supreme court heard arguments yesterday on a case brought by shelby county, alabama concerning the validity and necessity of continuing section 5 of the voting rights act which requires federal review of changes to voting and registration regulation in nine states and other counties throughout the country.  the county in alabama argues that the law has outlived its usefulness and succeeds only in continuing to shame certain states and counties for past transgressions and tensions with racism.  adam liptak in his coverage of the arguments for the new york times reports that the conservative members fo the court seem to be leaning toward agreement with this argument.  in writing for the majority for a 2009 decision which considered the constitutionality of the 2006 extension of the law, chief justice john roberts wrote, "Voter turnout and registration rates now approach parity.  Blatantly discriminatory evasions of federal decrees are rare.  And minority candidates hold office at unprecedented levels."

i have to question if parity between registration and turnout is really a great measure of inclusiveness and access.  and just because there are more minority politicians than ever before does that actually correspond to true political representation of minority communities.  finally, i have to wonder if perhaps violations of federal decrees are no longer blatant but rather now discrete and systemic.  i posted recently that adam liptak mentioned another recent case in alabama that ruled against changes to voter registration regulations, changes that disenfranchised a significant portion of black voters and seemed to systematically cheat a large black community from accurate representation.

in this article today, charlie savage outlines the difference between section 5 and section 2 of the voting rights act.  should section 5 of the act be struck down by the court, guarantees the entire country freedom from discriminatory voting policy.  however if discrimination the legal burden of proof resides with different sides depending under which section the discrimination is found.  Under section 5, the "jurisdictions, because of their history of discrimination, must prove that any proposed change would not make minority voters worse off... By contrast, under Section Two, the burden of proof is on a plaintiff to demonstrate in court that a change would prevent minorities from having a fair opportunity to elect representatives of their choice."  With section 5, a federal court in Washington, D.C. must determine whether a change in voting law would adversely affect a population that had been discriminated against in the past.  greater liberty with redistricting could be used to effect a greater representation of the populace, but the voices of certain minority voices could be under-represented.  let's be frank, politicians across the nation use gerrymandering to disempower not only blacks but ethnicities across the country; democrats and republicans use redistricting against each other to maintain power.

there may have been a time i would have argued that this provision of the voting rights act seems to unfairly shame a new generation of alabamians, of southerners, of men and women who may not share the same prejudices of their forebears.  however the more stories of fraud and disenfranchisement emerge the more i understand that even as slowly each generation may shed the racism that existed before, the legacy of that ignorance continues to hinder true equality for all communities in this country.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

from the price of inequality

joseph stiglitz, winner of a nobel prize for economics, tells us why the sequester is the opposite of what our government should be doing:

"Underlying the myth that austerity will bring confidence is often another myth - the myth that the national government's budget is like a household's budget.  Every household, sooner or later, has to live within its means.  When an economy has high unemployment, the simple rule does not apply to the national budget.  This is because an expansion of spending can actually expand production by creating jobs that will be filled by people who would otherwise be unemployed.  A single household, by spending more than its revenues, cannot change the macroeconomy.  A national government can.  And the increase in GDP can be a multiple of the amount spent by the government."

Monday, February 25, 2013

structural prejudices

it would be wonderful to be able to declare that racial tensions finally see a decline in this country.  but i would be lying if i wrote that.  as a young man having grown up in alabama, with the awful weight of a history of slavery, oppression, and violence, it seems to me that i should at this time, this many decades away from the marches in selma, that i should be able to say at least that things have changes, that things are different, that racism does not exist to the extent that it did.  it has come loudly to my attention recently that this is not true, that not enough has changed.

adam liptak, legal correspondent for the new york times, reported on a provision of the voting rights act that to be considered by the supreme court later this month.  the voting rights act of 1965 requires that the governments of several states obtain permission to change voting law and regulation.  the provision applies to alabama, alaska, arizona, georgia, louisiana, mississippi, south carolina, texas, and virginia and as well as certain other local governments in other states. i have heard the argument for a few years now that this part of the law should be retired, that the nation has moved past requiring such a provision, and that the law discriminates against southern states.

i wish this provision were not necessary or warranted.  liptak reports that in evergreen, alabama jerome gray was inappropriately culled from the distict's voter roll when a clerk reviewed the registry in comparison to utility records.  the federal court in mobile ruled that the city could not use the new registry as it had not been approved according to section 5 of the civil rights act by the department of justice or a federal court in washington, d.c.

liptak writes, "The court in Mobile this month said the case before it, concerning Evergreen, was simple: because the city had not obtained preclearance from federal authorities, it could not revise its voting list using utility records. Nor could it use a municipal redistricting plan enacted by the City Council that had concentrated black voters, who are in the majority, into just two of the five districts, limiting black voting power."

it seems insane that anyone still thinks they can get away with promoting disenfranchisement like this, even in alabama, but honestly it must happen all the time.  even if the motivations of such gerrymandering are political and not overtly racial, we still must conclude that these efforts are racist as someone can believe it is okay to take advantage of a black population for political gain.  and manipulation like this affects not just black communities in america, but communities of various ethnic groups and low income communities as well.

i find it frightening that instances of racism like this could be covered over, that we would never even catch such systemic disenfranchisement.  this change in regulation which would have greatly affected the voice and power of a community could have been accepted if it were not for a provision of the voting rights act, which some argue the south no longer needs.  this sort of political manipulation should not even be possible.

if these large acts of disempowerment exist in american politics, potentially without being noticed by a larger public, then how many small acts of racism get passed over and unacknowledged?  i think i must be guilty for not saying anything, for not doing anything, for not being aware enough.  this must be the first step for me as a caucasian american: awareness.

in another article yesterday from the new york times' series of philosophical articles, adam etinson writes about ethnocentrism.  he argues against thinking of ethnocentric morality as relative.  however, he does believe that in acknowledging the danger of ethnocentrism, in awareness, one can begin to deconstruction the morals we accept as objective in our life and begin to dig for deeper truth.

"[John Stewart] Mill is quick to acknowledge the 'magical influence of custom' on our thought, and the way in which local beliefs and practices inevitably appear to us to be “self-evident and self-justifying,” but he does not see this as a reason to lapse into skepticism. Instead, and quite reasonably, he takes it to be evidence of both our intellectual laziness and our fallibility — the ever-present possibility that our beliefs might be wrong. The fact that our deepest-held beliefs would be different had we been born elsewhere on the planet (or even, sometimes, to different parents farther down the street), should disconcert us, make us more open to the likelihood of our own error, and spur us to rigorously evaluate our beliefs and practices against alternatives, but it need not disillusion."

Monday, February 4, 2013

a little bit awkward

walking away from adam's house last night after the super bowl, my sister called.  i lamented to her that i sometimes find myself getting crazy, insecure, clingy, over intense, annoying.

she said, "that surprises me.  i thought i was the one who is always too intense.  too controlling."

i assured her she is not.  that we're definitely in this together.

"you must be like me," she said, "controlling.  we need to have control of every situation, we need to know everything that's happening.  and when we realize that there's no way you can know what the other person is thinking exactly, you go insane, you over analyse, and your thoughts begin to spiral outward.  that's why i've been in therapy for seven years."

as i may have mentioned before, my twin sister and i share a strong psychic connection, and though we each have separate interests and personalities, our thoughts and behaviors mirror each other closely.  it feels great to know that someone understands exactly what you're thinking, that another person falls into the exact same patterns.  since my sister shares my anxious behaviors with me, i find myself a little less embarrassed by them.  i felt a lot better after talking to my sister.

my embarrassment stemmed from an awkward and unnecessary question i asked adam last night before i left his house.  you're going to hear this and say, "really?  did you really need to go there.  calm down."  adam and i talked on the couch and eventually i asked, "hey, did i end up annoying you this weekend?  was i too intense?"  which is an annoying and intense question.

adam said, "no! absolutely not.  you weren't annoying me 'til now."

one of the things i like best about adam is that when i say something dumb, without thinking, he can joke about it, but he doesn't make me feel judged.  he stays cool, which is great considering i know i can get insecure and insane sometimes.  i should take a lesson.

you're probably thinking right now, "but dude, don't you think it's a little intense and awkward to type this out and post this on the internet?"  and i would say yes, definitely, but adam says he doesn't read this blog, so let’s be awkward and intense together one last time then let it rest.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

les mystères de nourriture

i am an initiate into the mysteries of food.  i eat like a child most of the time.  i cook simple, quick meals, whatever doesn't take a lot of preparation.  it's difficult for me to consider the different aspects of nutrition that i lay out of myself: what minerals match with what proteins pair with antioxidants and does this contain omega-3 fatty acids?  even when i was more committed to the paleo diet a couple months ago (which i need to get into now that the holidays have long concluded,) i had not trained myself to be much aware fo the subtleties and complexities of my diet.  chicken breast, steamed broccoli, maybe some fruit or sweet potato if i'm super hungry.  this is the sort of simplicity i maintain.

at new seasons last night, the gentleman in front of me in line at the register bought bulk flax seed and some other grain or legume; a plethora of greens; some vegetables; yogurt; milk; eggs; and some hummus.  i stood behind him with kale, a block of cheddar cheese, dietary supplements, and a bottle of wine.  my diet really isn't as pathetic as this itemization suggests - i'd just gone to the grocery store a few days prior and really just wanted a bottle of wine as i was biking home from work.  but even if i maintain a relatively healthy diet, the ritual and rites of food science and diet remains occult to me.  what more should i be eating? should i count out 7 or 8 almonds?  which supplements should i be taking?  why do i weigh so little compared to every other man on the planet?

part of the problem consists of how complex and inconsistent food science can be.  our bodies don't absorb and process nutrients in single file - they are digested together in the rock tumbler of our gastro-intestinal tracks.  another problem lays in my laziness.  after i bike home from work, i'm tired (sometimes inebriated) and i don't want to make a big fuss, a great meal.  i want to quickly find myself some nourishment and watch tv or read, clean the dishes, relax, sleep.  finally, sometimes i just want to enjoy a meal and not constantly analyze the physical benefits of various components of any particular meal.

i also realize that if i set certain goals or my health and my physique, this dietary divination becomes necessary to master.  i need to learn more, know more, become more vigilant.  i need to cook more and gain experience in the kitchen.  i need to consume more omega-3 fatty acids, to consume more protein probably, to eat more in general perhaps.