Monday, January 31, 2005

New Focus: Redistricting

The drawing of Congressional Districts has become increasingly partisan. Politics has always been involved in the process, of course. The term Gerrymander dates back to the machinations of a governor of Massachusetts during the early 19th century.

When a House majority leader has charges of ethics violations raised against him as in the case of Tom DeLay in the Texas redistricting and the governor of California proposes a new method of drawing his state's districts, the whole process should receive more scrutiny.

In his column this week about the 1965 Voting Rights Act, Clarence Page writes:

...redistricting, the uniquely American system in which the incumbents in state legislatures get to choose their voters--and those who will vote for their states' members of Congress.

Section 5, the part of the act that is set to expire in 2007, prohibits "retrogression," any change in district boundaries that would diminish a district's percentage of black voters. In the past couple of decades, white Republicans and black Democrats in state legislatures have gotten together to redraw districts that round up black voters and other liberal-leaners into black districts, leaving other districts more white and more politically to the right.

The Republicans big reward for this tactic came in 1994 when Republicans took control of the House. As a result, black Democrats have gained seats in Congress but their party has lost power as conservative Republicans have gained a majority.

That's why Lewis and some other broad-minded Democrats have taken a second look at districts that have a high concentration of minority voters and are actually backing some plans that call for their dilution. After all, it has been shown that, even in the South, white voters will support black candidates who campaign well on shared interests.

Bush is right to think that he has time to make up his mind on whether to extend Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act when it expires. It's not just the history of civil rights that he has to consider, but also the future of his party's politics.

Once he gets fully briefed on it, I predict that President Bush and congressional Republicans will gladly renew Section 5. Defending minority voting rights makes a lot of sense, especially when it helps you keep your majority.

I'm just left with more questions. What should redistricting accomplish? Should it just be an adjustment for population shifts? Should there be some philosophical underpinnings to group together people of similar political interests such as race or class?

Ultimately, it may be best to draw district lines across boundaries of race and class to create diversity on the local scale, which would facilitate compromise solutions to local and national problems.

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Friday, January 28, 2005

Dave's Top Ten

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Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Outing SpongeBob

Here's further proof that I don't have gaydar. In addition to the character of the assistant DA on "Law & Order" outing herself in the actresses' last appearance, apparently, SpongeBob Squarepants is gay. Really? I think SpongeBob's homosexuality is about as dubious as Tinky Winky's alleged homosexuality, but maybe you don't know about the Teletubbies. My daughter watched the Teletubbies a few years ago, and so I have an excuse. I'm doubting that Tinky Winky carrying around a bag means anything, especially since the bag was red and Tinky Winky is purple. Come on, let's stick to the stereotypes that we all can recognize. Would the guys from "Queer Eye" give a red bag to a purple person? Well, I really don't know, and I don't care. It seems to be more ridiculous fear-mongering.

All this was brought up by reading
an article on the Chicago Tribune's site. One passage that stood out:

What the SpongeBob controversy has revealed is that pledging allegiance to diversity and tolerance is religion by any other name--just as irksome to the devout as Dobson and Vitagliano are to the secular. The purveyors of Feel Good Vibes can be just as dogmatic and unyielding as those who condemn from the pulpit. Whether defending literal scripture or advancing bumper-sticker virtue, the self-anointed protectorate are essentially cut from the same cloth.

This passage reminded me of something a friend had mentioned when I was in college. She said that a mutual friend was "so open-minded, that they're close-minded", which sums this up nicely.

HOWEVER, there is an underlying issue of tolerance versus hate, democracy versus theocracy that such statements fail to acknowledge. Eric Zorn pointed out that Bugs Bunny is considerably more "sexually ambiguous" than SpongeBob, but hasn't been accused of being part of some homosexual agenda. It makes me think there is an agenda against homosexuality.

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Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Solidifying Class Structure

The New York Times' David Brooks has a suggestion for President Bush's State of the Union address: "it would be nice if he would devote himself as passionately to the grandest theme of domestic policy - social mobility."

Expanding on the problem, he writes:

Economists and sociologists do not all agree, but it does seem there is at least slightly less movement across income quintiles than there was a few decades ago. Sons' income levels correlate more closely to those of their fathers. The income levels of brothers also correlate more closely. That suggests that the family you were born into matters more and more to how you will fare in life. That's a problem because we are not supposed to have a hereditary class structure in this country.

But we're developing one. In the information age, education matters more. In an age in which education matters more, family matters more, because as James Coleman established decades ago, family status shapes educational achievement.

At the top end of society we have a mass upper-middle class. This is made up of highly educated people who move into highly educated neighborhoods and raise their kids in good schools with the children of other highly educated parents. These kids develop wonderful skills, get into good colleges (the median family income of a Harvard student is now $150,000), then go out and have their own children, who develop the same sorts of wonderful skills and who repeat the cycle all over again.

In this way these highly educated elites produce a paradox - a hereditary meritocratic class.

It becomes harder for middle-class kids to compete against members of the hypercharged educated class. Indeed, the middle-class areas become more socially isolated from the highly educated areas.

And this is not even to speak of the children who grow up in neighborhoods in which more boys go to jail than college, in which marriage is not the norm before child-rearing, in which homes are often unstable, in which long-range planning is absurd, in which the social skills you need to achieve are not even passed down.

I guess there's concern that societal structure is solidifying, but I remember during an Introduction to Psychology class in college, oh eight or nine years ago, this phenomenon was already pretty well documented, which I assume is the basis of the reference to James Coleman. Granted a decrease in mobility would be somewhat daunting, but overall, this is how America has worked since its inception, the potential for upward mobility is enough to get everyone to "buy into" the societal norms, even if that potential is rarely realized.

I would think that this revelation should also raise questions about the potential effectiveness of the "No Child Left Behind" legislation. Does the legislation address the outside incluences?

By the way, part of Mr Brooks conclusion:

"We can spend all we want on schools. But if families are disrupted, if the social environment is dysfunctional, bigger budgets won't help."

Are we able to see that there is probably a synergy across Education, Health Care, Child Care, and Head Start programs? Can we understand that a child's educational success is tied to all of the above, and to their parent's ability to provide them?

Perhaps we need more reasearch, but if there is a connection and nothing is done to incorporate these aspects into a comprehensive vision of education, children will continue to be left behind.

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Thursday, January 06, 2005

They keep on coming...

So, a couple of people were inspired. Well, they probably just hadn't realized how easy it is to blog these days, but now that they know, they're getting themselves out there.

My brother started a blog "Why teach in the Inner City?". He teaches at a high school on Chicago's South Side, and his first post is a good summary of his motivations for becoming a teacher, and some quick reflections on his first four years teaching.

A friend Michelle started one called: Bronzeville Blog. She lives in the Bronzeville area in Chicago, and I'm sure she'll keep us up to date on the dramatic changes going on there. The city has already removed some of the old projects, and new townhouses are going up. Her first post is about changes to McCormick Place.

If you hadn't already noticed, I added some links on the right to all these blogs, and to some other sites that I check regularly.

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Wednesday, January 05, 2005

It's So True

Don't you just love this? I know I do. A Rick Morrissey column this week has me feeling good about the White Sox's chances this year.

So a bold prediction for 2005:

The White Sox will win the World Series. This is the only way life could be any worse for the Cubs. And that is where you always go with this franchise. You go to wherever the maximum pain is. Five outs away from the World Series in 2003? Yes, that does hurt. The Red Sox, the Cubs' brother in futility, winning the Series in 2004? Thank you, sir, now hit me across the back of the legs with your cane.

When the Red Sox stunned the Yankees in the ALCS, I wrote a column about it for the Tribune, with the Cubs' misery threading its way through the piece. Didn't mention the White Sox and their misery once. And heard about it from miserable Sox fans. How dare anyone dismiss their pain, they said. They hadn't won a World Series since 1917 and have had to live with the Black Sox scandal all these years. Surely that torture counts for something.

Fair's fair, and Sox fans will be able to rub a World Series title in the faces of Cubs fans. You rightly ask: How, with that lineup and that budget, could the Sox win the Series? How, after trading Carlos Lee and not re-signing Magglio Ordonez, could the Sox win it all? Especially with that pitching staff?

I have no idea. I just know that, in the grand scheme of things, it would make perfect sense. A Chicago team wins the World Series, and it's not the long-suffering Cubs. It's the almost-as-long-suffering Sox. (The standard Cubs fan would react typically—by pretending South Side fans don't exist and catching up with his old friend, pain.)

So it's the Sox in seven games. Oh, yeah, over the Cubs. I almost left that part out.

And if not this year, then next year. Always next year.

In the past, I've told my brother, a Cubs fan, that the ideal situation for me would be for the Cubs to make the World Series...and lose to the Sox. It's the ultimate in sibling rivalry, I know.

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Everyone's Blogging

I started this blog about 5 months ago, and now, it seems, a number of my friends and family are getting into the game. I got an email yesterday from my sister, who just moved to Africa with the U.S. State Department, and she started a blog a couple of months ago. In fact, her first post was the day after my birthday, during the last week of November. Her blog is Theresa's Overseas Musings.

A good friend, Chris, finally started a blog to augment the numerous emails that he was sending out to his family and friends. Check out Chris's blog, titled: Agree to Disagree .

My wife just started a blog a few days ago. Her blog is Southern Chick's View, and I look forward to reading her thoughts since she doesn't tell me anything. Just kidding.

The great thing about all these blogs is that we never have to talk again. We can just dump our thoughts into our blogs, and the "conversation" occurs at our leisure.

Another blog that I've been reading consistently is The Story of Why. It's written by a white women living in the West Garfield Park neighborhood, and conveys some very personal history. I think I may have seen her on the El one evening, when coming home from work. Now, for any readers not in the know, West Garfield Park is truly the "West Side" of Chicago. It's a predominantly-black low- to middle-income community, with the emphasis on low. I'm pretty sure that I can count the number of white residents on one hand, and that includes me and my mother. So, I'm pretty sure that it was her. Anyway, I should probably blog more about living in the area. Interesting stuff.

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Blogger Michael M. Davis said...

Oh...I'm getting all teary-eyed. This was my first comment. I feel loved. After just five months of writing this, someone was moved to comment. Wait, let me just bask in the glow.

2:57 PM