Saturday, November 27, 2010

Instant Runoff Vote, Round Two

Next Monday, November 29th, county and municipal boards of elections all across North Carolina will gather to begin Round Two of the Instant Runoff Vote.

In Pamlico County, we will count eligible second and third place votes for a vacancy on the NC Court of Appeals. After the votes are counted and uploaded to the State Board, we will do an audit of selected precincts, with a hand to eye count.

We don't know how long it will take. Maybe we'll be done by close of business Wednesday. Then again, maybe not. We'll see.

At least we don't have to open all ten polling places for another primary or special election.

Friday, November 26, 2010

US and Korea

There seem to be no really good options with Korea.

How long has the US been wrestling with Korean issues? At least 139 years.

June 10 to 12th, 1871 a US Naval force commanded by Commander (later Rear Admiral) Kimberly attacked and captured five forts in retaliation for the Korean murder of the American crew of the schooner General Sherman, the destruction of the ship, and for firing on American small boats taking soundings on the Salee River. The force captured Korean cannon and took them back to Mare Island Naval Shipyard in San Francisco Bay.

At the time, Korea was known as "The Hermit Kingdom."

Here is an account of the action.

Both Commander Kimberly and his Executive Officer, Lieutenant Commander Schley, were eventually promoted to Rear Admiral.

Civilization and the Discontented

I've been rummaging around in the web site of the Pew Center, hoping to become enlightened about public opinion. Instead, I came upon the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life and a very interesting conversation between Christopher Hitchens and his brother Peter on the issue of "Can Civilization Survive Without God?" Mingled in with the conversation are some illuminating observations about current world developments.

Even though the Hitchens brothers have very different views on the question, it is a very civilized conversation. Worth reading here.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Voter Turnout 2010

2010 General Election Turnout
County State

Below voting age 2,183 2,216,736
Voting Age Population (VAP) 10,655 7,165,873
Registered Voters 9,169 6,192,004
Registered Voters as Percent VAP 86% 86%
Votes Cast Nov 2 2010 4,735 2,702,342
Turnout Percentage VAP 44.44% 37.71%
Turnout Percentage Registered 51.64% 43.64%

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Is there Merit to a Meritocracy?

For the past couple of weeks, I've been trying to digest the meaning of the November 2 election.

One question is, what does the election portend for the future. It may not bode well. I fear for the future of our grandchildren. That's the subject for a future post.

A more immediate question is, what does it say about today's America?

Noam Scheiber, writing in The New Republic, analyzes the appeal of leading Tea Party figures such as Sarah Palin and Rand Paul as stemming from a politics of resentment - resentment at being led by snobs who think that governing requires expertise. Or who labor under the illusion that knowledge is better than ignorance.

To some extent, this is nothing new in American politics. We have, as David Hackett Fischer details in Albion's Seed, his cultural history of the United States, always been dominated by identity politics. We have also had examples of politicians who became successful by attacking intellectuals and other so-called elites. The example of George Wallace comes to mind. Himself a well-educated man, he attracted a following by attacking "pointy-headed intellectuals."

What seems new is the degree to which the poor and elderly have allowed themselves to be persuaded to vote against their own economic interests.

Americans once believed that the way to free the country from the grip of an aristocracy was to replace the self-appointed and self-perpetuating institutions of those with wealth and power with a meritocracy. The idea was that it is more democratic to be governed by those who achieved their positions by hard work and demonstrated excellence, rather than by family connections.

Not surprisingly, the wealthy and connected have fought back.

This phenomenon was examined a few years ago by Thomas Frank in his book, What's the Matter with Kansas? Frank highlighted what appeared to be effective use of explosive social issues to redirect the anger of those in economic distress away from the wealthy and powerful who caused the distress toward "liberal elites." When the book appeared, some pollsters disputed Frank's analysis.

This year, however, the Washington Post has taken a detailed look at congressional districts where Republicans gained enough seats to change the party in power. "The Republican Party's big gains in the House," the Post reports, "came largely from districts that were older, less diverse and less educated than the nation as a whole. Democrats kept their big majorities in the cities." This seems to confirm Frank's analysis.

A new feature is the extent to which a particular media conglomerate has lent its voice to supporting the interests of the wealthy and connected by whipping up anger against those with knowledge and expertise. See Paul Krugman's recent comment.

Experts may not always be right about what needs to be done. Still, when planning for the future, knowledge provides a better basis for planning than ignorance. Judgment is important, but judgment at variance with facts is fraught with peril. There is still merit to a meritocracy.

"...wisdom is better than folly, just as light is better than darkness.
The wise have eyes in their heads, while the fool walks in the darkness...."

Ecclesiastes 2:13-14

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Happy Armistice Day

Ninety-two years ago, November 11, 1918, the twentieth century's seminal war ended with a whimper - an armistice, not a victory.

Subsequent events conveyed the illusion of victory: The political and economic collapse of Germany; the destruction of the Austro-Hungarian Empire; the collapse of the Russian Empire and descent into Civil War. Other catastrophic events were to follow.

In a prescient essay, John Maynard Keynes warned of "The Economic Consequences of the Peace" that followed. European wars continued to rage. Hungary attacked Czechoslovakia. Poland attacked the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union invaded Poland. The United States and England invaded the Russian arctic near Murmansk. The United States, Japan and England occupied much of Siberia.

The word "armistice" conveyed the ambiguity of the war's end. Despite our resounding victory over Germany and Japan in 1945, World War II also did not resolve the ambiguities of World War I. If you watch "Lawrence of Arabia," it should be apparent that we are still playing out many of that war's ambiguities.

Maybe we should reactivate the name "Armistice Day."

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

More on Coffee

Puritans usually believe what they learned as a child is the be all and end all of knowledge, or at least of right conduct. More open-minded people sometimes think out of the box.

When I was a child, coffee came already ground up, in a can that said "Folgers" or "Maxwell House" ("good to the last drop") or possibly even "Luzianne." That seemed meet and right to me.

I was twenty years old when I learned about grinding your own beans. I was a house guest of a Navy Commander and his wife, who had traveled the world. I visited them in Memphis, Tennessee, where they had the habit of grinding their beans fresh in the morning.

What a difference in flavor! I still put sugar in it, but I no longer added any dairy product. It was a year later before I abandoned sugar in my coffee, but once I experienced freshly ground beans, there was no going back.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Deceased Voters

Several months ago we had a bit of a dispute in Pamlico County over clearing our voter registration rolls of voters who were deceased or had moved. I argued that we must be very careful who we remove.

Last Tuesday a voter turned up to vote, but encountered a problem. The voter, who was very much alive, had been removed from Pamlico County's rolls on the basis of information received from the State of North Carolina reporting the voter's death.

Reports of the voter's death, it turned out, were greatly exaggerated.

An example of why we need to be very careful about sources. Even official sources may turn out to be erroneous.