Will History of Marriage Repeat Itself?

Written by Firas Suqi ’13

The various interpretations of the Constitution have perpetually been used to deny specific groups to the right of marriage.

Professor Catherine Denial, a historian with research interests in marriage and Native Americans, provided us with multiple instances in which the state dictated the rights to marry, as well as privileging certain groups of citizens and types of marriage. By going back through the history of marriage in the U.S., Denial demonstrated that we’ve seen the debates surrounding the issues of gay marriage before.

Beginning in the late 18th Century, married women were considered property of their husbands, as stated in various colonial government papers.

While women were mistreated in American couples, Native American women had more leverage in household decisions. Instead of following the Native American example, Colonial governments suppressed the role of women in Native American and slave populations in order to curb the number of mixed-race male heirs.

Marriage would occur between members of the same social class and was used as a political strategy intended to maintain white male proprietorship of land and government power.

America’s history of marriage has always led to the suppression of one group in the right to marry. What’s to say that the same arguments against interracial marriage aren’t any different than those centered around gay marriage today?

The Supreme Court has been called to make rulings related to marriage on many occasions in the last century. The gay marriage movement has made considerable ground to become one of the bigger issues of debate between both parties.

So far, the presidential debates haven’t mentioned the issue of gay marriage too often, yet state governments have been challenging the rights for same-sex couples to marry. It would be interesting to see if a federal amendment occurs in the next four years, no matter which candidate becomes president.

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‘Sanctity of Marriage’

Written by Jessica Oakley ’15

This week in Election 2012! we heard from Catherine Denial, associate professor of history.  She specializes in the history of marriage. She came to talk with us about the history of marriage in the U.S. and how it affects the issues today.

Illustration: Wedding bells

We started from the very beginning of American history, with a letter from Abigail Adams to her husband, John Adams, stressing the importance of women in the Constitution and ended with today’s societies and the remnants of this culture.

Specifically what constitutes marriage?  We hear constantly in the news that there is war going on against marriage or the sanctity of marriage is in trouble. The news acts as if this is the first time in American history when people believe these things.

But in fact, as Professor Denial pointed out, it is most definitely not. When our country was first started, the sanctity of marriage was in trouble if women had the right to vote.  If they did, their positions in society and in a marriage would change.

Women’s duty was to take care of the home, procreate, and obey their husbands. The next blow against the sanctity of marriage was if African-Americans could get married. Because slaves were considered property, they could not legally be married. This meant that families could be separated on a master’s whim.

When slavery ended, many plantation owners stated that if their former slaves could be married that their (own) marriage vows would be lessened. This was also stated (as opposition) for interracial couples to be married and an American citizen marrying a foreigner. Citizens opposed to all of these reforms all stated that it was harming THEIR MARRIAGE and the SANCTITY OF MARRIAGE.

However, America did not fall. Family was still intact, and in no instance did people lose rights if others received them.

And we realize that this battle is still going on today. It is the same ignorance as 200 years ago — just directed towards different people.

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Save the Trees: E(lectronic) Voting

Written by Rana Tahir ’13

In class this Tuesday, Professor (Jaime) Spacco, a professional “SMC rat” (pronounced “smack” rat), shared with us his thoughts on the possibilities for computerized voting.

What is a SMC rat, you ask?  It is the local jargon for a person who works so hard at the Umbeck Science and Math Center (SMC), they practically live there. This goes for students especially, and yes, they hold these titles proudly. On the same note, the Ford Center for Fine Arts (CFA) can eat your soul, like it’s happily eating mine. Pride.

Back to the point: I must say this was one of the liveliest lectures. Professor Spacco’s passion for his work really shone through, even to a technology-challenged person like me.

The premise was on “openness,” which dealt with patents, copyright and the like. It also had repercussions for privacy.

Electronic voting, or e-voting, can be done through actual online voting or computerized machines. In practice, we already have machines that are built by four companies nationally.

Incidentally, the technology those four companies use is not open to the public. However, that didn’t stop a Princeton team from hacking into one machine in under two minutes. Scary stuff.

But as Professor Spacco said, “Given enough eyes, all bugs are shallow.” And perhaps, the team that hacked into the machine can also help us understand how to improve them.

So the question isn’t: Should we head into e-voting? We’re already there. The question is: Should we open the technology for others to improve upon?

I saw possible risks, and wasn’t sure how we could account for them.

For instance, given the problems banks and companies have been getting from the Avenge Assange group without the ability to protect themselves, I’m wary of going full-in to e-voting.

For those who don’t know, Avenge Assange is a group of anonymous hackers who can send unstoppable attacks to shut down Web sites ,including online banking transactions.

For me, we’re just not there technologically to assure things will be fair. Perhaps Professor Spacco is right, and we need to get the best and the brightest looking at these technologies.

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Safety in E-Voting

Written by Robyn Wright ’13

This week in Election 2012, electronic voting and its relationship with patent laws was subject to debate.

As technology has advanced, so has our reliance upon it, which can pose a few concerns in the upcoming election.

While e-voting has increased efficiency in voting, direct-recording electronic voting systems (DREs) are not infallible. After all, “To err is human, but to really foul things up requires a computer.”

Computers have the potential to crash or fail, and if so, is it possible to perform a recount? With computers, there isn’t always a paper trail to call in the voters whose votes were lost.

A 2006 study, performed by computer science students at Princeton University, found students could hack DREs and steal votes in under 10 seconds through the use of computer viruses.

While it is hard to imagine a nationwide election being rigged in such a manner, it is certainly possible at the local level.

Why hasn’t much progress been made to correct this flaw? Well, in 2008 there were only four manufacturing companies producing these machines. Software is property, and companies have the right to keep their intellectual properties hidden.

However, keeping the software hidden prevents improvement through competition. Patents are useful for spurring invention and giving credit where credit is due, but what happens when this right to intellectual property usurps our right to vote? The American people have a conundrum on their hands.


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Free Country, Free Software

Written by Firas Suqi ’13

With less than a month leading up to the presidential election, the debates between both parties are really starting to heat up. This week, we took a step back from the main issues being debated, instead to discuss the influence of electronic voting in the upcoming election with Computer Science Professor Jamie Spacco.

Jaime Spacco

We use a Direct Recording Electronic voting system (DRE) that typically consists of casting your vote on a touch screen prompt, which then writes your vote and voter ID information on an electronic log that is saved to a hard drive at the polling station.

By eliminating paper votes, the DRE voting system was designed to reliably store votes. While coming out originally in the 1990s, DRE voting became more common after the controversy over lost votes in Florida during the 2000 presidential election, which George W. Bush won by a mere 537 votes.

The DRE voting system seems like a technological advancement we should be praising, right?

Well, Professor Spacco detailed the many flaws this system has as being the nation’s primary ballot recorder.

Some of the questions he raised were:

  • What happens when software/hardware fails?
  • How do we do a recount if these votes disappear?
  • How do we know the voter logs won’t be deleted?
  • Who is creating the voting programs, and who is servicing them?

It turns out that four companies own the copyrights for the DRE voting machines. This wouldn’t be problematic except for the fact that the software these machines run is proprietary, meaning that the code the software is written in is encrypted so that no outsiders are able to see or access it.

Spacco argued that proprietary software is a bad thing because it doesn’t allow for the technological community of professors and other computer geniuses to help develop these programs by finding flaws in the code. Instead, Spacco likened software companies to the service industry, calling for voting programs to be open-sourced.

In his closing remarks on Tuesday, Spacco said that in order to achieve genuine democracy, the right to software code must be freely accessible.

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Dark Money

Written by Robyn Wright ’13

“Dark money.” It sounds like a phrase you would first hear out of the Star Wars Trilogy, but in reality it’s what’s helping finance this election.

Illustration: Campaign cash

Dark money is the technique by which wealthy campaign donors can contribute anonymously without being subjected to government restrictions.

These “social welfare” groups are allowed to spend half their money on election advocacy, but the half they do not spend they are allowed to donate to “super PACs” [political action committees].

These super PACs can influence an election through advertisement as long as they are not working in cooperation with the candidate. Donations to these super PACs are regulated, but the dark money donations have less clear reporting requirements.

Currently, there is a call for transparency in knowing who is funding campaigns, but this isn’t our greatest concern. The Supreme Court case of Citizens United versus the Federal Election Commission ruled that campaign spending by corporations and unions could not be prohibited as it was protected by the First Amendment. The Supreme Court ruled that money was equal to free speech.

Donating to a campaign is certainly an expression of one’s free speech, but what about when one wealthy individual is able to donate a million dollars while another can only give a measly $10? Now the first individual has 100,000 times more freedom of speech [$1 million = $10 x 100,000] in regards to this election.

Our Declaration of Independence claims that “all men are created equal,” but we are allowing money to destroy this equality.

Each year, more and more money is being spent to finance elections, and if we are to reclaim our voice, we must put a cap on this excessive spending. As a nation, we must demand Washington pass full disclosure laws on dark money, and enforce stricter rules on coordination within campaigns.

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The Culture War — Religion as a Voting Indicator

Written by Firas Suqi ’14

So far, the focus of our lectures has been on the specific stances each party holds in regards to issues of the economy or the environment. This week, Professor Duane Oldfield discussed the demographics of voters during the presidential election of 2008, providing us with the statistical breakdown of each party by religion.

Duane Oldfield

This topic was particularly interesting because religion can be seen as a reliable indicator in predicting how one may vote, especially with both candidates take firm stances on hot-button issues such as gay marriage and abortion.

The statistical figures shown to the class demonstrated the evangelical and Protestant churches’ support for the Republican Party, as well as the non-believers’ and Jewish support for the Democratic Party.

Within these alliances there was some divide, though. White Catholics seemed to prefer Republican candidates, whereas Hispanic Catholics tended to vote for the Democratic candidate. Black Protestants also strayed from the general trend of siding with the Republican Party, with over 95% voting for Barack Obama in the 2008 election.

One group that has gained considerable influence in the Republican platform is that of the Christian Right. Professor Oldfield suggested that the increased presence of the Christian Right is part of what he coined “The Culture War” between the theologically conservative and the theologically secular. The rise of social movements in the 20th century has led each party to adopt a stance on the social issues of abortion and homosexuality.

Religion (or a lack of religion) plays a large role in determining an individual’s values and how he or she will vote. It will be interesting to see the breakdown of voters for the 2012 election, and find out where the majority of America’s values lie.

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Church, State, and Political Pandering

Written by Rana Tahir’13

'Vote Here' sign

On Tuesday, the Elections 2012! class received a lecture from Professor Duane Oldfield on the role religion plays in politics. Dividing the class into a Republican camp and a Democrat camp (not based on actual affiliations), he asked us to speculate on which groups we “as a party” should focus on getting to vote.

Professor Oldfield revealed the breakdown afterward.

It turned out that Democrats generally do well among those who do not attend church regularly; Latino, Hispanic, or black Catholics; atheists; people unaffiliated with a religion; and Jews.

Republicans do well with Anglicans; evangelicals and born-again Christians; Orthodox Jews; those who attend church at least weekly; Mormons; and white Protestants.

Professor Oldfield then went on to describe the changes in today’s political climate. For instance a Mormon (Mitt Romney) is running for president, whereas back in the day people were questioning John F. Kennedy’s loyalty because he was Catholic. Weird times. Though all the hullabaloo about Barack Obama not really being a Muslim would say otherwise.

So since tonight (as I’m writing this it’s October 3rd) is the first presidential debate, I decided to put this to the test. Let’s see how many times religion comes up and who each candidate panders to!

End of Debate: Mitt Romney mentioned God once.

Progress? I guess religion isn’t that big a deal this time around…

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Clean Air and the Real Issues We Are Facing

Written by Jessica Oakley ’15

Hi ya’ll!

After writing my blog post about week 3, I thought this week I could add a little bit about myself.

I am sophomore at Knox from Houston, Texas. I decided to take Election 2012! because I wanted to hear what specialists in each field have to say about the election.

First off, I wanted to give a disclaimer. I have yet to take an environmental studies class at Knox, and my only experience in environmental studies is from junior year in high school.

That being said, I came into this class worried that, because of my lack of background, I might have an issue. But I was completely wrong.

Professor Katie Adelsberger [The Douglas and Maria Bayer Endowed Chair in Earth Science] did an amazing job piquing my interest. Professor Adelsberger talked about the main [environmental] issue of this election: Should the Clean Air Act be amended to exclude carbon dioxide from unregulated gases?

The Republicans do not want the act amended, while the Democrats do. We discussed how it has become an economy-versus-the-environment issue. Do we take precautions that help us later but cause job loss? Or keep jobs but leave our planet worse off for future generations?

Everyone agreed that pollution can not only cause harm to our environment but is also harmful to humans.

What about the other issues? How do President Obama and Governor Romney plan on helping our environment? If you think about it, if our world becomes uninhabitable because of all the pollutants, then all the other issues won’t be a problem.

Knowing this, Professor Adelsberger had us read an article [in Scientific American] where both Obama and Romney answered 40 questions about their views on the environment.

From the article, you can clearly see that neither candidate truly takes a firm stance. Both agree that science is important, and we should take advantage of it; however, that’s about as in-depth as it gets.

We need to no longer make this an issue based on party lines — and tackle the environment together.

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Fossil fuels, fracking, and jobs

Written by Robyn Wright ‘13

Illustration: Oil

This week in Election 2012, the concept of debate was oil and energy.

Surprisingly, the strive for renewable resources is less emphasized this year than in the 2008 election. This is because better technology has made fossil fuels more accessible in the last four years, and has been shown to increase U.S. employment and GDP.

Unfortunately, job creation seems to be taking priority over the environment. The Keystone XL pipeline would help our economy in the short run by creating jobs, but overall poses a pollution risk for U.S. soil and really only benefits Canada in the long run.

Additionally, new technology for collecting fossil fuels — called “fracking” — poses a great risk to the pipeline. Fracking is a process that fractures the rock layer in order to obtain natural gas or oil, but recent studies have already shown a 5-fold increase in earthquakes in regions using this technology.

Because the Keystone XL pipeline’s proposed route crosses through this territory, there is the worry that we are setting up a pollution disaster.

Illustration: Renewable energy from windmills

Fracking proves beneficial in the fact it reduces gas prices by allowing us to rely less on foreign oil, but is keeping a domestic supply worth the environmental impact? Personally, I would prefer paying more for gas and electric bills if it meant our nation succeeded in relying only on renewable resources.

If we can be at the forefront of this industry, we would be prepared in the decades to come, as well as global leaders in this technology. Unfortunately, in this election, the environment is on the backburner while compromises will be made in favor of the economy.

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