Obama’s Mother’s Book

Duke University Press is about to publish a revised version of Stanley Ann Dunham's 1992 dissertation:

The book runs about 300 pages and focuses on a blacksmithing village called Kajar, in the province of Yogyakarta on the island of Java. The work has been whittled down significantly from its original form, which ran more than a thousand pages and investigated the socioeconomics of several village-based handicrafts, including batik, pottery, and the making of puppets used in shadow theater.

Dunham is Barack Obama's late mother, by the way. The piece about the book prompted me to take a look at Dunham's Wikipedia page, which I'd never done before. Turns out she was quite cosmopolitan, and a pretty damned interesting person all-around. I wonder if there's a good biography of her… 

The Swiss Minaret Ban

WWND -- What would Nicolae Do?

The Swiss minaret ban is just the latest in a series of raspberries European publics  have given to their mainstream political leaders. Lessons:

  • Social desirability bias is alive and well in Europe. Lots of Swiss apparently gave pollsters the 'right' answer, then voted their actual views.
  • If you relegate an issue to the fringe parties, it doesn't go away. All the 'mainstream' parties dutifully came out against the minaret ban, and apparently thought their work was done. After all, how could the people enact a law after being instructed by the respectable political elite that it was a bad idea? Looks like the Swiss political elite may have to elect themselves a new population
  • Allowing the people to alter the constitution by referenda can make politics a wild ride indeed. The people often have decidedly non-salonfaehig (a great German word meaning 'worthy of discussion in a salon') opinions, and referenda let their id come out. Several American states brought back the death penalty by using referenda, and California passed an initiative requiring all tax increases to be approved by a two-thirds vote of the state legislature. This has, of course, rendered California state government dysfunctional. But once the people have spoken, it's almost impossible to ignore them.
  • Next on the agenda, perhaps: A Swiss referendum bringing back capital punishment for those who sexually attack and murder children. The mainstream elite would uniformly denounce it, but nevertheless (or perhaps for precisely this reason) it would pass with a majority.

I'm not saying the minaret ban is a good idea — far from it. Nor do I think the Swiss vote is a 'crisis'. It's a normal incident of life in political systems which operate (either implicitly or explicitly) on a model of Burkean trusteeship. The people occasionally defy the political elites, but soon enough, things are back to normal. After all, what's the alternative?