Transterrestrial Musings

I Only Missed One

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I scored 32 out of 33 on this test (I missed the last one--Doh!). Unfortunately, most people don't do that well.

I really think that we should bring back literacy tests for voting. They shouldn't have gotten rid of them because they were being used to racially discriminate--they should have just ended the racial discrimination.

[Friday evening update]

I have to say that readers of my blog, even the non-USians (or at least the ones commenting), are way ahead of the curve. Nice to know.

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Jardinero1 wrote:

I don't see what this quiz or any other quiz has to do with voting. What does literacy have to do with common sense and good judgement. I have known illiterates who have far more common sense and better judgement than the most erudite PhD's. Who gets to determine the standards for literacy... Al Sharpton, Christopher Hitchens, Andrew Sullivan, Barack Obama? What if you don't agree with the standard?

Personally, I think it would be better to dispense with voting altogether or limit it to property owners exclusively. Majority vote is one excuse leaders use to take your rights and your wealth away.

kayawanee wrote:

I thought Heinlein's idea in Starship Troopers was quite clever. Only citizens had the right to vote, and only those with military service could become citizens.

That way only those who risked their personal safety for the good of the nation were worthy of selecting who would lead that nation.

I don't know if I support it, but it was an interesting take on democracy.

Karl Hallowell wrote:

Even limiting it to property owners is a big mistake. Urban areas have lower property ownership (due to higher real estate prices). Further, one of the dynamics that led to the current financial crisis is decades of federal policies that subsidize and inflate the value of residential real estate. A natural outcome of such a voter bias would be high home prices and a large, permanent rental population who can't afford to buy a home.

Eg, if one merely subsidizes rent, then you can create this permanent urban population of non-voters.

kayawanee wrote:

Further, you couldn't hold public office without prior "Federal Service" (read military service). Additionally, you couldn't vote or hold public office until AFTER you have been honorably discharged from the service.

Mike Puckett wrote:

I missed the last one. Got the rest.

George Skinner wrote:

I got 29 out of 33, but I'm Canadian. I've never taken a US history course. Several of the questions (particularly the last) are very oddly worded, suggesting a political slant to the quiz.

Mike Puckett wrote:

The last question seems to me to present too little information.

KeithK wrote:

I like the idea of a literacy test for voting in the abstract. But as Jardinero1 points out, when you let the government set standards for exercising your rights you create the possibility of government abuse. Even if it's likely that a literacy or civic literacy test would be administered fairly eventually there is a high probability that someone will try to manipulate the requirement to further their political ends. There aren't that many people who won't try to skew things to favor their side at least a little, especially when lawyers get involved.

Jim Davis wrote:

"I thought Heinlein's idea in Starship Troopers was quite clever. Only citizens had the right to vote, and only those with military service could become citizens."

Your memory plays you false here. In Starship Troopers one volunteered for something called the "Federal Service". The exact service was determined by the needs of the government and the abilities of the volunteer, but they had to take you in some capacity. It could be civil or military. There is a scene where our hero lists his preferences and puts the army dead last. Which is of course where he ends up...

All Federal Service veterans whether civil of military received became citizens.

Jim Davis

Fletcher Christian wrote:

One thing that test isn't is a literacy test. I also think that it's biased. However, I scored 31 out of 33 on a test with at least half its questions about American history and the details of its laws and government; How's that for a Brit? (One often accused of knowing nothing about the USA, btw.)

Jack Peterson wrote:

I also got 32/33, missing the last question...hmm.

I missed only one, number 7: What was the source of the following phrase: “Government of the people, for the people, by the people”?

Carl Pham wrote:

Well, I missed the Douglas-Lincoln debate question, which I thought was not especially well-worded. I would have characterized the debate as "about" whether the substantial part of the country (as it turned out in 1860, the majority) which abhorred slavery could impose that view on the rest. That the context was popular sovereignty and other means and methods seems to be missing the forest for the trees. But oh well.

How did you all miss the last question?? Forgot that balancing the budget this year doesn't pay off the accumulated debt of the past? But this question, too, is badly worded, since it relies on a narrow distinction between "deficit" (this year's new debt) and "debt."

In all, I'm underwhelmed. It's seems more of a trivia quiz than a serious test for citizenship. You could be a Jeopardy whiz and get it all right -- and still be an Obama voter. You could be a wise and thoughtful citizen, rationally ignorant about stuff that doesn't matter, like which Amendment guarantees free speech and which due process, and flop the quiz.

They also leave out much more important stuff than the content of "I Have A Dream" or the Electoral College, like the principle of divided sovereignty, the role of the Supreme Court (!), the idea behind checks and balances and a bicameral legislature -- indeed, much of the flaws in a direct democracy that Madison's complicated machine was designed to avoid.

This is a serious weakness. I would argue the major threat to the modern republic -- well, probably to the republic in any age -- is its tendency to fall into naked democracy, which leads directly to Caesarism and tyranny. Far too many people believe the basic principle of the United States is that government should, as closely as possible, simply follow the will of the majority. If people understood why the Founders knew that to be an appallingly bad idea, and why they set up the system the way they did to avoid direct democracy, it would matter a thousand times more than whether you knew the wording of the Declaration, or what the Cuban Missile Crisis was about.

Carl Pham wrote:

Karl, I think you're mistaking "property owners" for "real property owners." You don't have to own actual land to own property. Your car, stereo, massive porn DVD collection, business, or stocks 'n' bonds portfolio would qualify, too.

I think most of the Founders felt a strong representation by propertied interests in the government was a necessary counterweight to populist interests. Thing is, if you're just a wage slave, then your interest in defending property rights is naturally low, and you can all too easily slip into the Robin Hood frame o' mind, where you feel the purpose of government is really just to help you rob the rich and goof off in Sherwood Forest, which is not a recipe for a sustainable society.

Property owners, by contrast, are exactly those people who want to defend property rights, who zealously guard the capital henhouse and the golden-egg laying geese against the eat drink and by merry live for today let's have goose for dinner foxes.

Bill Maron wrote:

I only missed 7 also. You'd think I would remember a speech read a number of times.

Anonymous wrote:

How about restricting voting to just net taxpayers? You would have literacy covered to some degree as it isn't all that easy to generate income as an illiterate without substantial motivation - that would be enough for me and it removes the influence on government (tax) policy from the deadbeats.

Vince Seifert wrote:

It even has an obvious slogan: "no representation without taxation!" :)

ken anthony wrote:

Voting rights for 18 or older citizens is just mob rule.

What our founders never envisioned was that the press would become so overwhelmingly part of the mob, censuring information. We can't even trust the 'fair and balanced' crowd.

Being literate, knowing civics and history are important, hugely important; but the thing voters must know 100% are principles. The principles that are the foundation of this nation.

We should be willing to compromise in every other way but never, ever compromise those principles.

Yes, we can argue what those principles are, but do you think the general population has any idea what they might be? I'm not sure I do, but I believe in what I understand.

I'm still appalled that 99 senators didn't understand a question of federalism that only Fred Thompson knew and voted correctly.

Yes, I would require anyone elected to pass a civics test. A history and economics quiz wouldn't be a bad idea either.

SSFC wrote:
How about restricting voting to just net taxpayers? You would have literacy covered to some degree as it isn't all that easy to generate income as an illiterate without substantial motivation

Only if we're willing to enact a 100% tax on estates above one million dollars. Nothing about the third generation of Kennedys or the current generation of the Sulzberger family convinces me that any of them should be allowed to vote.

SSFC wrote:

Bah. I fail at reading red text. No vote for me.

Curt Thomson wrote:

There is a scene where our hero lists his preferences and puts the army dead last.

Actually he put Mobile Infantry dead last, just ahead of K9 Corps, also a military profession.

I didn't miss the last question, probably because I saw Rand did and made sure I read it over several times before answering. But the Puritans? And FDR's issues with the supreme court? Been too long since high school.

Anonymous wrote:

You really think those guys pay taxes?

Jay Manifold wrote:

Heh. Aced it. Not sure what knowing what Sputnik was has to do with an adequate understanding of American gov't, though.

My understanding is that the franchise is ultimately based on taxation, which suggests that if anything it ought to be extended -- anybody who buys anything outside of the underground economy is paying sales taxes. I note the recent popularity in some parts of the blogosphere for eliminating the zero bracket for Federal income taxes and making everybody pay something (though those same people are getting clobbered by FICA). In the interests of transparency, it would be interesting if *all* Federal taxation were FIT. We'd certainly have a much better idea of how much all this is costing us when we saw our next pay stub ...

ken anthony wrote:

“A free people ought not only to be armed and disciplined, but they should have sufficient arms and ammunition to maintain a status of independence from any one who might attempt to abuse them, which would include their own government.”
— George Washington

...An example of a foundational principle.

I missed three on the test. Most embarrassed that I didn't get the Gettysburg reference.

Didn't know the topic of the lincoln debate and guessed it was more about keeping the union together than the slave issue.

Missed the last question because I didn't think any of the answers were right. The correct answer evaded me because people pay different amounts of tax. The first answer refers to deficit and not debt.

I wonder what George meant by disciplined?

Mike Puckett wrote:

"Didn't know the topic of the lincoln debate and guessed it was more about keeping the union together than the slave issue."

It was Lincoln's published remarks from that debate that more than anything was the spark of contention between himslef and Southern Plantation Owners.

Lincoln advocated rights for slaves and opposed the expansion of slavery into the new territories.

Even though Lincoln swore he would not stop slavery in the south, the previous positions taken during these debates formed the seed of mistrust that grew and eventually led to southern sucession over the issue.

The true tradegy is that if they could have kicked the can down the road another decade or so (as they had already kicked it down the road for many decades previous), automation and industrialization would have rendered it obselete and the issue would have resolved itself without the horrible bloodshed.

Slavery was rapidly being pushed into obselence before the war begain. That whole damn war was nearly avoided.

.....and the rest is history.

Conrad Bibby wrote:

I got 'em all right except the one about what defines a "public good."

Josh Reiter wrote:

I couldn't even find the website :( But my mommy said I tried really hard and did such a good job :)

Karl Hallowell wrote:

Ken, you wrote:

I wonder what George meant by disciplined?

At the time, there were local volunteer militia consisting of people in a town or county. As I understand it, most of these were originally constituted to repel indian attacks and had some degree of organization and discipline. There were a number of battles and numerous guerilla groups whose outcome depended on militia groups showing up, sometimes on the spur of the moment.

Several places where local militias played an important role was in the Saratoga campaign where a British invasion of New York's Hudson Valley failed and the campaign in the South, numerous fights had strong participation from the local militias, particularly two important defeats at King's Mountain and Cowpens that crippled the local British ability to quell guerilla attacks and reinforced Cornwallis's decision to move his forces northwards in order to engage the Continental army directly. This eventually lead to the Yorktown siege and Cornwallis's surrender.

Arni wrote:

27 out of 33, but then again I'm from Yuroop and never studied american history.

Mark Horning wrote:

I got them all, but I had to re-read several questions and answer carefully as several were not really well worded.

The question regarding the "Puritans" is simply wrong, as there were a large number of different puritan groups. While the Calvinists certainly believed in the inherent sinfulness of man, not all puritan groups did so.

"Puritan" simply refers to one a group that believed in a "pure" reading of the bible, without the trappings and interpretations of either the Roman or Anglican church.

Carl Pham wrote:

Yeah, I noticed that weirdness with the Puritans as well.

I mean, the "inherent sinfulness of man" is part of every branch of Christianity -- Adam and Eve? The apple? Hello?! -- and, I daresay, of almost all religions period. Don't really need a theory of redemption if man is inherently good, do we?

I was trying to think of what I would consider a decent, one-sentence description of the Puritans, and what I came up with is "people who believe that no man can improve on another man's interpretation of the will of God." From that, I believe, all else follows. Unfortunately it rather applies to all Protestants.

Wickedpinto wrote:

I missed two. the free market one, and, I forget the other one, I think it was the economic one, with.

It was a cagey test, in some questions, and the wording of some of the answers, but it's really quite simple if you ever slept through US History. I never took civic's, I was kicked out of school by then.

I don't see how ascribing to an economic concept that is theoretical should be valid, but the basics, like the branches of government and basic founding father facts, with a few historical references.

Frankly, I don't know how anyone who is a citizen, who has been required to take classes on exactly these subjects could possibly get less than 80% let alone get a failing rating.

Bob wrote:

Mike Puckett:

I recently saw a counter-argument to the idea that it woudl have been a good idea to avoid the horrible bloodshed of the civil war by kicking the can of slavery down the road until automation resolves the issue peacefully.

At this website,

James Nicoll said:

" Check my guestimate
"The American Civil War cost about 600,000 lives. As can be seen here the end of slavery coincided with an increase in lifespan for African Americans. Can someone else make an estimate as to how long it took for the years gained in lifespan by the ex-slaves to equal the lives lost ending slavery in the US?

"For the record, it looks to me like it's eight years, give or take, if we assume all the war dead were about 20, but probably less since a lot of those guys were older."

I thought the above was worth mentioning because it was interesting, even it might be factually wrong, and not because it was necessarily making the right moral calculus.
Oh, and I also got 32 out of 33, missing the last question despite knowing that many people had missed it. Several of the other questions had wording that made my blood curdle.

Pete Zaitcev wrote:

I'm here to counterbalance you guys:
You answered 29 out of 33 correctly — 87.88 %

To get 32 a knowledge of American history is required, which I lack.

Paul Breed wrote:

I missed the puritan one.

I like no taxes no vote.

jsallison wrote:

missed two, the Lincoln-Douglas one and the last one... I'd say that if you're a net tax consumer you don't get to vote.

dantealiegri wrote:


I missed #7 and #15. I should have known #7 was newer than I guessed. #15 was just a stupid mistake because there is only one person who would use 'a wall of seperation'.

I think the reason the test was varied was to show just the breath of knowledge required to really be able to make good informed decisions. We aren't just adding to the laws that were made in the past, but changing them as well. And if you don't understand the context in which they were initially made, how can you know if you are changing things correctly?

Carl Pham wrote:

And if you don't understand the context in which they were initially made, how can you know if you are changing things correctly?

Another thing Jefferson said -- he wasn't an especially practical man -- was that all laws should be cancelled after a certain time, like 30 years, so that each generation could write its own government structure from scratch, entirely free of the past.

Anonymous wrote:

"I really think that we should bring back literacy tests for voting."

Quite interesting, as literacy tests were used by
racist southern whites, to keep blacks from voting
for over a century.

It is interesting to see a white floridian aligned
with the most ignorant and hateful era of this country

Mike G in Corvallis wrote:

32 of 33. That damned last question got me, and I contend that the "correct" answer is false if taken literally. So there!

Rand Simberg wrote:

It is interesting to see a white floridian aligned with the most ignorant and hateful era of this country

It's much more interesting to see a reading-challenged anonymous moron who doesn't comprehend what the words,"They shouldn't have gotten rid of them because they were being used to racially discriminate--they should have just ended the racial discrimination" mean. But stupidity like this is why anonymous morons remain anonymous.

jack lee wrote:

rand simberg writes:

"-they should have just ended the racial discrimination"

So how should that have been done?

I know how it was ultimately done

Rand Simberg wrote:

So how should that have been done?

It should have been done the same way that fairness in registration is done now. With monitoring of the process.

Sam Dinkin wrote:

I missed 7 and 14. It's interesting to note that there is very little signal for many of these questions. It's hard to distinguish some of the rates from random guessing.


I was talking to my father the American history professor and he said that slavery might have persisted until 1910 if the South had let Lincoln keep the Federal forts and secession had not resulted in war.

Bruce Hoult wrote:


I'm a NZer, not American. I got 30 out of 33.

Question #4 - B. Would slavery be allowed to expand to new territories?

I'd guessed it was about states' right to leave.

Question #7 - D. Gettysburg Address

I'd guessed the declaration of independence.

Question #30 - C. decreasing taxes and increasing spending

I was unsure of whether the question wanted to know what they SHOULD do (which is the answer above) or what they WOULD do, which in the great depression was to increase both.

Michael Lonie wrote:

32/33. I missed the Lincoln-Douglas debates question since I put that it was about the morality of slavery, rather than the extension of slavery into the territories.

On question 30 what they should do is decrease taxes and decrease spending, which is what the Harding Administration did and cut the post-WWI depression to less than a year. Alas, few of today's politicians are as smart as Warren Harding was.

Dave G wrote:

28 out of 33. Better than average (kind of like college). Meh.

Oh, and my feedback on anonymous posters?


bbbeard wrote:


But you wouldn't want to be ruled by me.

Voltaire once commented that Christianity must be divine, since it has lasted 1700 years [at the time] despite being full of villainy and nonsense. I'd paraphrase that: American democracy must be divinely blessed, since we have lasted 232 years despite being ruled by people who would flunk a civics test.


Robert Horning wrote:

I ended up missing the question about the Douglas/Lincoln debates. Clearly the issue was about the morality of slavery, although I had known about the debates between these two men over expansion of slavery into the territories. I should have selected the correct answer here.

One question I think was out right wrong (even though I got the "correct" answer) was with the Federal Reserve. The best answer would have been "none of the above", as it is the U.S. Treasury that is in charge of buying and selling securities and not the Federal Reserve. The only real "power" that the Fed has it to raise or lower interest rates on intra-bank loans. This is the "Prime Interest Rate" so often talked about. By making it cheap for commercial banks to borrow money from the Fed, they can increase the money supply in the economy (giving more money to everybody) or raising rates to make it more expensive for banks to lend money that didn't come directly from their investors & depositors.

Habitat Hermit wrote:

Hmm I did poorly (25 out of 33 correctly and 75.76 %) but #33 is just completely wrong the way it is formulated; it's only right if they're talking about average spending per person but that's not what they're writing or even implying in the "correct" answer.

The illusion implied in the "correct" answer is that everybody gets as much back as they put in and that resembles political bs enough to ensure that I would never chose it. I went with answer A which isn't much better but at least on a short time-scale and disregarding existing debt it's a sort'a-could'a-perhaps be a defensible statement if one splits enough hairs ^_^

My other mistakes was 6 about the US and 1 economical one that I simply flat out disagree with (that one is all opinion and not fact).

I want cheese now ^_^

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