Week 8, Chapter 14 -- Digging Deeper Sample Answers
Please note! This sample assignment is a letter about reforming the electoral college, not anything having to do with environmental issues. The purpose is to illustrate the format in which you should complete this assignment, and the format for annotating the references you cite.
Dear Mr. President:
I am writing to urge you not to support proposals that attempt to reform the system Americans use to elect the president. As you know, the people of the United States do not directly elect the president. Instead, voters elect “electors” who cast electoral votes for president. The candidate who wins the majority of the popular vote in each state wins ALL the electoral votes from that state (except in Maine and Nebraska). Then, whoever wins the majority of electoral votes becomes President. If no candidate wins a majority of votes, the U.S. House of Representatives decides the winner.
Many people argue that the Electoral College is an anachronism and that it is time to elect the president based on the popular vote. After all, in a country that prides itself on its commitment to democracy, what could be more democratic than electing the President based on one-person-one-vote? In addition, the electoral system is somewhat open to corruption, as many electors are not legally obligated to vote for the candidate the people of their state “tell” them to. To influence the outcome of a close election, it would be relatively simple to induce a few electors to change their votes – much simpler than convincing a few million voters to do the same!
The argument to switch to a popular vote seems compelling, but it is important to consider also the down side of using the popular vote to elect the President.
One argument against using a pure popular vote is the logistics of recounts in a closely contested election. In 2000, the nation held its breath as election officials in Florida conducted a painstaking recount. Imagine the problems that would ensue if we elected the President by the popular vote. Every voting precinct in the nation would need to conduct a recount to ensure accurate results. This would not only be costly, it would also take a very long time.
Another argument against using a pure popular vote is that it would shift power and attention from smaller states to more populous ones. In the current system, each state has at least three electors, no matter how small the population. If we were to switch to a popular vote, candidates would ignore the smaller states in favor of large, vote-rich metropolitan areas. This would represent a switch in power from the smaller states to larger ones. On a practical level, the consequence of this would be that a constitutional amendment to switch to a popular vote would never pass. After all, a constitutional amendment requires the approval of three-quarters of the states. The smaller states, who stand to lose the most, would probably never agree to the change.
Rather than a popular vote, it might be practical to switch to a system of proportional representation in which the number of electoral votes each candidate receives is proportional to the popular vote in that state. This is an idea I think is worth investigating, but it is a topic for another letter!
Thank you for your consideration,
Annotated list of references:
Center for Voting and Democracy. 2004. Concerns with the Electoral College. http://www.fairvote.org/e_college/problems.htm. Downloaded November 2, 2004. This site contains a wealth of information on the Electoral College, including a list of so-called “faithless electors” throughout the history of the Electoral College.
Kienitz, Paul. Undated. Options for Electoral College Reform. http://gning.org/electoral.html. Downloaded 2 November, 2004. This site does what the title says: after explaining what is wrong with the electoral college, it explains many of the most viable alternatives.
Shapiro, Alan. Undated. Presidential Election 2004: Should the U.S. Junk its Electoral System? http://www.teachablemoment.org/high/electoralsystem.html. Downloaded November 2, 2004. This site includes the history of the Electoral College and a list of “good and bad” things about it. It is actually a teaching site, meant to give teachers information so they can let students explore the issues for themselves.
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[Sample assignment by Mariëlle Hoefnagels]
Please note! This sample assignment is about a type of household cleaner, not a pesticide. The purpose is to illustrate the format in which you should complete this assignment.
Information from the product's label:
1. Does the company's website provide toxicity information related to their product?
Clorox, the company that makes Formula 409, has a website devoted to the product. Interestingly, the website listed "nonionic and cationic surfactants, solvents, and dye" as the ingredients, which does not exactly match the ingredients listed on the label. The site does not include any toxicity information about 409.
2. What other product information is provided?
The Formula 409 website tells about the surfaces on which you can use 409, describes other products in the 409 lineup, lists tips for using the products, provides offers and promotions, and briefly describes the history of 409.
3. What toxicity information did you find in your broader internet search? Does the product information from the company, particularly toxicity information, agree or conflict with information from your other sources?
I visited the Pesticide Action Network site and found a match for my active ingredient, alkyl (50%C14, 40%C12, 10%C16) dimethylbenzyl ammonium chloride. The chemical is not listed as a "PAN Bad Actor", nor is it a cholinesterase inhibitor (an indicator of toxicity to the nervous system, as I discovered by clicking on the link to that category). But there were big question marks for all of these categories: acute toxicity, carcinogen, groundwater contaminant, developmental or reproductive toxin, and endocrine disruptor. The question marks indicate that PAN has no information one way or the other about the active ingredient I'm studying.
I also visited the Household Products Database and found a page on 409. That site included the information from the product's own warning label and again indicated nothing about chronic effects from using the product. But when I clicked on the name of my active ingredient, it brought up the option to "Search ToxNet." That search brought up three references from the biomedical literature. A glance at the titles didn't suggest to me any concerns about human health.
The Household Products Database also told me that my active ingredient is a "Quaternary ammonium compound." A Google search on that term led me to a Wikipedia article indicating that these compounds (also called "quats") have many industrial uses, including as disinfectants. That fits nicely with the function of 409.
4. Were there any problems collecting toxicity information?
The only problem was that chemical names can sometimes be super complex. It turns out that there are many, many variations on the alkyl dimethyl benzyl ammonium chloride theme. Sorting out the highly technical language can be hard for a lay person.
5. Describe how, where, and how often you might use a product like this.
Formula 409 is a classic cleaner and disinfectant that you would spray on to any solid surface. I happen to have 409 at home and use it very occasionally to clean the stove or the shelves of the refrigerator (neither of which happen as often as they should).
6. Based on your use of the product and what you now know about its toxicity to human health and the environment, do you feel confident that the product is safe to use? Explain why or why not.
Because of the large number of question marks in the databases, I can't say for sure that the product is safe when used as directed. However, I use the product only occasionally, and I wipe up the liquid and immediately dispose of it in the trash, so I can say for sure that large amounts of 409's active ingredient are not entering Norman's waterways on my account. So I feel fairly confident that the product is safe.
[694 words, including question prompts]
"Formula 409." Undated. http://www.formula409.com/ (Accessed March 26, 2008)
Household Products Database. Undated. "Alkyl(C12-16)dimethylbenzylammonium chloride." http://householdproducts.nlm.nih.gov/cgi-bin/household/brands?tbl=chem&id=575 (Accessed March 26, 2008)
Household Products Database. Undated. "Formula 409 Spray All Purpose Cleaner." http://householdproducts.nlm.nih.gov/cgi-bin/household/brands?tbl=brands&id=3007037 (Accessed March 26, 2008)
Pesticide Action Network. Undated. "Alkyl (50%C14, 40%C12, 10%C16) dimethylbenzyl ammonium chloride." http://www.pesticideinfo.org/Detail_Chemical.jsp?Rec_Id=PC33948 (Accessed March 26, 2008)
Wikipedia. Undated. "Quaternary ammonium cation." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quaternary_ammonium_cation (Accessed March 26, 2008)
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[Sample assignment by Mariëlle Hoefnagels]