Monday, September 27, 2004

What Were They Thinking?: Sweet and Salty

“What Were They Thinking?” highlights products and presentations which just don’t make sense.

These Salt and Pepper packets came from Kentucky Fried Chicken. (Er, make that “KFC”.  The company is trying to disassociate itself from both the “Kentucky” and the “Fried” portions of the name.  Check out their website and you’ll see barely any mention of what the letters stand for.)

It’s kind of surprising to see an ingredients listing on packets like these.  After all, what should they say?  “Ingredients: Salt” and “Ingredients: Pepper”?  Nope.  The salt packet says “Ingredients: Sodium Chloride, Sodium Silicoaluminate, Dextrose, Potassium Iodide and Sodium Bicarbonate”.

Yup, you read that right: one of the ingredients in fast food restaurant salt is sugar.  (As I recall from a few years ago, when I first noted it at McDonalds or Burger King, in some packets, sugar was the #1 ingredient!)  And they wonder why we are fat as a nation.

Note that the pepper packet is fun in its own way, saying “Ingredients: Ground Immature Whole Berries of Perennial Vine, Piper Nigrum L.”  (In other words, pepper.)

Updated on May 4, 2011
According to the Morton Salt website, the dextrose is added to stabilize the potassium iodide (which is added to help the thyroid gland and prevent goiter), and is only a tiny tiny amount (4/100 of a percent).  Which doesn't lessen the weirdness of seeing it on the label.

Selection 2004: The Gender Card

The Washington State governor’s race is now down to two candidates: Christine Gregoire and Dino Rossi.  Up until a couple weeks before the primary, every reference I had seen or heard to Gregoire used her full first name, but her website and all the yard signs use the shorter form, “Chris”.

Perhaps the shorter, single-syllable form sets her off from two-syllable competitor “Dino”.  Perhaps it removes any religious connection which might come from having “Christ” in the name.  Perhaps the marketing wonks said that the meter of the two two-syllable names was bad.  Perhaps she saves a couple cents per yard sign by using less ink.  (In know, or perhaps “Chris” is really what she prefers and all the earlier references to “Christine” weren’t especially accurate.)

My first thought when I saw one of the signs, though, was that she was using a shorter, non-gendered name in an attempt to project a masculine image, especially to more conservative parts of the state and to those voters who will go entirely on name recognition, never seeing the face of whom they vote for.  “Yeah, I’ll vote for that ‘Chris Gregory’ guy.  Probably better that the guy named for the dinosaur on The Flintstones.”

Updated on May 3, 2011

Friday, September 17, 2004

When E.F. Hutton Talks…

You’ll get to hear people yapping on their cell phones for your entire flight as soon as 2006, per this article.

It’s bad enough that the moment the wheels touch down, you hear a dozen chimes of phones being turned on, so that people can tell someone “We just touched down.”  Neither you nor your loved one could wait the five minutes until we get to the gate, or the ten minutes until you get off the plane?  But now we’re going to have to hear you all the way from Seattle to Dallas?  ;Oy!

(I recall the flight I took from New York in February, 2003.  The stewardess told the Orthodox Jew sitting in the aisle across from me — not that his religion has anything to do with it (probably) other than the particular outfit he was wearing &mdash that he needed to turn off his cell phone.  He held it up, still glowing green, saying “It’s off, look!”  Ten seconds later, it rang.  I swear, if she wouldn’t have lost her job by doing it, she would have taken the phone from him, thrown it on the floor, and stomped on it.  I was tempted to do so myself.)

When I used to take the commuter train to and from work every day, at least once a week, there would be somebody blabbing on about some business deal or another, probably sharing confidential info with the entire car.  One time, after the person had finished his conversation, I waited about 20 seconds, turned to my seatmate, and said in a loud voice and basically repeated the guy’s conversation, something to the effect of “So, I hear company X is going to be doing a deal with company Y to bring product Z to the market.  Guess I should call my stock broker, huh?”  (Oh, what a look I got!)

(Weblog Title Reference: From an old TV commercial.  “When E.F. Hutton talks, people listen.”)

Updated on May 2, 2011
Fortunately, the enablement of cell phone calls on airplanes is still in limbo.  Mayb it stay there for a good long time.  Having the “Pay $10 a minute” (or whatever it costs) phone available has always been a good balance to me: if you really really need to make that call, you can, but it’s not going to be cheap, so you’ll keep it short.

Selection 2004: Absentee Voting

This question was posed on the whiteboard at work today:
If I send in my absentee ballot on election day and the winners are announced that night, does that mean my vote doesn’t count?
Well frankly, yes.  Your vote doesn’t count in that case.

More to the point, your vote never counts.  Almost.  The only time a single, individual vote ever really counts is when the election is decided by a single vote.  And that never happens.  (But it can sure come close.  Florida, Oregon and New Mexico in the 2000 Presidential election were all won in the hundreds or low thousands of votes.  And the last Seattle monorail vote was won in the tens of votes, and absentee ballots could have changed the poll results.)

The power of democracy is that our votes add up.  Individually, we have no power, but combined with others of like mind, we become a wave, a force, and unstoppable movement.  (Or not.)

The power in voting comes from, for lack of a better term, peer pressure.  “I did my duty, did you do yours?”  On some level, I vote so that I can coerce/guilt other people to vote as well.

I also vote so that I have the right to bitch about the results.  If you don’t vote for anyone, even if you would have chosen a candidate who didn’t win, then you have no right to complain.  (Okay, you always have the right — that’s Free Speech for you — but any reason for people to take you seriously vanishes.)

A third reason to vote is to make a statement.  In the 2000 primary election in California, only registered party members would have their votes counted, but people form other (or no) parties could still vote in those races.  I was registered Green at the time, so I may have had a choice between Nader and some even less electable guy, and I didn’t really care about the outcome of that race.  So instead, I “threw my vote away” by voting for John McCain on the Republican slate.  My vote had no direct impact, but perhaps it (and others like it) were noted by the California Republican Party as an indication of the views of non-party members on the overall race, or even just by the McCain people to encourage his different heading on Republican issues.  Even if there was no formal impact of my vote because of the non-value of it, it still gives me an example to talk about — bitching rights, if you will — something that voting for Nader in that primary would not have done.

Back to absentee ballots, though.

Primarily (ahem), absentee voting is like any other voting: you get to say “I voted, did you?”  You did your civic duty.  You participated.

Washington State, in particular, has a strong tradition of absentee voting.  There have been many close races where absentee ballots affected the outcome of the election (or at least might have done so, as with the monorail vote mentioned above).

Further, remember that come November, you aren’t voting only for President.  (At least I hope you won’t be doing only that vote.)  You are voting for President (and Vice-President and the entire administration which goes with it), and for Governor, and Attorney General, and Senator, and state legislators, and Insurance Commissioner, and whether to switch from a “Montana” style primary to the “Louisiana” style, and probably some tax levies and stuff
like that.  The big races are the ones which get announced, yes, but you’ll probably have to read a newspaper to get all the details on the smaller ones, especially on which ones are close.  Any within a couple percentage points, even if the winner is “projected”, could be affected by absentee ballots, so your vote on lesser issues and races could still count.  (It’s worth noting as well that absentee ballots tend to be more liberal, reflecting people who are intent on voting as much as those responding to a particular issue or race, making your vote in either direction that much more valuable.)

Updated on April 27, 2011
In Washington, we have moved increasingly to “vote by mail” voting — no more going to the local elementary school on election day, instead you fill out your ballot in private and send it in — which effectively makes those elections totally absentee.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Men in Uniform, Right Next Door

Unfortunately, they were firemen.

Not that firemen aren’t sexy, but they were working… if you catch my drift.

At 3:30 am on Saturday, I was awakened by a repeating, high-pitched “beep beep beep” sound from somewhere outside.  I sleep fairly lightly through much of the night, I guess, although the minimal traffic noise in our neighborhood never disturbs me.  It’s things which don’t stop which sink through and wake me up.  (Like the dog next door.  Rrrr.)

My first thought was that it was a car alarm — the California State Bird, as we termed them in the mid-90s.  I couldn’t catch the direction from the bedroom window, so I went out onto the deck, but I still couldn’t tell where it was coming from — the next street over, I guessed.  I closed all the windows, which cut a lot of the sound into the house (so maybe I could get back to sleep) and then I could tell it was coming from next door.

My first thought was that it was a burglar alarm.  Perhaps stupidly, I went out our front door and over to the neighbors’ front porch, only to meet Al and Linda coming down from upstairs.  (Their kids live in the downstairs part of the house.)  And I smelled smoke.

Long story made short: the kids were gone for the weekend.  Al got the door open and clouds of plastic-smelling smoke wafted out.  911 was called, and three police cars and four fire engines showed up (on our narrow street!).  Fire hoses and a big venting fan were brought up.  The source of the fire was found to be small, no major damage and no one hurt, everything calmed down.  The local TV station did have a cameraman there, just in case.

As best we can tell, it was a build-up of lint in the dryer hose.  The lint caught on fire — unknown reason, maybe related to the proximity to the furnace — and burnt the plastic dryer hose, and hence the smell and the smoke.  The fire definitely came from outside the dryer.  (Guess I should check our dryer this week, huh?)

Once the fire engines arrived, I woke Rusty up, but he went back to sleep a couple minutes later, figuring that I (or firefighters) would wake him if the fire was serious and threatened to spread.  Rusty’s daughter Sarah, whose bedroom window faces Al and Linda’s house, never knew anything was going on.

I swear, those two could sleep through Hurricane Ivan.

Updated on April 25, 2011

Offensive Driving

I sent this complaint to United Parcel Service this morning:
I want to file a complaint against the driver of UPS Van #<xxxxxx>, driving in Seattle, Washington.

On the morning of Wednesday, September 15, at about 9:00 am (give or take a couple minutes), I was driving on I-5 north, on the “I-90 bypass” which is just south of downtown Seattle.  This section of road features three lanes of traffic which merge into a single lane before joining the main I-5 freeway: the left lane merges into the middle one, then the right lane merges.

I was in the leftmost lane at the merge location (just shy of where the two lanes fully become one), attempting to merge right.  Fully half my vehicle was ahead of the front of UPS Van #<xxxxxx>, but the van kept coming forward, trying to force his way ahead of me.  This would have required me to either slam on my brakes and attempt to merge behind him (assuming that I could and the such action didn’t cause an accident with the person in the lane behind me), speed up and hit the vehicle I was trying to merge behind, or ram into either the concrete median or the UPS Van.

This forcing by the UPS Van driver continued for several seconds: I would start to merge, he would speed up to prevent me, and I would have to speed up to maintain the ability to start to merge in; at least three repeats of this occurred.  I finally laid on my horn for several seconds, and your driver let me merge in.  He also then backed off a couple car lengths, allowing a car from the right-hand lane to merge between us.

The van had two delivery persons in it, both male (I think; it’s hard to tell from a rear-view mirror while driving); the driver was white, the other one was black.  (I had to read the number of the vehicle in reverse through the rear-view window as well — it was printed on the front of the van — but I have been good at reading things in reverse most of my life, and this was just a short number.)

I clearly had the right of way, due to most of my vehicle being ahead of the front of the van.  Is this sort of polite, defensive driving that UPS encourages of its drivers?  Is delivering packages on time really worth terrorizing fellow vehicles, attempting to force them off the road?

If you would like more information about this event (although I don’t think there is more that I can provide), feel free to contact me at this e-mail address or by phone during the day at (206) xxx-xxxx.

James Drew
Seattle, WA

Updated on October 3, 2004
There has been absolutely no response to my e-mail.  (Their site warned that all e-mails could not be responded to, and even implied that they might not even be read!)  I’m going to see if I can find another complaint submission method.

Life’s Too Short to Drink Industrial Beer

For approaching thirty years, there has been an ongoing boycott of Coors beer by the gay community.  It has lasted so long that many gay people have an ingrained hatred of Coors with no cognition of why there is a boycott.  (Hmm, I guess that makes it kind of a religion, doesn’t it?)  In recent years, though, with outreach from Coors, there has been a softening of the stance from some segments of the community, but perhaps an intensification from others.

Some observations on the Coors boycott:
  • The boycott apparently originated not from anti-gay stuff but from union busting activities on the part of Coors in the 1970s.  Even in semi-rural central Washington in the early 1980s, “Don’t drink Coors” was in the public consciousness for teenagers; that sure didn’t come from a gay boycott.
  • The gay side of the boycott apparently stems from a Bay Area Reporter article listing Coors as a donor to Anita Bryant’s “Save Our Children” campaign, a claim which was later retracted.  (But retractions never go as far as the original report does.)
  • Coors Brewing has done good things for their gay and lesbian employees.
  • The gay community tends to believe in “Never forgive” rather than just “Never forget”; we remember past slights forever.  Short of shutting down the company and the family committing mass suicide, there is no way for Coors to ever redeem itself in the eyes of some members of our community.
  • The virulence that some people exhibit against Coors is so strong at times that I can’t help but wonder if there’s something driving them beyond “Do good for the gay community.”  Not that I have any knowledge to the contrary, but if we believe that the Republican National Committee (or whomever) is a shadow behind the Swift Boat Veterans, is it impossible that other adult beverage companies wouldn’t like to see the Coors boycott continue and might even work to help that occur?
  • The level of scrutiny on Coors and its major shareholders is great, but has similar research been done on Starbucks, Subaru, American Airlines, Miller Beer, and Showtime?  What do we know about other companies which want our money?  Do we really know that none of their major shareholders are not also donating to anti-gay causes, or do we assume they are fine because we haven’t heard otherwise?  And if it’s the latter, isn’t it a little bit hypocritical to be so concerned with only one company?
  • The recent retraction of some female employee health benefits is a genuine reason for concern and greater scrutiny of the current state of the company.  [I can’t find an online reference now about the health benefits retraction mentioned above and I don’t recall the details to know what was involved. — 04/22/11]
All this said, I personally do not knowingly drink Coors products.  I know enough to have some moral questions.  The “Don’t drink Coors” concept has been in my head for more than two decades, and that isn’t easily bypassed.  But mostly, I prefer local mini-brews or regional beers when I can get them.  As one friend put it several years ago, “Life’s too short to drink industrial beer.”

But if a gay organization wants to accept Coors’ money, I will not damn them for doing that.  They have (presumably) weighed the pros and cons as they know them, and they have made a decision.  My decision to attend or not attend an event is not typically affected by the particular sponsors, so their decision is not apt to color mine.

Updated on April 22, 2011
Since I wrote this, Miller Brewing — a longtime supporter of gay events like rodeos and leather contests — has purchased Coors.  You could just about hear longtime anti-Coors/pro-Miler activists heads explode all across the country.

Friday, September 10, 2004

Selection 2004: Thongs, Sandals, and Pool Slippers

I’m not especially concerned about Kerry’s alleged “flip-flops”.  By and large, the claims of such boil down to two things: change and context.

First is the idea that politicians are not allowed to change their position on issues over time.  Kerry spent nearly 20 years in the United States Senate.  Think about the ways the world (and American society) has changed in the past twenty years.  Think about the ways you have changed in that time.  (Myself, I’ve gone from 18, a single virgin, and on my way into college to be a Physics major, to being 38, a kinky gay leatherman with a partner and two step-children, and a home-owning software tester.)  I see my own attitudes having changed over that period, reflecting both the changing mores of society and my personal educational and economic growth.  I have no problem believing that a politician might have held some views twenty years ago — and made votes on behalf of his constituents’ needs at the time — but would vote differently today due to those views or the needs of those constituents having shifted over the decades.

Second is that complaints about such “flip-flops” are taken largely out of context.  In isolation, it may appear that Kerry voted one way at one time, but the opposite way later on.  But with many of these votes, you have to go a level deeper.  What was it that drove his vote?  Odds are that the details are not identical.  Was one vote on procedural grounds?  Was another to curtail a budget out of control?  Was there an unrelated rider amendment attached to the bill, making it more important to stop the rider than to pass the main bill?

But the ultimate reason I’m not concerned about “flip-flops” from Kerry is because Clinton — perhaps the best overall President we’ve had in my lifetime — was himself accused of “waffling”.  (You may recall that a waffle was used as Clinton’s stand-in in the Doonesbury strips of the time.)  In fact, even “flip-flop” was used on Clinton, such as from an article I read once from The Daily Texan (no archives there, and the original reprinted link I had is defunct).  If they want to put Kerry’s governing style in the same class as Clinton’s, hey, no problem.

Updated on April 20, 2011

Friday, September 3, 2004

Here We Come a WASL-ing

The results of the latest WASL (Washington Assessment of Student Learning) scores are in, and while some scores are up moderately (but see below for more on that), the real numbers are pretty dismal.  (See full article from the Seattle Times.)  Only 38.8% of 10th grade students received “proficient” marks in all three subjects needed for graduation (Reading, Writing, and Math).  “Proficient” is a minimum of 61% correct.  Summarized further:
Less than 40% of students can get at least a D- grade in Reading, Writing, and Math.
The only thing to be cheerful about here is that the numbers are slightly less bad than they were last year.  (But they reduced the requirements for passing this year, so the touted increases and improvements are much smaller than they actually seem to be.)

(Why am I concerned about this, being a gay male who isn’t in the education field?  Rusty’s teenage daughter Sarah lives with us, and she goes to Cleveland High… which is perhaps the worst school in the entire state when it comes to WASL scores.  With the exception of some with “NA” scores, it’s the worst in this part of the state, with a whopping 3% pass rate.  That’s right: of 10th Graders at Cleveland, less than 1 in 30 could pass this test.  That gives me real qualms about the education system in Seattle in general, not just at Cleveland, since the education to pass a test like this has
to have started long before 10th grade.)

Now, you can lay out arguments about how the test — any standardized test — may be biased against some racial groups (or other minorities), or how some students simply do poorly on standardized tests, or how students learn in different ways and at different rates, or that the test doesn’t actually test what the students are learning.  And I would agree with you: to a certain degree, all those things are probably true.  They certainly contribute to some good and average students doing less well than their real potential, and some middling-poor students not being “proficient”.

But we’re talking that 60% of students on average fail this test.  (And 97% percent fail at Cleveland!  Ninety-fucking-seven percent!)  Not “lose a few percentage points,” but “get fewer than six out of every ten questions correct.”  That’s a lot bigger than can be explained by the test not being quite in synch with the students.

Three possibilities seem to be there:
  • The test is completely out of whack.  Frankly, I don’t buy this.  Somewhere along the line, adults have surely vetted this test to make sure it tests pertinent information.  (Of course, this assumes that what is deemed pertinent really is.  But I remember these sorts of tests: addition, subtraction, geometry, spelling, analogies, reading comprehension, synonyms, stuff like that.  The validity of testing these things has not changed in decades.)
  • The students are not being taught what the tests cover.  Given the flack in recent years about schools which teach explicitly and only what the test covers, in order to ensure that students pass it (other valuable teaching be damned), I also don’t buy this one as the One True Cause.  I went to school (K-12) in three different parts of this state, and I know that at least some of the schools (try to) teach the pertinent info.  (I never failed these tests.)
  • The students are what is out of whack.  Now this is what I expect is the case.  I can observe Sarah, and what I observe from her is confirmed by what I know from other kids (including one I heard on the radio discussing this subject): the students don’t care about this test, and in fact, some of them may even actively try to fail it.  (We believe Sarah did that when she took the Food Handler’s Test in June: quite easy for a kid as smart as she is, but since she was going home to Kentucky for the summer the next week, her incentive to pass this test was close to zero.  Why pass a test to get a job when you don’t need to get a job?  So we think she just blew off the questions intentionally.)  This is probably even more true with students at what are largely dead-end schools like Cleveland: how many kids from a school where 3% pass this test do you think plan to go on to college?  (To pull a number out of the air, how about 3%?  Meaning that perhaps zero students there who don't have post-high school education hopes are able to pass this test.  Zero!)  How many aspire to anything more than working at Safeway or driving a bus — unless it’s to be a sports star, a rap star, or a drug dealer?  How many even care if they graduate from high school at all?
Next year or the year after, passing the WASL will be required to graduate.  (Students can take it at least once each year, maybe more often.  It’s not a one shot, “blow it in 10th grade and you’re sunk” sort of thing.)  I’m sure this will boost improvement quite a bit — imagine, actually having to do something other than get a D- in all your required classes in order to graduate! — but it will also show us how many don’t care.  And it will probably be accompanied by even more lowering of standards, because the only thing worse than No Child Left Behind is keeping as much as 97% of your Senior Class another year, or two, or three.

No, I don’t have a solution for this.  I find it very hard to compare to myself, because I genuinely wanted to learn, and these kids — not just the ones at Cleveland, but almost every teen I have contact with — apparently don’t.  Sarah won’t read a book unless it’s required; according to her, she has “no imagination” and can’t get anything out of them.  Gee, do you think that’s because of a steady diet of television, movies, and crude hip hop music?  (“My neck, my back, lick my pussy and my crack” [a song by Khia] is not appropriate lyrics for adults to listen to, much less teenagers.)  Overload the senses, dumb things down, and generate a culture of passivity where everything has to come to you, rather than you going to get it.  If it’s not both passive and excessive, the kids don’t want it.

I can’t blame the schools, unfortunately.  They do the best they can, but between students who don’t want to learn and a system which all but requires them to pass the kids just for showing up and won’t let them levy any sort of threats of dire consequences, what can they do?  They put the info out there, but the kids don’t sit down to eat.  I guess you have to blame the parents; I had really good ones, although I didn’t realize it at the time.  (You never do until you have the distance to appreciate them.)

It’s going to be really interesting to see what Sarah makes of herself in 5… 10… 20 years, much less some of the kids who are her peers.  Many of them have great talent — Kerizma sings, Kinsey makes jewelry, and so on — but they are so unfocused, unsupported, and untested that I fear it will be wasted.  Many of these kids live in the poor part of town and can’t even conceive of getting out; they don’t realize that there’s an out to get to.

If these are the future of our country, I’m very scared.

(Weblog Title Reference: From the Christmas carol “Here We Come A-wassailing”Wassail is a spiced holiday beverage given out to carolers.)

Updated on April 15, 2011

Six and a half years down the line, Sarah just turned 24.  She did graduate.  She married an illegal alien.  She has been on the cover of a marijuana magazine.  She has done some recording of hip hop music (but I don’t think anything has been released).  She has been tattooed on her neck.  She has worked as a stripper in Las Vegas (hello, Showgirls!).  She has been arrested for solicitation and other things.


Thursday, September 2, 2004

Selection 2004: Primary-ly Geared to Generate Lawsuits

Washington state has a new Primary Election system this year, as mandated by a court decision.  We used to have a “blanket primary”, where anyone could vote for any candidate — a Democrat in this race, a Republican in that one, and so forth.  In our new system — the so-called “Montana” style (or semi-open) — voters must select a single party and then vote only for people running under that party.  (Everyone gets to vote in the “Non-Partisan” races, like for Judge — we call them non-partisan because there’s no explicit political party listed, but we all know every one of the candidates has a political agenda of his or her own which may color how they perform once in office.)  The winner from each of the main parties (Democrat, Republican, and Libertarian), plus any minor party candidates, ends up on the General Election ballot come November.

Needless to say, a lot of people are angry about this, because it changes how they have been able to vote in the past.  I certainly understand that, because I, too, liked that freedom.  But people miss an important fact there, the purpose of this sort of a Primary Election:

The Primary Election is not intended to winnow the field down to just two candidates.  (At least not in most states.  Some use the “Louisiana” style, which does just that: if the top two vote getters happen to be from the same party, those two end up in the General Election.)  Instead, the Primary Election’s purpose is to choose the candidate from each party.  To that end, the parties are right in wanting only Democrats to vote for Democrat candidates, and only Republicans to vote for Republicans.  Or at least Democrats-for-the-moment: if you are willing to vote only for Democrats, they’ll (grudgingly) take you, no matter what party your official registration is with (if any).

Part of the goal here is to prevent “spoilers”.  You may not care who gets the nod from your favorite party (or it may be in the bag), but you may feel that one candidate in the opposition party has a greater chance of beating out your party, so you might want to throw your vote to his in-party opponent in order to get the less “dangerous” candidate into the General Election.  Needless to say, the political parties don’t like such “spoilers”.  One way around them is to set things up so that you can still vote as a “spoiler”, but you have to be one across the board: if you want to vote for anyone from that other party, you can only vote for that party.  (Or you can still cross party lines and have your ballot invalidated.)

And that’s what my big concern is with this election.

There are two balloting methods going on.  In most of the state, voters will declare which party they intend to vote for, are given the ballot for that party (all three ballots have the non-partisan section attached), and away they go to vote.  There are two downsides to this: first, each precinct has to have enough ballots for every registered voter (although at best half will actually vote) to vote in any party, even Libertarian (which is apt to actually get maybe 5%, tops); this triplication can be expensive.  Second, this presumably means publicly declaring your party intention to people who could be your friends (or enemies) and who might be taken aback at a party affiliation (even if only temporary) which does not match their own; I’m sure there are ways to avoid such declaration, though.

But for six counties — Snohomish, King, Pierce, Kitsap, Klickitat, and Chelan, which contain large Washington cities such as Everett, Seattle, Bellevue, Tacoma, Bremerton, and Wenatchee — there is none of this triple ballot stuff.  Each person gets a single ballot, marks a preferred party, and votes accordingly.  But if there is any crossing of party lines (intentional or accidental), including marking the wrong party and then voting consistently beyond that, those votes are invalidated:
[Secretary of State Sam] Reed expects a number of ballots will be tainted, with voters neglecting to mark their party preference or trying to vote for candidates of more than one party. Those votes won’t count.
Above excerpt from the Seattle Times.  According to the Official Local Voters’ Pamphlet, only votes which don’t conform to the party selection are discounted, rather than the entire ballot.

This thing is bound to be as problematic as the Butterfly Ballot was in Florida in 2000.  In the other counties, there’s no question about keeping to the selected party, but in several of the largest cities in the state — and in the strongest Democratic areas, if that’s important — ballots which can be expected to cause confusion are being used, in the name of saving money.  (Which I’m all for, mind you!)  But you have to admit, things look a little suspicious.

If there are any close races from those counties, you can expect lawsuits up the butt and new buzz phrases to drive “hanging chad” out of the vocabulary.  The state had better plan on recording all the invalid votes in order to provide statistics to refute those lawsuits, and have backup plans in place for handling recounts.

Fortunately (perhaps), Initiative 872 comes along in November, and if it passes (which is considered likely), will move us to a “Louisiana” style primary (the old “blanket primary” was deemed unconstitutional).  Of course, the political parties are campaigning against it, “saying it would deprive voters of party choice and could disenfranchise those who back minor-party candidates.”  (The first part is also known as “It would take away some of our power.”  The second part is truer, but if you can’t make Top Two in September, hon, you ain’t gonna make it in November, either.)

Updated on April 14, 2011
Initiative 872 passed.  The political parties sued.  The Ninth Circuit Court declared it unconstitutional in 2005.  Finally, the US Supreme Court upheld the initiative in 2008.

The net effect being that now the purpose of the primary is to narrow the field of candidates to two.

Wednesday, September 1, 2004

Clubs, Forums, and Beta Wolves

I am or have been involved in a number of clubs, online message forums, and other groups over the years.  If you have as well, you’ve seen them ebb and flow.  You’ve seen personalities clash.  You’ve seen people drop out, and others never really participate — sometimes because they have nothing to add, but sometimes because they fear being attacked.

Cartoonist Donna Barr makes some good commentary on the matter in this article.  Here is a pertinent quote:
They taught me what groups were all about — internal politics, single-minded subject matter, petty squabbles, and attempts to direct everybody and anybody involved with the Point of the group interest into each little leader’s personal camp.  For this I am grateful &mdash but I'll be damned if I’ll let ’em get near me again.
There are people who seem to survive well in these sorts of environments, though.  (Survive, not lead!)  Maybe these are the “Beta Wolves”: the people who recognize the politics for what they are and don’t let the politics control the people.  They are people with no more than a minimal agenda, but who are willing to give as good as they get: they aren’t afraid of getting barked at, but no “alpha” attacks them without getting bit himself.

Updated on April 12, 2011