Miscellaneous musings from the perspective of a lefty (both senses) atheist with a warped sense of humor.

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Location: Madison, WI, United States

I am a geek, but I do have some redeeming social skills. I love other people's dogs, cats, and kids. Snow sucks, but I'm willing to put up with it just to live in Madison.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

What Democrats Want

Well, it seems only fair that, since I just posted a survey from the Republican National Congressional Committee (RNCC) under the heading “What Republicans Want”, I should follow up with the one I got yesterday from the Democratic National Committee (DNC). These 2 organizations are not exactly counterparts of each other. The RNCC is focussed particularly on elected GOP candidates to the US House of Representatives, while the DNC’s remit is broader. It’s dedicated to electing Democrats at all levels, but particularly, in this year divisible by 4, to the US presidency.

I’ve gotta say (tho it’s possible I’m biased) that the Dems’ survey seems a lot more like what I’d expect from an independent polling organization, objectively devoted to finding out what people really think. It’s entirely possible that the DNC really DOES tally these results and use them for broad guidance.

At bottom, of course, it’s still mainly a fund-raising gimmick.

The RNCC survey gave me exactly 3 options for each question: “Yes”, “No”, and “Undecided”. The DNC survey wasn’t quite so simplistic, offering instead a range of choices tailored to the specifics of each question. Therefore, I show below not only the questions but the options under each one.

1. Age

[ ] 18-30 [ ] 31-40 [ ] 41-50 [ ] 51-64 [ ] 65 and over

2. How often do you vote for Democratic candidates?

[ ] Always [ ] Most of the time [ ] Rarely [ ] Never

3. How likely are you to vote in the 2008 elections?

[ ] Very likely [ ] Somewhat likely [ ] Not likely

4. Have you participated in any of the following campaign activities?

[ ] Volunteering time at a local campaign or party headquarters.
[ ] Making phone calls from a phone bank.
[ ] Organizing an event or fundraiser in my home or community.
[ ] Going door-to-door in my neighborhood.

5. How closely have you been following the 2008 presidential campaign?

[ ] Very closely [ ] Closely [ ] Somewhat closely [ ] Not at all

6. How optimistic are you that a Democrat will win the White House in 2008?

[ ] Very optimistic [ ] Optimistic [ ] Not very optimistic [ ] Not at all

7. Do you believe that John McCain’s pledge to keep troops in Iraq for another 100 years will be a liability in the General Election?

[ ] Yes [ ] No [ ] Unsure

8. Which issues would you like the Democratic presidential nominee to focus on in the campaign? Please rank the following issues from 1 to 14 based on their importance to you, with “1” being the most important.

___ Education
___ Environment
___ Health care
___ Civil rights/liberties
___ Immigration
___ Social Security
___ Ethics in governmenet
___ Reproductive rights
___ Homeland security
___ Stem-cell research
___ Iraq
___ Taxes
___ Energy policy
___ Jobs/economy

9. Thinking about our Party’s plan for the 2008 campaigns, which of the following strategies do you think is the key to electing more Democrats in November?

[ ] Investing in grassroots efforts like canvassing and get-out-the-vote drives.
[ ] Devoting more resources to radio and television ads that reach the most voters.
[ ] Ensuring a fair election process so that every vote counts.
[ ] Democrats need to invest in all of the above strategies to win in November.

10. With our 50 State Strategy, the DNC has been strengthening our Party in states that have traditionally been GOP strongholds. What is your opinion of this strategy?

[ ] I support it. Our Party needs to compete in eveyr part of the country and make the Republicans spend campaign money in states they have taken for granted.
[ ] I oppose it. Our Party should focus its resources in those states where we have the best chance to win, and not waste money in solidly Republican states.

11. How likely do you think it is that John McCain and his Republican allies will launch a “Swift Boat” style smear campaign against our presidential nominee?

[ ] Very likely [ ] Somewhat likely [ ] Not likely

12. How concerned are you that Republican voter suppression schemes will disenfranchise Democrats and impact the outcome of the presidential race?

[ ] Very concerned [ ] Somewhat concerned [ ] Not concerned

13. What is your main source of news and information about the presidential campaign and the 2008 elections?

[ ] Television [ ] Newspapers [ ] Talk radio [ ] Internet/blogs [ ] Newsmagazines [ ] Other _______

[Aside from Richard: I half expected to see a separate category for “The Daily Show”.]

14. Do you think mainstream news organizations are biased in favor of Democrats, biased in favor of Republicans, or do you think news organizations have been fair in the way they have covered the presidential election?

[ ] Biased in favor of Democrats
[ ] Biased in favor of Republicans
[ ] No bias in favor of either party
[ ] No opinion/not sure

15. If you could offer one piece of advice to the Democratic presidential nominee, what would it be? Please use the space below to write your comments.

16. To help our Party win the White House and score victories up and down the ballot in 2008, will you join the DNC as a contributing member today?

[ ] Yes — go to next question [ ] No

17. If you answered “Yes” to question 16, please indicate the membership level at which you will join the DNC today.

[ ] $25 [ ] $35 [ ] $50 [ ] $100 [ ] Other $____

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Partial Veto Power

2008 Mar. 25

Voice of the People
The Capital Times
PO Box 8060
Madison WI 53708-8060

Suppose you’ve recently acquired an old clunker of a car. It runs, but it needs work on the brakes, steering, alignment, and lights. You dealt with the brakes first, then a couple of months later you could afford to take care of the steering. Now you’re in a position to fix the alignment. But your usually reliable brother says “Hey, man, don’t work on the alignment until you can take care of the lights at the same time. Put the whole thing off until you can do it ALL and do it right.”

That’s the advice we’re getting from Fred Wade and John Nichols on the governor’s partial-veto power. I contend that they’re right strategically but dead wrong tactically.

A misguided decision of the Wisconsin Supreme Court gave our state’s governor the most powerful veto pen in the nation. He can effectively create new laws — never intended by the Legislature — thru creative editing.

Already we have passed 2 Constitutional amendments to rein in the worst abuses of this power. This April 1 we’ll have a chance to adopt yet another amendment to fix still a 3rd aspect of the problem. Fred and John would have you vote “no” on this because it doesn’t finish the job.

And they’re right about one thing: this year’s vote WON’T finish the job. More work remains to be done. The deciding factor for me is “What system will we be living under until we get the NEXT amendment passed, one that’s only 1/2 fixed, or one that’s 3/4 fixed?”.

Remember that this year’s amendment had to pass both houses of the Legislature in 2 consecutive biennnial sessions to get to you, the voters. Do you really want to start the clock all over again, with no guarantees as to how some future, supposedly “perfect” amendment will turn out? Or will you settle, here and now, for an incremental gain?

I recommend a “yes” vote this April, followed promptly by the introduction of an even better, 4th amendment for another vote in 2012.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

What Republicans Want

As a lot of my political friends are aware, I’m a member of 5 different political parties:
 • Democrats
 • Greens
 • Libertarians
 • Progressive Dane (a local party, in Dane County)
 • Republicans

There are a couple of reasons why I send my money to all these different groups. The deep, philosophical reason is that I believe in party politics as an abstract concept. Political parties are, practically by definition, multi-issue organizations, because it is their purpose in life to appeal to a majority of the population, and you can’t do that with just a single issue. Furthermore, they don’t have their very existence tied up with a particular issue, the way the special-interest groups do.

Consider, for example, a case now before the US Supreme Court, in which the District of Columbia’s strict “gun-control” law has been challenged as unconstitutional under the 2nd Amendment (which grants the “right to keep and bear arms” or RKBA). Now, if you’re a top executive at the National Rifle Association, the best thing that could happen is that the Supremes would throw out the “gun-control” law. And the SECOND best thing that could happen is that they’d uphold it. If you work for Handgun Control Inc., the reverse is true.

Now why is it, do you suppose, that being on the LOSING side in a court case is a good thing for a special-interest organization? It’s because it gives them something alarming that they can point to when they send out their next fund-raising letter (probably the very next day after the decision) to try to rally the faithful (and, not at all incidentally, persuade them to send in even bigger checks in light of this new threat to all that is good and true and holy).

In a perverse sort of way, the NRA and HCI really need each other, because then each of them has an opposite number to fulfill the role of demon.

Not so much the political parties. It used to be that the Republicans (and especially the Libertarians) were gung-ho on the RKBA, while the leftish parties were much more sympathetic to “gun control”. (I always put “gun control” in quotation marks, to emphasize the fact that it won’t control the guns of criminals, police, or the military, only of ordinary, law-abiding citizens.) But, thru the years, the Democrats at least have come to recognize that “gun control” is a loser as a political issue. It pisses off way more people way more intensely than it attracts. So they’ve just gradually let it die.

As a multi-issue organization (especially one that wants a broad range of support), the Dems can not only AFFORD to do this, they practically HAVE to in order to keep winning elections. But would Handgun Control Inc. ever adopt the same “Oh, well, we gave it a good try.” attitude? Of course not, because its very EXISTENCE is tied up in keeping that issue hot and highly visible. And by “existence”, I mean “paychecks for the HCI officers”.

There are only a very few instances of an organization having utterly lost its raison d’etre and dealing with it successfully. One is in a place you’d least expect it: the federal bureaucracy. The Rural Electrification Administration completed its work, polished off its final reports, turned them in, turned off the lights, and went out of business in an orderly way.

The only other one that comes readily to mind is the March of Dimes, which was originally set up to find a cure for polio. When the Salk and Sabin vaccines came along, and they had actually achieved what they set out to do, the March of Dimes could have followed the REA’s example and closed up shop. Instead, they reasoned that they had a good infrastructure in place and a lot of terrific good will to go with their name (ESPECIALLY after having met their primary goal), so they chose to reinvent themselves as a charity devoted to preventing and curing birth defects (something that’s gonna take a lot longer than finding a cure for polio).

Political “cause” organizations, like religions, don’t seem amenable to these 2 avenues.

But political parties, as I said, can just walk away when they feel the need. That’s one reason why I want to send my money to parties rather than pressure groups. They don’t have to be fanatics to be effective.

The other reason is a lot simpler and more mundane: It gets me on their mailing lists, so I can see what they’re up to.

Which brings me to the main point of today’s essay, “What Republicans Want”. I recently received a fund-raising letter from the Republican National Congressional Committee. Now, you have to understand that what these guys really want is your money. They don’t give 2 hoots in hell about your opinion. Nonetheless, long experience has shown them that they get MORE money if they pretend that they ARE interested in what you think, so these pitches almost invariably come with a “survey” that pretends to solicit your advice in formulating national policy.

The survey is, of course, strictly a propaganda gimmick. I doubt that they even invest the time to record the results. They probably just separate the checks from the completed forms, deposit the former, and recycle the latter unread. The REAL point of the survey is to ask you questions in a manner designed to fire up your taste for red meat.

Note that, while this particular example quotes a pitch from the Republicans, the technique is equally available to the Democrats, and they use it just as enthusiastically and shamelessly. Both sides love to haul out some demon image from the other side to use as a horror story. The Republicans for years have cited Teddy Kennedy, while the Democrats have hopscotched from Jesse Helms to Strom Thurmond to Dick Cheney. This particular letter, since its from the “Congressional” (IE, House of Representatives) campaign committee, slots House Speaker Nancy Pelosi into the role of chief demon. The one thing the Republicans have that the Democrats don’t is the use of the adjective “Democrat” rather than “Democratic”, always a sure sign of burr-under-the-saddle partisanship, guaranteed to irk the Dems.

So, without further ado, here’s what the Republicans seem to think is on the minds of their party members in early 2008, half a year before the presidential elections. The 3 options I was given for each question are “Yes”, “No”, and “Undecided”.

1. Do you feel voters in Wisconsin’s 2nd District support making all of the Bush tax cuts permanent?

2. Do you support the Hosue Democrats’ “slow-bleed” strategy to “choke-off” funding for our troops in Iraq, leading to their withdrawal and a perception of American defeat?

3. Should Republicans continue fighting for full implementation of a ballistic missile defense system?

4. Do voters in Wisconsin’s 2nd District agree with the Nancy Pelosi Democrat Majority’s decision to impose massive tax hikes on the American people?

5. Do you think that House Republicans should continue to push for pro-growth policies that create jobs and oppose tax increases that would add a burden to working families and set back our economy?

6. Do you support Congressional Republicans’ efforts to decrease domeestic government spending in order to reduce the national deficit?

7. Do you support the Democrats’ efforts to give federal government bureaucrats complete control of your health care costs and choices?

8. Should Republicans in Congress make expansion of Veterans’ benefits a priority?

9. Do you support maintaining anti-terrorism laws that give law enforcement and intelligence agencies the far-reaching powers to track detain and prosecute terrorists and their accomplices?

10. Should Republicans in the House of Representatives make securing our nation’s borders and enforcing our nation’s immigration laws, including combating the hiring of illegal workers and ending the “catch and release” policy, a top priority?

11. Do you think House Republicans should continue fighting for comprehensive education reform to ensure that every child in America receives a first-rate education?

12. Do you agree that winning back a Republican Majority in the House of Representatives is essential to stopping the Nancy Pelosi Democrats from raising our taxes, destroying our economy and endangering our homeland?

13. Will you support our Party’s campaign to defeat the Pelosi Democrats and elect a Republican House Majority in 2008 by joining the NRCC with a generous financial contribution today?

This last question was followed not by the standard “Yes”, “No”, and “Undecided” options but rather with a big “YES” box followed by a much smaller one for “I cannot pledge my support for this year, but I would like to include a contribution of $11 to help the NRCC fund this survey and its tabulation.”.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

A Computer Parable

Most of my writing is of essay length and either didactic or expostulatory. However, every now and again I take off on a little flight of fancy and gin up something that might be called “creative writing”. Recently I was struck by just such a mood in responding to a question on a discussion list devoted to FileMaker Pro, a particular piece of computer software I use a lot. It was well received there, so I thot I’d share it here.

Before launching into my little parable, you should be aware that Claris was originally the application-software arm of Apple Computer. It was eventually spun off into a wholly owned subsidiary. At that time, it still published Claris Works, Claris Write, and Claris Draw, among others. But its principal cash cow was its database manager, FileMaker Pro.

After a few more years, Claris severed its links to Apple, dropped everything else in its product line, and concentrated on FileMaker. In recognition of this, it changed its corporate name to FileMaker Inc. (FMI).

And now, the story.

= = = = = =

Once upon a time didst the great god Claris smile upon his chosen people, and deliver up unto them a database manager. It was fair of mien, and easy of use, and flat of file.

And the people didst use it, and were content.

But there arose a voice from the scoffers (for the scornful are with us in every generation), saying, "But, Lord Claris, I have made me a house, and in the house are many cupboards, and in the cupboards are many shelves, and each shelf holds 1 thing of a particular kind, and 1 thing only. But I have several things of a particular kind which I wish to place upon this shelf, and I know not what to do. Canst thou not aid thy humble supplicant?"

And Claris didst frown and furrow and, after a time, spake thusly: "Thou raisest a good point. Let me ponder upon't som'at and we shall see what we shall see."

And a silence fell upon the land.

Bye and bye didst Claris return and summon the attention of his chosen people, and thus he spake: "Ahem. I have just returned from Cabo San Lucas, where I have been cavorting, ah, consorting with my fellow deities, and the consensus among them was this, that I should employ the type of miracle that is known among us, the gods of software, as a 'kludge'. And so it is, my loyal followers, that I grant thee the ability of the magic touch. Thou mayest touch any shelf in thy cupboards and utter the magical imprecation 'repeating field', and -- lo! -- that shelf will hold not merely 1, nor 2, nor 3 things of a particular kind, but literally hundreds, if thou so wishest."

And the people drew back in awe and went "Oooh", and "Aaaah", and "Wow", and "Way cool".

And the people didst use it, and were content.

And Claris looked down upon his work and saw that, if it was not precisely what you'd call "good", it faked it pretty well.

There passed, in the realm of the gods, an eon (which, to the limited mind of mortal man, was known as "a coupla years"). And during this eon, Claris didst grow in wisdom, and stature, and power, and functionality, and focus.

And when he spake again to his people he said, "Behold! I am thy god Claris, but I have grown in wisdom, stature, power, functionality, and focus, in token whereof I have taken unto myself a new name. Henceforth I shall be known as 'Fmi'. And in honor of this occasion, I have decided to grant thee, my loyal followers, a great new boon. Behold: RELATIONALITY!"

And the great god Fmi stretched forth his hand, and from his fingertips sprang forth a dazzlement of light, shining so brightly that all men averted their eyes from its glory and majesty. And when their vision had adjusted to the newborn eminence glowing in their midst, the people drew back in awe and went "Oooh", and "Aaaah", and "Wow", and "Way cool".

But there arose a voice from the scoffers (for the scornful are with us in every generation), saying, "But, Lord Claris, I mean Fmi, what about built-in E-R diagrams, and multiple tables in a single file, and ..."

"SILENCE!" thundered Fmi. "Ingrates! Showest thou me first that thou canst handle relationality in temperance and in wisdom, then we shall speak of further boons that I might bestow upon thee."

And a murmuring arose among the gathered faithful, along the lines of "Dude's got a point, man" and "Yeah, yeah, I suppose".

And the very wisest amongst the chosen didst soon discover that anything that could be done with repeating fields could be done even better with the new miracle of relationality, and, moreover, that with the magical implements newly provided by Fmi, they couldst convert all of the old repeating fields to shiny new relational files. And so they did, and never looked back, and thus were not turned into pillars of salt.

And Fmi looked down upon his work and saw that, if it was not precisely what you'd call "good", it wasn't half bad.

There passed, in the realm of the gods, several eons (which, to the limited mind of mortal man, was known as "about a decade"). And during these eons, Fmi didst continue to periodically bestow additional blessings upon the chosen ones, in return for which he asked only the annual sacrifice of a few hektobux, which all concerned agreed was meet and proper and not a bad price for what you got.

And it came to pass in those days that Fmi determined him to put forth a great compendium of all the boons he had bestowed upon his people, that they might be suitably impressed with how spiffy he was. And so he issued his compendium, which he called the Holy Book of Manuality, and gave of it freely to his people.

But there arose a voice from the scoffers (for the scornful are with us in every generation), saying, "Hey, what's this stuff about repeating fields? What are they good for?".

And Fmi, in his wisdom and patience, explained "Look there, right there on the next page in the Holy Book of Manuality, and thou shalt see examples of the utility of repeating fields, how they may be used of a thusness, and a suchness, and a soness."

And the scoffers didst indeed look, and determined they them that the principal organizing characteristic of the aforesaid examples was the halfness of their assedness, and they didst exclaim "Dude! Weak."

Whereupon Fmi drew himself up with righteous indignation and spake thus: "It is true that not all of the boons and benefits I have granted thee are of equal quality, value, and utility, but each has its place in the firmament. And besides, needst I remind thee of the great covenant which I entered into with thee, my chosen people, a covenant signified by my placing upon the skies the symbol of the rainbow labelled 'Backward Compatibility'? For I, Fmi, am a benign and generous god, and I wouldst fain not retract from thee any boon or benefit which I have previously granted, lest there be weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth at its absence."

But there arose a voice from the scoffers (for the scornful are with us in every generation), saying, "Oh, yeah? What about the 'Save' button in ScriptMaker dialogs?".

"Hmphf," quoth Fmi. "Let us speak of this anon." And he turned away to repair again to his cave, wherein he would ponder and frown and think Profound Thots.

And as he did so, another voice arose, saying "And what about that tab-numbering interface? We've been waiting on that for a couple of epochs now."

"La la la la la," quoth Fmi. "La la la la la. Not LIStening to you."

So concludeth today's reading.