Baiting the Ballot Box

You win, you party. You lose, you ponder.

Not a surprise to those who know me: my party is the one pondering after yesterday’s midterm elections. It occurred to me that one of the challenges candidates face at midterms is low voter turnout. This is of particular concern to Democrats, as younger voters are less likely to vote in midterm elections and younger people tend to take more progressive positions and vote for more liberal candidates. Get out the vote initiatives have historically emphasized encouraging more voters to come to the polls to weigh in on the issues which affect them, and providing supports and infrastructure to physically get voters to the polls. But I wonder if political parties might take a less tactical and more strategic approach; push for the ballot measures which are most likely to incite the strongest emotional reactions in those voters who they’d most like to see at the ballots.

Fox News suggested yesterday that ballot measures on hot button issues — marijuana legalization, marriage equality, gun control or lack thereof, abortion rights — might boost turnout. Political scientists Caroline J. Tolbert and Daniel A. Smith examined the mobilizing effects of statewide ballot measures in previous elections and speculate that ballot measures could play a significant role in future presidential elections. I’m not a political junkie, so I can’t say for sure that turnout was higher in states which had ballot measures on emotionally charged issues. (Though my twenty-something Oregon friends did seem uncharacteristically eager to vote on measure 91.) It occurs to me that if a party knows that some specific segment of the population is (a) more likely to vote if there’s a ballot measure on a specific issue and (b) more likely to elect a candidate which is strategically important, then they might bait the ballot box, so to speak, by getting a measure on the ballot almost solely for the purposes of getting that group of people to the polls.

Cynical? Yes. But today I’m a blue Blue, so you’ll forgive.

Baiting the Ballot Box - Ballot Measures and Voter Turnout

The Bait. Flickr CC license, Hartwig HKD, 2011-08-13.

No, the Internet Isn’t the TV Business


Net Neutrality Laptop

USA Today columnist Michael Wolff asserts that nobody is neutral in the net neutrality debate in his piece. Fair enough. He gives a succinct overview of the forces driving the net neutrality debate, but his conclusion seems ignorant of the role the net has played and continues to play in support of free speech worldwide.

Wolff provides a quick rundown of most of the major players and their motives. In short, cable companies are interested in keeping the FCC from regulating broadband as they do telephone service, so that they can selectively charge owners of websites different rates for different faster/slower delivery of their data. Companies whose customers access large amounts of online data don’t want Comcast, Verizon, AT&T, etc. to single them out, either by name (e.g. Netflix) or by category (e.g. providers of video on demand) for higher rates. A third group, which Wolff labels “tech-centric ideologues,” opposes legislation which permits telcos and cable companies to increase rates or decrease levels of service based on the type or source of data, as such legislation would give Internet providers legal grounds to throttle the communications of organizations, people or ideas which run counter to their aims.

The article frames the debate as a battle between large companies whose motives are purely financial, with a recent surge of activism driven by a comedy sketch gone viral. Wolff avoids mentioning the Electronic Frontier Foundation, however, which has played the largest role in promoting net neutrality since long before it entered public awareness. This is where the article falls short. The social implications of having a neutral net are not secondary to the financial motives of the companies involved in the debate. Rather, the current skirmish is one part of an ongoing effort to keep the Internet free of censorship.

The article concludes that “the Internet isn’t about freedom,” and that it’s “fast becoming the TV business.” At best, this statement is jaded; at worst it represents an ignorance of the Internet’s social and economic importance. In two decades, the Internet has become an integral part of our economy, with the largest corporations and the smallest businesses dependent on it for every aspect of their operations. It has also become a critical tool for social change, facilitating the freedoms of speech and assembly which have enabled protest movements to transpire in parts of the world which have never known democracy. To allow those entrusted to manage such a critical part of our infrastructure to arbitrarily limit access to it – whether they are corporations motivated by a fiduciary responsibility to shareholders or an autocratic government driven to quash dissent – has long-term ramifications for our economy and our individual liberties, and a scope far greater than the present spat between cable companies and Internet video providers.

Your thoughts? Find me at @prescottindigo.


Annoying Chrome Thumbnails

I don’t like the way Google Chrome’s new tab page displays the eight most visited sites as a 4×2 grid of thumbnail images. They’re not small; my laptop screen renders each about an inch wide, sharing the websites I visit most often with anyone over my shoulder, every time I open a new browser window. A little privacy would be nice, as I use my computer for work and home. Mostly it troubles me, though, because one of the pages is the New York Times, which Chrome screen grabbed on a day when a serial murderer was featured prominently. Now his very-recognizable face smiles at me every time I open a new tab.

Shoulder surfers ❤ Google Chrome thumbnails ... but Totoro doesn't.

Shoulder surfers ❤ Google Chrome thumbnails, but Totoro isn’t a big fan.

Problem is, there’s no easy way to prevent Chrome from automatically displaying thumbnails of the most often visited sites on the new tab page. You can click a barely-visible X in the upper right of each thumbnail to keep it from appearing (psychopath vanquished) but Google just replaces it with the next most-often visited site. Not to mention, to the degree that this forced feature is useful, now one of my sites simply won’t appear on the new page, as opposed to having Chrome take a new screengrab. (Though with the vivid imagery of devastation in Gaza, I don’t know that a recent clip would be any less unsettling.)

Apparently, you used to be able to perform a bit of back alley brain surgery on Chrome, disabling the Instant Extended API in chrome://flags. If you visit that page (Chrome only) Google posts a huge warning against modifying the browser’s settings in this way, but it’s moot at this point because they’ve removed the ability to switch this feature off using flags.

There is a Chrome extension called Empty New Tab Page. Easy enough: you install it and get a blank page white as Montana snow every time you open a new tab.

Montana snow, GlacierNPS, Flickr CC license, 2011-05-04.

Montana snow (right). Flickr CC license, GlacierNPS, 2011-05-04.


For me it’s a bit overkill, though; I like the way I’ve otherwise set up Chrome new tab page, and I kind of miss my theme. I’m hoping that some future Google Chrome update gives a bit more nuanced control over this feature. Until then, I might consider switching to Firefox, but it really does seem slower than Chrome. IE’s lost me forever. I haven’t tried Opera recently … maybe that’s worth a look.

Anyone out there have a clean fix? A fresh perspective? Tasty spam? You know where to find me.

Indoor Smoking Restrictions in Condos

So, this.

Humphrey Bogart's irony-free anti-tobacco message.


I wanted to photograph Cardboard Bogart before he meets his untimely demise at the hand of neighborhood smokers. He showed up over the weekend, leaning against the mailboxes at the front of our condo complex. At first, I didn’t think it was possible to restrict smoking inside one’s home, but ten minutes on Google tells me that in California, as in many states, condominium homeowners associations (HOAs) can write their own smoking rules, including prohibiting smoking inside units as well as on patios and in common areas.

For the record, I don’t smoke. Can’t stand it: result of both parents dying from lung diseases. Further, the effects of second-hand smoke are well-documented, so in a very real sense it’s in my family’s benefit that smoking be prohibited from our entire complex.

Having said that, it bothers me more than a little that the HOA can regulate what goes on inside my unit. Something about this gives me the same feeling I got when, in my 20s, an apartment complex I moved into informed me that no more than seven thumbtacks could be inserted into the walls, and that even an eighth hole would result in the loss of our deposit money. There’s a patronizing undertone here, and I find myself tempted to stick something like this to Mr. Bogart’s lapel.

It's 4:20 somewhere.

Still, the seriousness of second hand smoke does seem to be entering the public awareness despite an expensive and long-running disinformation campaign by the  tobacco industry. As a result, it wouldn’t surprise me if smoking (as in the act of burning a tiny tobacco-filled cylinder between one’s lips) eventually gives way to some other delivery mechanism, like vaping or patches (or, wait for it: nicotine edibles) whose second-hand effects are negligible. Until then I’m curious how Bogart, photographed long before the esophageal cancer reduced him to 80 lbs, will fare amidst our Sharpie-wielding neighbors.

Thoughts, feelings, trolls needing to meet their quota? Come one, come all: @prescottindigo.

*The* Prescott Indigo

Not exactly my style, but the name’s spot on.

Though the price is tad high.

2014: Too Late to Start a Blog?

Jason Kottke, whose long-running blog is one of the first I started reading, posted an excellent short piece asserting that the blog has meet its end, having been replaced by social media platforms and mobile apps. He’s not the first to write this eulogy, but it does seem that we’ve reached a tipping point at which someone wanting to exercise their right to free speech online can do so via any number of existing services regardless of the message’s format or size. Even the heady, long form pieces which web-based pontificators used to save for the blog have found a home at sites like Medium. Chris Anderson’s theory of the long tail still holds, only now the page views and revenue streams associated with that tail are in the hands of increasingly fewer entities.

So why blog? I submit that there is a value in shouting from a soapbox which isn’t a rented one. I suppose if I were fully committed to that notion, I’d activate comments here instead of passing them through Twitter. But still, what I post here is mine alone, and the (someday) aggregate of those posts represents who I am without regard to any intermediaries, other than the ISPs. (See also: Net Neutrality debate.)

Austin Kleon, author of Show Your Work, asserts that those engaged in any sort of creative pursuit should share something small every day. I’ve created this domain with that in mind … though without the dedication to share something *every* day. Some of what I post here may be links to things I’ve created elsewhere on the web, other times thoughts and ideas which only slightly exceed 140 characters but don’t really merit more than a sentence or two.

And the title? That’s a puzzle, but I’m sure you’ll get it.

Thoughts? Reactions? Unsolicited life advice? Share it with me at @prescottindigo.



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