The Storms of Love

I got my essay back. I've been feeling slightly sick about it since I submitted it, but look at me now with my High Distinction for a 'highly engaging read with outstanding critical analysis'. The next one is coming up and I expect I'll be all cocky about it after this, only to plummet to my doom like Icarus, if Icarus's problem was that he was a bit blasé about writing essays on organisational design rather than flying too close to the sun.

I finally got round to getting my mushroom boxes for the autumn. I've got two boxes of Swiss browns, which have always grown best for me. That was all I was going to get, but this year they had golden oyster mushrooms to grow too. I've never even tried them before (neither to grow nor eat), so I've got them too. I was slightly tempted by the pink oysters too. They're so... pink. Maybe next year.


Miracle for a Madonna

Someone on Downton Abbey just said, 'I'll get Mrs Patmore to organise refreshment for the Village People.' That seems unlikely, I must say.

Over summer, my mother had some of her trees trimmed and mulched, and this weekend I have been helping her spread it around her garden. Shovel, shovel, shovel. And now my shoulder's sore. Hmph.

While doing all that shovelling, I got to hear all about my mother's ongoing battle with her arch-enemy, also known as her Bosch CombiTrim whipper-snipper (which some of you may know as a line trimmer or a strimmer, I believe). It's... oh, it's a long story. It's unsatisfactory, is one way to put it. She's been taking comfort in reading one-star reviews of it online, which is something she came up with doing all by herself. That is also something I enjoy. It's a bit disconcerting to find that it's genetic.

When I first arrived at my mother's I had to wait before turning into the driveway while she moved her car and the trailer full of mulch out of the way. Only then another car came along the narrow little road, and I had to go past the driveway entrance to let it pass. And then, right, I had to do a three-point turn so I could get back to where I had to be, and it was perfect. PERFECT. I don't often have to do three-point turns, and when I do it's more of a twenty-point turn, but not this one. I almost wished I was doing a driving test, because I would have got top marks. And no-one was around to see me do it, so I thought I would record it here for posterity.
Google is looking for some people to partipate in a study or focus group of some sort, for 90 minutes next Wednesday or Thursday at the office here in Kendall Square. I don't know anything more about it except what it says on the form: "this study will help the Google team better understand your needs in order to incorporate them into future product enhancements." You get $50 in Play store credit (Android's app & media store) if you participate. Fill out this form if you're interested.

Slight deja-vu

Two weeks ago, my throat became very sore, and in the next two days it all migrated upwards and transformed into a running cold. Luckily I was well again (well, the cough was persistent, but it usually is) for last weekend, when two friends got married. Quite exhausting weekend, with Friday lindy dance, Saturday wedding and Sunday after party (more on that later when I have a working brain). And naturally now my nose starts dripping again. I thought I had this cold over and done with, but no... At least my body took a break over the wedding weekend, which, I suppose I should be grateful for. However, I might not make it to the dance on Saturday, which would be a shame, as I haven't been for ages since my knees were poorly.



You know how some businesses have corporate email addresses with a combination of the person's first name and family name? My workplace does, for example, but other places do or firstfamily and so on. Today I had an email from a man whose workplace used the ffamily format, which meant his email address was noddy@wherever. So that was fun.

The clocks went back last weekend, and I am all out of sorts. This isn't helped by the fact that we seem to have lost the book that tells us how to change the time on the work phones. I never realised how often I get the time from the display on my phone. I do realise it now, every time I think, ooh, nearly time for lunch, no wait, an hour to go. Hmph.

The clocks going back mean it's darker earlier now, and yesterday was rainy and overcast, meaning it was already dark-ish by late afternoon. That meant the first instance of something I enjoy about this time of year. My office is across the road from a TAFE (a vocational college), directly opposite their kitchen for apprentice chefs. When the light outside is dark, the kitchen is lit up from within and you can see all the apprentices moving around in their white jackets and hats, bathed in yellow light and framed by the big, rectangular windows. It looks like a long-lost Rembrandt. It's lovely.

And then they go outside and loiter on the footpath smoking and completely ruin the effect.

Revenge of the Heart

The painter came round yesterday afternoon. He was chatty. In the way of the City by the Sea, he was not an unknown quantity. He was recommended by John's son, Simon, who is a builder, but it turned out that my mother used to visit his sick daughter during her district nursing days. She (the daughter, not my mother) was very short, and had to have hormone injections to make her grow. It turns out that she made it to about 140cm, and she now works in a women's refuge in Mount Isa, and is currently riding a bicycle for charity from Darwin to Port Augusta (that's right down the middle of Australia, through the hot, red bit on the map). So that's got us all up to date on someone we've never met.

After telling us about his daughter, the painter told us about his trip to Paris ('It's a lovely place, but, tell you what, Charles de Gaulle airport needs a coat of paint on it'), offered his opinion on the block of land for sale at the end of the street ('They're never going to get $115,000 for that,' which is true, and also almost exactly what my boss said when he picked me up for our board meeting road trip the other day), and reminisced about how he and the rest of his under-18 football team used to use fake ID to get drinks in my office (which used to be a slightly disreputable pub).

We haven't got his quote yet, but I hope it's a good one. He seemed fun.


A Witch's Spell

Hello, f-list. I've been away, and now I'm back. This time I have been away to my work's annual AGM. That was exciting. Not really. It meant a six-hour drive with my boss, during which I heard his unlikely theory that being a priest is a lucrative profession. I don't think that's true. 'Well, no, they probably don't get paid a lot,' he said when I questioned this. 'But with all those religious parishioners, they could eat at a different house every night. They'd never have to make their own dinner.' So not lucrative so much as lazy, then.

That subject I'm doing for my Masters, it started with 51 students in it. Census date (the last day to withdraw without penalty) was 31 March, and now there are only 25 students in it. That's a high drop-out rate. I mean, yes, it's a lot of work, as evidenced my relative absence from here, but for fifty percent of people to start and realise that... that seems high, doesn't it?

Finally - and finally - there is a painter coming to look at the house this afternoon.


White Lilac

My boss sent me this link today. Just thought I'd be interested. And I was.

Do you know the part that I found most confusing? It's that his name is in the headline. I spent valuable seconds trying to work out if I was meant to know who Mark Goddard is before taking in the photo below. There must be an easier way to chop off your own hand than that.


The Wealth Primary

I wrote this post in 2006 when I was working for John Bonifaz's campaign for secretary of state of Massachusetts. Today's Supreme Court decision makes it even more relevant now. Please re-post this link.

The Wealth Primary

by cos, Thu Jun 29, 2006 at 07:43:34 AM EDT

This week's decision by the Supreme Court, striking down the spending and contribution limits in Vermont's public financing law, is a good time to reflect on why so many Americans want clean elections through public financing. Money distorts and corrodes politics in many different ways. Today, with June 30th filing deadlines approaching in federal and many state electons, one in particular is on my mind: the wealth primary.

Early in the 20th century, "white primaries" excluded black voters from determining party nominees in many states. They were considered legal under the theory that they were not "state action" - primaries were a private function carried out by party clubs, so equal protection did not apply. In the mid-20th century, the Supreme Court ruled "white primaries" unconstitutional, by reinterpreting "state action" to apply to processes that were clearly such a critical part of the electoral process. Being allowed to vote in the general election, but not to select your party's nominee, was an incomplete right to vote, and equal protection did apply.

Whites-only primaries are gone, but we still have another process that excludes whole classes of people from a critical part of the electoral process: Wealth primaries. At first, poll taxes were used to explicitly prevent the poor from voting, and these too were ruled unconstitutional. Over the years, another process has taken their place. Before a single vote is cast, candidates must raise money from private donors. Party leaders, and the press, look at the numbers, and candidates who haven't raised enough are written off. Dismissed as "not credible". Not covered on the front page, or much at all. In some cases, even pressured by party leaders to drop out of races.

I'm particularly sensitive to the wealth primary this year because of recent campaigns where I live (near Boston). At the beginning of this year, we had four candidates running for District Attorney, an open seat. One of those candidates was a state senator, and several candidates began running for his seat, which would become open since he was running for DA. One of those candidates was a state representative, as was one of the other candidates for DA, which opened up two seats in the state house for new candidates. And then, one by one, candidates dropped out of these races because they couldn't raise enough money to keep up with their opponents.

There is now just one candidate for DA - the one who raised so much money that it pushed the other three out of the race. The state senator decided to run for re-election, so all other candidates for his senate seat dropped out. Both state reps are also running for re-election. Now, I support most of these candidates. Nevertheless, at least four elections were all decided by contributors before any votes were cast!

Unlike white primaries, wealth primaries don't keep anyone from voting to choose the party nominee. What they do is reserve the process of selecting who will run primarily for the wealthy. A single donor who can afford to give $500 is worth as much as ten donors who can only afford $50. A single donor who can afford to give $2,000 is worth as much as a hundred donors who can only afford $20. In the Wealth Primary, it's one dollar, one vote.

This is also on my mind because I work for the man who developed legal theory behind the "wealth primary" argument, John Bonifaz. He founded the National Voting Rights Institute partly to advance this in the courts, and it was largely on the basis of this work that the MacArthur Foundation awarded him a fellowship, commonly known as a "genius award". He was a co-counsel in the defense of Vermont's public financing law.

Ironically, Bonifaz himself is in a wealth primary right now. As a new challenger running against a 12 year incumbent for secretary of state, it's sometimes a struggle to get the press to pay attention. In a healthy democracy, Bonifaz's expertise in election law and long history of effective voting rights advocacy both nationally and athome would be enough to mark him a credible candidate worth serious attention. But given his incumbent's 7-figure campaign warchest, Bonifaz's "credibility" will be determined, in the eyes of the press, by how much money people contribute before tomorrow's filing deadline.

Let's work hard to eliminate wealth primaries by instituting public financing of elections. But in the meantime, if you can afford to contribute, your favorite candidates (unfortunately) need your financial support today.

[ Slightly edited mostly to correct typos, update links, and clarify some sentences, but this is basically the same post I wrote in 2006 (so "This week" refers to a June 2006 decision). ]

Book query

Elsewhere (in a locked post) one of my friends put out a request for books with adult female protagonists, over 35 years, who is not traumatized or pathetic. Preferably in established relationship, position of responsibility and a parent (for own or others' kid/s). Now, I have a fairly extensive bookshelf, and I'm sure the others who read the post have too. But, we only came up with three books: Lois McMaster Bujold's Paladin of souls, Cherie Priest's Boneshaker (and others in that series, although Boneshaker is the only one with a mother in charge) and Megan Whalen Turner's Attolia series. Surely there must be other books that fit those requirements?!?!?! Can any of you guys think of one (or two)?

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