Shallow Thoughts : : politics

Akkana's Musings on Open Source Computing and Technology, Science, and Nature.

Wed, 10 Dec 2014

Not exponential after all

We're saved! From the embarrassing slogan "Live exponentially", that is.

Last night the Los Alamos city council voted to bow to public opinion and reconsider the contract to spend $50,000 on a logo and brand strategy based around the slogan "Live Exponentially." Though nearly all the councilors (besides Pete Sheehey) said they still liked the slogan, and made it clear that the slogan isn't for residents but for people in distant states who might consider visiting as tourists, they now felt that basing a campaign around a theme nearly of the residents revile was not the best idea.

There were quite a few public comments (mine included); everyone was civil and sensible and stuck well under the recommended 3-minute time limit.

Instead, the plan is to go ahead with the contract, but ask the ad agency (Atlas Services) to choose two of the alternate straplines from the initial list of eight that North Star Research had originally provided.

Wait -- eight options? How come none of the previous press or the previous meeting mentioned that there were options? Even in the 364 page Agenda Packets PDF provided for this meeting, there was no hint of that report or of any alternate strap lines.

But when they displayed the list of eight on the board, it became a little clearer why they didn't want to make the report public: they were embarrassed to have paid for work of this quality. Check out the list:

I mean, really. Great Beyond? Are we're all dead? High Intelligence in the High Desert? That'll certainly help with people who think this might be a bunch of snobbish intellectuals.

It was also revealed that at no point during the plan was there ever any sort of focus group study or other tests to see how anyone reacted to any of these slogans.

Anyway, after a complex series of motions and amendments and counter-motions and amendments and amendments to the amendments, they finally decided to ask Atlas to take the above list, minus "Live Exponentially"; add the slogan currently displayed on the rocks as you drive into town, "Where Discoveries are Made" (which came out of a community contest years ago and is very popular among residents); and ask Atlas to choose two from the list to make logos, plus one logo that has no slogan at all attached to it.

If we're lucky, Atlas will pick Discoveries as one of the slogans, or maybe even come up with something decent of their own.

The chicken ordinance discussion went well, too. They amended the ordinance to allow ten chickens (instead of six) and to try to allow people in duplexes and quads to keep chickens if there's enough space between the chickens and their neighbors. One commenter asked for the "non-commercial' clause to be struck because his kids sell eggs from a stand, like lemonade, which sounded like a very reasonable request (nobody's going to run a large commercial egg ranch with ten chickens); but it turned out there's a state law requiring permits and inspections to sell eggs.

So, folks can have chickens, and we won't have to live exponentially. I'm sure everyone's breathing a little more easily now.

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[ 16:27 Dec 10, 2014    More politics | permalink to this entry | comments ]

Sun, 07 Dec 2014

My Letter to the Editor: Make Your Voice Heard On 'Live Exponentially'

More on the Los Alamos "Live Exponentially" slogan saga: There's been a flurry of letters, all opposed to the proposed slogan, in the Los Alamos Daily Post these last few weeks.

And now the issue is back on the council agenda; apparently they're willing to reconsider the October vote to spend another $50,000 on the slogan.

But considering that only two people showed up to that October meeting, I wrote a letter to the Post urging people to speak before the council: Letter to the Editor: Attend Tuesday's Council Meeting To Make Your Voice Heard On 'Live Exponentially'.

I'll be there. I've never actually spoken at a council meeting before, but hey, confidence in public speaking situations is what Toastmasters is all about, right?

(Even though it means I'll have to miss an interesting sounding talk on bats that conflicts with the council meeting. Darn it!)

A few followup details that I had no easy way to put into the Post letter:

The page with the links to Council meeting agendas and packets is here: Los Alamos County Calendar.

There, you can get the short Agenda for Tuesday's meeting, or the full 364 page Agenda Packets PDF.

[Breathtaking raised to the power of you] The branding section covers pages 93 - 287. But the graphics the council apparently found so compelling, which swayed several of them from initially not liking the slogan to deciding to spend a quarter million dollars on it, are in the final presentation from the marketing company, starting on page p. 221 of the PDF.

In particular, a series of images like this one, with the snappy slogan:

Breathtaking raised to the power of you
LIVE EXPONENTIALLY

That's right: the advertising graphics that were so compelling they swayed most of the council are even dumber than the slogan by itself. Love the superscript on the you that makes it into an exponent. Get it ... exponentially? Oh, now it all makes sense!

There's also a sadly funny "Written Concept" section just before the graphics (pages 242- in the PDF) where they bend over backward to work in scientific-sounding words, in bold each time.

But there you go. Hopefully some of those Post letter writers will come to the meeting and let the council know what they think.

The council will also be discussing the much debated proposed chicken ordinance; that discussion runs from page 57 to 92 of the PDF. It's a non-issue for Dave and me since we're in a rural zone that already allows chickens, but I hope they vote to allow them everywhere.

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[ 18:05 Dec 07, 2014    More politics | permalink to this entry | comments ]

Sat, 11 Oct 2014

Railroading exponentially

or: Smart communities can still be stupid

I attended my first Los Alamos County Council meeting yesterday. What a railroad job!

The controversial issue of the day was the town's "branding". Currently, as you drive into Los Alamos on highway 502, you pass a tasteful rock sign proclaiming "LOS ALAMOS: WHERE DISCOVERIES ARE MADE". But back in May, the county council announced the unanimous approval of a new slogan, for which they'd paid an ad agency some $55,000: "LIVE EXPONENTIALLY".

As you might expect in a town full of scientists, the announcement was greeted with much dismay. What is it supposed to mean, anyway? Is it a reference to exponential population growth? Malignant tumor growth? Gaining lots of weight as we age?

The local online daily, tired of printing the flood of letters protesting the stupid new slogan, ran a survey about the "Live Exponentially" slogan. The results were that 8.24% liked it, 72.61% didn't, and 19.16% didn't like it and offered alternatives or comments. My favorites were Dave's suggestion of "It's Da Bomb!", and a suggestion from another reader, "Discover Our Secrets"; but many of the alternate suggestions were excellent, or hilarious, or both -- follow the link to read them all.

For further giggles, try a web search on the term. If you search without quotes, Ebola tops the list. With quotes, you get mostly religious tracts and motivational speakers.

The Council Meeting

(The rest of this is probably only of interest to Los Alamos folk.)

Dave read somewhere -- it wasn't widely announced -- that Friday's council meeting included an agenda item to approve spending $225,000 -- yes, nearly a quarter of a million dollars -- on "brand implementation". Of course, we had to go.

In the council discussion leading up to the call for public comment, everyone spoke vaguely of "branding" without mentioning the slogan. Maybe they hoped no one would realize what they were really voting for. But in the call for public comment, Dave raised the issue and urged them to reconsider the slogan.

Kristin Henderson seemed to have quite a speech prepared. She acknowledged that "people who work with math" universally thought the slogan was stupid, but she said that people from a liberal arts background, like herself, use the term to mean hiking, living close to nature, listening to great music, having smart friends and all the other things that make this such a great place to live. (I confess to being skeptical -- I can't say I've ever heard "exponential" used in that way.)

Henderson also stressed the research and effort that had already gone into choosing the current slogan, and dismissed the idea that spending another $50,000 on top of the $55k already spent would be "throwing money after bad." She added that showing the community some images to go with the slogan might change people's minds.

David Izraelevitz admitted that being an engineer, he initially didn't like "Live Exponentially". But he compared it to Apple's "Think Different": though some might think it ungrammatical, it turned out to be a highly successful brand because it was coupled with pictures of Gandhi and Einstein. (Hmm, maybe that slogan should be "Live Exponential".)

Izraelevitz described how he convinced a local business owner by showing him the ad agency's full presentation, with pictures as well as the slogan, and said that we wouldn't know how effective the slogan was until we'd spent the $50k for logo design and an implementation plan. If the council didn't like the results they could choose not to go forward with the remaining $175,000 for "brand implementation". (Councilor Fran Berting had previously gotten clarification that those two parts of the proposal were separate.)

Rick Reiss said that what really mattered was getting business owners to approve the new branding -- "the people who would have to use it." It wasn't so important what people in the community thought, since they didn't have logos or ads that might incorporate the new branding.

Pete Sheehey spoke up as the sole dissenter. He pointed out that most of the community input on the slogan has been negative, and that should be taken into account. The proposed slogan might have a positive impact on some people but it would have a negative impact on others, and he couldn't support the proposal.

Fran Berting said she was "not all that taken" with the slogan, but agreed with Izraelevitz that we wouldn't know if it was any good without spending the $50k. She echoed the "so much work has already gone into it" argument. Reiss also echoed "so much work", and that he liked the slogan because he saw it in print with a picture.

But further discussion was cut off. It was 1:30, the fixed end time for the meeting, and chairman Geoff Rodgers (who had pretty much stayed out of the discussion to this point) called for a vote. When the roll call got to Sheehey, he objected to the forced vote while they were still in the middle of a discussion. But after a brief consultation on Robert's Rules of Order, chairman Rogers declared the discussion over and said the vote would continue. The motion was approved 5-1.

The Exponential Railroad

Quite a railroading. One could almost think it had been planned that way.

First, the item was listed as one of two in the "Consent Agenda" -- items which were expected to be approved all together in one vote with no discussion or public comment. It was moved at the last minute into "Business"; but that put it last on the agenda.

Normally that wouldn't have mattered. But although the council more often meets in the evenings and goes as long as it needs to, Friday's meeting had a fixed time of noon to 1:30. Even I could see that wasn't much time for all the items on the agenda.

And that mid-day timing meant that working folk weren't likely to be able to listen or comment. Further, the branding issue didn't come up until 1 pm, after some of the audience had already left to go back to work. As a result, there were only two public comments.

Logic deficit

I heard three main arguments repeated by every council member who spoke in favor:

  1. the slogan makes much more sense when viewed with pictures -- they all voted for it because they'd seen it presented with visuals;
  2. a lot of time, effort and money has already gone into this slogan, so it didn't make sense to drop it now; and
  3. if they didn't like the logo after spending the first $50k, they didn't have to approve the other $175k.

The first argument doesn't make any sense. If the pictures the council saw were so convincing, why weren't they showing those images to the public? Why spend an additional $50,000 for different pictures? I guess $50k is just pocket change, and anyone who thinks it's a lot of money is just being silly.

As for the second and third, they contradict each other. If most of the board thinks now that the initial $50k contract was so much work that we have to go forward with the next $50k, what are the chances that they'll decide not to continue after they've already invested $100k?

Exponentially low, I'd say.

I was glad of one thing, though. As a newcomer to the area faced with a ballot next month, it was good to see the council members in action, seeing their attitudes toward spending and how much they care about community input. That will be helpful come ballot time.

If you're in the same boat but couldn't make the meeting, catch the October 10, 2014 County Council Meeting video.

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[ 12:54 Oct 11, 2014    More politics | permalink to this entry | comments ]

Sat, 26 Apr 2008

Republicans fight to preserve gender pay gap

Dahlia Lithwick wrote a terrific article in yesterday's Slate about the shameful behavior of the Republicans in the Senate in blocking a bill that would have allowed women to sue for pay discrimination.

The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act was written in response to the case brought by Lilly Ledbetter against the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company. Courts had found that she was definitely the subject of discrimination: her pay was as much as 40% less than men doing a similar job (despite her excellent reviews), one year she was actually paid below Goodyear's own minimum threshold for that position, she had been explicitly barred from discussing salary with her coworkers (this is apparently legal, at least in Alabama), and she had been told explicitly by a manager at Goodyear that that the "plant did not need women, that [women] didn't help it, [and] caused problems."

No one at any level has disputed that Ms. Ledbetter was discriminated against -- even the Supreme Court. However, the Supremes threw out her appeal last year on the basis that the statute of limitations had run out and she should have filed her case within 180 days of receiving her first paycheck. In other words, as long as you don't know when you're hired that your pay is discriminatory, it doesn't matter if you find out later; it'll be too late then, so forget it. Pay discrimination is fine, and not actionable, as long as you can delay the victim's finding out about it for a few months.

Senate Republicans believe so strongly in a company's right to discriminate that they not only argued against the bill, they actually filibustered against it!

For more gory details of the case, read Lithwick's excellent Slate article. But even if you don't, be aware if you're considering voting for John McCain in November that although he was campaigning instead of voting on this bill, he proclaimed agreement with the rest of his party in opposing the Fair Pay Act.

So if you're against pay discrimination ... or if you're a woman and might be the victim of such discrimination ... be aware that John McCain is not on your side.

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[ 20:26 Apr 26, 2008    More politics | permalink to this entry | comments ]

Wed, 20 Feb 2008

Obama's too good a speaker

In election news today, we have the report Wounded Clinton eyes big contests on Barak Obama's widening lead over Hillary Clinton:
Mrs Clinton continued to try to depict Mr Obama as a man of fine words but little action.

"It's time that we move from good words to good works, from sound bites to sound solutions... This campaign goes on!" she said

Hey, wait ... isn't that a sound bite against sound bites?

McCain joined in the fun, saying "I will fight every moment of every day in this campaign to make sure that Americans are not deceived by an eloquent but empty call for change."

So let's see if I have this straight: the worst that either Clinton or McCain can think of to say about Obama is that ... he's a really good speaker.

Hmm. Time was when people thought being a good speaker was actually a good thing to have in a president. Isn't that something presidents are called upon to do now and then?

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[ 19:43 Feb 20, 2008    More politics | permalink to this entry | comments ]

Mon, 04 Feb 2008

Indian Gaming Props 94 through 97

Finally home from Melbourne and with a good night's sleep behind me, I finally had to take a look at the Indian gaming propositions on tomorrow's ballot: Propositions 94 through 97.

There are a bunch of issues here which I'm not going to try to write about: you can read the legislative analyst's summary and the pro and con arguments in the Supplemental Voter's Handbook. But the really interesting part of the is the section at the back of the SVH: the TEXT OF PROPOSED LAWS section. It's always good to take a look at a law's actual text before making a decision. Sometimes they surprise you. Especially in this case.

Ready to follow along? Okay, we'll start with Prop 94. Open your SVH to page 44 (or use the PDF or Google's HTML translation) and start at SECTION 1. (Presumably there's some way to get to these links via www.sos.ca.gov/elections/ but I didn't have much luck finding it.)

SECTION 1. Section 12012.49 is added to the Government Code, to read:
12012.49. (a) The amendment tothe tribal-state gaming compact entered into in accordance with the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988 (18 U.S.C. Sec. 1166 to 1168, incl., and 25 U.S.C. Sec. 2701 et seq.) between the State of California and the Pechanga Band of LuiseƱo Mission Indians, executed on August 28, 2006, is hereby ratified.
(b) (1) In deference to tribal sovereignty, none of the following shall be deemed a project for purposes of the California Environmental Quality Act (Division 13 (commencing with Section 21000) of the Public Resources Code):
(A) The execution of an amendment to the amended tribal-state gaming compact ratified by this section.
(B) The execution of the amended tribal-state gaming compact ratified by this section.
(C) The execution of an intergovernmental agreement between a tribe and a county or city government negotiated pursuant to the express authority of, or as expressly referenced in, the amended tribal-state gaming compact ratified by this section.

... hey, wait a minute, where are the details? The proposed law continues in this fashion, referencing "the amended tribal-state gaming compact ratified by this section" over and over. Remember, this is the actual wording that would become part of California law if these propositions are approved.

Dave looked into this more. Turns out these Indian gaming compacts are complicated by an amusing legal problem: since each reservations is technically a foreign government, negotiation has to be done by the Governor's office, not legislated by the state legislature. But the agreements the Gov makes have to be ratified by the legislature or the voters.

Okay, so what we're voting on is whether to ratify the agreement the Governator reached with the set of tribes under discussion (mostly along I-10 in Riverside County, plus one down near San Diego).

Great. So ... where are these agreements we're voting to ratify?

Not in the Supplemental Voter's Handbook, that's clear enough. So where can we find them?

Dave went to Google, and thought he found something -- wait, no, it turns out it's even more complicated than that. See, there are lots of earlier revisions of the compacts, too.

Apparently when the time comes to get it ratified, how it generally works is: Someone writes up a bill that sounds harmless and has nothing to do with the actual issues being discussed ("Proposed: that we will provide the Pachenga Indians with educational information on tooth decay prevention for their schools"). This is made public, and sits in the public place for bills under consideration until the last minute, when it is amended to add whatever the real subject of discussion is. Then everybody votes on it (probably without reading the amendments), and the agreement is ratified.

But something went wrong in the process this time, and somehow the agreements weren't ratified and ended up getting sent to the voters.

Okay, that's all very entertaining, but meanwhile we still need the text of the agreements we're being asked to ratify. Where are they?

After much searching, Dave thought he had a lead: Denise Moreno Ducheny's page has a link for SB 174 - Tribal gaming: compact ratification. which supposedly corresponds to Prop 95. That link doesn't work for me (I get "The connection has been reset: try again later" -- either it doesn't like Firefox on Linux or it wants cookies or something) but it worked for Dave in Safari, and it turns out it was one of these pre-amended versions, not the version we're actually being asked to vote on.

But he finally found what apparently are the final versions of the compacts, linked from a press release on the governor's site. Note that you can't get there by actually searching the Governor's site (searching for tribal compact gets you three press releases that don't include that one). Here's a direct link to the Pechanga agreement and the San Manuel agreement. You're on your own for the rest.

Anyway, the PDFs on the Governor's site do appear to say pretty much what the legislative analyst says they say. So the analysis in the Supplemental Voter Handbook is probably fine and you cat vote on that basis. That's assuming you believe that those PDFs, findable only through google and not through any official link, are the real ones that are being voted on. The filenames both include the word "final" -- isn't that all you need to know?

Me, I'm not too happy about being asked to vote on a basis of "We won't show you the actual text, just trust us". I don't like the idea of laws that reference unknown other documents, stored in an unspecified place and possibly subject to who knows what sorts of revisions. I'll probably vote no for that reason.

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[ 17:54 Feb 04, 2008    More politics | permalink to this entry | comments ]

Fri, 16 Nov 2007

An ironic juxtaposition

I can't stop thinking about the woman in the Chinese restaurant the other night.

It was one of those conversations you try not to overhear, but they're so loud and distracting that you just can't avoid it.

In the middle of a long declamation on conspiracy theories and politics, the man made a comment about how we're in the middle east shooting Iraqis who never hurt anyone. (I didn't say his politics were all wrong, just loud).

The woman, who had been relatively quiet up to now, interrupted, "But they hurt us in 9/11!"

In the next booth, facing away from them, my mouth dropped open. The man quickly countered that Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11, but then was off onto other topics, sharing with the room his theories on war in the middle east in general, Israel, and people trying to wipe out the Jews. This caught the woman's interest -- "They already tried that, Hitler." After a pause, she added thoughtfully, "You know, the strangest thing about that is how people there just went along with it."

That came barely a minute after the 9/11 comment. She clearly had no idea of the irony of juxtaposing the two. I wanted to turn around and say, "Perhaps they went along for the same reason that you're going along with killing hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians, when even the president who started the war admits that Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11?"

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[ 22:24 Nov 16, 2007    More politics | permalink to this entry | comments ]

Mon, 06 Aug 2007

Votes on the Warrantless Wiretapping Act

All the news media carried stories on how our (US) legislators voted in a bill on Friday night that greatly eased the rules on wiretapping. The House followed through and passed the bill on Saturday.

The new updates to FISA, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, will allow the NSA or the attorney general to authorize monitoring of telephones or email, without a warrant, if the comunications involve people "reasonably believed to be outside the United States".

The story reported in most of the papers is that Democrats were against the bill and wanted a version which required warrants in more cases. But the President threatened to hold Congress in session into its scheduled summer recess if it did not approve the changes he wanted -- and that was enough, apparently, for the Senate to vote for warrantless surveillance of Americans. (I confess I don't quite understand why the president can hold Congress in session indefinitely until he gets the vote he wants. Can't they just vote No?)

What I couldn't find in any of the stories was a breakdown of the votes. What about our presidential candidates? Did they support warrantless wiretapping -- or, perhaps worse, just not care about the ramifications of a bill if further consideration of it might cut into their vacation time?

Finding out

Finding Senate votes is very easy. Googling for senate votes takes you right to the Senate.gov breakdown of recent votes by Senator name or by state. Here are the results for S.1927.

The House is harder. They don't seem to have a nice "recent votes" page like the Senate does, or any obvious way to find bills (I had little luck with their site search), though a pressec.com story gave a link to the bill on Thomas.loc.gov, which links to an official House.gov vote count.

In the absence of pressec.com's help, the easiest way to find House voting records is to use the Washington Post Votes Database.

How did they vote?

I was happy to see that all the major Democratic candidates in Congress voted against the smarmily named "Protect America Act", including Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Joe Biden, and Christopher Dodd, and (in the House) Dennis Kucinich. John Kerry (who is not an official candidate) didn't vote.

On the Republican side, candidate Sam Brownback voted for the bill, while candidates John McCain, Tom Tancredo and Ron Paul didn't vote.

Of course, I was also interested in my local legislators. California Senator Dianne Feinstein voted for passage (why do people keep voting her back in?) while our other senator, Barbara Boxer didn't vote. In the House, my representative, the always sensible Zoe Lofgren, voted against the bill. In fact, she spoke out against it, saying "This bill would grant the attorney general the ability to wiretap anybody, any place, any time without court review, without any checks and balances. I think this unwarranted, unprecedented measure would simply eviscerate the 4th Amendment." Hurray, Zoe! House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also voted against.

How did your legislators vote?

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[ 14:20 Aug 06, 2007    More politics | permalink to this entry | comments ]

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