December 31, 2006

Artificial light in the night sky

The last couple of nights the sky has been pretty bright, in an eerie or mystical sort of way. It has been cloudy, and the moon has been waxing, so I think a lot of it is moonlight. But I can't figure out how much might be artificial light reflecting back from the cloudy sky. We are close to shopping centers and a highway, so there is always some noticeable light in the sky when it is cloudy at night.

I was growing up when I first paid attention to light pollution in the night sky. We were close to the small town of Gray and a bit farther from the medium-sized city of Macon. I could see a little bit of pink haze around the horizon in the direction of each place. Either the light around Macon 15 miles away made a wider patch of light or I imagined it did since it was a bigger town.

Today whenever I visit some place situated outside of a town at night I'm surprised to see the clarity of the stars and the darkness of the sky, the way I grew up seeing it. That house was in an area so dark that when our neighbors across the street had a security light installed it changed everything at night. Even though their house was far away, it then stood out like a lighthouse at sea. Their light began to invade our house at night and distracted from any stargazing. It was no longer possible to see a sunrise in the same way.

I don't hate city lights, of course. My current house has a street light in the front, and we can see lights scattered all around from the neighborhood, an apartment complex, a shopping center, and an office park. Each fall I've noticed more lights are visible when the leaves are gone. But it is important to remember the natural state of affairs under nothing but starlight.

When we lived in Commerce we thought it was funny that Bill Anderson wrote "City Lights" there. The Commerce we knew was deserted at night with only enough street lights to see your way around. Maybe he embellished his inspiration by making "city light" plural.

December 28, 2006

Christmas notes

We had a fun Christmas. We got to see many of our family members in Toccoa and Danville. Both our mamas said they didn't do as much in preparing food this year, but we pigged out and didn't notice. There were distractions again this year with medical and family events concerning different people, but as long as we are thankful to be together and realize that life changes, it can still "feel like Christmas."

Nature gave us a Christmas present in the form of a lower power bill by having weeks of warm weather before Christmas.

I noticed again how there has been talk in the news about the propriety of using the phrases "happy holidays" or "merry Christmas" in public. Judging by letters to the editor of our local newspaper, some people seem to think there is a culture war going on, a war on Christmas. Well, it is helpful to remember that Christmas is not the only religious holiday in December, and a lot of December traditions are not even religious to begin with. I sure hope no one was offended by our "Happy Holidays" cards that we mailed. It would have been awkward to send a Christmas-only card to our Jewish acquaintances, you know, and even more awkward to ask everyone about their religion before sending them a card.

The holidays are too short. I'm trying to get some reading done, but I'm not motivated to read so quickly and carefully, so I don't know if I'm going to finish. Maybe I should just relax anyway.

I'm going to try not to think about New Year's superstitions this year. We'd be screwed for life if it was bad luck for a blond-haired man to be the first person to enter the house in the new year, and Amy won't let me cook collards in the house. (Maybe I can cook some in a Crock pot in the garage.) Besides, the new year is an arbitrary time marked by the calendar and not an astronomical event. I should go ahead and start writing "2007" in my checkbook because you know how that goes.

Amy took down our Christmas tree yesterday. Yes, she puts it up early and takes it down early, but I guess she is just choosing convenient times to do all that. It's not like I have an opinion anyway, except I do like the little fiber optic tree that went upstairs this year.

December 21, 2006

Employment

Next month I will become employed part time, and it will be my first job in the legal profession. It also marks the end of a long series of rejections that I've experienced in law school, so that sure makes me happy. I will be a law clerk at Fortson, Bentley and Griffin, P.A., and it will become full time for the summer.

This will be a new experience, so I am nervous about meeting expectations. Law school is just tough, so I don't really know my range of competencies yet. This is very exciting, though, because I will start getting some serious experience with research and writing in a practice setting, and working for a sophisticated firm will be a crucial part of my education. I also look forward to meeting new people and establishing relationships for the future.

Fortunately, I have a sense of transition that should help me. I took the public interest practicum course this past semester, so now I have an initial experience working for a lawyer and serving clients. I should post my learning assessment from that course on this blog.

December 17, 2006

Land use

It is generally understood that there is an environmental need to stop or slow down the development of land. A way to avoid this is to redevelop land already built on with more density. But how do we reconcile this with the common human desire for space and lawns? Sprawling development has hurt our environment, and we could halt that with denser infill development. Our society would have to continue becoming more and more urban, but how can more people be convinced to live in tight clusters of houses or apartment buildings when they don't already have a reason, such as a job downtown in a large city? Is it even natural to live in such close quarters? Supposedly human nature looks for the sort of environment found in a savanna.

Here in Athens, the local government is struggling to figure out how to implement a policy of preserving a region of agricultural land and forests dubbed the "greenbelt." Ideally, sprawl will be controlled and population will grow in the city center rather than the fringes. A few years ago a new zoning law was passed to require ten acres per house in the agricultural zone, but the immediate problem is that those landowners cannot sell land for subdivisions or development the way owners in other zones may be able to. It is understood that this is not fair.

The next step in the county's plan is to start a program of transferrable development rights (TDRs). Instead of selling off land, agricultural owners could sell development rights to be used in another area of town where they will allow a property to be built or rebuilt more densely. That means instead of an in-town property owner asking to be given a rezoning for free, they could buy the right to build more densely. Unfortunately, the first problem is that the sending and receiving zones have to be determined, and such a plan may become controversial due to the NIMBY effect in the receiving zones. The second problem is that the whole idea creates a logistical nightmare in setting up the market.

TDRs are nothing new, but a news article today points out that the challenge is to tailor a plan that will work in Athens. New York City started using TDRs in the 1970s, and they were basically purchased to build an extra tall building in one location in exchange for limiting the building height on another property. In southern New Jersey and on New York's Long Island, TDR programs were set up to preserve pine barrens. In Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, a program was set up to preserve working farms.

It is interesting to note that farms are often an environmentally damaging use of land, even though they are counted as "greenspace." Athens wants to preserve its greenspace, and I am not sure if the government is making a distinction between farms and forests. It is also interesting to note that Georgia has more land covered by forests now than it did 100 years ago because more farmland going out of use got covered with trees than with building or roads, despite all the growth since then. Finally, it is noteworthy that the Athens greenbelt is more of an ideal than a reality since the outlying areas have had sporadic development eat holes in the green, and that is why the county commission felt the urgency to pass restrictive zoning even before a TDR program was ready.

Anyway, over the holidays I hope to read Land Use Planning and Development Regulation Law. It is a hornbook that covers many land use, planning, and zoning topics. I need to understand the nuts and bolts of zoning and other kinds of law before I can enter this debate as more than a layman.

December 16, 2006

Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Athens

Starting this summer I've tried to learn about the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Athens. A lot of people are skeptical of UU congregations, and I found that many (though of course not all) of the concerns are unfounded.

First of all, why am I interested in the place? Amy and I have never joined a church, so I have wondered if I can make some of the normal sorts of community connections that many people have. Next I have seen that my wider social circle already has connections there, and members of the congregation are active and involved with charities, causes, and politics. I've met a professor, an elected official, and a political candidate who were members.

The Unitarian Universalist history is complex. The current system was a recent merger of two systems of liberal religion, and some of the traditional doctrine goes back many centuries. The Unitarians and Universalists were Christians, but the current system embraces all kinds of religious thought. Of course, that is the main objection to the UUs held by many people, that Christianity is not central. To that I can only say that you might respect the beliefs of others as you want yours to be respected. The UUs do not have a creed, but their official principles reflect positive values, including spiritual growth, equality, justice, peace, and respect for the environment.

It is true that they do not hold the Bible as their central text. Rather than being a "people of the book," they see themselves as a "people of the library." However, tradition is still important, and UUs have rituals and rites like anyone else. UUs are known for having less formality, but the minister in Athens is a former Methodist minister and says she appreciates the "bells and smells" of more formal church traditions. Each congregation designs its own services because they are supposed to be independent and democratic (a congregational polity), so I guess there are no generalizations to be made about services and traditions.

I have heard the Unitarian Universalist system called a "cult." That really doesn't make any sense when you consider that the common elements of what you normally call a cult involve a set of dogmatic beliefs, a charismatic leader who controls those beliefs, and a zealous devotion that puts the organization above all other priorities in life and requires an unreasonable sacrifice of independence and resources. Could the UUs really be hiding dogmatic thinking behind a facade of open-mindedness?

No. I have seen no cult-like elements in the very least. There is no creed, so that makes most any other religious organization closer to the definition of a cult. There is no singular way of thinking that is imposed; in fact, one Sunday service that we visited had debate break out during a talkback session after a lay-led service. There is no pressure to give a particular amount of money or type of support. I think the "cult" label gets applied by devout Christians who truly believe that the choice to not affirm a Christian creed after being exposed to the Gospel is a moral failing made even worse by the further choice to continue talking about religion. Again, not everyone shares the same beliefs, and some people respect the reasoned choices by others to believe different things. To call something a cult when it is the antithesis of a cult is just misleading and unfair.

I was a bit worried about the politics of the fellowship in Athens after we visited a few services because I got a sense that the political thought was extremely liberal. Politically, I see myself as a centrist, and I don't think that the polar way of analyzing values and ideas is very useful, though clearly I agree with a number of so-called liberal ideas as a matter of preference rather than a matter of preaching. Anyway, after more inspection, the liberal atmosphere there seems to be more an aggregation and not a unified way of thinking. Apparently many members of the congregation disagree with each other on political issues. There are many members involved with the Democratic party or in favor of that party, and there are some Republicans (blending conservative politics with liberal religion), but the congregation has formally chosen to prohibit discussion of partisan politics inside the sanctuary. So there is no actual creed for political thought, but UUs are known for supporting civil rights and social justice, and I am quite comfortable with that. There are churches out there that do preach politics in a big way, but this is not one of them.

This, then, is what I have learned about the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Athens. I am slow to get involved with anything "churchy," but I may visit more often.

Drive-throughs are now an option

In my car the driver side window switch had been broken for a long time. That made it really embarassing to use a fast food drive-through because I had to open my door and reach backwards. The next thing to have a problem was the blower fan for the defroster and air conditioner. These problems were on top of a hazard light switched that messed up my turn signals. I finally got some of these things taken care of yesterday at Commerce Tire, but I need to go back Monday for one more part. Yes, I went all the way to Commerce because Precision Tune's prices were excessive and I just didn't know where else to go in Athens. I got some other maintenance done, and they just charged a little over an hour for labor for five items. After the one last part it will almost be like having a new car.

Yes, I can go through drive-throughs again. I will be able to use drive-up ATMs and swipe my parking pass at school without opening the door. By the way, it seems wacky that I use three electronic items, including that parking pass, to open gates and doors for my car. Any more would be confusing.

Yesterday I went to meet some folks at the Globe on Lumpkin Street to talk about local politics and such. Topics included the sewer system, sewer and water rates, lane configuration of local streets, the financial troubles for the Chamber of Commerce, the recent campaigns for mayoral candidates, the effects of tort reform, and using duels to settle disputes.

December 13, 2006

Mysteries of the Pritchett House



There was a mysterious Indiana Jones moment in the house this morning. I walked up the stairs and found myself blinded by the sun through the bedroom window! This never happens. This must be a special moment of the year when the sun reaches the proper position to send a beam through the bedroom door that magically aligns with the opening to the stairway.

December 10, 2006

Election day



Last Tuesday was runoff election day in Athens. I volunteered to make some get-out-the-vote phone calls for Kelly Girtz who was running for county commission superdistrict nine, but the calls were made in a joint effort with Heidi Davison's reelection campaign for mayor, and I ended up just making some calls for Heidi. They both won, so I was happy about that. I'm not in Kelly's superdistrict, but I have talked with him extensively, and I am sure he will be a great member of the commission. Here are some photos, including the office where we made phone calls and then the bar where Heidi and Kelly made their speeches after seeing the election results.



Ann Hodges, Al Davison, and Heidi Davison Mike and Dan Johnathan, Julie, Nicole Heidi Davison Kelly Girtz Kelly Girtz and Adrian Pritchett

December 04, 2006

The Christmas List

Make a quick comment here if you actually read my blog. You don't even have to use your real name; just write something to let me know anyone is looking at this more than once. If I get like just two comments this month, then I'll just close the blog and send you email from now on.

My Aunt Janice sent a Christmas with this poem. Maybe it is common, but I had not read it before. What is sad is the way people don't tend to their lists, either for Christmas cards or just for life. You know I frequently complain about people falling out of touch, but I'm still getting used to the idea because it has gone from people just communicating less down to relatives not even giving us their address when they move. I can complain here because I'm pretty sure those people aren't even reading my blog.

In other news, I sort of got rear-ended in my car today. I was surprised to not find any damage on my car or the other driver's, though. She let me copy information from her insurance card and driver's license just in case, and I gave her my card, and that was it.

November 25, 2006

Thanks given

Amy and I saw Nellie, Mom, Dean, and my grandfather on Thursday in Twiggs County. We ate good things like turkey breast and turnip greens. We went to Amy's parents' in Toccoa on Friday where we ate more food. There we saw Julie, Jeff, and Amy's grandmother. Amy ate some kind of casserole, though I usually pass on that.

November 21, 2006

Reason vs. passion discussion prompted by “Death in Venice” by Thomas Mann

My comparative literature class was assigned a reading of Death in Venice by Thomas Mann, an early 20th-century novelist known for his exploration of the relationship between art and real life. Death in Venice is a novella that depicts a writer, Gustav von Aschenbach, who has always worked under strict rational discipline but whose suffering from a repression of his passionate and spontaneous nature — his purely artistic side — finally comes to a head. The novella is rich in analogies, symbols, and mythological references.

Death in Venice invokes the classic conflict between the ideals of two Greek gods, Apollo on the side of reason and Dionysus on the side of passion. In the end, Aschenbach dies in Venice because he was unable to balance these conflicting principles in his life: he was governed strictly by reason and the artistic value of his work suffered because of it, but he was reminded of the passionate, artistic side of life in a step-by-step process that brought him to Venice where his passions fully took over and changed his personality.

I talked to my classmate R.W. about the story, and we began to fully understand how Mann’s artfully crafted web of ideas reminded us of our lives and the world we live in.

Adrian Pritchett: When Aschenbach sees the tourist or the traveler at the church, [did it remind you of] a sight that made you desire travel or to take drastic action in the manner that Aschenbach was inspired to take a special vacation?

RW: I don’t think travel necessarily. I think that drastic action in a lot of cases is the only way to come about with a change in life. When you’re mired in the day-to-day and dull activities of life, anything that you see that’s somewhat sublime, or any reminder of what you’re missing — Once you’ve made a decision, you’re going down a path and you can’t go back, and when you’re reminded of what you’re missing, you try to regain that and try to backtrack.

AP: Have you yourself had sudden inspirations like that that were incongruous to your mood?

RW: Yeah, I mean, that’s a universal thing. Even if you hear a song on the radio, it can take you back in time ... and you can remember decisions that you could have made differently.

AP: And could even make you take action?

RW: Right, right. I’m kind of bad about this, but if I happen to hear a particular song, I might call an ex-girlfriend to check on her because I wonder whatever happened there. So, yeah, that’s a universal thing.

AP: Aschenbach saw an old man that did his best to appear young in manner and in dress. Did you ever become something that at one time you would have hated just as Aschenback became some sort of fop himself?

RW: Oh yeah. Again, I think that’s a universal characteristic. We all dislike things about ourselves and do things that we don’t understand and don’t normally do and we don’t approve of.

AP: Have you turned around and started doing something that you would not have approved of in the past?

RW: Yeah. ... When I was fifteen and I was in high school and I was doing relativism, it was my thing, and I would befuddle teachers and students with it, and it wasn’t anything I had read — I had just stumbled upon it. I thought that absolute truth and anything absolute, basically, was preposterous and couldn’t be reached. And then as I grew and I recognized more and more about the world, I recognized I kept coming back to the same problems and spinning in a circle, because based upon the idea that if the world was a creation of my mind, then there can’t be anything true, yet things were happening outside of my mind. It put me in this position where I had to repudiate everything that I had been preaching to teachers and students, and one day I just kind of woke up and ... there has to be some sort of truth or else I’m not right and I can’t even say anything to these people. And so I immediately had to back off and remove those inclinations and sort through the world anew. So, yeah, I think that we all backtrack and we all change. ... Our perception of things can be altered by whatever triggers the response in the brain.

AP: So you had new and continued experiences that changed your view of the world?

RW: The view of the world always changes. It’s constantly changing. If it stays the same then you’re probably a vegetable.

AP: Interesting point. ... Talking about perceptions and experiencing problems, in Death in Venice, the city at the governmental level and all that tried to cover up this epidemic that was sprouting up in the city and other Mediterranean cities, and this was analogous to Aschenbach’s growing passions that he tried to mask with his reasonable, courteous actions — [for example] he was following Tadzio but kept his distance respectfully — so he was covering up part of himself. Does that remind you of anything you can relate to, for yourself or for just general cover-ups in society?

RW: Of course. [For] governments, since the time of Industrialism, it’s a common thing to keep the majority — the bourgeois or the working class — just kind of uninformed of what’s going on outside. You know, Iraq thought they were winning the Gulf War in the 90’s. Hitler’s Germany was winning even when they were losing. It’s a propaganda you put up to prevent mass chaos, to prevent mass hysteria. In a world that’s based on economics — and on produce, produce, produce — and functioning on time schedules, and these type of things, of course there’s going to be some cover-up because they don’t want you to recognize reality in any sense. They don’t want you to recognize that you’re on this sort of treadmill, and that’s what this cover-up in Venice reminds me of. Even if you see that type of thing today — when there was anthrax sent to the Capitol to Tom Daschle, the senators came running out of Washington. They’re not going to be in the Capitol — they’re coming out of it and they’re flustered — yet when they come on TV they’re going, "It will be perfectly OK. Citizens of Washington, Baltimore, please stay calm," and then they get the hell out. It could have potentially been a disastrous thing but they’re not going to come out and be honest about it, and that’s what they’re doing in Venice [in the story]. If you have a plague on your hands, you’re not going to come out and be like, "We’re all going to die!" Because then, of course, you’d have mass hysteria and people killing each other, and you have what happens when the people of Venice in the story actually realize what’s going on when they talk about [how] there’s murder and all these things that have never happened.

AP: So that would have been even more widespread if reality had been discussed.

RW: Right.

The reality of cover-ups engaged us for quite a while since denying reality is such a common human tendency on so many levels. I asked about our own community and then moved on to focus on that personal battleground of reason versus passion.

AP: Do you think that the powers that be in Athens, Georgia, cover things up?

RW: Honestly, I can not make an educated answer on that because I have backed out of politics entirely. ... They probably have little small rendezvous and small skeletons in the closet, but I don’t think it’s anything comparable to there’s a plague in Athens that’s killing us all. [Then, as a side note:] Although there is probably a plague in Athens, though it’s of a different sort.

AP: … Does achieving a balance in the struggle between reason and passion really require this kind of avoidance of reality, or does it require deception?

RW: I don’t think the story says that it does. I think that’s the problem with it, an avoidance of reality that throws it off balance. What’s going on in Venice is they’re avoiding reality and people are dying. You look at what’s going on in Aschenbach and he’s avoiding reality; he’s avoiding what actually his urge is from the beginning. His urges have always been these passionate things. That’s the only way he can be an artist, but he’s always kept them in check. Emre talked about the Apollonian and Dionysian, and he’s always kept the Dionysian in check with his Apollonian. But his urges have always been Dionysian. He basically is the Freudian repressed person, and they’re eventually going to come out.

AP: So would he actually achieve a balance by being truthful with the changes in himself?

RW: ... I think that is very contingent upon the person.

AP: Maybe their perception of reality is based on the balance of forces, too.

RW: Right, and I think that ... the fact he kept his passionate side, his festive side, on this leash ... made it grow up to the point that when he let go of reason, it was over. It was so built up within him that when it manifested itself, it completely consumed him. To have that balance you have to actually try to balance it in your life, in your day-to-day things. You have to go out and every now and then do things that are unexpected. I’m a very — studious, I guess — kind of person. I sit at my desk most hours of the day, but then that leaves me lopsided. And so to balance that out every now and then I’ll just randomly decide I have to get out, and I’ll go out, and then I can come back and I can do my work. There’s a kind of balance you just have to flip-flop between. I think it’s normally kind of you’re doing one extreme and then you do the other extreme, and cumulatively it combines into a balance. So I think it’s possible to do it and actually face reality. When you don’t face the reality of what your urges are telling you to do, when you completely deny yourself, then you’re putting yourself in trouble. Because you’re denying the actuality of things and denying actually who you are and you’re putting on a facade, which is what Aschenbach is doing the entire time. ... He’s concerned with his image; he’s so proud. He says he was once proud of being this kind of revolutionary intellectual, and now his proudest thing is his name. ... The image has completely consumed him. Even going on the opposite [Dionysian] side his image has consumed him. ... That’s a hideous thought to me, this old guy with dyed hair and makeup on. He’s completely consumed by what he presents to the outer world instead of trying to figure out what he needs as an individual.

AP: That was the result of being off balance.

RW: I don’t think that you can say it’s a result. I think it’s a cause and a result. It’s the chicken and the egg. I don’t think you can say which one came first. It perpetuates his condition of being off balance and it’s rooted in his condition of being off balance.

AP: So you answered my further question of why his feelings went completely opposite: because he had not acknowledged them and they grew and took over when he let go of reason. So in real life does indulging in one extreme lead to a later shift to the other extreme — between the Apollonian ways and the Dionysian ways?

RW: That again is contingent upon the individual. … Personally speaking, I would say that for me my high school years were extremely wild. I was a very, very bad kid. When I got to college and as I’ve grown up a little bit over the past couple of years, now I’m mostly the opposite extreme. I don’t go out or do anything much: I just kind of sit and work, and that’s what I enjoy doing, and that’s what I do with my life. So there has been a complete contrast.

AP: But you have said you’re aware of the need for a balance.

RW: Right, right. I still have that inclination within me, so I still go out and have my nights where I let loose.

AP: So you haven’t gone to the total Apollonian extreme.

RW: Right, but I’ve definitely had a violent shift in my lifestyle.

I was surprised by RW’s view that achieving the balance between reason and passion is an ongoing but manageable battle. Perhaps the rigor of my own daily routine has misled me into believing that individual actions themselves are "balanced" or "extreme." RW’s own life changes have shown him elements of both Dionysian and Apollonian lifestyles and necessitated that he learn to balance them. Am I on the sort of path that Aschenbach may have been following? Do I need to make an effort to see if I am masking some Dionysian tendencies in my own character?

AP: Was this story any sort of warning that Dionysius will want revenge if you ignore him? …

RW: … I don’t think it was any type of warning about that because you also have the people in Venice who are reveling in their Dionysian ways — and they’re dying! … It’s more a warning of being extreme on either side.

So it became clear to us that Apollo and Dionysus are not fighting for control of our lives; rather, they fight against each other. It seems that balance and moderation are important, and they must be pursued with an honest view of conflicting ideals and desires. Going to any sort of extreme, if Mann’s warning is correct, can lead to disaster for an individual or a society. Death in Venice is a fertile source of discussion about work and play, industry and creativity, life and art, and truth and deception.

The Electoral Systems of Britain and Sweden

Introduction

The quality of a democracy is regulated by the electoral system that awards seats in democratic assemblies to those seeking office. This paper will compare the electoral systems of the parliaments of the United Kingdom (herein called Britain) and Sweden in order to determine which country has the preferred electoral system. The quality to be measured is the fairness of democratic representation, which is to say, how properly the various public interests are represented and how much control voters have over their government. The first part of the paper will study each electoral system separately, looking at the mechanics of how the members of parliament are elected, what kind of political party system can participate in the parliament, and how the parties go about setting up the executive branch of government. The second part will compare and contrast the two parliaments, and afterwards it will be shown how one of the parliaments represents its electorate more fairly and democratically. These two countries have been chosen because Britain’s electoral system is characterized as a system of single-member districts, and Sweden’s system is considered to provide proportional representation, which strives to elect members of political parties in the proportions in which votes were cast.

The Electoral System in Britain

Voters in Britain elect members of the House of Commons, the more powerful lower house of the Westminster Parliament, for maximum terms of five years. Each one of the 659 electoral districts sends one member to the House of Commons after being chosen on the basis of plurality. Candidates obtain their places on the ballot by being nominated by their party. Frequently the winner that is chosen to represent the constituency receives less than a majority of the votes but wins by plurality, and no runoffs are held to confirm the voters’ choice (Nation Master, 2003: "British House of Commons"; Kavanagh, Dennis, 2000: 116-19). British voters have traditionally been motivated by party ideology when casting their vote, but some votes are cast for incumbents with favored personalities (Kavanagh: 125).

The mechanics of such an electoral system have generally supported the domination of Britain’s parliament by two parties, allowing one party to form a governing majority on its own. Currently, the Labour party holds a majority of seats with the Conservatives in opposition. Historically speaking, though, at times party factions and regional interests have undermined the two-party system as well as the players that dominate it. In the early part of the twentieth century, the two-party system was dominated by the Conservatives and the Liberals (today known as the Liberal Democrats), though it was threatened by the Irish Nationalists. The 1920s saw a three-party system as the Liberals factionalized and the new Labour party solidly gained power, with the Labour party at times forming minority governments by entering coalitions with smaller parties. Since 1945, a two-party system has been maintained by the Conservative and Labour parties, with the Conservatives holding a majority for much of the twentieth century (Kavanagh: 140-72).

The plurality, single-member-district system in use effectively discards votes for third parties and frequently awards a majority of seats in the House of Commons to parties that win a mere plurality. In 1983, the Conservatives won 62% of the seats with only 42.4% of the popular vote, and Labour’s 1997 "landslide" victory of 65% of the seats was achieved with 43.2% of the votes. In addition, the system can award seats in inverse proportions to the votes that are cast, depending on how voting patterns are regionalized. In 1951, the Labour party got the most seats without getting the most votes, and in 1974 the Conservatives received the same advantage though Labour received more votes (Kavanagh: 117).

The party composition of the parliament based on election results in turn determines the composition of the executive cabinet, wherein the winner’s advantage in governing is further amplified. The House of Commons chooses cabinet ministers from its own membership, and these choices are confirmed by a simple majority vote, so the majority party has no need to share executive power with the opposition. Since 1945, every cabinet has been composed of only members of the governing party (Kavanagh: 140). Britain’s executive branch dominates policymaking and the proposal of legislation, so the electoral system allows one party exclusive control of the most powerful branch of government (Kavanagh: 272).

"Responsible government" is a positive feature of this concentration of power. This is the concept that voters can alone credit the majority party with the successes or failings of government and choose to maintain or eliminate their policies of government at the next election simply by voting against them (Kavanagh: 140-41). The presence of the opposition in parliament serves to remind the government of alternatives to policies being carried out, and the opposition provides the voters a clear choice

Despite the imbalance of power gained by the winning party, a sense of interparty cooperation is maintained. Ultimately, the consent of the parliament is required to pass laws that the single-party government proposes, and parliamentary rules require that the committees in each house that first consider proposed legislation be composed of members from the different parties in the same proportions as the numbers of seats they hold in parliament (Kavanagh: 277-78). Thus the party in opposition has the opportunity to participate in the consideration and revision of legislation before each house votes on it. An especially interesting feature of cooperation is the informal convention for members of the opposition to abstain from voting when paired with ministers that, due to government business, must be absent from votes in the House of Commons (Kavanagh: 282).

Factionalism within parties is another phenomenon that helps prevent a single agenda from overwhelming the government at the expense of other interests. The Conservative party is thought of as especially flexible in its ideology, and two major camps within it are identified as neo-liberalism and the "one nation" stance (Kavanagh: 144). The Conservative government in 1994 and 1995 was divided on issues such as the European Union and fuel taxes and actually had trouble maintaining a working majority, only one of a few twentieth-century examples of the majority party struggling to maintain majority control (Kavanagh: 168). The Labour party exhibits left- and right-wing factions as well as a division between Old Labour and New Labour (Kavanagh: 147, 150).

The Electoral System in Sweden

Voters in Sweden elect members to represent them in a unicameral parliament known as the Riksdag for maximum terms of four years. Candidates are chosen on the basis of proportionality to represent 29 constituencies. The parliament has 349 members, of which 310 represent constituencies and the remaining 39 hold the adjustment seats provided to increase the overall proportionality of representation (Ferrara, Federico, 2003).

Voters can choose to use one of three different ballots to indicate both party and candidate preference. The first type of ballot contains the name of the party and its rank-ordered list of candidates on which the voter can mark a preference next to one candidate. Voters can choose ballots that allow them to write in and rank a list of candidates, either on a ballot with the party name already printed or on a ballot where the voter may write in the party name (Ferrara).

The actual proportionality of party representation that can be achieved in the Riksdag is diminished somewhat by the fact that the electorate is split up in districts that have from two to 36 members, with the whole state essentially being the largest "district" represented by the 39 adjustment seats whose members are determined by the overall popular vote (Ferrara). There are even thresholds set that prevent especially small parties from having any members elected: A party may enter the Riksdag by either winning at least four percent of the votes nationwide or by winning twelve percent of the votes within a single constituency (Nation Master, 2003: "Elections in Sweden"). The positive side of having two types of thresholds is that minority interests have a reasonable chance of gaining representation regardless of whether they are regionalized.

Sweden actually improved the proportionality of its electoral results in 1952 by changing its highest average formula for awarding seats from the d’Hondt method to the modified Sainte-Laguë method (Metcalf, Michael F., 1987: 237). Highest average systems award seats by taking vote totals for each party and dividing them by a series of numbers while ranking the resulting numbers from each step of the division process in descending order. Seats are awarded one by one to the corresponding party whose vote count was divided while moving down this list. Division and ranking stop when all seats have been allocated. The modified Sainte-Laguë method starts with the divisor 1.4 then uses odd integers from 3 up. The pure Sainte-Laguë method yields results that are even more proportional (Farrell, David M., 2001: 71-77).

Since the proportional electoral system awards seats to parties whose votes exceed the minimum thresholds -- thereby avoiding the magnification of awards to the winning party and including parties with less support -- Sweden allows a parliamentary system with multiple parties. Due to the minimum thresholds, the parties that win seats are more likely to be viable parties without extreme political views, so it has been possible for multiple parties to work together in a stable arena. Between 1921 and 1998, only five different parties ever won representation, though one of these, the Left Party, actually won no seats from 1925 through 1969 (Ferrara; Metcalf: 288-89). The other parties that have continuously been represented are the Moderates, the Liberals, the Center Party, and the Social Democrats. The electoral system allowed other parties to begin winning seats, beginning with the Green Party in 1988 and then the Christian Democrats plus the New Democracy party in 1991 (Ferrara).

The Social Democrats have been the dominant political force of the twentieth century and they have the most members in the Riksdag today (Ferrara). This party has won more seats than any other party in every election since 1921, although it was unable to be a governing party for a total of ten years since that time (Metcalf: 288-89; Ferrara). Swedish voters have consistently shown their support for a system of social democracy that ensures the welfare of its citizens. This system, known as the Nordic welfare model, is designed to reduce social and economic inequalities by providing services such as health benefits, unemployment compensation, education, and daycare for children. The state is granted a monopoly on essential services and issues comprehensive labor regulations that benefit workers. Despite this, Sweden and the other Nordic countries intervene in the marketplace less than countries in other regions of Europe (Arter, David, 1999: 173-81). Social democracy began to be funded by strong capitalist growth seen after 1945, though the cost of the system, an average of more than 50 percent of personal income paid in taxes, is being questioned more and more in today’s economy (Arter: 176; Ferrara).

The party that wins the elections for the Riksdag is usually given the first right to try to form the executive cabinet (Mattila, Mikko and Tapio Raunio, 2002: 261-62). However, the Social Democrats have usually held a minority of seats and often cannot expect to have a parliamentary majority approve a cabinet made of only their own members, so a frequent strategy is to form a majority coalition with one or more other parties in order to cooperatively appoint cabinet members and approve them as a cohesive majority. In fact, the fragmented party system has organized itself into socialist and non-socialist blocs. The socialist bloc, of course, is led by the Social Democrats who have cooperated in the last decade with the Left Party and the Green Party. The non-socialist bloc is often led by the Moderate Party that may ally with the Liberals, the Christian Democrats, and the Center Party (Ferrara).

Mikko Mattila and Tapio Raunio discussed the importance of the "electoral principle" in their article "Government Formation in the Nordic Countries: The Electoral Connection." This principle holds that the electorate expects the winning parties, those that gain seats, to be in government and direct the building of a coalition if it is needed. The election results are considered to be a mandate supporting the intended policy of the winning party (Mattila and Raunio: 261-62). However, among the Nordic governments between 1945 and 2000 that they studied, Sweden was found to follow the electoral principle the least often: nearly half of its governments were found to be formed by losing parties, those that lost seats (Mattila and Raunio: 268).

Comparison and Contrast

The striking difference between the electoral systems of the two countries studied here is that British citizens are only represented by the first-place winners of each of their districts whereas the Swedes are represented by their winners plus many of the runners-up from their districts. Not only that but minority views that cannot quite win in their districts can still get a voice in the Riksdag through the system of adjustment seats. Voting is regarded as the primary way of participating in democracy, but voters in Britain essentially throw away their vote if it is not cast for the district winner. Voters in Sweden only lose their influence if their chosen party fails to receive enough votes to reach one of the minimum thresholds.

Though the Westminster Parliament is dominated by two parties, it should not be misunderstood as representing fewer viewpoints than the Riksdag that is occupied by a fragmented party system. As noted earlier, the factions of the dominant British parties constitute a multiplicity of interests, but the important difference is that the Swedes have a clearer choice of what ideology they want to support at the polls. Britons can neither mark a specific preference for New Labour or Old Labour, nor for neo-liberal or one nation. Swedes have more control of the ideology that is to be represented, but neither parliament is a microcosm of the society it serves (Esaiasson, Peter, and Sören Holmberg, 1996: 19).

One common criticism of fully proportional electoral systems does not apply to Sweden to any significant degree: A fully proportional system does not count votes on a district level but treats the entire country as a single constituency, and parliaments formed this way are faulted for allowing its members to be separated from local interests (Farrell: 97). Constituency is valued in Britain because its elected members of parliament are able to support local interests and are indeed tied to their districts to maintain voter support for the next election. So Sweden also supports the institution of constituency by maintaining local electoral districts, though with multiple members, and the members of the Riksdag indeed feel obligated to their constituents (Petersson, Olof et al., 1997: 130). Of course, it is possible that the larger districts with up to 36 members may be a little confusing for voters to express their local views; however, the reverse of this criticism is that if a voter has only one representative, and that representative belongs to a party opposed to the one this voter supported in the last election, then the voter may feel that he or she does not have a representative at all. Sweden offers a compromise that includes constituency plus wider representation of the constituents.

The Westminster Parliament and the Riksdag are both characterized by stability despite swift and unsettling changes that are possible in either system. Britain is open to criticism with its single-party government because the whole government changes when the majority party changes, but in practice the two dominant parties have often continued each other’s policies when changing places (Kavanagh: 167-69). Sweden is open to criticism with its proportional representation, a system that is often thought unstable with its ability to let in small extreme parties, but the Riksdag has actually had a stable party system that forms two opposing coalitions in a way that parallels the left-right ideological division of many two-party systems, and, further, the Riksdag has consistently promulgated a policy of social democracy. So both countries have been stable despite their different electoral systems.

In terms of the parliament following the new mandate from the voters in each election, both countries have failed at times. While Britain excludes all members outside of the winning party from executive functions and sometimes allows a party to win when its opposing party received more votes, Sweden forms governments unpredictably from combinations of the winning parties, losing parties, or both. Britain could only solve its problem by forming cabinets differently, or, more likely, introducing real proportionality into its electoral system. Sweden would have to institutionalize a new procedure for selecting a cabinet, but this issue may be less troublesome since, according to Mattila and Raunio, sometimes parties can "wield more influence from being in opposition, a rationale particularly applicable in the Nordic countries" (Mattila and Raunio: 261).

Nevertheless, Britain’s single-party government allows the government to be easily accountable to the voters, as described earlier above, and, correspondingly, this is a point of weakness for Sweden. The Center for Business and Policy Studies in Stockholm has claimed, "The great disadvantage of the proportional system of elections is that holding incumbent politicians to account is made more difficult," and, like Mattila and Raunio, it also noted the trouble that the electorate has in influencing government formation (Petersson et al.: 146). These issues must be weighed against Britain’s brand of continual parliamentary exclusion of small parties and occasional executive exclusion of the most popular party. It is quite telling that a 2001 opinion poll of voters immediately after an election showed an overall sentiment to adopt proportional representation (Dunleavy, Patrick et al., 2001: 28-32).

Conclusion

At first glance, it seems that Britain and Sweden each have fair and democratic representation; their differences just mean that each has country has made different tradeoffs to establish their electoral systems with similar levels of democratic results. Britain lacks Sweden’s proportionality but instead has tighter constituency relationships. Sweden lacks Britain’s immediately responsible government but instead puts more than one party in its cabinet. They both have two major parliamentary forces representing the left and the right (parties in Britain, blocs of parties in Sweden), and in neither country will the nationwide popular vote reliably determine who will form the cabinet. The list of tradeoffs goes on and on.

At second glance, finding which system really has the best characteristics is an empirical nightmare. There is no reliable way to balance all the factors and gauge which system represents the will of the people more closely. At third glance, we can only ask about democratic theory and consider democratic sentiment.

Democratic theory clearly favors a proportional representation system over a system of single-member districts. Democracy is believed to be government determined by the overall will of the people with respect for minority interests, so a tyranny by the majority is considered unacceptable. With its single-party executive branch, Britain is worse than that — it is a tyranny by the plurality. There is little benefit to having an immediately responsible government if there are inadequately few choices for government in the first place.

Democratic or public sentiment also favors proportional representation. A bill that would have placed a form of it in the Westminster Parliament almost passed in 1917, and discussion of electoral reform continues to this day in Britain. In 1997, the Royal Commission under Lord Jenkins that was charged with considering constitutional reform actually proposed an electoral system that would incorporate some proportionality as well as alternative votes (to reduce votes simply wasted on small parties), but no action has been taken (Kavanagh: 119-21). The literature on Sweden studied here is silent about any corresponding movement to change its electoral system.

After turning to democratic theory and to democratic or public sentiment, it must be concluded that Sweden’s electoral system is fairer to voters’ interests than the system in Britain. Unfortunately, it is natural to expect the politicians entrenched in Britain’s two-party system to maintain the status quo for the benefit of their parties as long as possible.

Works Cited

Arter, David (1999). Scandinavian Politics Today. New York: St. Martin’s Press.

Dunleavy, Patrick et al. (2001). Voices of the People. London: Politico’s Publishing.

Esaiasson, Peter and Sören Holmberg (1996). Representation from Above: Members of Parliament and Representative Democracy in Sweden. Brookfield, Vermont: Dartmouth Publishing Company.

Farrell, David M. (2001). Electoral Systems: A Comparative Introduction. New York: Palgrave.

Ferrara, Federico (2003). "The Election of the Swedish Riksdag, September 2002," Representation. 39(2): 146-156.

Kavanagh, Dennis (2000). British Politics: Continuity and Change. New York: Oxford University Press.

Mattila, Mikko and Tapio Raunio (2002). "Government Formation in the Nordic Countries: The Electoral Connection," Scandinavian Political Studies. 25(3): 259-280.

Metcalf, Michael F (1987). The Riksdag: A History of the Swedish Parliament. New York: St. Martin’s Press.

Nation Master (2003). "British House of Commons." St. Petersburg, Florida: WikiMedia. .

Nation Master (2003). "Elections in Sweden." St. Petersburg, Florida: WikiMedia. .

Petersson, Olof et al. (1997). Report from the Democratic Audit of Sweden 1996. Stockholm: SNS Förlag.

Descartes, Spinoza, and Free Will or Rufus Visits the Coffee Shop

Although Descartes and Spinoza were not of the same generation, we can imagine them together in a coffee shop to explore the concept of free will. These two philosophers would surely have a lot to talk about since Descartes established a complex tradition and Spinoza worked on those terms in order to refute Descartes’ system and establish a radically different understanding. A gentleman named Rufus joins them at their table and interrupts their heated debate on substance. Rufus tells them that he chose a double mocha drink since he has free will and did not really know what he wanted when he came in. He responds to their inquisitive stares by explaining that he believes in free will and is glad he has such a feature essential to human dignity, a feature that allows the freedom to make important choices. He remarks that either of these men had the freedom to avoid damnation from religious authorities by not sharing their views.

Descartes agrees that will does involve a sense of freedom but denies that Rufus sees free will in the proper light. The freedom of will, Descartes explains, is the ability to choose what is good based on the knowledge that one has. The will itself is quite a powerful faculty because one’s capacity to choose can encompass anything that is presented to it. Obviously, one cannot will just anything to happen and make it so because one’s body is limited in its capabilities and what the mind is allowed to grasp due to limitations of the senses. Clearly, one’s abilities are finite, but the will itself in contrast is infinite. Though it borders on sounding like a heretical notion, it appears that human will is similar to God’s in its infinity, though obviously God’s power is infinite because his will is coupled with other infinite faculties and infinite knowledge.

So the intellect is rather finite, Descartes summarizes, and the will is infinite. However, by the infinity of the will he says he does not mean that it could be composed of any smaller units of an indefinite number. The will is the faculty to make choices on anything presented to it, but it is not the kind of thing that can be divided, thus it would make no sense to speak of dividing it in any fashion. The will is a unitary entity, much like the mind, though the will is an aspect of mental substance.

Descartes empahsizes this point for Rufus: The more one is inclined to make a particular choice over another, the more freely he chooses. His inclination is not at all external; it is an internal function of his will. The more knowledge one has about an issue that faces him, the less he will have to deliberate because the good choice will be clearer. Deliberation is needed when his knowledge is vague and indistinct. God, of course, does not deliberate because he is perfect and lacks no knowledge. Descartes tells Rufus that if he chose his double mocha only because he had the freedom to pick anything on the menu then it was a random choice. Choosing randomly is hardly freedom at all, but being moved by the intellect with knowledge is what allows one to choose freely. Rufus’s choice would have been freer if he had asked the barista to explain the ingredients, if he had known what effects the caffeine and milk would have on his body, and so forth.

Descartes tells Rufus that now he understands what will is, he can begin to see what the freedom of the will really is. Is it not the case that people seek what is good or true in their actions? Of course it is, so people seek or avoid things based on whether they are believed to bring good or bad. However, one most certainly does not always know what is good or bad, and this is due to the finity of the intellect. So it is clear that in order to be certain that one’s actions really will have good results, his finite intellect must clearly perceive the truth when his infinite will is presented with choices.

While Descartes was making his speech, Spinoza was listening patiently and occasionally closing his eyes as if he were making mental notes at crucial points. He now waits to make sure Descartes is quite finished before clearning his throat and taking a deep breath. Spinoza tells Rufus that he hopes Descartes has helped him stretch his mind to begin thinking about human will so that now he can begin to understand what its true nature really is. First, there are some technical points Spinoza wants to get out of the way before he corrects the errors that Descartes has made by dragging centuries of misunderstandings into his arguments.

First of all, says Spinoza, will and intellect are really the same thing. Descartes pointed out a moment ago that the inclination of the will is automatic in light of knowledge, but that is because they are the same. Indeed, one does not have to deliberate when there is sufficient knowledge; there is no separate act by another entity called will that is required to make a judgment. Does not a triangle’s three angles equal two right angles? Of course, but does it take a separate act of will to affirm that is the case? No, because the idea cannot even be conceived without acknowledging that that is the case.

It is also silly, insists Spinoza, to think that the will is infinite even if it were separate from the intellect. The capacity to confirm or deny anything that ever may be conceived by the intellect is simply something universal. Just because an indefinite number of facts could be considered does not mean that the capacity of the will is infinite or indefinite. Is it not possible that one’s eyes can see any of a limitless number of things? Does that mean that vision is infinite? Of course not. Both the senses and the will deal with the universal nature of sensing and volitions.

With those details aside, Spinoza begins to clear up what he sees as the biggest misunderstanding. There is no such thing as free will, he declares. People’s actions really are determined by the sequence of cause and effect in nature. Spinoza says that Descartes seems to grasp this truth even though he arrived at it the wrong way. To stretch Rufus’s mind a little further, Spinoza asked him if he could remember when Descartes said that one is moved to make a specific choice when he has sufficient knowledge. By this account, one is moved toward what is good or true. However, he asks Rufus what determines what is good and bad and why one always tries to pursue something good.

Rufus remains quiet because he is not prepared to challenge the assumptions about good and bad with a pre-eminent philosopher. Spinoza continues:

Determination is what it is all about. Everything that exists, including Rufus, is in God. Only God is a free cause because he necessarily exists in an eternal sense. In fact, God exists and acts according to the laws of his own nature, so even God does not have free will! Everyone in this coffee shop and everything around it has been determined by God. Anything finite is the effect of a finite cause which itself is an effect of a previous finite cause and so on, and everyone is a part of that sequence. God is responsible for that sequence, but he has not crafted it with some mysterious goal because he simply acts from his own necessity. One’s intellect or will is a part of the chain of finite causes and effects, and since it has been previously determined, it is a necessary cause of the things it affects.

Rufus appears shocked and sad, and Descartes shakes his head emphatically, finally interrupting.

Descartes counters that rational experience indicates otherwise. Of all things that can be clearly and distinctly perceived, the first is the state of one’s own thoughts, and among those thoughts are volitions and judgments. One distinctly perceives that judgment is a separate process from the apprehension of perceptions and also that the process of making a decision is different from considering a judgment. One cannot be confused because these thoughts are clear and distinct, and furthermore one cannot be deceived about this by God because he, being perfect, lacks nothing and thus has no need to deceive. Spinoza just said that an external cause determines the actions one takes, but that is a crucial error. It is clear that one’s movement to a choice is purely internal, and therein lies the freedom of will.

Descartes smiles with satisfaction, and Rufus appears relieved.

Spinoza begins to speak carefully in a low voice and reminds Descartes how he admitted that humans are created by God (created, in Descartes’s terms; caused, in Spinoza’s). Spinoza says that by this it is clear that the nature of one’s own desires is also created -- which means determined -- by God. One is conscious of his desires and the intellectual processes that he goes through to satisfy them, so of course he experiences what Descartes just described. However, one is not aware of the causes that determine what human desires are and what is good or bad, so he easily reaches the misconception that he is free. This misconception is also attached to the notion that people have free will in order to choose actions that help God achieve an ultimate purpose. This is utterly wrong because this is mistakenly anthropomorphizing God based on the experience that people must work towards their own ends such as survival. God is timeless, acts from necessity, and lacks nothing, so he is not waiting for people to achieve some far-off goal, which means that there is no point to having free will.

So the question of whether free will exists is not answered at this table in the coffee shop. Rufus does not need to worry about human dignity, though, because the concept of free will should not be rejected. Importantly, the concept of free will is part of human experience. Spinoza agrees that human experience exists. If human experience exists, then free will exists. If free will does not exist, then human experience does not exist, which is absurd.

This argument seems rather simplified, so how does it work? We heard Descartes explain how free will is part of human experience, and Spinoza clearly believes in human experience. The error that Spinoza makes in rejecting free will is that he is applying a concept of human experience to a philosophy that is suitable for studying nature. His analysis of cause and effect is done from a perspective that is remote and ultimately scientific. Yes, there is a series of natural causes that affect human bodies, and all of the body’s activities can be explained in terms of chemical and neural activity. Furthermore, human behavior can be explained by the effort to achieve survival in a world where humans are affected by external things. However, this does not describe the subjective experience of consciousness, and it is within this phenomenon that free will is experienced. Likewise, the experience of an emotion like love is within consciousness, although outside of consciousness love is another chemical and neural event connected causally to the world around the human body. This does not mean that any element of human experience does not exist, so free will should continue to be respected and studied. Rufus is free to reject Spinoza’s theory.

History of My Name and Address

My Name

My full name is Adrian Kaspar Pritchett. Some of you know me as Adrian, and some of you know me as Kaspar. Mom originally called me Kaspar, and that was all I was called until I allowed a couple of teachers in high school to call me Adrian. When I moved to Athens in 1997, I decided to go by Adrian. This has been confusing to some of my family members -- sorry about that. Just so you know the extent of this switch, my bank accounts, my telephone listing, and my property deeds have never used my middle name, just the initial K., if an initial appears at all.

In case you think it's sad or weird that I changed the name I go by, consider this:

  1. Adrian is my first name. It came up all the time at school anyway.
  2. Kaspar is my middle name.
  3. Kaspar is difficult to spell. (You can spell it however you'd like. I gave up trying to teach everyone.)
  4. Kaspar is a bit unusual. I've shown my driver's license to people just to prove it is my real name.
  5. I didn't really "change" my name -- I just started going by my first instead of my middle. My mom gave me the name Adrian, and she liked it enough to put it first!

It was interesting that we actually learned I have an ancestor named Casper, so technically it is a family name.

Email Addresses

My long-time permanent email address since 1998 is athenian47@yahoo.com. However, I now maintain w4akp@warpmail.net. The Yahoo address was my junk address, then it was my primary address, and now it is my junk address again. Here are three other addresses of mine:

  • pritchea@uga.edu (university account)
  • pritchett@abanet.org (forwarding address only)
  • adrian.pritchett @ gmail.com
  • athensworld @ mailforce.net

Previous Addresses

Just in case you were curious — and I'm sure you weren't — this is a list of all the places I've ever lived long enough to receive mail:

  • Norfolk, VA
  • Perry, GA
  • Gray, GA
  • Potsdam, NY
  • Athens, GA
  • Commerce, GA

Domain Names

I have used the following domain names in the past:

  • akp.cc
  • akpzine.com
  • kasper.cc
  • pritchett.nu
  • roundoak.com
  • cpctc.com

Currently using:

  • athensworld.com
  • adrianpritchett.com

You can wake up now. This boring and useless historical document is over!

1978

This is a collection of interesting historical items from the year I was born.
  • FM radio listenership caught up and began to exceed AM radio
  • The Electronics Technicians Association in Greencastle, Indiana, was formed
  • The “Garfield” comic strip began
  • The Clarkson School division of Clarkson University was founded
  • The Federal Trade Commission ended the retail price fixing that allowed manufacturers to set retail prices
  • There were three popes in the same year
  • Susan B. Anthony dollars appeared for the first time
  • The Association of Alternative Newsweeklies was formed (under another name)
  • President Carter signed a bill allowing the home brewing of beer and wine
  • The Copyright Act of 1976 took effect
  • The Camp David Accords were signed
  • Veterans Day was returned to the date of November 11

Academic Motivation

As a freshman at college Ryan found it difficult to stay motivated. It was too easy to sleep in and skip class. It was too easy to blow off homework on any particular night to hang out for long hours in the dining halls or student center. So he hired Jack, a man with a gun, to keep him in line. Ryan told Jack to call him at 6:30 every morning to make sure he was awake and to keep tabs on him throughout the day. So Jack always checked up on him and whispered threats to make him return to his calculus problems and ecology reports. Every now and then Jack pulled out his gun and pointed it at Ryan's head saying, "Do it or die!" Ryan got a lot of homework done for several weeks. But one day Jack walked into his dorm room unannounced and found him watching a Monty Python movie. Jack asked if he had read everything for tomorrow's political science class. Ryan said, "Look, I'm going to read up tomorrow morning when I get to class early. The professor gives us notes anyway. I'm pretty tired right now." Ryan wasn't fazed at the barrel of Jack's gun. Jack shot him. Ryan died, so he wasn't able to finish college after all. I guess his plan kind of backfired, eh?

Words that are interesting for various and sundry reasons

attitudinatively

I'm still waiting to learn what this means; a technical philosophical term. "..there is no satisfactory justification for supposing that the factual is, by definition, attitudinatively and motivationally neutral." John McDowell, "Values and Secondary Qualities," 1985.

barrel-assing

Driving dangerously fast. "The boys who go barrel-assing down my dirt road have a big white decal they blazon on their windshields that says NO FEAR." Garrett Keizer, Harper's, 2003.

beigelander

One who focuses on neutral colors and Safari themes in interior design. Reported to me by Mrs. Pritchett.

cellardamp

The dampness or smell of a cellar. Coined by James Joyce in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, 1916.

concretize

To organize ideas and make information clear. Merriam-Webster OnLine notes its first use in 1884.

freezation

A state of having been frozen; cold. Mrs. Pritchett spontaneously coined this and Google can find several occurrences on the Web.

outstate

The region of a state in the U.S. outside of the state's largest metroplitan area. The implication is that the residents of the largest metro area see themselves as the center of the state and need a term to describe the rest, such as “outstate Minnesota.” Perhaps this is more accurate than confusing terms such as “upstate New York,” where it sounds like it may refer to northern regions but often refers to the whole area outside of New York City, and “south Georgia,” that sounds like it may refer to the southern half of the state but is often used to describe any place south of Atlanta, including Macon, which is north of the geographic center.

paper street

A publicly owned right-of-way that has not been improved for access. Paper is often enclosed in quotation marks.

unexistable

Not able to realize; fictional.

November 19, 2006

November 13, 2006

Law stuff collected this year

Legally impaired writing

This judge has written in a nutty and awkward style:

Mattel is the world's largest manufacturer of toys, games, and playthings. One of Mattel's most successful products is the Barbie doll which is one of the most popular toys in existence. Mattel has caused numerous Barbie related trademarks to be registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office on the Principal Register.


Mattel, Inc. v. Adventure Apparel, 2001 WL 1035140.

You can't appeal everything your lawyer messes up

“A litigant chooses counsel at his peril, Link v. Wabash Railroad Co., 370 U.S. 626, 82 S. Ct. 1386, 8 L. Ed. 2d 734 (1962), and here, as in countless other contexts, counsel's disregard of his professional responsibilities can lead to extinction of his client's claim.” Cine Forty-second Street Theatre Corp. v. Allied Artists Pictures Corp., 602 F.2d 1062, 1068.

Government of laws

Decency, security and liberty alike demand that government officials shall be subjected to the same rules of conduct that are commands to the citizen. In a government of laws, existence of the government will be imperilled if it fails to observe the law scrupulously. Our Government is the potent, the omnipresent teacher. For good or for ill, it teaches the whole people by its example. Crime is contagious. If the Government becomes a lawbreaker, it breeds contempt for law; it invites every man to become a law unto himself; it invites anarchy. To declare that in the administration of the criminal law the end justifies the means — to declare that the Government may commit crimes in order to secure the conviction of a private criminal — would bring terrible retribution. Against that pernicious doctrine this Court should resolutely set its face.


Olmstead v. United States, 277 U.S. 438, 485, 48 S.Ct. 564, 575, 72 L.Ed. 944, 959-60 (1928) (Justice Brandeis dissenting).

Pithy phrase

“Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.”

As a matter of law, the house is haunted

A buyer of a house discovered before closing that the house had a reputation of being haunted. He went to court because the seller didn't want to let him out of the contract.

Whether the source of the spectral apparitions seen by defendant seller are parapsychic or psychogenic, having reported their presence in both a national publication (“Readers' Digest”) and the local press (in 1977 and 1982, respectively), defendant is estopped to deny their existence and, as a matter of law, the house is haunted.


Stambovsky v. Ackley, 572 N.Y.S.2d 672, 674 (N.Y.A.D. 1 Dept. 1991). Wow, haunted as a matter of law. That's pretty bold determination, don't you think? The justice, Israel Rubin, peppered the opinion with more ghostly terms: “[I]n his pursuit of a legal remedy for fraudulent misrepresentation against the seller, plaintiff hasn't a ghost of a chance, I am nevertheless moved by the spirit of equity to allow the buyer to seek rescission of the contract of sale and recovery of his downpayment.” Id. at 675. Then there is a quote from Hamlet and a mention of the Ghostbusters theme song.

Not talking of some insipid broth

Sometimes policy arguments in court opinions are highly entertaining. The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts once had to defend the integrity of traditional fish chowder recipes.

We must decide whether a fish bone lurking in a fish chowder, about the ingredients of which there is no other complaint, constitutes a breach of implied warranty... . As the judge put it in his charge, “Was the fish chowder fit to be eaten and wholesome? ... But the bone of contention here — I don't mean that for a pun — but was this fish bone a foreign substance that made the fish chowder unwholesome or not fit to be eaten?” ...

The defendant asserts ... that “[t]his court knows well that we are not talking of some insipid broth as is customarily served to convalescents.”


Webster v. Blue Ship Tea Room, 198 N.E.2d 309, 310 (Mass. 1964).

It is not too much to say that a person sitting down in New England to consume a good New England fish chowder embarks on a gustatory adventure which may entail the removal of some fish bones from his bowl as he proceeds. We are not inclined to tamper with age old recipes by any amendment reflecting the plaintiff's view of the effect of the Uniform Commercial Code upon them. We are aware of the heavy body of case law involving foreign substances in food, but we sense a strong distinction between them and those relative to unwholesomeness of the food itself, e. g., tainted mackerel (Smith v. Gerrish, 256 Mass. 183, 152 N.E. 318), and a fish bone in a fish chowder. Certain Massachusetts cooks might cavil at the ingredients contained in the chowder in this case in that it lacked the heartening lift of salt pork. In any event, we consider that the joys of life in New England include the ready availability of fresh fish chowder. We should be prepared to cope with the hazards of fish bones, the occasional presence of which in chowders is, it seems to us, to be anticipated, and which, in the light of a hallowed tradition, do not impair their fitness or merchantability.


198 N.E.2d at 312.

Random old blogged thoughts

Going as far back to 2003...

Action names

Action names for pets are fun. I'm sure I had the name Rock Biter in my head from that movie The Neverending Story. It was a name that described what the character did, and it has been intuitive to think of such names for the members of our living mammal collection. We accepted a stray kitten that would nurse on her tail, and she still does it years later, so I have called her Tail Biter. I called one cat Doll Stomper because he would often jump onto the bed and roughly walk over Mrs. Pritchett who is a doll. The other became Lap Finder because she persistently tries to get in my lap and stay there.

The names didn't stop there. We got a dog, too, and this dog — being a dog — has to survey the lawn carefully with her nose for a long time before finding a place to poop, so I dubbed her Turd Ranger. My father's cat has claws that strangely click on the floor, so I easily thought of the name Claw Tapper.

Mrs. Pritchett eventually earned an action name, too. She was experimenting with many lamps in the decor at home, so I've called her Lamp Buyer. I'm not sure what my name would be. I'm not sure people should have these names.

Baby name trend

It is apparently more and more popular to name babies with family surnames, girls just as much as boys. It seems that there was a time when a girl's name needed to sound like it belonged to a girl, but that notion is being thrown out the window. It is common to guess upon seeing one's name whether the title is Mr. or Ms. in their form of direct address, but I predict it will be rather common soon to just write “Dear first name, last name” in letters.

Pet drugs

We all have our pet drugs, don't we? It's interesting how we love these little tiny pills and often depend on them to help us and make us feel good. My first pet drug was pseudoephedrine HCl. Boy, oh boy, how welcome that light-headed feeling is after a nasty sinus headache that just makes me want to smack my head with a brick. And what is that mild giddy feeling? Relief? Wait, that's probably just drug-induced euphoria, and that's a little scary. I better just use it when I need it. I often buy it in the form of small red pills mixed with no other useless drug like acetaminophen.

Acetaminophen (the Tylenol ingredient), what have you ever done for me? Absolutely nothing, that's what, except reduced my fevers, which have rarely been high enough to require reduction. Anyway, I grew up being offered Tylenol for headaches, and there was never any relief. I may as well have swallowed dirt. I didn't believe that headache medicine really worked. Acetaminophen, you're nothing to me. You're often called non-apirin because — ha! — your only distinction is that which you aspire to be but are so not! Stupid drug — or non-drug.

Ibuprofen decided to come meowing at my doorstep tonight in hopes of being my new pet. As I wrote below, I have shingles right now, and the mild pain interferes with my sleep, so I am interested in getting rid of that pain in order to sleep, which is a major interest of old people that one day I'll benefit from having a little practice in. (A preposition is what I ended that sentence with. And that one.) I tried it for the first time tonight, and I must immediately say that ibuprofen is totally amazing. I don't feel anything, which means I can sleep on my stomach now if I want to. I hardly even feel it when I pop my neck bones.

But wait, I wanted to sleep. Ibuprofen has done the complete opposite of help me sleep. It is totally keeping me awake. I am so freaking awake that when I was trying to sleep I actually felt and heard myself beginning to snore. Yes, at that point of relaxation I am usually asleep, so that was weird. It was so weird I had to blog about it — right now!

Tiger, Georgia 30576

Tiger is a small mountain town along Highway 441. The population within the corporate limits is around 320. On the Internet the only information I can find about it is something about a bed and breakfast, and I did see a statement that the place was named for a Cherokee chief. OK, why would a Cherokee chief be named Tiger when there are no tigers in Georgia? Is it a Cherokee word? I would like to know more about this. Maybe I should visit a dang library sometime if I'm so curious.

They grow a lot of tiger lilies along the roadway in Tiger, Georgia. The roads are very curvy and twisty, and there is no question about whether you're in the mountains because you certainly are, even if they are small mountains. Quaint is probably a good word for my first impression of the place. The nearby big town is Clayton, if that tells you much about how remote and quaint it may be. Based on the abundance of cottages and chalets, people probably enjoy living there.

How specific is a city name?

Location is often given by a city name, but how useful is this? If your location is named as Baldwin, Georgia, you are referring to a very small town in Habersham county, a county that has a boatload of small towns. This whole county has 278 square miles, and there are a lot of town names to pinpoint locations. However, if your location is named as Los Angeles, California, then you are talking about a city with 469 square miles, which is larger than our example county (and Los Angeles County is twice the size of Delaware).

So you cannot be sure how specific a city name is, and a county name can be more specific than a state name in pinpointing locations. You normally think of the hierarchy in pinpointing locations as state then county then city, but this is not necessarily true.

The loudness

Drag racing cars are extremely loud. We are treated to their sound at our house from the Atlanta Dragway a number of miles away in the next county. It is preferable to lawn mowers in the neighborhood, though. If you actually watch them at the strip, the whole world vibrates as they go by. Putting all available technology into driving a quarter mile as fast as possible is a very weird sport. They don't carry enough fuel to go three-eighths of a mile and they need maintenance every quarter mile.

I have actually been on the Atlanta Dragway — as a passenger in Ford Bronco racing against a Ford F-150. We won on a technicality with maybe 18 seconds if I remember right.


Checking the mail

It gets annoying to go on that long walk to check my mail every day because I rarely receive anything important, and those random bank statements can wait. And the junk mail is always aggravating. Of course, the whole point of me having this post office box is so that I don't have to wait until I go home at night to check my mail. Did I tell you I like post office boxes for the security and permanence of address? But over time I've actually used five box addresses in Georgia, and I used to have anxious dreams about driving around and checking my mail and trying to remember where all my boxes were.

P. O. Box numbers that I've used over time: 526, 1114, 1764, 2474, 2751, and 7168.

Dice-roll hiring decisions

The electronic world now replaces the traditional capricious hiring decisions with job application software dice rolls. Job applications offered online ask multiple-choice questions about your work style and customer attitudes. Now I realize that many employers have always given personality tests on paper, but they were detailed and perhaps halfway scientific. What I've seen online recently from BellSouth asked a very short series of questions. Now, I don't really need a job from BellSouth because that would conflict with my law school plans, but here is what happened:

I applied for a number of recently posted positions, and there were important questions like whether you can distinguish different colors. But there were dumb questions about how independently you make decisions and how you view customer service. It is ridiculous to screen applications with those kinds of questions because people are very flexible in their work procedures and can adapt to the needs of the job. Which are the right answers for the particular job? You may as well be telling a group of people to guess what a dice roll is going to be and then only consider those that guessed correctly.

The stupid result? All my responses to my applications said I was not qualified for the jobs. That is total bullshit because I have worked for BellSouth before and was completely qualified for two of those jobs through their own testing procedures, and this was after having a successful work record in my position that proved I was qualified for what they originally hired me for. These current job postings were made after my two-year recall period, so BellSouth is no longer contractually obligated to rehire me for those positions I qualified for. At least I have other plans.

Cooking mysteries

I'm trying to go through a recipe for brownies. I want to make the Wifey some brownies for her birthday, which was yesterday (I couldn't get out of work yesterday).

First of all, even though I don't consider myself a connoisseur of anything related to cooking, The Joy of Cooking is an amazing book. It tells you all about food, including cuts of meat, types of beans, and the subtleties of brewing coffee. You learn a lot about the mysteries of cooking, such as the issues of how fast something cooks or how its fat content affects it.

However, other mysteries remain. After melting the butter and chocolate for brownies, it says, “Set aside to cool completely,” before stirring in sugar and vanilla. Why must it cool completely? It's just all going to be heated up again. Then the other details are amazing. How to find out when the recipe is done? “Bake until the center is almost firm when lightly pressed and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, but still moist at the bottom...” So you need a discerning touch, and you need an eye for detail when analyzing a toothpick. Wow.

I'm curious about the level of my own cooking talent. Though I cannot understand how someone comes to the level of cooking knowledge that can determine all these details, I can appreciate the detailed instructions. I seem to have a better intuition about foods and cooking than the Wifey when it comes to certain issues, such as predicting what will happen to certain things when they're cooked or confidently determining by smell whether meat is fresh or spoiled. Of course, she knows a whole lot more about dishes and ingredients than I'll ever care to. Maybe we would make a good cooking team.


Machine cuisine

I'm often working and can't get to an open restaurant or snack bar, so I go to a vending machine.

Breads/cereal group: Snyder's pretzels. Fruits and vegetables group: Welch's Fruit Snacks. Dairy group: Milky Way. Meat group: beef jerky.

So when I can't eat a normal dinner, I eat machine cuisine.

Basement reflection

In my first year of college at another college, basements became the mysterious location for cool electronic fun. The broadcast radio station was located in the basement of one of the dormitories. The amateur radio station was located in another dormitory basement. Finally, in yet another dormitory basement, there was the cable television station.

Besides this experience, basements are simply fascinating. They are mysterious places where people often do not go and interesting things are kept there. In Peabody Hall at UGA, they keep graduate assistants in the basement. (Well, it's a daylight basement, so it's not like a dungeon or anything. They also keep the University System of Georgia Applicant Clearinghouse there, as well as the switch for the campus phone system.) Basements can secretly contain storage space for various purposes. The most titillating of all, of course, is a sub-basement. Even more mysterious, hidden, and dungeon-like than a basement is a sub-basement. Whenever I use an elevator with buttons labelled "B" and "SB", I have the mischievous thought of pressing "SB" and going exploring, but I never do becaue I may never come back.


The future of lighting is here

In case you haven't noticed, the future is here in light technology. The 19th-century concept of incandescent bulbs continues to be phased out. The use of LEDs has become prevalent in traffic lights and in vehicles for brake lights and turn signals. To a small degree LEDs are replacing halogen bulbs and xenon flash tubes used in emergency lighting on vehicles. Of course, LEDs have long replaced incandescent lights used as indicators on things like electronic control panels. Will we ever have LEDs lighting up our houses? We already have LED flashlights. I wonder where they will appear next.

Sink philosophy

Two different philosophies clash in the bathroom. The philosophy of water conservation says, make a faucet that only runs as it is pressed upon, meaning that you can only rinse one hand at a time. The Americans with Disabilities Act philosophy says, make a sink with a normal faucet except with long handles to control the hot and cold water. The result is a counter with two sinks that have very different faucets. Guess who wins? The sink with the faucet that can be left on so you can rub your hands together under running water. In one particular bathroom it seems that no one uses the funny water-saving sink. Disabilities sink wins -- flawless victory.


Talk

I read that Alexander Graham Bell suggested using “ahoy” as a standard telephone greeting, yet in our country we settled on saying “hello.” I've also read that Spanish speakers around the world say “dígame” (tell me) or “bueno?” (well?).

I used to answer the phone with a “good morning/evening,” and once someone calling the wrong number asked if she had reached a business upon hearing this greeting. I have an uncle that answers the phone this way but I haven't asked him why.

Caller ID has changed the way I answer the phone. At home, if I see an unfamiliar number I answer with “Pritchett residence.” On my mobile phone I say, “This is Adrian.” If I see the number of a relative then I say “hello” with a friendly flourish. Since I watched Fight Club, I'll answer with just my street number if my wife calls the home phone.

I have occasionally tried the command “talk,” but it is unexpected and people don't understand the word. You should never, ever answer the phone in too friendly or crazy a manner since you have no guarantee of the actual caller or whether this caller has another party conferenced or transferred, and likewise you should never ignore a call from an unfamiliar number because someone you know could be calling from it for some unexpected reason.

Is “hello” boring? How do you answer the phone?

Underground anthropology

I wonder what anthropologists would come up with if asked the question, What would humans be like if they lived underground?

Here is my though experiment of sorts: Humans build underground caves and dwellings and go to live in them permanently with whatever advanced technology they could take with them. They plan to live for generations and end up living there for thousands of years. If you want a reason, let's just say that the Earth's surface becomes uninhabitable for some reason. Either there is a slow process of moving underground as conditions on the surface worsen or it is done quickly as if colonizing a new world with little chance to return back.

What would the social structure of these people be like? I imagine that if Americans built some sort of residential cave, dwelling areas would look like small apartments with traditional floor plans and locks on the doors and all that. But if humans lived in such close proximity permanently, how would community and family relations change? We know of many cultures today that are less individualistic than American culture, and they have large households that contain extended families that relate to each other through strong community ties. Would this sort of society necessarily develop over the centuries? After all, individuals could live in their own closets underground if they wanted, but it might only be practical to be more communal.

What would the technology and infrastructure be like? Let's say that nuclear power is used to generate electricity since burning coal underground is mostly impossible. Let's also say that the technology makes it relatively easy to build new caves and tunnels. How different would tools and machines be if humans were limited to having factories underground? The civilization would probably produce no more than necessary for survival, and a certain amount of machinery and engineering would be necessary to live permanently in caves.

Think about maintaining a food supply. Would brightly lit caves be used to grow basic crops? Would algae be raised? Would it ever be useful for chemical engineering to advance to the point where food could be chemically extracted from the earth instead of growing it? Also, within these small enclosed spaces could there be enough plant life (supported by nuclear-powered lighting) to maintain a good oxygen level, or would there be a need to produce oxygen artificially?

How would human personality and behavior change over time? Perhaps those that would be the most sick or depressed underground would eventually be weeded out of the gene pool by natural selection. Would these people be smaller and paler? Humans have adapted to extreme environments on the surface, so I'm simply wondering what adaptation to some sort of underground living might be like.

Horoscope

This is the stupidest horoscope I've ever read: 'This is one of those days when you may be walking along, dear Libra, and all of a sudden there is a street performer on the sidewalk playing music. Suddenly your normal footwear turns into a pair of dancing shoes and you find yourself boogying down the rest of the road. It won't take much to get you groovin', and once you start, it may be hard for you to stop.'

I'm always called 'Dear Libra' like I'm reading a letter or something. If you see a bunch of people dancing on the sidewalk, then you'll know they're Libras (specifically of the dear variety).