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February 14 2016


How common is a Supreme Court vacancy during a Presidential election?

The short answer: it isn’t.

Immediately after the news broke that Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia had died, Republican leadership indicated it did not welcome a Barack Obama nominee to replace him. Rather, they want to wait a year.

The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice. Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new President (emphasis added).”
Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Senate Majority Leader

Let’s ignore, for the moment, the fact that “the American people” elected President Obama. Twice.

Republicans insist that there is “ample precedent” for this “standard practice.”

But is there?

There have been no Supreme Court justice vacancies in November of a presidential election year since 1900.

There have been five nominations to fill a Supreme Court justice vacancy during an election year since 1900. All were confirmed; only one occurred with a party split between the White House (Republican) and the Senate (Democrat).

There has been one nomination to Chief Justice during an election year; it was withdrawn.

And there has been one recess appointment during an election year. That justice was nominated and confirmed after the Senate resumed session the following year.

  1. 1912, President William Taft (R)
    On Feb 19, 1912, Taft nominated Mahlon Pitney to succeed John Marshall Harlan, who had died in October. Harlan was a noted civil rights advocate, opposing Plessy v. Ferguson, which upheld racial segregation.On March 13, 1912, the Senate confirmed (50-26) the nomination. In contrast with Harlan, Pitney was an economic conservative and hostile to organized labor. In Coppage v. Kansas, “Pitney struck down a Kansas statute that prohibited an employer from using force or coercion to prevent employees from joining a union.”In 62nd Congress, the Senate was controlled by the Republican party (60-32). Taft served as president for one term (1909–13) and was subsequently appointed to the Supreme Court (1921–30).
  2. 1916, President President Woodrow Wilson (D)
    On January 28, 1916, Wilson nominated Louis Brandeis to succeed Joseph Lamar, who had died in January. The Senate confirmed Brandeis (47-22) on June 1, 1916. “His commitments to justice, education, and Judaism were commemorated several years later in the founding of Brandeis University.” A Georgian, Lamar tended to side with the majorityOn Jul 14, 1916, Wilson nominated John Clarke, a progressive to succeed Charles E. Hughes. The Senate confirmed Clarke on a voice vote July 24, 1916. Hughes was a Teddy Roosevelt Republican who was an “advocate of regulation and authored decisions that weakened the legal foundations of laissez-faire capitalism.”In the 64th Congress, the Senate was controlled by the Democratic party (56-40). Wilson served as president for two terms (1913-1921). He did not run for a third term.
  3. 1932, President Herbert Hoover (R)
    On February 15, 1932, Hoover nominated Benjamin Cardozo to succeed Oliver Wendell Holmes, who had retired after 29 years. The Senate confirmed Cardozo on a voice vote February 24, 1932.In the 72nd Congress, the Senate was controlled by the Republican party (54-41-1). Hoover served as president for one term (1929-1933). He was defeated by Franklin Roosevelt.
  4. 1940, President Franklin Roosevelt (D)
    On January 4, 1940, Roosevelt nominated Frank Murphy to replace Pierce Butler, who had died in November. The Senate confirmed Murphy on a voice vote January 16, 1940.In the 76th Congress, the Senate was controlled by the Democratic party (74-18-4). Roosevelt served as president for four terms (1933-1945).
  5. 1956, President Dwight D. Eisenhower (R)
    On October 15, 1956, Sherman Minton retired; the Senate was adjourned. Rather than leave the seat vacant, Eisenhower made William J. Brennan a justice by making a a recess appointment. Subsequently, Eisenhower nominated Brennan on January 14, 1957. The Senate confirmed him on a voice vote March 19, 1957.In the 84th Congress, the Senate was split (47-47-2). Eisenhower served as president for two terms (1953-1961).
  6. 1968, President Lyndon B. Johnson (D)
    On June 26, 1968, Johnson nominated Abe Fortas to succede Chief Justice Earl Warren. Johnson withdrew the nomination in light of ethical questions. Also, “Critics claimed” he was too close to the President, violating the separation of powers. Chief Justice Earl Warren remained on the bench; there was no vacancy.In the 90th Congress, the Senate was controlled by the Democratic party (64-35). Johnson served as president for one elected term (1963-1969). He did not run for a second term.
  7. 1988, President Ronald Reagan (R)
    On November 30, 1987, Reagan nominated Anthony Kennedy to succede Louis Powell. The Senate confirmed Kennedy (97-0) on February 3, 1988.In the 100th Congress, the Senate was controlled by the Democratic party (55-45). Reagan served as president for two terms (1981-1988).

Nine refusals to act

The Supreme Court was established in 1789. The Senate has considered 160 presidential nominations for Court justices, including nominations for chief justice.

Of the total nominations, 124 were confirmed but seven declined to serve.

The Senate refused to act on a presidential nomination only nine (9) times. For the math inclined, that’s 6% of the nominations.

However, of those nine instances, four of the nominees were subsequently confirmed.

That leaves five (5) absolute refusals to consider. That’s 3% of the nominations. And none of them are in the 20th century.

All data are from the U.S. Senate.

Five candidates for the Supreme Court for whom the U.S. Senate took no action

  1. Jun 17, 1844
    Reuben Walworth, nominated by President John Tyler
  2. Feb 7, 1845
    John Read, nominated by President John Tyler
  3. Aug 16, 1852
    Edward Bradford, nominated by President Millard Fillmore
  4. Feb 14, 1853
    William Micou, nominated by President Millard Fillmore
  5. Apr 16, 1866
    Henry Stanbery, nominated by President Andrew Johnson

Four candidates for the Supreme Court for whom the U.S. Senate initially took no action but confirmed on second nomination

  1. Stanley Matthews, nominated by President Rutherford Hayes
    No action on January 26, 1881
    Re-nominated by President James Garfield on Mar 14, 1881 and confirmed May 12, 1881
  2. William Hornblower, nominated by President Grover Cleveland
    No action on Sep 19, 1893 nomination
    Re-nominated Dec 5, 1893, and confirmed January 15, 1894
  3. Pierce Butler, nominated by President Warren Harding
    No action on Nov 21, 1922 nomination
    Re-nominated Dec 5, 1922, and confirmed Dec 21, 1922
  4. John Harlan, nominated by President Dwight Eisenhower (R)
    No action on Nov 9, 1954 nomination
    Re-nominated January 10, 1955, and confirmed Mar 16, 1955

The post How common is a Supreme Court vacancy during a Presidential election? appeared first on WiredPen.

February 12 2016


That hot 60-second “Bernie Sanders ad” isn’t a campaign ad

If it walks like an ad, quacks like an ad, but requires no out-of-pocket change to distribute … is it still an ad?

And if it features a candidate, does that make it a campaign ad?

Pundits sure think so.

Together is a slick, emotionally-charged 60-second video that features a Bernie Sanders clip, photos of Bernie, and liberal use of the campaign “vote together” slogan.

It is a video, story, ad about the campaign.

But it’s not a “Bernie campaign ad” despite every headline that says it’s so. Or every editor/publisher/pundit/TV personality/reporter/columnist tweet.

This should be obvious to anyone who knows anything about political campaigns because there are no credits on the video.

On the other hand, the Bernie campaign did release this ad on Thursday:

If you can watch that and not reach for a Kleenex, you need to trade your heart in for a repaired model.

YouTube imposters are hiding in plain sight

The original video was posted in January; the Vimeo page provides cursory credits but does not make it clear that the ad is unaffiliated. 

Bootleg copies, of course, are live on YouTube. Like most bootleg video, the thieves provide no provenance. Because the video itself contains no credit information, bootleggers are free to say what they will. And the gullible will believe.

Look. It’s not difficult to figure out if something passes the smell test on YouTube. Go to the channel page.

Yet both YouTube clips have been referenced by media in stories about a new campaign ad. Some say the ad was released after the New Hampshire primary.

“Reporters” are wearing not rose-colored glasses but opaque ones.

Who made Together?

A NY-based media company “which creates stories and experiences to transform the way the audience sees themselves and others around them” released the slick 60-second video.

Jonathan Olinger, the founder of HUMAN, directed the video. It appropriates the Bernie campaign hashtag, #votetogether. There’s a website, Twitter account, Facebook page. All. Devoid. Of. Credits. (Also MIA: any relationship to the Sanders campaign.)

together.vote WHOIS

A commenter at Vimeo pointed out the need to make it clear that Together is not affiliated with the campaign. The description has not been changed; the comment has not been answered.

Comment on Vimeo

Olinger released the video on Human’s Facebook page Monday, prior to the New Hampshire primary. Again: sans disclaimer.

Moreover, the video borrows heavily from a United Nations campaign, Hopenhagen. That agency had to press Olinger for acknowledgement.

Facebook comment

The campaign has muddied the waters

The Sanders campaign tweeted the video the day before New Hampshire. It’s the “tweets by staff” account but it’s still an official account. And there’s no disclaimer in the tweet.

UGC that warms the heart

User-generated* commercials created for the SuperBowl (which started in 2007) have been trumped by citizen tributes to candidates.

Did anyone at Google have this sort of communication in mind when they bought YouTube almost 10 years ago (for $1.65 billion)?

This riff on Elton John’s Tiny Dancer got a boost Thursday from USA Today.

The professionally-produced song is courtesy of New York musician Mel Flannery and her husband Danny Sher. And licensed. And explicitly non-affiliated:

Bernie Sanders and/or his campaign has not paid one solitary cent for this song or video. We are not currently affiliated with the campaign but we support it wholeheartedly and offer this song for their use.

There is a joyfulness to the Elton John/Bernie Taupin parody that is missing from the slick Together video. And transparency in spades.

You know which one has my heart.

FEC rules on disclaimers

Look. We need to know who makes this stuff. And the Federal Election Commission is pretty clear about the requirement for communication disclaimers.

Public communications financed by individuals or other organizations must include a disclaimer if the communication expressly advocates a candidate’s election or defeat or solicits funds. The disclaimers must indicate who paid for the communication and whether or not it was authorized by a candidate. Unauthorized ads must also include contact information for the sponsoring organization.


Together does not explicitly ask the viewer to vote for Bernie. In fact, like deliberately misleading ads that comprise too much of our political advertising, its message is indirect, slight of hand. Photos of Bernie and his events. His voiceover. His hashtag. But no call-to-action.

Because the ad does not expressly advocate “a candidate’s election” the FEC is probably ok with the lack of transparency.

But you shouldn’t be ok with it, whether you like Bernie or hate him.



*User-generated content (UGC) is any digital communication voluntarily created by users or fans of a service. The term has been used derisively (“amateurs”) to imply that the end product is sub-par in quality.
Cross-posted at The Moderate Voice

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November 03 2015


Video madness

It’s election day, and I created another short for King County Elections. This is turning into a “thing” of sorts. Certainly, it forces me to do something that I have less training and experience in, compared to writing.

Without further ado:


I also created a time-lapse (or two).


Timelapse video

Timelapse video, 3 November 2015.


September 22 2015


September 11 2015


Mike Huckabee is wrong about Dred Scott decision

“Michael, the Dred Scott decision of 1857 still remains to this day the law of the land, which says that black people aren’t fully human,” [Presidential Candidate and Former Arkansas Governor Mike] Huckabee told radio show host Michael Medved.

NO, it’s NOT the “law of the land.”

That 1857 ruling was nullified about 150 years ago.

That Supreme Court ruled
(1) that Negros had no right to sue in federal court because they were not and could not be citizens, and
(2) that Congress could not prohibit slavery (ending the Missouri Compromise).

[Chief] Justice Taney’s first finding in Dred Scott was that Scott had no right to sue in federal court because, although he was born in the United States, he was not a citizen. This was not because he was a slave—Scott said that he wasn’t one, after all—but because he was a black man in America, whose ancestors were “of pure African blood” and had arrived in America as slaves. This is part of what makes the Dred Scott case so shocking: it is about race as much as it is about the legal institution of slavery. According to Taney’s ruling, a black man born free in Brooklyn was not a United States citizen, even if New York said that he was a citizen of that state. (emphasis added)

Here’s what President Lincoln had to say about it.

That (horrible) decision was nullified by the Emancipation Proclamation (1863) AND the Civil War (1861-1865) AND the 13th Amendment to the Constitution (1865), which outlawed slavery, AND the 14th Amendment to the Constitution (1868), which granted citizenship to anyone born in the United States regardless of skin tone and established the “due process” clause as well as the “equal protection” clause.


My goodness, our 21st century Republicans seem to have 19th century “Democratic Party” mindsets, don’t they?


Chief Justice Taney was a southerner, as were four other members of the 9-member Court. “Seven had been appointed by pro-slavery presidents from the South, and of these, five were from slave-holding families,” according to PBS. And Robert Grier, Pennsylvania, was staunchly pro-slavery.

  1. John McLean, OH, 1830–1861 (Jackson) // dissent
  2. James Moore Wayne, GA, 1835–1867 (Jackson)
  3. Roger B. Taney, MD, 1836–1864 (Jackson)
  4. John Catron, TN, 1837–1865 (Jackson)
  5. Peter Vivian Daniel, VA, 1841–1860 (Van Buren)
  6. Samuel Nelson, N.Y., 1845–1872 (Tyler)
  7. Robert Cooper Grier, PA, 1846–1870 (Polk)
  8. Benjamin Robbins Curtis, MA, 1851–1857 (Fillmore) // dissent, resigned
  9. John Archibald Campbell, AL, 1853–1861 (Pierce)


Chief Justice Roberts led the comparative rhetoric earlier this year in his dissent in Obergefell v. Hodges, the 2015 Supreme Court decision that made marriage equality the law of the land rather than the piecemeal law of various states.

Never mind that one decision was restricting rights while the other was expanding rights.

  1. Antonin Scalia, VA, 1986 (Reagan) // dissent
  2. Anthony Kennedy, CA, 1988 (Reagan)
  3. Clarence Thomas, GA, 1991 (Bush) // dissent
  4. Ruth Bader Ginsburg, NY, 1993 (Clinton)
  5. Stephen Breyer, MA, 1994 (Clinton)
  6. John G. Roberts, MD, 2005 (Bush) // dissent
  7. Samuel Alito, NJ, 2006 (Bush) // dissent
  8. Sonia Sotomayor, NY, 2009 (Obama)
  9. Elena Kagan, MA, 2010 (Obama)


No, Mr. Huckabee, Dred Scott is not the law of the land.

And Kim Davis has no right to pick and chose the laws she wants to enforce as a civil servant. Nor is her doing her job in a non-discriminatory manner in any way a form of religious persecution.

To say so is pandering to (and fomenting) both ignorance and fear.






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September 09 2015


Happy birthday, Star Trek!

Star Trek — the original science fiction series (TOS) — debuted on NBC on September 8, 1966. It ran for 79 episodes and three seasons, through June 3, 1969. But its influence would dwarf that modest beginning.

Star Trek would live on through four spin-off series (Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Star Trek: Voyager, and Star Tret: Enterprise), an animated series, 13 feature films, and the phenomena of fan conventions (“Cons”).

Before there were Cons, there was fandom. And fanzines.

I was a fan.

One of those fans.

The ones who wrote letters protesting its rumored cancellation during the second season.

The network got over 100,000 pieces of mail, over 1 million signatures — and many signatures NBC could not disregard. (Roddenberry, 1968)

Unknown to me (or at least gone from my memory) were college student protests. Nor can I tell you how I learned about the cancellation and the address to mail a protest letter.

I will go to my grave remembering that I wrote a letter, however. And that early lesson in relying on sweeping generalizations to make an argument.

You see, I was writing my protest letter in study hall. I was not “studying”. Suddenly, I noticed that our teacher was headed my way, checking our work. He took my letter from my desk and began reading it out loud …

All of my friends watch Star Trek …

“I don’t watch Star Trek,” his voice boomed across the room.

“Am I not your friend?”

[Of course not, you bullying twit! I didn’t say that or even think it. I was simply mortified to be singled out in such a way.]


Gene Roddenberry used his screenwriting experience to position Star Trek as a western transported to the 23rd century. The production firm? Desilu, owned by husband and wife Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball. CBS turned it down in favor of Lost In Space. (Irony alert: today CBS owns the Desilu library.)

The pilot, “The Cage“, was filmed in late 1964. NBC executives thought it was too cerebral and commissioned a second pilot starring William Shatner, “Where No Man Has Gone Before”, before giving it a green light.



After season 1, NBC moved the one-hour show from Thursday nights to Friday nights, a move that Roddenberry protested. For season three, the network shifted the time from 8:30 pm to 10:00 pm on Friday nights: certainly a death knell for younger fans (bedtime curfew, even on weekends) and a series conflict with date night for college students.

Sound familiar? [How FOX killed Firefly, part 1. How FOX killed Firefly, part 2.]



Paramount Studios bought the series from Desilu and put Star Trek TOS into syndication. Reruns began fall 1969; by the late 1970s, the series aired in more than 100 domestic and 55 international markets. Syndication is what kept the series alive and helped it become a popular culture phenomena.

Even in 1972, fan letters continued to pour in — an average of 500 a week for a show in syndication!


Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG), 1987 – 1994

Star Trek TNG


Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (DS9), 1993-1999

Star Trek DS9


Star Trek: Voyager, 1995-2001

Star Trek Voyager


Star Trek: Enterprise, 2001-2005

Star Trek Enterprise


Of course, there is an official YouTube channel.

And a Star Trek v Star Wars battle among fans. Some are quite talented!


Happy birthday, Star Trek! And thank you, Mr. Roddenberry. 





The post Happy birthday, Star Trek! appeared first on WiredPen.

September 07 2015


I rode my motorcycle to Alaska

For this milestone birthday, Mike and I set out on a motorcycle trip to Alaska.

Very little of that initial plan came to pass, starting with the cancellation of our ferry from Bellingham, WA to Haines, AK three days before we were to depart!

The story is on my travel site: travel.kegill.com


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September 06 2015


How to watch a photo slideshow on a Sony Bravia TV

My father-in-law has a giganormous Sony Bravia television. We wanted to use it to share photos from our Alaska trip. What a convoluted process that turned out to be!

The Sony Bravia engineers were thinking “camera” not “USB stick” when they designed the software. Given that our pictures come from a camera, an iPhone and a GoPro … that model didn’t work for us.

Prepare your USB stick

My first stumble was using a 128GB USB stick formatted for my Mac.

Sony can only read FAT16, FAT32 and exFAT file systems.

My second stumble was not realizing that the TV was looking for a camera file structure.

  1. Create a folder at root named DCIM, just like your camera’s file structure.
  2. Create a sub-folder which will hold the photos. The naming convention: 123abcde (three numbers followed by five letters — it’s DOS-centric, it should not care about case).
  3. The Sony can display only JPEGs, using one of these three file extensions:  .jpg / .jpe / .jpeg.


Put the USB stick into the TV slot

Bravia USB slot

Where is the USB slot on a Sony Bravia?

When looking at the TV, the USB slot is on the left side, adjacent to HDMI slots.

Play your “media”

The instructions on the Sony site did not work for our TV.

In Settings, we had activated “auto-play” for slideshows. But the TV showed only the first set of photos in the folder; it balked when my naming convention changed. We went “up” to media, found the next image in the queue, and manually started the slideshow at this point.

What we did not try:



If you have used Adobe Lightroom to tweak your images, you may have issues viewing them. I had done quick-and-dirty edits in Photoshop and did not run into the problem articulated here when attempting to view HD images:

As Wouter Horré states Bravia TVs support the DCF 2.0 standard, which as is stated in the DCF 2.0 specifikation only supports Pixel/Chroma Subsampling YCbCr 4:2:2 or 4:2:0. This means that compression of the colors in the pictures is done in blocks of 2px across.

But professional image editors like Adobe Lightroom, Adobe Photoshop and probably others use yCbCr 4:4:4 subsampling to increase the quality of the images. Sony Bravia TVs doesn’t play nice with this setting.


The post How to watch a photo slideshow on a Sony Bravia TV appeared first on WiredPen.

June 26 2015


A southern daughter looks at her past. Warts and all.

Sunset south georgia

Two months ago, I phoned my husband while driving through classic southern red clay fields and tree-lined hills.

“Remind me why I don’t want to live here,” I choked, eyes watered. “I mean, I know I don’t want to live here, but the pull of the land…” I couldn’t continue.

“Why, land is the only thing in the world worth workin’ for, worth fightin’ for, worth dyin’ for, because it’s the only thing that lasts.”
~ Gerald O’Hara, Gone With The Wind, 1936

My mother instilled this message long before I read GWTW. And I read the book long before I saw the movie. That was, after all, long before VCRs and DVDs.

“The land” of my mother represented a rootedness that did not jibe with my desire to get away. I left for college with the (unarticulated) goal of never seeing a farm or farmer again … yet I would get a master’s degree in agricultural economics and then work for a northeastern dairy cooperative.

Nevertheless, I had flown the coop.

After moving to the Pacific Northwest, I swore I’d not return to the south during the period from Memorial Day to Labor Day. (Those days of white shoes, burning sun and sweltering humidity.)

BBQ Joint - Photo by Kathy GillVisits to southwest Georgia revolve around end-of-year holidays, family reunions, and the occasional wedding/anniversary. They are marked by cultural touchstones: a Waffle House breakfast, boiled peanuts, fried catfish, sweet tea, camellias in bloom (if I’m lucky). Coca-Cola, with its high sugar load, is a treat of the past.

As I have aged, each visit has become a little more painful due to the troubling words that wash over me from the mouths of relatives and neighbors and friends.

The changes on display in the South do not seem to be those of progression but rather of regression. For example, when I was in the eighth grade, we had a girl’s-only sex ed class. I cannot image such a thing in today’s political climate.

Today’s South seems more evangelical, more enamored with a glorified past, less open to opposing views. People do not seem to hear the bigotry sprinkled throughout their speech. Perhaps that’s not a surprise, since oral history was the only post-Civil War regional history that we were taught. Just as a fish is not aware of the water that surrounds it, we unconsciously absorb and integrate cultural messages. One of those messages was that the symbols of the Confederacy were to be venerated.

Not too long after I had become part of a community of motorcyclists who like good food and spirited debate, I got into an argument about the reasons for the Civil War. It was not slavery, I insisted, but northern industrialization that was subsidized by tax dollars.

I was wrong.

I didn’t know that Alexander Stevens, Confederate States of America vice president and 50th Georgia governor said this, to applause:

“Our new government is founded upon … the great truth, that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery — subordination to the superior race — is his natural and normal condition.”

Nor had I learned in school that the Confederate flag bandied about today is a 20th century fabrication, as well as the chosen symbol of the KKK [1]. Come to think, that ugly symbol of hate seems far more routinely displayed today than when I was growing up in the 60s and 70s.

trees in sunlight

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
~ The Life of Reason, Santayana, 1905

Perhaps this lack of contextual history can explain South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley’s flip-flops on the Confederate flag flying at the capitol.

The first generation American daughter of Indian immigrants was born and reared in South Carolina. Somehow – I’m not sure how – she thinks that her election “fixed” the historical racism that South Carolinians have exhibited towards black Americans.

Moreover, in an election debate last fall, she quipped:

“What I can tell you is over the last 3½ years, I spent a lot of my days on the phones with CEOs and recruiting jobs to this state. I can honestly say I have not had one conversation with a single CEO about the Confederate flag.”

It seems impossible that she could speak those words if she knew of the political hay that has been made with the Confederate flag. Dixiecrats nominated South Carolina Governor Strom Thurmond as a candidate for the presidency after the 1948 national Democratic convention, where the Confederate Battle Flag waved boldly. Afterwards, “[s]ales of Confederate flags, long moribund, exploded.”

It was not until 1961, on the 100th anniversary of South Carolina triggering the Civil War when it attacked Fort Sumter, that the Confederate flag would begin flying above the S.C. state Capitol.

In-between those two events: Brown v The Board of Education.

Confederate Battle Flag, NPSThis very flag, the Battle Flag, flew over “an army raised to kill in defense of slavery.” It was “revived by a movement that killed in defense of segregation.” And last week, a modern version was “flaunted by a man who killed nine innocents in defense of white supremacy,” Yoni Appelbaum wrote in The Atlantic.

On Monday, bowing to national outrage, Governor Haley told the S.C. legislature that she wants the flag to come down. That will require a two-thirds vote. Note that demands like this one do not have a great track record when it comes to future political livelihood.

But come down it must.

And all vestiges of the Confederacy must be excised from my home state flag as well.

The Confederate Battle Flag became a central part of Georgia’s state flag in 1956. And what was happening then? Outrage at the Brown decision and desegregation.

I suddenly have a better understanding of why this historical information is as foreign to me as Mars: my education was hobbled by current events.

In 2003, Georgia’s citizens approved a new flag design that substituted the original and lesser known flag of the Confederacy, the Stars and Bars, for the Battle Flag. Although it does not carry the emotional punch of the Battle Flag, it remains a conscious tentacle to a past marred by slavery.

Can you imagine a German municipality deciding to create a new flag that incorporated a swastika as its centerpiece? Me, either. So why do we whitewash our own tributes to hate? And willfully fail to acknowledge them?


I’m left wondering about my heartstrings.

Yes, April was an emotional period: my dad was in the hospital after having a mild stroke and carotid artery surgery. But that alone cannot explain my sudden and irrational exploration of ways I might find gainful employment in a rural corner of Georgia.

The heat and humidity cripple me. The farm has AT&T mobile data as its “broadband” Internet. It’s miles from town and even further from the closest city. None of these things create an inviting environment.

But it will always be home, warts and all. And warts? They’re caused by a virus. The virus is more likely to cause a wart when it contacts skin that has been cut or otherwise damaged.

“Every wart is a mother wart that can have babies. You need to get rid of all visible warts whenever they appear so you don’t have more spread,” dermatologist Robert Brodell, MD, told WebMD.

The Confederate flag is like a virus. Bigotry is the wart that it creates when minds are susceptible to its connotation. Removing that symbol — with very public dialog about why it needs to be removed — is one step towards excising the larger, persistent social ill that is racism.

“It is place, permanent position in both the social and topographical sense, that gives us our identity.”
~ J.B. Jackson

Photos by Kathy E. Gill. Battle Flag, NPS.

[1] The St. Andrews Cross became a Confederate Army Battle Flag; the it was always square. A horizontal version of this flag appeared mid-20th century. In addition, the dark blue of today’s pop culture Confederate flag is borrowed from the Stars and Bars.

Huffington Post || kegill/cultural-touchstones-and-social-warts-a-southern-daughter-looks-at-her-past-427c47505d87">Medium || The Moderate Voice

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May 31 2015


Tip: delete blank rows in Excel, Mac Office 2008

If you haven’t upgraded Mac Office because 2008 does what you need to do … this tip may be for you: how to delete Excel blank rows.

I’m working with data from AT&T, and the CSV has a blank row between each row of data. (Think “double-space” in writing.) I want to rid the data of the blank rows without having to manually click-and-delete each row.

1. Select the blank rows that you want to delete.

All the how-to’s online suggest including the row “above” and “below” the affected area.

Data file with blank rows

This CSV from AT&T comes complete with a lot of blank rows.

2. Press “Control+G” to bring up a special “find” window

I have not been able to find this window in Excel menus.

Excel' go to menu

Keyboard command: Control + G

3. Select “Special…”

Excel Go To dialog

Select “Special” on the “Go To” dialog

4. Select “Blanks” in the “Go To Special” dialog

Excel Go To Special dialog

Select “Blanks” in the Go To Special dialog

5. Click “OK” on the “Go To Special” dialog

Your “blank rows” are now highlighted.

Excel - highlighted blank rows

Press OK to highlight the blank rows

6. Press “Control+minus” to delete the highlighted rows

That’s the “minus” key (to the left of the plus key on top row).

7. Select “Shift cells up”

Excel - shift cells up

Select “Shift cells up” and click “OK”

8. Success!

Your blank rows are gone!

Excel - blank rows deleted



Thanks to comments on HowToGeek and Windows instructions on Chandoo.org.


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May 19 2015


User task analysis: does this starting page work for you?

The Washington Secretary of State has an application called MyVote which is a portal for registered voters to update address, find elected officials, and so forth.

Scenario: You’ve just moved to Washington and want to register to vote. You’ve been given the MyVote link as your starting place to register to vote. You’ve not decided if you want to register online or in person.

Task: Figure out your voter registration options.

See one task analysis in this YouTube screencast.


What do you think? Am I too harsh? What’s your experience?

Here’s the link to MyVote.

Cross-posted from UX Notes.

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May 14 2015


Crafting effective error messages (cute is not enough!)

seattle times 404 error

I encountered this 404 page after following a link in a blog post (only a day old). Either the referring URL was wrong or the backend (not WordPress, apparently) didn’t have the information on the new URL in its database. It’s not clear when looking at the two URLs which might have been the culprit:

My initial reaction was a big smile. I appreciated the local humor.

But upon reflection, I realized that the page wasn’t helpful.

I couldn’t find the story I was looking for by shortening the URL “back” to the word “politics” as a way to get to stories about politics.

And there is no “politics” bucket in the main navigation.

I didn’t see a search box. Only now, while reflecting on the screen capture, do I see the magnifying glass (metaphor for search). But it’s to the right of the login/subscribe links … my brain does not put “search” in the same functional bucket as login.

Plus, when looking for a way to search, I look for a search box (something to type in).

So I went back to the Seattle Times home page, where I finally saw the magnifying glass icon.

How might the 404 page be more helpful?

  • Provide a more detailed content outline on the 404 error page
  • Provide redirects from “for the backend” URLs to “how people see the site” pages. Any URL that suggests it is a content bucket (“politics”) should “work”
  • Provide 404 error pages customized to the directory where the error occurred


Related to Jakob’s 10 heurestics. Cross-posted from UX Notes.

The post Crafting effective error messages (cute is not enough!) appeared first on WiredPen.

May 13 2015


A word about chart junk

Charts that cheat by showing only part of the vertical axis will exaggerate any change in data compared to a chart with a complete vertical axis.

This example comes from two data points in a recent Pew study.

Chart junk in line charts

By truncating the vertical axis in a line chart, you exaggerate any changes reflected in the data.

The chart on the left shows the change from 2007 to 2014 using a complete (0-60) vertical axis.

The chart on the right does more than zoom in when it shows only data points 49-55; it changes the slope, making the change look more dramatic.

Technically, this is legitimate because of the clear “break” in the vertical axis. But the emotional/connotative impact of the two charts is very different, and that’s what gives me heartburn. And leads me to label charts like the one on the right as chart junk.

Here are some direct examples from the the study summary:

two pew charts

Two Pew charts illustrate this problem.


There’s not a lot of slope (change) evident in these charts. Try to imagine how little slope there would be if you saw the complete vertical axis.

I understand why charts are presented this way in print: for effect or because of space constraints. The effect is exaggerated change, so that’s an editorial choice. But on the web, where is the space constraint?

Line charts are traditionally used to show change over time. But in this case, there are only two points. A bar chart would be more visually neutral. And intellectually honest.

Bar chart comparison

In this example, two bar charts are more visually neutral.


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April 17 2015


April 15 2015


Digital Sparks // The National Library Week edition

A newsletter delivered by TinyLetter.

1. This week is National Library Week.
First sponsored in 1958, this year NLW is April 12-18, 2015 and the theme is “Unlimited possibilities @ your library.” 

2. Why our future depends on libraries, reading and daydreaming.
Author Neil Gaiman argues that reading is fundamental “for allowing us to function as more than self-obsessed individuals.”

3. Librarians do Gaga.
Students and faculty from the University of Washington’s Information School get their groove on..

4. Reading is fundamental.
And it’s also the largest children’s literacy nonprofit in the United States.



:: Credits: 1. American Library Association  2. The Guardian   3. YouTube   4. RIF   Photo: moi

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April 14 2015


Digital Sparks // The new books edition

A newsletter delivered by TinyLetter.

1. The Real Cyber War: The Political Economy of Internet Freedom
Shawn Powers and Michael Jablonski explore how the Internet is used as a tool of a national economic and military agenda.

2. Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives
I was introduced to the power of habit with the Dale Carnegie Course. Gretchen Rubin answers the question: how do we change our habits?

3. The Hormone Reset Diet: Heal Your Metabolism to Lose Up to 15 Pounds in 21 Days
Hormones like estrogen play an important part in weight gain and loss. Dr. Sara Gottfried again brings readers insights from research and her practice.

4. Adult Coloring Book: Stress Relieving Patterns
For the person who has everything, or perhaps a gift-to-self.



:: Credits: Amazon links Photo: moi

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April 10 2015


Digital Sparks // The Walter Scott edition

1. Man who filmed S.C. police shooting: Maybe God ‘put me there for some reason’.
Santana laid low, frightened for days, both before and again after he handed the video over to the Scott family.”

2. Blacks Are Killed By Police At A Higher Rate In South Carolina And The U.S.
Over the past five years, 43% of the people killed by SC cops have been black; only 29% of population (2013).

3. South Carolina Police Shooting Seen as Crime Strategy Gone Awry.
They serve and protect when they feel like serving and protecting. But when they feel like harassing, they do that.

4. Walter Scott and South Carolina History.
It’s crucial to point out that had the bystander not turned on his smartphone camera, that creaky counter-narrative—I thought he was reaching for my weapon—would almost certainly have given Slager a pass.”

walter scott

:: Credits: 1. Washington Post   2. Five-Thirty-Eight   3. NY Times   4. New Yorker   Photo: Screen capture from video of shooting

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:: Follow me on Facebook as kathygill or kathyegill
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A newsletter delivered by TinyLetter.

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April 09 2015


Digital Sparks // The Civil War edition

A newsletter delivered by TinyLetter.

1. Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox, VA, 9 April 1865 (150 years ago).
But the war is not over, writes Yale professor of American History David W. Blight in this historical essay. To help frame the magnitude of the conflict, he writes: “if the Civil War were fought in the United States today with its ten-fold greater population, 7.5 million soldiers would die.”

2. Not a Tea Party, a Confederate Party.
Lots of people have compared the Tea Party with the Confederacy based on geography. In this essay, Doug Muder explores questions raised by the Lincoln movie, with an intriguing exploration of “Who really won the Civil War?” #longRead #worthIt

3. The first use of absentee ballots in the U.S. was during the Civil War.
York College (Pennsylvania) highlights the war’s legacy.

4. How Libertarians ought to think about the U.S. Civil War.
I didn’t realize that many libertarians believe the Civil War “represented a betrayal of the U.S. Constitution and of the fundamental principles of American political philosophy.” Long, thought-provoking paper (pdf) from Timothy Sandefur, a libertarian author and adjunct Cato Institute scholar.

:: Credits: 1. The Atlantic   2. The Weekly Sift   3. York College   4. Reason Papers   Photo: moi

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April 08 2015


Digital Sparks // Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Digital Sparks  // Wednesday, 8 April 2015
The food safety edition

1. How one woman has mobilized a Facebook army against food additives.
Atlantic Profile of Vani Hari (aka Food Babe), who, in three years, has amassed incredible influence by trafficking in food hysteria.

2. The video that catapulted her to stardom.
In 2013, Vani Hari set her sights on an ingredient in Subway bread. The company eventually reformulated the bread; the ingredient can still be found in other fast food restaurant offerings.

3. Understanding Food Babe.
Good science communication resists the sparkly lure of a click-bait headline or a sensational take on basic science.”

4. The Science of Fear: How the Culture of Fear Manipulates Your Brain.
Most of us are lousy at assessing risk. This book by journalist Daniel Gardner , can help us prioritize life’s dangers. And act like a vaccine, to protect you from political and corporate manipulation.

Paracelsus on poison

:: Credits: 1. The Atlantic   2. YouTube   3. Well Fed, Flat Broke   4. Amazon   Photo: moi

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April 07 2015


Digital Sparks  // Tuesday, 7 April 2015

A newsletter delivered by TinyLetter.

Digital Sparks  // Tuesday, 7 April 2015
The surveillance edition

1. John Oliver goes to Russia.
And interviews Edward Snowden. Everyone should watch this video. Everyone.

2. Section 215 of the Patriot Act Expires on June 1.
[We] have little to no evidence that bulk collection of telephone call records under Section 215 has ever stopped a terrorist attack.”

3. American privacy strategies, post-Snowden.
[T]he public generally believes it is acceptable for the government to monitor many others, including foreign citizens, foreign leaders, and American leaders.”

4. Living in Surveillance Societies: the normalisation of surveillance in Europe and the threat of a bad example.
[W]hat does it mean to live in surveillance societies and what economic, political and socialrelations are produced?”

Franklin on liberty

:: Credits: 1. YouTube   2. EFF   3. Pew Research   4. Academia.edu   Photo: moi

:: Subscribe to Digital Sparks // Check out the archives
:: Follow me on Twitter @kegill
:: Follow me on Facebook as kathygill or kathyegill
:: Read WiredPen


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