Friday, June 25, 2010

Cats, Dogs, Strings, and Causality

ResearchBlogging.org

During a recent cat-related Web search I came across a whole slew of articles that all had similar titles and content, and seemed to be referencing the same study, i..e., the following:

- Cats outsmarted in psychologist's test (Guardian)

- Dogs are smarter than cats, research shows (Telegraph)

- Study claims cats have limited intelligence (San Francisco Examiner)

- Study Finds Dogs Are Smarter Than Cats (KTLA Los Angeles)

The above articles all refer to the study: Domestic cats (Felis catus) do not show causal understanding in a string-pulling task, published in the journal Animal Cognition, September 20091.

In those articles above wherein a comparison is drawn between cats and dogs, an earlier study is also relevant: Dogs ( Canis lupus familiaris) fail to show understanding of means-end connections in a string-pulling task, also published in Animal Cognition, January, 20052.

Now, as someone with an admitted fondness for cats, and who currently resides in a household including no less than four felines, I must of course acknowledge the possibility of a bias in my reading of the articles.

Nonetheless, the main point of my analysis here is not to "defend" cats. I have no fear of data and I am certainly prepared to accept whatever a well-designed experiment might demonstrate. I also welcome any feedback indicating whether I've somehow managed to misinterpret or misconstrue the results.

Moreover, as I don't have the university connections or what-have-you to access scientific journals for free, I decided to only pay for and read in full the cat study. I have only read the abstract of the dog study. Given these disclosures, take this writing for whatever it is worth.

But anyway. On to the analysis itself.

In each case, the target animals (either cats or dogs) were presented with three tasks in which a food treat was attached to a length of string.

The baited string was then placed in a low-sided box under a clear plastic screen, either alone or in conjunction with a "dummy" (unbaited) string. Three scenarios were presented: one in which a single string with a treat at the end was employed, one in which two strings (one baited and one not) were placed parallel to one another, and a third in which the two strings were angled and/or crossed.

In all scenarios, the ends of the string jutted out far enough for the animals to reach, but the animals could not (due to the dimensions of the setup) directly access the treat itself; in short, they needed to pull on the string in order to get the food.

The results? Per the dog study abstract:

...the dogs were successful if the treat was in a perpendicular line to the barrier, i.e. straight ahead, but not when the string was at an angle: in the latter condition, the typical response was a proximity error in that the dogs pawed or mouthed at a location closest in line to the treat. When two strings that crossed were present, the dogs tended to pull on the wrong string.2


...and per the cat study abstract:

All cats succeeded at pulling a single string to obtain a treat, but none consistently chose the correct string when two strings were parallel. When tested with two crossed strings one cat chose the wrong string consistently and all others performed at chance level.1


Next, let us examine the conclusion suggested by the researchers as a valid interpretation of each study:

Regarding dogs, it was stated that "The combined results from the experiments show that, although dogs can learn to pull on a string to obtain food, they do not spontaneously understand means-end connections involving strings."2

Regarding cats, it was stated that "There was no evidence that cats understand the function of the strings or their physical causality."1

When I read the conclusion of the cat study (in the abstract), that was basically the point at which I determined I needed to read the full text of the study. This certainly revealed quite a bit more information about the experiment, its premise, and its (per the authors) implications than the abstract, and gave quite a different picture of the situation than the popular articles.

If I hadn't been convinced previously that it is both useful to read actual papers and question popular media interpretations of said papers, I certainly am now.

For the paper does not actually say anywhere in it that "dogs are smarter than cats" or that "cats are not actually all that clever". And it would not be correct to interpret the study's conclusion as being that cats do not comprehend the behavior of physical objects at all, considering that the tasks this study entailed were all highly specific string-pulling tasks.

Rather, what the study (or rather studies) point out is that per particular models of developmental cognition, cats' performance on the string tasks indicates one level of causality understanding, whereas dogs' performance indicates a slightly different level. The study isn't perfectly written and it seemed like there were some inferential gaps between data and conclusion, however, the media articles referencing this study seem to me to be vastly over-generalizing this to imply something about dog and cat cognition overall.

Moreover, in the cat paper at least, it is acknowledged that performance differences could be due to the canine and feline species' different types of optimization, i.e., cats as solitary hunters of small prey that tends to dart in and out of sight evolved to exhibit higher-level object permanence abilities. Whereas dogs as pack hunters, due to the need to both track large prey and coordinate efforts with other dogs, may have developed a better grasp of specific types of physical-object relationships than cats.

All that said, I am finding myself rather perplexed by the paper's conclusion that the cats do not understand the function of the string. I have seen my cats yank on string, and on the tails of toy mice, etc., on many occasions when these items are stuck under another object (like the couch). So unless I am misconstruing what it means to "understand" something, I have difficulty seeing how a statement that cats do not understand what string does could possibly be valid (again, I welcome corrections if in fact I am wrong on my interpretations here).

I was also unable to find (in reference to the dog paper) a ready definition of "means-ends connection". But at any rate, the studies seemed to be suggesting that if an animal truly comprehends the physical properties of the string attached to the treat, s/he will take advantage of those properties in order to obtain the treat.

Hence if the animal in a given trial either (a) fails entirely to obtain the treat even after considerable effort, or (b) obtains the treat inconsistently and/or inefficiently, it is often concluded that the animal simply does not understand that grasping, pulling, or otherwise manipulating the string in a particular way will guarantee or hasten access to the treat.

But all that said, I am not convinced that the experimental setup (in the cat study at least, as that is the one I actually read the paper describing) would have been adequate to test cats' understanding of the function of the string. For one thing, it was not clear to me in either reading the experimental equipment description or viewing a photograph of said equipment how the cats were expected to detect the presence of a treat (attached to a given piece of string) in the first place.

The paper noted several animals that had been successful in many string tasks that supposedly demonstrated causal understanding in excess of cats (or dogs, for that matter). And while I do not doubt of course that different species can and do indeed exhibit different sorts of cognitive optimization, it does strike me as interesting that all the string-test-passing animals mentioned (primates and corvids, for instance) have relatively high visual acuity compared to cats.

Felines, being crepuscular hunters of small prey, have evolved visual systems optimized for detecting tiny, subtle movements in low light conditions.4 Cats hence see vastly better than humans and somewhat better than dogs in relative darkness, and are highly adept at detecting even the smallest hint of motion in their peripheral vision.

Nevertheless, felines cannot distinguish as many colors as, say, primates or birds (most mammals, including both cats and dogs are actually dichromatic). Moreover, their visual acuity for fine details is relatively poor, especially at close range. Dogs also have fairly poor visual acuity as compared to humans, however, theirs is still estimated to be about twice that of cats. 3

This raises the question of whether the cats in the string-pulling study failed to pull the "correct" string in part simply because they could not see where the treat was attached. From the photos I found of the setup it looked as if the treat was fairly physically small (not much larger than the end of the piece of string) and that the cats were expected to perform the task when positioned quite close to the setup.

Additionally, the presence of the plastic screen, while certainly vital to the setup in terms of blocking direct access to the treats, would not have allowed the cats to identify the location of the treat by smell.** Nor could the cats touch the treat or string under the screen with their paws, or brush against it with their whiskers. I have watched my cats chase after small treats I toss across the room, and what I have noticed is that their eyes "lock on" to the treat while it is in motion flying through the air, and then when it lands, they will sniff around on the floor near the end of its trajectory until they find it. In other words, they do not seem to be using their eyes to find the treat at close range, but their noses.

Add to that the fact that the treat was, from all appearances, just sitting there motionless at the end of the string, and you've essentially removed all the major perceptual modalities that could actually assure the cat of the treat's location. Unless there was some provision made not described in the paper to account for this, I would be inclined to figure that a "random guess" strategy would in fact be the most logical one available to the cats tested.

After all, as opportunistic predators, cats are not so much inclined toward "efficiency" but rather toward trying something that seems like it might have the potential to lead to something tasty or otherwise interesting. Which could certainly contribute toward a decision to pull on both strings, or on a random one, etc.



** CORRECTION (7/16/2010): Following a closer reading of the study's apparatus description, I realized that the referenced cat study had not employed a solid transparent plastic lid with gridlines drawn on it (as I had presumed from the setup photo) but rather a wire mesh screen. Hence, my original statement that the study apparatus would not have allowed the cats to smell the treats was in error. This, however, does not negate my other observations, and moreover, given the apparent height of the box used in the study (see photo again) it is unclear to me whether the cats would have been able to precisely pinpoint the location of the treats by smell.



References:

Primary Reference:

1-Whitt, E., Douglas, M., Osthaus, B., & Hocking, I. (2009). Domestic cats (Felis catus) do not show causal understanding in a string-pulling task Animal Cognition, 12 (5), 739-743 DOI: 10.1007/s10071-009-0228-x

Secondary References:
2- Britta Osthaus, Stephen E. G. Lea1 and Alan M. Slater (2005).
Dogs ( Canis lupus familiaris) fail to show understanding of means-end connections in a string-pulling task
Animal Cognition, Volume 9, Number 1 / January, 2005 http://www.springerlink.com/content/ddq6fre6tm0nk2gt/

3- From http://www.animaleyecare.com/animalvision.html:

Visual acuity is the ability to see the details of an object separately and unblurred. Acuity is measured in "cycles per degree", which means how many lines you can distinguish as being separate in a degree of the visual field. Humans see 30 cycles per degree, horses 18, dogs 12 and cats 6. Acuity in dogs is 0.4 times that of people, 0.67 times that of horses, and twice that of cats. Acuity in cats is 0.2 times that of people, 0.33 times that of horses, and 0.5 times that of dogs. If normal human vision is 20/20, then that of the dog between 20/50 to 20/100, the horse 20/33, and that of the cat is 20/100.

4- Fundamentals of veterinary opthamology, Douglas H. Slatter, p8


Friday, June 11, 2010

Template Update: Stubborn Semicolon Finally Vanquished

At long last, the stubborn semicolon that used to appear at the top left of this page (between the left sidebar and main text area) is gone. Hence, as promised, I am posting a description of how I got rid of this little annoyance.

Note that I cannot guarantee this will work for anything other than the 3 column version of the Thisaway theme (the tutorial page for which can be found here, on the 'Tips For New Bloggers' site, which I finally unearthed again). My guess is that it probably would work for other templates that use tags in similar ways, though. And there really isn't any danger in experimenting so long as you back up your template (I like to use text files for this).

Anyway, here is the "fix" for the semicolon thing (with BEFORE and AFTER pictures, even!):



There are two things to note in the "BEFORE" image below.

One is that there is a small semicolon in the top left section of the page (I have outlined it with a red square, but I apologize as it is probably still difficult to see, because I had to make the images fairly small to fit the width of the page properly).

The other is that the left and right sidebar columns are not vertically aligned.



My blog had these issues for a long, long time and for ages I could not for the life of me figure out how to get rid of them. Some people might not care about "small details" like these but personally I just find them impossible to ignore. So if you are similarly irked, the following instructions should help.

(1) Do a "find" for the following text:

<div id='main-wrapper'>


(2) Then look just above this text. You should see the following HTML:


</b:section>;
</div>;


(3) Finally, DELETE the semicolons (;) following both "div" and "b:section" closing tags shown in step (2).

This should eliminate that errant semicolon in the top left corner of the page (which you will notice no longer appears on my blog), as well as its counterpart (not shown in my screen shots) at the bottom of the left sidebar column.

Also, the tops of the two sidebars should now be aligned with the main post content section, though this will really only be noticeable if you are (as I am) using different colors for the sidebar and main backgrounds. Apparently this misalignment had something to do with the presence of the semicolon (as in, its presence was shifting the page elements somehow).

When you are through with these edits, your page should look (structure-wise; obviously you will not have my particular header image/color combinations, etc) similar to the "AFTER" image below:



The blue lines/squares point out both that the semicolon is gone, and that the right and left sidebar columns are aligned with the main text body and each other.



...and as for how I figured this out, basically I employed the "brute force" method of going down through the template code, changing values here and there, until I started seeing effects on the area(s) of the page I was trying to alter.

The first thing I noticed when I was getting close was that "commenting syntax" did not work normally in a certain part of the template code -- specifically, the "/* Page structure tweaks for layout editor wireframe */" section.

I also found that when I typed more semicolons, or even just random words/letters, next to the </div> and </b:section> tags indicated above, the exact text of what I had typed would appear next to the semicolon on the blog page (this was apparent when I previewed my edits).

At that point it was very easy to solve the problem because the whole issue here from the beginning had been that there was a semicolon showing on the main page but it was not obvious where in the HTML code it was being specified.

Anyway, I still have no idea how those semicolons got there in the first place -- probably some sort of copy/paste artifact from my early template tweak attempts -- but the blog does not seem to be suffering for their absence, at least not in Firefox (feel free to let me know if anything looks "off" in another browser, though, of course).


Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Sunset, Pattern, and Line

Yesterday evening I was standing in the kitchen and happened to catch a glance outside. I had not realized it until right then, but the sun was in the process of setting. And there was just this really amazing view of the sky-colors through the latticework patio cover:




...honestly, the sky was such a dazzling salmon hue (contrasted of course with the deepening blue of near-dusk).

So after getting the patio picture I ran outside to the front (literally ran, as sunsets are transient things) and looked out toward the horizon (if you can call a cascade of suburban roof-tops a horizon). And I saw a most interesting arrangement of lines (power/telephone lines, possibly both, I am not certain) spidering out from a pole:




Now I just need to get up early enough one of these days to get some sunrise pictures!

(This post brought to you by "yet another thing that makes me ridiculously happy to be alive!")

Monday, June 07, 2010

Some Before And After Pictures Of The Interior Of My House

While I do not always write about them, at any given point in time I generally have one or two "mini-perseverations" going on (for lack of a better phrase). Usually they involve something along the lines of, say, ingredients labels (pertaining to some specific product or another; in the past it was vitamins, currently it's cat food!), or different types of electrical outlets.

Lately, though, I have developed a bit of a fixation on "before and after" pictures -- in particular, before and after pictures of room interiors. There is just something tremendously fascinating to me about taking the same space and making it look completely different, just by changing the "trimmings" or parts of the structure. And I have also always had sort of a "thing" about wanting space to be used well. When a room is "wrong" I find it very hard to do much of anything in it, whether because there's something sense-scrambling about the configuration or because things are just laid out in a way that makes organizing things logically really hard, if not impossible.

(That said, I have to also note that I despise rearranging furniture for the mere sake of rearranging. I used to go into something of a panic as a child, when my mother did this. Once I have stuff where it ought to be, I tend to leave it there!)

Anyway, I was going through some photos today and realized I had a few interesting before-and-after shots of parts of my house. And because this blog has definitely become, shall we say, a bit eclectic lately (ever since I stopped worrying about making each post Profoundly Important And In Service Of Some Lofty Larger Goal, not that there's anything wrong with blogging that way, but attempting to do so was giving me massive writer's block in my case), I figured I might as well post them here. So if you are also into this sort of thing, enjoy!



BEFORE:


This was how the part of the kitchen nearest to the living room looked when we first saw the house (prior to actually moving in). There had clearly been a lot of staging done (everything had been very recently covered with bright white paint, and select pieces of the original owner's antique furniture had been artfully arranged throughout the rooms). And there were definitely aspects of the "before" configuration that appealed to me and helped highlight some of the house's assets.

However, after some thought about how we would actually want to use the space, Matt and I determined that the open shelving would more than likely just end up attracting "dust collectors", and that the little shuttered cabinets wouldn't be very efficient from a storage standpoint. Moreover, the "breakfast bar"/extra cabinetry between the kitchen and living room was sort of a weird, kludgey thing (clearly NOT original to the house) that butted up against part of one of the large picture-window sliders on the right side wall of the house, and we wanted a more open floor plan.

Then there was the matter of the cabinets themselves. Originally we planned on keeping them -- but that was before we did a closer inspection, and found that they were actually not in the best of shape under the white paint. The doors were made of some sort of particle board covered with very thin plastic 1970s dark-woodgrain veneer, and the cabinet "boxes" themselves had a lot of warping, staining, and other miscellaneous damage. The drawers also had no slider tracks; they were just wood-on-wood, prone to sticking, etc. Hence, once we tallied things up, neither of us figured we were very attached to the existing cabinets, and as they were definitely not original to the house (which was built in 1954) Matt and I deemed they had to go.

AFTER:


The above image shows approximately the same area as in the "before" picture, from a similar angle. Notice that the dust-collector shelves and tiny shuttered cabinets are gone now and have been replaced with a floor-to-ceiling built-in pantry. The "breakfast bar"/weird kludgey wall-thing (which, incidentally, also contained some 70s-era speakers!) is gone as well. And there is also a little "nook" to the left of the pantry which was originally sort of a "dimensional artifact" but which turned out to be a perfect spot for the microwave cart.

As for the cabinets themselves, Matt and I considered all kinds of options and styles (custom, stock, Ikea, Home Depot, etc.) before finally settling on custom shaker style doors and boxes, which were to be built primarily of maple by a brother of one of Matt's co-workers who also happened to be a carpenter.

Luckily, Matt and I have fairly compatible tastes in decor, but as I am sure he (Matt) would tell you, I am a lot more opinionated about such things and can be, well, a bit of a zealot at times. For instance, I cannot even count the number of times I reiterated the "NO RAISED PANELS!" mantra, and the number of cabinet styles (in various catalogs and such we looked at) I denounced as "utterly hideous and incongruous with the house", etc. (Maybe this side of me doesn't come out much on the blog, but trust me, I can be quite the critic when it comes to certain topics!)

What it really came down to for me was that I wanted something that "worked" in a midcentury ranch home (as in, did not produce the "tutu on a bulldog" effect that a lot of thoughtlessly generic remodels tend to have on such houses -- see here for an example of what I definitely did NOT want), that would be durable and long-lasting, and that would overall be easy to look at (in addition, of course, to the functional consideration of providing efficient and ample storage space).

Matt basically wanted the same things I did but was less concerned about the kitchen "matching the house", and he was a lot more averse to going the streamlined modern route than I was.

So I am thankful we were able to finally settle on the shaker style -- Matt is very much a "craftsman" sort of guy, and the cabinets we ended up with certainly respect that, and I am happy both because of the historical connection between shaker-style and later modernist styles and because it just plain looks nice.

One thing we also did, that (apparently) is somewhat unusual is keep the natural woodgrain exposed on the doors but paint the cabinet "boxes" and face frames a sage green color (Valspar "Cactus Shadow", to be precise). I wanted SOME color in the kitchen and Matt and I are both fond of green, so while I would have preferred something a bit darker (for more contrast) I daresay the end result turned out quite pleasant to look at. And honestly I would love to see more examples of kitchens with natural-wood cabinet doors but with painted face-frames; so far I haven't even been able to find one (though it could just be my search-fu is failing me in this instance), other than ours.



And here are some pictures from a different angle:
BEFORE:


This view shows the middle of the kitchen, the sink area and part of the area along the rear wall (including the back door, out to the yard). Note all the WHITE, the washing machine along the rear wall, and the chandelier (which caused some literal headaches to several folks, including me, before it was removed -- it was hanging down so low that I kept getting "wrought iron to the forehead", ouch!).

AFTER:


This view again shows the middle of the kitchen, the sink area and part of the area along the rear wall, but now many changes are evident. The most major thing was the addition of the large island in the center, which contains both storage underneath (more cabinets) and a large food prep surface that overhangs on one side, where we could presumably put stools or tall chairs, in effect making the island double as an eating area. We wanted to keep things simple and versatile so the island is actually a free-standing unit (as in, it isn't rooted to the floor, and contains no plumbing or electrical lines). Partly this was for budgetary reasons and partly it was just because we liked the idea of having the island be like a piece of furniture rather than a built-in.

Note as well that the washing machine is gone (we still don't have it hooked up elsewhere yet, but hopefully that will happen soon; for now we are partaking of the laundromat conveniently located a few blocks away). The stove is now a gas stove (Matt has always wanted a gas stove, and he is definitely the cook around here), and the refrigerator we just got in tones that would match the stove. Neither is a particularly "special" piece, but we had a budget to work within and I figured we were better off "splurging" on the cabinets than on appliances, as appliances are a lot more easily replaced if necessary.

But so far they've certainly been serviceable, and I definitely think the black-and-stainless-steel tones help prevent the overall aesthetic from veering too far into "country cottage" territory. The fume hood is also new and rather a nice model, and it adds (what to me is) a dash of "restaurant kitchen"-ness to the space, which is not a bad thing. (I also designed the ducting on top myself, which was necessary because of the way the studs in the wall were placed).

And then of course there is the floor. I am SO happy with the floor -- it is marmoleum! MUCH nicer than the blah grayish-white 1980s vinyl that we started out with there. I had a lot of fun coming up with a pattern for the Marmoleum and determining on that basis how much of each color we would need (we used "Eucalyptus" squares and "Barbados" planks, both in the "click panel" type). It was really easy to install, too...Matt and I did it in one day with just the two of us.

The new cabinets over the sink are pretty much positioned the same as the old ones were -- that aspect of the old layout at least made sense. We also kept the original sink (which I think might very well be original to the house -- it's a very nice, if slightly endearingly chipped, cast-iron model with one shallower side and one deep side) and the white tile counter by the sink, which is not original but which is perfectly serviceable and doesn't clash horribly with the rest of the decor.

The white dishwasher is also still there but now I rather wish we'd gotten rid of it, as we have never actually used it and probably won't. I actually prefer hand-washing dishes -- if I put stuff in the dishwasher most likely I would forget about it. I would like to take the dishwasher out at some point and perhaps make a little cubby thing for the trash cans, but that's not on the immediate agenda.



Living room BEFORE:


Initially the living room looked a lot more "formal" (though that was partly due to staging), and the gray carpeting made everything look smaller. Plus the all-white walls were just boring. It looked "nice", but wasn't very "us" (that is, me and Matt).


Living room AFTER:


I've already posted this picture once before so apologies for that, but it was the best one I could find in what I'd uploaded showing the whole living room. Ripping up the carpet had a huge effect on the space -- made it look so much bigger! Plus the floors, while very dirty initially (from decades of fine dust filtering through the carpeting) turned out to be beautiful solid oak in excellent condition overall. We did not even need to strip and refinish; we just mopped and mopped and then applied some wax.

And then there is my brown wall. I love the brown wall so very much. I have always been a big fan of dark/bold wall colors, and was SO tired of imposed apartment-rental White Everywhere. I love the contrast between the brown wall and white fireplace especially, and I think overall that color being there adds some very pleasing "weight" to the kitchen/living room space, as the kitchen is very light-and-bright even though it's not all white anymore.



So...yeah, I will probably post a few more things like this at some point. And of course I should note that the house is still (and likely to remain) a "work in progress". I think both the kitchen and bedroom (not shown in this post) need more dark elements, though I am not sure exactly what those elements will consist of.

I am also finding that my own sense of what I want the place to look like has been shifting around in light of all kinds of factors, and at this point I am leaning strongly towards an "eclectic" look rather than one constrained into any particular design "school" or era. For one thing, I certainly cannot afford to have everything "matching", and even if I could, it seems like it would be very wasteful to get rid of and replace so much of what I already have that is wholly functional. Moreover, if you think about it, it's not like everyone living in ranch homes in the 1950s and 1960s ONLY had mid-mod furniture...presumably plenty of folks had hand-me-down pieces from the 1940s or 30s or even before, and hence the reality of those houses back then probably was more eclectic than matchy-matchy.

However, at the same time, I definitely want to maintain a sense of respect for the house's "lines" and overall design (meaning, at some point that awful 1980s "seashell" sink in the bathroom HAS to go!).




Thursday, June 03, 2010

Nifty 1953 Popular Mechanics Issue (via Google Books)

OK so this might just be one of those things I am always one of the last to know about but since it is just so nifty, I figured I would point it out here. Anyway, the "it" I am referring to is the fact that you can find whole issues of various magazines on Google Books, some of them quite old!

I discovered this by accident this evening because I was trying to find out who the builder and/or architect was of the 1954 ranch-style house I reside in (architect is still at large, but the builder appears to have been David Bohannon).

My search terms somehow led me to a 1953 issue of Popular Mechanics that contains a large section on house-related issues (building, buying, renovating, etc.)

Anyway, I don't know how many readers are into this sort of thing, but this issue in particular has a lot of VERY cool pictures of mid-century furniture and decor (eeee!) and some impressively detailed plans for such projects as a chair with folding arm-rests, a bed that folds up into a cupboard, and an ice fishing shelter (I kid you not).

So, yeah, I am definitely enjoying this and thought I might as well share! That is all for now.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

In Which I Vote By Mail Again And Rant A Bit About That Whole Santa Clara Stadium Thing

Well, I mailed my ballot today for the June 8, 2010 primary election (hooray again for voting by mail!).

I am posting this mainly because I wanted to link to Smart Voter, which is a site I made heavy use of in figuring out how to interpret the various ballot items and vote accordingly.

And...I fully acknowledge that I am not teerming with civic wisdom, but I figure that by doing at least some reading about the ballot items and the positions of various folks running for office, I ended up voting less ignorantly than I would have otherwise. So thanks to the League of Women Voters for establishing Smart Voter as a resource, if anything, it's a great starting point when you are dealing with a lot of confusing language (as is pretty much always true for me when I try to read ballot measures).

I am not going to get specifically into how I voted on most items, as I don't feel like getting into arguments with anyone over a whole litany of things I can't change now that the ballot has been mailed off.

But I will say that I voted a big, resounding "NO" on Measure J, which is basically the San Francisco 49ers' (an American football team, for any international readers) attempt to build a stadium right here in my hometown of Santa Clara. The "Yes on J" campaign has been bugging the heck out of me for months, for one thing -- it's loaded with abject smarm and built-in guilt trips.

There are all these signs up all over buildings, and in people's yards, saying things like "Yes on J - Yes For Our Schools!" or "Yes on J - Yes on Jobs!", and while I understand that suggesting the (hoped-for) result of a proposed project is impossible to get away from entirely, I just find this instance of it to be ridiculous in its overconfidence. More to the point, the "YES" campaign's implied "you don't care about the CHILDREN if you vote NO!" sentiment just makes my eyes want to roll right out of my skull (in a manner of speaking).

Even the text of the measure ITSELF just sounds really...weaselly to me (no offence to actual weasels, who had nothing to do with this proposal):

Shall the City of Santa Clara adopt Ordinance 17.20 leasing City property for a professional football stadium and other events; no use of City General or Enterprise finds [sic] for construction; no new taxes for residents for stadium; Redevelopment Agency funds capped for construction; private party pays all construction cost overruns; no City/Agency obligation for stadium operating/maintenance; private party payment of projected fair market rent; and additional funds for senior/youth/library/recreation to City's General Fund?


That said, I suspect the measure will pass anyway. And I HOPE I am wrong in my sense that all the city will end up with is more debt and lots of excuses from the YES-ites. But I suppose only time will tell. I will be happy to admit my BS-sensor was mistaken if that turns out to be the case.

Oh, and for the record, I am not registered with a political party (guess that makes me an "independent", though certainly NOT an American Independent!), so I filled out the "non-partisan" version of the ballot. Which is, I guess, the same as the partisan ballots except that it doesn't include candidates for Governor, Secretary of State, etc.