Nobody Cares About Connecticut

June 4, 2012

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One of my favorite political sites is  The site is run by Andrew Tanenbaum.  Tanenbaum is perhaps best know for creating the MINIX operating system in the late 1980s.

In recent years, Tanenbaum has been hard at work projecting the winners of races for federal office.  Much of the focus, naturally, has been on the presidential elections.  The site does a lot of number crunching with survey numbers, and I generally enjoy the analysis and anecdotes.

A full five months before the election, Tanenbaum has a map of expected winners in each state.  He had Obama with 242 electoral votes locked up and Romney has 165.  The other 131 electoral votes, from twelve “purple” states, are expected to be in play.

You can quibble with the numbers a bit.  Tanenbaum admits to leaning left, so there may be some sort of liberal bias in his numbers.  However, at the high level, there’s no denying the truth.  There are 12-15 states that will be “in play” during the 2012 presidential elections.  The other 35-38 state lean so far one direction or the other that the state is a lost cause for one of the candidates.  Mitt Romney will not will Connecticut, nor will Barack Obama win Alaska.

The net effect is that the candidates will avoid those states entirely, or make only token visits.  Time that Mitt Romney spends in Connecticut is time that he could instead spend in Florida – a state that is in play and has 29 electoral votes up for grabs.

A lack of presidential visits likely won’t bring many Connecticut residents to tears.  However, beyond the lack of visits, there is likely to also be a lack of focus that are important to voters in Connecticut.  And it’s not just the conservative voters in Connecticut who won’t have a voice.  The liberal voters who will almost certainly propel Barack Obama to a victory in the state will also be ignored.

Quite honestly, the voters and issues in states such as Florida, Ohio, Nevada, Colorado, and my own state of Iowa will become much more important than the burning issues in California, New York, Texas – and, yes, Connecticut.  Even if a candidate feels strongly about an issue that it important in those states, there’s virtually no upside in championing the issues.  And there’s definitely downside.  You definitely don’t want to lose voters in Florida because you stuck your neck out for voters in Connecticut.

Those who champion the electoral college like to say that the process ensure that the large states aren’t given undue weight.  The thought is that if popular vote were used, a candidate could rack up huge vote totals in California, New York, Florida, and Ohio and make the voters in Iowa and Rhode Island irrelevant.

However, I’d argue that the electoral college process also picks winners and losers – it’s just a different set of winners and losers than the popular vote.  I’d also argue that the popular vote treats each equivalent bloc of voters the same.  A bloc of ten thousand voters in California would have the exact same influence as a bloc of ten thousand voters in Montana.  Sure, a politician can get more votes in California than Montana, but this is simply because there are more citizens in California.  Why shouldn’t a larger blocc of citizens have more influence?

The current process doesn’t pick winners and losers based on size, but based on degree of purple.  The more purple a state, the more important they become; the blue and red states become less relevant.   

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My Fight With Zazzle

November 14, 2011

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About a month ago, I had the idea to develop a line of apparel for the electoral college – celebrating the (non-existent) academic and extra-curricular departments within the college.

I ran the idea past a bunch of people.  Nearly everyone liked the idea.  I’m always juggling a lot of ideas at the same time, but I had enough positive feedback to greenlight this idea.

Since my art schools are best described as “pre-kindergarten”, the first step was to work with a graphic designer.  I chose Peter of  Not surprisingly, Peter’s specialty is designing logos for websites.  I made initial contact with him to verify that his graphics would work for apparel (the biggest issue being the physical size of the image).  He assured me that this was not a problem and told me that he’d be able to get started on a certain date.

I spent a few more days fleshing out the design elements.  Then I went back to LogosForWebsites, paid for the logo, and handed off the specs to Peter.  Peter quickly responded, letting me know that a few people had skipped ahead of me in line by paying for their logo after I had made my initial contact with him.  That’s perfectly fair.  The other people paid, so they deserved to jump ahead of me.

Peter was able to quickly develop the logo, with minimal revisions.  I was quite happy with the logo. Peter is very easy to work with and has very good turnaround times.

I slapped the logo onto a shirt and developed about 15 different designs – Electoral College Intramural Luge, Athletic Department, Cheerleading, Glee Club, etc.

I chose Zazzle over its competitors mostly because it’s very easy to create similar designs by simply changing the text.  This was a big requirement – I can spin up a new design in about a minute.

Within the first week, we had sold five shirts.  In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll point out that I bought two shirts, Lazy Man bought two, and Martin Kelly bought one.  Still, there was good buzz building, and I was confident of some future sales, especially as the election drew near. I thought the shirts turned out well, and the quality (Hanes) of the actual shirts was good.

About a week later, it came crashing down.  Zazzle yanked my designs after a complaint from a trademark holder.  Did my logo too closely resemble another logo?  No – it was removed because it contained the text “Electoral College”. 

Yes, someone has a trademark on the use of the term “Electoral College” on t-shirts and other apparel (here’s the info on the patent and trademark web site.)

I  was stunned.  Electoral colleges date back to the first millennium A.D.  How could someone trademark a common, everyday term and exclude anyone else from using it on a t-shirt?  I wasn’t the only one to have designs pulled from Zazzle.  Some of the other designs merely mention the term on the text of the shirt.

I was greatly  annoyed at what I considered to be an abuse of the system, but I went back to the drawing board.  I asked Peter if he could tweak the logo to remove the text Electoral College from it and create a few versions of the new designs. Within an hour (I said he was fast), I was ready to go again.

I put up new designs on the site.  This time, the college in question was Electoral State.

Then I did something to test Zazzle.  Within the item descriptions, I referred to the school as Electoral State College and within the “tags” (search criteria), I use Electoral College.  You’ll note that the trademark is quite limited in scope, and I’d argue that neither of these uses violates the trademark.

Within days, the design had been yanked again.  When I made my case to Zazzle, the response was that I was not allowed to use the term “electoral college” in the image, text, description, or tags.  They seem to be granting the complaining party far more rights than the trademark itself conveys.  This seems strange, since I’m a customer and the complaining party is not.

I’ve put up a new set of designs, without using the offending text in the descriptions or tags.  Perhaps the third time’s the charm, but the dream has lost much of its shine at this point.  One thing is for certain – if Zazzle yanks these designs, I’m closing down the shop and going elsewhere. It’s even possible that they’ll throw me out because of my contentious responses. I stay professional in the responses, but take a very adversarial tone.

Where can you find my designs?  Go to  Wherever I end up (Zazzle or somewhere else), this URL will redirect to the current store.  Want a shirt for the underwater basket weaving team instead of the cheerleading squad?  Click the customize button to easily change the text.


Electoral College Gear

October 28, 2011

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The Electoral College was created in 1787.  It’s been around for 224 years, but nearly all the media coverage of the college centers on their role in elections.

But there’s more to the Electoral College than just 538 people who cast votes in presidential elections.  There’s an entire institution of higher learning.  There’s a football team, a marching band, a glee club … and of course, intramural luge!  EC boasts award-winning faculty and a student body boasting an average IQ of 172!

The college should do more to promote itself, instead of allowing itself to be portrayed as a one trick pony in the media.  Since the college has failed in its self-promotion duties, I have taken it upon myself to promote Electoral College.

As of today, you can buy apparel promoting the academic and extracurricular departments within the college!  Designs include:

  • Electoral College History Department – Stuck in the 1700s
  • Electoral College Admissions Office
  • Electoral College Alumni
  • Electoral College Glee Club
  • Electoral College Rowing Club – Up A Creek Without A Paddle
  • Electoral College Cheerleading

Am I joking?  I assure you that I am completely serious.  Waltz into a room with an Electoral College shirt and watch yourself become the center of attention.  With the presidential election looming in just a year, it has never been a better time to buy Electoral College themed merchandise.

To see a complete listing of designs, visit our store.  You can go directly to our Zazzle Store, or use the easy-to-remember URL (which will bounce you to the Zazzle store).  Check back often for new designs and an expanding collection of merchandise.  Tell all your friends about Electoral College Gear!

On game days, remember to cheer for the Fightin’ Lecties!

Note: Profits from the sales of Electoral College merchandise will go directly to the writers of The Soap Boxers.  This is a fun way to support your favorite writers.  You can also edit the text (font and words) to whatever you want.  I’d prefer that you keep things tasteful, but I have no control over the text you put on the shirt.

Update: it turns out that someone has trademarked the use of the term Electoral College on shirts.  It seems odd that someone could trademark such a common term and exclude anyone else from putting it on a shirt, but it costs $300 to petition for cancellation of a mark, so I’ve changed the design a bit.  The shirts are now for Electoral STATE.