None Of The Above

What are we to make of the recent Democratic primary results, in which unknown candidates — including a current prison inmate — have managed to secure 40 percent or more of the vote in races against President Obama?

In the West Virginia Democratic primary, a Texas convict named Keith Judd won 41 percent of the vote.  In the Arkansas primary, a lawyer named John Wolfe won 40 percent of the vote.  In Oklahoma, a variety of candidates received 43 percent of the vote.  And in yesterday’s Democratic primary in Kentucky, “uncommitted” got 42 percent of the vote. The Democratic primaries in other states have seen similarly significant votes for options other than President Obama.

Pundits have offered a variety of explanations for these curious results.  They speculate that the results might be racism, or strong opposition to gay marriage in states that tend to be culturally conservative.  Others reason that, because President Obama is running unopposed and therefore has long had the nomination sewn up, he isn’t trying to win crushing victories and the only people motivated to vote are those that want to send a message.

Alternatively, we might employ Occam’s Razor and conclude that a number of Democrats are voting against the President simply because they are unhappy with his performance and have decided to show that in a tangible way.  Over history, in many elections for many offices, voters have chosen “none of the above” to tell the powers that be that people who are perfectly willing to fulfill their civic duty by voting are dissatisfied with the crummy choices being presented.

The states that have seen these interesting Democratic primary results are states that have been hard hit by the economy.  It’s not implausible that voters would be fed up — so fed up that they are willing to take time from their normal daily activities, go to the polls, and cast a pure protest vote.  That’s a powerful message, and one that President Obama and his campaign staffers may not be glad to hear.

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The Inventor Who Changed Everything — And His Invention

Eugene Polley, 96, died on Sunday.  Few Americans recognize his name, although virtually every American uses his invention on a daily — in some cases, hourly, or even more distressingly frequent — basis.

Polley held 18 U.S. patents, but his crown jewel was the wireless TV remote controller.  In 1955 he invented the Flash-Matic, a gun-shaped, battery-powered device that changed the channel and turned the TV on and off through use of light signals — and the infernal “clicker” was born.  The Flash-Matic was eventually replaced by sonic, infrared, and radio frequency devices, but Polley’s device set the nation firmly on the road to a land where Americans planted their ever-expanding keisters on their sofas and watched TV for hours where their only exercise was the twitch of the thumb muscle needed to change the channel.  He even won an Emmy for his impact on television.

Consider the social consequences of the wireless TV remote controller.  Not only has it served as a crucial enabling device for an increasingly overweight and lethargic population, it has also been the cause of countless family squabbles.  How many wives have been brought to the boiling point by thoughtless husbands who annoyingly change channels repeatedly during commercial breaks — never spending more than a millisecond on the latest showing of  The Shawshank Redemption, which for some reason is always being aired, or any other program as they zip through the dozens of channels offered by modern cable television services?  How many brothers and sisters have fought over control of the clicker, and therefore whether the family watched Glee or Jackass?  And how has the remote controller affected the brains, and shrinking, gnat-like attention spans, of children who have grown up with their thumb on the remote?

Few people can claim to have had such a profound impact on the social conditions of the world around them.  Eugene Polley, R.I.P.