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Caucuses, computers, and the insult of “would of”

Essay by Ed Quillen

Modern Life – March 2008 – Colorado Central Magazine

MARTHA AND I attended the Democratic caucus for Precinct Two in Chaffee County on the evening of Feb. 5 — despite the cold, and ice, and dark of night.

I had problems with Hillary Clinton, starting with her resounding failure on health care back in 1993. I had been torn between John Edwards and Barack Obama, but after Edwards dropped out, I went to support Obama, as did Martha. We walked to the caucus in the bitter cold, joking that it was too bad that one of us wasn’t supporting Clinton, because then our votes would have canceled each other out and we could have stayed home by the fire.

The 2008 caucus was sure different from the last caucus, back in 2006. That time, there were only two people from Precinct 2 besides me: former Salida Mayor Ralph “R.T.” Taylor, and Hugh Young, who serves on the Salida City Council. We’d all been to caucuses before, but none of us had a clear idea of what had to be done because always before, Joanne Gleason had been there to explain the process and make sure everything was done properly.

But Joanne had moved away to be closer to her children and grandchildren, leaving us to elect R.T. as the temporary chair and me as the temporary secretary. There was a lot of paperwork. I understand the need for it, since you want to be sure that only qualified people cast caucus votes and that their votes are accurately recorded, but that doesn’t mean I liked it.

Even so, it was a lot simpler with three people than with the 29 who came to the Precinct 2 caucus this year. Altogether 463 Democrats and 318 Republicans cast votes in Chaffee County’s caucuses this time around.

In many counties, caucuses are held at people’s homes, as was the case the first time I attended a Democratic caucus, back in Kremmling in 1976 when I went to support Mo Udall because I liked his wit and I couldn’t stand Jimmy Carter.

In Chaffee County, Democrats from the northern precincts all gather at one spot in Buena Vista, while those from the southern precincts meet at a place in Salida. Likewise, the Republicans also meet at designated sites in each town. That’s a sensible arrangement, but it made for standing-room-only crowds this year.

Although the event was fairly well organized, Salida’s high school cafeteria was noisy and packed with people, and thus it was hard to get everyone settled, forms passed around, and votes counted.

Lots more people showed up this year because Colorado moved its caucus date up, so that we might have some voice in the selection of presidential candidates. In earlier years, the candidates were generally selected by the time Colorado got around to caucusing.

Also, in 2008, there were hot contests for the nomination in both parties. Republicans had three major contenders, Mitt Romney (who left the race two days later, even though he won in Colorado), John McCain, and Mike Huckabee; Democrats had two: Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

Before the gathering breaks up into precincts, people speak briefly to the crowd on behalf of candidates, and it gives you some idea of Hillary Clinton’s lack of support — here and elsewhere in the rural West — that no one spoke on her behalf. But there was a speaker for Obama, plus lots of Obama stickers, posters, and t-shirts.

Once our precinct had convened, we figured out the math. We would be sending five delegates to the county assembly on March 1, whereat delegates will be selected for the state convention, whereat delegates are selected for the national convention. In other words, we’re at the bottom of this food chain.

Our five precinct delegates (I ended up one of them) should be divided, as proportionately as possible, among the presidential contenders. But to get any delegates, a candidate had to have at least 15% of the caucus — 4.35 votes, which rounds to 5 by party rules. So first there’s a straw poll where people express their preferences.

If my scribblings are right, Obama got 24 votes, Clinton 3, and there were 2 undecided. If it stayed that way, then all five delegates to the county assembly would be Obama supporters. But on the final vote, the undecideds went with Clinton, so Precinct 2 will send four Obamas and one Clinton to the county assembly.

Later, out in the hall, I talked to a friend in another precinct. “Hillary didn’t get any of ours,” he said, sounding rather gleeful. And from another precinct, it was 4-2 for Obama, which mirrored the state as a whole, about 2 to 1 in favor of Obama.

Our caucuses also produce resolutions for the county assembly, which can then be passed up the food chain if they get support. Our caucus didn’t consider any, but I don’t think that matters much, since some other caucuses passed a lot of resolutions which were similar to any we might have considered. And we’ll get to vote on them at the county assembly.

Sometimes these resolutions don’t go anywhere. In 1996, our precinct supported a resolution to impeach Democratic Governor Roy Romer for his support of the UP-SP railroad merger which left us without rail service. It’s pretty hard to get Democrats to support impeaching a popular Democratic governor, and you don’t get a lot of Republican support in opposing a merger that financially benefited billionaire Phil Anschutz (a major GOP contributor), so our resolution went nowhere.

But some resolutions might matter. In 2006, we approved a resolution calling for simplification of Colorado’s business personal property tax laws. It’s too complex to explain in detail here, but as it is, for small enterprises like this one, the tax brings in less money than it costs the county to administer (in other words, it’s a net loss to local taxpayers), and there’s the burden of paperwork for the business owner.

And this year, Gov. Bill Ritter has called for an overhaul that would raise the minimum amount subject to these property taxes, and the legislature is working on it. I don’t know whether our resolution inspired this, but it certainly didn’t hurt.


Just about everybody has complained about the savagery of this winter, generally with more passion and eloquence than I can muster.

But there’s one aspect that’s so annoying that I must address it. Cold I can handle. I don’t like it, but I can always crank up the fire if I’m indoors or put on more clothes outdoors. I can also dress for wind, though I sure don’t stay out in it any longer than necessary. Snow I can wade through, and it might even inspire me to find my old cross-country skis.

But this winter has brought a new vexation: ice. After it snows, it often stays cold so that a lot of the snow doesn’t melt away. It gets packed down, and then a sunny day puts a veneer of slick ice atop it.

That’s the situation in my preferred near-town dog-walking zone (I forbear further details because it likely involves trespassing on railroad property, and I do not want to encourage law-breaking).

Bodie and I both need the exercise of a daily stroll for our mental and physical health, but lately when we’ve gone out, it’s been a challenge for me to keep my feet under me because the surface is so slick. I’m scared I’ll fall and break a bone, and that could be serious when you’re 57 and have no health insurance.

Yet the walks are important to my well-being, and when a day bears on without a walk, Bodie nags so much that I can’t get much work done.

So, bring on some sunshine. Mud has its complications, but at least I can generally keep my feet under me, and if I fall, the landing is cushioned.


Following are some observations that could send technophobes reaching for their weapons, so in the interests of world peace I encourage them to skip to the next section.

And Slim, before you say that computers are annoying, unnecessary, and may actually hasten the end of Western civilization, I know that all too well.

But in their defense, I’ve realized that it used to take more than a half dozen dedicatedly delusional starving workers to design, compile, and disseminate one small alternative publication. And now it only takes one or two. In fact, computers have made it possible for me to digress and pontificate here; so the least I can do is acknowledge them.

Those who still prefer pen and parchment, however, should probably skip this section (although I’m sure they’ll find it amusing that computers frequently confound even people like me — who are fairly sure they couldn’t survive without them).

Ironically, I lost a couple of workdays in the recent past on account of trying to make our computers better and faster so I could get more work done.

The project began with two machines. One, that I do most of my work on, runs GNU/Linux, the open-source operating system. Linux (rhymes with “cynics” ) has its complications, to be sure, but I like it a lot, and I won’t bore you with why that is so. The other, which we use for producing this magazine and keeping its business records, runs Windows XP. I’ll call the two computers Linux and Central.

Each had 1 gigabyte of RAM from two 512-mb sticks, and generally the cheapest and easiest way to improve performance is to add RAM. Linux had two memory slots, Central had four, with only two in use.

So if I bought two 1-gb sticks, I could put them in Linux, and put its two 512-mb sticks into the two unused memory slots in Central, and it would have 2 gb too. According to the manuals, both motherboards used the same kind of RAM.

I got the RAM, put the two 1-gb sticks in Linux. They worked and there was a perceptible improvement in performance. I then opened Central and installed the two 512 mb sticks in the open memory slots. They fit hard (never a good sign in a computer — in ways, I miss working on old cars, where you could just beat a muffler with a hammer until it fit), and the machine wouldn’t recognize the RAM.

Clearly I was doing something wrong, so I took the mess to Walt Hall at ICE Computing in Poncha Springs. Walt ran some tests, and told me the two unused memory slots on that motherboard weren’t working. That machine is four years old, and needs to be replaced soon anyway, so there was no point in pursuing the matter.

But I was left with a gigabyte of RAM of the expensive DDR variety instead of the newer and cheaper DDR2. So much for my improvement plans.

Back to Linux. I’m kind of compulsive (or maybe even neurotic) about backing up and saving data. I’d read about RAID (Redundant Array of Inexpensive Disks), and the Linux motherboard supported RAID-1, which mirrors the data on two disks, so that if one hard disk dies, the other steps right in.

I got an 80-gb drive that matched the one in place, backed up everything onto an external USB drive, installed the second drive, set up the RAID, re-installed my software, got it running, and restored my data. It took only a couple of hours and went very smoothly.

After a week or so, the machine started acting up in ways that made me think the power supply was failing. In my experience, many computer power supplies are cheaply made and don’t last long, and it doesn’t seem to matter how much you pay for them.

So I got a new power supply from Walt, and it didn’t make any difference. The Linux motherboard (about 2½ years old) was dying. Nobody around town had a suitable new motherboard, so I ordered one, along with a new CPU and fan, and two gigabytes of cheap DDR2. And while I was waiting for the shipment to arrive, I managed by using my poky old laptop, an IBM Thinkpad T22. A decade ago, with its 256 mb of RAM and 900-mhz processor, it would have been a hot rod. Today it’s a digital tortoise, but hey, it still works.

I discovered that the CPU fan that I’d ordered didn’t fit on the new motherboard, even though the vendor had said it would. Lacking patience, I found that the old motherboard’s fan would fit, so on it went, even though it’s a little too noisy for my taste.

Thus I’m now working at what is essentially a new computer. All that’s left in use of the old Linux machine is the case, the CPU fan, and its DVD R/W drive.

When people ask me what kind of computer I use, I often respond with a joke I heard from my Dad many years ago:

A fellow was walking down a country road, and saw a farmer splitting some wood with an old axe. He walked over there and struck up a conversation. “That’s a pretty old axe you’re swinging there, isn’t it?”

“Indeed it is,” the farmer replied. “In fact, it was George Washington’s axe.”

“I had no idea it was that old.”

“Well, it’s had seven new handles and three new blades over the years, but it’s the same old axe.”


While I’m dealing with the digital world, I might as well address some Internet issues. One has cost me some income. The growing popularity of on-line advertising means less revenue for traditional media, like newspapers. Plus, more people get their news on-line, which means declining subscription revenue.

This trend has, of course, affected the Denver Post, where I’ve been writing regular op-ed columns since 1986. In 1988, I went to twice a week there.

But last fall, the Post had to cut back, and one cost-saving measure was to switch to a narrower page. That meant less room, and so my Tuesday column went to alternate Tuesdays (actually, odd Tuesdays), which just got switched to Wednesday because in another cost-cutting move, the Post dropped its Tuesday op-ed page.

I’ve picked up some other paying work — a monthly piece for High Country News (, as well as regular contributions to its GOAT blog ( — so Martha and I should keep getting by.

But there’s another Internet issue for us traditional print media: How to handle URLs in print. (URL stands for “Uniform Resource Locater,” and it’s the technical term for something like .)

We often print them with our articles, so that readers can find more information on topics they’re interested in. Alas, some of them are too long to fit in a column, so they have to be broken. Traditionally, you stick a hyphen at the break, but a hyphen can be part of a valid web address, so if people type in the hyphen that we put there, they’ll get the wrong website, or an error message because there’s no such site.

If only the designers of the web had decided to make the hyphen an invalid character for URLs, life would be simpler. As it is, we figure people will eventually figure it out.

Another annoyance is that most modern word-processors, when encountering a URL in text, insist on treating it as a “live link” (so that when you hit it with a cursor, the computer opens a web browser and tries to connect), as well as underlining it and putting it in color, when all we care about is spelling it correctly.

Regarding our own website,, we’re moving it to a different host because Bob Thomason, over in Westcliffe, is getting out of that business, and we’re moving to Heart of the Rockies Internet Solutions. The process has turned out to be more complicated than we expected.

Although the modern personal computer makes it possible for a lone publisher to handle a lot of different tasks — such as correspondence and collecting material (by e-mail and fax), bookkeeping, research, lay-out, editing, copying, corrections, addressing, and more — some days I swear that computers are “labor-creating devices,” rather than “labor-saving machinery.”

Oh well. As they say, “the Internet changes everything,” and I have to figure out how to adapt, whether I like all the changes or not.


At a recent meeting of the Salida Business Alliance (of which I am now the duly elected secretary), we heard about plans for the development of the Vandaveer property on the east (or maybe south, depending upon where you’re standing) side of Salida.

One issue of concern among local merchants is the possibility of local tax or utility rebates to attract new enterprises.

I’m totally against that. If the city is collecting so much money that it has some to subsidize new private enterprises, then rates are too high. And it’s unfair to expect existing businesses to subsidize competitors.

This is also contrary to the spirit of the Colorado Constitution, which forbids governmental donations to private firms. Cities get around this by not directly appropriating the money, which would be illegal, but by cutting tax or utility rates for certain businesses, which is apparently constitutional, even if it violates the spirit of this provision.

I’ve got nothing against new business or industry in Salida. But it should pay its own way, rather than mooch off the rest of us.

There’s the argument that other cities do it, so we need to do it too, to be competitive. But giving local tax money to outside corporations is one contest we don’t need to be in.

And besides, it doesn’t work. The state of Colorado gave the Southern Pacific Railroad a sales-tax exemption so it would keep its shops in Denver. The shops went away anyway after the SP merged with the UP. All that happened is that Colorado lost the considerable sale-tax revenues that it would have collected when the railroad bought new locomotives or the like.


And finally, the confession of a “grammar snob.”

In spoken English, it’s nearly impossible to discern between “would of” and “would have” or “would’ve.”

But “would’ve” and “would have” are valid grammatic constructions, while “would of” means nothing. There’s no reason, other than ignorance, to write “would of” instead of “would’ve” or “would have.”

And yet I see “would of” more and more often, and it irks me. Last summer I started reading a pretty good novel by Pete Dexter, Deadwood (more or less the basis for that wonderful HBO series), and I put it down after a few dozen pages on account of how frequently I ran into “would of.”

If the writers and editors don’t care enough to do the job right, I feel as though I’m being treated with contempt.

Granted, we all make mistakes. The English language is a complicated thing. But to use “would of” all the time, in a book that isn’t written under tight deadline pressure, isn’t a mistake. It’s a sign of disrespect to readers, to logic, to the English language, dictionaries, and the very idea of having standards and being coöperative. And there’s no reason we should put up with it.