Recently in Polemarchus' House in the Piraeus Category

Things you may not know about the California Initiative process:
1) The number of signatures required to place an initiative on the ballot is a percentage of the votes cast in the last gubernatorial election. It is 8% for constitutional amendments, and 5% for statutes.
2) The 2006 gubernatorial election had 8,679,048 votes cast. Therefore a constitutional amendment currently requires 694,323 signatures, while a statute needs 433,952.
3) All signatures must be collected during the circulation period, which is 150 days.
4) To get a constitutional amendment on the ballot for 2010, the proponents need to gather 4,629 signatures a day. For a statute, that number would be 2,894.
5) For approximately one million dollars, you can hire enough political consultants and professional circulators to get your initiative qualified.
6) There is no limit to the amount a ballot measure committee can spend in support of a proposition.
7) There is no limit to the amount an individual or corporation can contribute to a ballot measure committee.
8) Most other states have a 365-day circulation period.
9) Under a 365-day circulation period, you would need to collect 1,903 signatures per day to qualify an amendment; 1,189 for a statute.
10) California allowed an unlimited circulation period until 1943.
11) An amendment takes precedence over a statute concerning the same law. If both pass, only the amendment takes effect.
12) Once an initiative has qualified for the ballot, it cannot be amended or withdrawn, even if the legislature passes a similar piece of legislation prior to the election.
13) From 1911 to 1939, there was a high of 35 initiatives per decade.
14) In the 1960’s, there was a total of nine.
15) In the 1970’s, 22 qualified.
16) In the 1980’s, 46 qualified.
17) In the 1990’s, 61 qualified.
18) The number of constitutional amendments has increased 30% over the last decade.
19) California’s constitution is eight times longer than the U.S. Constitution.
20) To pass a new tax through any legislative process in California, a proposed law needs a 2/3 majority to pass.
21) To ratify an amendment to the U.S. Constitution, three-fourths of the states must pass it by a majority vote of the state’s legislatures.
22) For the California legislature to pass a constitutional amendment, both houses must pass it with a 2/3 majority.
23) To pass a constitutional amendment as a ballot initiative, 50% of those voting plus one must vote in favor.
24) The Democratic Party’s Initiative Reform Task Force met in November 2008. Their recommendations included requiring constitutional amendments to pass with a 2/3 majority in two consecutive elections.

To find out more:
L.A. Times Editorial

Losing Your Holiday Pounds

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Once you have all the appropriate tools and you’re cooking for yourself, you may, like me, wish to slough off a few pounds you have accumulated over the year. When I decided to fit back into my jeans, I first started just trying to cut back a little—no desserts, eating healthier meals, and exercising more. After about a month of that, I had lost no weight. One day I was too lazy to cook, and stumbled onto Jack’s “program.” Jack lost a ton of weight skipping breakfast, eating something very small at lunch, and then having a typical (for him) dinner. I had always thought it was a dangerous diet and that it didn’t create the habits one needed to maintain weight loss, but Jack is alive and kicking and quite fit several years later, so I decided to keep going on my own version.

After some experimentation, this is what I came up with.
1) Eat breakfast. Skipping it is easy, but bad for building long-term habits. Have a bowl of oatmeal made with 1/3 c old-fashioned oats (2/3 c water & 3 min. in the microwave). It’s only 100 calories, and you can add sugar-free Splenda syrup or cinnamon for calorie-free flavor.
2) For lunch, have something small: leftovers, a piece of fruit and cheese, soup & salad, or half a sandwich. Usually, I can keep lunch under 300 calories, though yours might be larger.
3) Dinner is normal, though I try to only use whole-grain, high-protein, or high-fiber carbohydrates. I like to stick to Sonoma Diet-like proportions: one half plate vegetables, one fourth plate meat, and one fourth plate carbs.
4) No dessert. It’s crucial for me to get away from eating sugar & high-glycemic index carbohydrates. They are my Achilles heel. Since going cold turkey is too cruel, I allow myself dark chocolate. It’s dense enough to be satisfying in small quantities. Additionally, it has raised my standards for dessert—now I want a lot more flavor and less butter/sugar. I also think The Finer Things Club is helping. There’s no shortage of dessert to look forward to in my life, so it makes it easier to put off until then.
5) I also avoid alcohol, though I’ll have a drink at a party (no mixers).
6) On the weekends, I eat what the boyfriend’s eating, which is usually healthy, but if it’s not, I don’t stress. It slows the weight loss, but keeps me from feeling like I’m depriving myself. Getting back on the program on Monday is hard, but easier if I focus on eating just the three meals. My choices get healthier as the week goes on.
7) Exercising while on a low-calorie diet is difficult. What works best for me is wearing a pedometer during the day, then going for a walk in the evening that gets my daily total up to 10,000 steps (usually a 20 minute constitutional around Dolores Park is just right).

There are days I’m sure I have less than a thousand calories, but I don’t think I’m managing it consistently (which is good). However, aiming at less than a thousand seems to let me actually lose weight instead of aiming at twelve hundred and ending up at fourteen or sixteen hundred. I don’t think I’m losing at an unhealthy rate—in a month I’ve lost about six pounds.

After a few more pounds, I will go back to my healthy eating plan. Because I’m not crazy about cooking, I designed it so that I make a double-batch of lunch one day, then a double-batch of dinner the next. That way I only have to cook once a day, and there is always something healthy available.

All of this is to say that losing weight is hard, and getting too hung up on rules (“never go below 1000 calories a day,” “no carbs,” “don’t break with the plan”), can make it harder. My theory is that when you start by doing all the things you know you’re supposed to, you can break a few rules.

Cooking Tools

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Once I started cooking, I discovered that certain tools are necessary, while others mostly clutter up my cabinet. After spending more than I really needed to on some items and recalling the bewilderment that accompanied me to the Macy’s Home department when I first moved out, I set out to see how inexpensively you could equip a fully functioning kitchen. I think you can do it for around $200 (prices are, of course, subject to change). Here’s what I came up with (after the jump):

Better Than Takeout

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Now that the fashion makeover is taken care of, and you’re all looking fabulous, I thought it time to share with you my other recent project: cooking. Last year, my job was quite stressful and required working till eight or nine two days a week. The three other weekdays, I was in no mood to deal with grocery shopping or cooking, so I did what we all love to—Takeout! It was fabulous, in a way… delicious food, often bought by my wonderful boyfriend, pizza every week, plenty of leftovers for the late nights, and lunch in ready-made packages every morning from the grocery store. Meanwhile, I watched my waistline and my budget balloon. So when I finally managed to free myself from my miserable job, I set out to learn how to cook. My criteria were (as always) numerous:
1) I needed to be able to make things in 30 minutes or less, because I come home hungry.
2) Recipes needed to be simple and foolproof--no temperamental souffles for me.
2) I did not want to go to the grocery store more than once a week.
3) Meals needed to be low-calorie and nutritious to stop the ballooning. Hello, vegetables!
4) Food should be delicious, so everything had to taste good.
5) Ingredients needed to be affordable, better yet, cheap. No exotic pastes that needed to be tracked down in specialty markets.
6) Variety. Who wants to eat the same thing all the time?

So that was it. I wanted cheap, easy, quick, delicious, healthy food—in essence, takeout from my kitchen, but better. I started by making a list of thirty things that the boyfriend and I like to eat (Variety—check!). Then, I got recipes for those dishes on my favorite website,, (Delicious—check!). Then I compared those to the recipes in the Cooking Light cookbook, and added more vegetables and lean protein to trim down the calories (Healthy—check!). In order to make the recipes less daunting, I re-formatted them to list instructions and ingredients just once, to make times easier to track, and to let me know what pans and temperatures to use right at the top (Easy--check!). Anything that took longer than half an hour got simplified or cut out (at first, I tried to make some exceptions to this rule, but I still haven’t made those dishes, so… Quick—Check!). The last part anyone born after 1965 will find totally crazy—inconceivably, I planned my meals for the month.
That’s right, I made a calendar of meals for thirty days. I grouped together things that used the same fresh ingredients. It allowed me to figure out what basics I could keep in the cupboard or freezer, and what I could shop for fresh once a week. With a finite shopping list, it was easy to stock up and then go to the grocery store just once a week (check!). And from there, it was easy to find the cheapest grocery stores (which I’ll talk about more later).
In case you’re looking for a similar situation, you can see what I came up with here.

Games, Part 2

Recently, we (in the royal sense) managed to deduce that Clue, Settlers of Catan, and Yahtzee are fun if you like computing probabilities, but only then. That's not their only problem, after awhile your friends get tired of losing (as well as playing with someone who ignores them in favor of calculating probabilities). However, there is another genre of games: word games.


This game merely depends on your fuzzy logic abilities to recall names of objects beginning with particular letters. Either you�re good at it or you�re not. You may get better with practice, but it doesn't matter since nobody cares who wins. The fun part is seeing how your friends think, kind of like a constrained Freudian word-association test. Bantering between answers may even rise to the level of non-game-based interaction.


Winning Balderdash depends on your knowledge of obscure words and dictionary style. You can get better at it by reading the dictionary, but again, nobody cares who wins since the fun is in hearing the ridiculous definitions your friends come up with.


This depends on you and your partner either consciously or unconsciously agreeing on a specific kind of clue: synonym, cue word/phrase, etc. This game would be more fun if it let you talk more, like taboo.


This game requires you to describe a word without using certain commonly associated words (like describing baseball without 'base,' 'ball,' 'play,' 'field,' 'hit,' 'bat,' 'home,' 'run,' or 'catch') within a limited amount of time. This also lets you see how your friends think, and what sorts of nervous ticks they develop under pressure. The buzzer is obnoxious and should be foregone in favor of a timekeeper.


An interesting blend of strategy and word games, Scrabble requires you to scramble and unscramble words quickly enough to compute the values for all possible words and choose the statistically best word to play. You must also carefully block your opponent from the triple-word scores and be the first to play (no matter how short the word) when they do open. Always plan to clear your board. Those so choosing can lower the strategy component by narrowing the field of usable words to "foreign language," "naughty," or any other mad libs designation.


Perhaps the most promising of the word games. Someone finally took the average distribution of letters in the English language (a la Scrabble) and made a deck of cards. The possibilities for adapting traditional card games are seemingly endless (poker, gin, rummy, etc.). Gene insists on playing the game according to the rules at least once before exploring the possibilities, but the instructions are so convoluted that we haven't been able to get a group to stay long enough to play it through right.

The Non-Conformists

Word games don't fit so well into the "Never Settle" philosophy of life, but they let me pass time with friends (which is better after all than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick). This still leaves timeless classics like Trivial Pursuit, Pictionary, Memory, Set and Uno, and attractive new possibilities like Cranium, TriBond, Apples to Apples, Loaded Questions, Barbarossa, Mystery of the Abbey, Scene It?, Break the Safe, Clue FX, The Perilous Parlor Game, Smarty Party, Inkognito, Puerto Rico, Quarto, Batik and a host of other potential favorites that move closer and closer to actually doing something with your friends.

Games, Part 1

We're trying something new with formatting. Instead of posting each paragraph as a separate entry, the whole series will be one entry that continues via links. Hope it helps. Some of you may have heard my opinions on games before. I�m not a very big fan. I would nearly always rather discuss strategy with my friend than play against him. The word 'against' may strike some of you as inaccurate, but it�s largely beside the point. The thing I don�t like about games is that you rarely learn anything important about your friends while playing. Many of you also know that this is a fairly game-loving crew. How then will I cope? It remains to be seen, but I have accepted that some playing of games is permissible when one lives close enough to see friends virtually every day (after all, how many meaningful conversations can you have on such a regular basis?). Therefore, I have spent some considerable time and thought recently on game strategies. I think this comes from consistently being the worst player on any team in elementary school, and the consequently desperate fear of having no one to hang out with at recess for lack of skill at games. Some of the strategies seem so fool-proof that I would practically assert them as algorithms for winning, in which case, the games again seem hardly worth playing. But then, what do I know? The following games may be won according to my simple plan:
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This page is an archive of recent entries in the Polemarchus' House in the Piraeus category.

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