Ask Ceil – Elect a Cookie

Dear Ceil,

What’s the difference between a primary caucus and a primary election in the US? Aren’t they the same thing?

Electable in Emporia

Dear Electable,

They are similar, but different enough to be called two different things by people who care about this sort of stuff. Also, they vary by state. Let’s take a look at the recent Iowa caucus, and the upcoming New Hampshire election.

In the Iowa caucus for the Republican primary this year, voters were to write their choices for presidential candidate on a blank sheet of paper. They may also have been asked to raise their hands, do an impression of their candidate, or perform interpretive dance as a tribute to their candidate’s hair style.

Of course, some of these methods did cause confusion, and as a result voters were stuck in their precincts until after 1:30am, and were made to listen to bad impressions of Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum for hours. Everyone’s an actor.

Anyway, they then count up the votes and release the results to the media. The result is that millions of dollars are spent and candidates who do badly in early caucus states will often end their campaigns.

The result is also non-binding, in Iowa. Nothing that happens in January actually results in actual delegates in favor of actual candidates in the National Convention.

That happens later. See, delegates from the precincts are allocated by candidate and they go to the county convention in March. Then, delegates from the county convention are allocated and then go to the District convention in April. And delegates from the district convention are allocated and then go to the state convention in June. And the delegates at the Iowa State Convention will be allocated and they will go to the GOP National Convention.

We do this because, even though the actual process could probably be accomplished with a conference call and a spreadsheet, we like to spend these early months of an election year beating our presidential candidates to death with interviews, long nights of traveling, too much coffee, and over-zealous followers. We like to take the experience of freely and peaceably selecting our leaders, and suck all the joy and self-respect out of it, leaving petty arguments and sordid personal affairs lying in its wake.

Now, New Hampshire will have an actual primary election. On Tuesday, January 10th, people will vote for a candidate, and the delegates for the national convention will be allocated based on the percentage of the vote that each candidate garnered. Easy peasy.

And that’s why New Hampshire’s motto is “Live free from mind-numbing election cycles, or die.” I am assuming that New Hampshire just wanted to get the whole thing over with, which is why they have chosen to accept a penalty costing them half their national delegates, just so they could have their election so early.

Makes sense to me.


Dear Ceil,

Why are Girl Scout cookies so unfairly delicious?

Losing weight in London

Dear Losing,

The recipes for Girl Scout cookies, particularly for the “Thin Mint”, have been a closely guarded secret for ages. There was once a Girl Scout who, as part of her cooking badge, replicated the Thin Mint recipe almost exactly. Unfortunately, she was put on the Girl Scout front lines and sustained injuries to her sash and hat during a particularly feisty Girl Scout Convention in New Orleans.

Therefore, there is no way to know what is in those tasty, crispy, bite-sized delights. But here’s the thing: How different are they from plain old cookies? Why don’t we just buy Girl Scout knock-offs at the local grocery store? Why do we wait each year—right after New Year’s Resolutions are made, I might add—for that magical sheet with pictures of cookies to show up at the office?

First, if we put a little shiny-faced girl in the cookie aisle of every grocery store, I’m betting we’d buy more cookies as a nation. Who can resist those little pleading eyes, the cheery smile, the tiny little pseudo-military garb? It’s almost too much to stand. Of course you’ll buy cookies. You really have no choice. And if it’s your co-worker bringing the order sheet into the office, you know you’re going to buy at least one box; not so much because you feel obligated, but you know your kid is selling candles or gift wrap or pewter train sets for their school next month, so you better pony up some cash.

Therefore, I theorize that what makes the cookies taste so good is this: After you’ve purchased them, you have to justify spending four dollars on 12 cookies. So you convince yourself that they are simply heaven wrapped in plastic. Transcendant coconut lovingly stuck in caramel, drizzled with chocolate, over a crispy cookie. How hard could it possibly be to convince yourself that this is the best cookie in the world?

Not hard at all. Of course you’ll take a box. You’ll take ten!

So I say that the secret ingredient in Girl Scout cookies is self-delusion. Tasty, tasty self-delusion. With a little chocolate drizzled on top. (Girl Scout cookies… for president!)


Ceil Kessler is very interested in politics of all kinds, especially as a former Girl Scout. She never sold enough cookies to get one of those cool prizes, but over the course of time, she has eaten her own weight in Thin Mints. She is willing to purchase boxes of cookies from any random Girl Scout who can promise her quick shipping. Or you can just give them to Mitt Romney, since he’ll be here in PA in April. He can just drop them off as he flies over.

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