The idiots

In the glory that was Greece, Athenians had a name for people who refrained from involving themselves in the public discourse: idiotes. Yes, idiots. Anyone who failed to voice an opinion and cast his ballot was scorned by the citizenry and cast out of society.

Today, in America, a significant portion of our populace claims to be still “undecided” about this year’s presidential candidates. About 3 percent say they plan to vote for Ralph Nader and another 3 percent – 4 percent told pollsters last week that they just can’t make up their minds. It’s hard to believe that anybody paying the slightest bit of attention could not choose between the two candidates running this year-they’re that different-but there is an even more astonishing statistic I heard yesterday.

Only 70 percent of registered voters went to the polls in 2000. A hundred and eleven million votes were cast, but 48 million were missing. The percentages drop sharply if you poll single women: only 56 percent voted in the last presidential election. When asked, “Why not?” nonvoters said they were “too busy” or had “scheduling conflicts” with babysitters, school and jobs.

I hope that we will do better this year. Already, more than 15 percent of U.S. voters have cast absentee ballots. And, there are many more voters registered. The national tally is incomplete, but, in Dade County, Florida where many voters claimed to have been disenfranchised by precinct irregularities in 2000, the Registrar of Voters said new registrations were up 65 percent from four years ago. In the battleground state of Ohio, 600,000 new voters had already registered two weeks before their deadline ended.

But, what of California? I hear people sitting around local coffee houses saying, “What difference does it make if I vote? California’s already decided.” Now, that’s idiotic! If you are registered to vote and you don’t cast a ballot, you have nullified a basic constitutional right our ancestors fought hard to win. So, if you need a babysitter, ask a friend. If you need time off work, just ask-most employers understand. And, if you go to the polls on November second still undecided, please split your decision and don’t vote for president. It’s too important a choice.

All-American Split Pea Soup

Serves 8 – 10

When days were chilly and gardens barren, American pioneers made do with dried beans, smoky meat and a few root vegetables. Split pea soup is a longtime favorite and this one borrows a trick from a 19th century culinary champ of the West, Kit Carson’s wife. She used fresh turkey gunned down by her famous husband and local wild sage to flavor the dish. I found it first in a “Time-Life” cookbook series and, although those books are long gone, the essentials remained in memory. It’s perfect comfort food for election night nerves.


1 bag split-peas, rinsed and soaked half an hour

4 slices bacon, chopped

1 large onion, chopped

1 large carrot, peeled and chopped

2 stalks celery, chopped

3 Yukon potatoes, peeled and grated

1 large can low-salt chicken broth

1 tsp. dried marjoram


1 lb. ground turkey or lean pork

1 1/2 tsp. salt

1 tsp minced sage leaves

1/2 tsp. white pepper

1. In a large Dutch oven, sauté bacon to release fat. Drain and reserve bacon. You may want to add a little butter to the pot.

2. Sauté onion, celery and carrots until soft-5 to 6 minutes.

3. Stir in broth and peas with a few cups of water. Bring to a boil and skim off the surface foam. Add the potatoes and marjoram with a teaspoon of salt. Simmer until tender-about an hour. Purée half the soup and return to the pot with the bacon.

4. Meanwhile, make the meatballs: Use clean hands to combine meat with sage, salt and white pepper in bowl. Knead into 1-inch balls and drop into the pot.

5. Simmer 30 minutes. Correct seasonings. I serve it hot with Jalapeno cheese bread, although sourdough bread and Monterey Jack are traditional.

Variations: You can add smoked turkey or duck instead of meatballs. Top with caramelized onions for extra oomph! Other herbs also work: minced garlic, bay leaves, thyme, oregano, rosemary, even herbes de Provence.