I'm a Yellow Dog Democrat! Steve Bates,
The Yellow Doggerel Democrat
I'm a Yellow Dog Democrat!

for November 2006 (cont'd)


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Old Technology, Cool Technology

The Antikythera mechanism:

It all adds up: Artifact was a computer
2,100-year-old device was used as a calculator by Greek astronomers
Los Angeles Times

After a century of study, scientists have unlocked the secrets of a mysterious 2,100-year-old device known as the "Antikythera mechanism," showing it to be a complex and uncannily accurate astronomical computer.

The mechanism, recovered in more than 80 highly corroded fragments from a sunken Roman ship, could predict the positions of the sun and planets, show the location of the moon and even forecast eclipses.

The international team of scientists reported today that the device, the earliest known example of an arrangement of gear wheels, shows a technological sophistication that was not seen again until clockwork mechanisms were introduced in the 14th century.


Coins on the ship suggest it sank shortly after 85 B.C. The new study suggests that the Antikythera mechanism predates the sinking by 15 to 20 years.


Two dials on the front show the zodiac and a calendar of the days of the year that can be adjusted for leap years, while metal pointers show the positions in the zodiac of the sun, moon and five planets known in antiquity. Two spiral dials on the back show the cycles of the moon and predict eclipses.


The identity of the maker will probably remain a mystery — there is no signature apparent on the device. But the astronomical information incorporated in the gears clearly is based on the calculations of the Greek astronomer Hipparchus, who worked on Rhodes from about 140 B.C. to about 120 B.C.


Be sure to view the pictures, both the photo of a corroded part and the computer rendering. And if there are any s/f authors out there, sharpen your keyboards and get to work; you won't find any better seed for your next novel than this one.

Blogging may be sparse for a day or so (except for cat blogging; I do intend to do that). Thanks for your patience.


The Meaning Of Freedom

Bill Moyers explains at West Point. Need I say more?


Props To Maliki?

No, not "props" as in proper respect... "props" as in things you use to hold up something really shaky. That's what Stephen Hadley recommended to Bush in a secret memo on Nov. 8:


The memo suggests that if Mr. Maliki fails to carry out a series of specified steps, it may ultimately be necessary to press him to reconfigure his parliamentary bloc, a step the United States could support by providing “monetary support to moderate groups,” and by sending thousands of additional American troops to Baghdad to make up for what the document suggests is a current shortage of Iraqi forces. (Text of the Memo)


Read the memo. Whatever you think of Hadley's assessment, consider his proposal:

If it is Maliki’s assessment that he does not have the capability — politically or militarily — to take the steps outlined above, we will need to work with him to augment his capabilities. We could do so in two ways. First, we could help him form a new political base among moderate politicians from Sunni, Shia, Kurdish and other communities. ... Second, we need to provide Maliki with additional forces of some kind.

George W. Bush... bringing "democracy" to the Middle East, one puppet at a time.

Meanwhile, Houston has its own bit of excitement in the War on Terra:


To their friends and families, Williams, 33, and Mirza, 29, were enthusiastic college students dedicated to God and family.

But Justice Department officials presented a shockingly different view of the men Tuesday, branding both as Taliban supporters — one contributing $350 to terrorists — who conspired to train with weapons with the goal of fighting U.S.-led forces in the Mideast.

Williams, a University of Houston-Downtown student also known as Abdul Kabeer or Abdul Kabir, pleaded guilty to the accusations Tuesday before U.S. District Judge Ewing Werlein Jr. Scheduled for sentencing on Feb. 23, he faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Mirza, a Pakistani national who was in the country on an expired student visa, faces the same potential penalty if convicted. Additionally, he has been indicted on three firearms charges, each of which could bring a 10-year sentence and a $250,000 fine upon conviction.

"While these subjects did not operate at a high level of sophistication in comparison with Sept. 11 hijackers, the expressed goal was to aid the Taliban by training to carry out jihad against coalition troops in the Middle East," FBI Special Agent in Charge Roderick Beverly said in a statement.


I'm glad they caught these guys, but face it, they're small potatoes. Otherwise, why would the U.S. attorney have to mention "Sept. 11" or "9/11" at least twice in his announcement to convince us of what bad dudes they are? I'll continue to follow the case, primarily to see whether Bush and company allow due process to take its course. It sounds from the announcement as if they have the goods on these men; one has already confessed (apparently voluntarily, though one never knows) to one count of conspiracy to aid the Taliban, and the other, a Pakistani in the U.S. on an expired student visa, has also been indicted on firearms charges, something I would think would be easy to prove in court. Will Bush trust the judicial process, or will he intervene to declare the men "enemy combatants"? Stay tuned...


Centrism Defined

Here. Here. Here. Here. And here.

But not here.

I agree that there's a real problem with pundits, columnists, raving radio talk show hosts, politicians of the most extreme variety, and even occasionally bloggers proclaiming themselves "centrist." It's tiresome, seldom sheds light on the discussion at hand, and, worst of all, is an essentially meaningless concept used by people who want to feel good about themselves for occupying some sort of ground which they imply is the consensus view.

Bullshit. There is no consensus view in America or in the world. One-dimensional classifications that run straight from The Left (always capitalized; it's obligatory to lump everyone together) to The Right are no better: they are simply nowhere nearly representative of political reality, and they are most certainly not marked with a consensus zero point.

Create a system in 2-space or 3-space or n-space, and you may have satisfied a human need in yourself to draw a distinction, but you haven't said anything real about society or politics. In the past, I've taken the "Political Compass" test and discussed the results with a very conservative friend. What I learned most of all from that experience is how differently we interpret the axes, quadrants etc. To him, all Democrats fall in the "authoritarian" half-plane... this from a member of the Party of the Unitary Executive. Go figure. If you can't even agree on what the axes mean, you're lost before you start.

So if you want centrism defined or meaningfully discussed, I cannot help you. You'll have to go to one of those famous blogs linked above. Enjoy your stay, but remember that since Einstein's day, the universe appears to have no preferred frame of reference. Everyone is at his or her own center. No frame... not Kevin's, not Digby's, not Duncan's, not Ezra's, not Jane's, not any unspecified conservative blogger's, not yours and not mine... can claim the "centrist" designation.

Can we all just forget the term?


Bracelet Lacks Charm

SCRAM! No, not you, dear reader...

Sherman L. Harris knows alcohol has caused problems in his life. After struggling with the bottle for five years, he was arrested for assaulting his estranged wife, and his 28-year marriage ended.

But the Houston man turned a corner earlier this year when a state district judge ordered him to wear a bracelet to ensure he did not drink. Today, he is sober and thankful for the technology's impact on his life.

Known as the Secure Continuous Remote Alcohol Monitor — or, more commonly, a SCRAM bracelet — the device is strapped to an offender's ankle 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to monitor whether the person has consumed any alcohol.


"I think the drinking issues in the Harris County area could support hundreds of defendants being on SCRAM. ... We could probably surpass Dallas," said Clarence Douglas, a retired Houston Police Department homicide sergeant now distributing SCRAM bracelets locally for Recovery Healthcare Corp.


Alcohol consumption or attempts to obstruct the device's measuring capabilities are immediately reported via computer, and local authorities are notified.

"This is not based upon a new scientific foundation — this is based upon over 70 years of scientific research," said Lisa Fellows, vice president of customer services for Alcohol Monitoring Systems.

The readings offer a round-the-clock glimpse into the offender's life.

"We can tell when they're asleep. We can tell when they get up. A lot of times, we can tell when they've showered. And that's because of the variations in the temperature," Fellows told local probation officials and attorneys at a conference promoting the tool in Houston earlier this year.


... "So be good, for goodness' sake! Oh, ya better watch out, ya better not cry..."

See the article for a photo. The thing looks like something I plug into my digital piano when I want to play late at night.

The article was less than clear about whether the connection was via the internet or was simply a direct dialup to an in-house system, with no internet involved. Either way, I do hope they remembered to encrypt the data.

On its face, this seems to me an expensive, stupid boondoggle. To be sure, it is only an option, but I know Texas judges: it is an option that some judges will abuse, e.g., requiring the bracelet in cases in which alcohol is in no way involved in the alleged offense. And once again, there is a differential effect on people with the money to support the bracelet and those without the money; only the former may go free.

I can't fault the intent of a judge who orders the use of this device in an alcohol-related case. No doubt we need to prevent drunk drivers from killing people; an activist colleague of mine was killed year before last when a drunk driver hit him while he was bicycling. No doubt there are many cases of spousal abuse that are primarily alcohol-driven. "Demon rum" can be a factor in the commission of crimes; I'm not so naive as to think otherwise.

But it is important, with the SCRAM as with tasers, red-light cameras, location monitoring bracelets, etc., to remember that technology does not "solve" the problem. A chronic runner of red lights is not cured by being nailed by technology. A dry drunk may still be a sociopath; the Decider-in-Chief is evidence of that. Stopping an unruly suspect by using a taser (especially in a crowded place such as a university library) does not defuse the underlying conflict, unless the tasered suspect dies. Technology can go only so far in mitigating problems that will always be faced by the police and the criminal justice system. We must not let the purveyors of these devices seduce us into thinking we have really solved anything by using these technologies. Police must still do real police work. Courts must still see to the human monitoring of parolees, probationers and those free on bond. There is no free lunch.


Bush Unfazed By Reality

What world does that man live in?

Bush: No withdrawal until Iraq is stabilized
Associated Press

RIGA, Latvia — President Bush, under pressure to change direction in Iraq, said today he will not be persuaded by any calls to withdraw American troops before the country is stabilized.

"There's one thing I'm not going to do, I'm not going to pull our troops off the battlefield before the mission is complete," he said in a speech setting the stage for high-stakes meetings with the Iraqi prime minister later this week. "We can accept nothing less than victory for our children and our grandchildren."


Meanwhile, back in the world of the reasonably sane...

Upon further review, NBC calls it civil war
Associated Press

NBC News on Monday began referring to the Iraq conflict as a civil war, adopting a phrase that President Bush and many other news organizations have avoided.

Matt Lauer said on the Today show that "after careful consideration, NBC News has decided that a change in terminology is warranted, that the situation in Iraq with armed militarized factions fighting for their own political agendas can now be characterized as civil war."

The common scholarly definition has two main criteria. The first says that the warring groups must be from the same country and fighting for control of the political center, control over a separatist state or to force a major change in policy.

The second says that at least 1,000 people must have been killed in total, with at least 100 from each side.


The article follows with a definition of "civil war" from Webster's. Reasonable people hardly need a dictionary definition to see that Iraq is experiencing a civil war, and that America's troops are caught in the middle, targeted by almost all Iraqi parties to the conflict, and unwelcome in the eyes of an overwhelming majority of Iraqis, as recent polls have shown. NBC is merely catching up with the status on the ground. As Juan Cole said on Sunday, "As for a fear of civil war, that cow has been out of the barn for some time."

Mr. Bush, however, is not a reasonable person. Bush is both selfish and self-preoccupied, and is utterly certain, quite literally beyond all reason, that the world must conform to his concept of it. Indeed, he clearly meets the casual definition of insanity usually attributed to Einstein: Bush does the same things over and over, expecting a different result. In many people, such behavior is harmless. In Bush, it has the potential to inflame the entire Middle East region.

As for "our children and our grandchildren," heaven help us all if the twins ever reproduce. (Actually, though, maybe their dad could join them in Argentina. I understand that nation has a history of not being picky about hosting war criminals.)


Lazy Day Book Blogging: Hornet's Nest

I'm too lazy this evening to blog politics, but I won't stray far from my typical themes...

Former President Carter, a serious history buff, has written a history masquerading as a novel. The Hornet's Nest (see LibraryThing in the right sidebar for a link) genuinely involves the reader in a detailed story of a family's lives in Philadelphia and in North Carolina in prerevolutionary times (and I presume during the American Revolution itself, though I haven't gotten that far yet). Carter appears to have done his homework, and I am learning a lot; before this book, I've encountered very little in print about life in the South in that period. If Carter's depiction is accurate, a much greater percentage of people in the colonies were deeply involved in what we would call politics or social issues than we find among Americans today. I'd like to think our forebears were in fact a bunch of activists, but I'll defer to any historians among you on that matter.

If this book has a problem, it is length... length of the book, length of speeches made in supposedly casual conversations, length of sentences and paragraphs, etc. A more experienced novelist might get away with this, but I get the sense that Carter wrote a very different kind of book, then adapted it to fiction reluctantly and with difficulty. In the preface he thanks his editors for pressing him to overcome his great reluctance and omit large portions of the original manuscript. I shudder to think what it would be like if he had not done so: had the book been an additional half-inch or inch thick, I would very likely not be reading it today.

On the plus side, Carter has not attempted dialects (other than to insert the obligatory "thee" and "thou" into the mouths of Quakers), and while he avoids 21st-century American English idioms, he also avoids faking the speech of past centuries.

Carter has written, if I recall correctly, a couple of dozen books. I've read and enjoyed two others, one on aging and the other... well, I don't remember the other. I'll let you know whether I finish The Hornet's Nest or abandon it in my rush to return to the junk fiction I usually read.


Poetic Justice?

We retort, you deride:

Wild turkey crashes Thanksgiving celebration
Associated Press

BLOOMINGTON, Minn. — Most Thanksgiving turkeys are carried in through the front door. But one broke through Sandy Cobbs' dining room window.

On Thursday, Cobbs was in her kitchen preparing sweet potatoes and vegetables when she heard a thunderous crash. Her husband, Bill, tried to hustle the bird back outside, but it bounced off some more windows and retreated to a big pot of orchids. Police finally herded the bloody bird out the deck doors.

"It's terrible. My house is a disaster!" Sandy Cobbs said Friday, glass still littering the bloody carpet in her dining room. "I just couldn't believe it was Thanksgiving and there was a live turkey in my house."

Worse yet, it was the second time it happened. Police Sgt. Mike Roepke confirmed that on Christmas Day in 2004, a turkey came through the same window.


"At first I thought my buffet fell over. It was so loud and kept crashing," Cobbs said. "I went in there and said, 'Not again. Not again.' He was huge — 2 or 3 feet tall."


Sounds like a B movie plot to me...


They Also Serve

... who only stand to be called up for military active duty at my age or older.

Via ellroon, in turn via a Kos diary by yoduuuh do or do not and some of its commenters, we have video at ABC and CBS about a 59-year-old grandmother in the Air Force Reserve, a nurse, who has been called up for a minimum four-month tour in a hospital in Afghanistan.

"No big deal," she says, and you have to admire her courage in being willing to go, which both videos make clear she is. But she also remarks, while painting a wooden fence in a scene that could have come from Tom Sawyer, that she is not the first grandparent to be called up. If so... if this has become routine and we have not been made aware of it in boldface capital letters by our press and media... there's something besides a fence being whitewashed.

Fifty-nine is no longer considered aged, and there are 59-year-old reservists who have kept themselves in shape and might be able to serve admirably. (We won't talk about the rest of us in that age bracket, reservists or otherwise.) Those people should indeed be called up... when the invading hordes are landing on America's beaches and/or metaphorically scaling the walls of America's cities, not when Bush's ego needs another boost or the GOP's political fortunes are in the tank. What in the world are the Bushies thinking? Did they suggest this to the Pentagon, or order it, or simply place so much pressure on our military that they decided to resort to placing near-sexagenarians in war zones?

If you are a voice for sanity, please tell everyone you know about this. Oh, and Bryan, if you still have your old uniforms, you'd better try them on, just in case...


Sometimes You Win One

Sort of...

Calif. Judge Blocks Raids on Homeless Camps

By Olivia Munoz
Associated Press
Friday, November 24, 2006; Page A06

FRESNO, Calif. -- When city workers tore down her hillside encampment, Charlene Clay lost her asthma medicine, her sleeping bags and her only photos of her dead granddaughter.

The people living there weren't warned, she said. Within minutes, all that remained were the tire tracks of a dump truck, crumpled tents and a few stray belongings.


The American Civil Liberties Union and the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law are suing the city on the behalf of Clay and five others. They are asserting that police and sanitation workers violated the rights of the homeless for the past three years by defining their property as trash and bulldozing their encampments.

This week, they won a major victory.

U.S. District Judge Oliver W. Wanger, calling Fresno's policy regarding homeless people's property "dishonest and demeaning," granted a preliminary injunction Wednesday ordering the city to stop seizing and destroying homeless people's property without warning while the civil rights lawsuit winds through the courts.

"Persons cannot be punished because of their status," the judge said. "They cannot be denied their constitutional rights because of their appearance, because they are impoverished, because they are squatters, because they are, in effect, voiceless."


You know, mean people suck.

Back in the day of the sainted Ronald Reagan, I rode my bicycle to work. It was one of the few outdoor physical activities open to me, and it was a great pleasure. My route took me along a hike-and-bike trail that ran beside Brays Bayou, under several bridges. As the great upward redistribution of wealth proceeded, more and more people lived under those bridges. Bridges over Brays Bayou were apparently prized because they would accommodate at most one or two residents each, and were less liable to be noticed during the periodic sweeps by city officials that sometimes removed people en masse from the downtown areas under freeway bridges. The Brays Bayou bridges had another advantage: they were close to the Texas Medical Center, where some of the homeless people found employment. How do I know they were employed? Because they had alarm clocks beside their sleeping bags. What other reasonable explanation is there?

Let me rub it in: these people were employed but homeless... in 20th-century America.

I recall discussing a similar incident with a friend who is both conservative and Christian (though I would hesitate to call him a "conservative Christian" in the sense the phrase is used today). By intent a good and decent person, he nonetheless responded to my assertion that society has an interest in using the government to prevent poverty (or at least not exacerbate it) by putting on his best Bible-quoting voice and sententiously informing me "the poor shall always be with us." Indeed they shall... if our governments commit acts like those in Fresno.

I suppose there are more mean-spirited acts than abusing homeless people, but it's right up there in my list of deplorable behavior. And it must have required a heart of stone to forcibly prevent those homeless people in Fresno from gathering their few belongings before their tents were leveled and taken away as trash. As I said, mean people suck.

Note that this isn't a final victory; the judge has merely enjoined the city of Fresno from trashing and seizing homeless people's property while the ACLU lawsuit proceeds through the courts.

Poverty and homelessness await us all in America. They stand near our doorsteps, waiting for the one uninsured medical disaster, the one job loss, the one death of a household's breadwinner, the one deployment of a spouse to Iraq for a third time, that will push us out that door and into the street. One may see a homeless person and mutter, "there but for the grace of God go I," but God's grace has absolutely nothing to do with it. Homelessness is an artifact of societal decisions; to the extent that we are self-governed, homelessness is a product of our decision to allow it. Fresno is no worse in this regard than Houston or any other city: faced with a genuine tragedy among its poorest citizens, these cities choose to hide the symptom rather than address the problem.

Did I mention that mean people really do suck?


Post-Feast Contentment Blogging

Tabitha and Stella, the picture of contentment...

For what it's worth, the Tofurky delighted Stella and me; we would gladly repeat the next time we cook a holiday meal of our own. Tabitha and Samantha, on the other hand, insisted on the real bird.


Happy T-Day -- DOGGEREL!

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and Stella and I, having for once no huge family or friendly gathering to go to, are gathering the two of us at her place, where we intend to cook and consume a Tofurky. Yes, it's made with tofu, and it's certified both vegan and parve, so how bad can it be? Don't answer that. This is the first time we've tried the product; I'll let you know how it turns out.

All of us have a lot to be thankful for this year, especially Democrats, but Americans generally; it's time to pause and enumerate some of the good things in our lives. With a deep bow in the direction of the grave of the sainted Ogden Nash, whose works I freely confess I've been reading too much of lately...

Happy T-Day

Happy T-Day to all of you, whether your "T" stands for
   Thanksgiving, or turkey, or even Tofurky...

Be thankful, if you're celebrating at home, that you're not
   in Iraq being given the bird, and a plastic bird at that,
   by someone who has no sense of when it is inappropriate
   to be smirky.

Be grateful you're not in the stocks,
Even if your ancestors are Ellis Island's descendants
   and not Plymouth Rock's,
Which rock is, like the Liberty Bell and the
   current Executive, more than a little cracked.

Be thankful, no matter who you backed
In 2000 or 2002 or 2004 or even 2006, that in 2008,
   King George will be required to abdicate,
And that Dick, because of the state of his health,
   is unlikely to succeed George,
   no matter what kind of miracle tab Dick ate.

Be thankful you can put food on your family,
And that Jack Abramoff and many of his
   bought-and-paid-for congressmen are no longer in
   a position to continue treating you scammily.

Be thankful if the TV on which you watch sports or movies
   after dinner is widescreen and hi-res;
Be grateful also that your daughter's purse was not
   stolen in Buenos Aires.

Most of all, give thanks if you and your family
   are safe and warm and adequately clothed,
   housed and fed...

And not yet dead!

Steve Bates


Abraham, Martin And John

Bryan reminded me of the day, and that reminded me of the song. This performance, one of the best in my opinion, is by Dion, on the Smothers Brothers show:

Everyone alive that day remembers. I remember: 10th grade, geometry class, leftmost column of seats, second seat. Over the P.A.: “The president… [a pause while the principal regained his composure]… has been shot.” A short time later came the announcement of JFK’s death. Social and political transformation by assassination has seldom been as effective as it was that day. None of us lived… none of us has lived, in all the decades since that day… in the same world, the same America as we did the day before.

The song fills a need for me. I need to be reminded that America has survived and can survive even the most heinous of acts, and the most parlous of times.

(Post adapted from my comment on Bryan's site.)


Election 2006: Incompetently Hacked?

Someone thinks so:

Clear Evidence 2006 Congressional
Elections Hacked

By Rob Kall
OpEd News
Friday 17 November 2006
Results skewed nationwide in favor of Republicans by 4 percent, 3 million votes.

A major undercount of Democratic votes and an overcount of Republican votes in US House and Senate races across the country is indicated by an analysis of national exit polling data, by the Election Defense Alliance (EDA), a national election integrity organization.

These findings have led EDA to issue an urgent call for further investigation into the 2006 election results and a moratorium on deployment of all electronic election equipment.

"We see evidence of pervasive fraud, but apparently calibrated to political conditions existing before recent developments shifted the political landscape," said attorney Jonathan Simon, co-founder of Election Defense Alliance, "so 'the fix' turned out not to be sufficient for the actual circumstances." Explained Simon, "When you set out to rig an election, you want to do just enough to win. The greater the shift from expectations, (from exit polling, pre-election polling, demographics) the greater the risk of exposure - of provoking investigation. What was plenty to win on October 1 fell short on November 7.


I don't know how much credence to give the particular group. And appears to be less a news site than a left-of-center opinion site; it even contains... gasp... a blog, and we all know how unreliable blogs are. But as ongoing evidence piles up over the course of three elections that there is not merely vote-tampering (hardly shocking) but systematic vote fraud perpetrated using electronic voting systems, I find it difficult to ignore claims, from many different sources, that statistically the exit polls just don't point to the end results in recent elections... and that the fault may well not lie with the exit polls.

I suppose I could shrug and take obnoxious asshole Hugh Hewitt's book title (sorry; no link from here to assholes) as my motto: if it isn't close, they can't cheat. "It" wasn't close. "They" may or may not have tried to cheat, but if they did, it didn't work. Too many voting Americans were fed up.

But I cannot find it in myself to view it that way. Seeing the whole election process in terms of the outcome of a single election is shortsighted at best. At worst, it's unprincipled. Why should anyone be allowed to get away with widespread, systematic cheating?

Until the past few American elections, election fraud was committed by simple means: ballots disappeared, or extra ballots mysteriously came to light; voters of one party were intimidated at or on their way to the polls (the "William Rehnquist Memorial Method"); older voting machines mysteriously "malfunctioned" at particular polling places; investigators examining the voter rolls could sometimes say, "I see dead people," and so on. These means of fraud have, of course, not disappeared. They are and were well-known, at least some protections against them were instituted, and in some cases, thanks to the protections, fraud was either prevented or detected.

Enter the electronic voting system, a product of corporate America, with its proprietary software and its security features demonstrably full of holes. As I read papers about those holes... and I'm not talking about blogs spewing overheated rhetoric; I'm talking about papers by computer scientists at Stanford, Rice, Princeton and other name-brand places... I am increasingly convinced that the holes were introduced deliberately, and that they have been, and will continue to be, exploited.

At present, all electronic voting systems manufacturers I know of, including Diebold, Sequoia, ES&S, Hart InterCivic, etc. are unabashed corporate supporters of the GOP. Were the security holes included with the GOP in mind? It seems more than possible to me. But as the great Sylvanus P. Thompson wrote in his textbook Calculus Made Easy (the book from which I taught myself calculus as an adolescent), "What one fool can do, another can." Indeed. Anyone who thinks systematic fraud using electronic voting systems is a purely partisan problem hasn't thought much about the history of politics in America. Specifically, if GOPers think this problem will never come back to bite them in the butt sometime in the future, they're indulging in (yet another) fantasy.

Can a genuinely fair, accurate and secure electronic voting system be designed and made? I don't know. (I seem to have more questions than answers this evening.)

Some say that open software is the answer, and I agree that open software is of great benefit in refining software to thwart potential hackers... "security by obscurity" has never been effective in deterring hackers for any significant period of time, and open source software can be reviewed by many intelligent eyes for potential vulnerabilities. But the security problem is more than just well- or ill-designed software: literally hundreds of thousands of people are involved in the production of any national election, and some must inevitably have access to the internals of whatever process and technology are used... starting with the manufacturers, who not only make the systems but distribute the software, electronic ballots, etc. to be used in a particular election. They can consciously commit fraud if they wish, and few people downstream of them are qualified to detect that fraud. Local election officials may be willing participants in fraud, or (as I suspect is far more common) they can be the unwitting purveyors of frauds already committed upstream.

Some say that a paper trail is the answer. I agree it's a start; a paper trail, verified by individual voters and maintained in a strict chain of custody after the election, has the potential to prevent some kinds of fraud... but only if the election results are so egregiously out of sync as to provoke a hand recount from the paper trail. Elections that appear to be off by a few percent... and according to the EDA, this was such an election... may never be questioned. The message to potential cheaters? Cheat a little, not a lot; you'll probably win, and you're far less likely to get caught.

Some say that there will never be a perfect election, that some errors and some fraud are inevitable. I agree with them, too... but when that statement is used as an excuse for ignoring persistent, system-wide problems, I am disgusted. We have to try, or else stop claiming we have a representative democracy.

The GOP repeatedly emphasizes individual voter fraud. Curiously, according to them, this happens only in majority Democratic districts, and justifies massive voter roll purges. Everything I've read suggests that such fraud is actually very rare, limited only to... Ann Coulter. Seriously, I've read a lot, and what I've read suggests that individual voter fraud is too small to turn even relatively close elections, while voter roll purges have a significant effect. Otherwise, why would Republican secretaries of state bother to perform them?

In any case, systemic fraud perpetrated using rigged electronic voting systems has the potential to overwhelm all other kinds of election fraud combined. The worst part is that voters have a legitimate basis for mistrusting such equipment. Remember that any voting system and any voting technology must meet two criteria: they must be fair and accurate, and they must be perceived by voters as fair and accurate. The confidence of the electorate is essential. Some years ago, I shared the confidence most voters felt in the system in use: while I may have been very disappointed in the outcome of a particular race, I could console myself that the people had spoken, and resign myself to dealing with their choice. That's how it's supposed to be.

Now I cannot muster that confidence. The fact that Democrats overwhelmingly won the midterm elections does not mitigate my dismay that the results may have been rigged anyway... incompetently rigged, but rigged nonetheless... against Democrats. Democrats may well have had an even greater victory than appearances suggest. The damnable thing is that I'll never know, and neither will you.

To wrap up this rambling post, I favor a return to old-style paper ballots, hand-marked, with a strict chain of custody of both unmarked and marked ballots, and careful observation of the counting process by all parties concerned. It is an imperfect system, as are all systems, but its flaws and vulnerabilities are well-known from centuries of use. I am willing to consider "advanced" voting technologies, but only if they are proved valid by an independent agreed-upon procedure, and all significant issues of their use in actual elections are nailed down in advance. This business of accrediting voting systems just because they have not been proved invalid has got to stop: the burden of proof must rest on the purveyors of the systems, not on the government's election officials. Until then, forget it. The electronic voting systems we have now are an open invitation to steal elections, and it appears some people are responding to that invitation in the affirmative. For now, at least, until far better technologies are available, let's shut the thieves down... let's return to paper ballots.


The Good Die Young

From a Washington Post obit:

Linda Williams, 57, Expert on Race and Gender at U-Md.

By Joe Holley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 2, 2006; Page B07

Linda Faye Williams, 57, a political scientist at the University of Maryland and an expert on race and gender politics, died of a heart attack Oct. 16 at Montgomery General Hospital in Olney. She was a Rockville resident.

A former professor at Howard University, Dr. Williams also held positions with the Congressional Black Caucus and the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies.

"Of all the major organizations in the African American community, I can't think of one that her research doesn't touch," said Lorenzo Morris, a political scientist at Howard University.

She wrote numerous articles and books, including "Constraint of Race: Legacies of White Skin Privilege in America" (2004), which won three national book awards, including one from the American Political Science Association for the year's best book on race, ethnicity and politics.


Williams was a classmate of mine in my undergraduate days at Rice. Everyone on campus recognized her, in part because Rice had so few African American students back then, having been desegregated only two years before I began my studies there. (The phrase "like white on Rice" took on a different meaning in those days.)

I did not know Williams well; I believe I had only one real conversation with her, over coffee, at the student center. She was quiet-spoken and congenial, just as some described her in the obit, but clearly this was an instance of the old adage that still water runs deep. Apart from the intimations of one's own mortality implicit in the death of a classmate about one's own age, I regret that, with Williams's death, our nation has lost one of its foremost political scholars addressing an issue that is still unresolved 230 years after our nation's founding.

R.I.P., Linda Williams.


Two Videos And A Blogiversary

You'll thank me... and someone else mentioned below... if you take the time to view these videos:

  • Keith Olbermann on the lessons of the Vietnam war that Bush didn't learn;
  • Richard Dreyfuss, on Bill Maher's show, reminding us of the reality of sustaining a free society by teaching civics and genuine debate and dissent: in short, teach it or lose it.

The substantive content of this post is blatantly ripped off almost in its entirety from Bryan's blog, Why Now?. Without Bryan's post, I probably would never have noticed these two essential videos. And thus it is with so many events and issues: I learn of them first at Bryan's blog. Today is Bryan's second blogiversary; please go thank him for entering the community of bloggers. Bryan, I hope you blog for a long, long time to come.


Book Blogging: Rivals Of Sherlock Holmes

Do you love Sherlock Holmes? Have you read Conan Doyle's "canon," all the stories and novels Conan Doyle wrote about Holmes? twice? three times? more? It's twice, in my case.

Do you enjoy reading the "canon" in facsimile editions of The Strand magazine, with Sidney Paget's evocative illustrations, the way most 19th-century readers first encountered the stories? Such facsimiles are available in recent reprints, cheap... there's no reason not to read them, if you love the Holmes stories.

If you are as fond of the original Holmes as I am, please be aware that Conan Doyle was not the only one writing "consulting detective" fiction in the late 19th century. He was arguably the best, the most imaginative, the most craftsmanly writer of such stories, but he was anything but unique in the Victorian era. Fortunately for us, in 1978, Alan K. Russell collected works by those other writers in Rivals of Sherlock Holmes. (For bibliographic info, in this and other book blogging posts, please click the link in the LibraryThing in the right sidebar.)

In some ways, the book's title is an oxymoron. Almost by definition, Sherlock Holmes has no rival. But if you hunger for additional similar stories from the period, stories well-written by authors capable of good craft and clever plots, published in the magazine format of the period, this work is for you. Better still, it's available cheap; click through the links to, say, Amazon. Best of all... there's a second volume, collected and published by Russell in 1979. I haven't read it yet, and I look forward to reading it once I've recovered from reading the first volume... that was a lot of rather long stories!


It's Baaaaack...

AP via Houston Chronicle:

Toys for Tots decides to take Bible-quoting Jesus dolls
Associated Press

LOS ANGELES — The Marine Reserves' Toys for Tots program has decided to accept a donation of Bible- quoting Jesus dolls, reversing course after saying earlier this week that it couldn't take them.

"The talking Jesus doll issue has been resolved," the organization announced on its Web site Wednesday. "Toys for Tots has found appropriate places for these items. We have notified the donor of our willingness to handle this transaction."

The short note on the Web site did not explain what it would do with the dolls.



IIIIII... don't care if it rains or freezes,
Long as I got my talkin' Jesus
Sittin' in the box beneath the tree;
Through the box, kids hear him preachin';
Sorry, boys, forget beseechin',
You can't have him, girls... this one's for me!

- SB the YDD          

Add a few hundred verses, and we may have a country classic.



Houston Chronicle:

Nov. 19, 2006, 2:38AM
As rumors fly over why Shelley Sekula-Gibbs' staff left, experts say she's hurt her chances for '08 Rough week on the Hill

By MICHELLE MITTELSTADT and EUN KYUNG KIM Copyright 2006 Houston Chronicle Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON — Six days ago, Shelley Sekula-Gibbs stood on the House floor, basking in the applause of colleagues who welcomed the 109th Congress' newest — and final — member.

Refusing to be hemmed in by a term that spans only a few weeks, the Houston Republican vowed to accomplish much: help cut taxes, fix a broken immigration system and battle terrorism.

But in less than a week, her star has been badly tarnished by an odd series of actions, and she's been lampooned on Web sites, talk radio and in gossip columns.

Though the punch lines will quickly fade, political insiders say Sekula-Gibbs has done serious — if not irreparable — damage to her hopes of reclaiming the 22nd Congressional District seat in two years.

"She has mortally damaged herself for '08," said Bill Miller, an Austin media consultant who works for clients in both parties. "She has embarrassed herself. She has embarrassed Republicans. She's done a first-class job of ruining any prospective chance she had of winning that race."


What goes around, comes around. You can play hardball, but you can't pound people with the bat or spike them with your shoe. I'm not gloating; I'm just saying that there is no one more deserving than Rep. Sekula-Gibbs. Heh. Hehheh. Hehhehhehheh. Bwahahahahahah...


Only Bush Can Go To Vietnam

Only a hard-edged president who has already proved his steely resolve in wartime could go to Vietnam on a mission of something-or-other. Only Nixon could go to China, and only Bush can go to Vietnam. That's why Bush, a man who who declined his country's invitation to attend the Vietnam war, is the first president to go to Vietnam since the war there... right?

Ah... wrong. President Clinton beat him to it.

And what did Bush say are the lessons of the Vietnam war? Oh my. Just take a look:

Asked if the US defeat in Vietnam held lessons for the situation in Iraq, Mr Bush answered: "We tend to want there to be instant success in the world, and the task in Iraq is going to take a while.

"It's just going to take a long period of time for the ideology that is hopeful - and that is an ideology of freedom - to overcome an ideology of hate," he said in Hanoi, where he will attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (Apec) summit.

"We'll succeed," he added, "unless we quit."

Who says Bush can't learn from his mistakes? At least he is finally admitting that it is all about ideology. The first step to recovery is to admit you have a problem.

I certainly hope "young tiger" is a compliment in Vietnamese culture. From Bloomberg:

"You're like a young tiger, and I look forward to continuing to work to make sure our bilateral relations are close," Bush told Vietnam's President Nguyen Minh Triet today as Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation members gathered in Hanoi for this weekend's annual summit.

But wait... there's more:

Still, Bush couldn't avoid the Iraq questions and, in his answers, he sought to promote the future of the U.S.-Vietnam relationship while at the same time painting the Iraq conflict as part of a larger struggle.

"We tend to want there to be instant success in the world, and the task in Iraq is going to take a while," Bush said. "But I would make it beyond just Iraq. I think the great struggle we're going to have is between radicals and extremists versus people who want to live in peace, and that Iraq is a part of the struggle."

In Bush's mind, it's not just Iraq: it's the grand battle between good and evil. That's why he insists on a final big push in Iraq, and plans to send another 20,000 troops. The linked Think Progress article explains, to anyone who is listening, what happened to the last "big push" in Iraq last summer. But Tony Snow tells us that the wars in Iraq and Vietnam are "not comparable."

In other news, this year, Bush plans, after his secret "surprise" Thanksgiving visit to American troops in Iraq, to make his departure by helicopter from the roof of the Al-Rashid Hotel...


Book Blogging

This blog purports to be a political blog, and often enough it is. It's also a personal blog, and occasionally verges on being a technology blog for brief moments. In the case of this post, it's a bit of the last two. Sometimes I've simply had enough of politics for one day (or one week... rarely longer than a week, though), and I feel a need to do something else for a while. Wo/man does not live by outrage alone.

I love dead tree publications. I have an unaccountable fondness for the medium itself, a visual fondness for the clarity of print on paper compared to print on a computer display, and a tactile fondness for the book itself, whether hefty hardbound volume or insubstantial paperback in an advanced state of decay. I love holding books. I love reading books. For better or worse, I am a bibliophile, quite apart from my insatiable need for content.

Once I had a discussion with a librarian friend (and occasional colleague), the kind of librarian who deals directly with collections of rare and old books, manuscripts, musical scores etc., about what texts we would require printed or handwritten on paper, and what other texts we would be willing to have access to only in digitized form, as text or as images. She was also at the time an active performing musician. Both of us have sufficiently antiquarian inclinations to prefer hands-on access to old publications, or facsimiles of same... in my days as a musician, I frequently performed from really bad photocopies of original 17th- and 18th-century manuscripts or printed works, works old enough that I had to learn to read the notation in use at the time. My friend and I are both comfortable with the notion of having access to all kinds of other things exclusively online. The last I heard, her home contained an Italian baroque harpsichord and a Kurzweil keyboard. My apartment contains a late 17th-century Flemish harpsichord and a Yamaha digital piano. Musical technology of any age is beautiful. So is print technology of any age. Librarians and geeks alike loooove their computers... and typically their books as well. Even geeks like me who are anything but lovers of great literature nonetheless love our books.

And so I embark on book blogging. I typically read the following kinds of books: murder mysteries, sci/fi works, popular science books (emphasizing natural history and early universe cosmology, the latter being almost identical with particle physics and "theories of everything" these days), poetry, political books including historical works (need I say more), and technological how-to books. I also have a six-foot shelf of humor and dozens of coffee-table books (art books), but there's not a lot to say about those; they stand on their own. Now you know where my discretionary income goes, when I am fortunate enough to have any.

The LibraryThing widget (see right sidebar) is intended to inspire me to write book-related posts (I would not call them reviews; that's far too robust a concept for what I'll write), and to give you an easy path to locate and buy anything that intrigues you. Books on that list will come and go as my interests refocus.

And now it's too late and I'm too weary actually to write about a book. There will be some book blogging later this weekend. Meanwhile, to paraphrase those obnoxious credit card commercials... what's in your library?


Sprawl, Interrupted

Samantha: What was that???

Could it be... the can opener?


New Widget: LibraryThing

I've added a widget called LibraryThing to the right sidebar. It's a cataloging tool for your personal library. It's free for catalogs of 200 books or fewer, and you don't even have to give them any information about yourself to sign up.

There are many options, and many ways to use LibraryThing, but I'm using it as a list of books I am currently reading, or have recently read or reread, rather than as a catalog of everything I own. (Heaven help us all if I were to undertake that.)

It is my hope that everyone in blogtopia (yes, Skippy etc.) who reads dead-tree publications will adopt this tool or something similar.

LibraryThing is very easy to use: type an author's name and a couple of words from the title, and you have the bibliographic info from Amazon, Library of Congress or a few dozen other sources. And the widget takes two lines of source code in your template, lines which LibraryThing will generate for you. My only annoyance to date is that I haven't figured out a way to make the book links open in a new window. Oh, that, and the fact that it named my idol "Nash Ogden" on the edition I own... but they even provide a way to fix that. Give it a try on your own blog.

Aren't books great? Aren't web applications great?


What A Surprise

From the Houston Chronicle:

WASHINGTON — Seven aides who worked for U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay have resigned from the staff of his replacement, Shelley Sekula-Gibbs of Houston, after serving her for about 24 hours.

Kevin Madden, a former DeLay spokesman who works for outgoing GOP Majority Leader John Boehner and was not among the seven, said the holdover staffers "felt like they were treated terribly." He would not elaborate.

Sekula-Gibbs, the Republican elected to serve through the end of the calendar year, was sworn in Monday night. She said Wednesday that the sudden departure of five Capitol Hill staffers and two in her Houston-area district office was nothing unusual.

"Nothing is going on," she said in her quiet congressional office here.


Think about it for a moment. These people worked for Tom Friggin' Delay. How awful must Shelley Sekula-Gibbs be, that even former DeLay staffers can't stand her?

I have had two direct encounters with Rep. Sekula-Gibbs, back in her days as a Houston city councilmember, and one of those encounters was needlessly unpleasant. And I didn't even have to work with her, let alone for her. I know she will probably run against Lampson again in 2008, but for now, I have a feeling that at the end of about two months, a lot of people in Washington are going to be glad to see her go home.

I know it's a truism on our side of the aisle that "the personal is political." Rep. Sekula-Gibbs seems to have gotten it backwards, in a way reminiscent of Dubya Bush. Where does the GOP get these people? I don't remember Republicans being so needlessly nasty when I was a youth. Is meanness really necessary?


This Is Cool

Gov. Ann's bridge:

Austin to rename bridge in honor of late governor
Associated Press

AUSTIN — A downtown bridge famous for political marches, parades and a bat colony will soon bear the name of the late Texas Gov. Ann Richards.

The Austin City Council on Thursday plans to name the Congress Avenue Bridge after Richards, the quick-witted former governor who died in September of esophageal cancer. Richards led a march up Congress Avenue from the bridge to the Capitol on the day she became governor.


This is a fitting memorial. Not that Gov. Ann was bats; another former governor deserves that description... but that there is hardly a sight in the great state of Texas comparable to that of the bats emerging from under that bridge. It's a genuine natural wonder... and so was Ann Richards.


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Friday Missing Mom Blogging


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Headline Of The Day - UPDATED


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A Trip To The Dentist


Turning The Senate - UPDATED


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Friday Cat And Mouse Blogging


Healthcare By The Numbers


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Over The EDGE


Flaky Cruft


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Better the occasional faults of a government that lives in a spirit of charity than the constant omissions of a government frozen in the ice of its own indifference.
  - FDR

I belong to the Democratic Party wing of the Democratic Party.
  - Paul Wellstone

I am a Democrat without prefix, without suffix, and without apology.
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