Thursday, October 23, 2008


¿ʇɐ ƃuıɹɐʇs noʎ ǝɹɐ ʇɐɥʍ

Start the latest silly fad: write text upside-down.

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Thursday, October 02, 2008

Next Year's Laws (Beta)

Click the headline for an interesting theory of how the law ought to be designed, and anecdotes of how terribly inconsistent the legal system can be.
  • Bonus slashdot article explaining why the Virginia High Court came to the wrong conclusion by striking down an anti-spam law on first-amendment grounds.

Monday, September 29, 2008

How to steal an election

Intuitively, you might think that e-voting machines should be good for technology industries; after all, if machines didn't replace paper, many of us in these industries would be out of a job. But have you noticed that technology professionals like those that hang around at Slashdot, the EFF and Ars Technica are the same people that loudly proclaim their distrust of electronic voting machines and want paper audit trails?

Click the headline to read all about the flaws in electronic voting systems that can allow votes to be stolen wholesale. As a Computer Engineer (in training) that started programming at age 11, I can vouch for the horrifying plausibility of this article.

By the way, the article talks about how it is possible for vote-counting software to be modified in such a way that the changes can't be detected. But if you take the time to read through the long account I linked to in my last blog entry, you'll note that many of the techniques used to shift the election results from Kerry to Bush in Ohio were actually very blatant and low-tech--such as voter caging, refusing to recognize voter registration cards that are not printed on very thick paper, not giving out provisional ballots, causing long lineups at polls, or declaring a fake terrorist emergency. While these techniques may have angered voters, they served their intended purpose just the same. Apparently, remaining undetected while rigging the ballot is merely a bonus.
The remedy to much of the above, by the way, would be not to put leaders of one party in charge of interpreting and enforcing election law -- duh. The electronic voting system, however, can be subverted even if those in charge of the election are fair and neutral.

Was the 2004 Election Stolen?

Every once in awhile I read something about major irregularities in the 2004 U.S. presidential election. Having never heard a rebuttal to these stories, I wonder how it is that such a tremendous fraud can slip through the mainstream media unnoticed.
As the last polling stations closed on the West Coast, exit polls showed Kerry ahead in ten of eleven battleground states -- including commanding leads in Ohio and Florida -- and winning by a million and a half votes nationally. The exit polls even showed Kerry breathing down Bush's neck in supposed GOP strongholds Virginia and North Carolina. Against these numbers, the statistical likelihood of Bush winning was less than one in 450,000. ''Either the exit polls, by and large, are completely wrong,'' a Fox News analyst declared, ''or George Bush loses.''

But as the evening progressed, official tallies began to show implausible disparities -- as much as 9.5 percent -- with the exit polls. In ten of the eleven battleground states, the tallied margins departed from what the polls had predicted. In every case, the shift favored Bush. Based on exit polls, CNN had predicted Kerry defeating Bush in Ohio by a margin of 4.2 percentage points. Instead, election results showed Bush winning the state by 2.5 percent. Bush also tallied 6.5 percent more than the polls had predicted in Pennsylvania, and 4.9 percent more in Florida.

Click the heading for the whole story by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.

What about the 2000 election?

I recently saw an HBO movie called Recount, about the 2000 battle for a recount in Florida. You would expect this film to be somewhat dry, but I promise it is quite gripping. While much of the dialogue may be fiction, the plot is basically accurate, yet has more twists than anyone would expect from a true story. I had no idea the election was so close, or that many recounts were halted while in progress. All thumbs up!

P.S. Isn't there something wrong with the fact that votes in swing states like Florida are much more valuable than those in non-swing states? Shouldn't all votes count equally? If you think they should, support an end to winner-take-all elections, or better yet, an end to the electoral college.

Another interesting thing.

Economics: war versus common sense

A Slashdot post I saw by "jollyreaper", replying to another post.
FDR tried and failed to fix the 1930s recession..... it ultimately took a world war to bring-back full employment. Without the war, FDR would have been voted out of office in 1940, and the recession would have stretched through most of the 1940s.

Obama faces what FDR faced, and Obama's not going to be any more successful. (Unless a war saves him.)

Why is it we always praise wars for bringing full employment? I hate to use the cheesedick "war on x" phrases but seriously, what if we were literally do pull out all the stops and mobilize the population on the scale of total war but make the enemy be shoddy infrastructure or crappy housing or something. Instead of marshaling the entire industrial might of the nation towards turning out bombers and tanks, why not treat the whole war as a massive public works project? Make the government the employer of last resort. "If private industry cannot provide work for our good citizens, the government will employ them in something as close to their profession as possible, working towards the public good." It's unemployment benefits that don't keep you out of work and gives the government a tangible return for the money. When the economy picks up, the private sector can start hiring the workers back.

We've been cutting back on investing in infrastructure for decades, it'd be good to put some money back into our country again. Set a goal of getting us off fossil fuels over the next two decades, put government labs to work on seriously making a go of fusion power, green living, reshape our cities to be less energy intensive.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Iraq fact widget


McCain's tax plan versus Obama's

Both candidates seem to have plans that seem impossible to pay for, according to CNN:
The Tax Policy Center estimates that over 10 years, McCain's tax proposals could increase the national debt by as much as $4.5 trillion with interest, while Obama's could add as much as $3.3 trillion.
I sure hope both platforms are lies, because I don't think the country can tolerate so much more debt. Let's hope they will raise taxes enough to pay for their plans, or better yet, cut wasteful spending on military and pork-barrel projects.

Obama/Paul for president

It's kind of funny: I like both Ron Paul and Barack Obama, even though they would make wildly different policy decisions.

Obama would raise taxes on the rich and implement universal health care. He will not reduce the size of the military, just recall some troops and shift others to Afghanistan. Ron Paul, if he could, would reduce taxes, drastically reduce the size of government, and reduce the scope of our military spending. Interestingly, despite this last point, the biggest contributors to his campaign were from the military and he was more popular than McCain, Romney or Huckabee among members of the armed forces.

Obama is a mild liberal, now pandering ever more toward the "center" of the political spectrum as perceived by the media. For them, it seems, the "center" means accepting the military-industrial complex with its extremely high military spending, a casual willingness to use military force, proposing a deficit-funded budget, avoiding discussion of abortion so as to avoid appearing on one side or the other, an unwavering support for Israel, emphasizing one's Christianity, and so forth. He originally proclaimed that he would run a positive campaign focused on the issues, but with Republicans slinging mud and lies his way, it's no surprise he fights back with negative ads of his own.

Ron Paul is a libertarian, who makes up for this somewhat unpopular ideology with sheer integrity, straight talk, and an unwavering commitment to the rules and ideals of the constitution. Almost everything he says is gold because it rings true. He says the kind of things I think, but which the media and ordinary politicians ignore. He also defends the right to bear arms, but I can live with that as long as he promotes the rest of the constitution with at least as much fervency.

Both of them want political debates to focus on the issues, and neither want the media to be distracted by stupid sideshows. Both of them value ethics and a respect for the constitution. Both of them are more tech-savvy than Bush or McCain. Both of them recognize and dislike the corruption in Washington, and want change, though the scale of change Ron Paul would bring is surely greater. Both of them have a talent for speaking--though Obama appeals more to the heart and Ron Paul more to the mind.

Ahh, how nice it would be if I could take the best of each. Paul's straight talk with Obama's electability. Paul's contempt for big government plus Obama's belief that everyone should have access to health care and education. Paul's anti-abortion and anti-war leanings with Obama's anti-gun leanings. Paul's uncompromising support of the constitution, combined--in some impossible way--with Obama's ability to compromise in order to get things done.

I've got it. Let's have Obama for four to eight years and get our universal health care while ending the Iraq war, chipping away slowly at Washington corruption, and altering the tone of politics. Then let's vote Ron Paul, to take a sledgehammer to corruption, shrink government, close some of our 761 military bases, return to fiscal responsibility, end the drug war, and abolish all unconstitutional practices. Of course, for Paul to achieve all this is practically unbelievable today--but after drinking Obama's kool-aid of hope long enough, maybe the nation will be ready.

Mind you, I haven't heard either of them talk about two issues dear to my heart, intellectual property reform and electoral reform. It'll be interesting to see whether Ron Paul could have even the slightest chance of winning without the latter.

For a quick primer on Ron Paul, click here. Then check out his Campaign for Liberty.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Oh dear, Mr. Obama

I sent the following message to

Dear Mr. Obama:

Your behavior is a terrible disappointment. I donated $100 to your campaign and I was going to give more, but not anymore. For voting for retroactive immunity for telecomms, I pledge not to donate any more funds. I expected you to have more respect for the rule of law and for the constitution. You should have been the leader of the opposition to this!

Also: after promising to make use of the public financing system, you spun your reversal as some kind of sacrifice and an indicator of your greatness. I am not impressed.

I came to like you when I read "Audacity of Hope", but when I see you behaving like any other politician, it's like a slap in the face. Good luck in the election, and may you stop to look back on your principles when you arrive in the White House.

Monday, June 30, 2008


I'm disappointed about the way Barack Obama handled his recent decision to reject the public financing system.

Barack wrote this to Midwest Democracy Network last November:
"I have been a long-time advocate for public financing of campaigns combined with free television and radio time as a way to reduce the influence of moneyed special interests.... My plan requires both major party candidates to agree on a fundraising truce, return excess money from donors, and stay within the public financing system for the general election.... Senator John McCain (r-AZ) has already pledged to accept this fundraising pledge. If I am the Democratic nominee, I will aggressively pursue an agreement with the Republican nominee to preserve a publicly financed general election."
Now, I'm no expert. All I know of the public financing system I learned today, here. But a key part of that system is an 85 million dollar spending limit--a limit already exceeded by the funds Obama has raised.

According to Obama's campaign, 94% of donators gave in amounts of $200 or less. I'm inclined to interpret this cynically to mean that even if a person gives $100 10 times, they are still counted in the 94%. Nevertheless, the Republicans certainly can't come close to this level of middle- and lower-class support. There's no doubt that Obama, more than any other serious candidate in recent memory, counts on the grassroots for his support, and this is much to his credit. I've heard this public financing system would force him to return much of the funds already donated (logistically difficult, I would think?) and prevent further grassroots donations.

So, I don't really blame him for changing his mind about public financing under these unexpectedly favorable circumstances. But make no mistake: he did break his promise. He flip-flopped. Therefore, it is disquieting to me that on this occasion he is not only unapologetic, but does not acknowledge that anything has changed or that anything is amiss. To the contrary, he aggressively portrays this flip-flop as a further reason that Americans should not only vote for him, but donate more to his campaign!

What happened to straight talk? To shunning spin in favor of honesty? As a donator, I get frequent emails from Obama's campaign. Here's an excerpt of David Plouffe's message about this decision:
Even though we stood to receive more than $80 million in taxpayer funding for our campaign, the system has been so gamed and exploited by our opponents that it is effectively broken.

John McCain, the Republican National Committee, and their allies in so-called 527 groups that raise and spend unlimited contributions are dedicated to manipulating this broken system to raise as much money as possible -- and they've proven that they're very good at it.

A top McCain adviser told MSNBC earlier this month, "now that we're in the general election, the RNC money counts, the DNC money counts. So the truth is today, John McCain has more cash on hand and more money than Barack Obama does."

In April alone, they raised nearly $45 million. That's more than our campaign and the Democratic National Committee combined. And that doesn't include the plans of 527 groups like the one called "Freedom's Watch," which has said it will spend as much as $250 million under Karl Rove's direction to attack and defeat Barack Obama.
This sets off my Spidey Sense of Spin. First, David makes it sound like they are sacrificing over $80 million by turning down public funding, when in fact it's better for them financially. Barack and David have both played up the "brokenness" of the system, but it feels disingenuous when they were so eager to "pursue an agreement with the Republican nominee" to use public financing last year. And how exactly is it broken? As far as I know, Obama hasn't given an explanation longer than a TV soundbite, although the site I linked to earlier has helpful information. David also quotes a McCain man to indicate McCain is raising money faster than Obama, yet I have heard elsewhere that Obama has more money. So what is the truth? I don't know, but I am disinclined to assume David Plouffe is honest after he tries to feed me a plate of spin.

Mind you, if Obama really did "aggressively pursue an agreement" but the McCain camp adamantly refused to cooperate, I guess we could just forget about this matter because Obama wouldn't be breaking his promise. This article reports that "Bob Bauer met with McCain campaign counsel Trevor Potter and, according to Obama spox (sic) Bill Burton, Potter 'immediately made it clear there was no basis for further discussion,' that they weren't interested in any sort of agreement." But: "the McCain campaign... argues that Obama did not discuss this or try to negotiate at all with the McCain campaign."

Hmm. He-said-she-said. Typical Washington banter. I'd like to believe that the Obama camp really tried to come to an agreement. But somehow, though I can't put my finger on it, I am more inclined to think the McCain camp is telling the truth this time.

Of course, I'd still support Obama over most other politicians any day. But I'm still disappointed. Not disappointed that he rejected public financing. But disappointed that he didn't really try to keep his promise, and disappointed to have spin flung at me instead of honesty. In my opinion, after 8 years of George W. Bush, the most important quality in a presidential candidate is not his foreign policy experience, his plan for the economy or for health care, or his views on abortion.

After 8 years of George W. Bush, I now think the most important quality in a presidential candidate is his personal system of ethics. I'm not talking about something as trivial as personal sexual mores--you know, that issue on which Republicans tried to impeach Clinton. No, I'm talking about the kind of ethics that actually affects how the country is run--that determines whether America continues on its path of corporatocracy; that determines whether the gap between rich and poor will widen or narrow; that determines whether political discourse will become more honest or dishonest.

Would Barack Obama rather help the poor and downtrodden or enrich himself? Will he pursue a foreign policy that attempts to keep the third world in submission to U.S. financial interests, and that keeps terrorists at bay only by intimidation and threats, or will he pursue a policy that will instead seek prosperity for the peoples of the world, that will reduce terrorism by reducing the hatred that causes it?

We cannot know the answers to questions like these unless we can answer this simple question: is Barack Obama honest? I am certain that he basically is, but his handling of this issue does not, in my eyes, seem honest.

I have other doubts, too. Though I am convinced he is a good man, his thinking is annoyingly conventional. He doesn't advocate electoral reform or even electoral college reform. He doesn't talk about reducing the power of monopolies and duopolies. Improving Copyright law is not in his agenda. He doesn't shun military force as a solution to problems, although at least it's not his first choice. He wants to increase military spending. His stance is not strong enough against immunity for lawbreaking telecomms who implemented Bush's warrantless wiretapping program--and since the lawsuits are necessary to bring to light the extent and details of the program, his stance is not strong enough against the Bush Administration either.

But my point is, anything out of the mainstream is off the table for him.

Of course, I should point out that on none of these issues is McCain any better. To the contrary. But I came to like Obama when I read his book Audacity of Hope, and now anything from him that smacks of status quo, or of behaviour befitting a typical politician, is like a slap in the face.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

No point in voting

I was hoping to vote absentee for Barak Obama in the general election in the state I last lived in, Utah. I was shocked and saddened to learn from WIkipedia that all but two states have a winner-take-all system for allocating their electoral college votes.

Therefore, as Utah is a firm red state, my vote would not count.

Sometimes I don't understand the world. While I'm sitting here in my little blog space dreaming about how nice it would be to have a fair voting system for leadership elections, something like cardinal/range voting or condorcet/ranked pairs, the rest of the American people don't care about their vote enough to demand an end to winner-take-all elections, let alone the electoral college. While I dream of a congress elected by direct representation, the American people consciously pigeonhole themselves into only two categories, "Democrat" and "Republican".

They seem content with a two-party system in which neither party cares very much about reducing poverty, defending the constitution, playing fair on the world stage, or acting ethically according to a wholistic worldview. While only the Republicans are especially known for their taste for war, their focus helping the rich and their disregard for the constitution, the Democrats on the whole seem to acquiesce to such things. Many say this is because the Democrats are spineless; I don't think so. I worry they don't fight these things because they don't care that much. And the majority of Americans ever continue not to demand better. The majority is not just silent, but apathetic.

And I don't know why. After 7.5 years under George Bush, 70% (only 70%?) of the people have finally figured out that his performance is not worthy of their approval. Many even disapprove. But who is taking notice that Bush's policies require, and have historically required, the assent of Congress and a lack of critical examination from the media? How is it that so many people follow after John McCain when he has been uncritical toward Mr. Bush and wants, for the most part, to continue his policies?

Barak Obama may yet win the election. But the strength of the Republicans in the race is disheartening.

I am most of all baffled by the strong degree to which Latter-day saints support everything Republican, even Neoconservative Republicanism. As a Mormon myself I am horrified by the Republican and Neoconservative ideologies. Detaining people without charge, without trial, without rights in Guantanamo Bay? Manipulating the media and lying to the American people about weapons of mass destruction, linking Al Qaeda to Iraq, causing a war that costs 720 million dollars a day, a war that has killed more Americans than 9/11, a war that resulted in the deaths of as many as 655,000 Iraqis, a war that has harmed America's economy? Running an illegal domestic spying program whose scope is still secret, and then demanding that huge telecom companies be granted retroactive immunity from the law for helping run it? Sowing confusion among the people by habitually using spin, misrepresentation, and ignorance of fact? Failing to do anything whatsoever about genocide in Darfur?

Admittedly, the Democrats did nothing about the Rwandan genocide, so Mormons can't be expected to vote for them on that account. And admittedly Republicans are not in favor of abortion or gay marriage, so in some ways it fits with our religion. But if you took anything home from the Book of Mormon, it should have been that war is bad. That God never goes with you when you go to war in order to pillage other lands. In the Book of Mormon I see a progressive Nephite nation that was ahead of its time in recognizing the value of freedom and liberty. A nation that had a lot of defense spending only because it had to defend itself frequently, not because Halliburton and Lockheed Martin needed to maintain a large workforce and steady profits. Regarding the Republicans' low regard for the constitution and civil liberties, haven't church leaders expressed their beliefs that the constitution was inspired of God? Regarding media manipulation and yes, lying, to cause the war--I think there is something in the ten commandments about that.

By the way, if you still aren't convinced that the case for war was not made merely by stretching the truth but was, in fact, a big lie promoted with a major media campaign, then watch this program, "Buying the War", by Bill Moyers on PBS (transcript). After seeing this program, you might ask yourself how men like Bill Kristol and Richard Pearle can still be treated as men of credibility and even integrity in the press.

You cannot separate the actions of the Bush Administration from the Republican party, because Republican congresspeople have supported his policies all along, continue to do so today, and never apologize for their past actions.

Isn't this war and this assault on the constitution a greater evil than abortion, or gay marriage? Is the Republicans opposition to these things even relevant, given that the Republican congress did not ban abortion or gay marriage? On what basis should Mormons be opposed to universal access to medical care? I cannot parse Utah's continuing support for these things. The nature of people in general, I suppose, is something I will just never understand. Why do people ignore the big issues to focus on the small ones?

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Time magazine invents the facts

No matter how corrupt and sloppy the establishment press becomes, they always find a way to go lower. Time Magazine has just published what it purports to be a news article by Massimo Calabresi claiming that "nobody cares" about the countless abuses of spying powers by the Bush administration; that "Americans are ready to trade diminished privacy, and protection from search and seizure, in exchange for the promise of increased protection of their physical security"; and that the case against unchecked government surveillance powers "hasn't convinced the people." Not a single fact -- not one -- is cited to support these sweeping, false opinions.
Click the title to read more.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Cut it out, David Plouffe

I like Barack Obama and I plan to vote for him in the general election. And because I donated to his campaign, I get mass mails from Barack and his campaign manager, David Plouffe, designed to convince me to give more and do more for the campaign. The language of emails signed by Obama, for the most part, tend to sound similar to his public statements. But sometimes Plouffe's emails use questionable statements to rile up supporters. A March 20 email stated:
Senator Clinton and Senator McCain are reading from the same political playbook as they attack Barack on foreign policy. They have both criticized Barack's commitment to act against top al Qaeda terrorists if others can't or won't act. And they have both dismissed his call for renewed diplomacy as naïve while mistakenly standing behind George Bush's policy of non-engagement that just isn't working.
Actually, both of them have a tendency to rephrase the other candidates' statements in their own words, without proving enough information for me to look up what they actually said. But surely McCain and Clinton didn't really criticize "Barack's commitment to act against top al Qaeda terrorists"? And consider this email of March 25:
In February alone, more than 94% of our donors gave in amounts of $200 or less. Meanwhile, campaign finance reports show that donations of $200 or less make up just 13% of Senator McCain's total campaign funds, and only 26% of Senator Clinton's.
Wow, it looks like Obama has 7 times as much grassroots support as McCain! That's what Mr. Plouffe would have supporters believe. But if you read closely, he's comparing two very different statistics: the McCain statistic does not measure the percent of donations $200 or less. It measures the percent of total campain funds from such donations, which is a totally different story. Since I don't know where to find the complete statistics, let us assume for the sake of argument that the average over-$200 donation to Barack's campaign is $1000, and that the average under-$200 donation is $100. Let us assume the same thing for McCain's campaign. Now, with some algebra, we can figure out the missing statistics:
  • On average, although 94% of Barack's supporters gave $100, 6% gave $1000. So donations under $200 make up 61% of his total campaign funds.
  • On average, although only 13% of McCain's funds come from $100 donations, 60% of donators gave $100.
If these assumptions are anywhere near correct, then it seems safe to conclude Obama is ahead in grassroots support: 61% of Barack's funds versus 26% of Hillary's and 13% of McCain's come from relatively small donations. And getting well over a million separate donations during the primaries is unprecedented. But let's try reversing Plouffe's statistics trick. Maybe the McCain camp could say this:
In February, more than 60% of our donors gave in amounts of $200 or less. In comparison, campaign finance reports show that donations of $200 or less make up 61% of Senator Obama's total campaign funds, and only 26% of Senator Clinton's. Yet the democrats claim to be ahead in grassroots support! What the hell are they smoking?
Look, I have no doubt that the other candidates use similar techniques. This sort of thing is precisely what I expect from politics. But Barack promised to be different. Barack promised a positive campaign that focuses on the issues. In many ways he has delivered on these promises; for example, Barack's speech "A more perfect union" not only proved his excellence as a speechwriter, but it proved that he could respond to a guilt-by-association smear campaign without crucifying his former pastor Reverend Wright. Had other candidates been attacked in a similar manner, no one would expect them to respond as Barack did. It was fun to read the Obama campaign's analysis of a Clinton press release, an email containing nonsense like this:

But the Obama campaign has just announced that it is turning its attention away from Pennsylvania. This is not a strategy that can beat John McCain in November. ... Why are so many voters turning away from Barack Obama in state after state?

My point is this. Just because Barack's opponents talk smack and twist the truth into falsehood, doesn't make it okay for Obama's campaign to do the same. David Plouffe needs to speak the truth, be fair, and take the moral high ground. Every time he doesn't, I am disappointed. Every time he doesn't, I wonder whether this campaign is really so different from Washington's status quo.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Daylight Saving Time: Stupid

I had thought it was pretty stupid of Congress to move the boundaries of Daylight Savings Time based on projected (not proven, just estimated) energy savings that were measured in only millions of dollars. It was stupid because
  • the change would be an inconvenience for a lot of people whose computers were programmed for the old time
  • it would mess up peoples' habits
  • it would require an unknown amount of money to be spent reprogramming computers (estimated here at up to $1 billion) and updating documents
  • it may annoy the cows--but seriously, Congress should have known that unknown factors might negate any positive impacts
  • it annoys us Canadians, who are forced to change our time zones too (granted, you can't expect Congress to care)
  • the estimated savings were so small. I was not able to find a figure online, but I recall mere eight-figure sums were quoted by the media. Shouldn't Congress be thinking a little bigger?
Well, it turns out that a study of actual energy use (rather than an estimate based on some mathematical model) showed that DST uses more energy in Indiana.

Why not Hillary?

I used to dislike Hillary, and temporarily joined a Facebook group labelled something like "Join this group if you are AGAINST Hillary for president", until somebody asked me why I was against Hillary.

Hmm. It's a funny thing. I actually began to like like Bill Clinton a lot more after so much time under George Bush, but for some reason I didn't like Hillary even though I had not followed her in the media and really didn't know much about her. So what wasn't to like? I think somehow that the feelings of others had rubbed off on me. I had heard her described several times as a "divisive" figure and I had never heard any particular reasons to like her, and apparently this was enough to give me the same negative feeling. But it really is not good enough.

I checked her Wikipedia entry and it was pretty benign. She doesn't seem concerned with things like Net Neutrality, copyright/patent law, or other things I consider important. And she voted for the Iraq war, which I cannot be happy about, but I guess it was the popular thing to do at the time. On the other hand she had a universal health care plan, maybe not a perfect plan, but at least we can agree in principle.

So I quit the anti-Hillary group. Over time I've become more and more sure that I'd really rather have Barak Obama as president (or Dennis Kucinich or Mike Gravel or Ralph Nader), but it is a little disconcerting to have made up my mind without really considering Hillary at all.

Anyway, I was reminded of my misstep by this slashdot post, directed at someone who was against Hillary:
Why do you dislike Hillary so strongly? I'm genuinely curious. I know there's a lot of folks who hate her, but I don't ever hear it logically explained. I imagine there has to be a pretty strong argument for why you'd support Obama over McCain but McCain over Clinton when Obama and Clinton's policies are so closely aligned and so dramatically different than McCain's.
Good question. I could not have answered it two months ago. The response from "JudgeFurious":
You know, I spent a lot of time pondering that as well. Why does this candidate rub me the wrong way so badly? I didn't mind her husband as President and so I naturally started wondering if it was because of her gender. Was I being sexist without recognizing it? Ultimately I concluded that my biggest problem with Hillary Clinton was her personality and the almost palpable ambition she seems to give off. It's like the woman is just starving for power and will step over just about anybody or anything to get it. I haven't had this kind of negative feeling about a candidate or President since Nixon. Despite his actions I don't much get it from GWB. I do get a sense of it from Cheney however.

She goes into a series of primaries with agreeing to certain terms (like Florida and Michigan not counting for instance) and then when it seems like she might not get her way she starts making noises about changing those terms. She enters a primary in Texas fully aware of how the primary works in Texas (and any protests otherwise she might make border on being insulting in my opinion) and then again you start to hear rumblings from her campaign about the possibility of filing suit to have this changed because it does not favor her. She goes into debates talking about being "co-President" and trying to leverage her husbands coat tails (which I do not fault her for doing mind you) but then denies any real involvment when failures or negatives from his administration are brought up. I see this and think "You were either the co-President or you weren't so what's it gonna be?"

This is the kind of behavior that makes me just cringe at the thought of her being President of the United States.
Another interesting response from "inca34":
The Republican playbook is a general turn-off for me. Character assassination and fear mongering instead of forging plans for the future tends to be the dead giveaway. When Obama had more free reign over his campaign with all the candidates involved, he spoke of plans for the future that he was passionate about and which made sense to me in terms of feasibility. Hillary, for what little she's actually done, has little personality except for what she thinks will get her ahead.

She wants to garnish my wages if I can't afford medical insurance, eh? She wants to fight the war (any war) in XXXX (wherever) because she has vested interested in defense spending? She wants me to feel comforted in her experience by the fact that she's been cherry picked by her husband to be in positions of power for a shorter period of time that Obama has been doing public service-oriented work?

I'm sorry, her story just does not check out. I want nothing to do with her platform or her reforms. Her rhetoric reeks of a lack of substance and a motive for her own personal advancement.

Check the exit polls. The more educated, the more likely the vote was for Obama. This statement is not elitist and does not assume a college degree could trump reality or a good common sense, but the averages should speak for themselves. With a college education one ought to be able to seek truth more effectively. I've researched my candidates come to my own conclusions, and I wish everyone could do that, but that's just not realistic for 300 million people to do. So we rely on the media and the game and hope it all works out in the end.

If politics were about qualifications, I'd suspect we'd have heard more about Chris Dodd and Dennis Kucinich and a few others. I personally would prefer their going to the Whitehouse based off of solid records, good experience, and most important character trait a politician could have: they can't be bought. Obama has yet to be seen, though his discipline with his investments give me a good feeling. Hillary has been bought before, I'm sure it can and will happen again (keywords: walmart board labor union).
I have to agree, Obama's tactics are much more tasteful, his speeches are better, and some elements of his campaign (anti-war, pro-net-neutrality) definitely make me like him more. I don't know if he's going to deal with the corruption of the military-industrial complex, but there's certainly no reason to believe Hillary will.

And Hillary's claims that she's so much more experienced? Well, Obama's senate record is pretty impressive for a first timer, as "Grassroots Mom" explains.

I bought Obama's book "Audacity of Hope". Hopefully it'll convince me that he's as good a candidate as my brother (who campaigns for him) believes. Of course, the real test will come after he's voted into office. But a man committed to change is more likely to clean house than a woman who is not.

As an aside, I am finding McCain to be a suprisingly likable guy. It's a suprise because lately I have expected nothing but evil behavior from Republicans. I say that as a Mormon, which may seem ironic given that Utah is as Red as a rose. But McCain is not against the Iraq war and he is not promising change in Washington. I'm sticking with Barak, but suppose I ought to give McCain a closer look anyway.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Why newspapers suck

This quote-of-the-day sums it up:
Trying to determine what is going on in the world by reading newspapers is like trying to tell the time by watching the second hand of a clock. - Ben Hecht (1893 - 1964)
Dose is the best daily newspaper I've seen, and the only free daily I had ever encountered when it appeared in Calgary two or three years ago. Sadly, they quit publishing here after just more than a year. A few months ago, my eyes bugged out upon noticing not one but three new free daily newspapers had appeared on our sidewalks: "24 Hours", "Metro" and "Rush Hour". Guess what, they all suck. Besides having much less content than Dose (you can read all their "real" news in 10 minutes, leaving you only with entertainment/celebrity crap), they don't have the personality of Dose and, like the paid-for papers, they follow the Ben Hecht model above.

I think the best thing about Dose was that they didn't follow that mold. They didn't tell you just the latest tiny piece of data about an ongoing story, but summarized the whole thing. They would have one or two full pages on a single topic (with no ads, and not huge pages, but not small either). It wouldn't be one article, but several on related issues, typically with one article giving a concise, useful overview of the topic dating way, way back. Traditional newspapers will tell you, day after day after day, how many people of what race were killed in Israel that day, and even their mode of death (gunfire? rocket attack? suicide bomb!!), but only Dose would tell you that Israel invaded and occupied Sinai and Gaza in 1967. Traditional newspapers will tell you that the homicide yesterday was the 14th of the year; Dose would give you long-term crime trends.

Yeah, Dose had their celebrity gossip too. They had "sex advice from strangers". But they had enough interesting material to keep me reading for a good half hour.

It's remarkable how little I learn from the news I read, because the media doesn't tie things together. It's also remarkable how useless newspapers are for forming an opinion, not just because they give facts without context, but because, in their obsession with seeming impartial they make no judgements or evaluations. Regarding their chosen topic, the paper tells you what officials X and Y say, what witnesses and experts (selected by the newspaper) say, and if you're lucky you may get an report from an unidentified source. But in case of conflicting reports, they do not attempt to determine who is telling the truth--at least until you get to the opinion section, if the paper has one, in which highly partisan pundits try to tell you what to believe, backed up only by some speculation and emotion-soaked logic.

Dose couldn't fit all pertinent details into their one-page reports, but it's remarkable that I could learn more from one page of Dose than from years of traditional news reports. Come back, Dose. I'll even pay for you.


I've been hearing about a lot of taser-related deaths lately, as well as various stories of police officers using tasers when victims are already on the ground or when they simply have no need to. Which may not sound like a big deal compared to Iraq, but it's hard not to be horrified by some of these stories. Why do you need to give people a 50,000-volt shock when they are on the ground? Why would they even consider using it when four or five officers are trying to arrest a single individual? Why would they use it repeatedly?

Like the story of mentally handicapped woman in a wheelchair who, suffering from schizophrenia, called 911 claiming to be in danger. Soon after police arrived, she was tasered ten times for two minutes and forty seconds, and died as a result. Good heavens, doesn't the battery ever run out on these things?

Let's see, what else... Now comes the most disgusting taser death story yet, not so much because of the excessive taser use (it was used just twice, reportedly) but because of bad behavior from all officials involved.

I wanted to quote a helpful summary of what happened to Robert Dziekanski, but I couldn't find a news article that told the entire story. Most news stories start when the RCMP (Canadian federal police) arrived, but one should really start at least 11 hours earlier, when Mr. Dziekanski got off the plane at the Vancouver Airport. I let this post gather dust for over two months, thinking I would write it when I got a more detailed news article, but I never found one.

In short, when Mr. Dziekanski (how can you pronounce that?), who spoke only Polish, came to Canada, he had agreed with his mother to meet her in the baggage claim area. The problem: the baggage claim area is a secure area that his mother was not allowed to enter. His plane touched down at 3:12 P.M., and 11 hours later, at 2 A.M., he was dead. During that time his mother made numerous attempts to get help from airport staff, which fail.

There's this timeline but it doesn't explain all the things that I've heard. It says "he would not have been able to leave the secure zone", but not why (the Calgary baggage claim area is also secure, but of course passengers can leave--I've done so myself). It says that a customer service agent pages Mr. Dziekanski, without telling his mother that the announcements don't reach the secure area--but not whether his parents mentioned that she thought her son was there, which to me seems like an important point. It says that Ms. Cisowski and her husband leave the airport and return home to Kamloops (355 kilometres away), but not that they left because they were told that their son wasn't there. Finally, though observers thought he spoke Russian and the RCMP were told that he speaks only Russian, a translator who spoke Russian and Polish wonders why he wasn't notified (and may have been fired for talking to the press).

Meanwhile, the rest of us wonder why the airport's official translators weren't summoned and why these RCMP would use a taser on him for failing to obey their English instructions. I think it's for the same reason this Utah Highway Patrolman tasers a guy after he takes more than a few seconds to find his license and registration: they were just really eager to use their toys. Paul Pritchard, a passenger who took a video of the incident, say the RCMP mentioned taser use to one another before meeting him; I guess when they arrived, their groupthink stupor led them to carry out their unjustified idea.

You can see the whole damn thing on youtube if you like. By my stopwatch, it was just 25 seconds from the time that the first two (of four) RCMP officers reached Mr. Dziekanski, to when (judging by the convulsions) they zapped him with a taser. And why the hell is that RCMP officer ramming his baton into the ground? It is the ground, and not Mr. Dziekanski, right? No wonder the mounties took away the memory card with Pritchard's video on it, and refused to give it back until he went to court.

And all I can do is stand by and blog about it.

It's such a sad story because it seems like there were so many opportunities for officials and airport staff to help, and they didn't. A little compassion is that was needed! Although Mr. Dziekanski was acting badly near the end, throwing two large objects to the ground, I would keep in mind that this man had been cooped up in there for ten hours after a flight halfway around the world. He can't communicate a single word to anyone and he can't even get anything to eat. He must have been exhausted, otherwise two taser zaps wouldn't have been enough to kill him. Perhaps he thought by breaking something he would finally get some helpful attention. In the aftermath of the incident, my home province of Alberta issued new taser use guidelines. Did they tighten them up to discourage unnecessary zappage? Hell no! Police in Alberta can taser people just for threatening to resist arrest! Hello? Tasers are clearly more dangerous than traditional methods of arrest. Why would it ever be the first choice? It seems like an emergency measure to me, something a policeman should use only if he or she is alone, and lacks any other means to arrest someone. And once the suspect is on the ground, you don't just continue to zap them until they lose consciousness. If the suspect is on the ground, the cop should be too! Put on those handcuffs, don't just stand there squeezing your trigger. If they continue to resist arrest after you zap them, well, duh! You just gave them a blast of searing pain... of course they want to get away from you. Gah.