Archive:

December 2004, Part 1

Jim Miller on Politics




Pseudo-Random Thoughts



Some Speculative Ideas On Voting Technology:  Some of you have emailed me requesting my ideas on the best ways to vote.  My ideas on the subject are not completely settled, but I have come far enough so that I would like to outline them for you.   But please understand that I added "speculative" to the post title for a reason.  I haven't done some of the research I need to do before I make a proposal.  So, these ideas are tentative — and for that very reason, I would like to hear your reactions.

I am dissatisfied with all our current methods of voting.  Let me start with paper ballots, which are still used in many areas, especially rural areas.  They are too subject to fraud, which is the main reason they were replaced by mechanical voting machines in many urban areas.  It is relatively easy for voters to err and cast ambiguous ballots, which is why so many states have elaborate rules for identifying legal votes.  And, as I have mentioned before, those rules are often applied unevenly by vote counters — whether they intend to or not.  Counting paper ballots is slow and error prone, especially in states with many candidates and many measures on all general election ballots.  In this last election, I made choices in more than 20 races, 4 initiatives, and a referendum.  Multiply those by three million and you will get an idea just how big the counting problem is, just in Washington state.

Mechanical voting machines and the new electronic touch screen voting machines are less subject to fraud and partisan bias in counting, and do not allow ambiguous votes.  Both provide almost instantaneous counts at the end of the election day.  Neither allow a simple way to cast a provisional vote, unless the new machines have capabilities that I have not heard of, so they must be supplemented with paper ballots.

The problem with both sets of machines is that they can be rigged by some one with the right technical knowledge.  Although it may be possible to design fool proof electronic voting methods, I do not think the current machines provide them.  Proponents often argue that we trust similar machines for banking transactions, but this neglects the fundamental difference between voting and banking.  The identity of your vote is secret; the identity of your banking transactions is not — at least from the bank.

That mechanical voting machines and electronic voting machines share the same problem must be top secret, because I have never seen that point made in a newspaper article.  But they do, and that fact should lead us to be less nervous about electronic voting machines.   Mechanical voting machines were introduced to reduce vote fraud and they did just that.  In my opinion, electronic voting machines — even though they are not perfect — would also reduce fraud in many areas.

Optical ballots and punch card ballots are in between paper ballots and the voting machines.   They are probably less subject to fraud and error than paper ballots because they can be counted by machines — at least most of them can.  And they can allow for provisional ballots, although I don't think that they are usually used that way.  (At least not in jurisdictions that allow voters to vote outside their own precincts.)

But not all voters use them correctly, and so there are some ambiguous ballots with either method of voting.  Some optical ballot systems allow voters to check their ballots when they deposit them.  The same could be done with punch card ballots, though as far as I know, no such systems exist.  Optical ballots with scanners that allow voters to check their ballots when they deposit them reduce errors and ambiguous ballots to a very low level.

If the partisan distrust were not so high in this country, we could improve either the electronic voting machines, or the optical ballot systems, and solve most of our voting problems.  But the distrust is high, and will continue to be so for many years.  We need a system that nearly every one believes can not be rigged, not just one that can not be rigged.  For that reason, I suggest we move to a hybrid system, combining electronic voting machines and optical counting machines.   Many are already pressing for paper receipts from the electronic voting machines.  Why not take that a step further and have the machines print a ballots for optical scanners to count.  The error rate for ballots printed on a small laser printer, or something similar, would be far lower than the error rate for ballots prepared by hand.  Voters could check their printed ballots both visually, and with the optical scanners, before depositing them.

This system would provide physical ballots for a back up.  If necessary, they could be counted by hand.  I think those physical ballots would reassure many who worry about the electronic voting machines — and who would worry about the mechanical voting machines, if they thought about them.  The system would make it easy for voters to cast provisional ballots.  They would follow the same procedures as everyone else until the very end, when their ballot would go into a sealed envelope, instead of a counting machine.

There is another step we can take with such a system to increase voter trust.  I'd like to see the systems designed so that the ballots can be read by scanners made by more than one company.   That would allow a party or candidate requesting a recount to have it done with entirely different machines than were used for the first count.  With the right standards for the ballots, we could have competition in both the voting machines and the counting machines.

Finally, I should add that, again for reasons of trust, the voting machines and the counting machines should not be connected to the Internet.  We can give up a little convenience in return for more trust.

I don't think the costs for such systems would be inordinate.  We are already moving toward putting printers in electronic voting machines, so using good ones would not add much to the cost.   If you have looked at the ads from office supply companies, you know that you can buy a laser printer for as little as one hundred dollars.  The scanners at the heart of the optical counting machines are also inexpensive.

That should give your an idea of the system.  I'll be trying to check my thinking on the problem in the months to come, and I would very much appreciate hearing any thoughts, especially critical thoughts, that you might have on the proposal.

(I should add that, although I think moving to this system would be worth the cost, it is far from the most important reform measure.  We need to clean up our registration systems, require photo identification at the polls, and reduce, as far as possible, the number of absentee ballots.  All those are much more important problems than choosing the best voting technology.)
- 1:41 AM, 8 December 2004   [link]


Not All Canadians Are Amused by the idea of Americans disguising themselves as Canadians.  I had always heard that imitation was the sincerest form of flattery, but Colby Cosh disagrees.
The American who goes abroad in safe Canadian mufti has long been a stock comedy character--at least in the United States, where apparently even the people who know enough to be wary of the U.S.'s international reputation don't realize that appropriating somebody else's national symbols for one's own benefit is completely repulsive.
Funny.  When I see foreigners wearing American symbols, I usually think they are honoring us.   It's surprising to see this from Cosh, who is usually sensible, as well as being a fine writer.   Maybe he would feel better if he knew that, according to a local news program I saw this morning, two out of three of those buying the "fake Canadian" kits were Republicans buying them as joke presents for their Democratic friends.  And I thought the "O'Canada" on the shirts was intended as a tip that they were jokes.

Whether that explanation would mollify Cosh or not, consider yourself warned.  Some Canadians may be offended if you pose as a Canadian in Europe.
- 10:24 AM, 8 December 2004   [link]


The French Don't Like President Bush:  The French Canadians, that is.
A poll by Decima Research suggested most Canadians declared Bush's two-day visit an overall success - 52 per cent to 31 per cent.
. . .
People who identified themselves as Conservative voters (66 per cent) and Liberal supporters (60 per cent) deemed the visit a success.  Supporters of the NDP (44 per cent) and the Bloc Quebecois (24 per cent) were less enthusiastic.
So the separatists (BQ) were much more hostile to the Bush visit than even the socialists (NDP).   I have seen other surveys with similar findings.  Often the French speaking population of Canada is responsible for a large part of the differences in public opinion between Canada and the United States.   I haven't seen any explanations of that persistent difference.  It would be interesting to see a comparison between the coverage of the United States in Quebec newspapers, and the coverage in newspapers in the rest of Canada.
- 7:54 AM, 8 December 2004   [link]


Score One For The Medpundit:  After seeing an account of Viktor Yushchenko's mysterious illness, she speculated that:
High-dose exposure to a chemical would seem to be a reasonable speculation.  His photographs are suggestive of chloracne.
Yushchenko finally got tests done.
Medical experts have confirmed that Viktor Yushchenko, Ukraine's opposition leader, was poisoned in an attempt on his life during election campaigning, the doctor who supervised his treatment at an Austrian clinic said yesterday.
I thought that poisoning was the most likely explanation for his mysterious ailment.  Not because of my great medical knowledge — it's my cousin who is the dermatologist, not me — but because the rulers of Ukraine have been accused of so many crimes, often justly.

(Not every expert thought it was poisoning.  I learned during the Cold War that there are always Western experts available to support the anti-Western side in an argument.  Those experts are not always wrong, but they often are.)
- 4:29 AM, 8 December 2004   [link]


Where Did This Happen?  
[1] businessman was negotiating several months ago to sell a prime piece of commercial real estate in central [2].  He had tentatively agreed on a price with a [3] investor, who planned someday to build an electronics superstore on the 9,850-square-foot property.  But after President Bush was reelected in November, the [4] jacked up the price 25 percent.
(The brackets show my deletions.)

If you haven't guessed, here's what I deleted:
  1. An Iraqi
  2. Baghdad
  3. Kuwaiti
  4. Iraqi
Here's the whole column, which is not all good news, but does show why Bush's victory last month makes a victory in Iraq far more likely.
- 4:41 PM, 7 December 2004   [link]


Three Books For Pearl Harbor Day:  Walter Lord's popular Day of Infamy is worth reading for the stories of how individuals met the attack.  (My favorite is the sailor who complained, during the attack, that he didn't even know that the Japanese were "sore at us".)  Those interested in naval history may want to start with volume III of Samuel Eliot Morison's History of United States Naval Operations in World War II, The Rising Sun in the Pacific, which tells what went wrong before the Pearl Harbor attack, what went wrong during it, and what went wrong in the disastrous months immediately afterwards.  The book that has influenced me most over the years is Roberta Wohlstetter's Pearl Harbor: Warning and Decision, the definitive study of why we were surprised at Pearl Harbor.

(I have found all of Morison's volumes worth reading, which I have been doing at a rate of about one a year.  I have volumes I-V, VIII, and XII, so I must have started on them about seven years ago.  Amazon is not the cheapest place to buy them; you can purchase them for $9.95 each at Edward R. Hamilton, if you don't mind buying books with a check sent through the mail.  My own experience with Hamilton has been excellent over the years.)
- 4:21 PM, 7 December 2004   [link]


Silver Stars Are Rare:  Just how rare?  The Seattle Times gives us a hint in this routine story.
In the year since Tech. Sgt. Kevin Whalen battled al-Qaida and Taliban insurgents with a busted grenade launcher and a bullet lodged in his left arm, the Olympia man has become a legend among fellow National Guardsmen.

Whalen was awarded the Purple Heart, given to soldiers wounded in war.  And yesterday, in an auditorium packed with his family, neighbors and more than a hundred reservists, the Air National Guardsman received one of the military's top honors, the Silver Star.
. . .
The last [Washington] state National Guardsman to receive the Silver Star was Master Sgt. Larry Gibson, who earned the award for valor in combat in Vietnam in 1966.
After a campaign in which journalists, including some at the Seattle Times, told us that a Silver Star was almost enough by itself to qualify a man for the presidency, this routine article seems insufficient.  It is not because the Seattle Times lacks for space; they did have space for a long piece on Pat Tillman's death, so long they published it in two parts, here and here.   But those articles make the military look bad and, one would guess, a full description of what Whalen did might make the military look good.

The Seattle Times at least sent a reporter to the ceremony; the Seattle PI just used a wire service story.   The Seattle PI also had journalists telling us — during the election campaign — just how important Silver Stars were.  And the Seattle PI could have found space for a real story on Whalen, judging by other stories they printed recently.   For example, they published a story on how the Fremont neighborhood planned to decorate its Lenin statue, a story on how it had decorated its Lenin statue, and a story on how old draft dodgers were helping deserters.   (One would almost think that the PI is on the other side.)

So, here's my suggestion for the two Seattle newspapers: Send a reporter down to interview Sergeant Whalen and give us his full story.  Otherwise we might begin to think that you weren't serious when you told us, all through the campaign season, just how important Silver Stars were.

(On the off chance that neither paper follows my suggestion, I'd like to fill in for them.  I know almost nothing about publicly available military records.  If you know of some that would help me tell Sergeant Whalen's story, I would appreciate a pointer to them.)
- 8:29 AM, 7 December 2004   [link]


This Wine may have passed its time.
Archaeologists have discovered the dregs of Chinese happy hours in pottery jars up to 9,000 years old, in the later stages of the Stone Age known as the Neolithic period.  A chemical analysis of the residue, they reported yesterday, had traces that matched herbs, acids, beeswax and modern rice wine - ingredients of a heady drink.
That's about as old as similar evidence of wine and beer from the Middle East.  The archaeologists haven't duplicated the Chinese recipe yet, but they plan to.
- 7:47 AM, 7 December 2004   [link]


New Links:  You'll see that I have added some to the left, especially in the Northwest.  Two should have been added long ago, Medved Fans and Arthur Chrenkoff.  Brian Crouch, who runs Medved Fans, has helped me several times by spotting mistakes I have made.  And Arthur Chrenkoff has done all of us a real service by collecting the good news from Iraq; here's the most recent example of his collections.
- 2:21 PM, 6 December 2004   [link]


Projection?  Ever since the 2000 election, I have been struck by the large number of Democrats who are convinced that Republican officials were guilty of vote fraud, in that election and others since.  It struck me as strange since the Democratic party overwhelmingly supported the 1993 "Motor Voter" Act, which makes vote fraud easier, and most of the vote fraud in recent years has been committed by Democrats.  (Almost always with absentee ballots and usually in minority communities, as I have mentioned once or twice before.)

Maybe it is projection.  These Democrats think that Republican officials commit vote fraud because the Democrats would commit vote fraud themselves, if they had the chance.  There's an example to support that theory.  A commenter at one of the most prominent Democratic web sites posted code that allowed people to cheat in an on line poll for the best Weblogs in various categories.   The commenter drew both support and criticism from others at the site.  (Credit to those who said that cheating was wrong.  No credit to those who said only that cheating was self defeating, though it was, at least in this instance.)

So, if you see a Democrat who is convinced that Republican officials cheat in every election, then you should recognize that they may not be the best person to help count votes.

(A way was quickly developed to detect the additional votes and delete them, so the attack on the poll was ineffective, as well as immoral.)
- 1:24 PM, 6 December 2004   [link]


More Evidence That Republicans are, on the average, smarter than Democrats.
After the 2000 presidential campaign, strategists for President Bush came to a startling realization: Democrats watch more television than Republicans.
. . .
The Republicans' data, compiled by Scarborough Research, a leading market research firm, showed that nationally, Democratic voters were 15 percent more likely on average to be watching television than Republican voters.
Judging by their exercise habits, Republicans are healthier, too.  They are more likely than Democrats to belong to an exercise club, water ski, ice skate, downhill ski, swim, scuba dive, in-line skate, bicycle, hike, garden, and lift weights.  (Democrats are more likely to snowboard, play basketball, and dance.)   This may explain why so many Democrats were depressed after the election.  They need some exercise.

Republicans are nicer, too.  They are much more likely to volunteer than Democrats.  On the other hand, if you are looking for some one to go to a casino with you, choose the one wearing the donkey button, not the one wearing the elephant button.

There's much more in the graphic that accompanies the article, including fairly complete data on car choices by party.  A Porsche driver probably voted for Bush; a Volvo driver, to no one's surprise, probably voted for Kerry.  Those with Fords, I note with interest, are a little more likely to be Republicans.  Years ago, I saw a similar car choice-political preference study of college professors with similar findings.  The most left wing were those who refused to own a car.
- 7:38 AM, 6 December 2004   [link]


The Right To Self Defense?  If there are any natural rights, that must be among them.  But not every one in the world agrees.  In Britain, the established view is that citizens do not have the same rights of self defense that Americans take for granted.   This tragic story illustrates the difference.
Remember Robert Symonds?  It is the name of the 45-year-old Putney teacher who six weeks ago was stabbed to death in the hall of his home by a burglar.  His body was found by his wife while their two children slept upstairs.

It was as a result of that incident that this newspaper launched our "right to fight back" campaign, which calls for the public to be given an unqualified right to self defence against intruders in their own homes.  The point that struck me so forcibly at the time was not just the horror of Mr Symonds's death, but the fact that had Mr Symonds picked up a kitchen knife before encountering the burglar, and managed to get blows in first, then he would now, as the law stands, be facing a murder trial.

The defenders of the status quo argue that a jury might acquit, on grounds that such self-defence was "reasonable force".  We argue that such cases should never even be considered as crimes in the first place.
American and British burglars understand the differences in the laws.
In America, where householders have an unqualified right of self-defence, only 12 per cent of burglaries take place while the owners are at home.  In this country, the figure is well over 50 per cent, and as the horrible case of John Monckton shows, intruders are now deliberately choosing times when they know they will encounter someone who can be induced to allow entry into a home that is sufficiently secure to prevent an easy break-in.
The established view in Britain is that citizens should rely on the police for protection.  I say the established view because what polling I have seen on the subject suggests that most Britons, like most Americans, believe that they should be able to defend themselves and their possessions.   But our politics is more populist than theirs and so, for better or worse, more responsive to public opinion in these matters.

On this matter, I think the publics are right and the elites wrong.  People should be able to defend themselves and their homes, even with deadly force.  (Within common sense limits, of course.  State laws vary but nearly all, as far as I know, put some limits on the use of force, especially deadly force, against intruders.)

(I suppose I should respect the spelling difference and say that I believe that Britons have the right of self defence, and that their laws should respect that right.)
- 6:58 AM, 6 December 2004   [link]


Rick Steves, better known for his travel books than his knowledge of radical Islam, asks, "Can't we all just get along", though he does not phrase it as clearly as Rodney King did.  Steves begins by arguing that:
Who was actually being attacked on that terrible day?  The targets chosen were not symbolic of average Americans (say, a shopping mall or sports stadium).  They weren't symbols of the freedoms that this country stands for (Statue of Liberty).  Rather, the 9/11 hijackers went straight for the institutions of U.S. might in the world: international corporations (the Trade Towers), the U.S. military (the Pentagon) and -- had the fourth plane reached its likely goal -- our commander in chief (the White House).

So, why did they do it? Because "they hate freedom?"  Come on -- that's ridiculous.
Except I should not say "arguing", since Steves has a conclusion, but no argument.   For Steves, the idea that bin Laden and company hate our freedom — even though they have said so — is so ridiculous that it requires no discussion.

His conclusion leads him naturally to this "Burning Question" for the readers of the Seattle PI:
Could we more effectively fight terrorism by understanding what motivates it and then taking away the source of the anger?  Wouldn't it be cheaper and wiser to just face our enemy, ask "Why?" and respond constructively?
Like Mr. Steves, I am inclined to simply dismiss his argument as ridiculous, and leave it at that.  In fact, the argument is so ridiculous that I almost suspect that Steves is putting us on, that he couldn't possibly believe what he wrote.  But I try to be more responsible than many who write for the Seattle PI, so I will sketch out some of the basics for him.

Osama bin Laden is an adherent of Wahabbi Islam.  That version of Islam is explicitly opposed to many of our freedoms.  Mr. Steves may not know this, but bin Laden opposes the freedom of religion that we take for granted.  One of bin Laden's great grievances is that people who do not believe in Islam are actually allowed to live in Saudi Arabia — even though they can not practice their faith there.  The terrible repression of other religions in Saudi Arabia is insufficient for bin Laden.  I think it reasonable to conclude that he might not approve of our freedom of religion.

Wahabbi Islam is also opposed to the emancipation of women.  That has lead to the oppression of women, not only in Saudi Arabia, but in the Muslim population of Europe.
A few days ago, pop celebrities joined 2,000 people in a march through Marseilles denouncing violence against women, particularly in the immigrant-dominated housing estates.  The protest against Islamic "obscurantism" and the "fundamentalism that imprisons women" was led by a group of Muslim women who call themselves Ni Putes ni Soumises (Neither Whores nor Submissive).

The movement, which emerged three years ago to defend Muslim women, is spawning similar groups across Europe, supported by a mainstream opinion that has recently abandoned political correctness and wants to halt the inroads of Islam.
That bin Laden and his adherents despise the freedoms won for women in the West is no secret, nor is it a secret that they worry that our freedoms will be attractive to Muslim women.  But it is, apparently, a secret from Rick Steves.

I could give more examples of how Osama bin Laden hates our freedoms, but I think those two are enough to make my point.  That he hates our freedoms is not "ridiculous", but obvious.   Which leads naturally to this question:  Why does Steves not know this?  Travel is supposed to be educational, and Steves has done more than his share.  I assume that he reads a newspaper from time to time, and all but the worst would have mentioned these points, at least in passing.  I do not have a certain answer to the question.  I can only guess that Steves, like so many others, does not want a world in which radical Islamists hate us for our freedoms.  Rather than facing it, he wishes it away.  But wishing won't make it so, as Steves' parents should have told him.

(Students of history will wonder whether Steves would have proposed the same approach to Adolf Hitler and the Nazis that he does to Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda.  Alas, he does not answer that question.  Nor does he mention that, just as Osama is a popular name now, in some parts of the Muslim world, Adolf was once very popular in Germany.)
- 8:57 AM, 5 December 2004   [link]


Not Every NPR Reporter Is Tolerant:  In fact, some of us would find Rachel Buchman's voice message downright intolerant.

Rachel Buchman worked for WHYY in Philadelphia, an NPR affiliate, when she called the offices of the Web site laptoplobbyist.com to express her outrage over an e-mail the group sent to her opposing special rights for homosexuals.

"You're evil, horrible people.  You're awful people," she said, identifying herself only as "Rachel."  "You represent horrible ideas.  God hates you and He wants to kill your children.   You should all burn."

Children, too.  Some might think that goes a little too far.  Ms. Buchman has resigned from WHYY for "personal reasons", but it is not clear whether she has also given up her jobs with WILM newsradio and CBS.

Those who wonder where Ms. Buchman acquired her views will note with interest that she "graduated cum laude from Barnard College of Columbia University in 1999 with honors in Anthropology".

And those of us who follow the liberal media will be interested to see whether this story receives any attention from journalists who cover the media.  It is fun to imagine what they might say if Buchman's message had been delivered to a politically correct minority group.  Perhaps I am too cynical, but I don't expect the same reaction in this case.

(Via Orrin Judd.  Cross posted at Oh, That Liberal Media.)
- 7:28 AM, 5 December 2004
An Apology:  When I did this post, I somehow missed the post by Dave Huber, just four posts down, on the same story.  I don't know why I missed it, since I try to read OTLM every day, but I did.  (Thanks to Brian Crouch for catching my mistake.)

I can add a little more to both posts.  One would like to think that this story would attract the attention of the major media.  It is not — I hope — every day that a reporter resigns after doing a voice mail that sounds like hate speech, at least to me.  But a search of news with Google on "Rachel Buchman" shows that the incident has attracted very little attention.  There were just 9 hits, one of them the story both of us linked to.  The Christian Broadcasting Network and the conservative Washington Times picked it up, as did the two Philadelphia papers.  So did Blue Lemur, a "progressive" web site, which calls Buchman's message a "faux pas".  I think of a faux pas as using the wrong fork, or something similar, not hate speech, but standards differ.

And that's it.  The story did not, if you trust Google's news search, draw any other coverage, not even from one of the Philadelphia suburbs, where they must listen to WHYY.  Which shows why you need to read OTLM, in spite of my amateur mistake.
- 10:58 AM, 6 December 2004   [link]


Some Day, the little town of Soap Lake may have Washington state's largest lava lamp.  But for now, the largest is at Mt. St. Helens.  The picture below is from the volcano cam early this morning; the bright spot is the light from the glowing lava, reflected from clouds or, more likely, the steam plume.  (I've cropped it to the top part of the picture, since there is nothing to see other than the spot.)



(Wondering about Soap Lake's lava lamp?  Those backing it hope to draw tourists to a struggling resort community.)
- 4:02 PM, 4 December 2004   [link]


What Kind Of People Don't Know How To Vote?  Democrats, mostly.   That's the conclusion I draw from latest Ohio election results.

President Bush's victory over Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., in Ohio was closer than the unofficial election night totals showed, according to county-by-county results made available Friday, but the change won't trigger an automatic recount.

Bush's margin of victory in the state that put him over the top on Nov. 2 will be about 119,000 votes, in contrast to the election night count of 136,000, the figures showed.

The margin shrank primarily because of provisional ballots and overseas ballots that were not counted on Election Day.

(There was also a machine error that gave Bush an extra 2,893 votes in one precinct.)

Why do I think that the imbalance in provisional votes shows that Democrats are more likely to have trouble voting?  Because provisional votes are often cast by voters who have made some mistake, gone to the wrong precinct (in some states), registered under a different name than they usually use, or something similar.  We would expect more of those mistakes from less educated voters, and the Democrats have most of those voters.  (As well, of course, as most of the professors, and other highly educated voters.)

Since Democrats are more likely to have trouble voting than Republicans, easing election rules to allow vote counters to try to figure out the intent of voters tends to give Democratic candidates a few more votes than they would get otherwise.  Which is why we so often see fights between the two parties over whether intent should count.  We saw just those arguments made in 2000 Florida fight between Bush and Gore and we are seeing them again in this year's fight between Washington's gubernatorial candidates, Dino Rossi and Christine Gregoire.

My own view is that we should make voting rules as clear as we can, and then enforce them strictly.  I thought that Sandra Day O'Connor had it right in 2000 when she suggested that the directions for voting be the standard.  If you follow them, your vote counts; if you don't, it may not.  Of course Justice O'Connor is a Republican.  (If the current laws allow vote counters to try to divine a voter's intent, then vote counters should follow those laws — and the laws should be changed.)

The small partisan advantage for Republicans in the strict enforcement of voting rules makes me admire this sensible Thomas Shapley column even more.  Shapley argues that voters have an obligation to follow the procedures, and vote counters have an obligation to follow the rules, not try to divine intent.  The Seattle PI does not often argue for measures that would give an advantage to the Republican party, so it is a pleasure to see one of their editorial writers put principal above partisanship.

(For many decades, Democrats were proud of the support they received from the less educated and the poor.  Now many Democrats seem uneasy about that support; certainly John Kerry did in this last election.  In contrast, Republican reformers — and there are more of them than some think — are excited about proposals, such as charter schools, that they think might help the poor, especially the urban poor.

Republicans have another advantage.  They sometimes win down ballot races, even when they lost the top races, because, in my experience, Republican voters are a little more likely to vote in all the races

Cross posted at Sound Politics.)
- 3:10 PM, 4 December 2004   [link]


Still Using Internet Explorer?  You should consider switching to Firefox.  You can download a free copy and try it out, or you can buy it on a CD with a manual.  It blocks pop-ups automatically, and is much less prone to hacker attacks than Internet Explorer.  Most users think the interface is cleaner.  Firefox does not do email, but there is an email program, Thunderbird, that goes with it.

I use it some of the time and like it.  Why not all the time?  Because there is another Linux browser, Galeon, with two features that make it preferable, even though Galeon — at least the version I use — is buggier than Firefox.  (Although after a crash, Galeon does let you recover your work.)  Galeon has a better implementation of tabbed browsing than Firefox, and it has finer control of text size.  Why the Firefox team didn't simply copy these features, I am not sure, though not everyone will find them as useful as I do.

(Some users, after their latest frustration with Windows, will wonder whether they shouldn't go all the way and switch to Linux.  Although I use Linux myself, I do not recommend it for most users.  There are two groups who could benefit from it.  Those who want to learn about computers should definitely experiment with Linux.  And those who have never used computers might want to consider Linux instead of Windows — if they have a geek handy to install and maintain it for them.   Suppose, for instance, that you have not used computers but want one for email, letters and some simple games like solitaire.  Suppose your nephew, or someone similar, is willing to install it for you.  Then I don't think you will find it much harder to use than Windows, and it will be less risky than Windows XP.  Those who are experimenting with Linux will probably want to start with a live CD that boots into Linux, such as Knoppix, and then try a dual boot system that runs both Windows and and Linux.

Which of the zillion varieties (or distributions, as they are usually called) of Linux would be best?  There are probably as many opinions on that as there are Linux users.  A year or so ago, I would have recommended Red Hat to most people.  But they stopped selling their desk top version and spun that off into a free version, Fedora, which I do not like as well.  Besides Fedora, you might want to look at the SuSE distribution, which is very popular in Europe, or the Xandros distribution, which gets very high marks for ease of installation and use.  In some versions, it allows you to run many Windows programs.

If Linux sounds interesting to you, feel free to email me questions on it.  I am not an expert, but I have used it for a number of years.)
- 4:51 PM, 3 December 2004   [link]


Pollution Can Be Beautiful:  For an example, look at this picture of Mt. St. Helens, taken two days ago.



That beautiful orange plume rising from the center of the volcano is the worst single air pollution source in all of Washington state.
Since Mount St. Helens started erupting in early October, it has been pumping out between 50 and 250 tons a day of sulfur dioxide, the lung-stinging gas that causes acid rain and contributes to haze.

Those emissions are so high that if the volcano was a new factory, it probably couldn't get a permit to operate, said Clint Bowman, an atmospheric physicist for the Washington Department of Ecology.

All of the state's industries combined produce about 120 tons a day of the noxious gas.

The volcano has even pulled ahead of the coal-fired power plant near Centralia that is normally the state's top air polluter.  In the mid-1990s, when the facility's emission rate was about 200 tons a day, regulators pressed for $250 million in pollution controls to bring it down to today's level of 27 tons.
Fortunately not many people live near St. Helens, so the pollution doesn't do much damage.  It would be interesting to know what effects it has on the animals and plants near by.

St. Helens is not the only Washington volcano that has been a serious pollution source.  Mt. Baker, near the Canadian border, was pouring out similar quantities of pollutants in the 1970s.   Other volcanoes put out far more pollutants than either St. Helens or Baker.  Judging by the article, the worst, at least in its effect on people, may be Italy's Mt. Etna.

(Here's the volcano cam if you want to check on the pollution yourself.  As I have mentioned before, the views are usually best around sunrise and sunset (about 7:30 AM and 4:00 PM, PST, currently).

If you want to know more about the Cascade volcanoes, I recommend Stephen Harris's Fire Mountains of the West, a great book for anyone with an interest in geology.)
- 1:20 PM, 3 December 2004   [link]


You Think We Have Election Problems?  You should look at the problems in Saudi Arabia caused by the strict segregation of women.
Many Saudi females were not happy with my last article regarding the reasons I believed why it was difficult for Saudi women to vote.
. . .
One of the comments made by a Saudi female, responding to my last article, is that we do not need separate ballot centers for men or women so that sinful mixing could not occur.  Instead we could have different voting hours for men and women.  Women could come, for example, from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.  And men could come from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.  That way there would be no mixing.   Good suggestion.

But employing Saudi women to answer queries from Saudi women is not easy, especially in remote areas.  Then of course the problem still exists of finding women who are willing to work in village or small towns.  If the women are willing then they would need male escorts to stay with them there, in addition of course to finding male drivers since women are not allowed to drive here.
And the author goes on to describe many more practical problems, problems that will have no good solutions as long as Saudi Arabia continues to treat women so shamefully.

(This extreme segregation by sex is one of the tenets of Saudi Arabia's official form of Islam, Wahabbism.  It is a quite new sect, comparatively speaking, having arisen in the 18th century.  From what I have read — and I make no claim to be an expert on the subject — their ideas on the proper of treatment of women (and many other subjects) are far more extreme than Mohammed's.  That would be ironic if it were not for the immense suffering their ideas cause, and not just in Saudi Arabia.)
- 8:12 AM, 3 December 2004   [link]


Attacks On Freedom Of Speech in the United States now come almost entirely from the left.  Some recent examples:
  • Berkley, California has refused to issue a permit for a Rally Against Global Terrorism, because it "might be perceived as a pro-Israel Rally".

  • At Yale, the entire run of a Conservative student publication was stolen.  The issue addressed academic freedom at Yale.  The Yale administration claims to be sympathetic, but has done nothing to find the thieves.

  • Denver is refusing to allow a church to have a float with a Christian theme in its "Festival of Lights" parade.  The parade organizers are allowing some groups with religious themes, notably the "Two Spirit Society, which honors gay and lesbian American Indians as holy people".
A few of the threats to freedom of speech are not from the left; by way of the "Watchmaker", I learned that an Alabama lawmaker wants to ban positive portrayals of gays in the state's libraries.

But most of them are.  The problem is so severe in our universities that an organization, FIRE, has been founded to fight for academic freedom.  They are recommending a movie, Brainwashing 101, to anyone who wants to see some examples of the problem.  If you have a broadband connection, you can watch the movie on line free; otherwise it would be best to order the DVD for 20 dollars.

Maybe I am too idealistic, but I find it troubling that so few academics protest these attacks on freedom of speech on their campuses.  It's one of the many reasons that I think our universities are in desperate need of reform.

(The Denver minister, Pastor George Morrison, is taking a very Christian attitude toward the rejection of his church's float.
Instead of being in the parade, Morrison's group now plans to walk the route an hour before, singing hymns and offering hot chocolate.
These "Festivals of Light" are intended, quite deliberately I am sure, to replace Christmas, with a non-Christian holiday.  I think cities would do better not to take sides.  If some private groups want to celebrate Christmas with a parade, they should be allowed to; if other private groups want to celebrate whatever with a "Festival of Lights", they should be allowed to also.   But the cities shouldn't sponsor either the Christian celebration, or the anti-Christian celebration.)
- 7:18 AM, 3 December 2004   [link]


Last Year, Lynne Truss's guide to punctuation, Eats, Shoots & Leaves, was a runaway hit in Britain.  This year, another book, The Pocket Book of Patriotism, is having some of the same success.
Britain, it seems, is forgetting its history.  Thank goodness, then, for The Pocket Book of Patriotism.  The 64-page volume is a timeline of historic events that made the UK the nation it is today.  From Stonehenge in 2000 BC to the England rugby team's World Cup triumph in 2003, the book contains the essential dates, quotes and speeches of our history.  It is perfect for those teenagers who can name the line-up of the new Band Aid single, but not the six wives of Henry VIII.
. . .
Financed with the help of friends, [George] Courtauld printed 10,000 copies of the book and published it last month.  He needed to sell half of them to break even — a tall order without a publishing house's marketing muscle behind him.

Yet such is the demand for The Pocket Book of Patriotism that, astonishingly, he took 26,000 orders in the first week.  It is now into its fifth print run, and the website Courtauld set up to sell the book received 142,000 hits last Thursday alone.
What the two books share, of course, is that they cover material one would expect to be taught in the schools.  If this mother's account is accurate, British schools are failing to teach history in ways that will seem familiar to many Americans.  Perhaps the author of the The Pocket Book of Patriotism can license a similar book for this nation.

(Here's the book's web site, for the curious.  I'll have to pick up a copy the next time I visit Britain, since I have this sneaking suspicion that the British history I learned from 1066 And All That may not have been entirely accurate.

Finally, I must confess that I do not know the "line-up of the new Band Aid single", and can only think of two Henry's wives off hand.)
- 4:13 PM, 2 December 2004   [link]


Red, Blue, And Purple:  You may have noticed that I don't talk about red and blue states at this site.  One reason for that is my annoyance at the color coding, which is reversed from what it should be.  The other reason, more important, is that avoiding the color coding helps me avoid many errors, or at least so I think.

I have written several times about the ecological fallacy, which people often fall into when they divide the nation into red and blue states.  That's a serious technical mistake, which often leads to incorrect conclusions.  I've discussed it before, and I see it so often that I will discuss it again, probably soon.

There's a more fundamental problem with the red-blue division.  When we divide the states (or people) into red and blue we collapse into two boxes what would be better measured with a linear scale.  Let me give you an example from just after the election.  I was getting groceries at a local Safeway, and the checker, without me even bringing up politics, told me, with some emotion, about her mixed feelings about the election.  She had voted, she said, for Kerry, but she had hoped that Bush would win.  She said more, making it clear just how conflicted she had been about her choice.  Now would you describe her as red, or blue?  I don't think either really fits.

If we grant that the Safeway checker is in the middle, then we have to throw our two boxes away and at least* set up a scale from left to right to measure how people feel about the parties.   There are more like her than you might think.  Nearly 1 in 10 switched parties between 2000 and 2004, according to the New York Times exit polls, with about equal numbers of switchers going in each direction.

What is true of individuals is also true of states.  Consider Iowa.  In 2000, George W. Bush lost it by 4,144 votes.  This year, he won it by 14,045 votes.  Is Iowa a red state, a blue state, or somewhere in between?  I think the last makes the most sense, especially when you recall that Iowa has a Democratic governor and a Democratic senator.

Even the states that gave the strongest support to each candidate gave substantial support to his opponent.  Bush may have lost Massachusetts to John Kerry, but he still got 37 percent of the vote there.  Even in Utah John Kerry attracted almost 27 percent of the vote.   With states, as with people, a linear scale makes more sense than two boxes.

(*I say at least because it is sometimes better to use a set of scales, an n-dimensional spatial model, if you want the jargon, rather than a single scale.  I may explain more about such models some time, if I think there is an audience for it.)
- 3:18 PM, 2 December 2004   [link]


There's A New Category, "References", in the left hand column.   For the moment, there is just one item in the category, but I plan to expand it greatly over time, and may even give it a page of its own.

(The single item, Wikipedia, is a free on-line encyclopedia.  I often use it, but always with caution.  You can see some of its strengths and weaknesses in these three articles on George H. W. Bush, George W. Bush, and the Bush Family Conspiracy Theory.   You'll find all of the charges from the left, even the nutty left, but not much on the achievements of the two men.  On the other hand, the articles do seem to get the dates and places right.

What have they left out?  Two big examples.  Bush 41's great environmental achievements and Bush 43's educational achievements in Texas.  The articles are not so much "warts and all" as warts and nothing else.  And I must add that, if I cared to, I could add those to the articles, since they let anyone edit their articles.)
- 9:20 AM, 2 December 2004   [link]


There's A Headline Writer at the Seattle PI who doesn't use my procedure for checking metaphors.  As some of you will recall, I try to visualize a metaphor to see if it makes sense.  Now, try visualizing this headline for a column on the replacements for Dan Rather and Tom Brokaw.
A new guard of anchors is on the horizon
I start by visualizing anchors, which is easy enough.  I can put a group of them on the horizon, although they look weird there, since I expect anchors to be on a ship or on the bottom.  But a "new guard" of anchors?  I just can't visualize that.

What should the headline writer have said?  Maybe just "New anchors coming" or something equally simple.  Much of the problem comes from the fact that "anchor" is a poor choice for someone better described as a news reader.

(There are some funny things in the column, as well as in its headline.  Ms. McFarland thinks that:
The great influence, and strength, of CNN, Fox News Channel and MSNBC has been putting the emphasis on hosts and opinions over straight news, profundity and substance.
Unlike ABC, CBS, and NBC?  I have been urging people to avoid those networks for decades, precisely because they lack "straight news, profundity and substance".

And she thinks that the crudely forged National Guard memos that got Dan Rather in trouble are merely "unsubstantiated".)
- 8:35 AM, 2 December 2004   [link]


Karl Zinsmeister has found a new outlet for his writing on the war in Iraq, comic books.
Combat comics are taken to a whole new level!  Three months in the lives of the 82nd Airborne in the Battle for Iraq are chronicled in this groundbreaking series by long-time embedded journalist Karl Zinsmeister ("Boots on the Ground: A Month with the 82nd Airborne in the Battle for Iraq") and penciler Dan Jurgens (Thor, Superman).
Cool.  (If you can still say that without being uncool.)  I don't plan to buy the comic books, but I do plan to get at least one of his books on Iraq.

John Hinderaker, writing in Powerline, where I found this, first thought that comic books were conservative.
I like it--this is a medium in which the liberals will have a hard time competing.
Actually, that's not true, as some of his readers reminded him.  About a decade ago I read an article in the New York Times magazine on the nihilistic ideas then common in comic books.  At the same time, or almost the same time, I saw a column in the New York Times casting scorn on the idea that nihilistic ideas from the Ivy League, and other such dubious places, could reach the underclass in the cities.  The author of the opinion piece could not see any possible connection.  (I don't know if he still held that opinion after he read the article on comic books.)

That drift to the anti-American, or at least anti-Bush, left has gone far in comic books, as Brent Bozell tells us.
It was only a matter of time, I suppose.  Comic-book superheroes have gone into the liberal political indoctrination business.

The September issue of the DC Comics book "Justice League of America," or "JLA," presents Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman as U.N.-promoting paper dolls for a thinly disguised propaganda play against President Bush's war on Saddam Hussein.
Wonder if the same DC writer will do an episode on the UN oil for food scandal?

- 8:09 AM, 2 December 2004   [link]


Montana Has Close Races, Too:  Washington residents who have been concentrating on our ultra-close race for governor may have missed this result.
A two-day recount of a Montana legislative race that will determine the balance of power in the state House resulted in a tie Tuesday, prompting an immediate legal challenge and sparking partisan allegations of wrongdoing.

The tally of votes in House District 12 by Lake County officials showed Democrat Jeanne Windham of Polson and Constitution Party candidate Rick Jore of Ronan in a dead heat at 1,559 votes apiece.   Initial results showed Jore with a two-vote lead.
. . .
If Windham holds the seat, Democrats and Republicans would be split at 50 members apiece and the two parties would share control of the House in the 2005 Legislature.  If Jore is seated as a third-party candidate, the GOP would have a 50-49 advantage over Democrats and run the House with majorities on all committees.
That's not a "virtual tie"; that's a real tie, with real results.

The article is not explicit about Montana's mechanism for settling ties, though I am fairly certain, from the maneuvering, that the governor breaks ties.  That complicates the matter since a Democratic governor will replace a Republican governor this January.  Naturally, Republicans charge that the lawsuit filed by Windham is intended to delay matters until the Democrat takes office.

Commonly, states have a way for breaking ties, often a coin flip or something similar.  Sometimes a state will allow the candidates to choose a game of chance to settle matters, so you occasionally see a legislative race decided by drawing cards — and not just in Nevada.
- 2:03 PM, 1 December 2004   [link]


These Votes May Be Funnier to Republicans than Democrats.
Christine Gregoire, trailing in the governor's race by 42 ballots, undoubtedly lost some key votes among fans of King County Executive Ron Sims.

Sims, Gregoire's opponent in the September Democratic primary, picked up 502 write-in votes in King County alone, according to write-in totals released yesterday by the county elections office.
. . .
Ironically, the Sims votes don't even count.  Under state law, a candidate who loses in the primary cannot be a write-in candidate in the general election.
I have started calling votes like these, which are not intended to choose an office holder, but to express a feeling, "expressive" votes.  Nearly always they make no difference in the result, but sometimes, as in this case, they might have.  (Votes intended to choose an office holder could be called "instrumental" votes, I suppose, though there may be a better adjective.)

I disapprove, mildly, of expressive votes.  A bit of thought will show you that our democratic system depends on voters making choices, not expressing feelings when they vote.  Voters who indulge themselves by casting expressive votes are being, I think, just a little irresponsible.   And, once in a while, they may regret it.

(Are votes cast for third parties such as the Greens or the Libertarians "expressive" votes?   In general, yes, though there are a few situations in which they are not.  New York state, for example, allows third parties to endorse major party candidates, so the third parties there often act as factions within the two major parties.  And there are a few local races where third party candidates have realistic chances to win.)
- 7:28 AM, 1 December 2004   [link]