December 2004, Part 3
Jim Miller on Politics
What Do Men Want? For Christmas, that is. This year I have been amused to see the commercials from Men's Wearhouse, directed toward women. The commercials concede that it is impossible to figure out what men want, but then suggest coming to the Men's Wearhouse to purchase what men need. (This may not be a good idea; John Molloy, author of Dress for Success, thinks that most women are good at choosing clothes for men that appeal to women, but not at choosing clothes that will impress other men. Since most men have male supervisors, they should usually choose clothes for men, rather than women, at least at work.)
Meanwhile, the jewelry stores are running ads that tell men that women are easy to understand; women want jewelry, the bigger and flashier the better.
These ads reverse the usual perception, that women find it easier to choose presents for men, than men do for women, which is why they struck me.
What do I think? In my experience both men and women find it harder to choose presents for the opposite sex than for their own, though women are, on the average, better at it than men. Much of the problem is simply lack of knowledge. Many women would like clothes for presents; most men know too little about women's clothes to make good choices. Many men would like tools as presents; most women know too little about tools to make good choices. A week ago I saw a women at Fry's Electronics, who had been given a list of three items by her husband. She was telling a clerk that she had no idea what any of them were, but she wanted to buy the best of the three. I am sure that you could find similar scenes with puzzled husbands where women's clothes are sold.
And do I have any suggestions? If I can't think of a present for a women, I'll get her chocolates or a gift certificate to a clothing store. (And if you ladies have a better idea, let me know.) Nearly every man I know would like this book, although I wouldn't give it to any guy under 16.
- 6:16 AM, 23 December 2004 [link]
God Works In Mysterious Ways: This morning on the Dave Ross talk show (currently being hosted by substitute Allan Prell), Democratic state party chairman Paul Berendt said, speaking of Democratic candidate Christine Gregoire, that "God has placed her" in the governor's office. To his credit, Prell immediately broke in to challenge this claim, but Berendt repeated that he saw "Providence" in the recent re-recount results.
The additional ballots that the King County elections office kept finding now have an explanation that should satisfy nearly everyone. The appearance of these ballots is a miracle, and just before Christmas. No doubt the Pope will soon be sending representatives to study these events.
Churlish people may think that the multiplication of the votes in the King County election offices is not quite as impressive as, say, the miracle of the loaves and fishes. And in this skeptical age, it is even possible that a few Republicans will think that the most recent results were due, not to Providence, but to a county elections office that has embarrassed the entire state. But I am sure that most of us in the state will not want to quarrel with this miracle
Does this mean that Washington state will be a theocracy if Gregoire takes office in January? It would seem so. But it will be a Democratic party theocracy, so that should be OK.Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 3:40 PM, 22 December 2004 [link]
For Years, The King County Elections Office Has Routinely Violated State Law: Lornet Turnbull and David Postman get the biggest scoop yet in King County's increasingly bizarre election story.
But I am not sure Turnbull and Postman realize the implications of their scoop, because they turn immediately from their discovery to how it led to the 735 disputed ballots that King County "found" after the official count. And from that they go to a routine discussion of the re-recount of the governor's race.
It is natural for reporters to look forward, but, in doing so, Turnbull and Postman missed something big. If the King County elections office was routinely counting votes for which they had no signatures, they must have been, for years, counting illegal votes. The reporters do not say how long the office had been failing to check signatures, but I think it fair to guess, given the many problems at the office, that they have been violating state law for some time. If so, EVERY CLOSE ELECTION IN KING COUNTY AND WASHINGTON STATE IN RECENT YEARS IS SUSPECT. And maybe for many more years. We won't know how long King County has been violating state law until there is an investigation, preferably one with subpoena power. Elections won narrowly by Democrats are especially suspect, since King County is predominately Democratic.
Suspect elections would include the 2000 Gorton-Cantwell Senate race, the 2002 win for the Seattle monorail, and probably a number of state legislative races. (At the beginning of next year, I'll be looking for legislative races where the failure to check these signatures may have made a difference. If you have any tips for races to look at, let me know.)
We know from an earlier article in the Seattle Times, which I discussed here, that many absentee ballots do have invalid signatures. This year King County disqualified 2828 ballots for that very reason — and I hope you will understand if I say that I suspect that they could have disqualified many more.
So far, the reaction to this revelation of law breaking by election officials has been muted. I did not see a follow up story in the Seattle Times this morning, and neither the Times nor the Seattle PI has an editorial on this remarkable story. I haven't seen anyone call for the officials who were breaking the law to be prosecuted, dismissed, reprimanded, or even given a cold cup of coffee. As far as I know, King County executive Ron Sims has said nothing about this systematic violation of state law by his employees.
I plan to work to change that reaction, so this violation of state law by public employees gets the attention it deserves. I hope those of you who live in this state will join me in that effort. And I think we should consider fairly extreme measures; for example, if the law allows it, we should consider beginning a recall campaign for Ron Sims, if he does not make an effort to investigate and discipline those responsible. I doubt very much that such a recall would succeed, but I think it might get his attention.Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 7:35 AM, 21 December 2004 [link]
Komo TV's Ken Schram borrows my joke and goes looking for misplaced King County ballots.
I figure with the way things have been going, your vote could be just about anywhere.And just as I did, he found that everyone gets the joke. And, though he checked more places than I have, he didn't find any stray ballots either.
(Do I think Schram actually borrowed my joke? Probably not, though the group blog, Sound Politics, where I cross posted the joke, has drawn considerable attention recently. It's fine if he did, since that's what I asked people to do.
And while I am on the subject, I should mention that Stefan Sharkansky found that a variant of the joke worked well at SeaTac airport.)
- 5:56 AM, 21 December 2004 [link]
Count Every Vote, Legal Or Illegal: That's the position of the New York Times on Washington's gubernatorial election and San Diego's mayoralty election. In the San Diego case, the illegality of the ballots in question does not appear to be in doubt, but the New York Times wants them counted anyway. The legality of including additional votes in a re-recount of Washington's gubernatorial race is not clear to me; I suspect that including them is, in fact, not legal.
But that wouldn't matter to the New York Times editorial board. If they favor counting illegal votes (to help a leftist candidate) in San Diego, I think we can reasonably conclude that they would favor counting illegal votes (to help a leftist candidate) in Washington, too.
Would the New York Times favor counting illegal votes if they helped Republican candidates? I doubt it. The newspaper did an extensive investigation of military ballots in the 2000 Florida dispute hoping to establish that some had been cast illegally. (A few had, or at least that's what the investigation concluded.) The newspaper did not do an extensive investigation of the other side of the question, whether military ballots had been improperly disqualified. (Some had.)
The background of a recent addition to the Times editorial board, Carolyn Curiel, may be of interest for those wondering just how partisan the New York Times is.
There's a woman who can instill confidence in Republicans.
The New York Times is not the only newspaper to argue that illegal votes should be counted; Mark Trahant, editorial page editor of the Seattle PI, took the same position in this column.
How the editorial board at the Times, or Mark Trahant, expect Republicans to have confidence in a system that counts illegal votes, most of them going to Democratic candidates, is beyond me. Maybe neither have enough contact with Republicans to understand that point.I have thought for some years that newspapers are one of the biggest obstacles we have to real election reform, reform that would lead to systems that count, not every vote, but every legal vote. Sadly, this editorial and this column provide two more reasons for thinking that newspapers are part of the problem. Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 1:50 PM, 20 December 2004 [link]
Working Poor Families Pay Little Or Nothing In Federal Taxes: Who says so? The Tax Policy Center, which is jointly sponsored by two liberal organizations, Brookings and the Urban Institute.
Take a look at the third table for some numbers. In 2004, a single working person at the poverty level would pay a total of 900 dollars in federal income and payroll taxes. A married couple, or a single person with one child at that level, would pay 712 dollars in combined taxes. A married couple with one child, or a single person with two children, would pay a total of -1,188 dollars in combined taxes. That's right; thanks to the earned income tax credit, they would receive more back than they paid in. And a family of four at the poverty level would do even better; they would get 1,752 dollars back.
This is the result of deliberate policy changes over three decades, by a series of presidents and congresses. Take a look at this table, which shows the changes from 1970 to 2002. In 1970, a poor family with two dependents paid 8.5 percent of their wages in income and payroll taxes. (I am almost certain that unlabeled second line in the table is the number of dependents.) That rose to 10.3 percent in 1985 because of increases in payroll taxes. In 1990, thanks to George H. W. Bush's increase in the earned income tax credit, it had fallen to 2.4 percent. Bill Clinton increased the earned income tax credit again, and the share fell to -8.9 percent in 1995 and -13.4 percent in 2000. In 2002, after the first round of Bush tax cuts, the share had fallen further, to -15.6 percent. In three decades, these working poor families had gone from paying 10 percent of their wages in taxes to getting 15 percent back, a total change of 25 percent in their favor.
Could we go much further? It is hard to see how, without imposing very stiff marginal tax rates on the working poor. It would be possible to cut tax rates for working poor singles, though that has much less support in Congress. (There is one way we could cut federal taxes for some of the working poor, but it does not have many supporters. Cigarette and beer taxes are disproportionately paid by the poor, something almost never mentioned by those who want them raised.)
And now the current Bush administration is floating the idea of increasing taxes on the better off, as part of social security reform.
Bush administration officials on Sunday refused to rule out the possibility that high-income earners would be required to make larger payroll tax contributions as part of Social Security reform.We heard a lot in the last campaign about tax cuts for the rich. We didn't hear much about the tax cuts for the poor, even from those who had supported them.
(An economist might quibble with the tax rates they use for social security. The individual tax rates are 7.7 percent, but that neglects the "employer's contribution", which most economists think is simply another tax on the individual. That's why I say little or nothing.)
- 7:56 AM, 20 December 2004 [link]
Reverend Sensing Dismisses the controversy over adding armor as a "tempest in a teapot". And he has the facts. When Specialist Thomas Wilson asked Secretary Donald Rumsfeld about armor, here was the situation for his unit, the Tennessee Army National Guard's 278th Regimental Combat Team.
In fact, of the unit's 830 vehicles, only 20 lacked armor when Wilson asked the question, and those 20 were "up armored" by the end of the next day. Wilson's question had nothing to do with their completion; they were already scheduled for completionAnd, as you most likely know, the unit was not in combat in Iraq, but was in Kuwait preparing for combat.
As Reverend Sensing notes, for some reason this part of the story has attracted much less attention from news organizations than the original question.
Many of the Democratic senators and congressmen who complain about shortages of men and equipment voted happily for the Clinton era cuts in the military. It would be entertaining, and maybe even informative, if a reporter for ABC, CBS, CNN, NBC, the New York Times, or the Washington Post would ask a few of those Democrats if their cuts went too far.
- 6:14 AM, 20 December 2004 [link]
More Data On Distributed Vote Fraud: Today's article in the Seattle Times, describing how ballot checks vary in Washington's counties, has some numbers that, indirectly, support my rough estimates on the amount of "distributed vote fraud" in Washington state. (Unfortunately, the table containing the numbers does not seem to be available on line, so you'll have to buy a copy of the newspaper, or take my word for it.)
(Missed my posts on distributed vote fraud? It isn't a new idea, though my phrase for it may be. What I mean by distributed vote fraud is the vote fraud committed, not by party officials or candidates, but by individual voters acting on their own, for example, non-citizens voting simply because they want to. I described it here, gave it a name here, and wrote a disclaimer on my estimates here.)
Now the numbers. The table shows, for 22 of Washington's 39 counties, the total number of rejected ballots, and, of those, the number rejected for mismatched signatures. The Seattle Times uses the table to make an important point about the varying rejection rates in Washington's counties, but we can also use it to check my estimate on fraudulent votes. In those 22 counties, which hold most of Washington's population, 2828 votes were rejected for mismatched signatures. Since about 3 million people voted in November, that means that 1 in a 1000 Washington state voters had their vote rejected for this single reason. Most of the counties make an effort to contact voters when there is a signature mismatch, and to correct it, if possible, though the efforts vary with the county. Given that, I think it fair to conclude that nearly all of those 2828 votes are in fact fraudulent.
But that wasn't the only reason that votes were rejected. Those same 22 counties rejected 19,577 ballots totally. Not all of the ballots were rejected because of fraud. Some, for instance, were rejected because a voter did not sign their ballot, which is absent-mindedness, not fraud. But many of them must have been fraudulent votes, cast by, for example, people who were not registered. So we can say that the election officials detected somewhere between 2828 and 19,577 fraudulent ballots, just in those 22 counties.
Did election officials detect all the fraudulent ballots? Of course not. In fact, there is good reason to think that election officials didn't even detect all the signature mismatches. The clerk who checks the signatures has to balance Type 1 and Type 2 errors, though I doubt many of the clerks think of their decision in exactly those terms. If a clerk decides, after the comparison, that the signature is invalid when it is really valid, then the clerk commits a Type 1 error. If the clerk concludes that the signature is valid when it is really invalid, then the clerk commits a Type 2 error. Most clerks will, I am sure, prefer to make Type 2 errors and let some fraudulent signatures slip through, rather than reject even a few valid signatures. (And perhaps we should want them to commit many more Type 2 errors, though that is a separate question.)
The same kind of thinking is found, I am sure, in other places where election officials try to detect fraudulent ballots. The clerks who check signatures will be inclined to let dubious signatures pass because it is less trouble for them. Officials in other parts of the system will make similar judgments, for similar reasons.
In my October and November posts, I offered this guesstimate for Washington state. There were somewhere between 3,000 and 30,000 fraudulent votes cast in the November election, giving a net gain to the statewide Democratic candidates of somewhere between 1,000 and 10,000 votes. I think these numbers on rejected ballots show that my guesstimate is plausible.
The distribution of the rejected ballots supports my argument that most of the fraudulent votes cast last November were cast for Democratic candidates. King County, with about a third of the state's population, had 1,976 of the 2828 ballots rejected for signature mismatches. The Seattle Times thinks that shows uneven application of the law. That may be part of it, but I think it also shows that there are more crooks in my home county than in the state as a whole.Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 7:42 PM, 19 December 2004 [link]
Choosing A Digital Camera: In the last week, I have been asked for my thoughts on choosing a digital camera by three complete strangers, one of them the woman from Federal Express who delivered my Olympus C-765. Consumer Reports says that the top product search on its site this year is for digital cameras. Since the interest is so high, I decided to collect, in one post, the resources I used to choose my own digital camera. They will be of most help to those, like me, who are not expert photographers.
I would suggest beginning with the November issue of Consumer Reports, which includes articles on digital cameras, photofinishing, and more. The magazine used the simplest classification for the digital cameras they review, megapixels. Cameras with 3 megapixels or fewer are for "everyday snapshots with little or no editing", those with 4-5 megapixels are for "snapshots and 8x10s from cropped photos", and those with 6-8 megapixels are for "maximum flexibility in cropping and enlarging". They mention, but do not cover, digital SLRs.
This is not a bad way to start, but it leaves out a great deal and lumps together very different cameras. I should mention, just to show that I have done my homework, that not all pixels are created equal. The digital SLRs have larger sensors and so will take better pictures than some "prosumer" cameras with more pixels. I have seen articles claiming that the quality of the sensor varied with the manufacturer and the model, which seems plausible to me. And of course, there is considerable variation in the quality of the lenses on the cameras, and probably in the quality of the processing in the camera.
That said, here are the Consumer Reports' "Quick Picks" for the three (or four) categories:
Despite such problems, the article does have a big table giving the basic specs on 76 cameras, and a fair amount of basic advice, most of it sensible, as far as I can tell.
If you want to do more research, you could use the article to make a list of cameras that interest you and then go to one of the web sites that reviews digital cameras. I used four of them, Steve's Digicams, Digital Camera Resource, Digital Photography review, and Imaging Resource. I found Steve's Digicams the best for my purposes, but not as easy to use as Digital Camera Resource. At all four sites, you'll find extended reviews, along with many sample pictures from the cameras.
Or, you can skip Consumer Reports and go directly to the sites, where you can find Steve's best cameras, Digital Camera's Holiday Picks, and the Imaging Resource's Holiday Gift Guide, along with other guides for choosing a camera.
There's one point on which I disagree with most of the professionals. Most of them prefer standard AA batteries to the more expensive proprietary batteries that the manufacturers are moving toward. I would agree, if everything else were equal, but it isn't, since the proprietary batteries give you more shots for a single charge. For example, the big Consumer Reports table shows that the Olympus C-740 gets just 65 shots to a charge, while my C-765 gets 130. They are similar cameras, but the 740 uses AA batteries and the 765 uses proprietary Lithium batteries — but not that proprietary, because several manufacturers already sell replacements for the Olympus battery.
If you buy a camera, you may want to purchase an ink jet printer, as I just did, to print your photographs. Several manufacturers are currently offering attractive rebates when you purchase both a camera and a printer, so you can save money by purchasing the two together. You should not expect to save money per print; stores such as Walmart are now doing 4x6 prints for as little as 24 cents. But the ink jet printers do allow you to experiment with your photos in ways the big stores do not. Canon, Epson, and HP all make fine photo printers. For example, Epson's R800 has drawn praise from many professionals, and you can get almost as high quality prints from Epson's R300 and R200, for much less money. For that matter, you can get good prints from general purpose ink jets such as Epson's C-84. (The photo ink jets usually hold more colors of ink (at least 6) than the general purpose ink jet printers. They may not be as good at printing ordinary business documents, though.)
Finally, I would strongly suggest that, before buying a camera, you make sure it is easy to hold. In my own search for a camera, I found many models that did not fit my hands, that I found awkward to handle and easy to drop. The efforts to make digital cameras ever smaller, and to add features, has resulted in models that many photographers will find hard to use, though the cameras may look cute in the store or the advertisement.
(Back to politics soon, though not entirely, since I will also have some suggestions for Christmas books in the next few days.)
- 9:40 AM, 19 December 2004 [link]
So Far I'm Pleased: With the new camera, which arrived yesterday, that is. The Olympus C-765 is about what I expected. The picture quality is quite good, especially for the price, and the camera has all sorts of manual controls and modes for me to play with. There's one mode I expect to use often, black and white. I have done a little photography with black and white film, but never took the time to learn much about it.
Here's a sample picture I took in downtown Kirkland this noon. To save those who have dial-up connections, like me, I have cropped and compressed the picture from about 900 kilobytes to about 15 kilobytes, but I think it will give you a hint about what the camera can do.
It is a bit hazy today, if you are wondering.
- 2:58 PM, 18 December 2004 [link]
All You Need Is The Punch Line: Yesterday, suspecting that the re-recount in King County had become a universal joke, I tried out just the punch line at a local Safeway and a local McDonald's. In each case, I just said, with no set up line, that I hoped they had looked for any stray ballots; in each case I got a chuckle.
And that was before this revelation, that King County may have "misplaced" 162 absentee ballots, in addition to all the others they have misplaced.
Could we forget to pay the person who did this — until they quit?
It's drastic, but I can see the sense in Ralph Munro's proposal that we do the election over.
Cross posted at Sound Politics.
(Feel free to try my experiment with the punch line. I'd be interested to know whether most ordinary citizens get the joke, especially in Seattle. The Safeway and the McDonald's are right on the boundary between areas that voted for Gregoire and areas that voted for Rossi, for what it's worth.And here's a suggestion for an enterprising journalist: The elected official most responsible for this fiasco is King County Executive Ron Sims. Why not ask him if he is still defending his elections office? He was just a few days ago.)
- 6:48 AM, 17 December 2004 [link]
Relax About Christmas: That's the sensible advice given by this Canadian atheist.
The goal [being inclusive] is noble, if not the methods. The idea that there is something exclusive about saying "Merry Christmas," is, of course, nonsense. I am an atheist, and it doesn't make me feel excluded. It would be exclusive to say "Merry Christmas, unless you're not a Christian, in which case you're going to suffer for eternity." I would definitely feel excluded — and scared — if people said that.If you want to celebrate Christmas for religious reasons, go ahead. If you want to celebrate it for other reasons, as the most of the Japanese do, go ahead.
In Japan, where I taught business English to auto-industry executives, Christmas is a surprisingly big deal. Dec. 25 is not a holiday in Japan — though Dec. 23, the emperor's birthday, is, which qualifies it to fall under the umbrella of "Season's Greetings."Like Ms. Adamson, I generally wish people a "Merry Christmas" at this time of year, unless I know they are not Christians. If they are store clerks, I insulate it with a preface and say something like: "If it won't get you in trouble with the management, I'd like to wish you a Merry Christmas." Almost always I get a smile in return, usually a relieved smile, it seems to me.
For me, Christmas is mostly a family celebration, if you are wondering.
(*Reveillon? It's a family feast held after midnight church services. Here's a description from New Orleans.
In the 18th century, there was no Santa Claus, no Christmas tree, and no shopping extravaganza. But gatherings of families and friends to feast and drink following the midnight services were common. This was the beginning of the reveillon tradition, which lasted for more than two hundred years in Creole homes.Sounds like fun, especially if you don't have to do the cooking.)
- 6:02 AM, 17 December 2004 [link]