Kilroy Was Here
February 26, 2003
Acceptable Proof and Jealous Boyfriends
In Slate today, Timothy Noah waxes hysterical about French's claim that they have seen no evidence of U.N. violations.

I have to admit that I have been confused by this whole 'indisputable proof' and 'PI' line of argument that Tim Noah's been posting over the last week or so.

However, the following line strikes me as logically fallacious. Noah writes:

This puts to mind the jealous boyfriend who demands proof that his girlfriend isn't having an affair. You have to ask, what would constitute proof? What would satisfy the boyfriend that his beloved isn't making him a cuckold?

Note, that there is a difference between proving that something doesn't exist (i.e. logical impossibility) and something doesn't exist any more.

The claim that something no longer exists presupposes a proof that that thing existed at some time in the past.

Back to the jealous boyfriend example, if Jealous Boyfriend has pictures or letters of a prior relationship with the Other Man, then Jealous Boyfriend might be justified into asking Cheating Girlfriend for some sort of show of faith (or faithfulness).

However, if Jealous Boyfriend only suspects Cheating Girlfriend of cheating with the Other Man and has no proof, it would be unfair of Jealous Boyfriend to demand such proof from Cheating Girlfriend. For if Cheating Girlfriend denies any relationship with the Other Man, what can Jealous Boyfriend say? And how can respond to Cheating Girlfriend's claim that he's just being paranoid?

Back to Iraq, since I have seen no proof that 'mobile biological labs' ever existed, it's unfair of the U.S. to force Iraq to prove that these labs don't exist now.

February 25, 2003
Why I Am Against the War: Part 1 - Preventative War is Morally Dubious

Many people who argue for the war do not comprehend the depth of change in the United States policy that the upcoming war in Iraq represents. For example, Rush Limbaugh, in his Feb. 17th show, compares the upcoming war with Iraq with similar actions in Bosnia, or Somalia.

However, as the PBS show Frontline so thoroughly documented, the upcoming war with Iraq represents a serious departure from the policy of containment that has guided United States policy for over fifty years.

The policy of containment is one where the United States prevents rival nations from exercising any aggressive intentions through a complex dance of diplomacy and deterrence. During the Cold War, containment allowed us to eventually overwhelm the Soviet Union and peaceably remove it from the list of enemies to the United States.

While containment was messy and dangerous, it surely was less messy and less dangerous than World War III with the Soviet Union and its hegemony.

Preventative war, on the other hand, is the attempt to avert future risk by invading another sovereign state now. As Michael Walzer states in his article Inspectors Yes, War No:

Preventative war is not ‘preemptive’. Preemptive strikes, such as the Israel strike on Iraq in 1981, are aimed at well documented impending threats to a states actions.

Preventative war, on the other hand, is aimed at more distant threats with harder to calculate risk. It’s not the case that Iraq is an imminent danger to the United States now. Best CIA estimates put an uncontained Iraq’s production of a nuclear device at five years away, and this does not take into account the development of a delivery vehicle.

As Walzer notes in his article:

In other words, we do not know whether or not Saddam Hussein can attain nuclear weapons. Even if he can, we cannot accurately estimate the costs in lives and resources it would take to deter Saddam Hussein or even the cost if he was able to exercise his new capability.

However, we the costs of a preventative war in terms of civilian casualties, military casualties, and economic resources more easy to estimate. Current estimates of civilian casualties to Iraq number in the hundreds of thousands, and estimates in economic resources number in the billions of dollars.

Not to mention the unknown outcomes of a preventative war in terms of terrorism blowback aimed at the United States, goodwill costs among other allies, and the cost of setting a precedent for the justification of preventative war.

(As an aside, some number that continued rule by Saddam Hussein will have costs in civilian casualties. However, those costs are surely far less than open war. Furthermore, there is no guarantee that future regimes in Iraq might not entail similar costs, and the United States.)

So, on the one hand, we have a nebulous potential risk to American national security with an impact on Americans we cannot calculate.

On the other hand, we have guaranteed losses of civilians, including women and children, with no guarantee that national security for Americans will be increased, and even the potential that American security will be decreased by seeing a rise in terrorism and a weakening of our alliances.

With this choice, I am reminded of the famous short story by Shirley Jackson, The Lottery. In this story, an innocent is picked at random in order to insure the continued prosperity of the town.

Is America prepared now to submit Iraqi children to a new lottery, where we will insure many of their deaths and disfigurement for a chance of increased security? A chance that has never been rationally explained or defended?

What if our children were placed in this lottery? Would we be willing to go to war then?

The Evolution of Cooperation in NASCAR
I've often been intrgued by traffic. In many ways, I find it a beautiful thing. With just a few rules, some social conventions, and each driver trying to get to their location as quickly as possible, a well-choregraphed ballet emerges where brake lights, banking, and merging emerge.

In Social Science at 190 MPH on NASCAR's Biggest Superspeedways, David Ronfeldt details the mechanisms for this emerging cooperation from competition in NASCAR. For those of us who are fans of game theory, such as the Prisoner's Dilemma, and emerging cooperation from individual competition, this, along with Axelrod's Evolution of Cooperation are must reads.

Here's the abstract from the article:

February 21, 2003
Dean in 2004
OK, I've decided. I'm for Dean.

This is tough decision for me. I think that the Democratic field looks pretty good this cycle. I would very easily support Kerry, Edwards, Graham, or Clark. But I just watched Dean on CSPAN's site (you can see Dean speak if you go to the 2:00:00 mark), and I was impressed with his fire, honesty, and issues.

This is who the Democrats need. Go Howard go!
Hydrogen Car Bomb: Part II
Gregg Easterbrook has eviscerated Bush's Hydrogen Car proposal in the latest version of The New Republic.

Easterbrook argues that in order to manufacture hydrogen in the amounts needed to replace the gasoline economy would not reduce dependence on fossil fuels. In fact, hydrogen in that amount can only be produced by "steam forming" natural gas in nuclear reactors. "But that means our miracle zero-emission hydrogen will be produced from fossil fuels via an intermediate stop at a nuclear reactor--not exactly what the Sierra Club had in mind."

Which leads us to Easterbrook's main point:

As Easterbrook notes, we currently have the technology today to make SUVs 25-35 percent more fuel efficient, but we, as a country, are unwilling to make the sacrifice to do so.

Our grandfather's suffered Depression and World War; they gave lives, labor, and love to preserve our country.

We are unwilling to give up our Cadillac Escalades.
A Fable
A communist and a libertarian wanted to get some honey from a hive of bees.

The communist approached the hive and said, "Comrades, under the system of communism we believe that 'from each according to one's abilities, to each according to one's needs' is the law of life. Once you have achieved the proper revolutionary consciousness, you will realize that it is your moral obligation to give me your honey, as I need it. I will give you a party card so that when you approach your comrades with your needs they can give them to you."

The libertarian approached from the other side of the hive. "Don't listen to that statist. You have no obligation to him, nor me. However, under free market capitalism, I can pay you for your honey with this 20 dollar bill, a very fair price, and with this 20 dollar bill, you may determine for yourselves what your needs are and who you should buy them from, instead of relying on others to determine them for you."

The libertarian and the communist argued and argued over their philosophies and which one the bees should accept. "There's only one thing to do", the libertarian said, "we will see whether they accept my 20 dollar bill or your party card for the honey."

Each tried to place his token into the beehive to let the bees decide. At this point, the bees came out of their hive and proceeded to sting the crap out of both of them.

(Originally posted on Kuro5in by pyramid termite.)
February 20, 2003
What If You Do Not Look American
This is a great column in the San Francisco Gate's website by Annie Nakao. I can't add to it, so here it is.

Descartes Demon
In Descartes's Mediations, Descartes loses sleep by forcing himself to doubt the existence of reality:

Studies may now show that this "malignant demon" is in fact our own mind. Consider the following from Michael Schemmer

As I wrote in December, while some may think that atheism is merely a negative position decrying lack of proof in some supreme being, more and more scientific evidence is being proposed to actual describe 'religious' and 'supernatural' human experiences in purely natural ways. The best positive arguments for atheism may lie in human being's understanding of the brain and its workings as well as the understanding of evolution on the human species development.

Descartes would appreciate this. It was from his own attempt to understand the workings of his own mind that precipitated his belief in the mind-body duality, and, from there, his belief in God.

If science can show us more reasons for why this mind-body duality does not exist and how the architecture of our brain developed through evolution lead us to an illusory belief in God, then, I'm sure that Descartes would reexamine his position, and may find himself with more uncertainty in his life, but also more truth.

Stuffing the Electronic Ballot Box, Part II
Salon has picked up the story about black box voting.

It's all been here before, but it's nice to see fringes of the mainstream media are picking this up.

February 17, 2003
Interesting Alternative Tax Proposal
Here's an interesting proposal on how to replace all tax current tax vehicles with an Automated Payment Transaction Tax: Dreaming Out Loud: One Tiny Little Tax

You can read Dr. Feige's paper on this tax here:
February 15, 2003
Cuts for the Street; the Street for the Poor
From the New York Times editorial page:

Zen and the Art of Geo-Politics
The impending War in Iraq has had me wondering about the best course of action. Of course, I believe that Sadaam is a bad guy. But on the other hand, I don't necessarily believe that military force is the most effective way to deal with him (or with any other tyrant.)

Recently, I’ve been giving considerable thought to the fundamental advantages of well-functioning democracies over other forms of government: non-violent transfer of power.

While other types of governments may be more effective in the sort term (see Singapore), these governments ultimately rest upon the personality of their ruling class. The weakest link in these types of governments is the frailty of the human body and mind.

Thus, whenever debilitating illness or death stalks these governments, the entire system is pushed to the brink of violence and overthrow.

Western-style democracies, by contrast, go through transitions of power easily, rarely provoking revolution, coup, or civil war.

Given that Western-style democracies can easily outlast petty tyrannies, dictatorships, and oligarchies, wouldn’t long-term policies of containment and aid make be more secure and more effective than the short-sighted war, invasion, and empire being considered by the United States government today?

In more blunt words, shouldn’t we do our best to aid the people of Iraq while we wait for Saddam to die of old age or coup?

I’m reminded of America’s own Civil War, where we rose up in arms against each other over the dying idea of slavery. Even though I admire the bravery of those soldiers who fought for the Union and for emancipation, I can’t help but think of the waste.

Most of the other Western democracies of the time were able to shed their slavery habit without losing so many lives. For the British, slavery is just a footnote; a bad habit they grew out of. America, on the other hand, still suffers from the fissures of our Civil War today.

In the end, I feel that the Iraq conflict is based upon the mistaken fears of the near future, and neglects our long term advantage. Because of our impatience and desire to immediately solve problems we see, we are provoking a period of bloodshed whose ripples will echo for the next generation.

In the end, maybe we should learn that sometimes the best thing to do is to do nothing.

February 14, 2003
Happy Valentines Day?

Corporate Weasel Watch Update: Tax Evasion and Large Corporations
Yesterday, NPR's All Things Considered had three stories on Tax Evasion and large corporations. Here's some interesting notes I took from these reports.

In ATC's Enron story:

In ATC's Sprint story:

Most importantly, ATC had a great short segment on the growing gap between the income reported to the markets (book income) and the income reported to the IRS (tax income). Corporations keep two sets of books: one which emphasizes their income to justify higher stock prices from capital markets, and one which limits their income as much as possible to limit their tax responsibilty.

The IRS estimates a gap between reported book income and reported tax income of over $155 billion dollars in the last year. As the chart to the left shows, most of this gap is created by the largest companies. This is because the largest companies are able to take advantage of some of the differing rules (i.e. options). Also, since evading your tax responsibility can be complicated, it takes a significant amount of money to structure these complex tax shelters.

If we eliminated the different tax and book accounting rules and just had corporations report one set of books, we could have more credibility and more oversight on the finances our public companies report to the street.

Something we desperately need these days.

Here's a link to a paper by Harvard's Mihir A. Desai on the growing gap between book and tax income: (

From Slate's discussion of this paper:

Corporate Weasel Watch: Sprint and Ernst and Young
Molly Ivins comments on a sad state of affairs at Sprint It seems as if the executives at Sprint used corporate money to pay auditors at Ernst and Young to set up tax shelters for them. According to the New York Times, Sprint's auditor, Ernst and Young, sold Sprint executives tax shelters so that they can avoid paying taxes on over $100 million dollars of income gained on stock options.

From the New York Times article:

Molly Ivins expresses the outrage that's been hammering inside my head.

Unfortunately for the unpatriotic and greedy William T. Esrey, Sprint's former chief executive, and Ronald T. LeMay, Sprint's former president, their tax dodge didn't work. Sprint fired them, and now they are facing bankruptcy.

So what do they do? The sue of course. They're suing Ernst and Young, they're suing their lawyers, and, most egregiously of all, they're suing Sprint! This has to be the height of hypocracy. It's like those carjackers you hear about suing their victims for accidentally running over them while the victim tries to escape.

Molly Ivins has the right idea.

February 13, 2003
Senator Robert Byrd Calls Out the Administration
Today Robert Byrd took to the Senate Floor to condemn the administrations record and beseech the Administration to change its ways. The full text of his speech is here below:

Floor Speech by Senator Byrd
To contemplate war is to think about the most horrible of human experiences. On this February day, as this nation stands at the brink of battle, every American on some level must be contemplating the horrors of war.

Yet, this Chamber is, for the most part, silent -- ominously, dreadfully silent. There is no debate, no discussion, no attempt to lay out for the nation the pros and cons of this particular war. There is nothing.

We stand passively mute in the United States Senate, paralyzed by our own uncertainty, seemingly stunned by the sheer turmoil of events. Only on the editorial pages of our newspapers is there much substantive discussion of the prudence or imprudence of engaging in this particular war.

And this is no small conflagration we contemplate. This is no simple attempt to defang a villain. No. This coming battle, if it materializes, represents a turning point in U.S. foreign policy and possibly a turning point in the recent history of the world.

This nation is about to embark upon the first test of a revolutionary doctrine applied in an extraordinary way at an unfortunate time. The doctrine of preemption -- the idea that the United States or any other nation can legitimately attack a nation that is not imminently threatening but may be threatening in the future -- is a radical new twist on the traditional idea of self defense. It appears to be in contravention of international law and the UN Charter. And it is being tested at a time of world-wide terrorism, making many countries around the globe wonder if they will soon be on our -- or some other nation's -- hit list. High level Administration figures recently refused to take nuclear weapons off of the table when discussing a possible attack against Iraq. What could be more destabilizing and unwise than this type of uncertainty, particularly in a world where globalism has tied the vital economic and security interests of many nations so closely together? There are huge cracks emerging in our time-honored alliances, and U.S. intentions are suddenly subject to damaging worldwide speculation. Anti-Americanism based on mistrust, misinformation, suspicion, and alarming rhetoric from U.S. leaders is fracturing the once solid alliance against global terrorism which existed after September 11.

Here at home, people are warned of imminent terrorist attacks with little guidance as to when or where such attacks might occur. Family members are being called to active military duty, with no idea of the duration of their stay or what horrors they may face. Communities are being left with less than adequate police and fire protection. Other essential services are also short-staffed. The mood of the nation is grim. The economy is stumbling. Fuel prices are rising and may soon spike higher.

This Administration, now in power for a little over two years, must be judged on its record. I believe that that record is dismal.

In that scant two years, this Administration has squandered a large projected surplus of some $5.6 trillion over the next decade and taken us to projected deficits as far as the eye can see. This Administration's domestic policy has put many of our states in dire financial condition, under funding scores of essential programs for our people. This Administration has fostered policies which have slowed economic growth. This Administration has ignored urgent matters such as the crisis in health care for our elderly. This Administration has been slow to provide adequate funding for homeland security. This Administration has been reluctant to better protect our long and porous borders.

In foreign policy, this Administration has failed to find Osama bin Laden. In fact, just yesterday we heard from him again marshaling his forces and urging them to kill. This Administration has split traditional alliances, possibly crippling, for all time, International order-keeping entities like the United Nations and NATO. This Administration has called into question the traditional worldwide perception of the United States as well-intentioned, peacekeeper. This Administration has turned the patient art of diplomacy into threats, labeling, and name calling of the sort that reflects quite poorly on the intelligence and sensitivity of our leaders, and which will have consequences for years to come.

Calling heads of state pygmies, labeling whole countries as evil, denigrating powerful European allies as irrelevant -- these types of crude insensitivities can do our great nation no good. We may have massive military might, but we cannot fight a global war on terrorism alone. We need the cooperation and friendship of our time-honored allies as well as the newer found friends whom we can attract with our wealth. Our awesome military machine will do us little good if we suffer another devastating attack on our homeland which severely damages our economy. Our military manpower is already stretched thin and we will need the augmenting support of those nations who can supply troop strength, not just sign letters cheering us on.

The war in Afghanistan has cost us $37 billion so far, yet there is evidence that terrorism may already be starting to regain its hold in that region. We have not found bin Laden, and unless we secure the peace in Afghanistan, the dark dens of terrorism may yet again flourish in that remote and devastated land.

Pakistan as well is at risk of destabilizing forces. This Administration has not finished the first war against terrorism and yet it is eager to embark on another conflict with perils much greater than those in Afghanistan. Is our attention span that short? Have we not learned that after winning the war one must always secure the peace?

And yet we hear little about the aftermath of war in Iraq. In the absence of plans, speculation abroad is rife. Will we seize Iraq's oil fields, becoming an occupying power which controls the price and supply of that nation's oil for the foreseeable future? To whom do we propose to hand the reigns of power after Saddam Hussein?

Will our war inflame the Muslim world resulting in devastating attacks on Israel? Will Israel retaliate with its own nuclear arsenal? Will the Jordanian and Saudi Arabian governments be toppled by radicals, bolstered by Iran which has much closer ties to terrorism than Iraq?

Could a disruption of the world's oil supply lead to a world-wide recession? Has our senselessly bellicose language and our callous disregard of the interests and opinions of other nations increased the global race to join the nuclear club and made proliferation an even more lucrative practice for nations which need the income?

In only the space of two short years this reckless and arrogant Administration has initiated policies which may reap disastrous consequences for years.

One can understand the anger and shock of any President after the savage attacks of September 11. One can appreciate the frustration of having only a shadow to chase and an amorphous, fleeting enemy on which it is nearly impossible to exact retribution.

But to turn one's frustration and anger into the kind of extremely destabilizing and dangerous foreign policy debacle that the world is currently witnessing is inexcusable from any Administration charged with the awesome power and responsibility of guiding the destiny of the greatest superpower on the planet. Frankly many of the pronouncements made by this Administration are outrageous. There is no other word.

Yet this chamber is hauntingly silent. On what is possibly the eve of horrific infliction of death and destruction on the population of the nation of Iraq -- a population, I might add, of which over 50% is under age 15 -- this chamber is silent. On what is possibly only days before we send thousands of our own citizens to face unimagined horrors of chemical and biological warfare -- this chamber is silent. On the eve of what could possibly be a vicious terrorist attack in retaliation for our attack on Iraq, it is business as usual in the United States Senate.

We are truly "sleepwalking through history." In my heart of hearts I pray that this great nation and its good and trusting citizens are not in for a rudest of awakenings.

To engage in war is always to pick a wild card. And war must always be a last resort, not a first choice. I truly must question the judgment of any President who can say that a massive unprovoked military attack on a nation which is over 50% children is "in the highest moral traditions of our country". This war is not necessary at this time. Pressure appears to be having a good result in Iraq. Our mistake was to put ourselves in a corner so quickly. Our challenge is to now find a graceful way out of a box of our own making. Perhaps there is still a way if we allow more time.

Ah, the Fresh Smell of Logic
Michael Kinsley is right on today regarding the Estrada fillibuster. Estrada defends his evasiveness on his judicial views with the the following line: "I'm very firmly of the view that although we all have views on a number of subjects from A to Z, the job of a judge is to subconsciously put that aside and look at each case … with an open mind."

But as Kinsley rightly puts it:

The Law should be based upon logical reasoning. You think that a qualifed judge would find this logical flaw in this argument about judicial pre-judging.

Unless, of course, their "real reason for evasiveness is the fear that if some senators knew what his views are, they would vote against him."

Then, using this 'judicial prejudice avoidance' obfuscation would indicate a good lawyer, but not a good judge.
Corporate Weasel Watch: Enron
When the Income Tax was first proposed, it was proposed as a 2% tax on those making more than $10,000 a year. When confronted with this, Presidential-candidate William Jennings Bryant said something along the lines of, "You know, I've said bad things about people, but I've never said something so bad as a man's patriotism only went 2% deep."

Yet here we are with the major corporations of this country doing everything they can to avoid their patriotic duty and help support the very government that enables their wealth. Enron is the latest in a long line of corporations that avoid their patriotic duty at the expense of their tax payers. The New York Times today cites a new report given to Congress:

Shame on these corporations who use the loopholes to avoid doing their fair share. But the real devil in this is the large accounting firms that enable this type of behavior.

Well, you may think that Enron is the primary offender and that we're getting them. But check out this frightening statistic from the same New York article:

It's disheartening to find out how shallow these people's patriotism actually is.

February 12, 2003
Media Bias is In the Eye of the Beholder
With all of this discussion about media bias (see What Liberal Media? or Slate's The Varieties of Media Bias), one should at least consider that perhaps the perception of bias isn't in the media product, but in those who consume the media.

In fact, social psychologist's have done several studies that concern just that. One of the more famous studies was published in 1985 by Vallone, Ross, and Lepper. In this study, groups of pro-Israeli and pro-Arab students each viewed one of the same six segments about the Beruit Massacre of 1982. After viewing the videotape, the students were asked whether the report was biased, and, if it was, in what way was it biased. The results were quite interesting.

Even more interestingly, the more knowledgeable the partisan, the deeper their perception of bias. As if they had more facts at their command to confirm their suspicion.

So, if you want to stop media bias, to quote Michael Jackson, you better start with the man in the mirror.

The Artist as a Young Prisoner
Nelson Mandela, a hero of mine, has recently turned to art. From the New York Times:

Here's a sample of his work:

Again, from the NY Times:

February 11, 2003
And Now For Something Completely Different
Taking a break from our normal political and social dialogue.

This was sent to me in email. I laughed so hard, I had to post it here.

February 10, 2003
Stamp Out Spam!
Dear Yahoo (and Hotmail and MSN and AOL),

Your free email services have been a God-send to many people on the Internet. Now people can have a single email account for personal use that they can check from anywhere. It's helped me out. My father, brother, and sister all use your services to send pictures of my nephew to me, or let me know how my uncle is doing. You should be proud; it's a good service you provide.

Unfortunately, as James Gleick notes in the yesterday's NY Times Magazine:

And I'm sure you're team of bright people have been thinking about how to resolve this issue. I've seen places that try to prevent the automatic creation of these free accounts, and I'm sure that does some good, though it's probably a little while coming, and I'm sure there might be a way for spammers to prevent it.

But I found the germ of an idea in this same article that may help you and help us. James Gleick reports:

So here's my idea germ, ready to infect your brain. My friend AOL, and Yahoo, and MSN, and Hotmail, charge people to send mail. Receiving mail can still be free, but when you send, you have to pay.

You don't have to charge all mail. Say the first 25 letters a day go for free. But after that, you have to pay. The same way that direct-mail marketers have to pay. You can make it easy on folks. From 25-100 letters a day, have that cost 1 cent per letter. Or a buck to get your extra hundred letters out. After that, have the prices go up exponentially. $2 for the next 100. $4 for the next one hundred.

Make it economically disadvantageous for spammers to use Hotmail and AOL and Yahoo and MSN to send spam.

Otherwise, you may find your free services no longer worth the trouble. From that same NY Times article:

And if no one reads any mail from the free services, then why have the free services?

Electronic Voting on NPR
NPR does a great overview of the problems with electronic voting.

February 09, 2003
Outrage Overload

Or go see it here.
February 08, 2003
Shirky: Power Laws, Weblogs, and Inequality
While I don't necessarily want to blog about blogging, this particular link (.Shirky: Power Laws, Weblogs, and Inequality) is quite good, and I'd like to read more about the Power Law.

If you want to know why I'm writing this log, it's mostly as a journal to myself. A way to link to important pages and vet my own thoughts about politics, philosophy, and ethics. Also, it's a place to make sure I don't forget about some of the more neat thoughts I run across.

Shirky's Power Law thoughts belongs here.

Computer Scientists Fear Voting Via Computer
When the experts raise an alarm, we should listen. And as reported by by the San Jose Mercury News, the experts are weighing in.

David Dill, a professor of computer science at Stanford University, originated the petition. His statement is simple:

If you are interested in this issue, you should take a look at Cal Tech-MIT Electronic Voting Project.

However, David's critique reminds me of another computer scientist's critique of the security system in airports. Bruce Schneier, author of the classic book Applied Cryptopgraphy, points out a major flaw in security thinking in an Atlantic Article entitled Homeland Insecurity by Charles C. Mann :

Bruce Scheier gives an illustrative example of this when he encounters security troubles at the local airport:

Similarly any electronic voting scheme must "fail smartly." If after election day, fraud is suspected at a polling place, there must be a way for human beings to first, verify that there was fraud, and, more importantly, verify the true count.

A system that only stores votes in a single, proprietary, computer-readable format would have no way to verify the count. A system that stored votes in a variety of formats, including a human readable one, would not only have checks and balances, it would have an easy to verify and official way of hand-counting votes, should a manual recount be necessary.

My idea of an ideal voting system would be one that looks like the following:

At least this would fail better than say, a system that has no accountability and may allow a candidate with strong ties to the manufactor of voting machines to stuff an electronic ballot box and fradulently win an election.

Facts and Recommendations on Electronic Voting
From the Cal Tech-MIT Voting Technology Report:

The Problem

Electronic voting will change how we vote in the near future. To capture the full potential of electronic voting, a substantial change in the development and evaluation of equipment is required. The federal government should develop a coherent national approach to the development of this technology.

February 07, 2003
Oh, America!
What does it say about America when our our children sue for grades? What does it gain for a student to become so concerned with honors and accolades that he does not pursue education for its own sake?

Perhaps, Mr. Delekta and his parents should learn from Robert Samuelson. In his article in 1999's Newsweek, Samuelson reports of a study by Dale and Krueger on the impact of an Ivy League education on a person's earning power:

So it is that the successes accorded to a person in life originate from within, from their own ambition and discipline and maturity, and not from the near meaningless accolades accorded to them from without.

Or as Mr. Samuelson puts it:

In 75 years, will Brian Delekta lay on his death bed and bemoan his fate that he did not make valedictorian at 18? Or will other regrets and successes, the loss of love, the love of children, the fellowship of friends, be foremost on his mind?

By suing over something that is as ultimately unimportant as a grade in a work-study program, even if it means that you don't get to make the big speech at graduation, is abandoning the chance to learn something that may have a stronger impact on the quality of a young man's life than some arbitrary title or an Ivy League degree. Again, Mr. Samuelson says it best:

And if Ivy League educations are not shortcuts to success, then neither are lawsuits.

If only his parents would let him learn that lesson.
Stuffing the Ballot Box in the Digital Age?
Common Dreams reports that Nebraska Republican Chuck Hagel was head of, and continues to own an interest in, a company that installed, programmed, and ran the vogintmachines used by most Nebraska citizens.

Now while I'm usually not one for consipiracy theories, this type of thing actually frightens me a bit. And with exit polling silently fading away under the cloud of the 2000 Presidential Election, there seems to be no way to verify whether electronic maliciousness is occurring.

I have a good solution for this, but I'll save that for a future post.
February 06, 2003
Corporate Weasel Watch: Tyson Foods
The NY Times today has a story on Tyson Foods. Tyson is believed to have smuggled illegal immigrants into US in order to suppress worker wages.

According to Tyson's 2002 annual report, Tyson had approximately $1.8 billion in gross profit and $355 milliion in net income, it's best year in the last 10 by far.

John Tyson, Chariman and CEO of Tyson foods, made $1 million in salary, $3.5 million in bonus, and another $3.1 million in stock, options, and perks. You think an man who made nearly $8 million dollars last year alone wouldn't have to go to such lengths to keep the men and women of his company from making an addition $2 an hour.

To quote the prosecuting attorney for this case:

February 05, 2003
Hydrogen Car Bomb

At first glance, you might think that Bush is showing some environmental vision, for a change. Fuel-cell cars seem to be the most likely replacement for our current internal combusion engines, and for Bush to make this one of the centerpieces of his State of the Union... Well, let's just say, Bully for him.

Unfortunately, this proposal is all cotton candy and no steak.

First of all, the $1.2 billion dollar funding for fuel cell cars is not new funding. According to the LA Times, 500 million dollars of this proposal was already approved in last year in the Freedom Car program.

But $720 million over five years is still a good chunk of change, right?

Well, not really. Ford spent over $2 billion dollars to design the Ford Taurus. And that was primarily a body redesign and didn't touch the powertrain issue. To create a car with a new powertrain would be far more expensive.

More importantly, in order to create the fuel delivery network (think of all those hydrogen stations necessary to fill up your new hydrogen car) is estimated to cost over $500 billion dollars.

In fact, there are proposals that could dramtically decrease our reliance on foreign oil and benefit the environment using technology that is already available. All that would need to be done is to hold SUVs to the same standard for fuel-efficiency as cars. In 1975, the congress implemented the CAFE standards for cars and light-trucks. Since at that time light trucks were used primarily for business and represented a fairly small portion of the entire automotive market, different standards for light-trucks were put in place.

Today, light trucks are only required to meet an average MPG standard of 20.7 mpg while passenger cars must meet a standard of 27.5 mpg.

With the boom of SUVs and the classification of SUVs as light trucks, a much larger percentage of our automotive population falls under the light-truck standard. Currently, nearly 50% of the entire fleet is built on truck chassis. By removing the light-truck loophole, we could dramatically reduce our dependence on foreign oil as well as help the environment. By using technology that exists today to increase that standard, we could do even more.

But why doesn't the Bush administration propose this simiple common-sense approach to improve our national security and our environment? Well, as Jeff Greenblum pointed out on the Daily Show, this type of initiative runs the risk of angering the powerful oil lobby as well as the automaker lobby. An insignificant and uneffective $720 million dollars for hydrogen car lobby is just a defensive move on Bush's weak environmental flank while he continues to pander to the corporations that put him in office.

February 03, 2003
The Space Shuttle Must Be Stopped
Gregg Easterbrook is one of those members of think tank organizations (aka "thinkers") that I always try to read when I run accross them. In the latest Time Magazine, Easterbrook makes a compelling and complete argument for why The Space Shuttle Must Be Stopped.

Easterbrook argues that NASA (and by proxy Congress) has used an inefficient, obsolete, and dangerous delivery vehicle, purely as a way to fund pork in their own districts. As Easterbrook points out:

Easterbrook argues that the best course of action would be to can the space shuttle program and to replace it with unmanned throw-away rockets to push cargo into space and a small space plane for the few times that humans are really needed.

Will this happen? Probably not. As Easterbrook points out, Congresses reaction to the earlier Challenger tragedy was disingenous.

Perhaps it's time to write my congressman and senators on the issue. I mean, if we can close down military bases in the name of a more efficient military, I am sure that we can close down the space shuttle in the name of a more efficient and safe space strategy.

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