Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Skeletor makes bad game, liberals do something stupid

Tim LaHaye action figureFor the last couple of weeks I've received a few emails from the generally excellent Campaign to Defend the Constitution (aka DefCon) about a new video game called "Left Behind: Eternal Forces".

If you're not familiar with the "Left Behind" franchise, it's based off Skeletor-lookalike rapture fundamentalist Tim LaHaye's popular book series. It's also spawned movies starring creepy Kirk Cameron. Now it's branched out to a crappy video game.

All well and good. Bad prose and bad movies often spawn bad video games.

Unfortunately, DefCon has gotten all in a snit over the game:
Just in time for Christmas, the religious right has released a violent video game in which born-again Christians aim to convert or kill those who don't adhere to their extreme ideology. Disturbingly, the game's apparent attempts at religious indoctrination are aimed at children and focus on violent, divisive, and hateful scenarios. While the religious right apparently has no problem pushing the product this holiday season, America's #1 video game seller should know better.

Take action now and urge Wal-Mart to stop selling religious violence this holiday season.

Now, I don't know if their main idea is to get major retailers not to sell the game at all of if they just want Wal-Mart to be consistent in its moralizing. Wal-Mart, of course, refuses to sell certain games due to content all the time. Either way, they're horribly misguided.

Worse yet, they've attracted other groups to their cause, and I've seen complaints about the game pop up on several liberal blogs.

One thing I thought the "reality based community" had a good grasp on was the fact that video games are not reality. Grand Theft Auto didn't make people go out and shoot hookers, Doom didn't cause the Columbine shootings, and Sim City has been responsible for very few city-planning disasters. Left Behind similarly is not going to cause its players to go out trying to kill or convert everyone they see (though some players may already have those propensities).

Unfortunately, the mainstream media has picked up on this story, which will mostly have the effect of selling more games. Reuters, AP, and the Boston Globe all have stories. I even heard it mentioned on Al Franken's Air America show (ugh, that's hard to admit listening to).

Here's some advice to liberals who want this game to go away. Shut up about it!

All indications are that it's a really terrible game based solely on its gameplay alone:
This game can do a great job of failing on its own merits, it doesn't need anyone to help it along.

Yes, the premise offends a lot of people. It is pretty awful. But censorship is censorship, and there's no place for it.

It all reminds me of the truly awful game Postal, which came out back in 1997. It was violent and stupid and not the least bit fun to play, but I played it. So did enough other people that it got an equally stupid and violent sequel.

Why did so many people play such a craptastic game? Because Joe Lieberman made a public issue out of it (in return, easy mode in Postal 2 was named "Liebermode"). He gave a ton of free press to a bad game that would have died a quiet death under the boot of just not being very fun and made it sound cool.

So please liberals, leave the whining about video games to the conservatives and Joe Lieberman. Defend the company's right to make and distribute lousy games about offensive subject matter. Stick with reality, we've certainly got enough instances of the wall between church and state breaking down to keep us busy. You can't defend the first amendment by attacking video games, you can only do it harm.

Sticking our nose in video game sales is not just silly and counterproductive, it's dangerously close to advocating censorship. This is not a fight we should be a part of.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Romney loves gays, anyone else he thinks can get him elected

There's a gay man in the barrel.Newspaper folks have short memories.

Today's Globe has an article entitled Romney is fast rising as a serious contender. In it they claim he's the number two contender for the presidency behind John McCain. This was based largely on a National Journal poll that was released on December 8th.

Among the reasons for his rise cited were the self-destruction of George Allen and Bill Frist, but also his wonderful new conservative credentials:
Now, Romney is widely accepted as a true conservative, to the right of the quirky McCain, by the large GOP punditocracy.

Good for him, he's finally managed to throw off that nasty liberalism of Massachusetts and convince the punditocracy that he's just as bigoted as their favorite sons.

Just one problem...

Between the National Journal's article and today's Globe love-fest the Log Cabin Republicans reared their confused and well-coiffed heads.

First there was a December 8th article in the New York Times. It introduced his 1994 letter (available here as a pdf) to the Log Cabin Republicans and his claim that he'd be a stronger gay rights advocate than Ted Kennedy, who he was running against for Senate at the time.

The religious right doesn't take kindly to such things. From the Times:
“This is quite disturbing,” said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, who had praised Mr. Romney as a champion of traditional values at the group’s conference in late September. “This type of information is going to create a lot of problems for Governor Romney. He is going to have a hard time overcoming this.”

Paul Weyrich, a founder of the modern conservative movement, said: “Unless he comes out with an abject repudiation of this, I think it makes him out to be a hypocrite. And if he totally repudiates this, you have to ask, on what grounds?”

He hasn't repudiated it, of course. He's instead chosen the baffling tactic of claiming that his views haven't changed. Apparently staying the course and looking like a huge liar to everyone is more sensible to him than just saying he had a change of heart. It's worked great for Bush so far, why not try it himself?

The day after the Times article, the Globe itself printed an article entitled New questions on Romney's stance on gays, which dealt with the same issues. It also throws in an added jab at his flip-flopping on abortion issues:
Romney is likely to face similar criticism over his comments on abortion. During the 1994 Senate race, he said, "I believe abortion should be safe and legal." When he ran for governor in 2002, he said he did not support abortion but would "protect the right of a woman to choose" the procedure. In a 2005 Globe op-ed article, he wrote, "I am pro life," and explained to reporters that his position on the issue had evolved.

In a recent posting titled "The Mitt Romney deception" that touches on Romney's gay rights positions, local conservative activist Brian Camenker wrote: "Despite recent statements across the country by Governor Mitt Romney claiming he's pro-life, pro-family and a committed conservative, a broad investigation of his actual statements, actions, and public positions over the years indicates that he has spent his entire career speaking and governing as a liberal."

As a liberal, I have to disagree with the assertion that he's governed as a liberal, but he certainly does say anything he thinks will get him elected. He's pro-gay rights as long as he's talking to gay people. He's pro-choice as long as he's trying to get elected in a heavily pro-choice state. Everyone in Massachusetts already knew he's an abject liar, it's about time the rest of the country caught on.

Today's Globe article ignored all this inconvenient information, of course. Perhaps the reporter was on a bender over the weekend and missed the developments that totally deflate his main point. Good reporting, Globe!

I'll say it again. Romney has no chance in the presidential election. I just hope he stays in the race, because it's just plain fun watching him flail his way to defeat.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Teenagers are trying to kill you!

Murderous urchin on the loose!Just in time for me to renew my driver's license, the Fitchburg Sentinel and Enterprise is running a hard-hitting special series on how teenagers drive too damn fast.

Now, I probably wouldn't normally make a post about something as trivial as this. It's really better suited to a response to their blog post. However, I still seem to be blacklisted from the S&E's blog so the post goes here.

The question the "Twin Cities Blog" is concerned about is "What do you think can be done to slow down young drivers?".

My never-posted answer in a nutshell was that the same things that slow down older drivers slow down young drivers. Training, signage, and enforcement. What doesn't slow down young drivers is treating them as a distinct group to be demonized for speeding when everyone you see on the road is doing the same thing. That's pretty controversial, I know.

Teenagers do tend to speed more than older drivers. That's a fact, but it's hardly the whole story. Everyone speeds. You speed, I speed, even my grandparents speed. Speeding is virtually required if you're going to get on a highway and not cause an accident. Driving 45 mph on Route 2 is going to cause more problems than driving 65 will.

It's not the speed that kills (despite the shocktacular "Speed Kills" headline), it's the inexperience. Teenagers have faster reaction times than older people, so are actually better able to handle the speed. What they lack is the experience required to deal with the unexpected, and the wisdom to not engage in behaviors that are going to get them in trouble. The only way to get that wisdom and experience, like it or not, is to get out on the road.

Now, why will demonizing teens as a group do nothing? Because that's the way it has always worked. Teenagers aren't stupid. They know that everyone else is speeding too. When you introduce a made-up problem like "teen speeding" they know you're ignoring the broader problem of everyone speeding. Understandably, they then tune you out.

Focusing on speeding is also a bit absurd in itself. Speeding is only relative to arbitrarily-set speed limits. It's a handy way to subconsciously characterize those who speed as criminals. The real issue is accidents, and there are a lot of good ways to reduce accidents. How about fixing the damn roads, adding more streetlights, providing proper drainage systems, and so forth? Every time I drive on Route 2 in the rain I feel like I'm dancing with death.

Of course, these are expensive problems to solve. They might require some degree of sacrifice on our part, and possibly even tax money (gasp!).

It's much easier just to blame teenagers for driving too fast. Too bad that's not the real problem.

Stay tuned for next week's Sentinel and Enterprise question: "What do you think can be done to keep women from talking too much?"

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Usurping the Constitution

Hot lesbian matrimonial action!Mitt Romney has sued in an attempt to force the issue of gay marriage to get a vote by the citizens of Massachusetts.

Per today's Telegram:
The suit asks the court to require that Mr. Travaglini call for a vote at the Jan. 2 convention, its last before the end of the 2005-2006 legislative session

If no vote is taken on the measure that day, the suit asks that the court require the secretary of state to put the proposed constitutional amendment restricting marriage to one man and one woman on the 2008 ballot without legislative approval.

“A decision not to vote is a decision to usurp the constitution, to abandon democracy, and substitute a form of what this nation’s founders called tyranny: that is, the imposition of the will of those in power on the people,” Mr. Romney said.

Ignoring for the moment the fancy rhetoric, one thing no article I've seen about this has discussed is the actual constitutional basis for what Romney is trying to force; putting an amendment on the ballot while skipping the legislature itself.

Here it's helpful to look at the Constitution itself, specifically the part dealing with Initiative Petitions. Romney's focus is on the legislature having to have a vote, as supposedly indicated by the word "shall":
Section 4. Legislative Action. - Final legislative action in the joint session upon any amendment shall be taken only by call of the yeas and nays, which shall be entered upon the journals of the two houses; and an unfavorable vote at any stage preceding final action shall be verified by call of the yeas and nays, to be entered in like manner. At such joint session a legislative amendment receiving the affirmative votes of a majority of all the members elected, or an initiative amendment receiving the affirmative votes of not less than one-fourth of all the members elected, shall be referred to the next general court.

What he seems to be missing, however, is the next Section (my emphasis):
Section 5. Submission to the People. - If in the next general court a legislative amendment shall again be agreed to in joint session by a majority of all the members elected, or if an initiative amendment or a legislative substitute shall again receive the affirmative votes of a least one-fourth of all the members elected, such fact shall be certified by the clerk of such joint session to the secretary of the commonwealth, who shall submit the amendment to the people at the next state election. Such amendment shall become part of the constitution if approved, in the case of a legislative amendment, by a majority of the voters voting thereon, or if approved, in the case of an initiative amendment or a legislative substitute, by voters equal in number to at least thirty per cent of the total number of ballots cast at such state election and also by a majority of the voters voting on such amendment.
In other words, it only gets to the popular vote if voted for in sufficient numbers by the legislature itself. I'm no constitutional scholar, but to skip that step, as the suit seeks to do in absence of a vote, also seems like it would be unconstitutional.

So usurping the constitution is bad, unless you're the one doing it.

Now, personally I don't think civil rights should ever be subject to popular vote, but the constitution does appear to allow it in some (but not all*) cases. Furthermore, amending the constitution to remove rights from a subset of people is just abhorrent.

Should there be a legislative vote? Maybe. I'd rather see it after the new reps are sworn in (so long, Emile Goguen!) than during the current session, but either way I suspect the initiative is doomed to failure. The longer this goes on, the less opposition you're going to find in the general population (which may be part of why Romney is so keen to get it on the 2008 ballot).

On another note, why does Romney want to restrict marriage to being between "one man and one woman"? Do his Mormon buddies know he's up to this?

* Per the constitution:
No proposition inconsistent with any one of the following rights of the individual, as at present declared in the declaration of rights, shall be the subject of an initiative or referendum petition: The right to receive compensation for private property appropriated to public use; the right of access to and protection in courts of justice; the right of trial by jury; protection from unreasonable search, unreasonable bail and the law martial; freedom of the press; freedom of speech; freedom of elections; and the right of peaceable assembly.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Governor hates state, loves self-delusion

The AP had an article today about Mitt Romney's presidential aspirations. Apparently he was able to take a little time away from cross-country Massachusetts-bashing to offer up a few quotes.

I have to hand it to Mitt, he must be among the most optimistic politicians ever. Knowing he stood no chance of winning another term at home, he's just going to focus on running the entire country.

After losing 20 of 36 governor's races as the head of the Republican Governors Association, he bravely uttered:
"The job of Republican Governors Association chairman is to raise money," he said. "We're not going to take the credit for any wins we get, nor are we going to take the blame for losses we suffer."

Hmm, I wonder if he would have said the same thing if the Republicans hadn't lost so many governorships. It's easy to not take credit for wins when you didn't get any, and it's just cowardly not to take credit for losses.

Also, in reference to wider Republican losses, the multimillionaire said:
"We must return to the common sense Reagan Republican ideals of fighting for hardworking Americans," Romney said in a postelection statement.

Now, I was fairly young during the Reagan administration, but I don't recall Reagan doing much for hardworking Americans. He did classify ketchup as a vegetable, which I suppose helped hardworking ketchup makers like John and Teresa Heinz Kerry. I'm pretty sure that was the extent of his legacy, though.

Romney also has the not-quite-but-almost approval of the religious right:
"We're not trying to find a Sunday school teacher in chief; we're trying to find a commander in chief," said [Jerry] Falwell, who traveled to Massachusetts last month to meet with Romney. Also attending the meeting were Franklin Graham, Gary Bauer, Lou Sheldon, Richard Land and other conservative social and religious leaders.

"Where he goes to church will not be a factor; how he lives his life will be," said Falwell.

Of course, that he does go to church at all is a major factor. He may be part of what many on the religious right consider a cult, but at least he's no stinkin' atheist!

Even if we accept that his nutty religion won't really be a factor, Romney has no chance. Most of the far right sees him as being to the left of McCain, and being from gay marriage loving Massachusetts won't do him any favors there. Not to mention his flip-floppy treatment of abortion rights. He has said a lot of stupid things about Muslims though, which might win him a few points.

The real problem though is that he hasn't done a damn thing as governor. He managed to royally screw up the Big Dig, but that's about all most people here will remember him for. He'll blame the Democrat-controlled legislature, but whoever wins in '08 will also be faced with a Democrat-controlled legislature. Making excuses for not doing anything isn't going to go very far.

Not doing anything isn't necessarily a problem when running for president, but you have to be charismatic enough to make people like you. Which he's not.

Who does like Mitt Romney? I'd wager Kerry Healy doesn't. The voters of Massachusetts certainly don't. The voters of New Hampshire don't (McCain and Giuliani both lead him in polls there). The far right doesn't because he's not crazy enough. The moderates don't because he's too crazy. Someone must, but I've yet to meet them.

His only chance is to shoot for VP and hope his looks get him in. He could be the Dan Quayle of 2008, only less qualified.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Local leaders tired of this shit

I've been too busy to get many posts written lately, but this wonderful piece in the Sentinel just tugged at my heartstrings so much I had to write something:

Locals react to 'coarseness' in today's society

It seems that such moral luminaries as Ted "brown people scare me" DeSalvatore, Dean Mazzarella, and a bunch of Roman Catholic Bishops (who never do anything wrong) are upset that people do things like swear and watch television. Especially those kids with their long hair and Beatle boots.

DeSalvatore, in keeping with his batshit-craziness, has the best quotes:
A number of teenagers and younger children harassed marchers in the "Liberty Walk" that DeSalvatore helped organize this summer, he said.

Some of them wore gang-related apparel and tried to intimidate others, he said.

"If you stand on Wallace Ave., and you see some of these kids coming down the street, and you just close your eyes and listen, you'd think you're on another planet," he said.

Shocking! The leader of the not-so-subtlely racist "Liberty Walk" feels like he's on another planet when he sees kids whose culture he doesn't understand.

Ted, some of us have thought you're on another planet for some time now. And not just because you're standing on Wallace Ave with your eyes closed.

Another gem:
DeSalvatore said he worries that younger children will start to imitate Internet and television images of sex.

"You never used to see sex on TV, and now what you see doesn't take a whole lot of imagination," he said. "That's only going to generate a curiosity, and that curiosity is going to generate some action. It's worked with cigarettes, it's worked with alcohol, it's worked with drugs. We see somebody else doing it, we've got to try it, too."

Scary stuff indeed.

Seeing not-quite-sex on TV is going to make people curious about sex. Just like it did with cigarettes, alcohol, and drugs. None of which were problems prior to the widespread adoption of the television. Prior to that time people just assumed sex was something only dogs did, and were truly baffled by the Opium War and prohibition. Personally, I blame Milton Berle's legendarily large pecker for all this trouble.

Anyway, all you coarse people out there need to cut that shit out. Fuckwads.

Update: On the drive home I realized something. Ted simply has no understanding of cause and effect. Here are how things work in his mind:

  • Cause: Three hundred lily-white people go for a march through neighborhoods they characterize in a press release as "filled with the criminally minded, aggressive, threatening individuals that make up our present gangs and drug dealers".
  • Ted's Mind Effect: "We'll be greeted as liberators! They'll shower us with flowers and babies!"
  • Real Effect: The locals think you're an idiot and aren't afraid to tell you so.

  • Cause: For no particular reason, TV executives decide to put sexually-suggestive material on television. They also push drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, and probably the Homosexual Agenda (tm).
  • Ted's Mind Effect: Teenagers are overcome by the peer-pressure of the glowing magic box and decide that maybe they should try this "sex" thing too. And smoke, drink, take drugs, and probably hire a gay hooker.
  • Real Effect: Since people apparently like sex, ratings go up.

Just look over pretty much everything Ted DeSalvatore has ever said and you'll see the same wacky cause-and-effect distortion. I'd provide more examples, but I have to catch a flight to Thailand.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

The death knell for electronic voting machines?

It seems to me that this election could signal the end of DRE voting machines. Everywhere you look (mainstream media included) there are complaints about the unreliability of electronic voting machines.

Yes, we heard these problems in 2004 too, but things are different now. Republicans are losing. Since Republicans control the media, that means that their complaints are going to enter the mainstream much more than they did in 2004. Plenty of Democrats already support reform, and they're about to be joined by numerous pissed-off Republicans and pundits upset that they weren't able to hack the vote as much as they wanted.

Ditching the DRE machines will benefit everyone, regardless of political affiliation. Hopefully all the problems that have already popped up, and all those that will come to light over the next few days, will convince people that it's time to go back to a system that truly ensures that all votes are counted.

Election Day!

Holy crap, it's a midterm that matters! Woohoo!

I like election day. I get to fill in boxes like I was taking the SATs, and I also get to talk to nice elderly folk. Thank god for the senior citizens working the polls. Their job is harder than it looks (I imagine, it has to be right?), and every single poll worker I've encountered around here has been very professional and quite good at their job. Well, most of them anyway.

It's been repeated over and over again all over the internet what this election means, so if you're coming here for analysis you're in the wrong place. Therefore, I'm simply going to give my predictions. If they're horribly wrong I'll cop to it tomorrow because it'll already be posted. Or I'll edit the post to look like I was right. Whatever.

Statewide, Deval Patrick is going to run away with the governorship. This is hardly controversial, given recent polls. He'll easily get 20% or more. I predict a 23-point victory, though really that's a bit optimistic. On the other hand, he destroyed his Democratic opponents in the primary and it was expected to be close then. With this kind of lead the Healey voters aren't exactly motivated to get to the polls.

Olver will predictably wipe the floor with the certifiably insane Billy Szych (though Szych may pick up all the Republican vote). Olver's a really decent guy, and seeing those Szych signs everywhere and not one Olver sign has been irritating. However, I'll get a perverse pleasure from knowing that Szych blew so much money on a defeat.

Of course Kennedy will win. That's just a given.

In the Sec. of State race, Galvin regrettably wins. Jill Stein will have a respectable showing, but an incumbent Democrat is tough to defeat in this state. I'd love to be wrong on this one.

Locally, DiNatale has it sewn up. Niemczura is a chump, and people know it. To be fair, DiNatale is a little bit of a chump too, but he's still better than Niemczura.

So all the local races are pretty straightforward.

Nationwide is where everything is actually interesting. So here are some totally unscientific and probably overly optimistic predictions for the future balance of power.

In the house, I'm predicting 28 seats shift to the Democrats. I picked this number out of my ass, frankly. I wouldn't be surprised if it went as high as 35, or as low as 20. Below that will surprise me. People are sick of the fearmongering and rubber-stamping. Playing to people's basest instincts only works for so long. Also, people who want change are motivated to go to the polls, while the Bush-lovers are demoralized.

Senate-wise I'm betting on 6 seats going Dem. This is perhaps optimism more than anything, but it's my feeling. Furthermore, I'm betting on Ned Lamont beating Lieberman in Connecticut. That's a tough call, as Lieberman has been ahead in the polls. However, he has a truly horrible ballot position, and Lamont's supporters will walk through fire for him while Lieberman's are mostly Republicans who may have been able to say they'll support Lieberman in the polls but will have a much harder time with the actual vote.

So that's it for the predictions. I'll cop to any errors and provide some sort of analysis tomorrow.

On a side note, I had a nice (albeit brief) chat with one of the poll workers. She thought turnout was very high, and looking through at least my (largely elderly) neighborhood's checkout sheet suggested she's right. I voted around 5:45 and easily 80% of the names had already been checked off.

High voter turnout is good for Democrats, even in this backwater part of the state.

Prepare for a lot of crying tomorrow from Republicans about how Deval is going to raise taxes and hug rapists. Try to have pity on these folks, they don't know any better.

Incidentally, if you want to follow the statewide races, Blue Mass Group is worth keeping an eye on. Nationally, the sometimes-irritating Daily Kos has a nice ticker at the top of the page that should keep you well informed.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

More on voting

Going to revisit voting for a bit.

In my last post I discussed Diebold, as well as Galvin's ill-conceived plan to introduce DRE (direct-recording electronic) machines in the upcoming election. Since that time, I've come across some other worthwhile information.

Yesterday, put out a guide entitled E-voting state by state: What you need to know. It's pretty thorough and an interesting overview of how voting's going to go all across the country, but I'll of course focus on Massachusetts.

From that article we get the following:
Voting equipment vendors
Diebold, ES&S, Hart InterCivic
Optical scan, hand count. The Secretary of State's office announced on Oct. 27 that 28 communities will test three DRE models during the November elections, all of which (the Diebold AccuVote TSx, the Hart InterCivic eSlate [implicated in name-truncation problems in Texas and Virginia] and the ES&S AutoMark voter-assist terminal) produce a verifiable paper trail. A voter-verified paper trail is not required by law, but machines with that capability are in use statewide. State legislation requiring voter-verifiable paper trails and manual audits of randomly selected precincts has been proposed but not enacted.

If you're not sure what "name-truncation problems" are being referred to above, I'd direct you to the Washington Post. In a nutshell, in the close Virginia Senate race between James Webb and Senator Macaca, Webb's name will appear on these machines as "James H. 'Jim' ". Apparently they're "unable" to get it fixed before the election, despite this news being a couple of weeks old already. There's one big strike against the Hart InterCivic machines.

The Diebold Accuvote TSx machine is much like the Accuvote TS, but with a thermal-paper printer for voters to check that their votes were recorded correctly. I'm not a big fan of thermal-paper printers, since at least weekly I have to wait for somebody to change the roll on their cash register. Or the ATM refuses to spit out the receipt. Or everything is smudgy and illegible thanks to the paper having been stored incorrectly. The Accuvote TS incidentally has a printer attached too, the difference here is that your individual vote is printed and you can peer through a small magnifying window (it's very tiny printing) to confirm it. Why do I get the feeling that the millions of elderly voters aren't going to have an easy time checking their vote?

Furthermore, the printer is of course controlled by the software, which as we all know is easy to compromise. If you're clever enough to change the voting, you're probably clever enough to do it after printing the desired vote. These tapes are virtually unreadable without magnification, making going back over them difficult and time consuming, assuming of course it even happens.

The ES&S AutoMark I don't have as much information about (though you can find their own "case study" here (pdf)).

It doesn't necessarily matter if it has known flaws or not. One problem with all of these systems is that they allow voter disenfranchisement even if they leave a paper trail. It's quite simple. Go to a district that heavily favors someone you don't want to win and tamper with the machine. Poof! Invalidated votes. How many votes are going to be lost due to "malfunction"? How many of those malfunctions are going to be caused by vote-tampering?

There have already been reports of electronic voting machines failing, often due to a miscalibration of the screen. Imagine the machine picking up every touch 2 inches to the right, for instance. Then imagine everyone you want to vote for is on the left side of the screen. You see the problem...

The Mass. League of Women Voters has a tool up that tells you what sort of voting system your town will use. Looks like Fitchburg does indeed get the scanners again this year, which is good news.

In my last post I lamented that Bonifaz lost the primary and Galvin is a dolt. However, I neglected to mention that there is another choice to vote for. Jill Stein of the Green/Rainbow party is also running for Secretary of State, and is a definite crusader for voting reform, including my personal favorite, Instant Runoff Voting. She'll be getting my vote.

Finally, 70's Abe Lincoln mentioned Video The Vote in the comments of the last post. I'm not so sure how much help it will be, but it's definitely worth looking into.

Update: Missed another one, via the badly-in-need-of-a-graphic-designer Brad Blog. Apparently a voting machine manufactured by Sequoia Voting Systems has a nice yellow button on the back you can press to enter "manual mode", at which point you can vote as often as you like. Sweet!

Friday, October 27, 2006

Take my vote, please...

A couple of days ago there was an excellent article on Ars Technica entitled How to steal an election by hacking the vote. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in having reliable vote transparency and accountability. You don't have to be particularly technical to understand it, though it doesn't hurt.

The article focuses mainly on the Diebold Accuvote TS machine (in large part because the source code for this machine has been leaked), but applies to greater or lesser degrees to any voting machine that lacks a paper trail.

It's truly scary stuff, the importance of which can perhaps best be summed up by the author's final paragraph:
My own personal fear is that, by the time a whistleblower comes forth with an indisputable smoking gun—hard evidence that a large election has been stolen electronically—we will have lost control of our electoral process to the point where we will be powerless to enact meaningful change. The clock is ticking on this issue, because a party that can use these techniques to gain control of the government can also use them to maintain control in perpetuity.

My thoughts exactly...

Pretty much everyone who pays attention at this point knows that Diebold is hardly a company we want to hand over control of our votes to. It's been well-publicized how easy they are to hack, as well-illustrated by this Princeton video. For that matter, you can just do a search on "Diebold" at youtube and get 92 results.

So everyone knows that voting machines, and Diebold in particular, are bad for democracy, right? Not exactly. Secretary of State William Galvin seems clueless as usual. Primary opponent John Bonifaz warned of this awhile back, and I've just found this article which states:
The touch-screen machines produced by Diebold Election Systems will be used in select cities and towns on Nov. 7 as part of a plan to put in place more user-friendly technology for disabled voters, said Brian McNiff, spokesman for Galvin.

While it's shameful we haven't fully implemented HAVA yet, does anyone really believe that this is the way to do it? I don't know what towns are going to be subject to this indignity, nor do I know the exact machine that will be used (though I've seen suggestions it will be the Accuvote-TSX), but this is no good.

In the past, Fitchburg has used optical scan ballots. These have problems as well (as mentioned in the Ars Technica article), but at least leave a paper trail. Hopefully we'll still have these this year, but there's a chance (though small) that we're one of those communities blighted with the Diebold machines.

The question is, what to do about it? Well, electing Bonifaz might have helped, but that ship has sailed. Knowing your rights is an important element, and you can find the Massachusetts Voters' Bill of Rights here (pdf). If your rights are in any way violated, you should contact the Elections Division at 1-800-462-VOTE. If you're forced to use a Diebold machine, I'd suggest complaining at this number as well, though it's not technically a violation of your rights as laid out in the document. You can also contact the Secretary of State at 1-800-392-6090 or email Generally speaking, a phone call is better than an email, and a letter is better than a phone call (address here).

Whatever the case, whether it be electronic voting machines, concerns about the optical scan machines, or some other sort of disenfranchisement, keep an eye open on election day and don't hesitate to raise any issues you may encounter.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

The sheer genius of the Healey campaign

There's a little article in the Sentinel today about the new polls in the gubernatorial race.

After reporting findings like how 61% of respondents reported that Healey's negative tone in recent weeks had made them less likely to vote for her, we're treated with this wonderful snippet:
The Healey campaign also responded to inquiries about the poll in an e-mail.

"The voters need to take a hard look at what Deval Patrick stands for. Deval has no plans for Massachusetts except to raise taxes, lower standards in our schools and put dangerous criminals back on our streets. He's afraid to debate Kerry Healey one-on-one because he knows he is too liberal for Massachusetts," it read.

The statement did not address the poll results directly.
I'm not really sure how that qualifies in any way as "responding to inquiries about the poll", but I love the tone.

Obviously whoever issued the statement carefully analyzed the poll and realized that if negative campaigning is having a negative effect on Healey's poll numbers, the two negatives must cancel each other out and result in a positive effect, which means a sure-fire victory.

It's basic algebra, and it's a brilliant strategy.

Keep beating that dead horse, Kerry. You're doing great!

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Take that, doubters!

The most recent Rasmussen poll (via puts Patrick 24 points ahead of Healey.

CBS4/SurveyUSA give him 25 points.

7News/Suffolk give him 27 points.

Of course, some of us have been saying all along that Patrick would run away with it. There's still time for us (and by "us" I mean "me") to be wrong, but that's looking less and less likely.

It's going to be a blowout, and Kerry "Deval Wants To Rape You!" Healey is going to be deservedly out on her ass.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Gubernatorial Debates Suck

Having been out of town, I've just now gotten the chance to watch the gubernatorial debates. Wacky stuff. This was a terribly disorganized debate, the moderator David Gergen was clearly not up to the task.

Aside from that, the format was terrible. We don't need soundbites, we need legitimate discussions of the issues. I'm fine with having Ross and Mihos involved, but let's have a real debate and not just a test of who can fit the most pithy slogans in 60 or 30 or even 15 seconds.

Plenty of people have already examined the debate (Boston Globe, Worcester Telegram ,Blue Mass Group), so I'm not going to waste everyone's time with an in-depth analysis.

So here's a simple wrap-up. Ross is the most sensible, but stands no chance. Mihos is nuts, and while it's fun to watch him attack Healey, he doesn't really present a positive alternative. Healey is a shrill harpy. Patrick is the most gubernatorial-seeming, but could come across as smug to some people.

I've always thought that assessments of who won depend entirely on who you're rooting for (with the exception of Stockdale's embarrassing VP debate, or Quayle going up against Lloyd Bentsen, nobody thought those guys won). If you're a Healey fan, Healey won. If you're a Patrick fan, Patrick won. I support Patrick, so I say he won. If I really had to try to be objective, Mihos seemed to have the best comebacks so maybe he's the winner.

The debate transcript is here.

I do have one question though: Is Kerry Healey really taller than Deval Patrick? She appeared to have a couple of inches on him, which just seems odd.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Question Three + A Frustration

I already have posts up about questions 1 and 2. Both require a bit of thought. Question 3, on the other hand, is straightforward enough that I'm really just making this post for the sake of completeness.

This proposed law would allow licensed and other authorized providers of child care in private homes under the state’s subsidized child care system to bargain collectively with the relevant state agencies about all terms and conditions of the provision of child care services under the state’s child care assistance program and its regulations.

Essentially this is a sort of unionization. I see no compelling reason to vote against it. It gives child care providers collective bargaining powers and doesn't have any discernible negative impact. Feel free to argue this, but it seems like a very straightforward "Yes".

Now my frustration...

Am I alone in being disappointed by the three voter initiatives we have this year? Sure, questions 2 and 3 are for good causes, but they're not especially compelling. Question 1 is a blatant example of businesses using the ballot initiative process for their own purposes. Where are the important questions?

I collected some signatures earlier in the year for Home From Iraq Now. It was a decent idea, introducing what's essentially a referendum on the Iraq war as a ballot initiative. Its goal was to prevent Massachusetts National Guard troops from being sent to Iraq and to try to force the governor to do whatever was necessary to bring back any National Guard troops already there. I think it would have passed easily, had it actually made it onto the ballot.

Unfortunately, it was plagued by disorganization (note the un-updated website). The original voter initiatives seem to have been purged from the Elections Division website, so I don't have the reasoning behind its rejection available now, but my assumption is it lacked enough signatures. On the other hand, the anti-gay marriage initiative (while not on the ballot due to being a consitutional amendment put off by the legislature) got plenty of signatures. Many of these were of course challenged as being improperly collected (if memory serves me right, people thought they were signing onto Question 1), but were still certified by Galvin. Yet Bonifaz lost the primary badly.

Of course it's not easy to collect 100,000 signatures, but c'mon people, voter initiatives are one of the last true bastions of democracy left to us! Surely there must be more well-organized groups here willing to go that extra mile for truly good causes. Has being in one of the bluest of the blue states actually made us complacent?

I only hope that next time around we have something more worth voting for.

Question Two: Fusion what?

So, Question One was a relatively straightforward question with a slightly deeper meaning that isn't readily apparent. The consensus (here at least) seems to be a generalized "hmmmm..." Time to move onto a much easier one: Question Two!

Summary paragraph:
This proposed law would allow candidates for public office to be nominated by more than one political party or political designation, to have their names appear on the ballot once for each nomination, and to have their votes counted separately for each nomination but then added together to determine the winner of the election.

This question is being pushed by the Mass Ballot Freedom Campaign and is generally referred to as either "Cross Endorsement" or "Fusion Voting". On a side note, the Mass Ballot Freedom Campaign has good intentions but terrible timing. They chose the slogan "Spinach for Democracy" prior to the E. coli outbreaks. Oops!

The Mass Ballot Freedom Campaign's argument in favor of the question (via the official Mass. "Information for Voters" mailer) reads as such:
Voting "yes" will strengthen your vote and that of every citizen in Massachusetts. Because this initiative will give you the freedom to support third parties while still voting for a candidate with a real chance of winning, you'll be able to hold politicians more accountable to their campaign promises - and keep them working on the issues that matter most to you.

A sample ballot might look like this...

Major Party1........... Waffling Wally........... 48%
Major Party2........... Steady Sue............... 42%
Good Jobs Party........ Steady Sue............... 10%

... where Steady Sue wins with 52%.

Because she sees that 10% of her vote came from the Good Jobs Party, she'll have to prioritize that issue. So whether you care about jobs, taxes, schools or health care, voting "yes" will let you send politicians a message they can't ignore. Vote "yes" for more power at the polls.

The basic idea here is that spoilers (think Ralph Nader) will be less of a problem and third parties will become more attractive. By voting for a third party candidate who has a real chance of winning, the argument is that an elected politician will be more loyal to the concerns of that party than they would otherwise be. I think that's arguable, but if true it would certainly be nice.

The argument against this question is provided by the Chairman of the House Committee on Election Laws:
If Question 2 is approved massive voter confusion will be the result.

A "no" vote on this question will protect voters from confusing ballots and prevent candidates from having their names appear on the ballot more than once for the same office.

Under present law a candidate may only have their name printed on the ballot once. A "yes" vote would change this law. Counting votes will be more complicated.

This change is only a benefit to fringe political parties and designations at the expense of voters. It makes it more difficult for voters to make a clear choice.

Remember the mess in Florida's 2000 Presidential Elections. One of the contributing factors was a confusing ballot layout. Let's keep the clear, orderly voter friendly layout we now have. Elections should be about voters, not political movements and candidates. Keep voter's rights first.

Vote "no" on Question 2.

Not nearly as convincing an argument, if you ask me. It's a bit insulting to voters to claim they won't be able to understand what sounds like a pretty simple change. Furthermore Florida's issues came from a hideously confusing layout, not Cross Endorsement. As for benefiting fringe political parties, I think most people are okay with that. The two main parties don't need any more favors. However, the argument could be made that some candidates could attempt to "stack" the ballot's layout in a way that benefits them.

So is this something that would give voters more options and benefit democracy, or is it something that would lead to confusion or manipulation of voters?

To try to wrap my head around this, I looked to that bastion of righteousness, Joe Lieberman. After losing the Democratic primary in Connecticut, Lieberman of course founded the "Connecticut for Lieberman" party and is running under that ticket. Fusion voting is already legal in Connecticut. How would Massachusetts compare?

I'm unclear whether Lieberman would have been able to pull his shenanigans in Massachusetts under current laws. Currently, to appear on the primary ballot for a party you cannot have been enrolled in any other party in the previous year. I couldn't find whether that applies to the general election as well, though logic would dictate that it does.

So the question now is could Lieberman stack the ballot, by perhaps making not one but a half-dozen parties-of-one? Not just "Connecticut for Lieberman", but also "Pseudo-Republicans for Lieberman", "Bush Fans for Lieberman", "Pet Lovers for Lieberman", etc. By my reading, Question 2 would allow that:
The proposed law would allow a political party to obtain official recognition if its candidate [my emphasis] had obtained at least 3% of the vote for any statewide office at either of the two most recent state elections.

If the focus is really on the candidate and not the party, then it sounds to me like the above stacking of the deck is possible. Perhaps not really likely, but possible. Of course, this is just a ballot question and the actual law may close up some loopholes.

There's a potential downside, but is the upside worth it? I have to go with yes. Anything that encourages more political parties and helps to eliminate spoilers is a good thing. Furthermore, why shouldn't it be legal for one candidate to be endorsed by numerous parties? There are certainly Democrats who'd be fitting Green Party candidates, and perhaps there are even Libertarians who would be embraced by the Republicans (the argument could be made that the current GOP is the polar opposite of Libertarianism, but you get my point).

The arguments against Question 2 just aren't that compelling, and while I think there are a lot more important improvements that could be made to the voting process (like Instant Runoff Voting and the already-passed-but-defunded-by-Romney Clean Elections Law), this isn't a bad step. My cynical side doubts that Fusion voting would really have a huge impact here, but I think it's a step in the right direction.

I'd definitely be curious to hear others' opinions on this question. It's a tricky one, and I'm sure I haven't considered all possible ways it could play out if implemented.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Question One: I love drinkin'!

I was just reading an opinion piece over at the Sentinel & Enterprise web site dealing with Question 1 on the November ballot and figured I might as well take this opportunity to address some ballot questions.

This proposal in a (very small) nutshell states:
This proposed law would allow local licensing authorities to issue licenses for food stores to sell wine.
The Sentinel opines it's a good thing, apparently mostly because they are "believers in the value of free markets" and don't see any harm from it. Local liquor stores understandably oppose it, and the argument they seem to be using is that it would make it easier for underage drinkers to get access to wine. To me, that argument seems pretty absurd. Everyone knows teenagers love a good glass of Merlot, but I just don't see their argument being backed up by reality. Additionally, their scare tactics (hell, the website linked above has a picture of a wrecked car on the front page) are going to just make most people laugh at them.

The small liquor stores have a better argument they should be using though, and it's that this proposal benefits big business while harming small shops.

Supermarkets can and do already sell wine and other alcohol. However, per Mass General Law:
No person, firm, corporation, association, or other combination of persons,[...] shall be granted, in the aggregate, more than three such licenses in the commonwealth.
What this means is that with some exceptions larger chains like Hannaford and Stop & Shop are limited to three liquor licenses statewide.

So it's not really a supermarket vs liquor store argument, it's a big chain vs independent store argument.

Frankly, I don't even really know how I'll vote on this one. I'm reluctant to support big corporations over local businesses, but Massachusetts has some pretty absurd liquor laws, and the more that can be done to chip away at those the better. It's not hard to predict that if this passes the next step will be to add beer to the list of approved liquors for "food stores", and possibly an attempt at harder liquors after that. More availability=more consumer choice, which in my eyes is a good thing.

I expect it to pass with no problem. Not based on any polling (I haven't looked at any), just based on the fact that most people prefer convenience. It is worth a bit more thought than you might have at first glance, though. It could sound the death knell for some local businesses, which is never a good thing. But it certainly has potential benefits as well.

Obviously, decide based on what matters most to you. I'm voting "Maybe".

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Taxes, taxes, taxes

In the current gubernatorial elections the issue of potentially changing the state income tax from its current flat 5.3% to (a voter approved) 5% even has been harped on quite a bit. Healey supports the drop, Patrick opposes it.

Now, let's just ignore the issue of whether income taxes should be decided by a vote. If people really decided their own taxes nobody would be paying anything.

I have little experience with tax codes and this is going to be a little bare so take this all with a grain of salt, but I'm going to try to make the point here that all but the super-rich should support Patrick on a purely economic basis.

Massachusetts' 5.3% is a flat income tax. It applies to you if you're at the minimum taxable rate, it applies to you if you're a billionaire. No graduated taxes here. Sure, the billionaires can afford to pay a lot more than 5.3% and the poorest can't even necessarily afford 5.3%, but the state doesn't care. Rich people love taxes like this, the poor don't.

Yet when discussing taxes like this, people like to talk about how the poor will benefit. If you make $20,000 a year it's the difference between paying $1,060 and paying $1,000! That's sixty bucks you can now spend on other things.

Things like your steadily increasing property tax, fees, and so forth. When the income tax goes down these things go up, because the money needs to come from somewhere.

If you're the lucky sort who makes $200,000 a year it's the difference between and $10,600 and $10,000. That's a rockin' six hundred bucks you now have to spend.

Also on property taxes, fees, and so forth.

If you make 2 million then you have six grand to spend. Pretty sweet. That should cover a lot of those property taxes and fees easily.

The problem is that property taxes and fees tend to impact the rich a whole lot less than they impact the poor. Let's take the registry of motor vehicles. If I make 20 grand a year and go down and to renew the basic Class D license it costs me $40. No problem, I can use my $60 tax break and still have $20 left to get my brother a birthday present. Maybe a DVD.

If I make $200,000 a year and go to renew my license I have to pay... $40. Well, no problem. I got that sweet tax break and still have $560. I can get my brother a new DVD player now, and probably a pretty decent surround-sound system to go with it.

Seems like the fee was a bigger problem for the person who makes less, doesn't it? It's just one little fee. While the license renewal fee may not itself be likely to decrease no matter what happens, cutting income taxes does make it more likely to go up. After all, there's $600 now missing from everyone making 200 grand a year that needs to be recouped somehow.

Now add in all the other fees we face in our everyday life. If you have kids in school you're paying fees, if you drive down the Mass Pike you're paying fees, basically if you do anything in this state you're paying fees.

Then there are property taxes on top of that. Maybe you rent, so you think you're safe. Not so! If the landlord is hit with a high property tax expect your rent to raise accordingly. Property taxes have been increasing in Massachusetts, largely because towns need to recoup funds lost from the state government. Cutting the income tax will exacerbate that. The rich will have no problem paying these property taxes. If you can afford a mansion, you can afford the taxes on it. The poor can't afford either.

This is getting a little convoluted, so let me wrap it up. Dropping the income tax from 5.3% to 5.0% gives rich people more money. It gives the state less money, which raises local taxes and fees (since the town can't get money from the state). These fees easily wipe out the minor savings average people get, while the rich are left with a nice fat paycheck, courtesy of the state.

In a nutshell, lowering the income tax benefits the rich and the rest of us are stuck with more suffering. Don't be fooled into thinking that a little more money in your paycheck equals a little more money in your pocketbook. They'll have other ways to take that away, and it'll hit you a whole lot harder than it hits the rich.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Why does "Save Fitchburg" attract crazy people?

Reading the comments section for Save Fitchburg in the past I always thought it seemed like a slightly odd community of fairly humorless people, but I figured they were relatively sane.

However, after creating a blog and finding myself with an account, I figured I might as well post there (anonymous posting is disabled and I was too lazy to make an account before). Apparently I created some sort of shitstorm with an offhanded dig at conservatives and the crazy idea that Deval Patrick is going to win the election easily. (Polls here.)

For whatever reason I've now been repeatedly accused of being either a toady of Dan Mylott, Dan Mylott himself, some sort of Fitchburg insider, a SOSO (I still don't know what that is), a graduate of FSC (I actually know some very intelligent graduates of FSC, but I'm not one of them), and possibly a few other things by now. Apparently the cognoscenti at Save Fitchburg have an unhealthy fixation on Dan Mylott. They also seem to believe I'm running for office, which I'm not sure whether to take as hilarious or insulting. Right now I'm going with insulting.

Apparently these nice folks think that writing about local politics means you want to be a local politician. I shudder to think what they believe now that I've written about sexual predators.

Rest assured, I'm neither running for office nor preying on anyone.

On the plus side, this did effectively reinforce my belief that there needed to be another outlet for political expression in Fitchburg.

Sex Offenders

Sex offenders. They're constantly in the news. They're people who've done some truly horrible things. Some ex-offenders live among us, just like anyone else who has committed a crime and done their time. Maybe you don't think the punishments are harsh enough (I for one don't), but they've taken their punishment and are back in the community.

This post isn't really about sex offenders though, it's about a particular law.

Fitchburg city councilor Dean Tran has recently pushed for (and passed, on Sept 21st) a law to regulate where Level 2 and 3 sex offenders are allowed to live in the city of Fitchburg.

More accurately, it defines areas that sex offenders aren't allowed to move into. That forbidden ground would be within 1,000 feet of any playground, park, school, or day-care center in the city. The goal, of course, is to keep sex offenders out of the city.

In a June 22nd Boston Globe article, Tran was quoted:
``Make no mistake about this petition," Tran said. ``It does not ban sex offenders from coming into the city. We're not regulating their movements. We're just restricting them from living close to schools and other facilities where children are."
Nice choice of words, since their constitutional "right to travel" would clearly be restricted if you were "regulating their movements". Yet in the same article we're offered this nugget:
Tran said he did not intend for his proposal to exclude sex offenders from moving to Fitchburg, a city of 39,000 about 50 miles from Boston, but he hopes it is one of the petition's consequences. ``If that happens, it would be great," he said.
So he's not trying to keep them from coming to Fitchburg, he just hopes that's the effect it has.

On the surface, it sounds fine. Nobody wants sex offenders around children. Then again, nobody really wants sex offenders around anyone else either. After all, most sex offenses are committed against adults.

There are a number of problems with this law. First of all, most of Fitchburg is within 1,000 feet of one of these facilities. That severely limits the housing available. Great, right? Not if you live in one of the areas outside the law's range. Expect to have a lot of new sex offender neighbors. Furthermore, what do you think the impact is of having small areas of sex offenders clustered together? Property values in those areas may well drop, but worse than that recidivism rates may rise. Grouping sex offenders together isn't generally considered to be a good idea.

Police Chief Edward Cronin has already expressed concerns that the law may be not only nearly impossible to enforce, but also unconstitutional.

Unconstitutional how?

Similar laws have been challenged for infringing not only the right to travel, but the right to due process under the law, the right against self-incrimination and the right to family association and privacy. It has even been argued that such laws impose cruel and unusual punishment because the restriction is "the functional equivalent [of] the old sanction of banishment."

The chance of this law standing up to constitutional muster is low, in other words.

Now, a few basic facts about sex offenders. A 2003 US Department of Justice study found recidivism rates among child molesters to range from roughly 3.3% to 8%, depending on the subgroup being measured. While any recidivism is terrible, these are hardly high numbers when compared to other violent criminals.

In 2004 the state of Washington commissioned a detailed recidivism report of its felons (.pdf here). How did sex offenders rank?

Out of categories of assault, murder, burglary, manslaughter, property crimes, robberies, and sex crimes, sex crimes had the second lowest rate of recidivism (only manslaughter was lower). While their figures may not be universally applicable, they do provide a pretty clear image of where sex crimes (not just child molestation) fall within the grand scheme of things. It's just not as big a problem as people want you to believe.

Robberies had the highest recidivism rate in that study. Perhaps Mr. Tran should have proposed that convicted robbers not be allowed to live within 1,000 feet of convenience stores instead. It would likely have more impact. Or maybe they'd just take a car.

Oh yeah, that's another thing. Do sex offenders have a range of 1,000 feet or something? It takes all of two minutes to walk that far, at a pretty comfortable saunter. Do they have invisible tethers, or are we assuming that most child molestation occurs because the child wanders into the predator's back yard?

So it's a likely unconstitutional law that addresses what's really a fairly minor problem and even then it addresses it in a terribly naive way. Admittedly, it's a problem that's been blown way out of proportion by the media. So it's good for political points. After all, who wants to be accused of "supporting" sex offenders by daring to oppose this ridiculous law?

With all the problems Fitchburg has, is this really the way we should be spending our time?

[Also worth a read is Frankie Thomas' recent blog on Huffpo, Pedophiles: America's Security Blanket]

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

About the Shooting at Saima Park

Over the last weekend there was a shooting at Saima Park. Per the Sentinel & Enterprise:
The Saima Park shooting occurred just before midnight Saturday night at a 15-year-old girl's birthday party.

The gunfire left one Fitchburg resident dead and three others hospitalized.

The other three gunshot victims, one of whom is a 15-year-old Fitchburg High School student, are in stable condition, family members said Monday.

The shooting happened after unwanted guests were asked to leave the party, a "Quinceanera" for a Fitchburg girl, 15.

Police arrested Xavier A. Santiago, 17, of 115 Chester St., for the incident Sunday, charging him with murder and three counts of assault with intent to murder.


[Police Chief Edward] Cronin said his job now is to find ways to prevent incidents like Saturday's from happening.

But he stressed he doesn't want leniency for those found responsible for the killing.

"I have no doubt that whoever is responsible for this will be caught, prosecuted, and will never see the light of day," Cronin said.

Cronin said such shootings aren't unique to Fitchburg.

"It's an absolute reflection of what is going on across the country," he said.

A sign of the times?

Fitchburg is becoming more prone to gun violence, especially among youth, [brother of the victim, Luis] Colon said.

"This place is getting worse and worse, and obviously the police aren't doing anything about it," said Colon, who grew up in the city. "It hasn't always been this bad."
Ah yes, that wonderful fact-free Sentinel & Enterprise reporting.

Sure, they got the basic facts right. Somebody got shot. The shooter was Hispanic (sure to inflame the anti-Hispanic sentiment already present in town). And umm... it's representative of what's going on across the country and Fitchburg is "becoming more prone to gun violence".


What's going on across the country? Well, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics:
  • Since 1994, violent crime rates have declined, reaching the lowest level ever in 2005.
  • Homicide rates recently declined to levels last seen in the late 1960s.
  • The proportion of serious violent crimes committed by juveniles has generally declined since 1993.
Given all that, just what's going on across the country that we're supposedly a part of? Homicide is going down, juvenile crime is going down, violent crime in general is going down.

Is it maybe possible that occasionally "shit happens" and we're just unlucky enough to be in the vicinity of it this time? What are you trying to make us afraid of, Officer Cronin? Surely this isn't an attempt to procure more funding for your department despite there being no facts to back up your allegations that this is symptomatic of a national problem, right?

Of course not.

Now, as for Luis Colon's statement, I absolutely feel for him. He lost his brother to a senseless tragedy. He can say anything he wants, but it's hardly going to be an unbiased appraisal of the situation.

Is this place getting "worse and worse"? If it's a member of your family who got killed, yes. If you look at the general homicide rate, Fitchburg has fluctuated from between 0 and 3 homicides every year between 1980 and 2004 (the most recent year I could find information for). The FPD puts out an annual report (2004 annual report here as .pdf) which sure doesn't make it look like things have been getting worse and worse. Hey Sentinel, how about reporting the facts about whether or not gun violence actually has gotten worse and not just what one grieving family member believes? Or would that be too much like actual reporting?

Okay, so what do we end up with?

A tragic shooting, yes. Not a national epidemic, nor a regional one. Bad things sometimes happen to good people. We can live in fear and focus on Fitchburg's supposed "crime problem" (doesn't seem that bad to me). Or we can get on with our lives and do what we can do to make our community better.

I know which one I'm picking. How about you?

How We Came To Be

Might as well get this out of the way from the beginning.

This blog was started partially because of a grudge.

You see, the local Fitchburg paper is the Sentinel & Enterprise. Aside from having marvelously hackable Javascript polls, there's not a lot good you can say about the paper. Your complaints can range from typos to fluff reporting to blatantly biased articles, it's all there. Most people in the area who want printed news worth reading turn either to The Boston Globe or the Worcester Telegram & Gazette.

But like it or not, the Sentinel & Enterprise is our local paper, and as such is meant to reflect our local community.

Here comes the grudge part.

The Sentinel has its aforementioned marvelously hackable polls, and these come with a link to their Twin Cities Blog where you can "sound off". All well and good, right?

Not really.

I've submitted numerous comments to the Twin Cities Blog. Being a moderated blog, they obviously must pass through some human being before being posted for the world to see.

Lately I've noticed that none of my posts have been getting through. Let me make it clear first that none of these were abusive postings. They did represent a strong liberal/progressive viewpoint (and in my opinion made a good argument), but were in no way offensive. At the same time, posts representing among the most ignorant conservative viewpoints made their way through with no difficulty. For example, a post I made arguing against making English the national language was rejected while the following posts made it:

Multiculturalism does not work. It will destroy this country. The Left knows this and this is why they support it.

-by "Padre Pio"

or this enlightening shout:

-by "ann"

Don't you feel smarter just reading that?

This alone probably wouldn't have pushed me to create a blog. But apparently I'm not alone. A Google search (while trying to find an ombudsman for the paper) revealed the blog Unbecoming Levity and this post detailing the exact same problem. Apparently it's systemic. Viola! A blog is born!

Now let's discuss what's probably the most prominent Fitchburg blog.

While Save Fitchburg seems to overall be very well meaning, the comments section is a total embarrassment to any sentient being. While I don't agree with everything he says, the primary (only?) blogger Jason is a pretty reasonable guy. However, the comments attract not just city councilors and washed-up local politicians, but any number of local crackpots eager to disseminate hate-fueled rhetoric. I'm not sure which are worse.

I won't say I have a grudge against "Save Fitchburg", but it does have a degree of motivating impact. It's clearly a place where the right wing feels comfortable gathering and demonizing their enemy du jour. If only the left wing had such a place...

And that, my friends, is how Progressive Fitchburg was born.

Welcome to Progressive Fitchburg

Greetings, and welcome to what will hopefully be the first of many posts on "Progressive Fitchburg."

What's that you say? "Progressive Fitchburg" is an oxymoron? Well, if you only read the local paper or view the local blogs you can be forgiven for thinking that Fitchburg is Central Massachusetts' haven for inane conservative talking points.

But there's more than one viewpoint here in Fitchburg, and it's about time it got out there.

There are plenty of people here who are sick of the insanity. Tired of seeing every story in the local paper take a conservative stance. Frustrated with the seemingly omnipresent scapegoating of the Hispanic community. Just overall fed up with being viewed as a bastion of narrowmindedness in one of the most progressive states in the Union.

So here we are.

Welcome to Progressive Fitchburg