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!