E-voting machine test lab loses certification

According to a NYTimes report, the federal Election Assistance Commission decertified Coloroado-based Ciber, one of the main electronic voting machine test labs, last summer, but only just got around to telling people.

Experts say the deficiencies of the laboratory suggest that crucial features like the vote-counting software and security against hacking may not have been thoroughly tested on many machines now in use.

“What’s scary is that we’ve been using systems in elections that Ciber had certified, and this calls into question those systems that they tested,” said Aviel D. Rubin, a computer science professor at Johns Hopkins. — via the New York Times

Rubin quite logically suggests that a better testing method would be to hire teams of hackers. (Me, I'd like to see EFF hackers with a civil-rights focus and a case of Jolt cola have at these puppies.) Right now, there's an odd relationship between manufacturers and testers that makes me queasy. If we're voting on these things, all tests should be conducted to strict, public standards and the results should be completely transparent. And, it goes without saying, we need a paper trail.

RIDOE hearing on PHS swordsman: ProJo

As reported in today's ProJo, a closed-door session yesterday heard testimony from Patrick Agin and Portsmouth High representatives. Legal briefs due Friday, decision by education commissioner Peter McWalters urged by Jan 19.

U.S. District Judge William Smith, after a conference in chambers last month, issued an order that said the ACLU agreed to file an administrative appeal with McWalters “so as to not involve unnecessarily the federal judiciary in this dispute.”

But Smith will ultimately decide the case. He asked the lawyers involved, Stephen Robinson for the Portsmouth School Committee and Thomas Connolly for the ACLU, to report to him on the status of the administrative appeal by Friday and has urged McWalters to make a decision by Jan. 19 to help move the case forward. — via Providence Journal

Truth in PHS mire hard to come by; there really *was* a deadline

I should know better than to believe completely in anything that appears in print. In a previous post I referenced a Newport Daily News article that insinuated that Portsmouth HS Principal Littlefield's deadline for the yearbook might have been exaggerated.

One of my faithful readers, who has personal knowledge, tells me that, in fact, the senior pictures section did indeed go off to the printer on the date Littlefield mentioned, minus the page with Agin's broadsword picture. Yes, the drop-dead for the rest of the book is February, so there is some wiggle room, but the bottom line is that the principal did not lie.

I stand corrected. We may disagree with Littlefield's judgement, but it appears he was telling the truth.

As someone who's worked with printers, this doesn't surprise me. You can usually change anything right up to the time you're on press (with, however, price increasing inverse to time remaining.) Didn't get any info on whether there's going to be additional costs associated with delaying this page.

Hat tip to my unnamed source. Many thanks.

2007, 3000. And, you may ask yourself, well, how did we get here?

By now, we have probably lost our first soldier on the way to our next grim milestone, and we seem to have no way out. We are in that late phase of a failing project software developers call the "Death March," when all vision has been narrowed to a single point, all perspective on the process lost, and people work incessantly, grimly, patching leaks as the ship sinks, trying desperately to get something, anything out the door. In such "single vision and Newton's sleep" there is rarely victory, and always a terrible price. And not just in a suboptimal release or a failed state, but in other tasks left undone, other creative options that were never explored.

In an opinion piece in today's Washington Post, former counterterrorism advisor Richard Clarke talks about the hidden costs of the Iraq War: a Presidency and Administration focused obsessively on Iraq, rather than attacking the full range of serious global issues that have been put on hold (global warming, the deteriorating political situation in Russia, war in Africa, resurgent narcotics trade in Afghanistan, and more).

As the president contemplates sending even more U.S. forces into the Iraqi sinkhole, he should consider not only the thousands of fatalities, the tens of thousands of casualties and the hundreds of billions of dollars already lost. He must also weigh the opportunity cost of taking his national security barons off all the other critical problems they should be addressing -- problems whose windows of opportunity are slamming shut, unheard over the wail of Baghdad sirens. — via the Washington Post

War is news, and the military-entertainment complex understands the magician's force. Look over here; pay no attention to what my assistant is doing to those detainees. Yes, the blogosphere has goaded mainstream media into reluctantly dealing with some issues, but those in power are still happy to play the percentages. And as much as I genuinely enjoy Jon Stewart, it is not without a certain irony that he represents the culminant moment of Chayefsky's masterpiece, "Network." What sounded like madness in 1975 (a news division being handled like other programming? preposterous!) now seems completely normal -- in fact necessary -- in a world with no attention span and a handful of multinationals running the public airwaves and newspapers.

Joseph Palermo, in HuffPo, urges the incoming Democratic Congress to take steps to re-balance the American media landscape, which has drifted into dangerous territory, unmoored from the Fairness Doctrine and increasingly vested in the hands of media conglomerates bent not so much on a particular ideology as they are on, well, making money. Which means delivering eyeballs to advertisers. Which means reducing all discourse to sound bites, all complexity to affable infographics.

"Twenty years ago, in "Amusing Ourselves to Death," Neil Postman wrote: "We are presented not only with fragmented news but news without context, without consequences, without value, and therefore without essential seriousness; that is to say, news as pure entertainment." Fox News anchor Brit Hume pretends to be a journalist instead of a Republican mouthpiece; Tony Snow pretends to answer questions the members of the supine White House press corps pretend to ask him. President Bush pretends to know and care about what he is doing. "Politics is just like show business," Ronald Reagan said in 1966." — via HuffintonPost

Palermo's suggestions are good first steps, but we would do well to remember what Postman concluded: that the real hope for slipping the noose of electronic media was "to rely on the only mass medium of communication that, in theory, is capable of addressing the problem: our schools." Education, as the last outpost of the printed word that created America, is our best hope for re-igniting the critical habits of mind that could jump us out of the death march and confront the complex world we face.

"It is an acknowledged task of the schools to assist the young in learning how to interpret the symbols of their culture. That this task should now require that they learn how to distance themselves from their forms of information is not so bizarre an enterprise that we cannot hope for its inclusion in the curriculum...we are in a race between education and disaster." — Amusing Ourselves to Death, p.163

Happy New Year.

Kathryn Cramer's Republican Novena

Cramer's wicked take on MSM's faux beatification of the Pardoner:

   St. Gerald, worker of miracles, pray for us.

   St. Gerald, helper of the hopeless, pray for us.

Say this prayer 9X a day, by the 8th day your prayer will be answered. You will not be indicted & will be spared the embarrassment of a public trial, provided you are a Republican. It has never been known to fail. Publication must be promised. Send your $4.00 publication fee to PO Box 78, Pleasantville, NY 10570.]

— Via kathryncramer.com

Check out her photoshopped Ford ikon, quite tasty. In all the hand-wringing and "context" over the last few days, the disgusting fact remains that Ford's pardon allowed one of the worst criminals in American politics to escape punishment, an act that, as Shakespeare's Sister pointed out, set the stage for future Presidents to feel above the law. Run guns to the Contras, mine Nicaraguan harbors, make shit up to justify a bogus war. The hits just keep coming. Thanks, Saint Gerald.

Oh, and you did a good job on the Warren Report, too. Your edit made things much clearer.

Sic Semper

It's been a weird week, no? The odd, enantiomorphic death of the Pardoner and the Demon, the catafalqued Rotunda and the neck snap in Baghdad. Actinic Capitol and dank execution stairway. A dark ending to a dark, dark year, with another record-setting month of violence in Iraq.

We drove to visit in-laws in North Carolina for the holidays, and did stopovers in DC on the way down and Philadelphia on the way back to provide some teachable moments for our 7 year old.

Philadelphia is enough of a relic to be unproblematic, but how do you explain DC to an inquisitive child? An entire city, a bureaucratic layer, dedicated to the inertia of policy, a whole town of the middle management that consultants continually struggle against; "Veterans still in shell shock from ordnance twenty years obsolete," as Pynchon has it.

In DC, we saw the top hat Lincoln wore to Ford's Theater; in Philly, a chunk of John Wilkes Booth's trachea. When you're a kid, you can just enjoy the experiences. It's we adults who are sentenced to understanding.

Okay, I'm still tired from driving 1,500 miles. I'll be back to my cheery self shortly.

That sword cuts both ways, Principal Littlefield

I don't have time to read the Newport Daily News every day, so I rely on the other bloggers here on the Island to pick up the good (or, well, crazy) stuff. And this is a doozy. Did Portsmouth HS Principal Littlefield lie about the drop-dead date for printing the yearbook in order to turn up the heat on sword-wielding SCA senior Patrick Agin?

"First, school officials have admitted that last Monday was not the deadline for submitting yearbook photos. The deadline for publishing the yearbook is actually February 28, two months from now. In light of this new deadline, the ACLU has agreed to withdraw its motion for a temporary restraining order prohibiting the school from printing the yearbook without Agin's picture." — via Newport9

As Newport9 blogger Thomas Kalinowski asks, where did that earlier, fake deadline come from? It couldn't have been Littlefield lying. Could it?

Part of me has to wonder. Was this whole thing some kind of bizarre reverse-fake? Did the PSD want to do something, anything to push Caruolo below the fold? That, unfortunately, is the most charitable explanation I can manage. I suspect there will be some questions about Littlefield's conduct at the next School Committee meeting.

Bush's cheery holiday press conference

From yesterday's twinkling presser, via the rabid moonbat surrendermonkeys at the NYTimes.

On being the Decider:
QUESTION: But beyond that, sir, have you questioned your own decisions?
BUSH: No, I haven't questioned whether or not it was right to take Saddam Hussein out.

The inevitable question on Mary Cheney:
BUSH: I know Mary. And I like her. I know she's going to be a fine, loving mother. I'm not going to call on you again.

And what has he learned?
QUESTION:[A]fter five years now of war, what lessons will you take into the final two years of your presidency?
BUSH: Well, look, absolutely, that it is important for us, to be successful going forward, is to analyze that which went wrong.

You know, I mean just know that he was carefully coached on the use of the passive voice in that answer. Look at it again. No person or entity "did" anything wrong; wrong things just went and happened.

Particularly in the Lower Ninth Ward. Thanks, your Excellency, for the insightful analysis.

Affordable housing meets PowerPoint in Portsmouth

Update: I'm not going to edit this post, because it's more than a year old, but I do want to point out that this was a quick, initial response, and that it is not accurate. While my argument about year-round residents may be valid in a perfect world, it fails when viewed in light of Rhode Island's tax cap.

Eileen Spillane down the road in RI12 picks up on a Newport Daily News story about the recent report of the Portsmouth Economic Development Committee. The NDN story apparently focused not on the good work the committee did, or their plans for 2007, but on one extremely stupid chart they presented which suggested that the most profitable housing sector to pursue was "Recreational/Residential" (i.e., houses for rich people who only live here part time and don't use so many services.) As Eileen points out:

"Responsible economic development requires affordable housing for its workers. While Newport shoulders much of this for the State, what about Portsmouth? It's time that other towns & cities stepped up to the plate. I proposed the State providing incentives for communities to do so."RI12

EDC gain/loss chartHere's the offending chart. (Click for larger view) Based on the numbers, developments like Carnegie Abbey look good on paper, because residents only use them for part of the year, and absorb only 43 cents of services for every tax dollar they contribute. Residential households, on this chart, project below the line, "costing" 16 cents more than they produce in taxes.

Now there are at least two things wrong with this kind of analysis, and both of them are pretty egregious. On a practical level, saying that part-time residents are economically attractive does not speak to their total lifecycle cost. While they are less likely to have kids in the schools or require municipal services, they are also less invested in supporting the town. They don't pay sales tax here full time, don't shop here full time, don't raise families here. I'm not saying that's good or bad; this is not a criticism of part-time residents. It is, however, a critique of the snapshot analysis in this chart versus a long-range picture. The uncaptured cumulative local revenue (and its velocity multiplier) need to be subtracted from that alleged 57 cents. Nor does this analysis attempt to quantify the cost of less-than-full community participation, an intangible to be sure, but that's what consultants get paid to operationalize.

But even worse, and the reason charts like this help towns make dumb decisions about housing is the tacit metaphor: Government is a business. That's just flat wrong.

Let me say it again. Government is not a freaking business. You are not "losing money" on residential homeowners, as if they were some unprofitable assembly line you could outsource to Mumbai. Governments provide municipal services because they serve the common good, not because they turn a profit, and we forget that at our peril. Words matter, and the EDC would do well to think more carefully about them in the future.

This dumb chart and the NDN pickup is particularly unfortunate, because the rest of the work the EDC has been doing — promoting Wind Power, developing the Town Center project, and working to attract businesses to Portsmouth — have been laudable.

Shout out to Eileen's RI12 for pointing out this article.

"Moving through matter with Buckaroo Banzai"

The wonderful thing about the Web is that nothing ever goes away. A dedicated fan dug up a technical paper explaining the physics of Buckaroo Banzai, written by UC Berkeley scientist Cary I. Sneider in 1984. Here's a peek...

"[L]et's take Buckaroo's invention for a spin and see how it works. First, the Overthruster produces colliding beams of electrons and positrons. These, in turn, produce copious quantities of intermediate vector bosons which are separated and focused with superconducting magnets. When focused on solid matter, the beam produces a small region of high energy density. Inside the target, spontaneous symmetry breaking imparts mass to the photons, reducing the range of the electromagnetic force to far less than a quadrillionth of a centimeter. From this small region a shock wave of broken symmetry propagates outward. Behind the shock wave matter interacts only weakly, providing for Buckaroo and his jet car to move through matter. The car must travel very fast (at least 700 miles per hour) to allow free passage before the material reverts to its normal state."Geekazon, via Slashdot

Not familiar with the adventures of this swashbuckling particle physicist-surgeon-rock star? You can learn more at Wikipedia, IMDB, or go straight to the horse's mouth, the Banzai Institute.

"It's your hand, Buckaroo." — Dr. Hikita