Asperis

Ideas, rants and raves, with emphasis on Science, Politics, Personal Growth and Finance

Diebold voting machines are easily hackable!

Posted by The Lukester on December 14, 2005

I’m shocked, simply shocked. Those Diebold voting machines? You know, the ones that handed G.W. Bush the presidency last year? Well it turns out that – surprise, surprise – they can be hacked without leaving a trace to change the votes any way desired. And this is on the memory card that Diebold swore was not hackable. The test was done for Leon County (FL), and a post of the test is on the site BlackBoxVoting.org. As a result of this test Leon County is dumping their Diebold voting machines, and I’m adding these folks to my Links sidebar!

I’ve heard a lot of complaints about these boxes. Not only are they hackable, but the people who set them up did some very stupid things (not intentional of course) like telling the poll workers the password – which could be used to alter the results any way desired on all the machines. There are lots of stories – verifiable ones I should add (unlike the tall tales the Republicans were telling about supposed voter fraud) – about voting machine victories: Areas that had them had a disproportionate number of votes for Bush, compared to districts that didn’t have them – a statistical impossibility. Or traditionally black, Democratic districts “voting” for Bush when other similar districts nearby did not. I heard this all most recently on the radio some weeks ago, but don’t have a source (didn’t have a ‘blog then). Sorry about that if I find info I’ll update this page.

This issue stirs a lot of outrage for me. Aside from who won the election – and that’s not something to be complacent about either – it is VITAL that we trust the election process. Compared to all the sneaky, dishonest, dirty tricks played by the Right, fiddling with the voting machines cuts the deepest into our political rights and freedoms. I don’t care how god-awful the elections get, if we want to preserve our democracy we have to be able to trust the process!

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Political Blogging Addiction, and Firefox

Posted by The Lukester on December 14, 2005

Blogs on the Left and the Right

I started following political blogs around the time Special Prosecutor Fitzgerald was doing his magic, and discovered a number of great mostly left-leaning blogs to follow, some of which I will list here. I also tried out a couple of the right-wing blogs, but got too angry reading them – too full of outrageous lies and spin in the face of the most solid facts, the advocacy of punditry over journalism. Of course that’s what they say about the blogs on the left, but any objective reader can tell in a flash which side respects the truth and which side is soaked with contrived outrage. Right?

Of course, there are “bad apples” in every bushel. There are some sane voices on the Right (generally they are the real conservatives, as opposed to the wack-job neo-cons), and there are some real wackos on the Left. But I know that I’m not a wacko because…because… well just because!

Firefox and Sage

Here’s what made reading political blogs into an addiction: I started using the Firefox browser, then added the Sage extension. For those of you who live on deserted islands and only read this in Morse Code, Firefox is a new, upstart open-source browser that’s dramatically more useful, small and faster, and more extendible than Internet Explorer. Sage “is a lightweight RSS and Atom feed aggregator.” In English that means that most blogs (those that support RSS – it’s easy to tell) can be listed in a column to one side. You know immediately if there are updates – usually new and recent entries – and they are listed below. You can check your favorite blogs without having to browse to the web page. Only if you want to read the article in full, or interact with the content in some way, do you need to browse the web page by jumping to the specific entry. It saves a huge amount of time which some people – like me – waste by adding additional blogs.

Different Blogs

There seem to be a few styles of political blogs. There are those that mostly just reference a story or comment made by a “real” news outlet or by another blogger. This is very handy since they have done all the work reading commentary and watching TV, and just supply a link and a few comments. Of these I use AMERICAblog, Think Progress, Daily Kos and Atrios. My current favorite is AMERICAblog – the comments are concise yet they are very passionate, updating several times an hour (which is Good Stuff to the blogging addict). Atrios, though it has great links, is a little terse for my taste. Think Progress goes both ways – sometimes no commentary and sometimes a bit of reporting. In their current (as I write this) entry, Think Progress has a great bit on O’Reilly’s “War on Christmas” stupidity. Daily Kos has great commentary too.

Then there are the blogs that write coherent articles on various topics. I put foreign policy expert Steven Clemens’ The Washington Note into this category, along with NO QUARTER, run by Larry Johnson, a former Intelligence professional who applies his extensive expertise and contacts to great stories.

Commentary

Most if not all of these provide a venue for comments. I find this a mixed bag as they allow pretty open commentary – only the most inappropriate comments are filtered out – and hundreds of comments can accumulate. Right-wing blogs, by the way, tend to be closed to commentary (this makes sense – if you’re going to lie on a regular basis it would be inconvenient to have a hundred different commentators reminding everyone what the facts are). Also, some blogs have resident “trolls” – these are regular commentators on a mission to disrupt the discussion. Usually with absurd or inflammatory comments. While this makes participation less engaging then it should be, it does not distract from the article or entry itself.

Addiction

I started this entry as a way to put the links to some of my favorite blogs (and these are just a few of the political ones) in an article. As with most of my writing it got quite long and I’ll be really impressed if anyone bothered to read all the way through! But if anyone wants to share this addiction, all you have to do is get Firefox, get Sage, and start adding blogs like crazy. Pretty soon you, too, will be staying up until 4AM clicking on articles, searching the web for more blogs, and tweaking your list by organizing blogs into folders. Have fun!

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Why is the White House Pushing so Hard to Allow Torture?

Posted by The Lukester on December 14, 2005

The White House — especially Dick Cheney — is pushing pretty hard to allow the US to torture captives under certain circumstances (news is all over, but here’s a recent link via AMERICAblog). This has got to be a public relations nightmare both at home and at broad. Why are they pushing so hard when it clearly is costing them so much?

I have a theory about this: I think they are trying to cover their asses when the news gets out that THEY HAVE ALREADY BEEN TORTURING PEOPLE. I don’t mean all these insinuations and implications and tip-of-the-iceberg news stories we’ve been hearing a lot lately. I mean when the story impinges on the reality of the mainstream media and fully enters the consciousness of the American people and – more importantly – Bush’s political base (it’ll be morbidly funny to watch the Religious Right try to defend torture). At that point Bush & Co are going to be in a LOT of legal trouble, and having this exemption already in place would help protect them.

Of course, such an exemption would not protect them from past crimes, but it would give them some pretty effective talking points to distribute to Fox “News” and similar White House stenographic organizations: ‘the law now supports this kind of treatment – that it wasn’t yet legal at the time is only a “technicality”

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Answers NOT in Genesis #1: “Christian” Environmentalism

Posted by The Lukester on December 14, 2005

Every once in a while, for yucks, I browse the Christian fundamentalist site Answers in Genesis. I have a morbid curiosity to see how generally smart people tie themselves into knots trying to crowbar a biblical interpretation into the Real World – trying to reconcile scientific facts with biblical contradictions and their political goals (the latter seems to dominate). Take, for one mild example, this article on environmentalism, “‘Earth Day’ — a Christian perspective.”

Here’s a snippet:

While it is laudable to see humans exercising their God-ordained responsibility to care for the creation (Genesis 1:26–28), the above quotes show the prevailing view on environmental issues is skewed, as a proper Biblical foundation is lacking.

First, the fate of the planet is, ultimately, not in the hands of mankind. While humans are responsible for caring for the Earth (as per the ‘Dominion mandate’ in Genesis 1:26–28), we are not in control of the Earth. Rather it belongs to the Creator Himself (Psalm 24:1), who has made us His earthly stewards.

OK, we don’t own the Earth or are in control of it, but are God’s “earthly stewards”. I’m not convinced by the ‘not really our responsibility’ rhetoric (it’s amazing what you can get away with when you preface a statement with “ultimately”), but so far so good. Then begins a whole series of convoluted efforts to be anti-environmentalist without directly saying so. Notice that these folks have NO trouble injecting their interpretations and views into everything and everyone – individual, business, science, home, school district, courtroom – around them, but here, where environmentalism follows very nicely from religious values, suddenly it’s none of our business:

… the fate of the living planet is not the most important issue facing mankind. Ultimately, this decaying system will be replaced with a New Heavens and Earth anyway (Romans 8:20–22, 2 Peter 3:13, Revelation 21:1, Hebrews 1:10–12). Rather, the most important issue facing mankind is: will the individual choose to acknowledge his Creator and be reconciled to Him? Romans 1:20

So here’s God. He makes a wonderful planet. He also makes some people and puts those people in charge of the planet (not as owners but as stewards) and of the resident plants and animals. A lot of time goes by, and those people believe they’re going to have to move out pretty soon, into nicer digs. So what do they do? According to this Christian site, it’s fine to burn up the forests, pollute the oceans, trash the land and poison the air. Not because the bible says to but because a feeble case can be argued that the bible doesn’t say not to do it. If I were landlord and my tenants treated my property like this before moving out, I would NOT be a happy camper. Neither would the tenants, after I was done with them.

I prefer pragmatic interpretations over legalistic ones. If the most important document ever, written by the person who created me and everything around me, says that my job here is to be a steward, then I would think it’s reasonable to give that creator the benefit of a doubt and consider acting like a steward. Just in case.

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Why do otherwise smart people accept “Intelligent Design”?

Posted by The Lukester on November 2, 2005

I was at a dinner party the other night. While we have many friends with strong science backgrounds, this particular group consisted mainly of History and Literature types, with careers in PR, Marketing, teaching, tech work and the like. All smart, good liberals and good people, some religious some not.

Toward the end of dinner, over our ice cream and port, our conversation turned to the various ID news items – Bush’s comment about “teaching the controversy”, the Dover case, Ohio. Everyone saw these as yet more attacks on true education, and as elements of a larger agenda (conscious or not) to dumb our society down. But I was surprised that most of our friends, at some level, held opinions about the origin of life that actually were not too far removed from ID. While nobody bought the creationist argument that “life is too complex” to have evolved the way it has, there were beliefs along the lines of “evolution might be directed at some level by a spiritual purpose,” or “perhaps there was a Force that put the elements in place for life to occur.” In other words, almost everybody had a personal impluse to include a transcendent element into their understanding of evolution and the origins of life.

This is why, I think, ID proponents can make inroads among otherwise smart and well-educated people like my friends: they start with something people accept readily (the idea of the Trancendent) and add unrelated material (Origins of Life) and somehow make them equal.

I do not believe that this attitude is a product of our particular backgrounds, of lazy thinking or bad education. Rather, I think that this is something that most people experience simply as a part of being human – an impulse to include the transcendant in their lives in some way. Some express it via religion, others by art, some just in their appreciation of the world around them – but just about everybody seems to share it. When using the word “trancendant” I do NOT claim that there IS an force of transcendence or that there actually IS “something greater than outselves” out there, only that it’s part of our human condition.

If the science/education community wants to make inroads against the anti-intellectualism of the Religious Right in general and the so-called ID “movement” in particular, they must respect and validate the urge toward trancendence that all people seem to share.

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