Better than salt money

Work like you were living in the early days of a better nation

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Shashank Tripathi is an asshole

In case you didn’t know NYC, the city I work in, the city which dominates the area I live in, was in a hurricane.  So was the city I actually live in.  I wasn’t there.  The airports were closed early, and we were out of town; so I’m still in Ohio.  Our house is fine.  Friends were willing to swing by and make sure the plants were all in, family swung by and checked to see about damage.  We got off lightly.

But last night was hard.  Twitter was a bit of a godsend, actually, because it allowed me/us to keep up with what was going on.  The level of granularity was great, and people I’d not be able to get ahold of for days, or perhaps weeks, have been in touch.  None of my friends are missing.  No one, I know seems to be more than disrupted; no loss of home or real damage to property.  A lot of them were keeping me apprised of things which the news (had I had it on) would not.

I “live” in New York, in the same way I “lived” in SF.  Not in the City Proper, but close enough that it’s pains and problems touched me.  The moreso in New York, because I work in the city (though at the moment we aren’t open).

Which is why a shit-for-brains named Shashank Tripathi, going by the name @comfortablysmug on twitter is the object of my ire. He took advantage of being well connected to play the ass.  He made shit up.  His level of connection (he’s a hedge fund analyst and was, before this blew up, the campaign manager for a Republican running for the House) meant people retweeted him.  He was also, probably because of his job as campaign manager, being followed by some reporters; who may have assumed his campaign managing meant he was tapped into official sources of information.

So some of his malicious lies made it out of twitter, and into the wider world.  CNN picked on up.  I’ve seen reports of his evil-nonsense being in newspapers in Tuscon.  Why did he do it?  I don’t think it was driven by politics.  I think it was that Shashank Tripathi is an asshole.

He was doing it for lulz.  Millions of people suffering, and he is bored.  He’s got the money to have been someplace where his safety wasn’t an issue, and a (one hopes) once in a lifetime storm wasn’t being enthralling enough do he decided to troll twitter.  It was more than in keeping with the other things on his stream (racist politics, sexist comments, etc.) than not.

He’s offered an apology.  I don’t accept it.  He’s mouthed the words, but he did real harms, and I suspect his real problem is that he got caught.  If it he hadn’t been outed, he just be pleased as punch at how many people he hoodwinked with his fun and games. Unless he makes some amends of more than words, asshole is the kindest thing I can say about him.  I doubt his hedge fund boss will fire him, but at least the politician who was paying him saw him as more liability than as benefit, and has fired him.

I’d like to think others, in circles he cares about would do the same, but I’m not holding my breath.

Because he isn’t new at being an asshole, just a having people who care see it.


Romney is going to win because Nate Silver is a Girlyman?

That’s the “argument” being presented by some yahoo at The  Dean Chambers thinks this is some sort of refutation of Silver’s analyses.

Nate Silver is a man of very small stature, a thin and effeminate man with a soft-sounding voice that sounds almost exactly like the “Mr. New Castrati” voice used by Rush Limbaugh on his program. In fact, Silver could easily be the poster child for the New Castrati in both image and sound. Nate Silver, like most liberal and leftist celebrities and favorites, might be of average intelligence but is surely not the genius he’s made out to be. His political analyses are average at best and his projections, at least this year, are extremely biased in favor of the Democrats.

That, my friends, is as good as his arguments get.a genetic fallacy, from left-field, and an unsupported ad hominem, as well as some oddball question begging,† since the only reason he gives for Silver giving Obama roughly 3-1 odds is, “he’s a liberal”.  Apparently he’s such a liberal that the models he built a year ago were designed to skew the polls at this point in the race to hide the “surge of momentum” Romney has developed.

What’s funny, in a sad sort of way, is the way this shows up one of the fundamental flaws of US Presidential politics; we don’t have a truly democratic system.  Wyoming has more clout, per person, than Calif. (Bill O’Reilly, in the debate he and Jon Stewart had, was asked if he thought we ought to go to a popular vote; he said no; because that would allow the majority to decide who was president).  If it weren’t for the Electoral College, and the odd ways in makes some states more important than others (there aren’t any bilboards in New York, or New Jersey, not about the Presidential Race, here in Ohio… very prominent), this race would be very different, because in national polling, the numbers are a toss-up.

But where it matters, in the “battleground states” Obama seems to be ahead.  That’s what Silver is saying, and that’s what Chambers takes issue with.  He wants to see polling which is taking the national average, and applying it to the states.  If that were done, then would be saying Romney was fifty-fifty for the win. But reality, in this case, has a bias.  That bias is that Romney is behind in the places it matters.  Nate Silver sees it that way.  Intrade sees it that way.

Dean Chambers wants to see it another way.  He asking Nate Silver to massage the data, so the national press will tell the voters Romney has, “Momentum” (why do I suddenly recall, “Joementum“).  That would, almost certainly, cause some to decide they ought to vote for Mitt.  It would be self-fulfilling.  That, I think, is the real complaint.  The facts are hurting their dude, and they’d rather there were no facts; or a lie, than the truth.

If you don’t think so, take a look at the “polls” they have; and the loaded questions they are, so it seems, using to asses the actual sentiments of the electorate.  It’s echo chamber stuff (and if a lot of people take it, I can see them pulling an American Family Association and claiming the poll was sabotaged).  I wonder, if Nate Silver is right, and Romney wins, if Mr. Chambers is going to apologise for calling him a liar.

I’m not giving odds.


†For those who want to play along at home; I recommend this Taxonomy of Logical Fallacies.

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Use makes master

I play the pennywhistle.  Maybe it’s the small streak of perfectionism in me, maybe it’s that I’ve never had lessons, but taught myself; from books and by memory (I am not good at doping out a melody I’ve never heard), perhaps it’s that I don’t want to look a fool in public, but I don’t often play where people I don’t know well can hear me.

I used to play the cello. I took music theory and music appreciation in college.  I listen to a lot of music.  I don’t want to suck in public.

But I have, here and there in the filk community, been brave enough to noodle along when there was instrumental accompaniment (once or twice,a t a house-filk I’ve been brave enough to play a piece, or two, solo… that’s actually pretty scary).  Last night (I’m at OVFF) there was a guitar being played with verve; and a room full of instruments.  One of my weaknesses is I can’t hear what key something is in, and pennywhistles are not chromatic., but I was pretty sure it was in G, and if I was quiet enough I could figure out if I was wrong without too many people hearing me be awful.

It was in G.  Which is when I discovered something.  I can actually play the thing.   I like Irish/Scottish music.  I like bagpipes.  I like renaissance, and baroque, and classical music.  I like jazz.  Pipe music, and a lot of Irish/Scottish trad music has a lot in common with jazz.  Long riffs of repetitive phrases with  minor variations, which suddenly break into something new; as well as a tradition of sliding one piece into another (look and see how many trad-influenced bands, like Boiled in Lead, or Battlefield Band, have songs that incorporate the “jig o’ slurs” style of playing.  Battlefield Band’s, “After Hours” has a break where they toss in semi-random tunes).

I found a phrase, down at the bottom of the whistle, which fit the feel of the song, and I played it through, four or five times, so my fingers could find it when my ears wanted it.  Then I took of, ranging up and down the piece; some flights of fancy in the second octave; ornamentation and trills along the home phrase; lifting the home phrase up to the second octave and dragging back down long the spine of the key; sometimes I was under it all, other times I was more forward; even playing some rhythm games and syncopating to the guitar.

I still can’t play “traditional” whistle music.  I am only half-competent at playing the airs of songs, but it seems my time in classes, and my time with the headphones in; even my singing in the shower, has paid off.  I can jam, and I don’t suck.


Republicans, rape, and reproductive rights: What the fuck is wrong with them?

To listen to the Republican Party is to be told they aren’t waging a war on women.  They say this is rhetorical overstatement of the basest sort.  The attempts to limit contraception aren’t anti-woman, they are rather a way to allow employers to follow their conscience; by forcing their moral views onto their employees.  I’ve also see the argument that conception natural, it’s what happens when one has sex (Viagra, and Cialis, however, are a response to an unnatural condition… age related impotence is somehow different… that not being able to afford the risk of pregnancy might make it harder to use the boners one is able to get somehow doesn’t factor into the equation, but I digress).

Banning abortion?  Not anti-woman.  It’s Pro-life, as if the woman’s life somehow stops mattering the moment she gets pregnant.

Joe Walsh (R-Ill) says all abortions should be outlawed.  Even  granting an exception, for the life/health of the mother was to be forbidden.  Not only does that  go further than the Roman Catholic, his explanation flies in the face of the facts.

Walsh said he was against abortion “without exception,” including rape, incest and in cases in which the life or health of the mother was in jeopardy.

Asked by reporters after the debate if he was saying that it’s never medically necessary to conduct an abortion to save the life of a mother, Walsh responded, “Absolutely.”

His attitude isn’t completely out of keeping with eh the official stance of the Party, despite some attempts to put his comments at arm’s length.  This is the platform statement on abortion.

“Faithful to the ‘self-evident’ truths enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, we assert the sanctity of human life and affirm that the unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed,”

A lot of ink has been spilled tying to make it seem that’s not a radical statement.  People saying, “It doesn’t say how the amendment will be worded; it’s silent about the exceptions.”  That’s right, it’s silent about exceptions.  It makes an absolute claim that the “unborn child has a fundamental… right to life which cannot be infringed.”

In a related vein what do Roger Rivard, Mike Huckabee, Todd Akin, Sharon Barnes, and Richard Murdock, have in common? All of them have delusional ideas about rape.

Akin, and Huckabee, are among the crowd which argues for the idea that “rape” can’t lead to conception.  Sharon Barnes accepts that rape can  lead to conception, she is in the “but that’s God’s plan” camp.

Barnes “echoed Mr. Akin’s statement that very few rapes resulted in pregnancy,” according to the Times, and she added that “at that point, if God has chosen to bless this person with a life, you don’t kill it.”

Huckabee is in that camp too, with some of the “gotcha” arguments people use to try and make you feel guilty if you don’t oppose abortion, saying, “rapes, though “horrible tragedies,” had produced admirable human beings.”

“Ethel Waters, for example, was the result of a forcible rape,” Huckabee said of the late American gospel singer. One-time presidential candidate Huckabee added: “I used to work for James Robison back in the 1970s, he leads a large Christian organization. He, himself, was the result of a forcible rape. And so I know it happens, and yet even from those horrible, horrible tragedies of rape, which are inexcusable and indefensible, life has come and sometimes, you know, those people are able to do extraordinary things.”

Which is where Murdock enters the picture, he said that if you get raped, and then pregant, it was all, “part of God’s plan.”  He’s upset that people are taking his words at face value, but that’s what he said.

“I struggled with it myself for a long time, but I came to realize that life is that gift from God. And, I think, even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen”

His defense of his words, “”God creates life, and that was my point. God does not want rape, and by no means was I suggesting that He does,” he said in a statement. “Rape is a horrible thing, and for anyone to twist my words otherwise is absurd and sick,” suffers from his imputation of “not a sparrow falls” intervention on the part of God.  It’s an esoteric belief among several schools of each of the Abrahamic religions that the the universe was not set in motion, and left to run, but rather God actively; at every moment, chooses to keep it running, because it pleases God to watch it move.  To use the active voice, and say God intended that pregnancy, implies God had a role in it happening.  God could, after all, intervene in a lot of ways to bring about a conception, none of which require a rape. Mourdock isn’t getting the sort of response Akin did. 

Sen. John Cornyn, head of the Republicans’ Senate campaign arm, effectively cut off Akin after that comment. However, Cornyn defended Mourdock on Wednesday. 

“Richard and I, along with millions of Americans — including even Joe Donnelly — believe that life is a gift from God.  To try and construe his words as anything other than a restatement of that belief is irresponsible and ridiculous,” Cornyn said.

But there are a lot of Republicans who don’t really believe in most rapes.  I mean sure, if some jumps out of the bushes and knocks a woman down, and holds a knife to her throat, that might count… anything else, not so much.  That’s what’s buried in Akin’s, “legitimate rape” comment.  Someone who gets a woman drunk, and takes advantage of that to rape her?  Not legitimate.

Akin, and Paul Ryan (R-Wis/VP Candidate) tried to redefine rape in an amendment last year, saying, “forcible rape” was the litmus test to allow exceptions to the Hyde Amendment (which prohibits the use of Federal Funds to pay for abortions).  Statutory rape victims?  Out of luck.  Roofied? Out of luck.  Unconscious?  Out of luck.  Didn’t fight back enough?  Might be out of luck.

In the fight against abortion the Republicans are willing to go to commit more generic harms to women.

Rep. Nunnellee (R-Miss) made this set of preposterous claims when voting to deny all funds to Planned Parenthood.

In this resolution not one dime or womens’ health or family planning health funding is reduced. It simply says those dollars cannot go to Planned Parenthood. This is an organization that has protected those who prey on our children and has protected those who have raped our granddaughters.

This is a guy who voted for H.R.3, that bill which redefined only forcible rapes as, “legitimate”.  Raving that PP, which spends 97 cents of every dollar it gets on generic women’s health issues (and men’s, I got my STD screenings done there when I was in Calif.), and spends 100 cents of every federal dollar on non-abortion services, is protecting those, “who raped our granddaughters, after voting to make statutory rape not count as “real rape” is incredible.

Add that to the “moral conscience” laws they favor, so that pharmacists can make medical decisions based on personal religious beliefs (I can see the furor the first time a Jewish/Muslim pharmacist refuses to dispense a pork-based insulin to a diabetic, and it’s hard to say they aren’t treating women as a separate class of person.

It may not be a war, but it’s one hell of a fight.

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A link roundup on the speech issues raised by outing Brutsch

With all the brouhaha caused by Adrian Chen putting a name to a handle, there has been a lot of discussion about what limits ((if any) there ought to be on what we think of as acceptable behavior on the web.

Tehcnosociology takes a look at how the perceptions of speech reflect power; and that the wild west attitude of the US masks why other groups react so strongly to what they see on the US internet.  The ways in which we don’t regulate it aren’t so understood; because they live in places where it is strongly regulated. That makes things like that film about Mohammed seem sanctioned (which she goes into here, “Why free speech is baffling to many“).

AaronBrady, at The New Inquiry points out that when we think an action is criminal we aren’t so quick to call it free speech, and what we think of as acceptable behavior changes the dialogue about it (who thought we’d see torture being publicly defended by serious contenders for the presidency?).  As a result the law isn’t really the issue.

Excremental Virtue has some thoughts (strung together from tweets) about the difference between taking a picture, and publishing them (which has been something I, as a photographer have been trying to make plain to people), and the assertion that faces are less real than names.
That’s all I’ve got time to put down for now, which is a pity, because there are a lot of questions there; some of them meta (what is free speech) and some of the apparently meta (is the internet “real life”?, to which I say yes) because work beckons, and so I don’t have time to explore those questions any more until later.


Ignorance is bliss

I saw a thing at boing-boing about an “anti-redlight camera” device, and took a look.  I have to say the, far too predictable comments at boing-boing were the only thing of merit to the project.  I don’t know the indiegogo for No-photo is a scam, but I don’t think sending them money is going to do any good, because selling the finished product is almost certainly a case of “no one ever losing money betting on the stupidity of the American people.

Here’s the pitch.  1:  Redlight Camera flashes your car.  2:  No-photo reacts to flash.  3: It, “detects the flash, analyzes it, and sends the proper firing sequence to its own xenon flashes.”
4: It “overwhelms” the camera with it’s own flash.

In real life there is a step 5:  You get a red light ticket in the mail.

Because, unless there is some quirk of red-light cameras that I’m unaware of (despite trying to keep up with the latest trends in photography), there is a fatal flaw in the system: when the sensor sees the flash, it’s too probably too late.

I’ve been taking pictures for… call it 35 years.  I’ve been selling them (not enough), for 25 years. Here is how the flash camera relationship works.

  1. Shutter release is engaged
  2. Shutter begins to open
  3. Shutter opens fully
  4. Flash fires
  5. Image is captured
  6. Shutter closes

I think this is snakeoil because the system has to do all he says it is in somewhat less than 1/250th of a second, which is a fairly standard synch-speed for cameras.  That means the widget this guy is trying to convince you to pay for his getting UL certification, so he can sell it to the gullible (because he doesn’t have the $50,000USD he says UL wants to let him put their imprimatur on his product), has to be able to react (assuming that somehow the shutter is opening in response to the flash, rather than doing things the normal way and having the shutter open and ready to record), in a really short chunk of time.

So it’s possible (that’s what slave cells are for), but I still think it unlikely to be reliable.

He’s asking you to kick into his crowdsource request for $80.000; to fund a $50,000 cost (though to be fair, indiegogo claims $7,200 of that odd the top, so it’s only $22,800 over the cost of what he says his actual purpose will cost him).  For $5, you are “making a statement”.  If you kick in $2,000 you do get the fines for any ticket you get paid for (though you’ll still be on the hook for any insurance premium increases). Oddly, it gives you a discount on the product but doesn’t say you get one (for $150 you can have  numbered copy of the first run of 150 units).

Red-light cameras may be a bad idea, but I somehow doubt the real purpose of this is striking a blow for civil liberties, it’s a way to run red lights.  I don’t think it’s going to add to public safety.  Imagine, if you will, that you are behind one of these yahoos.  Imagine a flash goes off.  The counterflash fires.  You’ve just had a flash pop in front of you.  If it works, the guy driving can ignore yellow lights (or blow past reds, when he thinks it’s safe).  The trade off is, everyone else gets blasted anytime something trips the sensor.

(edited because Brooks pointed out I’d distracted myself from the actual time frame by thinking about it as a speed of light problem.  That means this link to Rear Admiral Hopper was lost.  You should go watch it).


What worries me

I’m not worried about voter fraud.

Voter fraud is rare, and when it does happen it’s either extremely local, or small beans.  It’s not that it’s rare, it’s that it’s infinitesimal.  The sort of fraud being alleged… one person pretending to be someone they aren’t,  so as to vote more than once (which is the ostensible reason for the voter ID laws 12 states have tried to implement this election cycle) has been the cause of 10 arrests since 2000.

That’s 10 arrests in a dozen years, tens of millions of ballots cast and ten people charged with that specific fraud.  Which is what you would expect.  There is no benefit to it.  Get caught and it’s a felony.  For one vote.  To win an election (esp. a statewide, much less a national, election) would require thousands of people “double-dipping”.  It strains all credulity to imagine so large a conspiracy would go off without a hitch.

What worries me is election fraud.  That’s something which skews the odds of one party winning.  This is something of a republican party tradition.  In the 1960s future Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, William H.  Rhenquist took part in intimidating voters.  In 2000 Florida “purged” a lot of “felons”, in a slipshod way which also disenfranchised a lot of legitimate voters, who happened to belong to strongly Democratic leaning demographics.

In 2002, a Republican operative engaged in a criminal voter suppression campaign in New Hampshire.

The Bush administration has spent a lot of time talking about mythical cases of voter fraud and election improprieties, but the New Hampshire phone jamming case was the real thing. Republican operatives hired an Idaho telemarketing firm to jam the lines to prevent people who needed help in voting from getting through. The scheme was a direct attack on American democracy.

After the guilty plea from its executive director, the New Hampshire Republican Party paid to settle a civil lawsuit filed by the state’s Democrats. There is reason to believe, however, that the phone jamming ploy may have been coordinated out of the White House. Democrats say there were 22 phone calls between New Hampshire Republican officials and the White House Office of Political Affairs on election night and early the next morning.

The Republican Party, which has been going on about how even one case of interference in an election is too many, spent millions of dollars in t defense of James Tobin, who was making calls to the White House in the days before the election.

Sometimes the use of more subtle tricks, such as posting flyers with false information for the election.

…in 2004, minority neighborhoods in Milwaukee, Wisconsin received flyers from a fictitious organization called the “Milwaukee Black Voters League,” claiming that if you had already voted in any election that year that you could not vote and if you had even minor infractions, like parking tickets, you were disqualified from voting. Flyers like these are often printed on official-looking local government letterhead with the wrong election date or other misleading information. As another example, in 2008 flyers were distributed to voters in Virginia stating, “Due to larger than expected voter turnout in this year’s electoral process,” people supporting Republican candidates vote on November 4th (actual Election Day) and Democrats vote on the following day.

In 2004 Sproul and Associates were hired to conduct voter registration drives in several states.  One of the things about such campaigns is they are supposed to be party neutral.  No matter for which party someone want to register, the form is to be accepted, and sent in.  In Calif. the person agenting a form has to fill out a receipt and hand it to the registrant.  Sproul and Associates had screening scripts which they told their employees to use before offering a registration form. Field workers were told they would be spot checked to see if they were actually letting Democrats register.  In Arizona they tore up forms which were filled out by Democratic registrants.

That, by the way is one of the most effective ways to suppress voters of any party one dislikes.  The people whom one fails to actually register will be turned away at the polls.  Since anyone who registers close to an election can be presumed to be planning to vote, it’s almost as good as getting a vote for your candidate.

A couple of weeks ago a firm, run by the same operative, (he had been chairman of the Arizona Republican Party in 2004) was fired because of irregularities in its voter registration campaigns in five states.  A month before the elections, in five swing states, they shut down their registration drives.  That’s got some serious implications.

That leaves, in the preventing people from voting tricks, things like “literacy” tests, and “grandfather” laws, both of which are categorically prohibited these days.  So too is any poll tax.

Which hasn’t stopped the Republicans who took over statehouses in 201o from managing to find a way to back-door just such a thing, to prevent the “single voter” fraud I was talking about at the top of this post.  A fraud they admit is insignificant.

The state signed a stipulation agreement with lawyers for the plaintiffs which acknowledges there “have been no investigations or prosecutions of in-person voter fraud in Pennsylvania; and the parties do not have direct personal knowledge of any such investigations or prosecutions in other states.”

Additionally, the agreement states Pennsylvania “will not offer any evidence in this action that in-person voter fraud has in fact occurred in Pennsylvania and elsewhere” or even argue “that in person voter fraud is likely to occur in November 2012 in the absense of the Photo ID law.”

The estimate for people who are lacking in the needed documents this law would require is more than 700,000.  A large number, in fact a majority, are people who demographically tend Democratic.  This isn’t a mistake, it’s the entire point..

Mike Turzai, the state’s House majority leader, made the remark Saturday at the state’s Republican State Committee meeting, according to After listing off a series of GOP legislative accomplishments involving Second Amendment rights and abortion regulations, Turzai mentioned the new voting law, which requires voters to show a photo ID, as one of those GOP victories.

“Voter ID, which is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania, done,” he said, drawing applause.

Which is what these laws are all about.

I haven’t even tried to address the problems of ballot box fraud, which is much easier to do than one thinks.

We could, without too much trouble have verifiable, and secure, elections.  We choose not to.  We rather have things like the mess in Ohio in 2004.

So yeah, it’s not voter fraud I’m worried about.