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November 2004

Body Aches, Chills

In case you've been wondering, I am planning to comment on the recent EQ mercenary trial outcome and such now that my ISP is done messing around (at least until next weekend). But I have these body aches and chills. (No fever yet.) And I want to go back to bed.


Blog as Such

Your-site.com won't be firing up the new server until next week. (Apparently their weekend backup wasn't done on time so they have to do it again next weekend.) I'm disappointed, but I'm turing comments back on.

Poking around on Urchin, their sitemeter thingie that is about to be replaced by something else, I discovered a couple of interesting things. First of all, the comment script from my old, discontinued MT install received nearly 15,000 hits this month. I guess that's 15,000 pieces of spam I didn't have to delete!

Secondly, this picture of Elizabeth has become really popular with political chat groups, especially those on the right. I guess they go to Google images looking up "tinfoil hat"; she's the cutest of the bunch.


Turning Off Comments Wednesday Afternoon through Monday Morning

My ISP is changing servers. (Finally! Thank God!) I got a note this morning giving a deadline by which all changes to websites need to be made and a time after which FTP access will be cut, so I think what happens if I make posts or people post comments while this is happening is that the posts and comments get overwritten. Or maybe posting of any kind just won't work during this time. In any case, I will be turning off the comments tomorrow afternoon and they will be turned on again on Monday morning.

I'm hoping that their fine new server makes Movable Type run the way it's supposed to and that it stops timing out on me and spitting error messages.


Mercenaries Turn State's Evidence

It looks like three mercenaries who have returned to South Africa have turned State's Evidence on Mark Thatcher. The Scotsman reports:

Three men who admitted violating South Africa’s anti-mercenary laws for their role in an failed coup in Equatorial Guinea were ordered to pay fines or go to prison today.

The three said they were involved in a conspiracy to overthrow Guinean President Teodoro Obiang that was foiled in March when scores of suspected mercenaries were arrested in the oil-rich west African nation and in Zimbabwe.

Crause Steyl, Lourens Horn and Harry Carlse pleaded guilty to violating the Foreign Military Assistance Act as part of a plea bargain under which they agreed to give evidence in court against other alleged coup participants.

Cape Town Magistrate Adriaan Bekker ordered them to pay fines of up to £18,000 or face prison terms of up to 10 years.

Officials in Equatorial Guinea said yesterday they intend to seek the extradition from South Africa of Sir Mark Thatcher, the 51-year-old son of the former British prime minister, in connection with the plot.

Equatorial Guinea has charged Thatcher with bankrolling the plot, defence lawyer Fabian Nsue Nguema said.

Australia's ABC Online remarks:

Several South African mercenaries have agreed to testify against the son of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Sir Mark Thatcher.

MEANWHILE, the Equatorial Guinea mercenary trial has resumed, but I haven't had a chance to read up on it yet. IOL in South Africa reports:

The fate of the alleged mercenaries involved in the attempted coup against the Equatorial Guinea government appears to hinge on the detailed confession of Nick du Toit, their alleged ringleader. He claims it was extracted by torture, but local law makes no provision for dismissing confessions extracted by torture.

Their prospects look grim as they face conviction and sentencing this  Friday. Du Toit faces the death sentence, although Equatorial Guinea has apparently promised the SA government that he will not die. The others face long terms in jail, so the tension among them is rising.


Key-Word Based Ad Gone Wrong

I'm not sure whether you'll get the same the same ads I do when I read thew CNN article Woman wins matchmaking lawsuit. According to the "what's this" link above the ads, this is how they are selected:

Advertiser links are provided by Overture Services, Inc. through its Content Match product. Content Match pairs its listings with related content on CNN.com article pages and section fronts. The listings are determined by the relevancy of keywords, which advertisers bid on, to the content of the specific CNN.com page.

So here's a bit of the news story:

A federal jury awarded as much as $434,000 to a Ukrainian woman who sued the Internet matchmaking service that set her up with the man who allegedly abused her after they wed.

Nataliya Fox accused Encounters International of fraud and negligence, saying it should have screened its male clients and told her about a law that helps foreign nationals escape abusive relationships without fear of automatic deportation.

Instead, Fox testified, agency owner Natasha Spivack told her to endure the alleged abuse or return to Ukraine.

. . . and here's the first ad:

Great Expectations Dating Service
Take the risk out of dating and meet thousands of pre-screened singles.

The rest of the ads are also for Internet computer dating services. For more marriages like this, click here.


The Pro-Extinction Right

My son Peter has been deeply interested in extinct and endangered species from a very early age. It has become one of my interests because it is one of his. So when I read news stories related to this topic, my reaction to it is tightly connected with how my son would feel about it. Sometimes we read these stories together; somethimes I find things I don't tell him about because I know how much they would upset him. Something I happened across today falls into the later category: The Pacific Legal Foundation's project entitled Putting the Endangered Species Act On Trial. This came to my attention because of news coverage generated by their press release PLF Launches Sweeping Lawsuit Challenging Critical Habitat for 48 Species in California:

Sacramento, CA; November 15, 2004: Pacific Legal Foundation today announced its intent to file a sweeping lawsuit against the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the National Marine Fisheries Service, challenging the critical habitat designations for 48 listed species of California plants and animals.  The lawsuit will be a statewide challenge to the federal agencies broad failure to meet the requirements of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in designating critical habitats.  PLF filed a 60-day notice of its intent to sue today.

PLF believes the lawsuit is necessary to fix four dozen critical habitat designations that are now invalid under recent federal court decisions.  In particular, PLF says all 48 California designations contain the same fatal flaws identified by a federal judge last year in PLFs landmark court victory that invalidated the designation of thousands of acres of land as critical habitat for the Alameda whipsnake.

Specifically, PLF argues that critical habitat designations throughout California violate the ESA because the federal agencies did not adequately identify the areas that are essential to species conservation and routinely relied on inadequate economic analyses in evaluating the social impact of designations as required under the act. 

In the old days, they would have argued as did the Chairman of the Chicago Mill and Lumber Company in 1943 right before he logged the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker into extinction:

We are just money grubbers. We are not concerned, as are you folks, with ethical considerations. (Philip Hoose, The Race to Save the Lord God Bird, p. 129.)

These days, such men at least bother to lie. The press release has an extremely silly fig leaf of an argument that the lawsuit is to the benefit of the species named. (Come to think if it, this explantaion reminds me intensely of the Grinch's explanation of why he's taking the Christmas tree.) But a quick look at the project overview reveals that they have no interest in preventing extinctions, only in dismantling legal protections for endangered species. Their several attacks on the Bush administration are particularly noteworthy. Apparently Bush is too much of an environmentalist for them: PLF Calls Speculation over Bush Administration Policy on Salmon Nothing But a Political Ploy in an Election Year:  Environmental Activists Are Politicizing Issue after Losing in Court, PLF Says, and Bush Administration Salmon Policy Puts Politics Before Science, the Law and People. The Pacific Legal Foundation is after nothing less than having the Endangered Species Act declared unconstitutional.

Why? I wondered with rising horror. Do these people just not believe that species can go extinct? Or do they just not care? I looked at the names of the members of the PLF board of directors. I wanted to write to them and ask for some explanation. And if I asked nicely, I might even get one, but it would almost certainly be the same kind of doubletalk that goes into their press releases.

I looked up some of their directors on the web, examining their biographies as I would that of Ted Bundy, looking for clues as to what could have gone wrong with them to make them want to do this. Surely the answer mostly comes down to money, but just as not everyone motivated by money is a bank robber, neither does everyone motivated by money take on ecocide as a special project. What is wrong with these people? You tell me.


Barclay on Making Your Own Blocks

I realy am the target audience for the add for Barclay Blocks served up by Blogads. My son Peter is deeply interested in building with blocks. So I was looking around their site. Their page on how to make your own wooden blocks is surprisingly good. It contains such lines as If you value your fingers, forget the idea of using all that lovely scrap you've been saving. and Needless to say, you shouldn't buy treated lumber unless the kids have become a bother. Before I had two children, I used to take on this sort of thing sometimes. (One of these days I should write up instructions for some of the wonderful projects I did for Peter.) There are sets of blocks in the classrooms at my son's school and part of the little boy culture there seems to be using blocks to build buildings with endless traps for "borrowers," a tradiation Peter brought home with him. The kids got a big set of blocks for Christmas last year and Peter spent six months endlessly refining the traps on one continually evolving structure. (I still don't know how he convinced Elizabeth to leave it standing.) Perhaps the kids will get one of Barclay's booster sets for Christmas.


Ohio Recount?

The Green Party has raised the money necessary to pay the fee for a recount of the votes for president in Ohio:

RECOUNT IN OHIO A SURE THING:
Green Party Campaign Raises $150,000 in 4 days, Shifts Gears to Phase II.

On Thursday, David Cobb, the Green Party's 2004 presidential candidate, announced his intention to seek a recount of the vote in Ohio. Since the required fee for a statewide recount is $113,600, the only question was whether that money could be raised in time to meet the filing deadline. That question has been answered.

"Thanks to the thousands of people who have contributed to this effort, we can say with certainty that there will be a recount in Ohio," said Blair Bobier, Media Director for the Cobb-LaMarche campaign.

"The grassroots support for the recount has been astounding. The donations have come in fast and furiously, with the vast majority in the $10-$50 range, allowing us to meet our goal for the first phase of the recount effort in only four days," said Bobier.

Bobier said the campaign is still raising money for the next phase of the recount effort which will be recruiting, training and mobilizing volunteers to monitor the actual recount.

The Ohio presidential election was marred by numerous press and independent reports of mis-marked and discarded ballots, problems with electronic voting machines and the targeted disenfranchisement of African American voters. A number of citizens' groups and voting rights organizations are holding the second of two hearings today in Columbus, Ohio, to take testimony from voters, poll watchers and election experts about problems with the Ohio vote. The hearing, from 6-9 p.m., will be held at the Courthouse, meeting room A, 373 S. High St., in Columbus. The Cobb-LaMarche campaign will be represented at the hearing by campaign manager Lynne Serpe.

A demand for a recount in Ohio can only be filed by a presidential candidate who was either a certified write-in candidate or on the ballot in that state. Both Green Party candidate David Cobb and Libertarian candidate Michael Badnarik will be demanding a recount. No other candidate has stated an intention to seek a recount and no other citizen or organization would have legal standing to do so in Ohio. The Cobb-LaMarche campaign is still exploring the possibility of seeking recounts in other states but no decision has been made yet.

Cool!

There's an interview with David Cobb on Democracy Now in which he explains the timing of the demand for recount:

Well, we're not allowed under law to actually demand the recount until the republican Secretary of State, Blackwell, actually officially certifies the results. He has not done so. They're still counting, that we know of, over 153,000 provisional ballots. That high number of provisional ballots is actually part of the problem, by the way, where only he and his office has the final say on how and where and under what circumstances those ballots will be counted. But as soon as that certification takes place, we will be demanding and filing in every single count[y] in the state of Ohio for a full recount. Under Ohio state law, they must certify the results by December 3, but they might do it earlier, so we're prepared immediately to file that recount.

There is information on how you can help on Cobb's campaign site.

(I should say that for me what is most important about the Ohio recount effort is that the Ohio voting process was an international disgrace and it is essantial to the integrity of the US electoral process that people who run elections know that shoddy work will be checked.)

ALSO, there is a four minute NPR segment on the potential Ohio recount.


Home Editorial Assistant

David Hartwell and I are looking for an editorial assistant to help us with projects that we do out of the house (mostly anthologies). The position is in Pleasantville, New York. It includes room and board and a small amount of money and also editorial instruction. If this opportunity appeals to you, email me at kec@panix.com.


Gubble. Gubble.

I'm trying not to blog, because there's something else I want and need to be working on. But this is too good to pass up. While I have been slacking off, Alex at the Yorkshire Ranter has written several excellent posts over the past few days on the weird specifics of military privatization.

But here's my favorite, for the sheer paranoid aesthetics: A news story detailing how, in one particular situation, real policemen in Iraq were told to stay home from work so that Americans would know that any policeman on the street was a fake (and presumably could be shot at). This is very deep into Philip K. Dick territory. Now, of course, the Iraq situation is dire. But it is not improved by Americans suffering from a massive lithium deficiency.


Field Guide to North American Thylacines

thylacineAs far as I know, only two museums in North American (and probably the Western Hemisphere) have thylacines: the Smithsonian in Washington, DC, and the American Museum of Natural History in New York. As previously discussed, the Smithsonian thylacine is displayed behind a curtain. Today we hunted thylacines at the American Museum of Natural History. We looked. We asked. We were directed to the section on extinction and endangered species in the Biodiversity Hall. But no thylacines were in evidence. Finally, I spotted someone with a staff badge that read MAMMOLOGY and asked her about the alleged thylacine at the AMNH. She told me that the museum had two thylacines, but that she thought neither was on display. Thus concludes our summary article on thylacines in North America: your best it the view of a thylacine's butt available at the Smithsonian.

Along the way at the AMNH, we did find a dodo skeleton . . .

. . . and a flock of passenger pigeons . . .

. . . but no thylacine.

This extinction gig really sucks, doesn't it?

Portrait of Peter & calligraphy, Jae Leslie Adams, Letter Arts, Madison, Wisconsin.


Brain Fog

I've been fighting off a cold for two weeks. But today it seems to really fog my thinking, and do even worse things to my prose compositional abilities, so I don't think I'll be trying for any deep insights today. Elizabeth is also home sick with the family cold, though, predictably she has a lot more energy than I do.


When Will the US Retire the Cape & Tights?

As the controversy wages on over whether the Democratic party is moral enough to rekindle the interest of voters is the South, I'd like to point out something obvious. The war was one of the central issues of the election. And the problem with sorting that out democratically is that the majority of Americans -- and I don't mean 51%; I mean more like two thirds -- believe that it is the right and the responsibility of the United States to invade other countries. This is the ugly fact encoded in that word "electable." The Democratic party's strategy was this: to convince enough of those voters who believe we have the right and responsibility to invade that Bush just wasn't doing it right, and thus command a majority at the polls. That's what that controversy over "electability" in the Democratic primaries was really about.

Unfortunately, until the US can retire the cape and tights, our country will be a major threat to global security. And it doesn't look like that is going to happen any time soon.


Cuyahoga County, Ohio: 93,000 more votes than voters.

I've been waiting for the mainstream media to catch up with what I've been reading about probable voter fraud these past couple of days. And here it is: Keith Oberman on MSNBC.

Interestingly, none of the complaining emailers took issue with the remarkable results out of Cuyahoga County, Ohio. In 29 precincts there, the County’s website shows, we had the most unexpected results in years: more votes than voters.

I’ll repeat that: more votes than voters. 93,000 more votes than voters.

Oops.

Talk about successful get-out-the-vote campaigns! What a triumph for democracy in Fairview Park, twelve miles west of downtown Cleveland. Only 13,342 registered voters there, but they cast 18,472 votes.

Vote early! Vote often!

Read the whole thing.

(Via the Yorkshire Ranter.)


Find Hopkin

I got a real kick out of lostfrog.org (as seen on BoingBoing). If I had time on my hands -- which I don't -- my Hopkin Green Frog picture would reveal that Hopkin was the mystery object under Bush's suit jacket.

UPDATE: I gave in to temptation. I was on the phone wishing my mother a happy birthday, and well . . . I've just emailed my contribution. (For this to make any sense, you need to go to lostfrog.org first.)


Draft Counseling Available, Westchester County

This summer the minister of our church, Tim Ives, retired as minister and now is starting his own counseling practice. In today's mail we received a letter from him along with his new business card. His business card lists the following services: Psychotherapy, Spiritual Mentoring, and Draft Counseling. His friendly letter has a postscript:

Yes, you read the card correctly. I am doing "Draft Counseling" also. I have special training for this type of counseling and I am afraid that in the years to come it will be a vital resource for many young people facing being drafted. I am most interested in young people knowing they have a choice in the matter. Again, if you know anyone who might be interested in this (it is good to start the process early) please let them know that I am available.

Peter Wins a Tae Kwan Do Trophy

As a parent, I tend to assume that a child who takes after me in a certain way shares my flaws. This year, with Peter in the second grade, I've come to see that this is not necessarily the case. For example, Peter turns out to be a rather good speller. (I am a terrible speller. My inner voice that composes my best prose often spells phonetically.)

Peter has been taking Tae Kwan Do since last February and has been making good progress. He has some fine and gross motor delays for which he has been receiving physical and occupational therapy since he was four.

David's side of the family has pretty good coordination and a few real athletes; mine doesn't. In junior high, I played soccer and was always the worst player on the team. I was on swim team and accumulated Many third and fourth place ribbons (placing third or fourth out of three or four). Thinking back, I think I got a second place ribbon once, but I think there were only two of us swimming.

So yesterday was Peter's first Tae Kwan Do tournament. He was only signed up for one event: Board Breaking. All the kids were sitting inside the studio in a circle around the edge of the mats; parent were in the waiting room. The parents' waiting room was a real mob scene. There were chairs with a good view of the proceedings, but because I had Elizabeth in tow I had to hang out in the back and try to keep her from escaping out the door or lying down on the floor where she could get stepped on. Peter, at some point, became convinced that I had gone off and left him. By the time the lunch break came, he was in tears and wanted to go home because he thought I'd left. I was thinking that I'd made a mistake and maybe he wasn't really ready to compete and was regretting having signed him up.

I took him to the Japanese restaurant next door and fed him miso soup and sushi and assured him that I had not left him and would not leave and generally cheered him up. He had said he wasn't having a good time and wanted to go home but I convinced him to stay. Everybody gets a trophy at the end, and he really wanted to get a trophy, so he was convinced. I also reminded him that the real secret to board breaking was to believe the board was going to break when you hit it.

So we went back into the studio and eventually it came his turn and he broke his board on the second try and sat down again. Because of Elizabeth, I had not been able to pay much attention to the general proceedings. At the end, kids were called up to receive trophies. He was one of the earlier ones. I managed to take a picture of him with his trophy, but had not heard what was being said. I expected that it said something about "excellent participation" on it.

At the end, when he came out, he showed me the trophy and said "Mommy, I got second place." I looked at the trophy and sure enough it said 2nd Place. I said, "Wait here." I found his instructor and asked about it. I said, "Do all the trophies that don't say First Place say second place? Or did Peter really win second place?" His instructor assured me that Peter had really won second place and had done very well.

I am shocked and proud. Maybe he takes after David's side of the family after all. Or maybe he's just himself.


Making Headway in the Culture Wars

I have been trying really hard to tear myself away from engagement with the ugent here and now to work on fiction writing, because a lot of the things I really want to talk about and write about might better be worked out in fiction. In blogging, you are tied down to what you know personally actually happened or what was reported by the media. But fiction allows you to speculate. And there are some hypotheses I have about military privatization that fiction would give me the room to play with.

This morning, I woke up to this news story:

Leonardo DiCaprio will produce and star in an untitled action thriller focusing on the growing global phenomenon of mercenaries used by governments and companies to wage war, reports Variety. Scott Burns has been set to write the script.

Having grown increasingly involved on the political front, DiCaprio sparked to the idea of mixing a thriller element with the cautionary theme of outsourcing war. The trade says the concept was hatched by Peter Landesman, a foreign correspondent and senior reporter of the New York Times Magazine, and Appian Way president Brad Simpson.

I am so pleased they are doing this. This is great.


Sanest Post-Election Posts

As the post-election blogstream washes over me, I find that the two posts I keep returning to as especially sane touchstones are both from Abstract Dynamics: Going Back From Ohio, and Ohio, Canada. Abe was on the ground in Ohio for the final month of the campaign and in spite of that or because of that seems to have resisted the emotional flooding to which so many others are succumbing.


Kathryn Loses Her Cool

I'm going to take a momentary break from radiating calm, and from showing you pictures of charismatic endangered species with soft brown eyes, to lose my temper for a moment:

If Jeff Jarvis had said something like everybody calm down and be nice I probably would have agreed with him. But he didn't stop there. He composed a clearly well-meaning "Post-Election Peace Pledge."

OK, he composed it before the election, so I'll cut him a little slack there. But my gut reaction is to name this the single dumbest post I've read in the post-election period.

The Post-Election Peace Pledge

: I take this pledge (inspired by a few of the posts below):

After the election results are in, I promise to:
: Support the President, even if I didn't vote for him.
: Criticize the President, even if I did vote for him.
: Uphold standards of civilized discourse in blogs and in media while pushing both to be better.
: Unite as a nation, putting country over party, even as we work together to make America better.

What did I miss?

Care to take the pledge?

Certainly I've read things that were crazier, over-the-top paranoid, nastier, etc. But Jarvis takes the cake. It was bad enough working to support Kerry even though there were many areas in which I had issues with his positions and would have been more comfortable if he had been the opposition candidate. I do not and will not support George W. Bush unless he falls on his head and suffers a complete and utter change of personality and politics. This is not a game. This is not a computer simulation. This is reality. As a responsible grownup, I WILL NOT support the President. And neither should you.

As for this stuff about nation and country over party, what sort of nationalist nonsense is this? For people who think like that, the world ends at the US border. No one anywhere in the world is safe from George W. Bush. The fact of the matter is that there is a lot more at stake than Gemutlichkeit in the USA. This navel-gazing isolationist perspective is that quality that wins him the prize.

Now. Back to your regularly scheduled post-election calm.


The Tammar Wallaby Reintroduced in Australia

The Tammar Wallaby, extinct in Australia, has been reintroduced. I think this is neat:

ALMOST a century after being declared extinct in Australia, the tammar wallaby has been given a second chance of survival.

Twenty of the small rare wallabies, preserved on an island in New Zealand, were today reintroduced into South Australia's Innes National Park, at the tip of the Yorke Peninsula.

The species, once widespread in SA was wiped out in the early 1900s by foxes, hunters and land clearing.

Now, former SA Governor Sir George Grey has been heralded with saving the tiny wallaby by shipping a small number of the marsupials to New Zealand's Kawau Island in 1870.

Sir George took the wallabies to be part of his private collection but their numbers quickly swelled and became regarded as pests, digging and grazing in foliage and destroying native vegetation.

Twenty of the wallabies were brought to Australia last year and spent six months in quarantine before today's release into their homeland.

SA Environment and Conservation Minister John Hill said the reintroduction of the tammars was one of the most significant environmental events of the decade.

Terrorists Experiencing Funding Problems in the Post-Beslan Environment

A couple of Turkish mercenaries -- Aidyn Kai and Burkhan Tchelebi -- in Chechnya were "eliminated" by federal commandos. One of them had on his person a very interesting letter summarized in some detail by the Russian News & Information Agency RIA Novosti:

The letter contains the information that the militant crossed the Russian-Georgian border having paid $70 to a guide sent by Mukhretdir's agents.

Speaking about his plans to return to Turkey, the mercenary asked to help him get a Georgian visa and to contact "our friend Erkhan-bei" for this purpose. According to the data of the regional operative staff, this man whose real name is presumable Erkhan Eszai, is a Turkish intelligence officer involved in financing and material provision of Chechen gangs

As appears from the letter, Chechen militants lack money promised by their foreign sponsors. Speaking about his meetings with many warlords, Aidyn Kai says that "they were very indignant at the reduction of Turkish and Arab financing".

"Chechens are very offended and resentful. They accuse us of misappropriating their money. They said they received no money for several months. Shamil-Pasha [Shamil Basayev] gave nothing either. They hoped for new financing after Beslan [the terrorist attack on this North Ossetian town was performed on September 1 to 3] but in vain. They added that we would have problems if it continued," RIA Novosti's interlocutor quoted the militant's letter.

The mercenary also called on Mukhretdir to contact a number of public organizations in Turkey, which back Chechen militants, to prepare some terrorist attack with the use of chemicals.

"Send chemists here as soon as possible. This area is not piped for water yet. But there are other place where the Silver Fog plan can be implemented," Aidyn Kai wrote.

According to the regional operative staff, the organizations Caucasian Fund establish with the support of the Turkish intelligence service, the Mazlum (Oppressed) society and the Society of Solidarity with Chechnya recruiting mercenaries were mentioned in the letter.

From this letter it emerges that foreign mercenaries are in a tight situation in Chechnya.

"On the whole, the situation here is nasty. There are many servicemen everywhere. We are moving only at night and leave [live? ed.] in vaults. Threats and arsons are no help already. Commanders do not trust each other. Arabs do not believe Chechens and flee abroad. There are no medicines, as well," the letter reads.

I don't draw any grand conclusions about this, but I find the operational details described quite fascinating. Although the political situations are radically different, I am reminded of Simon Mann's infamous letter from jail which also ended up in the hands of the media.

MEANWHILE, the Air National Guard takes up the slack on school attacks.


Reasons to Be Cheerful

If life were fair, I would be in Nante, France enjoying Utopiales. I had plane tickets, train tickets and everything. But my child care arrangements fell apart. David and I were planning to travel with our good friends Jim & Kathy Morrow. This was going to be one of those really fun deductible junkets. David got to go with Jim & Kathy and I got to stay home with the kids.

Also, there is this social problem caused by my cold. I'm having a really hard time carrying on conversations because of chest congestion. Multi-sentence utterances send me into fits of uncontrollable coughing requiring albuterol. I feel sort of OK as long as I don't talk.  But I like to talk. (Yes, I know this means that I call the doctor first thing in the morning; his office is closed on Thursdays and I know better to go to the ER unless I can wheeze for them.)

All of this having been said, I'm in a pretty good mood. I've read a whole lot about bleak depression following the election. I just don't feel it. I keep finding reasons to be cheerful, not out of sheer determination but quite spontaneously. My kids are a delight.

If life were really fair, we would all have gone to Nante and somehow childcare arrangements would magically appear in France, allowing me to attend the fine Utopiales program. I like to travel with my kids. And in my utopia, the school district would praise my decision to broaden my son's horizons by taking him along to France; but while we have one of the best public school districts in the country, that is not one of their virtues. They're really determined to keep us from accumulating "illgeal absences."

And if life were really really fair, I would currently be sipping good French wine instead of Pleasantville Red, and the French would be congratulating us on our choice of a new president.

But life isn't fair. I'm not sure whether I'm feeling cheerful because of these obstacles or in spite of them. Certainly, there are things I'd like to change about my life and the world. But it's just not getting me down.

Even without the election, under these stressful circumstances I have plenty of reasons to feel miserable. (Mommy duty, even with David home, runs more than 90 hours a week.) I guess what I'm finding out is that my basic life choices are leading me in a good direction, providing biochemical reasons to be cheerful. So I'm taking my reasons to be cheerful where I can find them really quite effortlessly.

I leave you with a quote from Winnie the Pooh (as quoted in Winnie-the-Pooh's Little Book of Wisdom):

When your house doesn't look like a house and looks like a tree that has been blown down, it's time you tried to find another one.

PS: It amuses me to tell you that the top search words for my blog at the moment are: bush and hitler, large penis, how to fix a tv, male lactation, and bush is the anti-christ. I enjoy the emergent narrative: a voter trying to adjust his TV set to escape the images of a hermaphroditic Bush/Hilter/Anti-Christ coming in through the set; a form of found poetry, I guess.


Manhattan's Mandate

I was just checking out the results of local elections on the Journal New site -- The New York Journal News is a paper that covers Westchester, Rockland, & Putnam counties -- and discovered that they have the New York State Presidential Election results broken down by county and, for NYC, by borough.

Remember the tiresome wingnut refrain that those of use who oppose Bush just don't remember September 11th? How would we expect those who best remember 9/11 to vote in the presidential election? On the one hand, New Yorkers tend to be liberals; on the other hand NYC elects Republican mayors with some frequency. And on that all-important third hand 9/11 is supposed to have changed everything and also Manhattan was the site of the Republican convention.

So what would you guess Bush was able to draw in Manhattan? 50% of the vote? 40%? 30%? 20%? Nope. With all precincts reporting, Bush drew just 95,362 votes in Manhattan -- 16.61%. Manhattan told him to fuck off.

I would be curious to know if there is any other metropolitan area anywhere in which Bush did so poorly.

MEANWHILE, Fafblog is full of fun:

The election results have come in and they have surprised no one... no one on the side of Giblets that is! It is Giblets in a landslide! Giblets by a whopping three percentage points! Only 49% of the population rejected Giblets! VICTORY! AMERICA HAS SPOKEN!

With this broad mandate, it is time to push aside the mealy-mouthed timid campaign rhetoric Giblets has toyed with before! Giblets will not be "conciliatory" after this historic moment! Tariffs on reading! A flat tax on gay sex! Mandatory prayer before monuments to the Ten Commandments in every class room! A war in every garage, a tortured Arab civilian in every pot! The streets will run with the blood of liberals!

But do not think Giblets will continue to divide the country. Oh no. The days of the bitterly partisan "pro-Giblets" and "anti-Giblets" Americas are over. Giblets is a uniter, not a divider. And he will unite America... UNDER THE CRUSHING FORCE OF HIS IRON HEEL!

Outnumbered Soldiers Watched Looting of Explosives: "It was complete chaos."

From CNN:

Explosives were looted from the Al-Qaqaa ammunitions site in Iraq while outnumbered U.S. soldiers assigned to guard the materials watched helplessly, soldiers told the Los Angeles Times.

About a dozen U.S. troops were guarding the sprawling facility in the weeks after the April 2003 fall of Baghdad when Iraqi looters raided the site, the newspaper quoted a group of unidentified soldiers as saying.

U.S. Army reservists and National Guardsmen witnessed the looting and some soldiers sent messages to commanders in Baghdad requesting help, but received no reply, they said.

"It was complete chaos. It was looting like L.A. during the Rodney King riots," one officer said.

Arianna on the Election Results

Much as I'm interested in anatomizing what went wrong in the 2004 voting, I'm with Arianna Huffington on this one:

This election was not stolen. It was lost by the Kerry campaign.

The reason it's so important to make this crystal clear — even as Kerry's concession speech is still ringing in our ears — is that to the victors go not only the spoils but the explanations. And the Republicans are framing their victory as the triumph of conservative moral values and the wedge cultural issues they exploited throughout the campaign.

But it wasn't gay marriage that did the Democrats in; it was the fatal decision to make the pursuit of undecided voters the overarching strategy of the Kerry campaign.

This meant that at every turn the campaign chose caution over boldness so as not to offend the undecideds who, as a group, long to be soothed and reassured rather than challenged and inspired.

The fixation on undecided voters turned a campaign that should have been about big ideas, big decisions, and the very, very big differences between the worldviews of John Kerry and George Bush — both on national security and domestic priorities — into a narrow trench war fought over ludicrous non-issues like whether Kerry had bled enough to warrant a Purple Heart.

This timid, spineless, walking-on-eggshells strategy — with no central theme or moral vision — played right into the hands of the Bush-Cheney team's portrayal of Kerry as an unprincipled, equivocating flip-flopper who, in a time of war and national unease, stood for nothing other than his desire to become president.

Yes, sure it was really close, if things had gone a little differently, or if Diebold's machines weren't in use, Kerry might have won by 15 votes. But given the nature of the Bush presidency -- the man is a flaming incompetent -- it shouldn't have been close. Kerry blew it over the summer. True, Bush has the incumbent advantage and the advantage of being the wartime president he dreamed of becoming. But Kerry spent much of the summer on really pointless things.

(Via The Gamer's Nook.)

AND FURTHER TO THE SUBJECT OF ELECTION INFRASTRUCTURE, The Onion has this to offer: U.S. Inspires World With Attempt At Democratic Election. (Via Glen Engel-Cox.)


Ohio Voting Infrastructure

From the comments section at Ohio Voter Suppression News:

I was in Youngstown on Election Day and I visited a number of polling places with Election Protection. The Dep't of Elections was woefully unprepared for this election. Long lines caused waits which were at least 2 hours long during the midday period, traditionally the slowest period. They simply did not have enough machines. The ones they had often went down or mis-registered votes. People pressed Kerry and the confirmation screen showed Bush. Many people didn't realize there was a confirmation screen so who knows how many votes were lost that way. The polls were understaffed with workers (mostly older folk) who had little or no familiarity with computers or the election rules. There were Reupublican challengers at many polling places but they did not challenge many voters - they didn't need to. The voters were suppressed by the voting infrastructure which made it a great chore to vote.

While this election had the heaviest voter turnout since 1968, nationwide, we are really only talking about a 60% turnout instead of the 54% turnout in 2000, an increase of only 11% above the rate of growth of the population. Now admittedly, this increase was probably not uniformly distributed.

But consider this: the wait times for voting have got to figure into existing computer models of voting behavior. What these long wait times mean is not that vast legions of new voters came out of the woodwork, say, doubling the number of voters, but rather mostly that those voters who turned out in places where the infrastrucure is poor were much more reluctant to be discouraged from voting: they refused to leave. That a moderate increase in voter turnout can produce wait-times measured in hours means that there are some areas where voting is habitually discouraged.

This has got to figure into partisan strategies for influencing election infrastructure. The math is just too easy for it not to. X number of minutes to vote times Y number of voters times Z voting machines produces the total time necessary for a given numberof people to vote at a polling place. From there, you can calculate wait times. And from there, it's not too hard to plug in factors like how long the average voter is willing to wait. If no voter is willing to wait more than, say, 15 minutes, you can have relatively short lines. If the voter is willing to wait an hour, the lines get longer. If a significant percentage of voters are unwilling to leave without voting, you get the kind of catastrophic waits seen in Ohio. All of this depends on a willingness to exclude voters from participation. What I see from the wait times in this election is a process that relies on it.

Also, there was an awareness the age of the poll workers combined with th increasing complexity of the voting process would pose a problem. See this USA Today article from August:

Panel cites poll workers' age as problem

The biggest threat to November's presidential election is not balky voting machines or a terrorist attack, but the potential for confusion and mistakes by the nation's aging corps of 1.5 million precinct poll workers, federal election officials say.

The current corps of poll workers is well short of the 2 million needed for a national election. The average age of a U.S. poll worker is 72, according to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission.

"If they don't get it right, someone could be denied their opportunity to vote," says Paul DeGregorio, one of four members of the commission. The panel was created by Congress in 2002 to make sure federal elections run smoothly. Already this year, problems have cropped up during primary elections, he notes.

In addition, the Help America Vote Act of 2002 has imposed new procedures for elections, including ID requirements for first-time voters who registered by mail and provisional ballots for voters not immediately found on voter rolls.

"There's a growing complexity at the polling place," says DeForest Soaries, the commission chairman. "If all we do in November is what we did in 2000, that's going to be a problem."

Here is the Election Assistance Commission's Best Practices Tool Kit.

In July, the Caltech-MIT voting Technology Project issued a report, Immediate Steps to Avoid Lost Votes in the 2004 Presidential Election: Recommendations for the Election Assistance Commission (pdf; html), which contains this interesting sentence:

According to the U.S. Census in 2000, approximately one million registered voters said that they did not vote because the polling place lines were too long or the hours for voting were too short.

Howard Dean This Afternoon

I like this item from the Democracy for America blog. This is Howard Dean this afternoon:

Montana, one of the reddest states, has a new Democratic governor.

First-time candidates for state legislatures from Hawaii to Connecticut beat incumbent Republicans.

And a record number of us voted to change course—more Americans voted against George Bush than any sitting president in history.

Today is not an ending.

Regardless of the outcome yesterday, we have begun to revive our democracy. While we did not get the result we wanted in the presidential race, we laid the groundwork for a new generation of Democratic leaders.

Democracy for America trained thousands of organizers and brought new leadership into the political process. And down the ballot, in state after state, we elected Dean Dozen candidates who will be the rising stars of the Democratic Party in years ahead.

Tens of millions of us are disappointed today because we put so much of ourselves into this election. We donated money, we talked to friends, we knocked on doors. We invested ourselves in the political process.

That process does not end today. These are not short-term investments. We will only create lasting change if that sense of obligation and responsibility becomes a permanent part of our lives.

Martin Luther King, Jr. said, "Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter."

We will not be silent.

Thank you for everything you did for our cause in this election. But we are not stopping here.

Governor Howard Dean, M.D.

KC & BBC

I was just on BBC Africa Live talking about the presidential election. I think I had a good soundbite ready. Having blogged earlier in the day was great preparation. I used my line about Ohio not being a fledgling democracy; going on to say that Ohio election officials should have been much better at equipping the polls. I did not try to talk about Nash equalibria.

What I found most interesting about the program was listening to election observers from Africa expressing concern about American electoral process. The flyer I blogged yesterday, instructing Kerry voters to vote Nov. 3rd, was raised by an election observer from Ghana who was appalled that election officials in Ohio's Franklin County laughed off the flyer instead of treating it with the seriousness he thought was appropriate.


Seen off Rt. 117 in Chappaqua, New York

My daughter's preschool is about two blocks from the Clinton's house on Old House Lane in Chappaqua. This morning when I dropped off Elizabeth, I saw this home-made sign at the intersection of Orchard Ridge and Rt. 117. I stopped to take a picture. (I saw the back of the sign when taking the picture. On the back it says Proud to be an American with a picture of an American flag.) The same house had a home-made sign that said Welcome Home, Mr. President. when Bill Clinton was released from the hospital after heart surgery not long ago.

MEANWHILE, computers have been giving me a really hard time this morning. Movable Type has been running even more slowly than usual, making it extremely difficult and time consuming to fix typos on my previous post. And it was like pulling teeth to get the Hillary picture out of Sprint's PictureMail service. My brain is running slowly because I have a bad cold and a sinus headache. But computers don't have this excuse. Anyway, I'm glad to finally get this picture up.

Also, the BBC has an appointment to interview me by phone about the election at 1PM my time. I'm not sure how they picked me. They may have called because of my blog or my books, but for all I know they could also have picked me out of the phone book.


What We're Looking at Here Is a Nash Equilibrium

From Kevin Drum in the wee hours comes this insightful post:

A COUNTRY IN AMBER....Based on how the final few states are looking at the moment, the most remarkable thing about this presidential election is how nearly identical it is to 2000. Right now, it looks like no more than two or three states will flip from red to blue or vice versa.

As I said the other day, a difference of one or two percentage points makes a big objective difference, since one guy wins and the other doesn't, but it means almost nothing about the direction of the country. We're almost exactly where we were four years ago.

Which, really, is an amazing thing. You'd think an event like 9/11 would act as a catalyst that blows apart existing political dynamics and realigns the electorate, but instead it seems to have cemented it into place. Not only are we at the same place we were four years ago, but the divisions are actually more entrenched than ever.

It hardly seems possible that this can last forever, but if 9/11 didn't realign the electorate, what will?

And indeed, I can name four or five things that seem as if they've changed everything, but perhaps they've changed nothing. Perhaps US politics is locked into a Nash Equlilbrium, a concept in game theory originated by John Nash. Wikipedia has a good description of the Nash Equilibrium. Here is the most crucial bit:

A Nash equilibrium for a mixed strategy game is stable if a small change (specifically a infinitesimal change) in probabilities for one player leads to a situation where two conditions hold:
1. the player who did not change has no better strategy in the new circumstance

2. the player who did change is now playing with a strictly worse strategy
If these cases are both met, then a player with the small change in their mixed-strategy will return immediately to the Nash equilibrium. The equilibrium is said to be stable. If condition one does not hold then the equilibrium is unstable. If only condition one holds then there are likely to be an infinite number of optimal strategies for the player who changed. John Nash showed that the latter situation could not arise in a range of well-defined games.

Regardless of how Ohio comes out, neither political party got what they wanted from this election. That much is obvious.

(And it isn't pretty to have the election decided by a state where the wait to vote could be up to eight hours. Presumably, local government knows how many registered voters live in each precinct. There is no good excuse for this I can think of. Is Ohio some kind of fledgling democracy? Surely they've held elections before and have the know-how to apportion voting machines. Yes? For places that had really long waits someone must have set a maximum figure for acceptable voter turnout that is significantly below 100%.)

One somewhat creepy aspect of this election was the extent to which the candidates were similar. The New York Time remarks:

Since World War II, no two candidates have had such strikingly similar backgrounds of class and privilege, with so many points of overlap. These two not only attended Yale University two years apart, but were also members of the same secret society there, Skull and Bones.

There is a certain uncanniness to a political evolutionary process that would produce such similar candidates. This was not a Coke vs. Pepsi election in which the candidates were marketed as being as similar as possible like Bush vs. Gore. But in the fundamental things that we think or as molding human character, they are more similar than Bush and Gore.

Regardless of how Ohio turns out, it seems to me the biggest question is how we're going to get out of this box. If in fact we are looking at a Nash equilibrium, the only way out is to think outside the box; WAY outside the box.

UPDATE: I see that Jordan Ellenberg (Princeton mathematician and novelist) was exploring this idea on a more limitied scale in Slate on October 25th.

A FURTHER THOUGHT: A couple of people who know something about math have suggested that I'm oversimplifying. Well, of course I'm oversimplifying. The presidential election is way too complicated a system to make detailed mathematical arguments regarding Nash equilibria. But like the concept of fractals, where the existence of the concept gives you a feeling of recognition when you look at (say) a piece of cauliflower, I find the Nash equilibrium concept very suggestive of the current shape of US electoral politics.


Glad I Didn't Stay Up

I'm up briefly at 2AM because my cough medicine wore off. An hour ago, Kevin Drum wrote:

CNN just reported that there are 200,000 provisional ballots in Ohio. So if anyone wins by less than 100,000 or so, we won't know the winner until the provisionals are counted. And who knows how long that could take?

UPDATE: Apparently the answer is 10-11 days.

What a mess. And I see that even though the networks have calld Florda for Bush, even Florida is going to take a while: Florida official: Tally of absentee ballots may stretch into Thursday


To Stay Up or Go to Bed?

I'm back from the airport. David, who is flying to France, wanted to listen radio most of the way to the airport. We were listening to 1010 WINS News's really inane coverage. While we were driving the polls in various places on the East Coast were closing. When polls would close they would begin calling states for one or another candidtate but with no information about the margins or what percentage of the vote had been tallied. Coming back, I listened to music instead.

I've got a really bad cold, so I'm not sure how much longer I'm going to last this evening. When I was driving, I was really eager to get back to my computer and find out what is going on. But now that I'm here, my bed is looking awfully inviting. Also, now that I'm home and not on the highway, I can take cold medicine, which will probably make me drowsy.

Also, it seems to me that the media is going to be a lot more cautious about calling the race, given what foolish mistakes were made four years ago. (Never mind that people are still voting and will be for a while.) I feel lucky not to have TV reception. If radio was that bad, I can only imagine what the TV coverage is like.

Looking around, I think I would be best off going to bed now and then checking on things at about 3AM. There's too little conclusive data available and I know too muh about numbers to think that 10PM's data is that much superior to the 2PM exit poll numbers. It's not soup yet.


See You After 9:30 PM

A lot of the big blogs are complaining of heavy traffic and there aren't even any real results yet. (I haven't been able to get Josh Marshall in hours.)

I have to drive David to Newark Airport around 7. Here's my plan: after 9:30 I'll help track the incoming information. See you after 9:30.


The Onion Nails It

This is the satirical story in The Onion from earlier this week: Republicans Urge Minorities To Get Out And Vote On Nov. 3

The Onion Staff must have gotten a sneak peak at the Republican play book, because look at this from Ohio Voter Suppression News today, election day:

My boss was canvassing this morning for ACT, putting out GOTV door tags in a predominantly black neighborhood on the near east side of Columbus. Repugs had been there first, putting up door hangers that read: Vote for George Bush/Dick Cheney on Tuesday, November 2: Vote for John Kerry/John Edwards on Wednesday, November 3. Incredible!

Cheryl Morgan on the American Zeitgeist

I think there's something intensely revealing about our current state of affairs in this passage:

While I was away Kevin was practicing for becoming a Master Costumer by entering the Halloween contest at work. He won a nice bottle of bubbly, which I shall enjoy drinking at some point. But I was more interested in his report of one of his fellow contestants. In America Halloween is an excuse for any type of fancy dress, not just spooky stuff. So one of Kevin's co-workers came as a hippy. But her "Make Love, Not War" placard was written in Italian so as not to cause offence.

Two things occur to me here. Firstly, while it was perfectly OK to say "Make Love, Not War" in America back in the 60's, now it is regarded as offensive and liable to cost you your job. And second, it is assumed that if you write something in a foreign language (even if it is pretty damned obvious what it is likely to say), Bush supporters won't have a clue what it means.

Being only 42, I can't say what would and wouldn't endanger your job in the 1960s. I entered the first grade in 1968. But I think Cheryl captures the essence of this historical moment.


The Day Before

There are a number of interesting things going on.

Josh Marshall reports that an outfit called the Florida Leadership Council has issued a Beslan-inspired scare flyer presumably intend to illustrate what will happen if Bush doesn't win. Go to their web site and listen to their sound effects. I think I know what they have in mind for people like me. Perhaps the rise of rightwing terrorism really is on the way. That's certainly the vibe I get from their site. (I'm a little surprised Josh didn't mention the gunshot sound effects.)

Kevin Drum and Ronald Brownstein (writing for the LA Times) have written pices along similar lines, pointing out that regardless of how the election turns out tomorrow, as an attempt to expand the Republican base, the Bush administration has been a failure.

Atrios notes that an Ohio judge has barred vote challengers from the polls.