November 10, 2004

Two Americas all over again

Once the election results came in, I quickly thought of John Edwards' description of the "two Americas" during this year's primary campaign. This time around, though, the two Americas weren't rich and poor, but rather red and blue. More specifically, they were the social conservatives whose high turnout appears to have accounted for much of Bush's margin and those of us who have a completely different view of what this country should be.

Frank Boosman pointed out a New York Times column by Thomas Friedman entitled "Two Nations Under God" that sums up my thoughts much better than I could phrase them on my own.

November 07, 2004

Questioning the election returns

I've seen an astonishing number of posts (here, here, and here, among others) claiming that evidence exists that the presidential election returns were tampered with, hacked, or otherwise modified to give Bush a victory. Specifically, people are pointing to two things: First, one precinct in Ohio mistakenly reported more votes for Bush than voters who showed up at the polls; and second, a few small Florida counties with large Democratic majorities voted overwhelmingly for Bush.

Neither of these is the slightest indicator of fraud, and neither has anything to do with electronic voting. The problem with the vote in that Ohio precinct is unfortunately common in initial reported returns. In fact, I'd guess that just about every state in every election has at least one precinct that reports results incorrectly. This happens all the time. It's nearly always human error at some step -- someone wrote down the wrong number, misheard results reported over the phone, or something like that. In this year's Pennsylvania Senate primary, one precinct in Bucks County initially reported about 100,000 votes for Arlen Specter. That mistake was so noticeable -- it swung the incoming Election Night returns from a close race to a large margin for Specter -- that it was corrected within an hour or two. Smaller mistakes like the Ohio one are always caught in a recount because the first step in a recount is to go back and double-check the totals on the actual machines. (Though popular perception would have you think that most recounts involve ballot analysis like the hanging chad problem in Florida in 2000, that's rarely the case.) Even in races that don't have recounts, they're typically caught when the official returns are reported. That's what will happen in Ohio.

As for the Florida counties, there's nothing suspicious here, either. A quick glance at the 2000 election returns in the same counties shows that they went overwhelmingly for Bush then, too. The ones in question voted slightly more Republican in 2004 than they did in 2000, but that's not surprising at all given the overall election results. Bush did better across the board in Florida in 2004. In fact, those counties' results would be far more suspicious if they voted for Kerry, or even if the two candidates tied.

None of this is to say that electronic voting is fraud-proof or that paper receipts shouldn't be mandatory. I write software for a living, so I will never believe any electronic voting company's claims that they can be certain their software is bug-free or tamper-proof. Only voter-verified paper trails will protect against that. But though the system may be insecure, there's simply no evidence of fraud this time around. Those of us who came out on the losing side would be far better off spending our time trying to figure out how we can move people into our column in 2006 and 2008 than trying to run after electronic voting fraud as if we're hunting for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

November 06, 2004

NSViews, timers, and visibility

I'm running into a stumbling block with Cocoa, and after spending an hour searching through documentation and not finding an answer I figure I'll post it here and see if anyone reading this knows the answer. Bear in mind that I'm unfortunately not much of a Cocoa programmer.

I have a custom view (a subclass of NSView) with a timer that updates something in the view. The view only needs to be updated when it's visible, and it's visible whenever its window is visible. How do I stop the timer when its window is hidden or closed and start the timer again when the window is shown?

November 01, 2004

Voting, part 3: Federal offices

Now for the most important part of the ballot.

Congress: Mike Honda. I haven't heard anything about him or his opponent, so I suppose this isn't much of a race.

Senate: Barbara Boxer. Like many Californians I prefer Dianne Feinstein, but I like Boxer and I'd vastly prefer to have her in the Senate than Bill Jones. That said, I feel sorry for Jones, who expected to run a competitive campaign but has been so hamstrung financially that he won't end up running a single TV ad. I read somewhere that when he decided to run he thought that he'd be able to fund a fair amount of his campaign with proceeds from the sale of a company he owns or had interest in. The sale hasn't happened yet, so he never got the money, so he could never prove that he could compete with Boxer in fundraising early on, so he couldn't raise enough money from other sources to make the race competitive. Competitive elections are a sign of a good democracy; it's a shame we didn't have one here.

President: John Kerry. Normally when I look at candidates for an office I have a reasonably good idea why people support the candidate I'm not voting for. I might not agree with their reasons or those reasons aren't enough to sway me to their side, but I understand them. This time around it's tough. I understand why certain single-issue voters will vote for George Bush -- if you're pro-life, for example, and use that as a litmus test over all else, you're not going to vote for Kerry. But short of that, I just don't get it. Bush is a Republican, but he's ballooned the federal deficit, dramatically increased government spending, expanded federal control over education, and embarked on a nation-building quest far more ambitious than anything Bill Clinton ever contemplated. These are not Republican positions.

It's clear that neither Bush nor Kerry has a great plan for getting the U.S. out of Iraq. That's not because they're idiots; rather, that's because it's a very hard problem to solve if you also want to keep Iraq from being a terrorist haven, breaking down into civil war, or becoming a stridently anti-U.S. nation. Having put ourselves into this mess, escaping from it with any one of those three still possible would be inexcusable. But given the relatively limited differences between the candidates on the topic, the question isn't who can get us out of the mess the best. Instead, it's a question of who got us into it in the first place. That's easy to answer. It's exactly the kind of thing Bush criticized the Clinton Administration for four years ago (about Somalia and Haiti), only far more expensive, much riskier, and at a much higher cost in both American and civilian lives.

Another way to look at this is a twist on a standard presidential-year question. Pundits like to say that presidential elections hinge on whether people think they're better off now than they were four years ago. But with this election, the question perhaps should be rephrased as whether you think you're safer now than you were four years ago. That's not quite fair, of course, so let's rephrase it yet again as whether you're safer now than you were in the weeks after September 11th, 2001.

I was flying cross-country on that day. As we rushed towards the ground, landing as fast as we could, I thought there might be a bomb on the plane and feared for my life. When I got off the flight and saw the news, I thought seriously about joining the military to fight these people who believed they could threaten my country's way of life. That's why when we invaded Afghanistan, the world backed us. It was the right thing to do. But we've lost all of that support by invading Iraq, which neither had weapons of mass destruction nor connections to Al Qaeda. In the process, we've caused millions more people to hate us, created thousands of new terrorists, and harmed relationships with longtime allies. With the insurgency in Iraq resulting in staunch anti-American feelings around the world, I'm no longer solely worried about terrorism from Al Qaeda. As a result, though we've certainly made progress in the fight against Al Qaeda over the past three years, I don't feel any safer now than I did then. In this changed world, it's the president's job to make Americans feel secure. George Bush has fallen short.

Those aren't the only reasons why I'm voting for John Kerry, but they're a good summary. I can't guarantee that he'll be a good president. It's impossible to predict that one way or another for any candidate. I can be confident, though, that he could hardly be worse than what we've had for the past four years.

Voting, part 2: Propositions and ballot measures

And now for one of the things I like least about living in California -- the incessant list of initiatives with one item of stupidity after another, many of which will likely pass. There are too many problems with the initiative process to go into here, so maybe I'll post my rant about that some other time. Suffice to say, though, that if anyone ever comes up with an initiative to curb the initiative process, I'll gladly give them some money.

Before I go through them, I should note that I'm a moderate Democrat. I'm socially moderate to liberal (moderate enough that I'd be a San Francisco conservative, I suppose), and financially conservative. California is a state in the throes of a continued fiscal crisis, papering over each year's budget with additional borrowing. That's not how a government should be run. At the same time, one reason why we have a state legislature is so they can decide how state revenues should be spent. Handing over specific spending issues to the voters is absurd, since the issues are presented out of context in a manner that doesn't give a sense of their fiscal impact or their cost relative to the rest of the items in the general fund.

With that in mind, here goes:

1A, protection of local government revenue: Yes. I'm astonished that local property tax and sales tax revenue (as opposed to state sales tax revenue) doesn't stay local currently, but it should.

59, public records and open meetings: Yes. An open government is a good government. Well, better than a closed one, at least.

60, election rights of political parties: Yes. I don't understand why this is on the ballot except perhaps to counter Prop. 62. It basically says that the candidate that wins each party's primary election should be on the general election ballot. My only concern about this one was that a party might not be able to replace the candidate that won the primary before the general, as is sometimes necessary for very good reasons, but a close check of the actual text of the change (as opposed to the summary) shows that this isn't an issue.

60A, surplus property: Yes. This is likely to have a tiny positive impact on the state's payment plan for some of the bonds the state issued in March to borrow its way out of this year's budget. The actual text of the bill limits the repayment to those specific bonds. While I'd be more concerned if this restricted surplus property sale revenue in general, I'm fine with this one case.

61, children's hospital bonds: No. I hate initiatives like this one because they're for a good cause, but there's no particular reason why the money (which would be borrowed) should go to this as opposed to, say, less popular but still necessary causes like improving prisons or building sewage treatment plants. I'm all for children's hospital funding, but it should be paid for as part of the general fund where it could be allocated as needed relative to other needs, rather than a special fee allocated because someone spent $1 million to put it on the ballot and tug at voters' hearts.

62, open primaries: No. You've got to be kidding. The last thing I want is a competitive Democratic primary alongside an uncontested Republican primary squeezing the Republican off the ballot because the Democratic turnout was much higher. Consider this year's presidential primary, for a good example.

63, mental health funding: No. This is a special tax on "the rich" to fund another special fee. No for the same reason as my no on 61, plus an extra no to taxes on one specific segment of the population. If mental health needs to be funded specially, everyone should pay their fair share. And no, that's not an argument against progressive taxes or anything like that. It's just that setting my fair share at $0 when I certainly earn enough to not be considered poor (though I don't earn nearly enough to qualify as "rich" for this proposition) is ridiculous.

64, limits on private unfair business competition lawsuits: No, though I'm torn on this. California certainly has more than its fair share of unfair business lawsuits, but I don't understand enough about the legal effects of the restrictions to be added here to know that they're the right thing to do. I'm not sure it's a bad thing, but I'm not confident enough that it's right to want to change the current environment.

65, local government funds: No. The supporters of 65 apparently found out about 1A too late to stop 65 from appearing on the ballot, so they're now telling everyone to vote for 1A instead. Since I'm voting for 1A, I'll follow their wishes and vote no here.

66, limitations on "three strikes": Yes. We have far too many people in our prisons and the cost of keeping people there who don't need to be there is too high. Life imprisonment for a lesser crime is both unnecessary and expensive. This is what the Three Strikes law should have been in the first place.

67, emergency medical services funding: No. See 61 and 63. If the state needs this, it should be paid for from the general fund. If the state can't afford to pay for it from the general fund, the state should raise more money for the general fund. I'd much rather have my taxes raised than have to allocate special funding for specific services.

68, something about gambling: No. I don't like gambling and wish it would stay in Nevada. That's not the way federal law works, but that doesn't mean that we need to expand it.

69, DNA samples on arrest: No. Innocent until proven guilty. I'm all for collecting DNA from convicted felons, but you can arrest someone without concrete evidence. In a trial the prosecution can take a DNA sample from the accused if evidence requires it; I don't see why they should be allowed to collect it otherwise.

70, more gambling: No again. See 68.

71, stem cell funding: No. First of all, see 61, 63, and 67. Also, this is a venture capitalist's dream, which perhaps explains why this initiative is largely funded by venture capitalists. This is a huge allocation of state money that we'd be required to spend over the next 30 years for research that is almost entirely unproven. Yes, there's great potential. Yes, stem cell research needs funding that it isn't getting from the federal government. But the way to do that is to start small, allocating money as needed from the state's current research budget in (I sound like a broken record) the general fund. What if three years from now we realize that the sort of stem cell research this covers isn't as useful as some other sort of stem cell research? What if biotech companies and researchers elsewhere come up with incredible advances that ensure many other sources of funding for stem cell research? We're stuck spending billions of dollars that we don't have on something unnecessary. Back to the venture capital point for a minute. If this research is as successful as many people hope (which isn't guaranteed, but I'm hopeful, too; everyone wants a magic bullet), lots of companies are going to make lots of money off of the treatments. The state will have funded a lot of this work. Will it get its money back or, better yet, reap some of the profits? Not necessarily. The law merely says that the state's intellectual property interests should be balanced with the need to perform research unhindered. That's much too vague for me.

72, health care coverage requirements: No. Everyone should have health care coverage. This will ensure that fewer people have coverage by putting the burden on businesses that will likely cut back hiring, close, or move out of state. We need universal coverage on the federal level, not on a statewide level in a state that's having a tough enough time keeping jobs as is.

County measure A, base "prevailing wage" measurements for county employees on public sector jobs rather than private sector jobs: Yes. There are a number of differences between public sector and private sector jobs, and it's only fair to compare apples with apples. That said, I feel very sorry for anyone currently working for the county if their salary is cut as a result of this. Perhaps this'll end up pushing the public sector salaries a bit higher so the county can still compete with private sector companies for good employees.

County measure B, voter approval of county labor arbitration decisions at the discretion of the county board of supervisors: No. Arbitration is arbitration. If you don't like the results, well, you agreed to the process in the first place.

County measure C, binding arbitration when negotiations fail between the county and public health and safety officials (which seems to include county attorneys in addition to the expected group of medical and police employees): Yes. This is tough because the entire board of supervisors opposes it, while the employees' arguments in favor make sense. Arbitration seems to work well for resolving a number of labor disputes with employees who can't strike (as is the case for many of the employees here), so I don't see much of a reason to oppose it.

West Vallye-Mission Community College District measure H: Yes. I don't really understand why this is on the ballot, but maybe that's how community college funding works in California.

Santa Clara school district measure J: Yes. School funding, which I'm generally in favor of. I'd think more about it except that apparently the district loses $27 million or so in matching state funding if this fails and I'd rather have that funding go here than to another school district.

Voting, part 1: State and local offices

This is the most frustrating part of the ballot as far as I'm concerned. I was hoping I'd hear something -- anything at all -- from the candidates for these offices so I'd have some idea of what the issues are or how I should choose. Unfortunately, for the most part I haven't heard anything. I wish these offices weren't non-partisan just so I could have some chance to hear at least one side. In lieu of any helpful information at all, then, here goes:

State Senator: Elaine Alquist, because she's an incumbent Democrat and that's an OK default choice for me. I know nothing about her.

State Representative: Sally Lieber. See State Senator.

West Valley-Mission Community College District, Area 2: Huh? I don't even know what this is and I have to pick two people for it. Robert Owens is the incumbent, so I might as well vote for him. Christopher Stampolis is the only other candidate with a blurb in the voter information pamphlet and sounds fine, so I'll vote for him, too.

West Valley-Mission Community College District, Area 3: You've got to be kidding. There's another area? And I'm in both? And I need to think about these people again? There are three incumbents here, I can only vote for two, and only one bothered to write anything for the voter information guide. Great. Well, Chris Constantin, you've got my vote. I'll pass on the other slot.

Judge of the Superior Court, Office No. 7: Why do states let people vote for judges? I don't understand this at all. I thought Pennsylvania was one of only a few states with this oddity, but apparently California is part of the crowd, too. Griffin Bonini is endorsed by tons of people, including the local bar association; Enrique Colin is endorsed by Reps. Zoe Lofgren and Mike Honda. Bonini seems to have more money to spend, but Colin seems like a nicer guy. I think I'll vote for Colin.

Santa Clara County Board of Education: I got a phone call today telling me to vote for Anna Song, so that means I've heard of one of the candidates. It wasn't an objectionable phone call, so I suppose I'll vote for her.

Santa Clara School District, Area 2: Beats me, since none of the candidates bothered to submit anything to the voter information guide. Since the schools appear to be doing fine for my nonexistent kids, I guess I'll vote for the two incumbents, Ernest Dossa, Jr. and Don Bordenave.

Santa Clara City Council, Seat 3: Chuq voted for Nam Nguyen, but all I know about him is that he was whining yesterday about his signs being taken down. Despicable as that practice is, it happens to everyone. His blurb in the voter guide isn't very impressive, either. I've received some literature about Will Kennedy and his voter guide blurb sounds good, so he'll have my vote.

Santa Clara City Council, Seat 4: Both Kevin Moore and Gap Kim sound good. I'll probably vote for Kim, but I'd be happier about that choice if I'd heard anything from him. I have literature from Moore, but it doesn't say much except that his campaign committee is "Santa Claran's for Moore". The extra apostrophe doesn't help him in my book. In lieu of other issues, I'm happy to vote based on grammar alone.

Santa Clara City Council, Seat 6: Do I really get to vote for all of these? I would've expected to only vote for one city council seat, but four of them are on my sample ballot. Oh, well. Patrick Kolstad is the incumbent, so I'll vote for him.

Santa Clara City Council, Seat 7: I have a lot of literature from Chuck Blair, but it doesn't really say anything other than that various people endorse him and he's been a sports coach for a long time. Coaching is a great job, but a sole qualification for public office it ain't. Jamie McLeod is a city planner, which sounds more useful. I'll vote for her.

Santa Clara City Clerk: What's a city clerk and why do are we voting on one? From the little I've picked up it sounds like the rough equivalent of a township manager job back home, except for that job the township commissioners could actually hire and fire people as appropriate instead of having to ask the voters for their uninformed decision. I don't understand this at all. Anyway, Rod Diridon was kind enough to send me some literature (even though it says nothing whatsoever about what the office entails) and his voter guide blurb sounds fine, so I'll vote for him. (And Chuq likes him, so that counts for something. Sadly, his literature doesn't list Chuq's endorsement.)

Santa Clara Chief of Police: You've got to be kidding me. Why is this an elected office? Anyway, there's only one person on the ballot and he's already chief of police so I'm voting for him.

Voting explanations

I like what Chuq did over at Plaidworks with going through the ballot and explaining his votes, so I'm going to try to do the same here. As in Chuq's case I'm not trying to tell anyone how to vote (though perhaps my logic might be useful to someone else one way or the other), but this is a useful bit of practice for me so I can think things through concretely before going to the polls tomorrow.