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User Journal

Journal: Ohio recount rigging case goes to court 224

Journal by MarkusQ

The Akron Beacon Journal is reporting that the trial of the three election workers accused of rigging the 2004 presidential election recount in Cuyahoga County is finally underway. As you may recall, this was the case where poll workers "randomly" selected the precincts to recount by first eliminating from consideration precincts where the number of ballots handed out on Election Day failed to match the number of ballots cast and, then opening the ballot boxes in private and pre-counting until they found cases which would match up.

What is interesting here is that they have already admitted doing this and that it was clearly counter to the letter and the spirit of the law, but still insist it wasn't really wrong, presumably since they only did it to avoid having to go to the bother of a full recount as required by law.

United States

Journal: Control of US Senate may come down to...a font selection? 3

Journal by MarkusQ

So, coming down to the wire, we see that control of the US Senate is pretty much a toss up with a half dozen or so races potentially deciding if control lands in the hands of the Republicans, the Democrats, or some 3rd Party. According to a story in the Washington Post one of those races may come down to the choice of font used on the electronic voting machines in several counties.

Why? Because "although the larger type is easier to read, it also unintentionally shortens the longer names on the summary page of the ballot" -- shortening in the case of the Senate candidate meaning it leaves off his last name. This means he will be listed as "James H. 'Jim'..." on an ballot that also includes a "James T. 'Jim'..." running against a "James P. 'Jim'..." which is not expected to cause undue confusion.

Officials claim that it is simply a computer 'glitch' and should almost certainly be fixed by the 2007 general election.

It's funny.  Laugh.

Journal: Am I being trolled? Opinions wanted 14

Journal by MarkusQ

OK, I could use some opinions / advice here.

I honestly can't tell if I've fallen for an elaborate troll or just run across someone who is English impaired.

The top of the thread in question starts out reasonably enough, but before too long it gets very odd. Its almost like I'm arguing with a really sophisticated chatbot or something. Or like that Monty Python argument sketch. Another thought that crossed my mind is that he may be trying to do a Colbert, and playing the part of an overly enthusiastic partisan for humorous effect.

So what do you think? Am I wasting my time on a really clever troll, or dealing with someone who is language impaired, or (I suppose it's possible) someone whose subtle wit is far beyond my ability to comprehend?

Thoughts?

--MarkusQ

User Journal

Journal: Tell Congress/WIPO: No B'cast Treaty Without Representation

Journal by Bruce Perens
Please read the alert here. The Broadcast Flag is back, this time as a WIPO treaty, and if you don't speak up, it'll be decided by bureaucrats without any democratic input at all.

The alert provides a web form to write to your congress person. Please do that. And please put the alert up elsewhere, so that other people can help too.

I'm in Washington DC working on this today, and your support will help.

Thanks

Bruce

Censorship

Journal: Any idea why the US media seems mum on this? 3

Journal by MarkusQ

In a way, this reminds me of the Iraq prisoner abuse story, in that it seems to be getting coverage outside the US (especially the line " Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy. " Which, coming in 2002, from a high level (albeit foreign) source, would be a rather big story, I would think.

Update: Well, a bit of noticeis being taken now.

From The London Times:

DAVID MANNING
From: Matthew Rycroft
Date: 23 July 2002
S 195 /02

cc: Defence Secretary, Foreign Secretary, Attorney-General, Sir Richard Wilson, John Scarlett, Francis Richards, CDS, C, Jonathan Powell, Sally Morgan, Alastair Campbell

IRAQ: PRIME MINISTER'S MEETING, 23 JULY

Copy addressees and you met the Prime Minister on 23 July to discuss Iraq.

This record is extremely sensitive. No further copies should be made. It should be shown only to those with a genuine need to know its contents.

John Scarlett summarised the intelligence and latest JIC assessment. Saddam's regime was tough and based on extreme fear. The only way to overthrow it was likely to be by massive military action. Saddam was worried and expected an attack, probably by air and land, but he was not convinced that it would be immediate or overwhelming. His regime expected their neighbours to line up with the US. Saddam knew that regular army morale was poor. Real support for Saddam among the public was probably narrowly based.

C reported on his recent talks in Washington. There was a perceptible shift in attitude. Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy. The NSC had no patience with the UN route, and no enthusiasm for publishing material on the Iraqi regime's record. There was little discussion in Washington of the aftermath after military action.

CDS said that military planners would brief CENTCOM on 1-2 August, Rumsfeld on 3 August and Bush on 4 August.

The two broad US options were:

(a) Generated Start. A slow build-up of 250,000 US troops, a short (72 hour) air campaign, then a move up to Baghdad from the south. Lead time of 90 days (30 days preparation plus 60 days deployment to Kuwait).

(b) Running Start. Use forces already in theatre (3 x 6,000), continuous air campaign, initiated by an Iraqi casus belli. Total lead time of 60 days with the air campaign beginning even earlier. A hazardous option.

The US saw the UK (and Kuwait) as essential, with basing in Diego Garcia and Cyprus critical for either option. Turkey and other Gulf states were also important, but less vital. The three main options for UK involvement were:

(i) Basing in Diego Garcia and Cyprus, plus three SF squadrons.

(ii) As above, with maritime and air assets in addition.

(iii) As above, plus a land contribution of up to 40,000, perhaps with a discrete role in Northern Iraq entering from Turkey, tying down two Iraqi divisions.

The Defence Secretary said that the US had already begun "spikes of activity" to put pressure on the regime. No decisions had been taken, but he thought the most likely timing in US minds for military action to begin was January, with the timeline beginning 30 days before the US Congressional elections.

The Foreign Secretary said he would discuss this with Colin Powell this week. It seemed clear that Bush had made up his mind to take military action, even if the timing was not yet decided. But the case was thin. Saddam was not threatening his neighbours, and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran. We should work up a plan for an ultimatum to Saddam to allow back in the UN weapons inspectors. This would also help with the legal justification for the use of force.

The Attorney-General said that the desire for regime change was not a legal base for military action. There were three possible legal bases: self-defence, humanitarian intervention, or UNSC authorisation. The first and second could not be the base in this case. Relying on UNSCR 1205 of three years ago would be difficult. The situation might of course change.

The Prime Minister said that it would make a big difference politically and legally if Saddam refused to allow in the UN inspectors. Regime change and WMD were linked in the sense that it was the regime that was producing the WMD. There were different strategies for dealing with Libya and Iran. If the political context were right, people would support regime change. The two key issues were whether the military plan worked and whether we had the political strategy to give the military plan the space to work.

On the first, CDS said that we did not know yet if the US battleplan was workable. The military were continuing to ask lots of questions.

For instance, what were the consequences, if Saddam used WMD on day one, or if Baghdad did not collapse and urban warfighting began? You said that Saddam could also use his WMD on Kuwait. Or on Israel, added the Defence Secretary.

The Foreign Secretary thought the US would not go ahead with a military plan unless convinced that it was a winning strategy. On this, US and UK interests converged. But on the political strategy, there could be US/UK differences. Despite US resistance, we should explore discreetly the ultimatum. Saddam would continue to play hard-ball with the UN.

John Scarlett assessed that Saddam would allow the inspectors back in only when he thought the threat of military action was real.

The Defence Secretary said that if the Prime Minister wanted UK military involvement, he would need to decide this early. He cautioned that many in the US did not think it worth going down the ultimatum route. It would be important for the Prime Minister to set out the political context to Bush.

Conclusions:

(a) We should work on the assumption that the UK would take part in any military action. But we needed a fuller picture of US planning before we could take any firm decisions. CDS should tell the US military that we were considering a range of options.

(b) The Prime Minister would revert on the question of whether funds could be spent in preparation for this operation.

(c) CDS would send the Prime Minister full details of the proposed military campaign and possible UK contributions by the end of the week.

(d) The Foreign Secretary would send the Prime Minister the background on the UN inspectors, and discreetly work up the ultimatum to Saddam.

He would also send the Prime Minister advice on the positions of countries in the region especially Turkey, and of the key EU member states.

(e) John Scarlett would send the Prime Minister a full intelligence update.

(f) We must not ignore the legal issues: the Attorney-General would consider legal advice with FCO/MOD legal advisers.

(I have written separately to commission this follow-up work.)

MATTHEW RYCROFT

It's funny.  Laugh.

Journal: Some questions remain in bank audit 2

Journal by MarkusQ

What would it be like if we ran our banks the way we run our elections?
I suppose something like this...

Some questions remain in bank audit

IP newswire
Dateline: your town

Another box of money was found in the offices of Central Fiduciary Fidelity Financial Faith and Trust (CFFFF&T) today, as its audit entered its second week. Witnesses said that the box, about two feet high by two feet wide and three feet long appeared to be stuffed full of bills but they were unable to guess the number or the denomination. The audit, which many believe to be unneeded, was called by the managers of a defunct savings and loan in response to the demands from their customers, some of whom claim to have lost their life's savings.

This is the fifth such box identified at CFFFF&T, though there is as of yet no official word on how much money has been found in total. Bank officials issued a statement last Wednesday when the fourth box was found, saying that manually counting the money is a waste of time, but will be done if there is sufficient pressure from the media.

There have been widespread rumours floating around the internet for months, claiming that the nation's banking system is in serious trouble. Many of them point to incidents such as these as supporting their claims. Banking industry analysts however have repeatedly said that it was not uncommon for boxes of money to turn up in various corners of busy banks, and the alarmists who say otherwise or claim that it points to a bigger problem are just crackpots. CFFFF&T President Karl Blackwell agrees.

"They just aren't seeing the bigger picture" Blackwell told Faze The Nation Friday. "Banks are in no way close to collapsing. In fact, many banks are reporting record profits for the tenth year running. People need to just keep making deposits and leave the boring details to us professionals. We professionals? Whatever."

In any case, no one expects the total amount of money found in CFFFF&T's audit to be anywhere near enough to affect the banks financial statements, which were filed amidst great ceremony last Friday at a lavish party held in honor of the bank's current accounting firm, Outron, Rove and Lark.

But extra cash is not the only problem Blackwell has had to deal with lately. There have been scattered accounts of people accidentally depositing more money in their CFFFF&T accounts when they intended to withdraw funds, due to an error in the banks touch-screen ATMs. Blackwell stressed that such minor miscalibrations are to be expected when dealing with complex electronics. "Computers," he pointed out at the time "are only as good as the people who program them and the people who use them. Expecting computers to be perfect is tantamount to expecting perfection from people. I'm not saying it was necessarily user error--just that you can't proof that it wasn't."

And CFFFF&T is not the only target of criticism. Banking industry critics also point to problems such as the recent payday backlog in Ohio, where some banking customers had to wait for up to ten hours in freezing rain to cash their paychecks, especially in poorer neighborhoods. They claim that many customers couldn't wait that long and were forced to leave without cashing their paychecks, and that others who did wait were turned away or had their checks taken from them because they were at the wrong window. Some even go as far as to suggest that this represents an unearned windfall for the banks.

Seasoned industry watchers dismiss such claims as mere speculation. "No one know for sure that people left without cashing their checks," explained one expert who asked to remain anonymous. "They are just basing the theory that the banks somehow benefited from keeping people from cashing their checks on abstruse statistical arguments. There is absolutely no evidence of fraud. We've been very careful about that. Besides, if they couldn't make it that day, there'll be another payday in, what, just under two years, isn't it? They can cash their checks then."

Most people agree with the experts. But not everyone.

Some fringe critics are even calling for a total rework of the banking system, to more resemble the nations electoral process where detailed paper records are kept of every vote and there is an elaborate system of checks and balances. A spokesperson for Piebald Industries, which makes both voting machines and ATMs calls such demands unreasonable.

In an interview with Newsweak magazine, Piebald spokesperson Ryan O'Dear was quoted as saying "A paper trail for every deposit and withdrawal? Receipts? Automatic and transparent auditing? I don't think the people demanding such things realize how much it would all cost," he said. "And given the insignificance of most ATM transactions, it hardly seems worth it. After all, it's only money. It's not like we're talking about control of the free world or anything here."

User Journal

Journal: Technocrat.net is back 13

Journal by Bruce Perens
Some of you may remember my technology policy / technology news site Technocrat.net. The site is reactivated. It's intended to be a more mature, and hopefully more relevant, forum than Slashdot. No ACs, a special focus on technology policy and high technology outside of the conventional corporate model, but conventional tech news as well.

I'd really appreciate it if you'd create a login on the site and submit articles. Especially original work, which hasn't always been well recieved on Slashdot - they seem to prefer linking to other people's coverage. RDF and RSS are available at http://technocrat.net/rdf and http://technocrat.net/rss, so you can keep track of articles from elsewhere.

Bruce

User Journal

Journal: Have you passed through the nerd filter? 4

Journal by Bruce Perens
There is a "nerd filter" that people like me tend to pass through without realizing. On the other side of this filter, we are very likely to meet people we know, and in general people like us.

My most recent episode was at the 9000 foot visitor station on Mauna Kea. The folks there said that I shouldn't attempt to drive up to the telescopes without a 4-wheel-drive vehicle. So, I went in the parking lot and accosted occupants of the first 4-wheel-drive vehicle that came by. The driver of said vehicle had seen me lecture in San Francisco. I got my ride.

Just by standing at that 9000 foot visitor station, I'd passed through the nerd filter.

Then, a few weeks ago, I happened to come upon a local radio club's ham radio field day operation while hiking in the woods with my wife. An co-worker from 10 years ago walked up. It turned out he'd just gotten his ham license.

This stuff happens all of the time. Of course it helps that I am somewhat recognizable in tech circles, so people who know of me tend to walk up, but on the other hand I am not that well known.

What are your experiences beyond the nerd filter?

Bruce

We will have solar energy as soon as the utility companies solve one technical problem -- how to run a sunbeam through a meter.

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