Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Dumber and Dumberest?

A friend just pointed me to this posting on BradBlog, which indicates that the e-voting folks at Diebold have truly no sense of how to secure a system. Not only do they use the same key for all their machines, and a common, file-cabinet key to boot, but now this:
Of course, they'll only sell such keys to "Diebold account holders" apparently --- or so they claim --- but that's hardly a problem. J. Alex Halderman, one of the folks who worked on the Princeton Hack and tried to keep the design of the key secret for obvious reasons, revealed Tuesday that a friend of his had found the photo of the key on Diebold's website and discovered that was all he needed to create a working copy!
Yes, really. Just by looking at a picture of the key, someone was able to use a grinder to make one that worked.

Makes you kinda long for the days of dangling chads, doesn't it?

P.S. Sorry for not posting much. Things are crazy at work and in Real Life, too.

Friday, January 19, 2007

How'd THIS make it into print?

Good heavens. Somehow, the San Francisco Chronicle managed to sneak a responsible op-ed piece calling for accountability from pundits and politicians (by David Sirota) into the paper today:
Pundits and news analysts are employed to expose this sort of nonsense so that our democratic discourse -- and the policy choices that come out of it -- are grounded in fact. But that has not happened. Instead, we have seen a furious stampede by the most prominent media figures to cover their own hides with either more lies, or more out-of-the mainstream bluster.
And furthermore:
How can we expect to change course in Iraq, if a president is given a pass to claim he has never stayed the course in the first place? How can we expect to hold lawmakers accountable if they are never questioned about their efforts to deliberately mislead us? How can we expect the media to be a watchdog if its leading analysts and news framers face no public sanctions when they disrespect the truth or give credence to fringe ideologies?
David's a good writer, and I enjoy some of his blogging and other writings. But this is hardly the sort of thing you ever find in print in a mainstream media outlet.

I guess it's good to live in/around San Francisco!

Monday, January 15, 2007

Digging into the Past

My wife and I went away over this three-day weekend, and one of the things I did was reread a book I read long, long ago. It's called "I'm Glad You Didn't Take It Personally," by Jim Bouton. It's a sequel to his best-seller, "Ball Four." Ball Four was a ground-breaking book when it was published in 1970: a first-person description of a baseball season written by a major-league baseball player who told it as he saw it, including telling a lot of stories that were not terribly flattering about baseball and its players, including some of the biggest stars in the game.

Today, this sort of thing is commonplace, and we're treated to stories of stars injecting each other with steroids in the restroom and such. But 35 years ago, this just wasn't done. Bouton was ripped by many in the business, and arguably driven from the game prematurely because of the reactions to his book.

A year or two later, he followed up with "I'm Glad..." (the title comes from a discussion Bouton had with the sportswriter, Dick Young). In addition to tying up some loose ends, describing what happened during the baseball season after Ball Four was published (his last season in professional baseball, other than a brief comeback several years later). Bouton also described
the reactions of players, management, and sportswriters to his book.

A couple of lines jumped out at me from his descriptions and analyses as being applicable to the current discussions that surround blogging and the traditional press. Here's one bit about writers with pre-written stories:
...a lot of bad things happen when a reporter sets out with a story already written in his head. He is in fact acting as a roadblock between the public and the truth. There's something vaguely sad and at the same time hackle-raising about Marty Martinez, the Astro utility man, coming over to me and saying, "I always said something nice when they asked me about the book, but they never put what I said in the newspapers."
Clearly, a lot of what ends up in print these days is the result of writers already knowing what they want to write, and doing "research" that is a matter of finding material to back them up, rather than doing the research first to find out what's true, then writing based on that. It's true in the "mainstream media," it's true in blogs, it's true in academia. I see it all over the place, and it's lazy, sloppy, misleading, and just wrong. I have somewhat less of a problem with people who at least expose their biases and acknowledge them, but if they won't also acknowledge differing viewpoints, they do a service to no one.

Bouton also quotes extensively from a review of Ball Four by David Halberstam in Harper's, who wrote less about the book itself than about the reaction from the entrenched media toward someone having the audacity to enter their turf:
The sportswriters are not judging the accuracy of the book, but Bouton's right to tell (that is, your right to read), which is, again, as American as apple pie or the White House press corps. A reporter covers an institution, becomes associated with it, protective of it, and, most important, the arbiter of what is right to tell. He knows what's good for you to hear, what should remain at the press-club bar. When someone goes beyond that, stakes out a new dimension of what is proper and significant, then it is not the ballplayers who yell the most, nor in Washington the public-information officers, but indeed the sportswriters or the Washington bureau chiefs, because having played the game, having been tamed, when someone outflanks them, they must of necessity attack his intentions, his accuracy. Thus Bouton has become a social leper to many sportswriters and thus Sy Hersh, when he broke the My Lai story, became a "peddler" to some of Washington's most famous journalists.
This is a story we hear constantly these days about bloggers. Those in the mainstream press lash out at bloggers for being uncivil or for not having their journalistic expertise. Fundamentally, they resent being scooped, upstaged, or proved wrong. But it's nothing new. When a Jim Bouton or a Hunter S. Thompson comes in as an outsider or an amateur and outperforms those who are supposed to do the job, the reaction is rarely (at least initially) to question whether the job has been done right all along, but rather to attack the interloper.

And I suppose it's important to point out that Sy Hersh continues to break the stories that the rest of the press either ignores or hushes up.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007


I just learned about an important event: this is National De-lurking Week!

This is not a problem here. The handful of you who actually read this little blog have been very kind with your feedback and comments. But if you're reading other blogs and haven't let the writers know, it would be a great idea to use this week to let them know you're out there and that you appreciate (or don't) what they do.

I'll get off the soapbox for a moment now.

California moving away from e-voting?

This seems like good news:

California's electronic voting era could be facing a very quick conclusion as one of the nation's most visible e-voting critics will be supervising the state's approval of voting machinery.

Lowell Finley, a Berkeley attorney who's been involved in suits against voting machine manufacturers, the California secretary of state, San Francisco and Alameda counties and the ongoing dispute over electronic voting in Florida, is taking over as deputy secretary of state.

I haven't had time to think this over, but my initial reaction is positive.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Electronic Voting Update

Just stumbled across this update in InfoWorld on electronic voting issues.

I thought this exchange was telling:

IDGNS: Some of those ideas don't sound like they'd get around the "black box" question with e-voting -- that people don't see what's going on in the machine.

Spafford: There's something that I think has been overlooked by a lot of people who work in this realm. The average voter does not have the technological sophistication to have confidence that the mechanism preserves their anonymity and their vote. Some of the methods that involve cryptography, for instance, while scientifically very sound, would be used by people who don't understand the mathematics behind it and are mistrustful of the idea that they would have to take someone's word that it works.

The method of having a paper record is a technology people can immediately grasp and understand. That's really important. We want not only to protect the vote, but we want people to feel comfortable that their vote matters.

Anything that we do to make the system more complex or difficult to understand disenfranchises some people.

That last paragraph from Dr. Spafford is incredibly important. There's no point in spiffing up voting with new technology if it makes people even think that their votes are devalued. Voting is power, and arguably the only power we have that really counts. We should be finding ways to make people feel empowered, not discouraged.

Electronic voting is still a solution in search of a problem, much like high-tech weapons systems searching for a conflict to resolve.

Sauces, Gooses, and Ganders

It never ceases to amaze me when politicians criticize others for doing exactly what they have done (from FireDogLake):
The image of Roy Blunt standing in front of a microphone with a straight face and faking some sort of phony outrage for the cameras about procedures that he, himself, had a hand in putting into writing in the Congress when Newt Gingrich got his oily hands on the power reins? Chutzpah doesn't even come close as a descriptor.
But chutzpah is the essence of politics, Christy! (Not of governance, mind you, just of politics.) When I worked in Congress, someone once described politics to me as the art of seizing the moral high ground, and mercilessly berating anyone who tries to come near. I suppose I would amend that today with a notation that the supposed moral high ground need not be either moral or high; you just spin it that way.

I am looking forward to what Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic gang can make of their latest opportunity. If they can push through even a portion of their "first 100 hours" scheme, it will be a major sea change in Washington. Heck, just passing any meaningful legislation that doesn't gut the Bill of Rights would be an improvement.