Christopher Pratt (cpratt) wrote,
Christopher Pratt
cpratt

Why you'll never hear me talking politics

OK, I lied. I'll be talking politics for today: one blog entry only. [Generally speaking, I feel this is about the most boring thing I could write about, so I don't.]

I'm a socialist at heart. I believe in things like universal access to health care, arts subsidies, public transportation, military use only when justified [do we absoutely need to? will it benefit anyone?], state run education, and paying taxes for all of that stuff. [I have no problem with high income tax rates as long as you're actually getting something for your money; I'd rather live in a more socially just place than have more money to fritter away on stuff I don't really need, like wine.] As you can probably guess, I've never voted for a Republican - I just can't stand the idea (for example) of creating massive entitlements like Medicare expansion AND going to war when there was absolutely no clear reason to do so AND then lowering taxes - especially for the rich - thereby guaranteeing huge amounts of debt that will take forever to pay off.

However, whenever the Democrats lose an election, my first thought is "we need to do better than this." Kerry's campaign was crappy. He didn't speak well in public, he was a total wimp when the Swift Boat Veterans BS first surfaced - you get the picture. His campaign wasn't about whether or not he was going to be a good President; it was largely about "whoa, Bush sucks." Which is true, yes, but you need to do better than that. Howard Dean came close, but fucked up. Grrrr.

Of course, I'm in the minority with that view. I've always been utterly annoyed by Rush Limbaugh's acolytes, and until the advent of Air America, I haven't really been able to come up with a quick way of describing the left wing equivalent. Folks like Josh\uspinmeround, who are witty, clever, and mostly just really fun to be around, have a knack for irritating the hell out of me by going on lengthy diatribes against electronic voting machines, or by essentially saying that Americans are just so incredibly stupid that they wouldn't know the right person to vote for unless God Himself told them to. [Actually, that last bit seems entirely possible.] What's worse, though, is that my own mother is one of those people. It's true! I love her very much, and at the same time I dread her visits, because at some point that always involves my having to hear about the Republicans stole the entire election through massive voter fraud in Ohio, or [insert conspiracy theory here]. There's absolutely no way you can rationally argue with her, either, because she just knows in her heart of hearts that she's right. It's almost like dealing with fundamentalist Christians who "just know" that gay marriage will ruin the American family. Yeeesh.

...

Now, some more background for you. I work in software. I've worked in software for over a decade. And I'll tell you right now: with very few exceptions, computer programmers are not the smartest people in the world. There are some folks that are incredibly good at this line of work, and I've been fortunate to have worked with many of those [Clay/Chris/Jon at FileMaker; Pam/Chris/many others at Netscape; the client dev team here in MSN Mobile]. However, by and large, they're dolts. There's a reason most software ranges from slightly to horrendously buggy: it's hard to write, and it's even harder to write it well.

Therefore, when I started hearing all of these folks start going off about how Diebold stole recent elections because they're so incredibly clever they've figured out a way to deploy sophisticated e-voting machines en masse that are all sophisticated enough to reassign votes on the fly to the Republican party... I find that kind of incredible. Hell, those things barely work, you know? Most e-voting boxes are slapped together from off the shelf parts; take a copy of Windows CE, fart around in Visual Studio for a while, and presto: e-voting! Personally, I think it's extremely unlikely that a company like Diebold would have the time and - more importantly - the engineering skill to pull something like that off. They're just not that smart.

But... again, I'm in the minority with that viewpoint.

Now, another thing that irritates me in general is folks who use the flimsiest of excuses to start yapping about their own personal political agendas. Dan - I forget his last name; that's danthered - once read a post of Dan's in which he said "wow, there are mosquitoes in Redmond this weekend!" - and that set him off on a lengthy diatribe on how Microsoft software is buggy and horrible, and that Microsoft secretly reads everything you do remotely, or something. As pleasant as Dan can be in person, that kind of behavior just sets my teeth on edge. If I'm talking about the weather, I'm talking about the weather because I want to talk about the weather, not because I want to talk about North Korea's arms program. Similarly, last night Dan floated the possibility of us emigrating to Australia, in part because the political climate in the USA is frustrating as hell. So, Josh took that as an opportunity to voice criticism of my criticism of Josh's criticism of US politics. [I know, confusing: I once told Josh I couldn't read his blog anymore because I couldn't take reading all of that paranoid conspiracy theory stuff about Diebold voting machines et al that he's so fond of posting - hell, just look at his blog today! Scroll down to a post from July 12 and read about how his vote doesn't count thanks to Diebold, and how Air America is fantastic, etc. Like I said, I like the man fine, it's just that I can't stand reading that stuff.]

Fool that I am, I had to respond and restate my belief that Josh is a paranoid conspiracy freak. And, of course, my Mom responded that no, Josh is not a paranoid conspiracy freak. In fact, "it is also evident that Diebold and other strategies to suppress certain votes provided the helping hand needed to ensure the desired 2000 & 2004 election results. Had that not been the case, FL would have tipped the 2000 election to Gore and OH might have gone to Kerry in 2004. Each of those states was the 'electoral linchpin' of those elections - and Karl Rove et al were well aware of that."

Sigh. Call me crazy, but the 3 million plus votes in Bush's favor had absolutely nothing to do with the election results? Don't you think it's even a teensy bit possible that Americans just preferred Bush to Kerry? Surely the presence of anti-gay marriage initiatives on the ballot had something to do with it? It's hard to get people to vote, but easier if you tell them they need to lest homosexuals destroy Creation through rampant marriage.

Yes, I'm sure that the Republican Party, Bush, and Rove are so intelligent and omnipotent that they were able to successfully swing the 2000 election. They're just that smart! Never mind that the ballot in question had been in use for a long time and that its user design was horrible, period. For me, it's clear that the design sucked, and that no one would have noticed if the election hadn't been so close in the first place. It's just an amazingly shitty thing that happened - the fact that it happened in 2000 and hurt Gore is coincidental. What if there had been no Green Party candidate? What if the first name on the ballot weren't pegged to the incumbent governor's party? Remember Occam, folks: What's the simplest solution to what happened? Massive Republican conspiracy, or business as usual that no one noticed before because it never obviously affected the outcome of a previous election?

Similarly, from the minute Kerry lost the 2004 election, I started hearing all kinda of Diebold conspiracy talk again. It never came from reputable news media - just bloggers and/or "alternative weeklies." It never seemed to be backed up by hard statistics, or anything like that; it all boiled down to "You can't trust computers, plus Diebold's CEO gave money to the Republicans, plus computers are magic boxes that can reassign votes without you noticing it." Never mind that the Democratic Party itself had something very simple to say about allegations of fraud:

"The statistical study of precinct-level data does not suggest the occurrence of widespread fraud that systematically misallocated votes from Kerry to Bush."

In other words, statistically speaking, there is no evidence of widespread fraud, at least according to the Democratic Party. That seems pretty straightforward to me. Now, obviously we could all do a better job of running elections: there were many other problems noted in the Democrats' study, but it's not as simple as "get rid of Diebold machines and we would have won the election."

Of course, Mom still believes that our system has been corrupted, and easily so. Josh probably does too, for all I know. And the weird thing is this: I didn't hear people talking like this before the advent of cheap Internet access, blogs, etc. Back in the 1980s, living under Reagan was pretty similar in a lot of respects to the way things are now. He was doing obviously criminal stuff [Iran-Contra, anyone?], spending like mad, lowering taxes, trying to legislate morality, all that odious crap. And once he left his second term, we went right ahead and elected more of the same, who treated us to more lameness. And then it finally all ended with Bill Clinton winning 42% of the vote and taking the presidency.

All during the 1980s and early 1990s, though, I never, not even once, heard anyone throw around allegations of voter fraud. Not once. It was frustrating as hell: people were dying of Aids, but Reagan couldn't bring himself to mention the word. It was blindingly obvious that we were involved in some seriously illegal, not to mention unethical, stuff in Central America, etc., but no one cared. They cared more about Murphy Brown getting pregnant, or black people coming to rape you who were let out of prison for the weekend. When Democrats lost an election, which felt like every single time for about twelve years, we were all mad that we'd been bamboozled AGAIN by dirty political tricks - just seeing footage of Dukakis in a tank or what's-his-face on that yacht STILL makes me mad.

So, what's changed? We're still losing important elections, but now we're blaming it all on actually stealing votes? Fradulent elections everywhere? Instead of grudgingly crediting the Republicans with sleazy yet effective election campaigns, we'd like to believe that somehow they're so powerful that they can actually directly manipulate the vote in any given election.

Me, I'm positing that this is the case because for the first time in history, Internet access is widely available, affordably priced, and computers nearly ubiqutous. One, we all use computers, but almost all of us really have absolutely no idea about what they are and what they can and cannot do. Because we don't understand them, we think that maybe it really is trivial for a company like Diebold to build a system that can easily and successfully rig an entire election. Two, because we all have access to the Internet, wacky conspiracy theories are easier than ever before to get. Time was you had to go to a nearly underground bookshop like that one in LA and buy a badly xeroxed pamphlet. Now, though, you just go to Buzzflash or a site of your choice et voila, you can find a theory that will dovetail nicely with your feeling of having been cheated out of that last election.

Of course, this works for all kinds of folks, not just Democrats. Sure that seeing a woman's ankle makes it OK for you to kill her? Sure that gays marrying will result in higher rates of sexual abuse of goats? Sure that chlorhexidine gluconate is a Jewish plot to cause gum disease? Don't worry! Someone, somewhere has already said exactly that! And if you can read it online, it's true!

...

So, I told my Mom I thought she was engaging in wish fulfillment fantasy when she said that both the 2000 and 2004 elections had been stolen by Republican conspiracies. As proof that our democratic system had been easily corrupted, she pointed me to a blog, which in turn linked to a Harper's article [not online] as well as an article by Matt Taibbi, published in the New York Press, an alternative newspaper.

Harper's I'd trust, maybe, but the article isn't online [it's in the current issue, and is apparently an article about how the US media didn't report on widespread fraud in the 2004 Presidential election. This seems like it makes sense given that even the Democratic Party dismissed the notion of there having been widespread fraud; sure, there were probably the usual sleazy tactics trying to prevent people from voting, plus the usual problems inherent with voting methodologies. But outright fraud? No, probably not.]

This Matt Taibbi guy, though... you've got to be kidding me. Do folks that link to this stuff even bother to read it critically? Here's a sample quote from his column, which he uses as proof that voter fraud happened in Ohio:

• In conservative, Bush-friendly Miami County, voter turnout was an Uzbekistan-esque 98.55 percent.

According to the State of Ohio, though, the figure for Miami County was 72.20%.

That 72.20% isn't statistically different from other counties in Ohio. Where do you think he got the 98.55 percent figure? Let's Google it... hm... Oh, wait, that was one precinct in Miami County, not the entire county. That precinct registered 520 votes for Bush and 127 for Kerry. Given that I don't know anything about that one precinct, or its historical turnout, I don't know if 98.55% is statistically improbable or not. Let's pretend - for sake of argument - that it is: What if only 70% of registered voters actually voted, and not the 98.55% reported by this one precinct? If all votes over the 70% mark were fradulent votes for Bush and Bush only, we're talking about a fradulent vote count of somewhere around 160 votes - hardly enough to make up for the 3+ million Bush lead overall, and again far from enough to make up for the 118,599 votes Kerry would have needed to have won Ohio.

Here's another one for you:

• In Franklin County, 4,258 votes were cast for Bush in a precinct where there were only 800 registered voters.

Again, Franklin County itself shows a different number for the Gahanna 1-B precinct: 365 votes for Bush, 260 for Kerry, 638 votes total. [The Columbus Dispatch reported on the glitch the day after the election, but the 4,258 number has lived on. Just Google for it.

I'm telling you, most of the time it seems like people just make shit up, and then people link to it, and then people believe it to be true. It's like those absurd "scientific" studies that "prove" that gay men usually die before they're 35 years old: utterly ridiculous, but ecosystems are created around "facts" like that, and people in those belief systems just don't ever question their veracity.

...

The way to win the 2008 election isn't to claim that really, we meant to elect Kerry in 2004, and that Bush was only elected due to massive fraud - the way is to get people to vote for the Democratic candidate. If all we ever say is "the vote was rigged! we were robbed!" - this seems to mean two different things: If you really did vote for Bush, then so what? Why should you care? It didn't affect you, and isn't this just another reason why you're Republican - you don't run around crying when you [appear to] lose? And if you voted for Kerry, well, why vote next time if it didn't really count last time? It's all rigged, it's impossible, we can't win, might as well just quit!

Voting is inexact - there will always be faults [and historically, the faults don't seem to favor one party over another - cf Tog's article on the butterfly ballot; Bob Dole lost quite a few ballots in 1996 for the same reason as Gore in 2000]. The only way to decisively win is to have a good, solid majority. Clinton took home 49% of the vote in 1996, and 43% of the vote in 1992. Gore did pretty damned good with 48.4% in 2000, and Kerry with 48.2% last year, but obviously we need to do better. All of the sneaky ways you can influence an election - and I'm guessing here, having not read the Harper's article - only work if things are already tight. If you could get more than 50% of Americans to vote for a Democratic candidate, you'd probably be able to outwit the Republicans and win an election already. Just look at Washington's election last year - Christine Gregoire [the Democratic candidate] won by some ridiculously small number of votes. It's pretty clear - at least to me - that her winning was strictly by chance. You never know when chads will get stuck, when ballots by mail will get lost, when someone somewhere will make a mistake counting, when some redneck cop will try to prevent a black voter from getting to the polls. The solution isn't to improve the election process [that's a moral imperative, yes, but...], but rather to GET MORE OVERALL VOTES the next time to make sure the Republicans don't get the governor's seat next time.

You see what I'm getting at here?
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