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Facts obliterated by disbelief

Stealing elections the Rove way is painless at first. Like leprosy. Then whole parts of our democracy start falling off.

The painlessness isn’t an essential element. It is THE essential element.

After the 2004 election, evidence surfaced that there was less than one chance in billions that Bush had actually won the vote. (Summary of data and links in my previous post Election 2004: Blinded by disbelief.) Statistics like that appear in science when you’re studying the law of gravity. There’s no doubt that they’re pointing to a real effect.

And yet what was people’s reaction? “Well, I don’t see how it could have been done. Therefore it wasn’t done.”

It’s worth remembering that we don’t actually know how gravity works either. That doesn’t stop it from doing its thing.

Now it turns out that the evidence of vote-rigging pointed to real vote-rigging.

The Department of Justice is now the focus of investigations, and it turns out they did everything they could. They did their best to shut down voter registration at welfare offices. About a million fewer people registered than had in the same time frame in the past. They obstructed minority voting, and struck voters from rolls in Democratic districts. That meant several hundred thousand fewer Democratic voters. And then, of course, there were the politically appointed US Attorneys General, bringing serendipitous corruption charges against Democratic candidates. The beauty of charges is that the election is long gone by the time the facts come out, and by then nobody cares. And so it went. A few hundred thousand here, a few million there, and pretty soon you’re talking about real results.

(Reporting on the issues above from Josh Marshall’s TalkingPointsMemo — search on “voter fraud,” or for instance Kiel’s article on the DOJ and the Voting Rights Act — and from Greg Gordon’s McClatchy Newspapers report on the vote “fraud” campaign.)

It turns out that this Administration briefed many government departments on how to help Republicans in close elections. (For instance, Kiel reports on the General Services Administration, which hands out government contracts.) People with that level of disrespect for the Constitution aren’t going to get squeamish when it’s time to use government departments to actually rig elections. Nor is there any reason why they should stop at the national level. In the interest of not hitting any nerves, the corruption should be carried out at the lowest level possible. Nobody at all is going to care what some third level functionary in somebody else’s town was doing.

Meanwhile, ballot forms weren’t available, voting booths didn’t get trucked over to the right side of town, forms were printed incorrectly, there were hours-long waits for some voters. There were “isolated” computer glitches, such as 4528 votes for Bush in 2004 in a precinct of Ohio where 638 were registered. Votes for Democrats miraculously turned into votes for Republicans. Now, missing emails and server irregularities are suggesting centrally directed fraud in Ohio in 2004.

At the time, there were no headline-grabbing visuals. They were all minor messes. It was supposed to be nobody’s fault, and it was all very boring. It meant more thousands and millions of votes lost to Democrats because, unlike real errors, almost all of them favored Bush. The chance that real errors could cluster this way, across the whole country, is one in billions. As one expert put it, the disparities were “completely nonrandom.”

I wonder if the people who “couldn’t see” how the election could be rigged are having less trouble now. Or is their denial acquiring that tinge of desperation otherwise seen in flat-earthers?

I wonder if enough US citizens will get over the terrible embarrassment of being shown up as a tinpot dictatorship. And if they’ll pull themselves together, face the facts, all the facts, and make the criminals answer for their crimes.

Technorati tags: election, voter, fraud, politics

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Death of DRM: You heard it here first

Well, not first, exactly, but long before The Economist.

Belatedly, music executives have come to realise that DRM simply doesn’t work. It is supposed to stop unauthorised copying, but no copy-protection system has yet been devised that cannot be easily defeated. All it does is make life difficult for paying customers, while having little or no effect on clandestine copying plants that churn out pirate copies.

While most of today’s DRM schemes that come embedded on CDs and DVDs are likely to disappear over the next year or two, the need to protect copyrighted music and video will remain. Fortunately, there are better ways of doing this than treating customers as if they were criminals.

[Schemes whose] purpose is simply to collect royalties…. By being reactive rather than pre-emptive, normal law-abiding consumers are then left in peace to enjoy their music and video collections in any way they choose. Why couldn’t we have thought of that in the beginning?

Greed, perhaps? Nah. Couldn’t be.

Then again, the idea has been obvious to me for years. Possibly, I’m a genius whom The Economist should hire. More likely, it’s a bloody obvious idea.


Technorati tags: copyright, copyleft, creative commons, DRM, Economist.
Also noted on Boingboing

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Free speech, blogging, and trolls

It is astonishing to me that people of good will find anything to argue about in the statement that hate speech is not on.


Kathy Sierra received death threats and had her address published all over the net. In what sense, exactly, is free speech served by protecting that behavior? There’s Sierra’s speech, which has been shouted down, and a bunch of useless yapping that did the shouting. The argument seems to be about how limits on really bad yapping can avoid infringing on yapping.

Even that last issue is not difficult. There is no valid point of view that requires the expression of personal threats against other people. It’s that simple. It’s also illegal. It’s called hate speech. It’s not free for a very good reason. It needs to be enforced, by the police and by all of us on our individual blogs. It needs to be enforced when it’s misogynist just as much as it does when racist, anti-semitic, or homobigoted. Sometimes it seems that these days the point is debatable only when misogyny is in question.

So, let’s make a start, here in blogland, by rejecting all forms of threats against people. Yes, that includes completely harmless crude threats hurled between commenters in the livelier blogs. Throw them out. I don’t know anyone who would miss them, except the commenters themselves, and they’ll just have to deal with it like men, even if they are highschoolers (whatever their gender). Shutting them up is the price of hearing voices with something to say, voices like Sierra’s.

Would that rule get rid of offensiveness on the web? No, not by a long shot. Bigotry isn’t excluded by that rule. Only bigotry directed specifically at individuals. You have to start somewhere.

And you have to stop somewhere. I’m not sure where, after hate speech is excluded, the line should be drawn. Bigotry expressed as an incitement to riot is already illegal, and should be. But I don’t see how one could make the expression of just plain honest bigotry, so to speak, illegal without at the same time destroying free speech itself.

The test has to be whether harm is threatened against specific people. If not, just turn it off and go pay attention to something else if you’re offended by the sentiments expressed. (Violent porn is an interesting hybrid area here. I would argue that since it does advocate harm against specific people, for entertainment no less, it falls squarely into the hate speech category.)

It gets murkier when one gets deeper into O’Reilly’s and Scoble’s Blogger Code of Conduct. (Intelligently, the Code is up for comment as of this writing, so make suggestions for improvement there.) They would like to excise “misrepresentation.” I agree. I’d like to excise it too. /*Falls into beautiful dream: no more Rush Limbaugh, no more Malkin, no more Coulter, no more Shrub . . . wakes up with a shock.*/ Anyway, yes, it would be nice. No, there is no way to do that short of including critical thinking in everyone’s education and making sure that everyone is educated.

O’Reilly & Co. are confusing the desirable with the essential, possibly because the worst aspects of this aren’t their problem. Women are exposed to 25 times the hate speech online that men are. Twenty five times. 2500% more. Yet, when it comes time to formulate a code of conduct, the names I see on the masthead are “Tim,” “Richard,” “David,” and so on. They adopted the outlines of the code from BlogHer, but then for some reason took the ball and ran with it. Possibly, it would have been easier to keep the priorities organized and to identify the worst abuses if the people who suffer the majority of them had been at the center of the project.

Whenever any limits are proposed on free speech, the shout against censorship goes up. The idea is that any censorship will lead to the end of free speech. This is obvious nonsense, as a simple thought experiment can show. If you’re in a room full of people, all shouting as loud as they can, does anyone have the freedom to speak?

Freedom of speech necessarily includes the freedom to be heard. (I’ve carried on about this before.) That’s why apartheid-era South Africa’s banning laws were a suppression of free speech. Talking to yourself in a room by yourself is meaningless. But an excess of noise works just as well as isolation to drown a message. The great danger to free speech now is not silence. The danger is that by not censoring noise, we’re going to lose the signal that freedom of speech was intended to preserve.

Deleting and silencing threats against people is not censorship. It is the essential volume knob that allows free speech to be heard.

Technorati tags: free speech, Code of Conduct, BlogHer, blogging, hate speech, trolls, censorship

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Jesus General has another one of his brilliant posts, all about the current Administration’s “promotion of ‘manly virtues,’ almost all of which are related to a willingness to engage in violence and humiliation towards others.”

Funny. That had never occurred to me as a definition of manliness, but now that JG mentions it, I have to agree that’s indeed the definition oozing out of the White House.

Biologically speaking (that’s what you come to this blog for, right?) male violence has a role. Pregnancy and nursing, necessarily done entirely by females, raise the caloric and nutritional requirements of a 120 lb woman right up to that of a very active 180 lb man. If that woman also expended energy fighting and healing from wounds, there’d be no way she could survive unless she got all her meals at a nutrition-enhanced Macdonalds. For most of human history, there have been no Macdonalds.

So, having the men be first in line to deal with the world’s violence, in order to protect the group and the group’s children has enormous survival value. That’s why every human group that’s survived long enough to leave a record does it that way. From the group’s perspective, the manly virtues are protectiveness and self-sacrifice. (This isn’t to say that females don’t fight. They do when the threat is close enough. It’s just that they don’t generally put themselves first in line to take casualties.)

Protectiveness and self-sacrifice are a bit different from violence and humiliation. The opposite, in fact. And generalized male violence that includes the group has the opposite of survival value. It’s sociopathic.

I’m not sure why I’m surprised that a bunch of sociopathic chickenhawk kleptocrats would have as little understanding of manliness as they do of sex. These are, after all, cockroaches in suits. I just keep getting fooled by those humanoid outfits they wear.

Technorati tags: current affairs, chickenhawks, manliness, politics

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