Posted at 11:54:00 PM. |
to this post.
Tuesday, September 26
Let's See Some ID, Pal
I've been following the recent push, by state and federal legislatures, for the mandatory presentation of photo ID in order to vote with both political and personal curiosity (since, as an election supervisor, changes to the voting process will affect me directly). My strong support for the suffrage process should come as no surprise (I volunteer for insane, high-stress hours in order to make sure people can vote, after all), and even beyond the right to vote it's the spirit of voting, and the democratic principles of equality that draw no distinctions based on affluence or education or race or gender or beliefs, that I admire. The voting booth doesn't care about your annual income, your education, your long term goals, your disabilities, your orientation or your skin color, and in that regard has far fewer prejudices than any human. It is for these reasons that I take the voting process, and more particularly any attempt to pluck it away from its rightful owners, very seriously.
The controversy over photo ID began in a handful of states and has progressed to the U.S. Congress, where, on party line votes, bills to require photo ID by 2008 and official voting identification by 2010 have passed. Several of the state versions, however, have already been invalidated or put on hold by courts, and it seems likely a similar challenge will be mounted against the federal version. All parties involved seem remarkably shortsighted on this issue, carrying with them a distinctly unpalatable partisan flavor.
The Republicans have characterized their push on this issue as a way to crack down on voting by illegal immigrants, with grandiose speeches about protecting the validity of each individual's vote and the "common sense" aspects of needing photo ID for everything from flying on a plane to renting videos (neither of which, of course, are enshrined in the Constitution). In this regard, they've formulated a solution for a problem that, frankly, doesn't (yet) seem to exist. I could find no numbers relating to voter fraud by illegal immigrants, beyond isolated single elections, despite a half-hour of Googling. If anything, the apocryphal accounts (one in particular from a Utah investigation) show thousands and tens of thousands of illegal immigrants applying for driver's licenses and only scant dozens or hundreds registering to vote (even when registering is as easy as checking a box on the license form), and even fewer (very small percentages) actually voting. I'm taking these with a grain of salt, given that I could find no hard statistics either way, but I find some wisdom in the concept that the average legal voter can't be bothered to vote, and illegal immigrants have no real incentive in risking discovery by trying to participate in a government process. I don't put it past Democratic activists to try to mobilize illegal immigrants in especially contested races (and frown at them with as much disapproval as is reserved for their Republican counterparts), but as of yet massive nationwide voter fraud requiring photo IDs hasn't been documented. Quite frankly, there are easier ways to commit voter fraud (serious flaws in electronic voting seem a far easier-to-exploit option than recruiting illegal immigrants).
This isn't to say photo IDs aren't a good idea, and on this I take the Democrats to task again. Even if the actual threat hasn't manifested, the potential for voter fraud is real and should be examined. I am not opposed to photo IDs . . . if done correctly, on a reasonable timetable, with no disenfranchisement. On this point, however, it is the Republicans who fail. Their solutions have been simply to require photo IDs, leading to multiple court invalidations on the grounds that photo IDs are not free, in terms of both money and time, and thus requiring them to vote constitutes a form of a poll tax, something prohibited by the U.S. Constitution (and expanded by the Supreme Court to cover the payment of any fee as a requirement to voting - "Voter qualifications have no relation to wealth."). In other words, the courts have found that the Constitutional right of a citizen to vote cannot be impeded by requiring the citizen to spend money in order to qualify to vote. This seems inconsequential to many people, as a photo ID can be had for $20 or less from the Department of Motor Vehicles. The Supreme Court's interpretation of the 24th and 14th Amendments, however, is clear that any required fee will not survive a legal challenge.
The simple solution, then, seems to be to make the IDs free. At this point we enter a land of shades of grey. Opponents of the plans (including me) point out that even excluding monetary costs, requiring IDs creates barriers; the hassle of finding the proper documentation (I have no idea where my birth certificate is - I hope my mom has it), the hassle of going to the DMV (not a trivial matter when we're talking about people who don't already have driver's licenses), the hassle of spending hours going through the process and the hassle of doing it all over if the DMV rejects the application. These are not openly covered by the Constitution or the Supreme Court's rulings, but I would suggest that they violate the spirit of voting, if not the law itself, as they present a barrier that isn't applied equally, a barrier that falls to the citizen to overcome.
The major political conflict arises from the fact that the groups most likely to be affected by these barriers are also groups who predominately vote Democratic: minorities, legal immigrants, the poor and the elderly. Thus, it favors Republican interests to require photo IDs, as even a few thousand people who are discouraged by the barriers can sway an election. The innocent protestations of Republican leaders that their intent is pure rings hollow when it is pointed out that they are not requiring similar measures to protect voting by mail (a far easier target for voting fraud), a process that does not favor either party. Less-than-honorable tactics for influencing elections are by no means limited to Republicans, but neither can it be said that Republicans are shining examples of protecting voting rights for all people.
The solution to this seems painfully obvious, if the Republicans are serious about their claimed motivations (to protect the voting process and not simply hinder their Democratic rivals), especially given the low-priority of the threat: a nationwide program to ensure equal registration and availability to all citizens, a deferment of the photo ID requirement until such a program is satisfactorily completed and provisions for similar ID requirements for voting by mail. By all means, set a deadline, but make sure individual citizens are not disenfranchised along the way.
I write this with a confidence in your enthusiastic embrace of your imminent wedding, and hope that my suggestions find purchase within your planning. Although I know that recent weddings in the vicinity of our familial homestead have included such colorful curiosities as the bride arriving to the wedding on a duck boat* and the happily wedded couple leaving the proceedings on a tractor*, I do hope that you proceed with a certain degree of restraint and perhaps avoid certain choices that may be a source of mordant, if affectionate, ridicule in future reviews of our mother's photo albums.
------------------------- *Yes, these really happened in my hometown.
Posted at 12:56:00 PM. |
to this post.
Sunday, September 24
One of the major cell phone companies (I don't remember which one because they failed to link their commercial to their product) ran a radio ad earlier this year in which a woman received an accidental phone call from her friend's phone, which dialed automatically from inside a purse when it was jostled. In an amusing case of ostension, I found out my phone will do the same thing. The phone rang at Scott and Lisa's house and Lane answered it. My name was on the caller ID. Normally this wouldn't be unusual, except that I was sitting at their computer (trying to remove the bloody WinFixer virus) and my phone was in my camera bag. After initial thoughts of quantum versions of myself calling from a different reality, I finally figured out that I accidentally turned on my Bluetooth headset when I dropped it in a side pocket (it became wedged between the battery charger and the spare batteries, which depressed the "on" button), and then through the bouncing of random children it managed to redial the last number I'd called. Whoops.
Posted at 11:42:00 PM. |
to this post.
Thursday, September 21
I heard an interview today on NPR with the originators of PARK(ing) Day, a hybrid interactive art/environmental statement project. A year ago, the people involved, working under the theory that a parking space is a temporary lease used for the storage of a personal vehicle and that lease can be used for other purposes, put money in a parking meter in San Francisco and then rolled out Astroturf and added a potted tree and a park bench over the space. Then they stood back to see what happened. This year, with better backing and an official campaign, they've expanded it into a contest (similar to Omaha's J. Doe project), with a walking tour of the various "park versions." All of this is done to bring attention to urban sprawl and the shortage of "green space" in modern cities. Visitors are encouraged to feed the meter if they want to keep the "park" open longer, which allows for commentary on the public's opinion of the importance of green space compared to its cost.
Reach into my head, pull out a handful of thoughts, stir fry lightly with olive oil and sun-dried tomatoes and serve and this is what you get:
My family has expressed a certain degree of envy over a $.25 discrepancy in gas prices in our separate locales. I suggested they drive here to refuel, but for some reason they interpreted that as jest.
I had my first videoconference on Tuesday, a spectacle that involved a great many people discussing matters that did not concern me as I waited patiently to give a 4-minute summary of the work I've been doing on a special project. The expected heart palpitations and other symptoms of glossophobia were mitigated, to some degree, with my examination of the technological aspects; I found myself greatly amused by the participants in another office who sat just far enough apart and close enough to the camera that only roughly one third of each of them could be seen, on opposite sides of the screen, a gaffe politely ignored by all other participants.
I listened to NPR's Monday discussion on the "plight of singlehood" with a degree of personal interest. While much of it revolves around personal opinion and thus is unlikely to be resolved within any reasonable amount of time, there were some interesting facts, perhaps the most interesting being that unmarried adults now head a majority of America's households. Most of the discussion involved the advantages written into state and federal law for married couples (tax breaks, healthcare decisions, participation in joint plans and the like) and whether those now constitute an unfair advantage singling out a minority. Time was given to the discussion of the modern state of marriage compared to marriage in the past, with proponents of the "singles are getting screwed" philosophy making the point that many of the traditional expectations of marriage (the things that benefited society and thus justified special legal encouragement and treatment) are no longer "standard" parts of marriage (between prenuptial agreements, no-fault divorces, the trend toward second, third and even fourth marriages and the so-called "marriages of convenience") and thus advantages are being conferred to people who have not "earned" them, so to speak, while being denied to people who raise the same families, pay the same taxes and buy the same houses but did not go through the legal ceremony. Whether one accepts this as a valid topic of conversation or dismisses it as whining is something I leave to the audience.
I'm having daydreams of taking a week off next summer and refinishing the floors of my house by myself (and thus saving what would probably amount to about $3,000). We'll see if it materializes, and if so how much of a disaster it is. On a positive note, I'm pretty sure the original wood floor exists under my kitchen linoleum and is in pretty good shape; it would be nice to have polished wood floors in my kitchen. On a negative note, the project would involve moving *all* of my furniture into my basement and putting the fridge and range on the back porch for at least four days; what a logistical nightmare. We'll see how many of my friends suddenly "vanish" in the weeks leading up to such an operation . . . ;)
I'm beginning to get the impression that sitting in a bookstore for two hours reading Maureen Dowd is not the best way to pick up women.
Another study suggests green tea is good for you. The subjects of the study, however, drank *5* cups a day over seven years. I drink between two and four cups a day and I'm far above the average for Americans, so I'm pretty sure the whole "five cups a day" benchmark isn't going to happen. Most people will wait for the pill form.
Posted at 10:30:00 PM. |
to this post.
Monday, September 18
Seeds of Discord
Closely following the demotion of Pluto to non-planet status (or "dwarf planet" status, if you prefer), the object once nicknamed "Xena" now has an official name. Behold, Eris, the personification of strife! As has been repeatedly noted, it seems appropriate to name the object that caused so much disagreement on planetary status after a goddess with the same characteristics. (Personally, I thought they'd go with Persephone, but I was unaware there's already an asteroid with that name.)
Posted at 10:43:00 PM. |
to this post.
Sunday, September 17
Cute as a Button
While the origin of the phrase in the title has apparently been lost to time, I'm going to use it anyway. I also have some relatively large videos of the twins walking which will probably be of little interest to those who haven't actually met them.
Posted at 11:29:00 PM. |
to this post.
Saturday, September 16
In the Name of Art
I took these during the impressive storm tonight. There were good conditions for it: lightning and strong winds but no real rain (cameras and rain don't really get along so well). Unfortunately, all the lightning was above the clouds (no "bolts" to be seen), so instead I ended up walking down to the Heartland of America park, where, after taking the majority of the 113 (no joke) photos, I found myself completely drenched. As in "throw a five-gallon bucket of water at me" drenched. The main fountain shoots water in the air high enough that if it's breezy you can feel the mist blocks away, and the wind tonight was blowing hard enough to send the spray almost horizontally across the lake. I picked a spot upwind to take the skyline photos; then the bloody wind changed. When it was done 15 seconds later, my hair and the front of my clothes were completely soaked and I had to stop and dry off my glasses so I could see. The only saving note is the fact I'd just put the camera away, so it came away unscathed. I imagine it was quite comical in a sit-com sort of way. I laughed.
I have a confession. As an experiment, I intentionally didn't sign the back of my debit card when I got my latest one. I've had it for almost a year now. I use my debit card, on average, three times a week, and granted the majority of those never involve the card leaving my hand (since most places allow you to swipe the card yourself and enter your PIN number), but I always hand it over anytime I eat at a restaurant or buy something where there isn't a card reader. Despite this, I have never had my card rejected (even with the notice on the back in big bold letters to the effect that it's not valid if it's not signed). No place but The Afternoon at Westroads has ever asked for my ID when they see it's not signed (I exhibit a sort of peculiar euphoria when I'm asked for my ID and I make a point of thanking the clerk). Normally they don't even look at the card, content as they are in some sort of numb routine. At this point I'm used to it.
Until . . .
On my trip to my parents last week, I turned over my card at a gas station and clearly saw the woman turn the card over and look at the back. She even paused for a moment, so it wasn't some quick glance. Great! I thought. She saw it's not signed. I was preparing my "thank you" speech for when she asked for my ID or a different card. Then I watched in dumbfounded shock as she turned it back over, handed it to me and went back to chatting with her friend. This wasn't even carelessness, but rather direct apathy. She knew the card wasn't valid but couldn't be bothered to do anything about it. Bah!
I should start keeping a tally of the number of times my invalid card should be caught. Or maybe I don't want to know.
The humor in this possibly may be obscure, but upon encountering it I actually laughed out loud (not the fake "*lol*" that permeates online chat, even when the person typing it has an expressionless face, but real, verbal chuckling that prompted a furtive glance out my office door to see if I was, by chance, being frowned at by disapproving coworkers). I can picture a conversation of this sort (with a suitable substitute for the Sony topic) occurring between me and any of a number of my family members, illuminating in stark words a difference in humor styles. I say this not in criticism, but in observation; I imagine I am uniquely suited in my family to use the word "acquiesce" in any form of joking, antagonistic or otherwise.
I recently saw a promo for "Battlestar Galactica" that used a Nickelback song as the cover music. I wouldn't blink (or whatever the hearing equivalent is) twice if I encountered it in a commercial for "ER" or any of the other assorted drama shows whose names I don't recall, but the incongruity in a promo for a show that takes place somewhere else in the galaxy made me laugh.
Of course, I also noted that SciFi is now showing professional wrestling, too. What the hell? It's "science fiction," not just "fiction" . . .
Posted at 11:35:00 AM. |
to this post.
Monday, September 11
The World in Pictures
A few of the nonfamily photos from my trip. Haley has expressed a preference (in something approaching threatening language) that her volleyball pictures not appear in my Flickr account. Less artistic ones to come later.
I've noted before, to the accompanying chorus of others with the same experience, that the buffet of radio stations in much of the midwest is somewhat unbalanced (heavy on country and religious programming and devoid of much else). I can usually manage to listen to about an hour of religious programming just to see if there's anything interesting in the content (and often there is), but almost inevitably I have to plug in the iPod when the program wanders from peace and goodwill (things I admire about Christianity) into judgment (something I find slightly less palatable).
Yesterday I listened to about 45 minutes of a show on "how to debate with a Muslim," which was at least politically timely, and some of the show was interesting (a comparison of some of the differences between the religions, etc.). Then they lost me. Upon returning from a break the topic abruptly shifted to how to convince a Muslim that Islam is wrong; the show's recommended method is to note that even though Islam recognizes Jesus as a religious and divine figure, it does not believe that Jesus was crucified, and therefore all one must do is show the scriptural evidence that Jesus was in fact crucified and voila, one converted Muslim.
The two hosts also repeatedly mentioned the "archeological evidence" for the Crucifixion but didn't say what it was (I'd be interested in hearing it). In any case, I'm pretty sure their method is going to have somewhere around a 0% success rate. It's one of the hazards of trying to change a faith using a different faith, evidenced by the fact that I can't think of a single one of my Christian family or friends who would suddenly convert to Islam based on one conversation about the Koran; these beliefs go much deeper than that, leaving us with no "magic solutions" to the problems of global religious conflict.
The other thing that caught my attention was the hosts' joking attitude about how the Koran was not only wrong but also bad while the Bible was obviously divine, emphasized by one of the host's continuous chuckles regarding one of his Muslim friends who, he said, really shouldn't be his friend because the Koran instructs its followers not to befriend nonbelievers, despite the Bible's numerous instructions to the same effect (1, 2, 3, 4). I found it hard to give them credibility when they insisted that the Koran was a flawed work full of intolerance while the Bible was a divine work that contained no contradictions or problematic teachings. There are good things in the Bible; much of Jesus's teachings are humanistic in nature (feed the hungry, heal the sick, love your enemy, etc.). There are also good things in the Koran ("Be kind to parents, relatives, orphans, the needy, neighbors, and travelers."; "Value justice, for both poor and rich, even when it adversely affects you or your family's interests."; etc.). It's just a trick of picking out the good stuff and discarding the rest.
Addendum: I remembered today one other point of their broadcast that struck me (it's difficult to write things down while driving . . .). The hosts suggested that the Koran was not inspired by the Archangel Gabriel (as the Koran holds) but rather by Lucifer who disguised himself in order to lead people away from Christianity. This is a particularly dangerous claim and one Christians should be wary of making, because, whether true or false, it opens a very large door to other, similar claims (for example, that Jesus never existed and it was Lucifer who disguised himself and faked the Crucifixion in order to lead people away from Judaism . . .).
Before the impending descent into madness, I present, on a silver platter or the electronic equivalent thereof, a brief glimpse into the warm cocoon of music spun in recent weeks in the corner of my bedroom (this is kind of like crack to Tim, so he should be a happy little addict today).
Panic! at the Disco and The Raconteurs have been playing on the radio lately. They're catchy enough for one song download off iTunes. I'm not sure I actually like the Hinder song yet. The Gossip was a free download that was actually really good (I'd recommend it). I bought Nina Gordon's entire new album on a whim; it's good, although mostly as background music. I can't actually think of the words to any of the songs at the moment, but I can hum along once the song starts. Leigh Nash is the lead singer of Sixpence None the Richer, so you've probably heard her voice; the solo song is pretty good. I found some live versions of Imogen and James Blunt that are incredible (that probably explains why the Imogen songs have much higher play counts). I also found some live KT Tunstall songs which are good, but very slow and moody (not something I should be listening to lately). The second Evanescence song is from their unreleased new album and you may have heard it on the radio; the other I found buried in their iTunes catalog and it's fabulous (although at some point all Evanescence songs tend to sound alike). The surprise stand-out here is Roisin Murphy. I bought the song on yet another whim and at first I didn't like; it's sort of an odd big band/techno combination (timpanis and synthesizers) and is very percussive. After I listened to it a couple of times, though, it almost became addictive (other than the highly discordant end that could have been cut). If you're looking for something unusual, check it out.
Posted at 11:22:00 PM. |
to this post.
Monday, September 4
Lane and I visited the Gene Leahy Mall today so I could show her the freshwater jellyfish while they were still out (I have no idea how much longer that will be). We could only find them in one of the four places I spotted them last time, so they may be ending their cycle, or they may be dying off for other reasons. We came with foresight this time, armed with glass jars so we could (temporarily) capture a few for better photographs (the full-sized photos have pretty good detail) before returning them to the pond. In order to demonstrate their decidedly non-static nature (to dispel certain beliefs that they're not real . . .), I took a short video, as well.
Posted at 11:44:00 PM. |
to this post.
Something fell on my nose today while I was in traffic. I discovered, after I brushed at it and opened my hand, that it was a small spider (which I would have let go if it hadn't jumped from my hand and vanished somewhere). It makes me wonder how many car accidents are caused by arachnid intervention (far fewer, I imagine, than even the non-existent instances of nocturnal spider ingestion).