Wednesday, July 28, 2004

I Agree With the ACLU???

Say it ain’t so! Sadly, however, it is. The topic is Florida’s moronic law that forbids recounts in counties where electronic voting machines are used. What ignorant buffoon came up with that idea?

Before launching into a tirade about electronic voting… a quick disclaimer: I’m not an old fart technophobe! (OK, maybe an old fart, but hopefully the gray imparts some aura of wisdom). I manage the development group of the largest software development company in a city of one million people. In our niche market, we’re the leading software provider in the world. If I’m labeled a technophobe, it’s only because I have a more keen understanding than most of what can go wrong with hardware and software.

Relying on electronic voting machines with no hard-copy backup or a law that says you can’t use it even if you have it, is pure unadulterated political suicideperiod! I’ll take it even a step further. Electronics should be used strictly for vote gathering, with the result individually and immediately recorded on a hard medium (paper), verified by the voter before leaving the polling machine, erased from the electronic medium after the voter confirms the ballot and counted mechanically en masse after polls have closed.

Here’s why for each step:

1.) Vote Gathering. This should be the only step in which electronics play any part. The human to machine interface (GUI to you developers out there) of a properly designed touch screen is infinitely more intelligible to the ignorant masses than the human to machine interface of mechanical voting devices, which was the main reason precipitating the push for electronic voting (remember the Palm Beach ballot design debacle?). In addition, it is far easier and quicker to modify an electronic interface than a mechanical interface for the ever-changing needs of elections.

2.) Record the vote on paper. Computers (or any electronic storage medium) are far too fragile to rely on for storing votes for any length of time. The ideal should be to minimize the time a vote spends on electronic media. In practice, the shortest amount of time is from the vote selection to the recording of that vote on a more permanent media (paper). In addition to fragility, the enormous complexity of computers invites fraud. Any dufus can tell if a paper vote has been altered. It takes an expert to track down electronic fraud and chances are excellent the fraud will never be noticed in the first place. Finally, any voting machine that doesn’t generate a means for recount is in my mind (and should be by law) criminally negligent. Only politicians and lawyers could have possibly come up with this scheme to defraud the American voter.

3.) Voter verifies ballot. When I leave the voting machine, I want assurances that my vote was, or will be tallied. When I hit the Submit button on an electronic touch screen and my vote disappears into the black hole of the bit bucket, I have no assurance whatsoever that my vote was recorded correctly, or even recorded at all. With a paper ballot in my hand, I can walk to the ballot box, drop my ballot in and be relatively confident that my vote will be counted.

4.) Erased from the voting machine. Voting is private. A voting machine should give me the same comfort level as the sleeve over my ballot that someone else won’t review my vote.

5.) Count ballots mechanically. Optical scanning technology is at a sufficient state of maturity to count ballots. As is currently the case, handling of ballots by other than the voter’s hands should be kept to a bare minimum. In the case of close races, ballots can be recounted by hand.

I may be accused of educating the enemy, but consider the ease with which any electronic machine (including voting machines) can be disabled:

Simply slip a fully charged power supply grade capacitor in your pocket. It’s about the size of a cell phone. I’d highly recommend putting your car keys in your other pocket. Discharge the capacitor on any metallic surface of the machine, preferably the ports in the back. Zap!... You might want to use an appropriately sized resistor to minimize the noise of the discharge… or just sneeze loudly at the same time. Result: a practically guaranteed loss of data held within the memory of that machine.

If data is stored on any type of magnetic media (hard disks), hold on to your capacitor from above and add a wire wound metallic bar (a big nail will do) in your other pocket. Now, rather than discharging the capacitor into the machine (the entire case may be plastic), discharge it into your homemade electro-magnet… and wallah!… you have a bargain basement EMP attack. You’ll most likely scramble the disk’s brains and if your pulse is strong enough (doubtful though), you might scramble some electronics too.

Forget the semi-sophisticated approach… pick the thing up and slam it to the ground. You can stomp it once or twice for good measure too. There!... that’s a good five hundred evil republican votes down the drain. Then you limp out and apologize to the 85 year old poll worker that you tripped and fell on the voting machine. Hey… you’re a criminal… what’s a little white lie? If you’re a lawyer (which would make sense in this case), you can also sue for tripping on the improperly designed voting machine legs.

Of course, you’ll want to perform these acts late in the voting day so as many votes as possible are permanently lost. These examples represent highly unsophisticated attacks. The resources of a more determined enemy could be brought to bear in more sophisticated attacks such as defeating the software, or the electronic transmission of votes from precincts to headquarters, or in direct manipulation of vote counts. Don’t think it can happen? Download a few things via Kazaa and see what you think after that.

Forget criminal activity… what about a thunderstorm taking out an entire precinct late in the afternoon? It happened in my house… destroyed every piece of electronics in the entire abode. Can you imagine losing 10,000 votes in the blink of an eye? I can. How about the 110 year old blue haired snowbird from New Joisey that puts her car in drive instead of reverse and plows through the heart of the precinct destroying everything in her path? Yeah... I could see that happening!

Stability and complexity always exist in an inverse relationship. The increased complexity of electronic vote storage, transmission and tabulation only invites instability, whether that be from purposeful maliciousness or simple unplanned natural events. To add to that inherent instability by not providing a backup means of vote tabulation, or worse, to specifically deny it’s use, is simply unacceptable. When it comes to something as important as voting for our leaders, we need to employ a KISS approach. Unfortunately, the KISS philosophy doesn’t seem to be one of our government’s strong suits.

If this law is allowed to stand, old Algore only thought that votes went uncounted in 2000... because in the infamous words of BTO, "You ain't seen nothin' yet!"

Friday, July 23, 2004

First Analysis - 9/11 Commission Recommendations

The 9/11 Commission Report is out and at a minimum, the Executive Summary is a must read for every citizen of these United States. Despite controversy over partisanship with one of the members, I believe we have to take this as the best effort of our government to discern what happened on and leading up to 9/11, and most importantly, beginning on page 16, what to do about it.

I’m sure the recommendations will be fodder for a gazillion commentaries, debates, bickering on the hill and partisan wrangling. I myself plan to read them carefully and offer my own views to my legions of (OK, maybe five or so) faithful readers. My initial outlook is that the commission has made some very good recommendations.

I’ll start with by far the most important of the commission’s recommendations… which also happen to be the hardest to implement and which the failure on our part to implement will be most responsible for the future destruction of our country as we know it today. On page 18, we see the following recommendations:

Define the message and stand as an example of moral leadership in the world. To Muslim parents, terrorists like Bin Ladin have nothing to offer their children but visions of violence and death. America and its friends have the advantage—our vision can offer a better future.

Communicate and defend American ideals in the Islamic world, through much stronger public diplomacy to reach more people, including students and leaders outside of government. Our efforts here should be as strong as they were in combating closed societies during the Cold War.

In a nutshell, we should offer the world moral and idealistic leadership. We should export our American ideals to the Islamic world as we did to the communist world during the cold war. Excellent words… outstanding thoughts… wonderful intentions, but what morals and what ideals are we trying to export? Are they the same morals that we exported a mere 30 to 40 years ago to the communist Soviet Union?

Are we exporting our ideals and morality from a country…

Where the government and half of the population can’t decide if homosexuality is immoral or not?
Where the highest government judiciary not only allows, but demands that all manner of sexual perversion be explicitly available to our children in government run libraries?
Where our government run school system teaches sex education by offering flavored condoms to thirteen year olds to taste… even over the objections of parents?
Where the leader of the free world redefines sexual relations (and the word ‘is’) for an entire generation?
Where the very idea of God is systematically being purged from every aspect of the government?
Where gangsters and pimps and whores are celebrated as role models in the youth culture?
Where the entertainment industry glorifies extreme violence and all manner of sexual immorality?

These are exactly the values and ideals that any God-fearing people loathe, and which the radical ones want to destroy with the edge of a sword (or a nuclear bomb… whichever’s more convenient).

How can we “stand as an example of moral leadership in the world” when the very morality of our leader is attacked by our own citizens as religious fanaticism? How, when the immorality of our former leader is glossed over as unimportant? How, when the moral state of our country is in a slow spiral headed for the all-time lows of the latter half of the Roman empire and the ancient Biblical city of Sodom? Are we really so na├»ve as to believe that Muslim countries don’t read the headlines of our papers and make those very same comparisons? Even the Muslims are aware of Sodom and Gomorrah.

We have some serious back-pedaling to do if we’re to offer the world moral and idealistic leadership. I fear just since the 1950s we’ve lost so much moral ground as to have reached the point of no return. I hope for my children’s and their children’s sakes that I’m wrong.

Please don’t take me wrong in my observations. I’m far from Michael Moore and the blame America first crowd. What I’m saying is that to implement the 9/11 Commission’s suggestions on moral and idealistic leadership (which I think are excellent), we’ve got some hard work ahead of us. We’re going to need a serious moral awakening in this country before preaching morality to the Middle East, or we’ll be no better than the Pharisees seeking to pull the mote out their eye while not beholding the beam in our own.

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Attacking Bush's Faith?

Have you noticed lately the increase in attacks on President Bush’s faith? The attacks have come from all quarters, but are typified by Ellen Ratner’s recent post on WorldNetDaily.

Ellen Ratner is one of the few liberal pundits for which I actually have respect. She seems to genuinely attempt to understand truths, and frequently has some pearls of wisdom in her commentaries. I feel sorry for her enduring the personal attacks she describes in this article… certainly, these types of attacks are very un-Christ like in nature. Paul’s advice to Timothy comes to mind:

2 Tim 2:24-25 - And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth;

With all that said, unfortunately, Ellen frequently misses the mark, as she does in this case:

But it's important to look more deeply into the issue of "choice." The position of George W. Bush is that life is sacred. The Sixth Commandment says, "Thou Shall Not Kill." This is a non-negotiable as far as God is concerned. It's not a mere mortal's right to determine who lives and dies. That should be left up to God. Fine. Can someone then explain to me how it is that the same man who uses the "life is sacred" argument to deny a woman's right to choose her destiny can put more than 140 people to death, including a woman who proclaims the same Jesus Christ George W. Bush does as her personal savior?

Ok Ellen, I’ll take a stab at it…

As a Jew, she better than most, should understand the concept of capital punishment. Yes, the sixth commandment commands, “Thou shalt not kill”… and then the rest of the Mosaic law (which so many Jews conveniently forget) goes on to specify capital punishment for a wide variety of offenses. Contradictory? No. God simply gives the general command and then lists the specific exceptions.

Of course, there are differences today. We don’t operate as a theocracy as did pre-Messiah Israel (when not under bondage to other nations). However, the New law anticipates this fact in Romans 13:1-7 and 1 Peter 2:13-14, in which the government is considered the arm of God to carry out punishment on evil doers. Bush simply “beareth not the sword in vain”. Paul’s advice from Romans 13 in a nutshell … if you’re going to do evil, be prepared to accept the consequences from your government. And regarding the woman who proclaimed Jesus before being executed, don’t forget Ellen, Paul’s advice is specifically written to Christians.

Regarding, “…to deny a woman's right to choose her destiny…”, if a woman’s destiny is her very life, I have no argument with Ellen. However, if Ellen defines a woman’s destiny as mere convenience… “I’m too [fill in the blank] for a child right now”, then Ellen is way off base. See my previous post on this topic.

Keep trying Ellen. We’ll make a conservative Jew out of you yet.