Thursday, July 15, 2004


I've been offline for a while. Real-life adventures have left little time for this particular waste of bandwidth. However, that doesn't mean I've stopped tracking current events.

--I've been keeping an eye on the Electoral Vote Predictor. The folks there use national polling data to predict how many electoral votes Bush and Kerry stand to win, were the election held today. At the moment, Kerry appears to hold a commanding lead of 117 EVs (322 vs 205). However, I get a bit nervous when I look at the numbers each candidate holds in weakly-held and barely-held states. Of Kerry's 322 EVs, fully 2/3 (202) are from weakly- or barely-held states. In contract, only about 1/4 of Bush's EVs (55) are from weakly- or barely-held states. If those states were to tip between now and the election, Kerry would suffer more than Bush.

Wanna see something really scary? The site has recently mapped county-by-county election data from the 2000 vote. The sharp line between rural and urban voters is, to say the least, startling. I believe this shows that we are a country divided not only by wealth, but by ideology as well. Of course, we've always known that, but I've never seen it literally drawn up.

When we do finally go to the polls, a lot of us will find ourselves using new electronic voting machines. The states say that using them will prevent a lot of the problems that made us the laughing stock of the world in the 2000 elections. But not everyone agrees. You're sure to hear a lot more about e-voting, both here and in the news, as the election nears.

'Course, this is all assuming that you even get to vote. In line with a prediction I made months ago in the wake of comments made by Gen Tommy Franks, the ministry of Homeland Security announced that it has looked into the option of postponing the elections should terrorists strike near Nov 2. You know, if I were a cynic, and the president had previously ignored information that could have prevented a terrorist attack here, I'd suspect that they might allow an attack to occur, then declare martial law, suspending both the constitution and the elections. Just the fact that I can now even consider my government capable of doing such a thing is pretty scary, and says a lot about how far into the Twilight Zone this country has veered. Didn't it used to be only in Orwellian fiction that you read about such police-state actions as people being arrested for wearing t-shirts that criticize the president?

--Also in politics this week, the Senate Intelligence Committee released a report stating that most of the intelligence we used as an excuse to overthrow Iraq was, well, wrong. And they placed the blame squarely on the CIA. The report, perhaps not coincidentally, was released on Director George Tenet's last full day of work.

Where does the White House fit in with all this? So far, they have been content to allow Tenet to throw himself on his sword for every intelligence misstep thus far. Admittedly, he did not come off very well in Richard Clarke's book, "Against All Enemies" when he throws his arms up in the air during a national security meeting and declares that the case against Saddam is "a slam dunk". However, there are many entities to blame other than Tenet. Most certainly, a major factor was the White House's "stovepiping" of raw intelligence, which bypassed the standard fact-checking filters in favor of expediency. Unprecidentedly, intelligence was delivered directly to the Vice-President's office, shutting out the State Department's intelligence officer, whose job was to report the vetted intelligence himself. It was a direct result of this process that caused the White House to accept the infamous "Nigerian uranium" claim. When the documents cited were exposed as forgeries (possibly whipped up by MI6 themselves, a claim for which I unfortunately lack solid proof), the White House blamed Tenet, and Tenet acceded. In fact, the CIA made multiple attempts to prevent the White House from using the information.

--A report claims that Pakistani officials are being pressured by the White House to announce the capture of a "high-value" terrorist to coincide with the Democratic convention. So be on the lookout for the announcement during the last week of July. And remember, act surprised!

--Anyone who thinks that the AIDS horror of the '80s has subsided any, think again. The UN released a report last week that shows that global AIDS infections have gone up by another 5 million. This country has done a wonderful job of supressing and stigmatizing an unpleasant subject. A few thousand people worldwide catch SARS and they close down the airports and shut the borders. A few million people worldwide have AIDS and they cut research funding and argue over why $2/pill isn't a fair price to sell to victims in 3rd-world, famine-stricken countries. It's a pandemic folks. So was the bubonic plague, and AIDS has a higher mortality rate than the black plague did. (In fairness, Bush has pledged $3billion/yr for the next five years to assist needful countries. However, the money has yet to materialize, and knowing this administration, they will make it contingent on a number of unrelated factors, probably to include "abstinence-only" sex education and parental planning.)

--I can't decide if this is funny, sad, or if it just pisses me off. StorageTek (a maker of network tape backup systems) has successfully claimed in court that a third-party service violated the DMCA for doing maintenence work on their units. The ruling essentially means that vendors can hold a monopoly on service and maintenance of their equipment. What does this potentially mean for companies that choose--for budgetary reasons or otherwise--not to keep a maintenance contract with the vendor? Will they be forced to pay per-incident for an "approved" service tech to come do even the simplest maintenance procedures, such as, say, a firmware upgrade? Credit to Jason Schultz's LawGeek blog for reporting this story, and to bOINGbOING for flagging it.

A few quick lighter stories before I go:

--The longest concert in history is a couple of notes closer to completion. A church in Germany has taken John Cage's instructions to play his "Organ2/ASLSP" "as slowly as possible" literally, staging a performance that will take 639 years to complete. The performance has been going since Sept 5, 2001, but since the piece begins with a rest, there was only silence for the first year and a half.

--To the delight of Lovecraftians everywhere, a report in Australasian Science finds that squid have overtaken humans in total bio-mass and are on track to become the dominant life form in the oceans, if not the planet. Ia! Ia! Cthulu fhtagn!

--Finally, I apparently missed all the net chatter about the excision of a cameo appearance by Colin Farrell's penis from his upcoming movie. "A Home at the End of the World" was supposed to feature full-frontal nudity by Mr Farrell, but apparently his ample endowment caused the women in the audience to become "over-excited" and the men to be "uncomfortable". (Does that sound straight out of a 1950s Hollywood press release, or what?) Anyway, by the time I came upon the story, it was old hat--so to speak--but Neva Chonin has a nice essay stemming from the incident on the discrepancy between what is expected of male and female actors.


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