Mar. 3rd, 2019 12:10 am
hudebnik: (Default)
At Christmastime, I got some sourdough starter from [personal profile] ilaine and have since been baking bread roughly once a week. We don't actually use very much bread, so I've scaled down the "recipe" to make only one loaf at a time, and some weeks I've thrown out several inches of the previous week's loaf when this week's loaf came out of the oven.

Anyway, today's batch came out pretty well. 1-1/2 cups of water, probably 1/2 cup of sourdough, 1 cup of whole-wheat flour, 1 cup of sprouted-wheat flour, all mixed together Friday evening and left for a long-sponge rise. Saturday morning, I added 2 eggs (for protein), another 1/2 cup of whole-wheat flour, 1 cup of Bob's Red Mill gluten (for protein, as well as for fluffiness), 1/4 cup of whole teff, a tablespoon of salt, and a tablespoon of butter, kneaded and let rise again, then formed a loaf, let rise a third time, and baked for 40 minutes at 350-400F. The texture, flavor, and appearance are all good, although the texture is a little spongy: try less wheat gluten next time. I think the previous batch had 1/2 cup of gluten, and I didn't notice the sponginess.
hudebnik: (Default)
Wikipedia plus a spreadsheet = statistics, or lies, or damn lies, or something...

I'm looking at confirmed Supreme Court justices over the past hundred years. I don't have the data on confirmation votes that didn't pass; I think there are very few such, as a nominee who's not going to pass confirmation is usually withdrawn.

In the past hundred years, six Justices have been confirmed against more than 30% opposition: the latest five (Kavanaugh, Gorsuch, Kagan, Sotomayor, and Alito), and Thomas, all of whom are still on the court. An additional four were confirmed against more than 20% opposition: Roberts, Rehnquist, Minton, and Black, of whom Roberts is still on the court.

There have been 225 votes cast against confirmation in the past fifteen years, and 196 such votes in the previous 85 years. The nine currently-sitting justices received, collectively, 285 "nay" votes at their confirmations, which is more than the total number of "nay" votes cast at the confirmations of the previous 53 justices combined, and ~40% of all the "nay" votes cast for confirmed justices in the history of the U.S. (I may be conflating some votes to put someone onto the court with votes to promote an already-sitting justice to Chief Justice.)

Justices confirmed by a Democratic-majority Senate after nomination by a Democratic President:
Kagan (63-37) in 2010
Sotomayor (68-31) in 2009
Breyer (87-9) in 1994
Ginsburg (96-3) in 1993
Marshall (69-11) in 1967
Fortas (acclamation) in 1965
Goldberg (acclamation) in 1962
White (acclamation) in 1962
Minton (47-16) in 1949
Clark (73-8) in 1949
Vinson (acclamation) in 1946
Burton (acclamation) in 1945
Rutledge (acclamation) in 1943
Jackson (acclamation) in 1941
Byrnes (acclamation) in 1941
Stone (acclamation) in 1941
Murphy (acclamation) in 1940
Douglas (62-4) in 1939
Frankfurter (acclamation) in 1939
Reed (acclamation) in 1938
Black (63-16) in 1937

Justices confirmed by a Republican-majority Senate after nomination by a Republican President:
Kavanaugh (50-48) in 2018
Gorsuch (54-45) in 2017
Alito (58-42) in 2006
Roberts (78-22) in 2005
Scalia (98-0) in 1986
O'Connor (99-0) in 1981
Warren (acclamation) in 1954
Cardozo (acclamation) in 1932
Roberts (acclamation) in 1930
Hughes (acclamation) in 1930
Stone (71-6) in 1925
Sanford (acclamation) in 1923
Butler (61-8) in 1922
Sutherland (acclamation) in 1922
Taft (acclamation) in 1921

Justices confirmed by a Democratic-majority Senate after nomination by a Republican President:
Thomas (52-48) in 1991
Souter (90-9) in 1990
Kennedy (97-0) in 1988
Stevens (98-0) in 1975
Rehnquist (68-26) in 1971
Powell (89-1) in 1971
Blackmun (94-0) in 1970
Burger (74-3) in 1969
Stewart (70-17) in 1959
Whittaker (acclamation) in 1957
Brennan (acclamation) in 1957
Harlan (71-11) in 1955

Justices confirmed by a Republican-majority Senate after nomination by a Democratic President: none.
This isn't necessarily a damning indictment: I think there were no vacancies in 1918-1920, nor 1946-1948, nor 1994-2000, and we all know what happened in 2014-2016. The last Democratic President to nominate a justice who was confirmed by a Republican Senate was Grover Cleveland.
hudebnik: (Default)
A year or two ago [personal profile] shalmestere and I watched a multi-part dramatization of the life of John Adams. The first episode concerned Adams's defense of several British troops in the Boston Massacre -- which seems an odd assignment for a budding revolutionary. Feelings were running high in Boston, and it was easy to whip up an angry mob; going to court to defend a bunch of British troops who had shot Boston civilians was a real danger to not only his political career but his and his young family's lives. But they needed a competent defense attorney, and nobody else would take the case. Eventually, he got the captain and most of the soldiers acquitted entirely, while two had their charges reduced from murder to manslaughter. Even though he and the soldiers were "on opposite sides" of the rapidly-growing conflict, he did what he thought law and justice demanded, to the best of his abilities. (His own memoirs about the episode make it clear that he felt this was one of the most noble and right things he'd ever done.)

We've been trying to downsize the piles of books all around the house, and one of my contributions to this effort was going through a shelf of books on religion and/or politics I'd acquired in college grad school and deciding which I was likely to ever read again. One was a thin paperback of Kant's Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals, which I realized I'd never actually read the first time. It's not terribly long, so I decided to give it a try while commuting to and from work. (It beats trying to read the Times on my phone while standing up and holding onto a pole, exacerbating a mild case of texter's thumb.) I'm only about halfway through, but here goes.

What qualifies an action as moral? Kant points out that where an action has clear benefits for you, you may have taken it for moral reasons or for selfish ones, and there's no way to tell. Likewise, if an action doesn't present you with a realistic choice, you may have taken it for moral or other reasons, and there's no way to tell. If the posted speed limit is 55 MPH and I'm driving 25 because I have a flat tire, have I obeyed the law? Well, I haven't violated it, but neither have I made a decision to obey it; I didn't really have the option of violating it, so my action has no moral quality at all. Likewise, if the speed limit is 55 MPH and I'm driving 45 because I'm on my way to a party I expect to be thoroughly unpleasant and I want to get there as late as possible, I'm not violating the law but neither have I shown my moral or law-abiding character by doing so; my actions have no moral character, being selfish and only coincidentally in accordance with the law. So although people may be making moral decisions all the time, the only times we (or they -- people can be easily deluded about their own motivations) can be reasonably sure they are doing so are when the action is contrary to their own obvious interests.

But taking an action against your own interests doesn't necessarily qualify as moral either: sometimes people lash out in a fit of nihilistic anger, destroying themselves and anyone around them for the short-term adrenaline rush. In order for an action to be considered as moral, it has to be done because it's in accordance with a universal principle. And by "universal principle", he means a rule that you could reasonably want "all rational beings" to obey. That is, to decide whether a principle qualifies, imagine a world in which everybody followed it, and ask yourself whether that would be a good world -- or, somewhat more subjectively, whether you would like that world.

Of course, there may be things that we would want most people to do, but perhaps not all: I happen to like a world in which there are people crossing the Antarctic or flying to the moon or training sheep and sheep-dogs to put on fireworks shows to Show That It Can Be Done, but it would be really silly, destructive, and wasteful to have lots of people doing those things. We can address this objection by applying a bit of modern game theory, allowing "mixed" or probabilistic strategies among the principles we imagine everybody following: would I like a world in which everybody, with probability 1/1000000, tried to do such-and-such? (Probably closer to Kant's intent, we can address it by erasing the specifics, and ask whether I would like a world in which everybody lived their lives according to such-and-such broad maxim.) Or is it a principle that I like when I follow it, but I would rather nobody else did -- if so, it's not a moral principle.

Analogies with today's political situation are obvious. How many politicians today (at any level, not only Federal) can we say are doing something because it's universally right, rather than because it furthers their own individual interests or supports their team against the other team? The examples of Mitch McConnell, in blocking Merrick Garland's SCOTUS nomination for a year just because he could, and then eliminating the filibuster for SCOTUS nominees to approve two Trump nominees on narrow party-line votes just because he could, and Jeff Sessions, who despite his decades of other despicable behavior Did The Right Thing in recusing himself from the investigation of Russian involvement in a political campaign of which he'd been a major player (while meeting multiple times in private with Russian government officials), are illuminating.

Of course, it's always difficult (especially for politicians) to disentangle doing something Because It's Right from doing something Because It Will Be Seen As Right -- conspicuously "moral" behavior as a way of furthering one's own reputation and career. I believe a guy named Jesus had something relevant to say about keeping one's hands ignorant of one another.

I suspect the current occupant of the White House would probably find the whole topic bizarre: why would anyone ever do something contrary to his own and his team's interests? "Moral" is an excuse losers give after the fact for why they lost. The only universal is that everybody is out for himself, so I'll act in a way that ensures my welfare at the expense of everyone else, because I assume they would do, and are doing, the same to me.

Enough for today: I'd better go make breakfast.
hudebnik: (Default)
Scene: a small spaceship with a crew of Matt Damon and a female captain [no particular actress that I recognized].
It's been engaged in a furious battle with a fleet of other small spaceships, taken a couple of them out, but finally been captured. As the captain walks up a ramp towards whatever punishment awaits her, a voice-over from the bad-guy leader says "Let's see... Captain Major Queen Elizabeth Duncan, multiple speech impediments, captured in combat, reporting to detention."
She replies "Captain Major Queen Sarah Duncan, no known speech or other impediments, but otherwise correct."
Bad guy: "I expect of anyone qualified to captain a starship the ability to turn aside from a pointless conflict and concentrate on what's important. You chose to engage with my 'speech impediments' comment, which shows a failure in this regard, which is in itself an impediment. Which makes you also a liar."

Have I been reading too much about strategies and tactics for Democratic challengers to President Trump in 2020?
hudebnik: (Default)
The other day [personal profile] shalmestere checked out a couple of DVD’s from the library, and the first one we watched was a 1960’s comedy entitled “Cactus Flower”. The plot is pure commeddia, so I’ll describe it in those terms.

The play opens with Flaminia [a very young Goldie Hawn] despondent over being stood up for a date by Dottore Graziano [Walter Matthau], with whom she’s carrying on an affaire. She meets her neighbor Orazio, who tries to comfort her as she does some exposition about how honest Graziano was in telling her he was already married and that she would only be his concubine; she’s OK with that, as long as he's honest about it (it is Renaissance italy, after all).

Scene 2: we see Graziano with his housekeeper, Isabella [Ingrid Bergmann], who is competently taking care of his food, his clothing, his finances, his appointments, etc. His friend Pantalone comes to visit. In the course of their conversation, we learn that Graziano told Flaminia he was already married only to prevent her from trying to pressure him into marriage, but now he’s starting to think he *does* want to marry her after all. Pantalone says that he too is having a fling with a younger woman. Il Capitano shows up, puts the moves on Isabella, and is firmly and repeatedly rejected.

Scene 3: Graziano visits Flaminia and says he wants to marry her. Flaminia points out that he’ll need to divorce his wife; he assures her that his wife is OK with that, because she has a lover on the side herself. Flaminia wants to meet the wife to find out whom she’s cuckolding. Graziano refuses repeatedly, then gives in.

Scene 4: Graziano butters up Isabella and asks her to play the part of his wife long enough to meet Flaminia. She refuses, but later changes her mind.

Scene 5: Isabella goes to meet Flaminia, assuring her that yes, the marriage is effectively over. In the course of their conversation about Graziano, Flaminia decides (a) she really likes and respects Isabella, and (b) Isabella is still in love with her husband Graziano.

Scene 6: Flaminia tells Graziano that Isabella is still in love with him. He brushes this aside as obvious nonsense.

Scene 7: To prove it, Graziano tries to arrange for him and Flaminia to encounter Isabella and her lover in a public place. Isabella refuses, and is even more disgusted when he recruits Pantalone as her lover, but later changes her mind.

Scene 8: Graziano + Flaminia, Isabella + Pantalone all meet. Flaminia concludes that Pantalone is a stingy bum, not nearly good enough for Isabella. To retain Flaminia’s respect, Graziano tells off Pantalone.

Scene 9: Graziano decides he’s got to tell Flaminia the truth, so he buys her an expensive gift to butter her up. He gives her the gift, then loses his nerve and tells her a different lie. She sends the gift to Isabella, complete with its note from Graziano.

Scene 10: Il Capitano is still putting the moves on Isabella, inviting her to a ball. Isabella receives the gift from Graziano and takes it to mean he really does love her. But to prove that she’s not to be trifled with, she agrees to go to the ball with Il Capitano.

Scene 11: Isabella decides to clear everything up, visits Flaminia, and tells her that Graziano never was married in the first place. Isabella leaves, Graziano arrives to clear everything up, loses his nerve, and tells Flaminia a different lie, which she pretends to believe. Orazio shows up, Graziano worries that he’s flirting with Flaminia, she assures him that nothing of the kind is happening, and suggests that all three of them go out together.

Scene 12: At the ball are Isabella with Il Capitano, Flaminia with Graziano and Orazio, and Pantalone with his girlfriend. Flaminia’s opinion of Pantalone is confirmed. Orazio flirts with Isabella; Il Capitano and Graziano are both upset to see this, and leave in a huff.

Scene 13: The next day, Flaminia confronts Orazio about his flirting with the older Isabella. He assures her that Isabella’s a nice lady and they had fun, but nothing untoward happened. Flaminia and Orazio get together.

Scene 14: Isabella tells Graziano how much fun she had with Orazio. Graziano realizes and declares his love for Isabella, and she responds in kind. Curtain.
hudebnik: (Default)
To summarize my understanding of things...

Trump's approach to negotiating has historically been (a) develop as much leverage as possible before going into negotiations; (b) demand everything and give away very little; (c) after the agreement is signed, renege on whatever you agreed to give away, and dare the other side to sue you for it.

Congressional Democrats' position for the past two weeks has been "let's reopen the government, and then take a month or so to negotiate on border control. In those negotiations, we'll give you some of what you want in exchange for some of what we want." Which makes perfectly good sense if you assume that a functioning government is good for both sides, and that all parties are interested in negotiated compromise.

Donald Trump's position is "let's negotiate now, with much of the Federal government not functioning; I'll allow the government to reopen in exchange for you giving me everything I asked for on border control." Which makes perfectly good sense if you assume that Democrats care about the Federal government functioning while Trump and Republicans don't: it's not a shared goal but a bargaining chip in Trump's pile, and the only chip he intends to offer.

There's some legitimate basis for the latter assumption. First, national Republicans for the past forty years have been running on the idea that government cannot function productively, so they have little to lose and a lot to gain by making it fail (although by shutting it down, they risk Americans realizing how much good it was doing them). Second, if the contest is "who cares less about the suffering of ordinary people," Donald Trump will always win that contest.

Besides, Donald Trump doesn't believe in "good for both sides". Every deal is zero-sum: either you win and I lose, or I win and you lose. This dispute is no longer about a few billion dollars for wall construction; it's about forcing a showdown, winning it, and making the Democrats lose, on the theory that it will weaken their negotiating position on everything else (in particular, investigating and possibly impeaching him) for the next two years. The Democrats, of course, know this; they would almost certainly be willing to authorize a few billion dollars for a few miles of useless wall if that's what it took to get something else important, but they're not willing to start their two-year Congressional term with a high-profile loss.

So it's crucially important to both sides to not be seen as giving in. Most members of Congress (at least those who have been there more than ten years or so) are familiar with the idea of compromise, of finding a deal that saves face for both sides. But Trump is certainly not interested in mutual face-saving, and even if Chuck and Nancy are (not entirely clear), it takes both sides to reach such a deal. Trump will not accept any deal that doesn't humiliate Chuck and Nancy, and they won't accept any deal that does.

So nothing will be accomplished until conditions change dramatically, e.g. a major shift in public opinion one way or the other, or three Republican Senators demanding a vote on reopening the government.


Jan. 3rd, 2019 07:18 am
hudebnik: (Default)
Since [personal profile] shalmestere and I have both been sick for the past week (nothing life-threatening, just seasonal crud), we've watched a bunch of movies on DVD, mostly checked out from the library a few blocks away. I'm not coherent enough to write reviews right now, so I'll just list them for now:

  • Dec. 30: Sorry to Bother You

  • Dec. 31: Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far On Foot

  • Jan. 1: The Time Traveller's Wife

  • Jan. 1: Blackadder Back And Forth, in honor of the New Year

  • Jan. 2: Philomena

  • [ETA: Jan. 3: Pirate Radio, which we saw when it was in theaters]

  • [ETA: Jan. 4: Persepolis, which we also saw when it was in theaters]

hudebnik: (Default)
I've been taking codeine-based cough syrup for the last few nights, so that may affect the quality of my dreams.

Night before last: I was charged with untangling Donald Trump's finances, using Quicken. I found that the most effective strategy seemed to be to recognize that two accounts were distinct in name but not in practice, so I would do a global search-and-replace to rename one of them to the other. Eventually I was down to one account labelled "What Donny Wants".

Last night: a series of vignettes about companies willfully and passive-aggressively over-interpreting privacy laws to make them such a pain that customers complain and get them repealed. For example, the magazine subscription that has to be renewed every two months because the company deletes your name and address from their database after two months so they no longer know where to send the magazine (although they've already charged you for the whole year).
hudebnik: (Default)
Just got a letter from the State Division of Parks and Recreation saying that our house (and several blocks around it) has been placed on the State Register of Historic Places, and nominated to the National Register of Historic Places.

We attended a community meeting about this a month or two ago, and were told "this designation doesn't protect the house from the owner; it protects the house from the government." So the downside is if you want to sell your house to the government, there are certain things the government can't do with it without consulting with the historic-district people. The upside is that if you make renovations to the house that are compatible with historic-district standards, you can get a 20% tax credit for them.

We have two projects in mind that might qualify. The second-story windows were all replaced, probably in the 1980's, with reasonably energy-efficient double-paned windows with obviously plastic frames. One of the double-paned windows got broken a few years ago (only the outer pane, so it hasn't been a high priority for us to fix), and the plastic frames have photo-degraded to the point that they crumble in one's hand. I'd like to replace them with something that's both energy-efficient and period-looking (the "period" in question being 19teens). We had an Anderson representative give us a spiel a few years ago, and were so put off by his hard sell and the plasticky-looking frames (I think they're actually a sawdust composite) that we never called him back.

The other project is removing the aluminum siding and restoring the house to its original cedar-shake shingles. We have some reason to believe the original shingles are still there under the siding, but they've been covered over for probably forty or fifty years so we have no idea what condition they're in, and assume we'd have to replace a good fraction of them. Problem is, we can't tell how many we'll have to replace, and thus estimate the budget, until we start ripping off the siding. Is it even possible to replace a shake shingle without replacing all the ones above it? (Our garage is shingled, and the bottom two or three rows of shingles, the ones closest to the ground, are in the worst shape. We might try re-shingling the garage as a warmup project, but that's a more dubious investment, as any future owner might knock down and replace the whole garage.)

Has anybody reading this done either of these sorts of home improvements?

Meanwhile, [personal profile] shalmestere has been looking at other houses in the neighborhood, with an eye to moving to a larger and/or more attractive house, since our income is about three times what it was when we bought this house. If we're serious about that, we should certainly skip the shingling project and possibly the windows project.
hudebnik: (Default)
There are people for whom Handel's Messiah is an annual Christmas tradition (although its first few performances were mostly at Easter). We are not among those people: [personal profile] shalmestere was in a performance of the Messiah once or twice in school, while I've done a Messiah sing-along and attended a handful of performances in my life. The last one I recall was a historically-informed performance at the acoustically-perfect Troy, NY music hall, and it was a revelatory experience: light, agile, and crystal clear.

Last night's performance by TENET and the Sebastians had similar forces: twelve singers, each of whom had a solo or two, and fifteen instrumentalists. The performing venue was a church in Manhattan, with very different acoustics: there was a fifty-foot long choir-and-altar space behind the performers, so the tutti sections weren't as "crystal clear" as in the Troy performance (although there were moments that, as [personal profile] shalmestere said, sounded like one voice). The instrumentalists included a pair of natural trumpeters -- at least, I didn't see any valves, although there was finger movement synchronized with the notes so I think each trumpet had a single cornetto-style finger-hole -- who did an impressive job. Some of the vocal soloists struck me as working too hard, with notey ornaments or overdone vibrato, while others (Michael Maliakel on "Darkness Shall Cover the Earth", Margot Rood on "Rejoice Greatly", and Helen Karloski on "He was Despised") knocked my socks off with their clear, natural-sounding control. All in all, an enjoyable evening, although we got to bed after midnight so I'm even more underslept than usual this morning.

Almost everybody in the audience stood up for the Alleluia chorus. This strikes me as a silly shibboleth of a ritual, so I didn't, but I guess it has the advantage of allowing people to stretch their legs a bit after two hours of music.
hudebnik: (Default)
We're all familiar with the song, and many people (by which I mean me :-)) never thought of it as politically incorrect until the past year or two. It was just a funny, light-hearted, exquisitely well-crafted song. And it still is.

Wait, sexual coercion is funny? No, of course not; that's not what's funny. The wordplay is funny. The clever, unexpected rhymes are funny. The two people talking over one another, and occasionally landing in harmony together, is funny, in the great tradition of patter songs from Gilbert & Sullivan to Sondheim (with perhaps a detour by way of Robert Altman).

And, frankly, the conflicting interests and the attempts at persuasion are funny because they're so universally human. Scarcely an adult human on the planet has not, at some point, tried to persuade the object of hir romantic interest to stay around and do something together (whether sex or a movie or church or a ride in a surrey with a fringe on top). The other, "I really must go" side of the song can be interpreted in different ways: either she really unambiguously doesn't want to stay, or (as I've always interpreted the song) she's dealing with an id/superego conflict between a desire to have fun and concern over what "the neighbors will think." Both cases are, again, near-universal human experiences, and therefore fodder for a good song.

In either case, of course, what she ultimately does is her decision, not anybody else's. But as I pointed out here, there has to be a legitimate place for persuasion in a romantic relationship, or nothing will ever happen unless both parties independently think of the same thing to do, with the same degree of enthusiasm, at exactly the same moment. The problem is that the line between persuasion and coercion is extremely fuzzy, and extremely subject to differing interpretations. Parts of the song are clearly on the "persuasion" side, while other parts (most obviously "say, what's in this drink?") hint at coercion. How you feel about the song as a whole depends on how much coercion you perceive and how you weight it against the appeal of clever songcraft and universal human feelings.
hudebnik: (Default)
Inspired by this post...

A few months ago, having heard a radio story or read a newspaper story or something about Octavia Butler, I went looking for some of her work to read. People suggested Kindred as a good place to start, so I walked into my neighborhood independent bookstore (I can say that! really!) and asked for it; conveniently, it was the only Butler they happened to have on the shelf.

So I read it, and didn't have nearly as strong a reaction as everybody told me I would. Yes, there's brutality and sadism and injustice, and sometimes bad things happen for no good reason except that Sometimes Bad Things Happen. Yeah, whatever: it's a speculative-fiction book, and I expect that stuff.

Much the same happened when, after years of hearing other people talk about it, I finally picked up and read The Handmaid's Tale. It's brutal and horrible and unfair and only a slight exaggeration of things that are actually happening in the real world. Yeah, whatever, more or less what I expected.

Have I lost the ability to be shocked? Has my whole culture lost the ability to be shocked?
hudebnik: (Default)
A few friends and I were lost in a maze of twisty little passages, all different. This particular section of the maze was on a "fractal" theme: you would frequently find yourself with a choice of several directions to go that all looked alike except for scale, and in fact took you back to exactly where you had just been except that you were now larger or smaller relative to the passages. Very frustrating.

Separate dream: for several months now, I've had a series of dreams that feel like episodes in an ongoing TV series: in each one, I'm called on to fix one or more localized problems that were each caused by future-me traveling back in time to test present-me. Or maybe it was past-me traveling forward in time to test present-me: I'm not sure, and it's always been very confusing. Two or three nights ago came an installment in this series that appeared to be the series pilot, because it actually explained what was going on without assuming the viewer already knew. But I woke up and forgot the explanation. Very frustrating.
hudebnik: (Default)
I was in a relatively-civil discussion on Quora with someone who was deeply worried about individual voter fraud, and it led me to the following reflections.

stuff about false positives and false negatives )
hudebnik: (Default)
According to this article, vanilla was in culinary use in Bronze Age Israel.

hudebnik: (Default)
I was expecting, by now, to be en route to, if not at, the site for Musicians' Day, an early-music slumber party for thirty friends and acquaintances in a lodge in the woods, with a day of classes, hours of jamming, good food, a roaring fireplace, and all that stuff.

But when the first attendees arrived at the site (several hours before I could get there), they found another group already in the lodge, swearing that they had it reserved through Sunday evening, and had had it reserved since January. (We also were sure we had it reserved since January.) The organizer of the other group works for the Parks Department, and called the Park Superintendent on his private line to see what was up; he says the Superintendent confirms that he has the lodge reserved and we don't. I haven't talked to the Superintendent myself, nor have I been able to get anybody at the park to answer a phone in several days -- I've spent at least an hour wandering through touch-tone phone trees searching in vain for a human being.

Anyway, the event is cancelled on the shortest of notice. A good number of the attendees are probably still on the road driving to the site, and others may arrive tomorrow morning. #^*%^$^&%$*%^&
hudebnik: (Default)
I live in New York City. Like most New York City residents, my polling place is a 5-10-minute walk from my home. I walked in around 8 AM, took a few seconds to find the right table for my electoral district (about half a dozen share the same polling place), signed my name in the book (right under my "signature of record"; presumably they compare them somehow), and was given a paper optical-scan ballot and a folder to hide it in. I went to an empty ballot-filling-out station, used the pen at the station to fill in a bunch of bubbles, and went to one of the two scanner stations. One of them seemed to be having trouble, but there was no line for the other one, so I put each of the two double-sided pages of my ballot through the scanner, returned my folder, and left. Total elapsed time maybe five minutes. Got to work about the time I usually do, although state law guarantees me two hours of paid leave on election day. This is approximately what has happened every time I've voted in the past twenty years.

I'd like to say that's what it looks like when the local and state government actually want people to vote, rather than trying to prevent them from voting. Unfortunately, people elsewhere in New York City had very different experiences. Apparently the scanner machines at Brooklyn's Central Library (a major polling place) all malfunctioned, and voters had to put their ballots in a ballot box to be scanned later. There are scattered reports of long lines and jammed scanner machines in other parts of the city too.

National results: there was enough of a "blue wave" to give Democrats a majority in the House of Representatives, and to gain several governorships (which will make a difference to redistricting in 2020, and thus for the next ten years), but a number of the high-profile races still went narrowly to Republicans: Florida didn't elect a black Democratic Governor, Georgia still hasn't decided whether it will (which gives the Republican candidate still more opportunities to exercise his power as Secretary of State to put a thumb on the scale: how is it even legal for a candidate to supervise the voting in his own election?), Tennessee didn't elect a moderate Democratic Senator, Texas didn't elect a Democratic Senator (charismatic rock-star Beto O'Rourke failed to unseat Ted Cruz, who's intensely unpopular in Washington but fairly popular in Texas), that ex-Marine woman Democrat failed to get a House seat from Kentucky, etc. I guess the bright spot is that all of these elections were close, which tells the winners that they will face serious general-election challengers again next time so they can't afford to play exclusively to their base. Florida passed a ballot initiative restoring voting rights to 1.5 million ex-felons who have completed their sentences, so that will affect the results in 2020 and beyond. Florida seems to have also passed a ballot initiative outlawing greyhound racing, which may mean a flood of abruptly-retired racing greyhounds seeking homes in the next few months. And there are now two Moslem women in the House, and two Native American women in the House, and an openly gay Governor in Colorado, and so on... the Federal government will look just a bit more like the American people next year.

And Donald Trump, who loves nothing more than an enemy to blame for his problems, will actually face some opposition on Capitol Hill, as he hasn't for the past two years. So far I haven't heard him complaining that all the Democratic House wins were the result of voter fraud and illegal aliens, but I have no doubt that that's coming.
hudebnik: (Default)
If we want to discourage "bad behavior" (whatever that means) in government officials, such bad behavior has to have negative consequences. If we're talking about partisan bad behavior, it has to have negative consequences for the party that did it. One could even imagine disincentivizing bad behavior on both sides at once by making sure that it has consequences that both sides dislike. An obvious example is a rule that legislators don't get paid if they don't pass a budget by the deadline. And like most obvious-common-sense rules, it has an unintended consequence: it empowers legislators who happen to be independently wealthy over legislators who actually need their paychecks. Another example, if you assume that balanced budgets are a Good Thing (which isn't entirely obvious), is a rule that if the legislature passes a budget with a deficit, it automatically triggers both spending cuts and tax increases, thus displeasing both the big-spending and the tax-cuts-uber-alles camps. It's tricky finding policies that everybody will like, or everybody will dislike, and it's even trickier in a highly partisan, divided environment because proposed policies are assessed on whether they help or hurt my party and its voters more than the other party and its voters, rather than whether they help or hurt the populace at large; it's an ill wind indeed that blows no-one good, and therefore that no-one has an incentive to see happen. So it is in the public interest to reduce that zero-sum thinking. How can we do that?

The last two Supreme Court nominees were confirmed on essentially party-line votes, and everybody on both sides reasonably assumes they will use their positions in a partisan way, destroying whatever was left of the Court's image as "above politics". The obvious way to avoid that is to return to requiring a super-majority for court confirmations, both Supreme and lower, so nobody gets on the court without bipartisan support (as used to be common a few decades ago). I get why the Democrats dismantled the filibuster for lower-court nominations: the Republicans in the Senate were stonewalling, blocking any nomination with the name "Obama" on the signature line, regardless of qualifications. The Republicans were clearly politicizing the confirmation process, but the immediate effect on the courts was merely understaffing, which (in theory) is bad for everybody but doesn't offer a clear advantage for one party over the other. Getting rid of the super-majority requirement did something worse: it politicized the courts themselves, by allowing a President and Senate of the same party to fill lots of judicial seats with dubiously-qualified partisans, as has in fact happened in the past two years.

The same reasoning goes at the state level: requiring a super-majority in the relevant legislative body to confirm a judge reduces the likelihood of strongly-partisan nominees getting through. I don't know how many states have such a super-majority requirement.

As for the legislative branch, the obvious problem is legislators who are more afraid of primary opponents than general-election opponents, and who therefore are more rewarded for ideological purity than for compromise and legislative effectiveness. As far as possible, every legislator, at every level, should face a realistic general-election opponent. That's really hard to do in deep-red or deep-blue areas of the country. A long-run answer is to get rid of primaries altogether and minimize the role of parties by some combination of ranked balloting, multi-seat districts, and ideas like that. (Proportional representation would help in some ways, but it enshrines parties into an official part of the system, and I want to burn them to the ground.) In the meantime, anything we can do to reduce gerrymandering and voter suppression will help by putting a more diverse mix of voters in the general election.

Gerrymandering is even more of a problem at the state level, where legislators can draw district lines not just for other members of their party but for themselves.

Then there's the executive branch. Most Presidents in history, after running partisan campaigns, have made some effort to become President of the whole country rather than only their partisan base (the current President being an obvious exception). I don't see any systemic changes that would further encourage the former behavior; at some point we have to rely on electing leaders more concerned with their reputations and the judgment of history than with short-term partisan wins.

I guess the same reasoning goes for Governors, although states are more likely to be deep-red or deep-blue, so it's easier to ignore the partisan minority, than the whole country is.


hudebnik: (Default)

March 2019



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