America’s experiment in democracy

A friend mentioned the above phrase General Mad-Dog Mattis often uses in posting about the death of the badass Cryptologic Technician. This happened on Facebook and it being Facebook, it spurred a troll who completely misunderstood the phrase. He took it to mean the United States attempting nation building.

Here is an example of Mattis’ usage in a paper on the national defense strategy:

“Increasing the lethality of our troops, supported by our defense civilians, requires us to reshape our approach that managing our outstanding talent, reinvigorating our military education and honing civilian workforce expertise.

“The creativity and talent of the department is our deepest wellspring of strength, and one that warrants greater investment.

“And to those who would threaten America’s experiment in democracy, they must know: If you challenge us it will be your longest and your worst day. Work with our diplomats; you don’t want to fight the Department of Defense.”

He is using the phrase to talk about attacking the United States. Not Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, or Yemen.

Mattis, having read far more about history, the founding of the US, and Constitutional scholarship uses this phrase to indicate that the democracy we have is pretty fragile. Democracies can fail. The United States has somehow lasted over two centuries as a republic, but it is still possible for our country to fail. We have to protect it. We have to be wise in our choices. Or we might find ourselves beholden to Putin-like totalitarianism. He viewed his job as more than just protecting the country, but as protecting something special in the world that deserves to survive.

And, that is why he had to go. His loyalty was primarily to democracy, not the Commander-in-Chief who demanded personal loyalty.

Read more about how democracies fall into totalitarianism:

Facebook should honor those privacy notice hoaxes

I’ve seen several friends post the new variant of the notice saying that in order to have privacy, you have to post the note that does not give Facebook permission to use your photos or status updates.

Here is the thing. Taking away that permission makes Facebook unusable as no one can see them even people you want to see them. If Facebook cannot use them, then it cannot show them to others on your behalf.

I think Facebook should start:

  1. Programmatically look to see if these statuses are posted by a user.
  2. Disable access to photos and status updates for any user who has posted it and not allow them to make new ones.
  3. Let them see the posts of others who have not posted it.
  4. Highlight to the user that no one can see their stuff due to having that post. Give them the option of deleting the post to restore access.

My guess is if Facebook did this, then these posts would disappear from Facebook pretty quickly.

How can he help me?

Got an email subject of “How can I help you?” from my U.S. Senator. This is a first in the over 3 years of emails I have from his office. Most communicate his party’s stance on an issue. Some are advisory like “Preparing For Hurricane Irma”. The closest to this seemingly change in approach is the one email just days after the 2016 election disclosing mobile office locations about 2 hour drives from me.

So, I checked Ballotpedia and noticed he was elected in 2014. Add 6 and he will be up for re-election in 2020. Guess that means there is no reprieve from the 2018 election. The campaign for the next one has already started.

Good guy with a gun

I’ve seen security kick plenty of people out of bars. They sometimes come back wanting to start something with security. In this case, one shot at security from outside who returned fire and apprehended one of them and held him at gunpoint for authorities. A police officer who showed up killed the security guard.

When I was an “emergency coordinator”, we once had a session about what to do during an active shooter situation. Guns were not allowed then. (Unclear now.) It was the Hide, Run, Fight philosophy which was hole up in a secure room if you can, get out if you can, fight back as only a last resort. The trainer’s point was when a police officer shows up, if you are armed, then you might get shot because they will not know who is a good vs bad. They see a weapon and might shoot before they know.

Same Day Registration

Same Day Registration (SDR) gives voters the opportunity to register to vote or update their registration when voting early and on Election Day. Voter turnout in states with SDR was seven points higher than non-SDR states.

Somehow I missed this for the Quasi-Mandatory Voting post. If you achieve automatic registration, then you don’t need SDR because it ought to already be handled. But, maybe a voter got the license on the day prior to the election and the automatic process takes up to a week, so SDR would help someone vote.



Politics as storytelling

Two decades ago, during my biweekly game in Berkeley, the black, white, and Latino players engaged in a series of long, heated debates about O.J. Simpson’s guilt or innocence. We didn’t necessarily change each other’s opinions about the case, but we gained a far deeper understanding of each other—and our respective group’s experiences—in the process. This surely affected our political perspectives too.

I’ve been mulling this scene. I think the reason I like to discuss politics with people of all perspectives is peeking under the onion layers. Prod someone into talking about something they are passionate about, and they tell stories. They describe how something makes them feel by talking about how it relates to a past event.

Okay, some people are going to be purely factual about a position. That is boring to the human brain. A story engages us. So people eventually fall into telling stories that make their point.

Most people fall near the center of a spectrum on a random issue. And, how they are asked about something can influence how they respond. Ask about abortion and someone is either for or against. Ask about different types and some people who are against turn out to be okay with allowing some types. Tell different stories about a certain type and depending on the details some people can flip their stance depending on the elements it contains.

We do this without really being aware. And I love to notice people not being aware of these inconsistencies.

And these stories reveal far more about them than just the stance. The stories we tell reflect an attempt at shaping how a person wants to be perceived. We instinctually leave out the parts that we don’t want others to know, but others who have experienced the same event know those details. Those omissions also over time get lost as we forget them.

USB Drives to Move Election Malware

From “Can Georgia’s electronic voting machines be trusted?“:

Though voting machines aren’t directly connected to the internet, witnesses testified last week that USB drives are used to transfer election data from internet-connected computers to election servers.

So, computers that are connected to the Internet are used to move data to the election servers. Malware can be used to reach those computers. The theory here is the election servers by not being on the Internet are more secure because they are “air-gapped.” However, Stuxnet eight years ago taught us: Not as much as once thought.

Stuxnet was never intended to spread beyond the Iranian nuclear facility at Natanz. The facility was air-gapped and not connected to the internet. That meant that it had to be infected via USB sticks transported inside by intelligence agents or unwilling dupes, but also meant the infection should have been easy to contain.

USB drives are the prime vector to contaminate air-gapped computers. It sounds like the election officials are aware because they added this claim to the article:

Election officials say security precautions protect voting machines from tampering. For example, a USB drive is reformatted every time before it’s plugged into an election server.

I find it unlikely they download data onto a USB drive, delete that data by formatting the USB drive, and only then insert the blank USB drive into an election server. It would be easier just to not use a USB drive at all. They probably mean they format the USB drive while it is in the potentially infected Internet-connected computer, which would not prevent malware from inserting itself onto the USB drive at the time the GEMs data is copied onto the USB drive.


Qualification for President

The office of President of the United States is an enormous one. This is a person who in order to run the government has to appoint over a thousand positions. The senior advisers number over a hundred.

Being able to locate and retain the services of high quality people is a huge challenge. Throw in the winner has less than 3 months from election to occupancy to get a good start. And the longer it takes, the more people question your ability to do the job.

Looking at the current administration, it strikes me that painfully obvious issues are starting to bear fruit.

  1. The President was picked by voters to shake up Washington elites. People like the Speaker of the House and Senate Leader are having to acclimate to change. This is why PotUS hates the legislation, but has to sign anyway to preserve the symbiosis.
  2. As an non-politician outsider, his inital advisers were limited to early supporters who tended to be fringe elements who burned their normal bridges. Or hacks no one else would hire. These are people without power or influence who suddenly have to figure out how to wield it. They were fringe because no one trusted them. They are why scary policy keeps getting retracted.
  3. Later advisers are elites whe saw the winds of change (sycophants). They are there because power is there. These are the people getting fired within a year because of corrupt instincts.
  4. Once everyone saw who would be President, longtime political operatives who disagree with most instincts of the president but love country and party signed on. These are the people trying to restore the status quo from the hacks and sycophants.
  5. The Deep State are career government employees of all parties. They provide the inertia that is the reason why presidential candidates usually to cause much actual change. The government needs them to function and there are millions compared to the thousand appointees.

The anonymous Opinion piece about the Republican Resistance is part of #4. There probably has always been elements of the above in administrations. Other administrations appointed almost all political operatives or people mentored to become one. Is it better? It worked smoother as these people were aligned with the bosses and easily replaced when not. It gets stuff done and allows the PotUS to focus on policy instead of little fires every day.

Talk about a Constitutional crisis is probably overblown. As is calling people keeping the status quo traitors. Their oath of office is to the country not the President. Many people are going to do their best for the country.

Next time, perhaps people will better consider whether a candidate has shown the experience of setting up a government. How they run their campaign is a useful way. Establishing functional headquarters in states who run a strong ground game talking to voters and being able to bring on advisers with strong connections shows what kind of government they will build.

GA Voter Registrations Increase

I was reading an article about how the two candidates for governor represent two sides of voter registrations. One ran an organization who went around getting people registered to vote. The other ran an organization who got legislation to make it easier to remove registered voters and make it harder for people to prove their identity to cast a vote.

Kemp said his record proves he has increased voting access.

The number of registered voters in Georgia increased from 5.8 million when he took office in 2010 to 6.7 million today.

The way this is stated suggests he increased the number of voters by 15% which is impressive.

But, then I remembered that the Georgia population over the same period increased by a significant amount. Maybe a similar amount of people became registered voters? From 2010 to 2017, the adult population was 7.4 million and increased to 7.9 million. So the adult population increased by 0.5 million and the number of voters increased by 0.9 million. That seems like maybe the registration efforts have been successful.

Next, I thought maybe as a percentage of the adult population would better reflect the true state. In 2010, about 78.9% of the adult population were registered to vote. (Used the 5.8 million registered voters above and the Census numbers for adults in 2010.) The Census doesn’t have a 2018 estimate yet, but the registered voters from the quote are for current (August) in 2018. I went looking for historical registered voters records on the Secretary of State website, but they have only as recent up to 2014. Next, I looked at 2017 election results in hopes of finding one. Interestingly, the May 2018 primary claimed there were 6.1 million registered voters. So, I looked at the August 1 number in Kemp’s own website which is: 6,176,672.

Going back to the original, the Georgia population increased by 0.5 million and the number of voters by 0.3 million. As a percentage, it was 78.9% in 2010 and using the 2017 population and 2018 number of voters, the percentage was 78%. So the percentage of adults registered to vote dropped by almost a full percent. (The Georgia population is probably higher in July 2018 than it was in July 2017, so the percentage of adults registered to vote is probably lower.)

Not as good. And the AJC needs to fact check numbers like this. And, the Secretary of State needs to not inflate the number of registered voters by 10%.

I think I found my mistake. Kemp is referring to registered voters that are not reflected on the website. The website uses only Active voters which excludes Pending and Inactive voters. Kemp is probably including Inactives in reporting the numbers. Keep in mind, these Inactive voters are on the precipe of getting purged as they have not voted in recent elections. If they also fail to respond to the postcard, then they will be purged.

Georgia Campus Carry Year One

AJC TL;DR: 27 violations; no shootings.

Basically, the AJC says that some students seem to have some issues understanding this pretty complicated law and run into situations where they are in violation. They are unaware that concealed means it needs to be out of sight. (Some supporters really want Open Carry.) Some people are negligent, such as the people at UGA who left guns in gym lockers, the conference center hotel room, or at a bus stop. This is still better than Georgia K-12 school teachers who accidentally discharged their gun or left it in places for a student to find them.

Supporters, in general, want a simpler law that allows guns everywhere as the existing one is pretty complicated to comply with given all the exceptions. Opponents, in general, want it repealed. Faculty supporters of campus carry feel the law discriminates against them because they can carry in their classroom but not their office. Faculty opponents see themselves under a more severe disadvantage to angry students still developing their executive function in the brain.

Somewhat surprised the AJC failed to add a few related things from their own reporting:

It doesn’t really look like campus carry ended shootings on campus. Nor did it spur a Wild West constant shootout situation or a rampage of mass shootings. Students are still getting robbed near campuses. So, it made some students feel safer that they are carrying a gun. Well, until they are held up and someone steals their $500 gun.