Saturday, November 1, 2014

Could iTunes please not suck? Please?

I spent DAYS making a Christmas playlist for a party last year. iTunes has eaten it. The data is sort of maybe still there, but there's no actually making it point to the songs. If I try, it loses the link forever. Screw iTunes.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

November 2014 Election: State Legislature

Again, I'm copying and pasting some information from my posts on the primary elections. Unfortunately, there's not much thinking to be done on most of these.

The following four elections are uncontested, and there is no reason to support any of these candidates based on their stands on issues that matter. I suggest writing in a name in protest of the very concept of uncontested elections. If you want a name to write, feel free to use mine.

52nd Representative District
Mike Stewart (D)
 
55th Representative District
John Ray Clemmons (D)

58th Representative District
Harold M. Love (D)

59th Representative District
Sherry Jones (D)

The following elections are only between the two major parties. I never heard anything on the big issues from most of the candidates, and only the usual partisan stuff is on their websites. Since the Republican party has gone so far off the rails lately, I suggest voting Democrat. If you can't do that, I suggest writing in a name for those elections, if only out of protest. Again, feel free to use mine, if you like.

21st Senate District
Diana Cuellar (R)
Jeff Yarbro (D) 

50th Representative District 
Troy Brewer (R)
Bo Mitchell (D, incumbent)

51st Representative District
Brian L. Mason (R)
Bill Beck (D)

56th Representative District
Beth Harwell (R , incumbent)
Chris Moth (D)
Unlike any of the others on this list, this candidate responded to me, and described himself as "deeply concerned about the influence of money in politics". It's not a commitment to the Wolf-PAC amendment or anything else, but it's something. On a personal level, I can strongly recommend him. He's a computer, science, technically-oritented kind of guy. I really enjoyed speaking with him, and I think he'd do very well in the House.

60th Representative District 
Jim Gotto (R)
Darren Jernigan (D)

The following three races have a third-party candidate, so I'll go slightly more in depth on them.

19th Senate District
Sterlina Inez Brady (R)
Still no information, at all. No webpage, no Facebook page, no Twitter feed, no contact information.

Thelma M. Harper (D)
The incumbent in this district. She did not respond to my requests for positions. She has no website or position statements that I could find. Regardless of what she actually wants to do or has done, a Senator who's not interested in participating in democracy leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

George Thomas (I)
He has position statements! And they're actually mostly sane! (Sadly, that's how low my standards have to be in this election.) From his statements he's closer to being a Democrat than anything else, but since we can't tell a darned thing about Harper, I'm going to say, vote for Thomas!

53rd Representative District
John Wang (R)
Generic Republican candidate, no position statements of interest.

Jason Powell (D)
Generic Democrat candidate, no position statements of interest.

Tonya Miller (L)
Generic Libertarian candidate, no position statements of interest.

Much like the two-candidate elections, there's not much to say here. Republicans are doing horrible things lately, so pick the Democrat if you see a difference between those two parties, or the Libertarian if you don't. 

54th Representative District
Brenda Gilmore (D
The incumbent in this district. She did not respond to my requests for positions. She has no website or position statements that I could find. Regardless of what she actually wants to do or has done, a Senator who's not interested in participating in democracy leaves a bad taste in my mouth. 

Martin Holsinger (G)
Well-spoken, communicative with the voters, and doesn't seem to be particularly crazy. I'd vote for Holsinger in this election.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

November 2014 Election: US House TN-5

There are three candidates for US House this fall, and very little chance that the incumbent will lose. I already described two of them in my posts on the primary, but I'll repeat what I said before here.

Bob Ries (Republican)
I'm not analyzing Bob Ries's website this time. See, I met Bob Ries in 2010, when we were both running for US House TN-5. (He lost the primary to David Hall, so we weren't directly opposed.) We spoke for some time about one thing and another, and I came to the definite conclusion that he was not someone I would want in Congress. I won't go into more details; it was four years ago, and there's just no need to pick on the man. But I can't recommend voting for Bob Ries.

Jim Cooper (Democrat, incumbent)
He's got a good list of issue statements, including intellectual property, wonder of wonders. (I'm not 100% convinced he's got a good policy, but at least he's aware of the issue, and claims to strive for balance.) And I appreciate the fact that he has links scattered throughout his text; a familiar style! Cooper has a 65% match rating with me on POPVOX, which is twice what either of our Senators get. If Cooper wins, I won't be terribly disappointed.

Paul Deakin (Independent)
This candidate seems to be almost entirely concerned with animals. He has no policy statements at all besides that.

My recommendation: if you feel a need to cast a protest vote against both parties, vote Deakin. Otherwise, vote Cooper.

Monday, October 20, 2014

November 4 2014 Election: Wine Referendum

Right now it is not legal for grocery stores in Tennessee to sell wine. Beer, yes, but not wine. I suspect this is a hold-over from prohibition. Judging by the signs and employees asking me to sign petitions, grocery stores would apparently like this to change. I'm sure the liquor stores would prefer it to not.

I do not oppose others' right to drink. I have no desire to make it legally difficult for adults to obtain alcohol, nor is it against my religious beliefs to drink. Dependency on alcohol, drinking to the point of losing control, drinking so that you put others in danger, those I would hold to be immoral. But not drinking in itself.

That said, I don't drink. I have had various alcohol at different times, but have liked almost none of it. I prefer having full command of my senses, and I've seen a ruined life or two that included a lot of alcohol. There's apparently nothing in it for me. So if I'm being asked to vote, "Should grocery stores carry wine?" I find there to be no moral dimension to this question; it becomes a matter of practicality.

Now, I know market theory. This is talking about undoing a pointless government intervention in the market. But I don't hold that an unregulated market is necessarily better than a regulated one. I judge policy based on its observed impact, not on presumptions and theory, unless there's genuinely no data.

What happens if grocery stores carry wine? That means some business that was going to liquor stores will now go to grocery stores instead. We're basically moving money from one group to another, when it was artificially shunted to the first group in the first place. More competition, which will theoretically result in a more efficient allocation of resources, maximization of profit, invisible hand, yadda. None of that has any direct impact on me or mine, positive or negative.

You know what will impact me? Finite shelf space. If grocery stores start carrying wine, they have to stop carrying something else. What will they give up? Obviously the things they make the least money on. I have no idea what those things are. Do any of my (three) readers? My bet is that they'll stop carrying the exact things I buy the most of. Just because the universe is perverse like that.

What else will impact me? We'll be rid of all those irritating "RED WHITE AND FOOD" signs everywhere. I'd like that. I prefer my grocers to not try to suck me into their politicking.

So I'll probably be voting against this resolution, but not for any grand reasons that will make the world a better place for anyone else. Just for my own tiny selfish purposes.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

November 4 2014 Election: Amendments

There are four amendments to the Constitution of Tennessee on the ballot this election. For each amendment to be passed, it must earn both a majority of the votes cast for/against the amendment itself, and a majority of the votes cast in the gubernatorial race.

Amendment 1
This amendment would clarify that the state legislature has power to regulate and restrict abortions beyond the present limits, as interpreted by the state Supreme Court in Planned Parenthood v. Sunquist. Essentially, right now both the Tennessee and US Constitutions protect a woman's right to an abortion. This would remove the state-level protections.

This is one small step in an ideological battle, the end goal of which is for the US Supreme Court to overturn Roe v Wade. Frankly, it's an ideological battle that's been set up to manipulate and divide this country. Those who set up that battle, those who divide us, do it cynically for their own ends, not out of the moral superiority of their position, and I'm sick of it. It's time for rational people to take over the discussion.

If abortion is legal, many unborn children will die. This is tragic.

If abortion is illegal, many pregnant women will die. They will die from complications of pregnancy, or from seeking an unsafe illegal abortion. This is also tragic.

Regardless of which way the law lands, the government is deciding who lives and who dies. But let's be clear: both options are terrible. Sometimes the world just sucks. If you find yourself feeling particularly great, that you picked the right thousands to condemn, maybe you should reconsider just how comfortable you are. Supporting the lesser evil is something you should mourn, not celebrate.

That said, I will be voting against this amendment. Not because of the effects on actual abortion, which I believe will be minimal either way this referendum ends. But because I oppose the hijacking of my religion and my country for cynical political ends. It offends me to see good Christian people ignore every teaching of Christ, supporting those who hurt the poor and the downtrodden, based on an argument of questionable scriptural validity. It offends me to see intelligent people refuse to consider all the implications of an election, instead choosing candidates based on a single criterion that that candidate can not affect.

I want Christians to behave like Christ. I want rational people to weigh actual, measurable outcomes of their actions. Based on those standards, the people behind this amendment oppose what I stand for, and so I stand to oppose them as well.

Amendment 2
Right now, appellate judges are elected directly by the people of Tennessee. This amendment would have them appointed by the governor, confirmed by the legislature, and then after one term the people could vote whether or not to retain them. Direct election of judges is a questionable process, as it damages the political independence of the judiciary. It's a lot harder (though by no means impossible) to buy a judge if he doesn't have to worry about being elected. I will be voting for this amendment.

Amendment 3
This would prevent the state from ever enacting an income tax. As a structural matter, it's a bad idea to constitutionally limit options that the legislature may one day want. As a political matter, I find it to be extremely distasteful to encode one party's political preferences into the constitution of the state. Income taxes are not some inherent evil; if your goal is to have a functional society without a huge wealth disparity, progressive taxes like income are vastly better than regressive taxes like sales. Just because that's not Tennessee's priority today doesn't mean it will never be. I will be voting against this amendment.

Amendment 4
The intent of this amendment is not obvious from the wording, but the primary effect appears to be to allow veterans organizations to hold lotteries, like all other non-profit organizations are presently allowed to do. This is essentially a minor procedural alteration. I'll probably vote for this amendment.

As pointed out in a previous post, voting for governor makes it harder for all these amendments to pass, and this is the largest effect your vote for governor is likely to have. Based on the strength of my preferences against amendments 1 and 3, compared against the strength of my preferences for amendments 2 and 4, I will be voting for governor.

November 4 2014 Election: Governor

Given the field, I consider it a foregone conclusion that Haslam will win a second term as Governor of Tennessee. Voting to affect the outcome of the election is therefore meaningless. One should thus vote (or not vote) based on other factors. It's sad when your vote is basically a confidence poll or protest vote, but that's what we have today.

It's important to remember that there are four constitutional amendments on the ballot as well, and the the number of votes cast for Governor has direct effect on the threshold for passing those amendments. That adds a strategic element to whether you should vote for governor at all! If you support the amendments on the ballot, voting for anyone in the governor's race actually hurts you; it raises the bar for passing an amendment.

So if you're in favor of all amendments, don't vote for governor at all; there's no point. If you're opposed to all amendments, vote for someone. And if you're split among the amendments, well, that makes life more complicated. 

Bill Haslam (Republican)
Essentially seems to be running on the platform "I am Bill Haslam". As I've said before, the state hasn't disintegrated, but neither has it accepted billions of dollars that would help many people in this state have affordable medical care. I wouldn't be excited to vote for him.

Charles V "Charlie" Brown (Democratic)
He's got a better picture than before, but he still has no website or obvious campaign statements of any kind I maintain he won his primary because a lot of Democrats voted for the first name on the ballot. The only reason I can think of to vote for this candidate is if you're a really big fan of the Democratic party, and even then, I'm not sure that's a good reason.

Shaun Crowell (Constitution)
Opposes Common Core, spreading a fraction of the usual misinformation about it. (Not that you can't reasonably oppose common core. Just that you shouldn't believe convoluted math problems are part of it, because they're not.) He'd shut down Haslam's free tuition program for community colleges. He's in favor of the Bundy family. Surprisingly, he's in favor of unions if the workers want to have them, so this guy is not a Republican. But he's not in favor of accepting ACA money to pay for Tennesseans' health care.

Now, since he's not going to win, Crowell's specific positions may not be as important to you as those of his party. If you're not familiar with the Constitution Party, you can find out more about them here and here. They're on the right side of a number of important issues that the major parties ignore, like asset forfeiture. But they also want to move to a "debt-free interest-free money system" which I'm pretty sure is impossible. They want to phase out social security. They want to make abortion illegal in cases of rape. They want to outlaw pornography to protect free speech. And they oppose the idea of a constitutional convention, which is kind of funny since they think the founders were brilliant beyond criticism on every other issue...

This guy might be okay. But the party he represents is a little nuts. 

Isa Infante (Green)
This candidate has zero detailed policy positions, so all you can evaluate is the Green Party itself. I'm not going to tell you I sorted through the entire national platform, it's crazy long, but I'm a fan of many of their positions. They have a detailed plank on election reform, which almost sounds like I wrote it, except that they're still supporting IRV instead of the far-superior approval voting. And they're still inscrutably opposed to nuclear power, letting perfect be the enemy of good. But in general, I'm a bigger and bigger fan of the Green Party. Unless, of course, there's some insanity buried in that platform that I'm missing.

Steven Damon Coburn (Independent)
He wants to "teach Biblical values in schools", judge and pay teachers entirely by their students' grades, and a number of other things that don't seem realistic or likely to actually improve the situation. He's a rambling sort (yeah, yeah, I'm one to criticize), and I don't see him being a good governor at all.

John Jay Hooker (Independent (but really a Democrat))
John Jay Hooker is a placeholder candidate. Voting for someone, as noted above, raises the bar for passing amendments. Hooker is on the ballot only to give Democrats someone to vote for besides Charlie Brown, so they won't just stay home. So I'd say vote for him if it makes you feel warm and fuzzy to vote Democrat, but you don't want to vote for Brown.

Daniel T. Lewis (Libertarian)
Typical Libertarian, nothing particularly striking here. (Though he does mention artificial wombs as a solution to the abortion rights impasse. I'm going to claim credit for that one; it was part of my platform as a Libertarian candidate in 2010.) Remember that the position of the Libertarian party is to reduce the size of government on every issue, in every way, whether it makes functional sense or not.

Summary
Your vote will have no impact on the outcome of this election, but turnout does help set the bar for amendments to pass. If you're in favor of the amendments passing, don't vote for governor at all. Otherwise, I'd recommend voting for Infante, the Green candidate, simply because the Greens seem to be the party of sanity.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Infrastructure Megaprojects: Mosquito Eradication


Mosquito-borne diseases kill a million people every year. Admittedly, most of those aren't in the United States, which is what this post series is focused on, but some are. And even ignoring the disease aspect, the buggers are just hugely irritating.

We have a safe and simple way to wipe out the entire species. No chemicals, no engineered diseases, no possibility of spreading mutations into the gene pool. And mosquitoes have few known environmental niches.

I suggest the United States implement sterile insect technique in a significant but controlled area, and look very closely for environmental damage. If the species actually does turn out to be necessary, they can be (shudder) reintroduced. (Or preferably, some substitute species found.) And if there are no problems, we've just made the world a slightly better place.

There are two benefits. One, our own comfort and safety. And two, to demonstrate the ecological effects if such a policy is implemented worldwide.

Oh, and three: screw mosquitoes.

Now if we could just get rid of the bagworms...