SAST 14

Today’s Short Attention Span Theater is not brought to you by disease or lack of sleep, it’s just an excuse to deal with my to-do pile.

First, a brief administrative note.

I will be attending the Scott Joplin Ragtime Festival at the end of the month. I’m not planning a book signing or any other formal event, but The RagTime Traveler will be available for sale*. Come on down to Sedalia, enjoy the music, pick up a book, and I’ll be delighted to sign it for you.

* Dad’s ragtime books, both fiction and non-fiction, will also be in the festival store. In my totally unbiased opinion, you need copies of all of those as well.

While I will take my laptop along, I don’t plan to write any blog posts. I’ll make sure to have a post for Friday, May 31–I don’t want to be responsible for riots caused by cat deprivation–but other than that expect silence between May 28 and June 4, with a return to the usual schedule on June 6.

Second, I’m a little disturbed to discover that El Sobrante* is more dangerous than I’d thought.

* For those unfamiliar with the Bay Area, El Sobrante is the closest of the several cities that border the part of Richmond where I live.

Over the years, I’ve gotten accustomed to the suspicious sorts lurking in the local undergrowth, but it appears that a new threat is moving in.

According to a recent post on everyone’s favorite unbiased news source–Nextdoor–“[…]a somewhat large buck with velvet covered antlers jumped out from the side… he mean mugged us hella hard and took a few quick steps towards the car…”

That’s right. As if street gangs of turkeys and terrorist coyotes aren’t bad enough, now we’ve got to deal with deer carjackers. It’s a bad neighborhood, obviously, and getting worse.

But I have to wonder: how the heck did the deer expect to drive the car to the chop shop? He could probably hold the key between his hooves, but it’s not like the driver’s seat can be adjusted to fit his shape. For that matter, what kind of payment would he have been expecting? I’ve heard that fences pay chicken feed, but salt licks?

Anyway, moving on.

The big story a few days ago was that Microsoft is working on tools to (as the Chron’s headline put it) “secure elections”. Which is great news as far as it goes.

Microsoft is doing it right: making the source code freely available, so anyone can audit it and any company in the voting machine field can use it.

The thing is, it’s not a complete voting system, and the value of Microsoft’s software is only as good as the implementation. Voting machine companies have a justifiably poor reputation for the quality of their coding. You can have the greatest software in the world for allowing voters to verify their ballot, and it’ll be absolutely useless if the rest of the software and the hardware it’s running on is riddled with security holes.

How many voting machines run on Windows XP, an operating system that has been completely unsupported for half a decade? (Probably fewer than the number of ATMs running on OS/2, which has been dead for three times as long. But I digress.) Sorry, not totally unsupported. Microsoft just released a security patch for XP. How many of those voting machines running the code are going to get the patch? I’m betting on a percentage in the single digits.

Also, as the articles point out, Microsoft’s new code doesn’t support Internet voting (something far too many people want, given the woeful state of the art) or vote by mail systems, which are increasingly popular.

I’m not running Microsoft down. As I said, it’s a step in the right direction. But we as a country need to take far more than just that one step.

And, finally, no SAST post is really complete without a mention of either the Bay Bridge Bolt Botch or the Transbay Terminal fiasco. I don’t have anything on the BBBB, but there was a brief note in the Chron a few weeks about about the terminal.

The cracked support beams are nearly repaired–though we still don’t have a date for the grand reopening. What we do have is word that the paths in the rooftop garden are going to be replaced.

Those paths, you may remember, are made of decomposed granite, and even before the terminal was closed, the granite was decomposing even further. So the decision has been made to repave the paths, this time using concrete.

As local megaconstruction repair projects go, it should be a comparatively cheap fix, no more than half a million dollars or so. The city and the contractors are, of course, arguing over who is at fault for the failure of the paths. We all know who’s going to wind up paying for the repair, though, and it isn’t either of the arguing parties.

Good News / Bad News

06-1
I’ve got bad news and good news.

The bad news is that it’s too late to get a cool sticker like the one at the top of the post–the rare, three-word special edition.

The good news is that there’s still time to get the regular edition, which is almost as rare. It doesn’t have that third word, but that third word is the least important of the three.

Go exercise your franchise. It’s the Right Thing To Do.


Okay, so you’ve voted. Now what?

I’m going to dump some depressing news on you here, because I want to get it all out of the way at once and save Thursday for something cheerier.

The message is this: even if there’s a massive blue wave that give Democrats control of both the House and the Senate, we don’t win anything.

Don’t get me wrong. Taking control of Congress is a necessary step to repairing the damage done to the country over the last two years (and the fifty years before that). But in itself, it’s not enough to fix anything. At most it’ll prevent more damage.

Because, while Congress can block a judicial or cabinet nomination, it can’t make nominations. Suppose Kavanaugh gets hit by a bus. A Democrat-controlled Senate can block whatever conservative candidate the White House picks–and hand the Republicans another talking point about obstructionist Democrats–but they can’t offer a liberal candidate.

A Democratic Congress can pass laws, but can’t force the president to sign them. There’s no way to get enough Democratic congresscritters to establish a veto-proof supermajority in both houses. Not in 2018, anyway.

Nor, and let’s be brutally honest here, would a two-thirds majority in both houses do any good. The modern use of a signing statement to, in essence, say “This law doesn’t apply to me,” gives the White House an out, as does the option of simply ignoring any inconvenient legislation. Remember the Russian sanctions of 2017?

Don’t forget, as well, that newly-elected representatives don’t take their seats until January. That still leaves the current administration a couple of months to rush through as much legislation as they can.

As I said, flipping Congress is a necessary step. But it’s a holding action. This is the beginning of a long, hard fight, not the end. See you at the polls in 2020, 2022, 2024,…

HOF 2017

Happy Baseball Hall of Fame Post Day!

The votes have been counted and in a stunning upset, Donald Trump has been elected to the HOF, despite a complete lack of qualifications.

OK, now that two-thirds of you have fled, screams of anguish dopplering into inaudibility in your wake, I’ll admit the truth.

DT was not elected to the HOF. In fact, he failed to make the 5% cutoff and, as a result, will not appear on next year’s ballot. Which shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone, since he wasn’t on this year’s ballot either.

Those who were elected–Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines, and Ivan Rodriguez–are all worthy candidates, and it’s great to see Raines get in this year, since it was his final year of eligibility. Making him wait until the Today’s Game Era Committee could get around to considering him would have been more than a bit of a farce.

The middle of the list is the most interesting part, as usual. Edgar Martinez continues to gain ground, jumping from 43.4% to 58.6%. His chances of making up the remaining 16.4% of the ballots in his last two years of eligibility are still–unreasonably!–slim, but there are an awful lot of people who never thought he’d crack 50%. Stay tuned.

As has been widely reported, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens picked up large numbers of voters. Voters’ willingness to ignore the steroid question is widely attributed to the elevation of former commissioner Bud Selig to the HOF. “If the man who did little to prevent steroid use is there, why can’t the players who used them be there as well?” If that’s really the primary driver, I wouldn’t expect them to gain much more ground: everyone who finds that a convincing argument will have already made the switch.

Curt Schilling’s vote total dropped by seven percentage points in the wake of his recent general assholery. I’m betting the numbers go back up next year, especially if he keeps his mouth shut. By all reports, nobody had any complaints about his character during his playing days, and I think that’s what’s important in considering him for the Hall. Punish him now for his actions now, absolutely, but don’t ignore what he did then because you can’t see past his recent actions.

Then there’s the bottom of the ballot. As usual, a few players got what can only be described as sympathy votes. Tim Wakefield (one vote), Jason Varitek and Edgar Renteria (two votes each), and Magglio Ordonez (three votes) all had distinguished careers, but I doubt any of them expected to make it into the Hall.

As I said earlier, any player who gets less than five percent of the vote gets dropped from the ballot. For the third time in his five years of eligibility, Sammy Sosa had the fewest votes of any player who exceeded five percent. He’s up to 8.6% (38 votes) this year. Hang in there, Sammy! You’ve still go five more shots at it.

All joking aside, next year’s ballot is going to be very interesting. In the name of openness and transparency, all of the ballots will be made public starting with the 2018 election.

I have mixed feelings about that. Sure, it would have been interesting to know who voted for Tim Wakefield this year, and even more interesting to have found out who the three people who didn’t vote for Ken Griffey last year were. But is there really any benefit to opening voters up to demands that they justify themselves?

Knowing ballots will be inspected by the world at large is inevitably going to influence the vote. Say, for example, that Edgar isn’t elected. His supporters are going to target those who don’t vote for him, hoping to change some minds before Edgar’s last year of eligibility. Will people vote for him solely to avoid a deluge of “EdgarHype”? On the flip side, will they decline to vote for Schilling to avoid the barrage of “Why the [expletive] are you supporting that [expletive]?” messages?

Interesting times, my friends. Interesting times.