Double-check

Money drawer from a cash register.

For my first jobs, I used a cash register. I took money for hamburgers, music on vinyl, women’s fashion and video game tokens. At the beginning of every shift I’d count my drawer to verify its contents. At the end of every shift, I’d count out against what I sold. And my boss would count the money too. Double-checking my work. We’d do this every shift because the money was the point. It was why were were at the store.

This week some security experts raised issues about potential vulnerabilities of electronic voting. People are calling for an audit of the results. Not because there is credible evidence of a hack, because there isn’t. But because it strengthens our system.

“Auditing ought to be a standard part of the election process,” says Ron Rivest, a cryptographer and computer science professor at MIT. “It ought to be a routine thing as much as a doctor washing his hands.” –from Wired

The votes are the entire point of an election. The votes decide who wins. Why wouldn’t an audit be part of the standard operating procedure? Frankly, I don’t believe that an audit will have an impact on the results of this election. But some states are using voting machines with outdated software. If nobody audits the results, it’s as if we just assumed my cash drawer was right every night. That’s a huge vulnerability.

Accountability and verification maintain the integrity of my cash drawer. It provides insight into possible leaks in the system–either poor training or poor honesty. Our electoral process should have the same validation. It can only strengthen our democracy by removing doubts. We need to have trust in our systems.

I think it was an old Republican president who said, “Trust but verify.” Let’s do that.

Mandate? We don’t got no stinking mandate

Off stage rigging in a theatre. I think it's an opera house.

First things first, Donald Trump won the 2016 election. He won according to the rules that were set out at the beginning of the election cycle. Even if he didn’t like them himself at times, he won according to them.

Now some people are saying–not everyone, but some–that this election is a mandate for one of the parties. That the victory by Trump combined with Republicans maintaining control of both the House and Senate means the people have given the party a mandate.

To be honest, I don’t think that word works in this context.

Let’s start with the dictionary definition:

mandate
noun 1. a command or authorization to act in a particular way on a public issue given by the electorate to its representative.
example: The president had a clear mandate to end the war.

Okay, if we can agree on that as a starting point, I have three reasons why there is no mandate.

First, and this is very important, Clinton won the popular vote.

Let me repeat that. Clinton, the loser–not Trump, the winner–actually had the most votes cast. Like, as of right now, 200,000 more.

Two-hundred thousand

That’s maybe 1% more votes than the winner got. Trump wins because of the Electoral College, and I am too tired to go into that. So you can look it up if you want.

Second, Trump did not receive the MAJORITY of the votes. He’s currently hanging around 47% of the votes. That means that less than half of the people who voted, voted for him. There were third party candidates that fouled that up for him, but it’s hard to claim a mandate when you didn’t get most of the people to vote for you.

Third, I don’t even get how people can say that Republican majorities in both parts of Congress equals a mandate. We have this thing called a representative democracy and that means that the 500,000 people in Wyoming have the same number of Senators as the 39,000,000 in California. See, that’s not equivalent.

And then, not everyone votes for all the candidates. So you can have a state or a district that has mandated their jurisdiction, but that’s it. It doesn’t cross over to the neighboring district like a bad smell. Now if all the districts elected candidates from one party, I would have a hard time saying that wasn’t a mandate. But that didn’t happen. Anyway, if a gerrymandered district votes the way it was designed, I’m just not down with that being a mandate. This point needs more work, but I’m running out of steam.

Last, there were 287,000 voters in the District of Columbia who cast zero votes for Congress because they are not in a state. Not part of anyone’s “mandate.”

Mandate in this case just sounds like disenfranchising a hunk–and a big hunk–of the electorate. The idea that Americans delivered a mandate to the Republicans is just poppycock.

That’s a funny word there, no? I always wanted to use it. I did. And now, after only sleeping two and a half hours in the past 44, I’m going to bed. I really can’t make any more sense today.

Electoral Collage

Hiding behind his ballot in the gym.
Hiding behind his secret. Ballot, that is.

A hot mess. That’s what Washington D.C. is today, this day before the 2016 presidential election. A complete, stressed out, finger biting, hair twirling, obsessively pen clicking, twitter refreshing, hot mess.

It seems that people are leaning on their car horns more today. Folks are walking into quick eat restaurants, standing in line for a minute, swiveling their heads around and leaving. If they stumbled into the dark relief of a bar, they might sit. I heard FBI director Comey was seen in a Tex Mex joint with a huge margarita. I hope it didn’t leak.

Everyone in town is doing their own personal Nate Silvering. They’re making state electoral count combinations and recombinations–moving states pink to red or purple to light blue–with dispatch and false authority that would wipe the smirk off that smirky Chuck Todd from NBC. This is the guy who’s been having intimate relations with the colors on the map since before there were two actual candidates.

Some are walking the streets, catatonic. Some because they think their candidate is going to lose. Others because they think the other candidate is going to win. There’s some serious negotiations with the political gods going on behind their deadened eyes.

Other levels of disbelief or worry or even hubris are worked out via chatter. Some are chirpy assessments of turnout and lines and campaign stop strategy. Why is he and she going to Michigan? Is it close? Naw, it’s because none of them voted yet. I heard from this friend, super liberal democrat guy, real good guy…

Some are just piling their worries in the laps of their companions. Some are wondering what they can do. Some are actually doing something, signing up and making last minute calls, knocking on doors, getting out the vote.

A group of people said they aren’t watching any more TV. They’ve sworn themselves off social media. You can tell since they are using social media to make that known. You don’t really quit in D.C. Not really.

But tomorrow, maybe as early as 10 p.m., eastern time, maybe much later, there will be some people in Washington that will feel as if they were kicked in the stomach. The blood will drain from their faces. Tears will well in some eyes. Fists will pound tables. Garments will be rend. Teeth will be gnashed. Profane words will be spoken. Loudly. And repeatedly.

And then, but not until then, we will know not just who will be President of the United States, but the status of our democratic system.

The peaceful transfer of power. I have confidence in my fellow Americans. And my prayers are stuck on us.

VOTE!

Life, Liberty & the Pursuit of Happiness

Dr. Seuss's dilemma fish. I don't think it's from a book, but it expresses the roiling seas I'm feeling.

I’ve been quite grumpy today. And I am using grumpy quite euphemistically here.

I think it’s because of this election season. To be truthful, and I work deliberately to be intellectually honest, I think this part of the presidential election cycle always throw off my balance. Although within these current throes, it seems qualitatively different.

I don’t remember an election that I so fully did not (1) understand why anyone would vote for one of the candidates, and also did not (2) understand why people who I love would vote for one of the candidates (the one I am not supporting).

The second part there is the root of what troubles me. Not about the people I love, because I love them. Yet I’m struck by how good people support the unsupportable.

I wonder if they think that my choice is deplorable. This wraps me in pretzels and crimps my fine gold chain and makes me feel like the inside out alien pig that was a transporter fail in Galaxy Quest. Ir was gross. It squealed. It exploded.

It makes me ask: If my candidate was as bad as theirs, would I leave my political party behind? Would I accept my candidate’s crimes and misdemeanors because they serve my greater political purpose? Especially if my political goals were tightly aligned with my moral and ethical beliefs?

And, if my answer is “Yes,” and my candidate is an awful human who endangers not only our democracy but also the foundation of our country–these self-evident truths that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness–am I just twisting my core beliefs for greasy political expediency? I use the word greasy on purpose. Yuck.

Last, is my political negative, the ones who I love, asking the same questions about me?

Dear lord, I sure hope so.

Cut to the Chase

Shiny silver razor.

Ooof! The conspiracy theories. This is the time to sharpen Occam’s Razor. You know

The simplest explanation is usually the right one.

and, also

Other things being equal, simpler explanations are generally better than more complex ones.

Why would this be? Not because truth is inherently simple–even though that might be.

It’s really about piling on. Complex explanations are based on more and, sometimes, more complex, assumptions. This means that as you build your theory, you are building in dependencies that have to fall just the right way to make your explanation work. Any one of those assumptions going awry means the entire house of cards comes crashing down. So, it’s most likely that the simple thing is closest to true.

I watched this man on TV this morning tie himself up in logic pretzels based on whack innuendo. He almost started foaming at the mouth as he built on one tenuous link upon the prior convoluted premise. Even the host, who generally lets the madness flow, had to stop him and call him on his fantastical yarn.

But what do you do when the facts point to bonkers?

This is the hard part. Occam’s Razor does not mean that the impossible cannot be true. True is true. But that doesn’t mean that all the other flaky, implausible or unhinged are ipso facto true.

Need more data.

I Await A Guardian

The patronus of Severus Snape. It's a doe. It's pure love.

As the 2016 presidential campaign drags on

An intense cold swept over them all…The cold went deeper than his skin. It was inside his chest, it was inside his very heart. . . .He couldn’t see. He was drowning in cold. He was being dragged downward, the roaring growing louder.

Right. The damn dementors.

“They infest the darkest, filthiest places, they glory in decay and despair, they drain peace, hope, and happiness out of the air around them. Get too near a Dementor and every good feeling, every happy memory will be sucked out of you. If it can, the Dementor will feed on you long enough to reduce you to something like itself — soul-less and evil.”–Remus Lupin from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

This is starting to sum up the emotional drain of this campaign. The swirling cold coarseness, the frigid hearts beating hate, the hijacking of all that can be good in our country and in our political system–yes, I feel my civic soul being sucked out. I must stop it before I am left with only the cynical soullessness of us-versus-them party politics.

I need a political patronus. Something to bring light to the darkness and to protect me from the shrouded rattling of the dementor breath and the stench of the race to the bottom.

First things first, I need a happy memory. A single, very happy memory.

I’m thinking about the times that I would vote with my dad. We’d go to the gym at our elementary school. Our school was named Norman Rockwell Elementary School. This is true.

One time in particular, I remember us waiting a very long time in line. The voting booths were big–to me anyway–metal contraptions with a curtain that’d close behind you when you pulled a big stick in the center. Your vote was secret. You would move small levers to mark your vote. They would register in the back of the machine on a counter when you moved the big stick back to open the curtain. It made significant mechanical noises and the curtain caused a little breeze. There was a little practice booth that I played with as we waited our turn. Dad let me go into the real booth with him. He picked me up after he made his choices and let me pull the curtain open. He told me I voted. It was cool. I participated in picking a president, a governor, a senator and likely members of the school board.

This is a happy thought. I am holding and concentrating on that first vote. I’m trying to conjure the charm I need to protect me from political misanthropy. I made a spark, but there is not enough joy to make a corporal patronus.

I was very happy, nay ecstatic, another time when I stood in another long line to vote. This was in 2008, and the line to vote at my local elementary school was blocks long. In Washington D.C., 75% of the electorate registered as Democrats. It was clear that this year, as in every year, the District’s three electoral votes were going to populate the “win” column for the Democratic candidate. Yet people stood in line so that they could cast their vote in a historic election for Barack Obama, our first African American president. Everyone in line was jubilant, with shared smiles and high-fives all around. People radiated hope.

Now let me work my patronus with this most happy thought. Sigh. Not much more than a spark. Still not enough. I need to dig deeper.

Let me go for a more recent happy political memory. I’m closing my eyes and feel the  joy at the dedication of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture. There was so much work over generations to get the museum authorized and then opened. When former POTUS George W. Bush took to the podium, there was another rush of emotion. Of camaraderie and of warmth to the president who insisted that this museum would be on The Mall. Guaranteeing that the history of African Americans would be a part of the main promenade from Lincoln at the west end to the Capitol on the east and next to the big exclamation point of the Washington Monument. An important part of the fabric of America. And the current President (D) and the former President (R) came together with thousands and thousands of Americans—representing the amazing diversity of America—to celebrate.

I’m holding this memory tight and trying to get it to spark my patronous. There is the fuzzy outline, but no, not a full protective charm. Ugh. Don’t I have a pure, happy memory?

I’m smiling now. I’m standing next to The Big Guy for early voting. We had an errand, and I stopped to vote. He pulled out his wallet and registered on the spot and voted for City Council. And he studied the voter guide for the next election and cast his vote a second time. And he voted again in 2012, his first Presidential election. And I’m thinking about the future and about Baby Bear attending a political rally and calling his buddies out for not voting. They care about what happens. They care about our democracy. They think that they can do something, and they are right.

Expecto patronum. Google translates that from Latin to “I await a guardian.”

I see my patronus now. It is bright and shiny and protecting  me from the apathy and discouragement of political dementors. I look at it, and see that the guardian is me and every other American. It is the image of America. Now, time for my chocolate to complete the cure.

First Affirmative, Second Negative

varsityletter

I debated in high school. I was better than decent but not excellent. Debate was the activity that best prepared me for a competitive school.

When I got to campus, I discovered that my classmates–from fancy eastern boarding schools and superlative public schools in Shaker Heights–already had college credits. I was all like, “Whuh? You can do that?”

Who knew you could take some tests and walk in a semester ahead? Not me. There were plenty of things I didn’t know. Nobody in my family had been to sleep away college.

But I did place out of freshman comp, unlike 93% of my classmates. Because I debated. The frosh comp graders looked for clear structure and organization. I knew how to quickly form an argument, create an outline of support and evidence and deliver a conclusion that summed up.

Traditional high school debate is all about ideas. It works like this.

  1. Somebody #1 makes a case of ideas using a bunch of evidence that they cite, chapter and verse.
  2. Somebody #2, in the opposition, directly responds to the ideas of the first somebody. #2 answers #1’s ideas directly. All of them. Each of them. If they don’t directly respond to an idea, they lose that point. Evidence is key here, as well.
  3. Somebody #3 presents a case that fixes the issues that Somebody #1 identified at the start. Backed up with evidence. This evidence thing keeps coming up.
  4. Somebody #4 tears the case down. More evidence.
  5. They rebut the case and the case for the case in the same order. And they have to at least mention all the prior arguments. If not, Somebody #4 comes up and says to the judge, “The First Affirmative did not address the ideas of my partner so they all carry for us.” That’s always cool. You can totally win on that. We did. More than once.

So there is a structure and points and usually a definite winner and loser. Reputable evidence is key. Sometimes you’d win a point over a “fact and citation battle.” (I know, exciting, right? We didn’t call it that, but that’s what it was.) One year I had an evidence card that cited the NE Journal of Medicine. It was during a year with a law enforcement topic. Nobody else went to a medical journal. I won maybe five matches on that one highly destructive fact from a legit source. Boom!

This is not how presidential debates work. There are questions, but the answers don’t address the questions. There are right-turn pivots to a point the candidate would prefer to talk about. Dropped arguments litter the stage, nobody picks them up. Well, maybe the sad moderator tries to put them back in play. It’s futile.

And evidence? Definitely not required. And definitely not required to be sourced. Say what you want. Say it again. Interrupt. Make your same point. Be aggressive in the face of a contradiction. Introduce non-sequitur, ad hominem attacks on your opponent. Light the dumpster on fire.

I wish they would chose another name. It confuses me. This is not a discussion about ideas. This is not a debate. But there are winners and losers.