You are currently browsing the Breaching The Web blog archives for September, 2002.

Arctic Time Bomb

September 18th, 2002

Russia says its rusting fleet could poison Arctic [from The Guardian]. Viktor Akhunov, head of the Russian department of ecology and decommissioning, told members of an international conference on nuclear security that not only is security of Russia’s decommissioned, rusting fleet lax, but a it poses a serious environmental hazzard as well:

… only 71 of the 190 submarines that have been decommissioned since the collapse of the Soviet Union have had their fuel removed, leaving more than a hundred docked and rotting along the northern Russian coast, threatening the Arctic with ecological disaster. Two reactors have already leaked, and salvaging them could prove dangerous.

Russian experts estimate that $4 billion (US) is needed to clean up the rusting fleet. Talks between the US and Russia are underway for the US to finance at least part of this cleanup; however, the US is only interested in salvaging and rebuilding ships that can still be used. The ecological threat posed by older, useless ships is not even on the table.

Attention Advertisers!

September 18th, 2002

I have an announcement to make: from this date forward, I will not purchase any product that is promoted via descriptions (in words or pictures) of smelly bodily functions. I’m tired of seeing and hearing fart jokes on TV commercials.

As you were.

Pragmatism

September 16th, 2002

The mess in Florida is slowly being resolved, but only because Janet Reno is putting the needs of her party ahead of her own ambition. She has decided that she will not contest the results of the primary in court.

It appears that among the votes that were cast, there was very little error — nothing like the butterfly ballots or chads of 2000. However, the problems of administering the election were enormous, and new horror stories continue to roll in. Reno has said that she will make cleaning up Florida’s election mess her personal project — whether she is a private citizen or governor. I wish her the best of luck. This is just plain embarassing, and I don’t even live in Florida! (at least not any more)

Mistakes

September 12th, 2002

I made a rather public mistake at work about 6 months ago. I was embarassed, although everyone assured me that these things happen. A few weeks ago, the exact same situation arose, and I jumped on it. I felt a powerful need to demonstrate that I had learned from my previous mistake — and I wanted to make sure the same thing did not happen again. Isn’t this the normal reaction to a mistake? Aren’t mistakes supposed to be learning opportunities?

So then how the hell can we explain the current mess in Florida?

Wave after wave of election irregularites are being reported in Florida. Based on a scan of several articles, here are the problems I’ve noted so far:

• Several polls opened late, causing many voters to leave in frustration without voting. In Miami-Dade county (which has 754 precincts), 68 were not open as of 9:45am (polls were supposed to open at 7:00am) and in 110 precincts, at least half the ballot machines were not working. By 11:00am, 32 precincts were still closed.

• Data cartridges that tally votes from touch-screen ballots are missing from 20 precincts (originally 250 were missing — most were found)

• In 25 other precincts, workers had trouble sending ballot results to central tally locations via modems.

• In most precincts using the new touch-screen systems, workers were not properly trained in how to start up the machines. During their original training in June, the test machines poll workers were trained on took less than a minute to start up. Because of last minute software changes, the actual machines in use took between 6 and 7 minutes to start. The machines had to be started one at a time. Most precincts in Dade county had between 8 and 12 machines — meaning that the total start up time, without errors or pause, ranged from 48 minutes to one hour 24 minutes. Workers were given one hour, from 6am to 7am, to start the machines.

• In several precincts in the state, the new machines recorded voters’ political parties incorrectly. Since this was a primary election, this meant that Democratic voters were presented with a Republican ballot or vice versa.

• At least one voter has told newspapers that she was allowed to vote twice after she pointed out to precinct workers that she had voted with the wrong party’s ballot.

• Several voters were incorrectly listed as “dead” in the rolls and were turned away from the polls

• Gov. Jeb declared a state of emergency and ordered the states’ polling places to remain open an extra two hours because of the problems. Many precincts closed anyway and turned away voters who arrived after 7pm.

• At 7pm (the normal poll closing time), the touch-screen machines automatically began a shut down sequence. Precinct workers had not been trained in how to interrupt this sequence. Voting was delayed while they got instructions from headquarters for extending the time alloted for the machines to be on.

• In at least one precinct, long lines caused the parking lot to fill up. New arrivals parked in the street and their cars were towed while they were waiting to vote.

• The touch-screen ballots intimidated many (particularly the elderly) who are unfamiliar with computers. They found it difficult to follow the directions or became confused and left the polling places not knowing for sure who they had voted for or if their vote would be counted.

• Some precinct workers took equipment and cartridges to central tally locations after the 9pm closing, only to find that those tally locations were themselves already closed. They then took equipment and cartridges (containing uncounted votes) home — a highly irregular procedure.

• Some of the touch-screen voting machines were delivered to precincts without undergoing final quality control checks at the factory. In at least one precinct, four of these machines had to be programmed by a technician on-site — they had not even been loaded with software — and were not operational until 5 hours after the precinct opened.

• In Orlando, which used an optical scan ballot (think bubble sheets), 42% of the county’s 426,000 ballots had to be counted by hand because the scanners were tearing the sheets as they were fed into the machine.

• In Union County, all ballots had to be hand-counted because their optical scanners showed that every vote (even those from the Democratic ballots) was cast for a Republican.

What a mess. The counties and state of Florida have spent a total of $125 million upgrading the electoral infrastructure since 2000. The state has outlawed the use of punch card and butterfly ballots, and subsidized the purchase of new balloting systems. This is a shameful disgrace that should not have happened.

Govenor Jeb is trying to pass the buck down to the county-level election officials, who are in turn passing it down to the precinct workers. I think the responsibility here is clearly at the county-level; however, this could be a political disaster for Jeb — it is a very real, embarassing reminder of the 2000 fiasco, one that might very well cost him votes in the November election.

The St. Petersburg Times and Miami Herald both have excellent coverage of the problem.

I was here

September 11th, 2002

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Foot Science

September 6th, 2002

Shadow Wolves is a 21-member unit of the U.S. Customs service made up of Native American men and women who track and apprehend drug smugglers in the Southwest. This group was responsible for 1/3 of all marijuana seized in Arizona in 2001 by customs agents (there are 400 customs agents in the state).

The Tucson Weekly profiled the Shadow Wolves in Tracking the Drug War, 36 Inches at a Time. It’s fascinating reading, with too many good bits to quote here. Take some time to read it.

There’s a story written on the ground. It’s not Hollywood. It’s not mystical. It’s a logical pursuit of evidence over a large portion of real estate. –Ab Taylor, retired tracker

Reading Light

September 5th, 2002

I’ve been enjoying Cloth Mother quite a bit lately. In addition to covering some eclectic turf in a personal and engaging way, it is also the only weblog I’m aware of (other than Breaching the Web) that is named after a social science experiment.

Humanity

September 5th, 2002

This post was inspired by several different conversations in various parts of the weblog community, most of which I came to too late to make a meaningful contribution. Some are about terrorism, some are about privacy, others are about diet and food. All are about the relationship between individual responsibility and societal influence.

Do mentally competent, adult individuals have responsibility for their own actions? Yes, of course they do. Maintaining anything else would be patently absurd. Do those individuals make their own choices, free of societal influence? That is a more difficult issue, one I’ve spent my adult life pondering.

Our American mythos of individualism leads us to believe that everyone can and should invent themselves of whole cloth. We are expected to think, act and behave as if no one had a hand in making us who we are. Those who see other influences in their lives (parents, friends, society) are said to lack the moral strength to make their own way. There are two odd things about this claim:

(1) Those who claim god has guided them or chosen their path or called them rarely face this criticism. Apparently, American religious values trump our individualistic values.

(2) The charge of moral weakness is only made when a negative trait is discussed. If a person says “I’m smart because my Mom is smart” or “I’m patriotic because my society has instilled that value in me” there’s no criticism. But the moment a person says “I’m poor because my Dad was poor” or “I’m fat because my society sends me contradictory messages about food and body image” they are called morally weak.

I think the relationship between individual responsability and social influence is far more complex, and far more interesting, than either side of this debate usually awknowledges. Society does send us a variety of confusing, contradictory messages, through media, peers and family. These messages vary in intensity but they are ever-present and they shape who we are and what we value. But at the same time, we are individuals, learning, living and growing in this environment. We make decisions about who and what we want to be, while shaping our environment in a variety of ways.

Both of these images are true — there is absolutely no contradiction. Society shapes us, we shape society, and somewhere in the middle, our own humanity emerges. This process is constant, much like the Escher drawing in which one hand draws another. This is what makes human beings unique and wonderful — we create not only ourselves, but our environment and each other.