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April 16, 2015

fixed elections? why not?

This may just be my fervent belief in the slow degradation of all things talking, but at this point I find it not inconceivable that all of our elections, from the school board to the President of These United States, are not just a little less scrupulous but just plain rigged from the get-go.   That's a very hard thing for an American to grasp onto, as the exceptionalism that has been drilled into us by our otherwise excellent public education has a component of truthfulness and honesty (fair play , dare I say) that makes wholesale corruption seem untenable, a fiction of movies and television, and one that is always punished in the end.  But take what you know of human nature, what you know of this system of oligarchs and the subsistence earners who work so hard to line the oligarchs' pockets, of institutional cruelty and discrimination and all those other devils that pop up now and again and make us gasp and cover our mouths, take that knowledge and ask yourself: why would fixing elections be so implausible?

These cheery thoughts are brought to mind because, in Virginia, a certain brand of electronic voting machines (AVS WinVote) were pulled from service by the Commonwealth.  Why?  Because they were comically insecure.

As one of my colleagues taught me, BLUF - Bottom Line Up Front. If an election was held using the AVS WinVote, and it wasn't hacked, it was only because no one tried. The vulnerabilities were so severe, and so trivial to exploit, that anyone with even a modicum of training could have succeeded. They didn't need to be in the polling place - within a few hundred feet (e.g., in the parking lot) is easy, and within a half mile with a rudimentary antenna built using a Pringles can. Further, there are no logs or other records that would indicate if such a thing ever happened, so if an election was hacked any time in the past, we will never know.

Time was, fixing an election was hard work — ask the ghost of Joe Kennedy how much it cost to buy West Virginia.  But since we've moved past those clunky, beautiful voting machines (which are impossible to tamper with without physical access) in favor of computers, computers with zero transparency, computers lobbied for by companies connected with politicians, you can fix an election with a few minutes of the tappity-tappity that hackers do in movies.

Motive?  Who can say?  I say of course.  But opportunity?   Opportunity has become a lot more opportune.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:34 AM

April 14, 2015

david brooks has deep thoughts about body cams

So David Brooks, who will soon be promoting a new book of his, the latest collection of David Brooks fan fiction entitled "Why Can't More People Be Like David Brooks?" continues to file his column for the NYT, which is as easy as thinking out loud?

This morning, David Brooks concedes that maybe body cams for cops is a good idea.  And yet... something about the whole thing just makes David Brooks a tad uncomfortable:

When a police officer is wearing a camera, the contact between an officer and a civilian is less likely to be like intimate friendship and more likely to be oppositional and transactional. Putting a camera on an officer means she is less likely to cut you some slack, less likely to not write that ticket, or to bend the regulations a little as a sign of mutual care.

Putting a camera on the police officer means that authority resides less in the wisdom and integrity of the officer and more in the videotape.

When making fun of David Brooks I usually try to be polite, after all, we are just gentlemen disagreeing over something, but the fucking guy has literally never fucking left his house since he was watching fucking Andy Griffith as a kid.  For fuck's sake.

Posted by mrbrent at 11:09 AM

April 12, 2015

maybe cuomo has all these wanna-teachers we don't know about?

You are perhaps familiar with my support of public school teachers everywhere.   I and all my genius friends are the product of public education, and some of my teachers affected me so much I am still friends with them, cough cough years later.

You are also aware of the war on the same public school teachers, conducted by people like my governor, Andrew Cuomo, who somehow think that Our Failing Schools are the fault of the teachers and not, oh, a thankless and underfunded system.  The Guv is a big fan of charter schools, which is an odd coincidence, because charter-school lovin' hedge fund executives poured money into the the Cuomo campaign.

But as Cuomo has failed in replacing the public school system with a privatized system that would enrich his donors, Cuomo has had to settle on making life as difficult as possible for teachers — taking away their tenure, for one, and evaluating them based on test scores of their students.  And I think that is ridiculous, but I find it difficult to explain why in words.

But a public school teacher friend of mine pointed out this op-ed from another teacher on evaluations, and it explains perfectly why evaluating public school teachers is such a stupid idea.  And I try to avoid pullquoting such a large portion of someone's piece, but this is so good and apt and vital that I'm just gonna slap it in there.

It's a disgrace that members of the Assembly and Senate, who have no idea who my kids are or what they need, are charged with not only telling me what to teach, but also judging me on factors having nothing to do with whether or not I'm doing my job well.

I will not let a test tied to untested Common Core standards determine the future of my students. I will continue to teach them what they need. I will continue to do everything I deem necessary to make them share my love of the English language.

If Cuomo wants to fire me for that, he can go ahead. There are plenty of people who need to learn English rather than test-prep, and if teachers like me can't help the city's public schoolchildren, we'll help someone else. But when that happens, who will help city kids learn what they really need?

As my teacher friend, who pointed this out to me and who, like every other teacher I know, cares more about the kids more than I'll ever care about my job, says, "What are you gonna do, fire me?  Who else would want this job?"

Posted by mrbrent at 11:51 AM