Wednesday, December 31, 2008

2008 Year In Review

Another Year of Blogging: 2008 In Review

New Year's Eve is also the anniversary of the Deeth Blog, and today marks six years on the air. A look back at the year that was blogged:


When it was all over in the fall, I concluded that the Jan. 3 Democratic caucuses were the Most Important Ever. The six top Dems all passed through Johnson County in the final 36 or so hours, though varying assignments and pre-caucus number-crunching duties meant I saw only Hillary, on New Year's Day, where Tom Vilsack and Chelsea "no comment, Weekly Reader" Clinton stood silent.

By month's end four of the six were gone, and the long war of attrition began. Looking back, the Iowa win was the first big step on the road to the White House for Obama. But Ted Kennedy, as it turned out, didn't trump Hillary's "meaningless" Florida win.

On the Republican side, Iowa stirred the pot. Huckabee won, but the death rattle of Fred Thompson screwed him in South Carolina. By month's end it was looking clear that McCain was the man. And it was in January that Mitt let the dogs out.

I caught a bad case of Super Bowl fever late in January, and with sub-zero weather at Lambeau we imagined Ice Bowl II. But this time the ending was unhappy, and as it turned out it was the last time we'd see Number 4 in our uniform.


Super Sunday was quickly followed by Super Tuesday. We thought that was going to end the whole thing; guess we were wrong. As Obama began his all-month win streak after the Überdienstag draw, the GOP race briefly settled into a two-way. But it didn't take long for McCain to mathematically clinch. At our house, we settled into the Tuesday night routine of election return watching.

And Tina Fey makes her most interesting political statement of the year: NOT the Palin impersonation, but the "Bitches Get Stuff Done" rant:


Personal stuff highlighted March as I got a new job title: Grandpa.

A happy day, with a little sadness the next as I had to say a sudden goodbye to my old friend Butter.

Politically, the June primary field took shape and I got to know the three Republicans taking on Dave Loebsack in the 2nd CD. County conventions of both parties met. At the GOP convention I did my first Linux liveblog. I spent most of the Democratic convention locked in the secret Credentials Bunker, and the Democrats filled every seat for the first time in memory or maybe in history. Statewide, what realigning there was moved in Obama's direction; in some counties Team Edwards moved en masse.

Democrats started to figure out the delegate math in minute detail, and argue about do-overs in Florida and Michigan. And I figured the only way to settle it was the Whig Strategy of 1836.

Eliot Spitzer clinched Scandal of the Year. I feel an awful sense of deja vu as an Iowa City family is found dead. The Smallest Farm sets its start. And Brett Favre absolutely, positively, finally and officially retired.


All Pennsylvania, all month, and God Damn America. Gas prices keep shooting up, and we thought the roads couldn't possibly get any muddier. Or the campaign. Bitter-gate, shot and a beer, the Worst Debate Ever... April had it all.

Not much better in central Iowa, as Leonard Boswell's campaign was All Nader All The Time.

I met Worst Person In The World Steve King for the first time at a Republican district convention, and started to get the idea that this Miller-Meeks gal might have an edge with the GOP base. But at this point everyone knew Peter Teahen was the certain nominee.

The Democrats had a marathon convention as once again every seat was filled and 84 people ran for four delegate seats.


My eight year old asked, "Is there a such a thing in politics like overtime, like in football?" The Michigan-Florida battle finally came to its conclusion, arguments over the definition of "popular vote" ensue, and we learned that Appalachia had little love for Obama. Yet, delegate by delegate, the Obama train inches forward.

On the Iowa primary front, Leonard Boswell dodges debates and the Register retaliates by endorsing Ed Fallon. And the Republican bloggers openly loathe Peter Teahen.

Gas prices start to spike, which most people think is a bad thing. And the majority of the Smallest Farm crop gets planted.


The dam burst on June 3, and the dam overflowed on June 10.

Obama clinched the nomination on the last day of the primary season with an avalanche of superdelegates, and the fall campaign finally began in earnest. Since we were having our own, local primary, I missed most of the action.

But there was, in fact, action in Iowa--all on the GOP side. Two squeaker primaries with Mariannette Miller-Meeks prevailing in the 2nd CD and, big upset, Christopher "who?" Reed in the Senate race. George Eichhorn was itching for a recount... but everyone very quickly forgot about the primary.

Obama cancels a Cedar Rapids trip, but John McCain came to Columbus Junction (despite the governor's requests). Even W came to check it out.

Both parties pushed their conventions back. The Dems met at the end of the month, in an interminable marathon that ran past 2 a.m. (That was also where I discovered my wifi worked better in Linux than in Windows.)

But mostly I switched gears from political blogger to flood photographer. And the journalism got too participatory for me the day we sandbagged my house. Fortunately the water stopped a block and a half away. The Smallest Farm stayed above water and grew nicely, as I started harvesting catnip.

And George Carlin suffered a terminal health episode.


The cleanup begins. Talk of a special legislative session begins to float on the receding flood waters, but that never comes to pass.

Party unity gets serious and the fall campaign begins in earnest. Obama rocks Europe, sinks a three pointer, and ends the month with that postponed Cedar Rapids visit. I realize that I've seen this movie before: five years ago starring Chris Rock.

McCain calls Obama a "celebrity." Paris Hilton responds, and comes off the real winner believe it or not. My meme of the year makes its debut, as someone unearths a clip of McCain:

Iowa Republicans convene and oust a national committee member in a hard right turn.

The Smallest Farm was producing full meals and excess zucchini, despite the gopher. And in Green Bay, lots of drama as my fears--Favre changes his mind right at training camp time--are realized.


Sarah WHO? Thanks, but no thanks.

Obama tries to build the drama, but even a leak-free ship can't hide the Secret Service in Joe Biden's driveway. Deeth Blog traffic spikes to an all-time record as my archive of Biden stories is suddenly relevant. The convention is marred a little for me by the Florida and Michigan calendar cheaters getting full seating, but I forgot all that on Monday of convention week as Obama stopped by Davenport on his way to Denver.

Hillary and Bill did what they had to and did it well, and Barack nailed The Big Stadium Speech.

The first pseudo-debate of the fall and Rick Warren's first visit of the year to the top of page one, as a Get Smart reference to the "cone of silence" is the big meme for a week or so.

Everybody moves and everybody gets paid on the first of tha month. Gas prices really, REALLY spike and Republicans start the chant of "drill baby drill."

Better late than never as Jim Leach endorses Obama.

Like all Iowans, we feast on corn, only this year it's Smallest Farm corn.

The world turns a blind eye to human rights and parties in Beijing; I launch a two-week Olympic blogathon that accomplishes nothing except getting me Nazi-bashed. (In November, we finally see Chinese Democracy, and toast with a Dr Pepper.)

Sad endings: Brett is a Jet, a professor finds it too much to take, and John Edwards gets caught with his pants down, clinching Scandal of the Year.


This is the month when Obama sealed the deal. Or maybe the month that McCain blew it.

It started off rough, with that brief Palin poll spike. True, she nailed the raw moose meat convention speech, which established all the big lines (hockey mom, pit bull with lipstick on a pig, Barracuda, etc.) But the more we got to know her, the more questions we had and the fewer she answered. Sometimes those went over the top, like the Secret Baby Conspiracy. But as soon as Tina Fey said "I can see Russia from my house," the public perception was locked in.

I got to see the Sarah Show live at the Grand Rapids--I mean, Cedar Rapids--airport, and when the protesters protested she didn't react, she just kept reading the teleprompter.

Near the end of the Palin peak, Kathleen Sebelius suggested that race maybe, maybe is a teeny weeny factor, and landed me on the front page of the Drudge Report to the tune of 20,000 hits an hour. My old bud Howard Dean stopped by Iowa City, too.

Mid-month, the crash of the economy gets serious and McCain double-fumbled; first with the "fundamentals of the economy are sound" and then with the "suspended campaign" play that failed.

The public is enraged at the bailout, but the Too Big To Fail argument prevails. Obama says enough is enough, and McCain copies, as the rivals agree to strongly oppose snakes on planes.

In the midst of all this, McCain tries to cancel the first debate, alienates David Letterman, and doesn't look at Obama once when they do debate.

Democrats punish traitor Joe Lieberman by, ooh this is tough... not eating lunch with him. Unfazed, Joementum just keeps droning on for McCain.

By September 25th I've heard enough and vote for Obama the first day I can; history will mark this year as the election that early voting broke through into the mainstream.


Sarah repeats her talking points for 90 minutes at the VP debate, but Tina upstages her with some fancy pageant walkin'. Trying to be a good sport, the governor does the SNL bit herself, but doesn't seem to get that she's the butt of the joke.

McCain calls Obama "that one" at debate two and Joe The Plumber dominates debate three. People tuned in and did NOT see the Jeremiah Wright caricature of the attack memes.

But McCain's crowds, and especially Palin's crowds, get madder and madder as Palin drops the "pallin' around with terrorists" bomb. Finally even McCain is sick of it and shows some spine briefly when he stands up to a supporter and calls Obama "a decent family man."

But that glimmer is gone when I see him the next day in Davenport. In fact, the big news out of Davenport happened before McCain even arrived, when the preacher said "there are millions of people around this world praying to their god - whether it's Hindu, Buddha, Allah - that (Obama) wins." (All the press caught it, but because I was liveblogging I had it first and got the traffic.) But McCain doesn't give me a 45 minute world exclusive interview like Gloria LaRiva did.

Barack Obama just kept his cool through it all, as the numbers stabilized and Nate Silver of fivethirtyeight became the breakout blogstar of the year. By month's end the pundits are really trying hard to pretend it's not over. The Democrats go on offense, spending more and more time in Virginia and North Carolina, while Iowa City instead gets surrogates like the other Illinois senator, Dick Durbin.

The early vote lines keep growing and growing and growing, as people simply can't wait to vote.

Iowa's Republican bloggers start grumbling that the state party is ignoring Chris "Not Tom Harkin" Reed, who makes a splash in the one debate by calling Harkin "the Tokyo Rose of al Qaeda and Middle East terrorism." But all the GOP blogs are convinced that their one bright spot will be Miller-Meeks. The Dems, meanwhile, think Becky Greenwald has a shot at Tom Latham.

Locally, after many months without opposition, Flip Yes on the conservation bond was countered with a Flip No.

With all this politickin' and votin', the Smallest Farm gets neglected and quietly goes to seed.


They called it the moment the California polls closed, in what will go down in history as one of those Where Were You When moments. It took a while to tally the final score (weeks in that Alaska Senate race, and they're still counting in Minnesota) but it wasn't a buzzer beater like 2004 or a bad call on the last play like 2000.

Closer to home, slow absentee counts gave us a few scares about some legislators, but when it was done the Dems padded their Des Moines margins. The Flip Nos flipped out and said I can has recount? but Team Yes prevailed. I crunched the local numbers to find the minor distinctions between "Democrats won big" vs. "Democrats won REALLY big," but Obama falls decimal points short of my 70 percent Johnson County goal.

The Saturday before the election, John McCain did the SNL thing and looked like he was at the acceptance stage of the grieving process. Palin launched her 2012 bid, pardoned one turkey, but not all, and blamed the PJ-clad bloggers.

I responded from my parents' basement.

Republicans began the navel-gazing that invariably comes with defeat, while Mike Huckabee and Bobby Jindal swooped into Iowa to say "here I am." Dems patted themselves on the back and watched Obama roll out the cabinet. Two weeks of pseudo-drama were capped with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Journalistically, I rather suddenly regained my amateur status and started inflicting Linux posts on my readers.


December always feels wrong in these year-end retrospectives. Without enough time to sink in, it's either over or under-emphasized.

Bill Richardson shaves for his new job, Bill Ayers finally speaks for himself, and Rod Blagojevich speaks very colorfully to clinch Scandal of the Year.

In Iowa, Republicans line up around the block to run for state chair, while Iowa Dems get some cabinet action with Secretary of Ag Tom Vilsack. Bruce Braley plays his cards right in a palace coup and gets rewarded with a seat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

I get rewarded with traffic for my Linux posts and, six years in and seeking direction in my post-professional era, I wonder if more techie is the way to go.

And as usual, my New Year's resolution is to spellcheck before I post.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Blagojevich Appoints Burris

Burris: Blago Makes A Brilliant, Selfish Move

Unbelievable. He actually did it. As if nothing ever happened.

Rod Blagojevich just named former Illinois Attorney General Roland Burris to Barack Obama's Senate seat.

Harry Reid and Dick Durbin (currently the only Illinois Senator) fired off a "we won't seat him" press release as soon as word leaked, with the obligatory "it's not about you, Roland" disclaimer. But there's a school of thought that the Senate can't refuse to seat an appointed Senator.

The Constitution says the Senate is the "Judge of Elections, Returns and Qualifications" of its own members. Burris is qualified in the sense of age, citizenship and residence, and there's no election or returns to judge.

The only possible end-around is in Illinois, where Secretary of State Jesse White says he'll refuse to certify the appointment. What we don't know yet is whether that's an unimportant technicality or even within his rights; he may be required by law to do the simple, ministerial act of certifying "yes, the governor signed this appointment."

The Senate can, however, seat Burris and then immediately expel him. That takes 66 or 67 votes (depending on whether the other vacancies are filled and whether Burris can vote on his own expulsion). That'll take some Republican votes, and most of them would probably prefer to seat Burris and embarrass the Democratic Senate leadership.

And expulsion becomes not just about Blagojevich, in spite of what the official statements say. Expulsion is so rare that the last time a Senator was expelled was for supporting the freakin' Confederacy. So it becomes at least in part about Burris, and there's the selfish brilliance of Blagojevich's move.

Roland Burris is a respected elder statesman of Illinois politics and would be, if seated, the only African American senator (the other one got a new job). Burris himself hasn't been named in any of the indictments or speculation, and at age 71 he looks like a placeholder until the original Obama term is up in 2010.

The governor with no friends has just gotten the "something tangible up front" that he wanted out of this Senate appointment: the forcibly annexation of Roland Burris and his many friends. Already, people like Rep. Bobby Rush (who got primaried in 2000 by some kid named Obama), Rep. Danny Davis, and State Senate leader Emil Jones (that same Obama's mentor in the legislature) are speaking out for Burris, defending his qualifications while trying to distance him from Blago.

"Blatant appeal to race," write the Illinois Capitol Fax Blog (must-read post), which added the emphasis:
Rush asked his audience “not to hang or lynch the appointee as you try to castigate the appointor.”

“There are no African-Americans in the Senate and I don’t think anyone — any U. S. Senator that’s sitting in the Senate right now wants to go on record to deny one African-American from being seated in the U.S. Senate.

“Feel free to castigate the appointor but don’t lynch the appointor,” Governor Rod Blagojevich said as he left.

Secretary of State White, who's also African American, said: “Even though Roland Burris is an African American, it doesn’t mean that an appointment by a different governor would not be [a black person].”

This is a classic rhetorical dilemma that I learned the hard way during Gulf War 1 covering a protest. A conservative counter-picketer screamed, "You can't support the troops and oppose the war." That's a fallacy, but an effective one, and Blagojevich is banking on that kind of illogic. After all, you cant support the appointee without supporting the appointer, right? The appointment, if Blagojevich makes it stick, asserts his authority and legitimacy, a nice distraction which, he thinks, buys him some time to cut his deal.

Local Option Income Tax

Income Tax: Local Option, Local Context

Contrary to the Fox News stereotype, Democrats have, in fact, met a tax they didn't like. The rest of the Iowa press and blogosphere is missing the local context to this week's rollout a proposal for local option income taxes in Iowa.

Conservatives predictably switched on the Read My Lips alerts. But local option income taxes should be seen not as an "in addition to" tax, but rather as an "instead of" tax, an alternative to the regressive sales tax, which is deeply unpopular here in the Iowa City district of Senate Ways and Means chair Joe Bolkcom.

"I think the discussion of the local option surtax is needed," said Bolkcom. "It is the most progressive local option and is currently being used by 282 Iowa school districts (or 82 percent) quite effectively."

Bolkcom said 50 percent of any new local option income tax revenue should be required to go for across the board property tax reductions. "The discussion of allowing additional ways for cities and counties to raise revenue must be coupled with a verifiable reduction in property taxes to gain political support," he said.

"There are two issues at stake here," said Johnson County Supervisor Rod Sullivan. "First, how much revenue does local government need? The second issue is how do local governments raise this revenue? Both issues are important, but the debates need to be separate."

Some recent changes have made Iowa's sales tax less regressive than it was, but as it's structured now, it still hits people on the lower end of the income scale harder. The Fair Taxers argued in late 2007 that their plan flattened out that regressivity, and that apparently sold well in the context of a Republican caucus, but I wasn't convinced. I want to spread that wealth around a little and base our tax structure on the ability to pay, rather than the need to spend.

"It is pretty simple, really," says Sullivan: "Who should pay more, the rich or the poor? Any move toward less regressive taxes is a move in the right direction."

I remember a Johnson County Democratic convention back in the mid-90s when during a platform debate, a chant of "Tax The Rich! Tax The Rich!" broke out. We have twice rejected the local option sales tax by wide margins, in 1987 and 1999. Both times, the regressivity issue was hot--the Johnson County Democrats endorsed No and actively campaigned against it in `99. Johnson was also one of the last two counties in the state to pass the SILO school sales tax, under some duress, in 2007, and there was a vigorous inevitability vs. regressivity debate among the local Dems.

In March 1999, Iowa City was proposing a library as its biggest ticket item. With the regional retail magnet of the Coral Ridge Mall just opened, there was a big "let somebody else pay" argument in the air. Yet the sales tax lost by more than two to one.

A year and a half later, Iowa City re-proposed the library as a bond issue, with 60 percent yes required, and it passed with 67 percent. Same library, different funding mechanism, a third of the vote shifted. (Apples and oranges disclaimer: the sales tax was a special election while the bond was on the higher-turnout presidential ballot. Still, the comparison captures the mood even if the measurement is inexact.)

If that many people vote against a beloved institution like the Iowa City Public Library because of the funding mechanism, what are the chances of a less-popular item, like say a jail, passing if it's saddled with the extra burden of unpopular regressive funding?

Think through the four syllables of lo-cal op-tion. Each community deciding what type of funding, if any, is best for its own needs; the essence of democracy. "Conservatives have long argued that property taxes are too high," says Sullivan. "The only other option provided was the sales tax, which is even more regressive." The proposal simply gives communities which would prefer a more progressive tax structure that option.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Software as a Subversive Activity, Part 7: Grappling With the Legacy

Grappling With the Legacy: Why Software Reform is Like Healthcare Reform

As we move into the health care debate, we'll hear that yes, single payer would be a better system than the current system based on employers and private insurance companies. Yet the simplicity of single payer appears to be a non-starter, and instead we're going to try to add the one fifth or so of America that's uninsured onto the present unwieldy system.

Thus it is in the open source software world. The barrier to leaving Microsoft World isn't so much the operating system. A casual user, browsing the net, using web mail, maybe playing some music, can switch to Linux world fairly simply. The niche we need to worry about is the typical office environment that defaults to Microsoft just because it's the path of least resistance.

The barrier for business users, and many individuals, is the legacy, and in any sort of bureaucracy, backward compatibility is where innovation goes to die. It's not hard to persuade people that the new system, single payer or Linux, is better. But instead of embracing the new, people fear losing what they have: their present benefits, or the years of customized apps, reports, macros and files they've built up and depend on.

My day job is in a fairly typical, not too techie environment: Government accounting. The kind of place ruled by Microsoft Office and Fear Uncertainty and Doubt, with a centralized IT staff worried about unauthorized screensavers. I only get away with using Firefox because I do the web site and need to check it for cross-browser compatibility. And “do the website” is kind of an overstatement. I'm not a programmer. I'm a writer and a statistician, and my Microsoft Office skill is about intermediate.

I'm also the lowest-level techie, the person who deals with the end users on a “go to the Menu, Edit, Select All, no, up one, no down one, OK that one” level. And on that level I know that the low-low end user struggles with even a version upgrade within Microsoft World. Some of them are never going to be able to mail merge again without help if the menu changes. There's a lot more folks like that than there are hotshots at startups, and these are the people we need to reach.

Because Microsoft lock-in ripples beyond the office. Since learning is a lot of work, it's easier to do it at home the way you learned it at work, which means one more user pays for one more OEM Windows license for a home machine, and one more person starting to get hooked with a legacy of Microsoft files. Sometimes that decision even comes with an official nudge from work, like a low or no interest loan, deducted from payroll or, at schools, tacked onto the tuition bill. But there's conditions attached. To participate, your machine has to be to our IT department's specifications. Linux netbook? No can do. That way, they justify this de facto Microsoft subsidy as “training,” just like corporations are now justifying attempts to fire people for smoking when they're off the clock as “reducing health care costs.” All your lungs are belong to us, all your desktop are belong to us.

I don't think everyday working people are lazy or stupid. Most of us will learn to use the tools we need to do our jobs. But Real People, non-geeks, aren't software ideologues. Computers are not a passion, they're just a tool, a means to an end, be that browsing at home or crunching numbers at work. Change for change's sake, or for the political reason that open source software is a blow against corporatism and for individual liberty, isn't exactly welcomed. The Free As In Beer argument doesn't help persuade people who aren't writing the check, especially if the end result is More Work For Me.

And, as anyone who's been through the double data entry hell of a system conversion can tell you, NOBODY likes to re-do work that they've already done. Instead, the attitude gets a little selfish, like a person with solid gold insurance faced with health care reform: “I like what I have. Can I keep it?”

How to persuade people in this environment? This post, for one. If you're getting here from some link on a Linux site, let me explain: this is primarily a local political blog, of long standing. The local decision makers are regular readers, as are many of the taxpayers, and the decisions are ultimately, on some level, public.

I've never worked in a private sector corporate environment, so I don't know to make the case to the pointy haired bosses. Maybe the bad economy will help, and maybe Microsoft will be its own worst enemy. Let's say you're the IT decision maker. Sales tells you it's not good. You're faced with a capital expense of upgrading old machines that are running XP just fine, because Microsoft is cutting you off and pushing Vista down your throat. You may want to say screw it. Slap Ubuntu and Open Office on those low-low end user machines. They'll be struggling with a transition either way, but with open source you're not out any short-term cash. You can even get a theme for them that'll make it look just like XP, and as long as they can print they'll be happy. If the experiment fails, put the hardware upgrades and the Vista licenses in next year's budget.

But if that experiment works? You've saved money, and several more IT pilot fish have learned that there's more to life than Microsoft, and a couple of them might embrace open source with the zealotry of the converted. And several more low-low end users have gotten comfy, and might be checking out that netbook at the mall. And that, my geeky readers, is a foot in the door.

Next week: I'll take my own medicine and check out my own legacy files.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Bad Passwords

Simple Security Tip: Don't Use A Bad Password

The last several weeks I've been trying to persuade you readers to improve your computing experience by switching to Linux. You may not be ready, and I understand. But here's something you can do in minutes to improve your computer security: change your password.

You recall last fall when Sarah Palin's personal email got hacked. I'm not sticking up for the folks who did that, though I will note that she was using the personal account in a deliberate effort to keep state business off the record. But from a techie standpoint, one of the reasons was because she used a bad password--a seven letter dictionary word ("popcorn").

Dictionary words, given names and consecutive keys are way too common, and not too hard for 733+ H4X0R$ to figure out. The "brute force" method of breaking and entering uses a dictionary file of words and combinations.

What's My Pass? has compiled a list of the 500 most common, worst passwords. "Approximately one out of every nine people uses at least one password on the list, and one out of every 50 people uses one of the top 20 worst passwords."

It's an interesting Rohrshach test: What do these micro-choices, compiled, say about a society? We tend to advertise our loyalties with desktop totems and with bumper stickers or even with tattoos, and unfortunately we tend to think of those loyalties when staring at a password prompt for the first time. What's the first thing people think of? What do you value in six to eight characters?

The number one password is "123456," one of five consecutive character combinations in the top ten. Is that laziness, lack of creativity?

The only non-consecutive number combo in the top 10 is "696969." Sexual and profane words abound all over the top 500. Interestingly, the sexual vocabulary is used far more than the excretory vocabulary.

Speaking of number two, the second most used password is, and I kid you not, "password." My guess is this, and stuff like "computer," "letmein," or the pathetic "helpme," is technophobes forced into computer use at work.

For the materialists among us, makes of cars are common, with "mustang" topping the list an number 10. There's more individual given names than models of cars, so you can't tell how many people rank their cars ahead of people. And is that given name a spouse, child, or pet? (I see one of my cats and an ex-girlfriend here...)

Sports teams are big, too, and the interesting thing here is which teams rank highest. This could indicate either relative popularity, or relative stupidity of the fans. This is harder to figure out than you think. Is "dallas" the result of IT making you change it from "cowboys?" Does "magic" indicate an Orlando fan or a Harry Potter fan? And I'll be Amero-centric and assume that "united" is just a word and not a reference to Manchester United.

With those caveats, here are the top, unquestionable, All-American sports team nicknnames as passwords:

  • yankees
  • tigers
  • cowboys
  • eagles
  • steelers
  • gators
  • flyers
  • braves
  • rangers
  • lakers

    And yes, "packers" is in the top 500.

    As for sports themselves, there's four in the top 100. Baseball, surprisingly, outranks football, with soccer ahead of hockey. Basketball must just be too many letters to type. NASCAR falls just short of the top 100, but of course is not a sport.

    Even self-identifying geeks aren't hard to figure out, with the Enterprise's ncc1701 on the list. Comic book fans: Batman outranks superman.

    You don't have to go with a Microsoft install, 25 alphanumeric character password. But your password is the wrong place to wear things on your sleeve.
  • Thursday, December 25, 2008

    Commie Christmas

    It's A Commie Christmas!

    Seasoᴎs gᴙээtiᴎgs, comᴙades. Is next, Soviet holiday cards.

    Technically, these were "New Year" cards, but the Russian Orthodox church survived the 1917-91 era and many of the common Christmas themes are here in these early Space Age cards--with a Soviet twist.

    In this card, we see Santa, inexplicably in blue rather than Communist red. ᴙэmэmbэᴙ, iᴎ Soviet ᴙussia Saᴎta is like KGB: always watching you!

    If you pull up the big version of the tree you'll see that the ornaments are rockets and the very recognizable Sputnik 1. And instead of reindeer, in flies a Little Octobrist kid cosmonaut on a rocket, patriotically waving a flag. Nothing says peace on earth like heavy throw weight.

    Santa's watch reads five minutes to midnight. Probably not a reference to the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists' Doomsday Clock.

    Here the cosmonauts have extended their Christmas spirit to the surface of the moon, a bold prediction of victory in the big battle of the space race. Reality was not so kind, with their lunar launch vehicle blowing up on the pad right around the time Neil Armstrong took his one small step. But the tree sure looks pretty with its red star top, poised like a missile ready to launch on its CCCP tree stand,

    Remember, my capitalist friends, Christmas is the time to spread that wealth around a little.

    Wednesday, December 24, 2008

    Harkin Number One Bush Opponent

    CQ Vote Scores: Harkin Number One Bush Opponent

    Tom Harkin voted against George Bush's declared position more than any other senator in 2008, according to Congressional Quarterly vote scores. Harkin opposed Bush's position 75 percent of the time.

    The votes and scores are in this article. The tables themselves are in annoying .pdf format. But I shouldn't complain. I used to have to trudge over to the library to read this stuff when I should have been writing my master's thesis. Now I can enjoy it with my first cup of coffee, and you'll read this post, unlike that never-written thesis which no one outside my committee would have read.

  • Speaking of the miracles of technology, PC World says there are several techie things that you won't see anymore after the economy tanks. Some we'll miss (Free Tech Support), some we won't:
    2. Wi-Fi You Have to Pay For

    Everyone is going to share the cost of public Wi-Fi because the penny-pinching public will gravitate to places that offer "free" Wi-Fi. Companies that charge extra for Wi-Fi will see their iPhone, BlackBerry and netbook-toting customers -- i.e., everybody -- taking business elsewhere.

    Someone tell the University of Iowa campus, a wifi deadzone for us mere citizens. No University ID, no wifi.

  • Another thing you won't see is VHS, as the last major supplier lets go.

  • PETA doesn't like Sarah Palin and the feeling is mutual. I never did manage to play their "throw a snowball at Palin" game; all I get is "send this to a friend" links that try to sucker you into the PETA mailing list.

    I have a pet theory, unencumbered by any actual evidence, that PETA's rise in the late `80s was boosted by under the table right wing money. Environmentalists were on a roll in the late `80s, but it fizzled about the time PETA rose. How does a small fringe group with a relatively extreme message get so much visibility? PETA's unpopular tactics painted all environmentalists as extreme, and in my gut I don't think that's an accident.

    Still, PETA has gotten a lot of very attractive actresses to go naked rather than wear fur, and we can't complain about that. (But the women in cages fetish is creepy.) As for Throw A Snowball At Palin, making fun of politicians is exactly what the First Amendment was written for.

  • I'm going through my thousands of pictures putting together a slide show for our inauguration party; if you have any really good stuff let me know. My problem, other than sheer volume: I'm writing a draft of history and I don't know yet what to do with John Edwards. Great candidate, great policies, great supporters... did something stupid.

    This writer says it's time to give John a break.

  • Despite the firm and disappointing "President-elect Obama is not in favor of the legalization of marijuana," Esquire says anti-prohibitionists are hopeful and think it might be a late second term thing.

  • Watch your headlines in the era of tabbed browsers: Obama and peeved progressives gets truncated to the first eleven letters. Almost as good as "News From The Associated Press."
  • Tuesday, December 23, 2008

    Car Talk Guys: Gas Tax

    Car Talk Guys Want 50 Cent Gas Tax Hike, and More Radio, Radio

    Ray Magliozzi of NPR's "Car Talk" (pronounced "CAH Tawk") wants a 50 cent gas tax hike:

    Ray: When gas was four bucks a gallon, everybody cried.
    Tom: Naaah, I just siphoned it outta your cah.
    Ray: No wonder I was getting 3 miles a gallon.

    More seriously -- and they always get to the point after goofing around:

    "Gas is less than two bucks a gallon. There's never been a better time to do this. If we added a 50-cent national, gasoline tax right now, and gas cost $2.50 a gallon, would that be the end of the world? Hardly."

    "This new tax would generate between 50 and 100 billion dollars every year for the treasury. That money could be used to help rebuild our crumbling roads and bridges, and develop new technologies for more fuel-efficient cars... further decreasing demand for oil. This is a way for us to get on the wagon, and stop sending money to countries that don't like us. We could become energy independent."

    Sorry, couldn't get the famous Saturday Night Live clip. (Anyone else catch Costello yet on the Colbert Christmas show?)

    Also on the radio, radio, Iowa Liberal looks at this New York Times article and cloncludes, "Democrats gave the public serious candidates, Republicans gave them future talk-radio hosts."

    Media reform is an up and coming issue on the left (says this Blog for Iowa post) and a bugaboo on the right, as Rush et al. whip up their audiences over an alleged return of the "Fairness Doctrine," abandoned back in the Reagan era. Personally, I think that's a straw man, right up there with "Barack wants to take your gun away."

    There's more than one progressive way to look at this issue, and I find myself more in agreement with Jon Stinton of Air America, under the deliberately provocative headline that plays off Rush's own slogan, "Limbaugh Is Right on the Fairness Doctrine ":
    "The conventional wisdom is that Rush's success depended on the 1987 repeal of the Fairness Doctrine. Some say that if he had to make time for opposing opinions, Rush would have flopped. Personally, I think he is most entertaining when he is dismantling opposing arguments. He's successful because he is a superior entertainer.

    It never occurred to me to argue for reimposing the Fairness Doctrine. Instead, I sought to capitalize on the other side of a market the right already had built."

    Monday, December 22, 2008

    Software as a Subversive Activity, Part 6: Why Linux Is Better

    Software as a Subversive Activity, Part 6: Linux Isn't Just Good Ideology -- It's Better Computing

    There's no way around it: the longer you run a Windows installation, the slower and less responsive it gets. On my year-old dual-boot laptop, I wait longer and longer for Windows to boot, and longer and longer for programs to do what I ask. Meanwhile, my Ubuntu Linux installation, on exactly the same hardware, installed almost as long ago, is as snappy as the day I set it up—faster, in fact, as I've tweaked it and geeked it.

    Thus far, my Linux series has focused on ideology and money. I haven't looked at why Linux is actually a better computing experience. This is meant for beginners, not ubergeeks, so we'll start with something the average person can actually feel: user-end machine performance and maintenance.

    “To mess up a Linux box, you need to work at it,” the saying goes. “To mess up your Windows box, you just need to work on it.” Every time you install something in Windows, whether you know you're installing something or not, the program embeds itself in the guts of your system. Eventually, over time, these little bits build up, like the waxy yellow buildup on the kitchen floor that so traumatized 1950s housewives. Digital junk DNA without function clogs your memory and your drives, slowing down the tasks you really want to do. We geeks call this “cruft,” and I can't define it better that this fun piece does.

    Sometimes the best solution is just to reinstall Windows. That is, if your 25 digit installation key is still any good, and if you even HAVE an actual Windows disk and not one of those nasty Restore disks that “fix” the problem by wiping the whole drive.

    Windows programs love to make themselves the dominant monkey on your system, and like all dominant monkeys they fling poop: placing icons on your desktop and quick start menu, making themselves the default for whatever you want to do, and opening themselves up automatically. Load iTunes and at every startup you get hit in the face with QuickTime, a load of monkey dung in your system tray taking up resources whether you need it or (usually) not.

    And that's just the stuff you WANT to run. Windows is also vulnerable to stuff you don't want. No Windows system is complete without a firewall to keep bad stuff out and an anti-virus program to catch stuff as it gets in. (I've included the links to my favorite Windows-protecting software--not to encourage you to stay in Microsoft World but just to show you I'm on the up and up here, and to help protect you till I persuade you to make the Big Switch.)

    I have to install all of these one by one on each Windows system I set up. They are up and running every second I'm booted in Windows, and they use up system resources that could otherwise be devoted to my critical tasks (playing music, detecting space aliens, and LOLcats.) They also require constant updates.

    Viruses and malware can happen in Linux, but rarely do. There are about 40 known Linux viruses, vs. over 60,000 Windows viruses That's not, as most people assume, because Linux is an “off-brand.” It's because of the design of the operating system itself. Linux works on a sort of need-to-know basis called the "least privilege principle." Programs use the least amount of special privileges needed to do the task, and tasks are organized to need the least amount of special privileges. If malware or a virus tries to get into a Linux system, it's just denied permission.

    The easiest to understand explanation I've found is in this article, where Scott Granneman says:
    “On a Windows system, programs installed by a non-Administrative user can still add DLLs and other system files that can be run at a level of permission that damages the system itself. Even worse, the collection of files on a Windows system - the operating system, the applications, and the user data - can't be kept apart from each other. Things are intermingled to a degree that makes it unlikely that they will ever be satisfactorily sorted out in any sensibly secure fashion.”

    Granneman notes that a Windows user can infect the system just by reading an email. “A Linux user would have to read the email, save the attachment, give the attachment executable permissions, and then run the executable. Further, due to the strong separation between normal users and the privileged root user, our Linux user would have to be running as root to really do any damage to the system.”

    Though it's not essential, I also run a memory manager, because Windows doesn't release memory well. You stop running a program and a chunk of the memory it was using just sits out there. Without a memory manager, the only way to clear things out is to reboot. You've all done that. Things are running slow and it's time for Canadian Tech Support: when in doot, reboot. Eh.

    Everything I found on Linux memory management is way too geeky for even me. All I can tell you is it hasn't been an issue for me, and my system flies with that fresh-booted feeling for weeks on end. I've never left it on for longer than weeks, because I pack it up and take it places, but they say months and even years without a reboot is not unheard of.

    Like Windows, Linux issues upgrades. Windows always promises “you can keep working” while the mysterious upgrades install. But when it finishes, there's an insistence that you reboot. You can say “later,” sure. But you'll be pestered and pestered and eventually, if you aren't there to click “later,” the system will reboot itself, losing whatever you're in the middle of doing.

    Linux updates are manual; you do them at your leisure. I get a small taskbar reminder every few days. They require a password and tell you just what they're doing. You don't need to reboot every time you install an application. Only a kernel update requires a reboot, and even then it just tells you, once, and it will wait till you're ready.

    In addition to the always-running items in Windows,, I have to periodically run several maintenance programs. I have not one, but two, different spyware and adware removal tools. With Linux, as noted, that stuff just doesn't get in.

    When Windows saves a file, it uses the first open space on the drive, consecutively, and thus scatters the file across the drive. The Windows disk defragmenter reorganizes your hard drive and puts those pieces together to run more efficiently. Linux keeps the pieces together in the first place, so that's one more thing you don't have to do.

    One of the big places that cruft accumulates is in the Windows registry, which stores information about programs, settings, and users. A big registry slows down the system, so it needs to be cleaned periodically. You don't want to mess around in the registry if you don't know what you're doing—you can corrupt the entire Windows installation! I use a registry cleaner program.

    Linux doesn’t use a registry. Configuration is stored in plain text files, on a per-program and per-user basis which are easy to manage/backup and transfer between systems. Instead of loading an entire registry, it only grabs what it needs. The Linux approach also means there's not one single point of failure.

    I also have a startup analysis tool that helps me clear out stuff I don't want running at every boot, like Quick Time and other monkey poop. But in Linux, after a little initial work, I haven't had to revisit the startup.

    Finally, I have a disk cleaner. Over time Linux accumulates a few unnecessary items too, but an easy command line item cleans you up. And in Linux “cleanup” just means gaining a little hard drive space by removing stray unused files, not scrubbing the guts of the system. If the house is cleaner in the first place, it's easier to pick up.

    I've invested a little time in learning Linux. But I've saved far more time in the long run by avoiding the ongoing maintenance work that Windows requires and Linux just... doesn't.

    Monday Clips

    Monday Clips: Guaranteed Less Interesting Than Yesterday

    Well, I knew that post about redistricting yesterday would ruffle some feathers, but one commenter says it was "a ludicrous post." The last ludacris post I wrote had to do with hoes in different area codes.

    We have a smart president-elect, smart enough to have Hawaii to go home to for Christmas. Here in the Midwest this frozen Monday morning, we have:

  • Remember the cell phone gap? Well, the numbers are back and it looks like landline-only polls overstated McCain support by just over 2 percent.

  • I know I'm on dangerous ground even mentioning Rick Warren without an obligatory set of denunciations, but I'll leave that for now to other people with more eloquence of righteous anger. That said, what has happened has happened and Obama chose the moment for a hand across the divide rather than a stand for marriage equality (which he, and everyone except Kucinich, was always poor on anyway).

    And with that as the context, Alan Wolfe argues that what's more important than Obama asking is Warren saying yes: "How many evangelical preachers will be able to demonize Obama once Mr. Evangelical himself has blessed him?" A must read that's hard to excerpt.

  • In another must-read at Kos, Trapper John looks at the history of the UAW in the contest of all of labor and the progressive movement. The whole thing is goos but this passage explains the upcoming Fair Share debate in the Iowa Legislature better than anything I've seen yet. It's not "right to work," it's a free ride:
    Much has been made during the bailout debate about the supposed efficiency of the Japanese, Korean and German non-union "transplant" facilities. The transplants, which are primarily concentrated in Southern states with free-rider laws, are lauded as lean operations that still pay their employees a fair wage. And indeed, they are certainly leaner operations than UAW plants, due in large part to their last-mover advantage. And they do pay decent wages. But that's just half the story.

    The transplants are located in the South precisely because they have been designed to avoid unionization. Most Southern states have enacted free-rider laws (often known, in an Orwellian twist, as "right to work laws") which require unions selected as bargaining representatives to represent employees who refuse to pay dues. Imagine if citizens of the US could choose whether or not to pay taxes, and non-payers were still entitled to all government services. Imagine how quickly the government would wither and die. That's why unionization is so hard in free-rider states. And that's why Mercedes, and BMW, and Nissan have built nearly all of their plants in the South.

  • What was I saying last week about the post-Gutenberg era? Here it is in Slate: "Wherever digital zeros and ones can dislodge analog processes, they either have or are. Call it a digital slay-ride."
  • Sunday, December 21, 2008

    Repositioning for Iowa Redistricting

    Repositioning for Redistricting: Beat Latham in `10, Retire Boswell in `12

    It's an unspoken truth of Iowa politics that we're losing a seat in Congress in the 2010 census. (As a blogger, it's my job to say rude, uncomfortable, yet true things). That sets up the ultimate in hardball politics, since five members don't go into four districts.

    As a partisan, I want to come out of the carnage with a 3-1 Democratic split. We can do it, but it's a two-cycle process:

    1) Take out Tom Latham in 2010.

    2) Get Leonard Boswell to retire in 2012.

    Follow my logic.

    Iowa redistricting is more unpredictable than anywhere else in the country. A little refresher course: The Legislative Service Bureau draws a map, based solely on census population. The Legislature gets an up or down vote and can't amend anything until three maps have been submitted. In 1991, they took the first map; in 2001 they rejected one and went with the second.

    Still, simple population math indicates there will be two eastern Iowa districts, a Polk County dominated seat, and a Republican western district.

    Would I like to see Steve King gone? Sure. But there's X number of Republicans in the state, they're geographically concentrated in the west, and it'll take a primary to get rid of King. And I'm a firm believer that it's up to a party to choose its own candidates. Republican primaries are not Democrats' business and vice versa.

    Besides, all the base are belong to him. And King is crazy but not stupid. He'll keep saying outrageous things in floor speeches and on Fox News, and stay in the House rather than risk it all on a statewide run. He's the Republican we love to hate, but in this drama he's a distraction.

    I think the post-Vilsack buzz about a Bruce Braley Senate run is all wrong. Look at his Washington moves: a big role in the Waxman-Dingell fight, rewarded with a seat on Energy and Commerce, and starting the Populist Caucus. Bruce is settling in for a House career.

    Dave Loebsack, despite GOP fantasies about Mariannette Miller-Meeks, is also comfortable in the general southeast section of the state. And the last time Black Hawk and Linn counties were in the same congressional district was back when we had two districts-—at statehood.

    So that leaves Tom Latham and Leonard Boswell.

    I've long been arguing it's time for Leonard Boswell to retire, that's no secret. But Leonard has made it clear, announcing for 2010 on Election Night 2008, that he's never leaving on his own. He'll run till he drops dead or till he's beaten.

    Leonard's a nice enough guy, and I'm not going to bash him on age and health. Ted Kennedy's old and ill, but I want him in there fighting as long as he can. I won't trash Boswell's down-home style, either; he is what he is. And a lot of my friends have worked for Boswell and I respect that. He's been a good mentor to many over the years.

    The problem is the issues and the record. Leonard Boswell represents an urban-dominated district (by Iowa standards), yet he votes like he's still in his old rural state senate district. I want better, and I think better can win.

    The primary challenge nudged Boswell a notch to the left, but he still needs to move about two more notches to match Loebsack and Braley. I'm open to that, but frankly I'm not expecting it from him this far into his career.

    I really wish Boswell had stayed put on the farm in 2002; he was mapped into the very Republican 5th District, but was probably the only Democrat who could have held it. Tom Harkin and Berkley Bedell used to win on the same tough turf.

    A Blue Dog would be fantastic as an alternative to Steve King, but Des Moines shouldn't have to settle. And the worst part is, Boswell's damn proud of it, with that annoying “Conservative Democrat” logo on his web page. Boswell made it hard for us eastern Iowans to make the case against Jim Leach, when Leach actually had a better voting record than Boswell. Dave Loebsack eventually made that case, but till then we sure heard about it a lot, especially in 2002 when Harkin and Boswell voted yes on the war while Leach voted no.

    Uncomfortable yet, Democratic readers?

    Carpetbagging at the congressional level seems to be OK in Iowa, going back at least to the 1981 map when Tom Harkin successfully moved. We had the luxury of an open seat in 2002, with no loss of a district and Greg Ganske running against Harkin. Des Moines Dems quietly grumbled when Boswell moved from the difficult 5th CD into the more Democratic 3rd (Matt McCoy was already up and running), but no one had the gonads to actually challenge him. Leach was also able to move without it becoming an issue, and held on for two more terms against the partisan odds, until the tidal wave and Loebsack's effective "Bush enabler" message proved too much in 2006.

    Leonard's campaign skills have atrophied in recent years. He dodged debates in 2008, and the primary campaign against Ed Fallon degenerated into a despicable bout of Nader-bashing. Yet, with all his negatives and too little money, Fallon still took about two out of five votes. That may be the base against Boswell in a primary, but it may be the max, too.

    No, Boswell won't lose a primary. When he loses, it'll be to a Republican in the general. He has consistently underperformed the rest of the Democratic ticket throughout this map cycle. And Tom Latham has already made his move, relocating to Ames a couple years back.

    Last time Iowa lost a seat, in 1991, the Legislature accepted a “fair fight” district that paired Jim Nussle and Dave Nagle. Inexplicably, voters chose grandstander Nussle over hard-working, leadership track Nagle. (1992 was just a weird year; my take is that the Perot vote went Republican in all the down-ballot races.) Nussle never broke 60 percent in the old 2nd... but he never lost it, either.

    Let's say we get a fair fight district again in 2011. Odds are the members who'll get paired are the two who are geographically closest together: Latham and Boswell.

    It the map came out today, Democrats would theoretically control the whole process. But even assuming we keep the trifecta into 2011, that doesn't assure passage of a congressional map favorable to Boswell—or to anyone, for that matter. Legislative votes on the map aren't really about congressional districts or even parties. They're about legislator's own districts.

    In the current alignment, a hook of suburban 4th District counties wrap around Polk County, anchor of the 3rd District. There was a lot of Republican noise in the debate on the first 2001 map about getting districts with an “urban-rural mix.” That was just smoke for public consumption. But in any case, the crux of the fight was a proposed central Iowa, seven county district: Polk, Dallas, Madison, Story, Marshall, Boone, and Greene. That failed, but back in the 1980s alignment, when we had six districts, Neal Smith had a six county district: Polk, Dallas, Jasper, Story, Boone, Hamilton.

    If the map produces a similar district next time around, with Latham and Boswell paired in a compact, fair fight seat centered on Des Moines, the suburbs, and Ames, the noise might be different. Because in a race between a low-key, kind of generic Republican versus an aging good ole boy Democrat with atrophied campaign skills, the Republican just might win.

    "So, Deeth, you're saying Latham could beat Boswell?"

    That's exactly what I'm saying, exactly what I think would happen, and exactly what I want to avoid.

    Which is why Democrats need to take out Tom Latham in 2010 with a Democrat who's more progressive than Boswell. (A woman would be nice, too. Becky Greenwald was a serious underperformer; I'm open to suggestions.)

    Let's say we go into 2011 with a 4 to 1 Democratic delegation: King, Braley, Loebsack, Boswell, and New Hotshot Who Just Knocked Off Latham. And she(?)'s from, say, Indianola or Ames. The new map gives us that compact fair fight district.

    Who's a better fit: Good Ole Boy or Hotshot? If she's a she, do we toss the first Iowa congresswoman out after only two years? Who's a better bet for Iowa seniority in the long run: Good Ole Boy or Hotshot? Who's a better candidate against Latham: Good Ole Boy or Hotshot? Who's a better House floor vote: Boswell, Hotshot... or Latham?

    But if we don't take Latham out in 2010, we're stuck with Boswell as the candidate. Democrats have been chicken about challenging incumbents in primaries since Ted Kennedy ran against Jimmy Carter. Only someone with nothing to lose and few friends on the inside, like Fallon, will take it on. I swear, people would rather lose the seat to a Republican than hurt Leonard's feelings.

    So. Knock off Latham, then ease Boswell out. Sounds like the plan to me. But for it to work, we need to find Hotshot NOW. The floor is open for nominations.

    Friday, December 19, 2008

    Palin well-suited to Iowa

    Palin "well-suited to Iowa"?!?

    Well, that's what former McCain pollster Bill McInturff said, anyway. She ain't well suited to me as an Iowan...

    Or maybe he meant she'll be well-suited in the $150k clothes.

    Snark aside, the guy has a point: "He conceded that Palin creates 'a sharply different reaction with swing voters and core primary voters' but said the latter 'are not anywhere close to the center.'" Or, all the base are belong to her.

    People are mad about Rick Warren... but not the people you think:

  • Pat Robertson's CBN: "Liberals and gay activists aren’t happy with Barack Obama for choosing pro-life and prop 8 supporting pastor Rick Warren to give the invocation at Obama’s inaugural. But pro-life (sic) readers seem to be equally upset at Warren for agreeing to it."

  • Pastordan at Street Prophets: "On a strictly professional level, this is a goddamn embarrassment. Nobody likes Warren. The Religious Right think he's a flake because he's too liberal, and everybody else thinks he's a flake because he's a shallow idiot. Obama could have gotten a better invocation from Stuart Smalley. It would have as much depth, and at least it would be doing a Democrat a favor."

  • As for Stuart, Norm Coleman's lead is down to five votes and the battle over the last ballots is moving to court. I'm betting on two empty Senate chairs come Jan. 5: Minnesota and Illinois.
  • Thursday, December 18, 2008

    This Week's Clips

    This Week's Clips

    First off a happy birthday to my wife Koni, and thanks to the folks who filled up my Facebook files on Tuesday for mine.

  • Constitution Daily ranks the top GOP candidates for governor. There's something addictive about a countdown format. Even flipping the channels and seeing the lamest infotainment show, if it's a Top 20 whatever I always wonder what's Number One. I guess it was growing up with Casey Kasem.

  • In The New Republic, Ben Adler writes about election reform. While he mentions equipment toward the end, the piece focuses on much more important issues: database problems, ID laws, and suppression of student votes. And here's a novel idea: "One way to solve the problems of voter purges and provisional ballots--as well as concerns about fraudulent registrations--would be a universal registration system, in which a national program automatically registers every American citizen when they turn 18." That's what other countries do.

  • There's a scary, reinstate the draft subtext, but Danielle Allen of the Washington Post looks at links between military service and regional partisan divisions: "Montana, Alaska, Florida, Wyoming, Maine and Texas send the most young people per capita to the military. The states with the lowest contribution rates? Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey and New York."

    I noticed this on the campaign trail, particularly at pre-caucus McCain events; invariably the biggest applause line was not for McCain, but to someone who introduced himself as a vet as McCain said "thank you for your service." True, the Dems were all received well when they discussed vets benefits, but there was never that gut-level oomph from the crowd like there was at GOP events, which always had the whole drill of color guard and Pledge of Allegiance. No, the biggest Dem applause line was usually for scrapping No Child Left behind.

  • Just for fun: the net meme of the week is shoe-throwing parodies.
  • Wednesday, December 17, 2008

    Post-Gutenberg Journalism

    The Great Depression Hits Journalism in the Post-Gutenberg Era

    The economy may be in a recession, but in journalism it's already a great depression. Just look to the Des Moines Register. Leading names at the paper got whacked: Jane Norman of the DC bureau. Cartoonist Brian Duffy... there are even reports that Yepsen himself has interviewed for a job at the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at the University of Southern Illinois. Soon the only person left at the register will be the photographer who shoots pics of hot chicks at the downtown Des Moines bars for the Juice section, as the Register contemplates a British-style Page Three Girl format.

    One paper has taken the cutbacks even further and isn't even a “paper,” in the dead tree sense, anymore. The Detroit Free Press announced this week that it's abandoning home delivery four days a week, becoming the first major metropolitan newspaper in the U.S. to end daily home delivery.

    Under the plan, only the more profitable Thursday, Friday and Sunday papers will be delivered at home. Newsstand copies will be available other days, and the online content will be expanded.

    Granted, Detroit's economy is in even worse shape than most places. But this isn't a local issue or a blip in the market. It's the future. Printed newspapers are going the way of slide rules and carbon paper.

    "The dynamics of delivering information to audiences has changed forever due to technology," says the Detroit Free Press publisher. "Our economics have become unsustainable." The daily edition format can't compete in the 24 hour news cycle of the 21st century, but the web site can. There are environmental concerns as a bulky physical paper requires gas and vehicles for delivery (300,000 miles of driving a night for the Detroit paper), and recycling once it's done. The last Gutenberg, pre-internet generation is aging and dying. And classified ads, the bulwark of revenue, are moving to free sources like craigslist.

    Free. That's a big word. People expect online content to be “free” in every sense of the word. The term we Linux geeks use is “free as in freedom, free as in beer.” The only money-makers on line are 1) service providers, because you have to connect 2) sites that provide physical goods and services, and 3) porn. Here in Iowa, the Gazette's pay to play experiment fizzled, and even the mighty New York Times failed and re-opened their opinion content that was briefly behind a money wall. The only sites that make a go of it on a pay-to-play basis are highly specialized (for example, the Capitol Hill newsletter Roll Call). Publishers have learned the hard way that pay-to-play for content hurts circulation more than it helps revenues.

    Circulation revenue was generally a break-even proposition for print papers, covering the labor and materials to print and deliver the printed product. The money-maker was advertising. And that's a problem with the transition to the post-Gutenberg era. Any internet user with even an intermediate level of savvy can run an ad blocker in Firefox. The parallel problem exists in broadcast, as people fast-forward their TiVos past the ads..

    So people don't want paper, they want content to be free, and they don't want ads. But at some point you have to feed the beast with some money. I don't have an answer, any more than I have an answer to how to pay musicians in the download torrent era.

    You have probably surmised, from the term “free-lance” in my bio and the disappearance of cross-posts on another site, that I'm a recently downsized journalist myself. I started doing this work six years ago just for myself, just for fun, and I've continued the last few weeks. But it's impacted my product. I'm less inclined to take vacation time off the day job, hop in my car, and drive 45 minutes to see a Mike Huckabee that I would be if I were paid.

    But like an open-source programmer, I keep doing it for the reason I started doing it: it's fun. And after six years, it's become habit. About three years ago, I looked over my traffic and realized that when I wrote original content about local and state events, my readership shot up. So I started focusing on those things a bit more and I like to think I got pretty good at it. The changes in technology and ideology since I first abandoned journalism as a career in 1992 made it possible for me to indulge my creativity, inform the public, and be my own publisher. And it got me paid for a while.

    Just as traditional journalism is abandoning its old models of delivery, it may need to change its mindset as well. The rise of the citizen journalist, combined with the decline of the old-model large metro dailies, may shift the whole paradigm of American journalism and make us more free as in freedom.

    The dominant ideology of American journalism is “objectivity,” defined as a sort of neutrality in which to balance your news diet within the story. Republican rally? Gotta shoehorn in the Dems' counter-message person or the protesters. Candidate baldly lies? Can't say so; you have to get someone else to say it. Carry it to the extreme and throw the Holocaust denier on with the Holocaust survivor. (I've just violated Godwin's Law.)

    During my public radio career, I covered an abortion clinic picket. The real story was that the clinic rallied a couple hundred defenders, and the protesters were no-shows. The “other side” of the story was that there WAS no other side. Yet I got bashed for being “not objective.” That's one of the reasons I quit the first time around: objectivity made it harder to tell the truth.

    The objective paradigm also makes rank and file journalists give up some of their rights as citizens. A friend of mine took a job with a paper and had to sever all ties to a political party, except for voting in a primary. Some organizations don't even allow that, if it requires registration in a party, and some journalists go as far as not voting at all. That's another reason I quit the first time around; the specific incident was David Yepsen chewing me out for a bumper sticker on my car.

    Other societies have an openly partisan press, and this model argues that finding balance and objectivity is the job of the consumer. Instead of a mushy but well-balanced casserole, you have the meat, peas and spuds each in their own corner of the plate. If you insist on eating only the dessert, you're not getting a well-balanced diet, but that's your loss.

    Broadcasting is already moving away from the objective paradigm, and American consumers are smart enough to get that. If you're watching Fox or listening to Limbaugh, or if you're an Olbermann fan, you know where they're coming from. Sure, bug media is still corporate, but the marketplace seems to be finding news niches, even without the Fairness Doctrine that the right is propping up as a straw man. Just look at Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow's ratings.

    And, of course, my own Fairness Doctrine is just to do it myself. The costs of competing online are few. All I've ever spent on the Deeth Blog is a little gas money, a couple sessions of pay-to-play wifi, and my domain name. And I really am competing. After I covered Bobby Jindal last month, a Google search of the top news stories found, in this order: 1) CNN 2) the New York Times 3) me.

    This isn't to say that a traditional, objective format is all bad. You can bake a delicious pizza with all four food groups. But does every pastry chef also have to be a fry cook?

    It's possible for a press to be partisan yet fair, and that's where I see myself. I always read the Republican blogs, and often comment. I need to know what they're up to. And I'm proud of having a lot of Republican readers. My attitude gong into a GOP event, or writing a GOP story, is: “OK. You know what I am. You know where I'm coming from. Now tell me what you're gonna say and I'll tell people.” By wearing my biases on my sleeve, I can pass that along in a different way than an old-fashioned objective journalist can. Having participated in the process lets me understand it better (I've always found that political activists on opposite sides have more in common with each other than they do with people who are disinterested.)

    As long as net neutrality is maintained – and that's still a big if – journalism's move from a big metro paper, print model to a citizen journalist model has the potential to make our press freer in both senses of the word.

    Tuesday, December 16, 2008

    Vilsack Ag Secretary

    Well, I Guess Vilsack's Plans Changed

    AP and the Reg are now reporting that Tom Vilsack gets named Secretary of Agriculture tomorrow.

    Iowa's other ag secretaries, the Henry Wallaces, had deep deep ag roots with Wallace's Farmer and Pioneer, but what is there on the Vilsack CV of trial law and governance that says "Ag" other than "Iowa"?

    So does that mean that the Grassley 48, Vilsack 44 poll last week was for nothing? Or is he taking the Mike Johanns route to the Senate: a brief stint in the cabinet to boost the resume, then back home to run? (Of course, Johanns was aided by an open seat, as opposed to taking on a 30-year incumbent...)

    Monday, December 15, 2008

    Electoral College Highlights

    Obama Elected

    OK, maybe I'm making too big a deal over the Electoral College thing. But a Kos diarist was following the "election returns" until it became officially official. I thought I was the only one.

    No faithless electors, but here's some highlights:

  • Illinois met in the state Senate chambers as a tribute to Obama, who served in that chamber. At least two Illinois electors said they would favor direct election instead.

  • But one Pennsylvania elector favors the system: "'The candidates' need for Pennsylvania's 21 electoral votes is why our state has been a battleground in the past five presidential elections,' Wagner said. 'Why would we want to give up our leadership role in picking our nation's leader?'"

  • Also an Obama elector in Pennsylvania: ex-Steeler Franco Harris. Teammate Lynn Swann, the 2006 Republican nominee for governor, was not available for comment.

  • Apparantly our own governor likes the college too: "'If we were ever going to change it we would have done it over the last eight years,' said Culver. 'You have to give small states an opportunity to be relevant.'" An elector from the most over-represented state, Wyoming, also chimes in for the college. A West Virginian admits, "the way the math works on it smaller states like West Virginia actually get a little higher percentage of the electoral votes than they would if it was strictly on the number of popular votes," as does the Montana Secretary of State.

  • While federal officials can't be electors, Senator-designate Ted Kaufmann, Joe Biden's replacement, was a Delaware elector.

  • But governors and state legisators are OK, as in Wisconsin: "State Sen. Fred Risser, who's about to start his 53rd legislative session and is the longest serving state lawmaker in the country, quipped that he first cast an electoral vote in 1964.

    'Who was elected then, Lincoln?' Gov. Doyle joked."

  • Speaking of Lincoln, from Lincoln, Nebraska (where?), here's the story of the Nebraska Democratic elector. As I predicted, "(Gov.) Heineman and a number of other leading Republicans have signaled their support for legislative repeal of the district election system next year."

  • Maryland had to meet in temporary space due to State Capitol construction.

  • Indiana: One elector asked, “Are we going to need a photo ID?” in reference to Indiana’s photo ID to vote law, passed by Republicans and opposed b Dems. Obama was the first Democrat to carry Indiana since 1964, and no, the electors didn't have to show ID. Humorist Mo Rocca was also on hand in Indianapolis.

  • The Wall Street Journal reported that state's plans varied widely, from a Vermont meeting that was expected to last 20 minutes to elaborate dog and pony shows in New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

    In general, ceremonies were more elaborate in states that hadn't gone Democratic in ages. As opposed to, say, Utah, where, in "considerably less pomp than in past elections," "the entire ceremony took about 10 minutes and President-elect Barack Obama was not mentioned once." Or Tennessee, which took 18 minutes. But not all the Dems dragged it out: the governor of Wisconsin got the business done in ten minutes.

  • One North Dakota elector was going to be replaced because he didn't want to come back from vacation in Arizona just to vote for John McCain. A Colorado Democrat was ill, and a Mississippi Republican was a no-show and got replaced.

  • No secret ballot in North Carolina -- electors signed their names. (Maybe because of the Humphrey elector who voted for George Wallace in `68.) In Oklahoma, failure to vote for your party's candidate is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $1,000--because of the Nixon elector who defected in 1960. And in Colorado, "the electors held up their ballots to show they had marked Obama's name."

  • Humor between rivals in Albany, New York: "Gov. David Paterson was nominated and voted in as the College's president. The nomination was offered by Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, prompting Paterson to say 'Thank you for nominating me, maybe I can return the favor sometime.'"

  • "In New Hampshire, state law specifies that the four electors be paid $3 each, plus 10 cents per mile for their travel to and from Concord."

  • No mistakes in Minnesota, unlike 2004: "State law was changed a year later to make the electors say who they would vote for out loud before they write it down."
  • Software as a Subversive Activity, Part 5: Linux--The Kids Will Love It

    Software as a Subversive Activity, Part 5:
    Indoctrinating the Next Generation of Linux Geeks

    Last year, when my youngest son was 5 ½, he was keeping me company in my home office and found my Linux box (this was before The Big Switch, and my main laptop was still in Windows full-time). The boys each have a Windows machine in their room, and he can start a game or a browser on his own, though he still needs help on the urls (“Daddy, can you get me on power rangers dot com?”).

    On his own Ethan figured out that the Ubuntu logo was kind of like a Windows start button, navigated through the menu, found the games, and started playing an open source Minesweeper clone. He was happy and he was proud of himself.

    You might be impressed, but as much as I love my son you shouldn't be. He just hasn't learned yet that Linux is supposed to be hard. To a child, a computer isn't about the freakin' operating system. It's a way to play games and find cool Pokemon stuff (that's how my 8 year old learned how to use a search engine). The OS is incidental.

    As a parent you can try to fight the dominant culture, but you can't win every battle. In selling the kids on Linux, commercial games will be your biggest stumbling block. People who are paying for the licensing rights to Sponge Bob or Hannah Montana or Insert Copyrighted Character That Kids Love Here aren't interested in open source software. In fact, they're positively hostile.

    As you choose your battles, keep in mind that Linux is just like all the other really cool toys (sticks, rocks in unusual shapes, the box that the large expensive toy came in, going "bang-bang" while pointing your finger): Free. Sidetrack the kids into the fun and free games Linux distributions like the kid-oriented Edubuntu include, and you can spend your money on their clothes and food instead of giving it to the richest oops, second richest, man in the world.

    Linux is also old-computer friendly, as it uses fewer system resources than Windows. Your seven year old machine that can't boot Vista without bleeding internally will make a nice machine for a teenager who just wants to check her MySpace and Facebook, and maybe even (you hope) write her paper. That'll keep her off your computer when you have to do important work (like your fantasy league draft).

    The combination of free software and old hardware is as political as it gets. It's green friendly. The old machines suck more power, true, but they're not clogging a landfill. And it's socio-economically empowering, as this testimony from a Missouri mom on the Ubuntu forums notes:
    I installed Kubuntu on a refurbished AMD computer I purchased for $184 from a discount online vendor, it came with no OS. It now runs like a champ.

    We cant afford much and this was my 14 year old daughter's birthday present this past week. She is overjoyed. And she is already trying to tackle Adept Manager and exploring Linux; adding bling and her music, of course.

    I can't tell you how much I appreciate the work you all have done. Its a work of art. If I could thank each and every one of you I would.

    You have given her the world to learn and explore.

    If you don't have an old machine handy, and you're feeling Christmasy, Linux-based netbooks are getting cheaper by the minute, as low as $279. These low-power laptops are physically small, but that actually makes them more kid-friendly. The kids won't care what operating system it has—they'll care what color it is. Seriously. When my daughter was 17 and the big Christmas present was the iPod, here's the conversation:
    “This one's 30 gig, that one only holds 8 gig.”

    “But that one's PINK!”

    The compromise: 30 gig in white, with a pink carrying case. (iTunes doesn't run in Linux, but GTKPod is an open-source program that'll let you fill up your iPod, if not shop at the iTunes store.)

    If you still Linux is too hard, consider this: In Linux, the kids can't wreck anything. Well, they could still spill Kool-Aid on the keyboard, but they can't delete the system files or reformat the hard drive. (More on why you it's hard to screw up a Linux installation next week; in the meantime, just don't give Junior the root password.)

    I saw a Windows install completely trashed in one weekend of teenager surfing, so riddled with spyware and popups and browser hijackers (those programs that change your home page to that you couldn't get online without the whole machine grinding to a halt. One of the nastywarez was smart enough to reboot the machine every time I tried to run AdAware. Lord knows how many Nigerian cash scams it was shooting out from my IP address. Three evenings banging my head against it, and no progress.

    NOW tell me “Ooooo, Linux is too haaaard.”

    Instead of taking it to an übergeek and paying for several hours of tech support that would have literally cost more than the machine was worth, I wiped the hard drive with Linux, which simply doesn't let that junk in.

    They say childhood is the best time to learn foreign languages, and that may hold for operating systems as well. Kids are constantly switching back and forth between Windows, which dominates the home marketplace, and Macs, since schools are one of Apple's biggest strongholds.

    The boys are still in Windows most of the time. But they think Tux the penguin is cute, and that's a start. They still ask: “can I play Linux?” and want their own Linux machine. (The plan, for now, is to get them set with bootable CDs or flash drives.) Convert them now and you've taken over the next generation! Mwah hah hah hah!

    Next week: Some of the simple technicalities of why Linux isn't just good ideology--it's a better computing experience.

    Sunday, December 14, 2008

    Electoral College Votes Monday

    Electoral College Votes Monday

    You think you voted for president Nov. 4? You didn't vote for president at all.

    Technically, you voted for a slate of electors. The Electoral College meets Monday in Des Moines and 50 other campuses. Quick Electoral College 101: Each state gets as many votes as U.S. representatives, plus two for the senators. These votes are not just tally marks; they're 538 real people, including seven Iowa Democrats, who will cast the only real presidential ballots. If recent history is a guide, there's about a 50-50 chance that someone won't vote the way they're expected to.

    This year is already guaranteed to have one quirk. For the first time in almost a century, a state elected a slate of electors that's split by party. Maine and Nebraska choose electors by congressional district (the other 48 states and D.C. are winner-take-all), but this year for the first time that's more than just theoretical. Barack Obama won the Omaha-based Nebraska 2nd District, while John McCain carried the other two districts and the state. (Look for the Nebraska legislature, officially nonpartisan but Republican-dominated, to change that law soon.)

    Several states have split their votes in recent years, but that's the human factor rather than election law. "Faithless electors" sometimes vote for someone other than the party nominee. Many states have passed laws prohibiting electors from voting other than the way they're pledged, but Iowa has not. Those laws haven't been constitutionally tested yet, and no faithless elector's vote has ever been overturned.

    Faithless electors usually make a big deal out of their protest votes:
  • the Virginia Republican who voted Libertarian in 1972;
  • the Washington state elector who balloted for Ronald Reagan in 1976;
  • the West Virginia elector who flipped the ticket in 1988, choosing Lloyd Bentsen for president and Michael Dukakis for VP; and
  • the Washington, D.C. elector who abstained in 2000 to protest the District's lack of voting Congressional representation.

    But no one stepped forward to own up in Minnesota in 2004, when one elector voted for John Edwards for both president and vice president. The consensus was that someone simply screwed up their ballot.

    The last state that actually elected a split slate of electors from two parties was California in 1912. Back then, voters in some states cast ballots for each individual elector, and California was so close that the top two Woodrow Wilson electors did better than the bottom two on Teddy Roosevelt's Bull Moose slate. That happened a few times in the 19th century, but as the practice of voting on each elector declined, those outcomes disappeared.

    Alabama split its votes in 1960, but that was due to the nature of its Democratic elector slate. Six electors were segregationists who wound up voting for conservative Democrat Harry Byrd, and five were national party Kennedy loyalists. But the entire Democratic slate of electors won. (Alabama was one of the last states to vote for each elector. The Kennedy loyalists ran a few thousand votes behind the segregationists, but well ahead of the Republicans.)

    The segregation era produced more than its share of weird electoral college results: faithless electors in 1948, 1956, 1960 and 1968, Strom Thurmond and George Wallace's strategy of trying to throw elections into the House of Representatives in `48 and `68, Mississippi's winning slate of unpledged electors inf 1960, and incumbent presidents Harry Truman and Lyndon Johnson being kept off the ballot in Alabama.

    Of course, the inherent flaw of the electoral college reared its head in 2000. Leave the discussion of hanging chads, butterfly ballots and Ralph Nader aside; no matter what the Florida scenario, Al Gore won more popular votes.

    2000 took electoral college reform off the table through the Bush years because it became a partisan issue. To amend the Constitution, you need a consensus-level supermajority: two-thirds of Congress and three-fourths of the states. Once an issue becomes partisan, like the Equal Rights Amendment did in the late `70s, it drops below that supermajority. Arguing against the Electoral College drew attention to Bush's popular vote loss in 2000, and thus it became a partisan matter.

    In recent years, a few states have tried to do an end-around on the constitutional amendment process by passing the National Popular Vote plan. States that pass the plan agree to cast all the state's electoral votes for the national popular vote winner, but the plan only takes effect when 270 electoral votes worth of states pass it. So far, four states with 50 electoral votes (Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, and New Jersey) have passed the plan. Iowa City state Sen. Joe Bolkcom introduced the plan in the last legislative session.

    In Iowa, candidates for elector are nominated at state party conventions: one from each congressional district and two at the state level. Invariably, during conventions, these people are referred to as "electors," which is wrong because you're not an elector until your candidate carries the state. You're a "candidate for elector."

    Iowa's 2008 electors, all Democrats, are:
    1st District: Elwood Thompson, Waterloo
    2nd District: Slayton Thompson, Cedar Rapids
    3rd District: Kathleen O'Leary, Des Moines
    4th District: Jon Heitland, Iowa Falls
    5th District: Dennis Ryan, Onawa
    At large: Joe Judge, Albia
    At large: Audrey Linville, Davenport

    There are no absentee ballots in the electoral college. Mid-December ice storms have kept electors away and people have been replaced at the last second, which seems kind of a cavalier way to treat a constitutional responsibility.

    So, with the outcome certain, what will we see Monday? Did a stealth Ron Paul supporter sneak onto an elector slate somewhere? Will a die-hard PUMA cast the ultimate protest vote for Hillary Clinton? Will some Republican with nothing to lose cast a vote for their 2012 favorite? And will Americans ever decide that it's time to just vote directly for president?