Thursday, January 11, 2018

A Solution to Gerrymandering

Ask virtually anyone their opinion of 'gerrymandering' and you are virtually certain to get a negative response.  Gerrymandering, the practice of drawing political districts in order to make them predictably safe for one party or the other (only Republicans and Democrats get to draw district boundaries because no other parties ever have sufficient clout to draw district boundaries because they have been gerrymandered into obscurity) has been practiced since the early 19th century when political parties began to form, and has always been looked down upon — officially — by the general populace.  The result of gerrymandering is often a district whose boundaries appear to be more random than regular, sometimes including stretches that contain no actual voters.  It has always been seen as something of a political dirty trick, herding your opponent's voters into the corner while spreading your own voters strategically so as to win more districts, win more positions in the government, and win more power to install your policies.  I say 'officially' because few people complain that gerrymandering has given them more power than they deserve.

Nevertheless, principled people have long sought a way to prevent any party drawing district boundaries for nefarious purposes.  In 200 years, their efforts have been largely fruitless because any law that would effectively prevent gerymandering would, it was thought, be large, complicated, and difficult to administer if it could actually be passed by a legislature, something not at all certain.

That, at any rate, is the conventional wisdom.

I think I may have stumbled upon a solution, a rule that is simple, straight-forward, easy to understand, and (most importantly) easy to police.  It is a two-part rule:

  1. it must be legally possible for any person to walk from any place within a district to any other place within the same district without leaving the district;
  2. the distance from any point within the district to its center may not be more than 2.5 times the distance to the nearest district center not within the district.

Provision (a) prevents connecting two or more sections by routing it (e.g.) along an interstate highway or private rights-of-way because it's illegal to walk on them.  Provision (b) tends to make each voting district more circular than extended, 'extended' being the sign of a manufactured district.

'2.5' is arbitrary.  The closer you move it toward 1, the more circular the district would become.  Total circularity is obviously impossible; 2.5 seems a reasonable compromise, but if you think it should be 3.64, I can completely understand that; you couldn't convince me that 17 is equally reasonable.

What's left is a district that has no long, spindly alleys connecting two pieces of the same district, and that is compact enough such that, from wherever I am in that district, if the district center is five miles away, there isn't another district center closer than two miles.  I think that no one would complain (aloud, in public) were every district constructed to these specifications.

What am I missing?

Sunday, December 24, 2017

What collusion?

Well, here we are more than a full year away from the first claims that Russia hacked our election, and seven months into a very expensive excursion by Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller and what do we have to show for it?  Did I hear you say 'bupkis'?  Why, yes, I believe that's what several million dollars (your dollars to be precise) spent on top-notch Washington lawyers has gotten us.  Wait.  What?

As time marches on and no indictable offenses are forthcoming, it becomes more and more likely that there were no indictable offenses — at least in the direction Bob Mueller is looking.  If Bob Mueller (or his replacement or successor) looks through the other end of the telescope, however, the view changes dramatically.  The Obama administration's FBI and DoJ obtained Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrants to spy on high-ranking members of the Trump campaign — before and after the election — based on the now-discredited 'Trump dossier'.  That document was produced by a company known as Fusion GPS, a well-known scandal-for-hire research (!) firm.  Fusion GPS was hired to dig up (or manufacture) dirt on the Trump campaign  by lawyers contracted to the DNC.  Wait.  What?  We now know that the Clinton Presidental Campaign was in de facto control of the DNC at the time, according to claims made by Donna Brazile who took over leadership of the DNC from Debbie Wassermam-Schultz after the latter's ignominious fall from grace.  In other words, the Clinton Campaign, through their hand-puppet DNC, hired lawyers to find someone to get dirt on Trump (and in the process provide plausible deniability), then fed the result to FBI and DoJ, which proceeded to (a) leak the dossier to friendly news outlets, and (b) go to the FISA court to get warrants authorizing spying on the Trump campaign.  Loretta Lynch, as AG, had to sign the applications for warrants before they could be presented.  Perhaps she didn't brief her boss, Barack Obama, on what was going on?  Maybe she briefed Bill Clinton during the 'tarmac meeting' in San Diego?

Now we have Andrew McCabe, a very high ranking employee of the DoJ, unable to recall exactly when he discovered the Trump dossier was a fabrication.  How odd.  Were I McCabe, I would have scheduled an emergency staff meeting that same day and there would be some record of the meeting notice going out in the DoJ's very professionally done email-handler and meeting-arranger system.  I would have scheduled that meeting to discover the 'root cause' of that dossier (Clinton), and to begin investigating whether the act of providing what the DNC almost had to know was bogus information to the FBI/DoJ for the purpose of undermining the Trump campaign rose to the level of a criminal offense.  If it were criminal for the Russians to do it, wouldn't it be criminal for anyone to do it?

But I'm not McCabe, and that may explain why I'm finding this all a little too hard to swallow.  After all, the original judgement of 'gross negligence' in Clinton's handling of emails (a criminal offense) was changed by a long-term Hillary-supporter on McCabe's staff to 'extreme carelessness' (a naughty-naughty) and subsequently used by Comey to explain why she was not being indicted.

How very, very odd.

Friday, November 3, 2017

The Glass Mountain

When I was growing up, CBS-TV (channel 2) in NY offered "Picture For A Sunday Afternoon" at 1pm or 2pm, and they would deliver two movies (the second was billed as "The Early Show") until 5pm or 6pm after which there was news followed by the prime-time lineup.

"Picture For A Sunday Afternoon" used a hauntingly beautiful theme that stuck in my head for years and years.  One day as I was walking down a corridor at IBM in White Plains casually whistling this music, a young man popped into the hallway from his office.  "Is that 'The Legend of the Glass Mountain'?" he asked.  I shrugged.  I had no idea what it was called.  It turned out that he was right.

Years later when I worked for Fawcett Publications (a division of CBS), I called down to the music library at Black Rock, the CBS headquarters in NYC, and spoke to one of the archivists.  All he could tell me was that, yes, the music was 'The Legend of the Glass Mountain', and, no, he didn't have it on record or tape and didn't know where it might be found.

Years passed.  I finally located — on this new-fangled internet — a CD version, and I ordered it shipped to me.  It remains one of my favorite discs.  It was from that disc I learned the composer's name:  Nino Rota.

'Who?' you might ask.  Nino Rota.  Between 1933 and 1979 when he died, Rota scored 150 films, working most often with Federico Fellini.  In fact, from about 1950 onward, Rota scored every Fellini film including La Strada, 8½, and Juliet of the Spirits.  He wrote the music for the first two 'Godfather' films as well as Franco Zefirelli's Romeo and Juliet and the 1978 'Death on the Nile'.  His musical output was phenomenal.  He could write — and did write — music in almost any style you can name from casual to classical.  People know Johann Pachelbel from the one piece that ever became a hit;  they don't know Rota, a real musical genius, from Adam.

You should fix that.

Anyway, I just found a DVD copy of the movie, The Glass Mountain, for which Rota wrote that hauntingly beautiful melody, and I'm looking forward to watching it even if it did only get 3½ stars.

 

Update: The Glass Mountain is a beautiful love story worth much more than a measly 3½ stars.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Catalunia

Travel plans for 2018 include a trans-Atlantic repositioning cruise ending in Barcelona, followed by some touring in Madrid and Seville.

...if Spain isn't then in a civil war over Catalunia.

Catalunia is that part of Spain that includes Barcelona and environs, and for the longest time they have considered themselves something other than 'Spanish'.  They have their own language, Catalan, and still use it daily except with the turistas.

Once upon a time Europe was a collection of hundreds, maybe thousands, of semi-autonomous duchys and kingdoms, and war was a weekly event, almost always centered on 'religion' unless it was 'border security'.  Then in 1648 came the Peace of Westphalia, wherein all the major players re-dealt the deck and gave the blue monopoly properties to France, the yellow properties to Spain, the Orange properties to Prussia, the red properties to Great Britain, and recognized independence for anyone else who could adequately defend themselves.  Europe became a collection of two dozen or so 'countries'.  Catalunia wasn't one of them.  It was now part of Spain, along with Andorra, Navarre (where the Xavier family lived), and a few others including the Basque region (you may have heard that the Basque also don't think of themselves as entirely Spanish).  The same thing happened along the border between Germany and France, and with regard to an island off the west coast of England whose inhabitants still consider themselves 'Irish', pronouncements of The Holy Roman Emperor to the contrary notwithstanding.

Things have been — umm — relatively quiet with the Basque lately.  At least there haven't been many loud noises.  Not so with the Catalans who have been making independence noises for many decades going back before Franco.  Recently, they have gotten bolder and now plan an independence referendum which Spain has forbidden them to do.  To prevent the independence referendum taking place, Spain has shipped in brigades of Guardia Civil, state police, even going so far as to charter cruise ships for them so they'll have someplace to sleep given expectations for Catalan incivility.  Barcelona longshoremen have refused to let those boats tie up.  Within the week, 14 high-ranking Catalan politicians were arrested at their homes.  The stage is set, and it's almost as if Spain wants a civil war with the region that provides the bulk of Spain's GNP.

Keep your fingers crossed and don't turn off that TV set.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

The Second Amendment Guarantee Act

There's a great deal of controversy surrounding a bill working its way through Congress.  It's called 'the Second Amendment Guarantee Act' (SAGA), and its purpose is to thwart state laws like New York's that impose severe burdens upon lawful gun owners.  Naturally, the anti-gun crowd is opposed to it, but there's also opposition from unexpected quarters, notably The Tenth Amendment Center (TAC).  You know those guys: they're for separation of powers between the states and the federal government and they're opposed to SAGA because they hold that states should get to set their own rules (for the most part).

But...  What about the basics?  What about those rights guaranteed (already) in the Bill of Rights with no need for a law making the guarantee guaranteed?

Should states be able to have their own state religion?  Should states be able to restrict freedom of speech?  What about due process and self-incrimination?  Are these OK for states to violate?  We all know that states can't trash the rights in the Bill of Rights.

Except for one, apparently.

It's OK, according to TAC, for states to regulate the 2nd amendment into meaninglessness.  In most California counties, getting a permit for concealed carry is near-impossible.  In NYC, population 9 million, there are exactly 2,291 concealed carry permits, which is 'statistically zero'.

People from all over now routinely get arrested at NY metro airports (NJ is as bad or worse than NY for this) after following federal law and exacting TSA instructions regarding transporting firearms and related parts.  Just recently, someone was arrested when he tried to declare an empty 30-round magazine at a NYC airport on his way home to a place where it was legal.  NYS law does not permit anyone to possess such an article, even for the purpose of removing it from the state.

Now some (Republican) Congressman wants to put an end to this discriminatory behavior with a law that will guarantee a right that is already guaranteed in the Bill of Rights.  SAGA will force states to recognize the concealed carry permits of other states.  Let's assume that this legislation will make it out of a Republican-controlled committee to a Republican-controlled House and a Republican-controlled Senate and then to a Republican-controlled White House.  (None of this is guaranteed or even likely, but we're assuming.)  What then? 

Well, SAGA says (net) "yes, you can carry in New York with your Florida permit, but you have to follow New York's laws while you do".  If you know what a 'poison pill' is, you have probably already spotted this one.  New York registers firearms by make, model, and serial, and their carry permits precisely identify which firearms any individual may carry.  My Florida permit does not identify which firearms I may carry;  Florida doesn't register firearms;  I may carry anything.  My Florida permit will get me arrested on my first day in NYC.

You may have guessed that I also oppose SAGA, but I do so for different reasons than does TAC.  I oppose it because it's another useless piece of trash legislation that only exists to garner votes for Republicans.  It will do nothing except get dozens or hundreds of people arrested, jailed, and prosecuted, costing each of them thousands of dollars and wasting months of their time, and some of them will be convicted and become felons forever denied their right to own a firearm.

The correct solution is for The Attorney General of the United States to begin filing actions against states that violate The Law Of The Land: the Constitution.  The (Republican) AGUS can get cases rapidly into federal district courts where judges are somewhat reluctant to rule against their boss — the U.S. government.

Yeah, no, I'm not holding my breath, either, but please do continue to vote for the hucksters that want you to believe SAGA is the answer — to anything.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

CalExit

The State of California, still upset over the results of the last Presidential election, is making secession noises.  Simultaneously, a group of unlike-minded folk in northern California, including a few counties in Oregon, are making secession noises of their own: they want to secede from California.

Opinions on the issue vary wildly.  Some, mostly mid-westerners, can hardly wait for The Republic of California to be a reality.  Others see the loss of 55 reliably-Democratic electoral votes as a certain death warrant for their party.  In the middle is a group that asks "didn't we settle this issue in 1865?".

As a matter of fact, no, we did not settle this issue in 1865.  The American Civil War is still being fought today, but with far fewer casualties.  As time goes by, the drawbacks of a policy that forces two or more irreconcilable groups to live in community grow daily more obvious.  Forcibly joining groups that will never agree is like putting out an anchor to windward: it stops movement in the face of looming disaster — sometimes.  Sometimes, it merely delays the inevitable.

For a very long time, I have held the opinion that secession is a good thing, not a bad thing.  If two (or more) groups of people have decided in their hearts that they can no longer peacefully coexist with each other, keeping them joined against their better judgement is foolish and dangerous.  Recall John F. Kennedy's admonition that those who make peaceful revolution impossible make violent revolution inevitable.  Forced union is asking for trouble, and it's almost certainly inefficient.  Those who are (in their view) held captive against their will will never work with enthusiasm for the benefit of their 'captors'.  They will always be a drag on the economy.

And if your response to that is that we are all supposed to be brothers, then it's fair to ask why you do not wish your brothers the freedom to chart their own course through life.  Or are they only permitted to travel on the course you have charted for them?

I believe CalExit would be a catastrophe for California and Californians, but I could be wrong.  Whatever my personal opinion on the matter, it remains true that Californians ought to decide for themselves without asking me for permission to do so.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

The Great 'Right v Left' Lie

Of all the memes that can lead our thinking astray, the notion that in American politics there is a "right wing" versus a "left wing" is the most common, the most incorrect, and the most dangerous.  It derives from the tradition in the French legislature that the royalists sit on one side of the assembly and the populists on the other, and this is what makes it incorrect in modern America.  Our legislators, both R and D, routinely claim to be working for the benefit of their constituents — and some do, on occasion — but their primary goal is clearly not to enhance their constituents' freedom, but rather to expand their own power.  They do this by "making a federal case of it" in every instance and on every issue.  They are all (with a very few exceptions) 'royalists'.  This echoes a remark by Judge Andrew Napolitano that there is only one party in American politics: The Big-Government Party, that has a left wing and a right wing.

This meme is so common that anyone who suggests it might be false immediately becomes suspect of having ulterior motives, whereas the 'motive' in such cases is merely to open others' eyes to the truth.  Such crusaders may be consoled by the knowledge that every true thing was first believed by a single person before being believed by dozens, hundreds, millions, and, finally, everyone.

The meme is dangerous because it leads us to believe that those politicians who identify with our side are correct and others who identify with their side are incorrect when, in truth, they are all on the same side, the side of The Big-Government Party.  We thus support those who are guiding us toward ever more intrusive government, ever more dilution of our freedom, in the mistaken belief that we are on the side of the angels.

So, if there really is not a left-right distinction, what accounts for the division so evident among Americans today?  What defines the divide we can so clearly see?

The division is between individualists and collectivists.  It is a statist-v-libertarian conflict.  On one side are those (statists) who subscribe to the notion that the citizen exists for the purposes of the state; these are opposed by those who place the individual above the collective, who insist that the collective exists to fulfill the individual, rather than the other way around.  This is, in fact, the guiding principle upon which our nation was founded.  We find in the Declaration of Independence Jefferson asserting that "...to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men...".  The bedrock of our system is libertarian in nature: that the state exists to fulfill the individual.

Note that it says "to secure these rights", not 'secure our safety'.  Our government was created to keep us free, not safe, yet when the USA PATRIOT Act was proposed in the wake of 9-11 only one Senator (Russ Feingold) and one Representative (Ron Paul) objected and voted 'no'.  Every other member of Congress voted to give the government enormous power over its citizens, power that was unconstitutionally usurped from those same citizens.  With few exceptions, we the people have sent to represent us those who think their job is to keep us safe — even if it means enslaving us.

Whether Democrat or Republican, left or right, nearly all of them are collectivists.  Why?

It derives, I believe, from our natural tendency to acquire.  Whether we understand it or not, economic principles are burned into our very being.  We understand intuitively that it is better to have and not need than to need and not have, and so we gather wood before winter and save our pennies for a rainy day.  Along comes a politician who says "Elect me and I'll see that you have whatever the current hot-button issue is!" and our natural reaction is "Great!  That means I won't have to do that for myself!" and we cast our vote accordingly.

A politician who promises to get government out of our way so that we can do things for ourselves is much less enticing than one who promises to do those things for us.  It's only natural.  How can we delude ourselves into thinking that we are about to get the mythical free lunch?   We can because we want to.

At the very base, our problems with intrusive government start with our desire to have a pony.  Adults are supposed to know that a pony is expensive to start with and requires more expenditures for food, health care, and lodging, but, like children, we ignore those uncomfortable facts when it's our pony.

The fault is truly not in our stars but in ourselves.

If you're content with being a secure peon rather than a free person, you need not change a thing.