Electronic Voting Incompetence

The long-awaited debut of electronic voting came in our just-completed election. Despite the initial controversy, things seemed to go well; the few fraud rumors floating around seem to be motivated out of partisan fanaticism rather than evidence.

The actual evidence, or lack thereof, is dealt with in this column. It’s a good justification for the legitimacy of the election, but it also sounds an important caution about electronic voting. For example:

Broward’s central vote-counter was not programmed to expect more than 32,000 votes in any single precinct.

With the limit exceeded, the running totals in four races (all constitutional amendments) did, indeed, start declining.

Observers quickly noticed it. It got fixed. The accuracy of the individual voting machines was never in question. Nobody’s vote was a “negative” that subtracted from the vote totals.

An experienced programmer will immediately notice the vote count at which things started going in reverse. The 32,000 figure is almost certainly a rounded or estimated figure; the real number is certainly 32,767 votes. Why? That’s the highest number a 16-bit signed integer (signed: able to store negative as well as positive numbers) can hold.

One of the most common bugs in programming is the mistake of treating a signed integer as unsigned. Most of the time, this works, since signed positive integers are stored in memory the same way as unsigned integers–up to a point. But if you’re making this mistake, and (with 16-bit integers) you add 1 to 32,767, you get -32,768 instead of 32,768. This may seem odd, but it’s an artifact of how negative numbers are stored in signed integers. After that, adding 1 does what you’d expect: makes the result less negative (-32,767, -32,766, and so on). By stripping off the negative sign before displaying it (which isn’t terribly uncommon either), you get counts that appear to be going down.

So what does all this tell us? It tells us that the vote-counting system was not tested nearly well enough, either by the manufacturer or the county. The manufacturer should have been technically competent enough to test for this very common bug, and the county should have made sure the counting system could handle the expected turnout long before Election Day.

Bruce Schneier, one of the leading experts on information security, discusses some of the continuing problems with electronic voting here. It’s important to note that Schneier’s essay assumes basically competent manufacturers and customers (election authorities). If it’s difficult to get proper counts when everyone is competent, imagine the state of affairs when everyone shirks basic quality assurance responsibilities.

It’s easy to see this as a partisan issue, especially after the CEO of one e-voting vendor confessed his involvement in Republican politics. The problems with getting accurate and undoubtable results from elections, though, is only a Democratic issue by accident this election. Republicans should be able to assert the basic soundness of this election while acknowledging how easily things could have been otherwise.

Besides Schneier’s recommendations, I would add that we should require that test results be made public. Had such results been made public in the case above, an outside observer could have noticed the above shortcoming of the tests and drawn attention to them, thus possibly averting the issue entirely.

A Free Base64 Codec

I’ve recently had need of a base64 codec for one of my projects. (For those who don’t know, a codec is a piece of software that encodes and decodes data using a certain encoding algorithm. If you’ve ever ripped to MP3 and/or played it back, you’ve used MP3 codecs. The base64 algorithm is one used in a lot of places to get binary data into places where binary data isn’t usually welcome.)

Anyway, the base64 algorithm is simple, standardized, and popular. Its use is mandated for certain tasks, and is a strong alternative in others. So, one would think, there should be plenty of good free implementations floating around that I could use, right?

Apparently not.

All the base64 code I could find in Google suffered from at least one of several deficiencies. Quite a few examples were in languages I wasn’t interested in, such as Java. Some looked good, but had licensing difficulties, including a few which had no discernable license grants at all from the original author. (Why even put such things out on the net?) Some had serious dependencies on data structures or other features of the larger projects they were a part of. Codecs that assumed stream-based operation were very common. And, sprinkled among the various code references, were glimpses into the frustration other projects have felt when performing the same search I was.

Clearly, there is a niche here left to be filled.

Well, at least there was. Those searching for such a thing can now use my base64 codec, implemented in base64.c and base64.h. The license is XFree86-like, and is 100% original code. It should be suitable for in-memory or streaming en/decoding, and does not attempt to allocate memory on its own. Being context-based, it can support multiple simultaneous transformations. I believe it to be fairly frugal regarding system resources.

Being a new implementation, I’m sure it has bugs. It’s not thread-safe, both because of a lack of locking mechanisms on contexts and because of the use of a single global variable internally. Additionally, I’m fairly sure the decode operation could be a lot smarter, and thus could perform much better. I’d like to think I’ve been careful regarding buffer management, though I’m not so stupid as to be confident of it. And it seems to be faithful to the spec, at least according to my testing. If I get a chance, I might improve on it later; alternatively, patches and other feedback are welcome!

The Unstoppable Dan

I live in the 5th Congressional District, currently served by Republican Dan Burton. He is being opposed by Democrat Katherine Carr and Green candidate Clark Field.

Dan is a pretty typical conservative Republican, with all (good or bad) that implies. His positions are pretty much what you’d expect. Carr, on the other hand, is clearly on the liberal side of the Democratic Party.

Much of her rhetoric on the issues page is extreme, simplistic, and just unrealistic. At times, she seems to be running more against the President than against Dan Burton. But then there are the places where she descends into the depths of insanity:

The way we have removed Saddam Hussein from power is similar to buying a new car for a million dollars. Is the new car better than our old car? Certainly. Was it worth a million dollars? Probably not, because we’ve now found out that our old car’s engine isn’t blown like the salesman said, it just needed an oil change.

This analogy is disgusting. Killing hundreds of thousands of people and dumping them in mass graves isn’t anything like buying a car.

I suspect you can gather by now how I plan on voting in this race.

Hint to the Democrats: if you want to run in a more-or-less conservative district, run a moderate-to-conservative Democrat. You managed to figure this out with Senator Bayh. Is this just another example of resource allocation, or are there no non-moonbat Democrats in the 5th District?

The Invisible Candidate

Imagine my surprise a few weeks ago when I learned that there is, indeed, a Senate seat up for election in Indiana.

Months have passed since any awake citizen could have been confused about the elections for President or Indiana Governor. Signs, stickers, and buttons have been everywhere, candidate news has been on the front pages and top stories lists of every news outlet, and there have been several debates each for both offices. I remember seeing “My Man Mitch” (Daniels, the Republican candidate for Governor) signs long before I saw my first Bush sign, to say nothing of Kerry signs. So, I assumed that, given the visibility of these campaigns, we must be in a lull year for the Senate, where neither candidate is up for election.

Not so! Senator Evan Bayh’s seat is in play this year, at least in theory, and there are candidates opposing him: Republican Marvin Scott (link not working for me as of this writing) and Libertarian Al Barger. Barger’s invisibility is understandable, but Scott’s? Certainly the Republicans, with such a slim Senate majority, would be sure to contest every race vigorously. Or, at least, so I thought.

I first heard of Scott through a single radio ad he played, criticizing Bayh for not being as supportive of the President as he could have been. I’ve heard Bayh’s response far more than I heard the original ad. Bayh was allowed to kill the only debate, which would have been a major opportunity for Scott to raise his poor visibility. I have yet to see a Scott sticker, poster, or sign; while Bayh paraphernalia have also been scarce, his Senate seat has given him ample free publicity over the years.

You can see the IndyStar.com questionnaire here, while more rigorous analysis can be found at OnTheIssues.org for Bayh and Scott. Based solely on these reports, I would tend to favor Scott over Bayh. Yet the reports are very simplistic, and in some cases overly so (see, for example, how OnTheIssues.org links personal retirement accounts, a “pro-senior” position, and privatizing Social Security here). To what extent should such surveys be trusted?

Ultimately, my vote in this election is decided by several issues:

  • Visibility. Who is Marvin Scott? So far, I only have two surveys and a single radio ad to tell me. His Web site is down. There have been no debates. He spoke at the Republican convention, but no copies of his speech seem to be available, even at the official Republican Convention site. Even the press has noticed his inaccesibility. If he cannot recognize his disadvantages in this election and work against them, why should I believe he will not show similar ineptitude when doing the work of a Senator?
  • Balancing effects. Right now, Senator Bayh is a highly respected centrist Democrat. We need more, not fewer, centrist Democrats in political office. When I have heard of Democrats supporting the President’s overall vision in foreign policy, Bayh’s name has often been prominent. This is behavior that, in my opinion, needs to be encouraged and rewarded.
  • Support for minority Republicans. Rightly or not, the Republicans have been painted as “the racist party” for a while now. Candidates like Scott (who is black) are a welcome counter to that presumption.
  • The judiciary. This is Bayh’s main negative. His votes on judicial nominees, most notably cloture votes, have been (as far as I can tell) party-line votes. Whatever his beliefs on the candidates, he is participating (however mildly) in the continued suppression of votes on candidates solely based on his party’s recognition that they would lose such votes. That’s not how the democratic process is supposed to work; you may not like the choices the people have made in the legislature, but that doesn’t give you the right to subvert those choices.

On balance, Bayh seems to take the trophy, despite his judiciary votes. I simply cannot get past Scott’s inability to get his message out; I want to hear his message directly from him or his campaign. Even the Libertarian candidate has him beat on that score.

Perhaps Bayh was destined to win anyway. There is something to the idea that wasting resources on “sure thing” elections is a poor strategy. But Scott’s poor showing will not just be the result of Republican resource allocation, but of Scott’s own poor decisions which hamper his ability to communicate with voters.

The Opposition’s Missed Opportunity

Considering the President’s faults, he is indeed fortunate to be facing the modern Democratic Party.

Not that the Democratic Party is entirely shiftless. On the major issue of the day, several of the primary candidates and several other prominent Democrats can maintain strong and credible positions. I continue to believe that Senator Joe Lieberman, as the nominee, could have outmatched Bush on the foreign policy front: strong support for the broad outlines of the Terror War, along with credibility in criticizing the President for his mistakes. Given this Administration’s rather lackluster communication ability, this could have been fatal.

But, alas, this is not the way things turned out. For whatever reasons, Senator John Kerry was the candidate who managed to survive the primary process. Polls afterwards suggested that Kerry was seen as “the electable candidate” of the field, a position I find puzzling given Kerry’s anti-war background in the Vietnam era and his subsequent political career.

Kerry is a mass of contradictions. A decorated war hero, he turned unconfirmed rumors concerning Vietnam atrocities into Senate testimony, which was later used against our prisoners of war. Having campaigned against and voted against strengthening our military time and again, he now proclaims that he will “restore” American strength. The supposed diplomat has uses his campaign stops to ridicule our current allies, all the while pinning his hopes on countries with long histories of opposing us who reject his overtures in advance. He proclaims his ability to bring more international help into the Iraq situation, even as he denigrates the effort generally, thus alienating any world leaders from participating. While he has said before that the Iraq elections will not be able to be conducted on time, he brushed off and insulted the current UN-approved government when its leader visited, despite the fact that he would have to work with this leader as President if the elections are postponed or if the current Iraqi leadership were to win.

(For a recent example of John Kerry’s diplomacy in real life, read this account. In sum, Kerry’s proclaimed support for Haiti’s former leader, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, has encouraged pro-Aristide guerillas, causing an upswing of violence in Haiti that the Brazilian peacekeepers are now complaining about.)

In non-war issues, he isn’t much better. He would reverse the “tax cut for the rich” while preserving it for everyone else; charges that this would hit small businesses as well, possibly costing jobs, go unanswered in favor of class warfare rhetoric. And the money gained by repealing that tax cut is spent many times over: on defense, education, veteran’s benefits, health care, Social Security, and so on. This “chicken in every pot” mentality has caused him to overpromise: his domestic policies now contradict each other, and as President he will be unable to fulfill them all. Which promises will remain unfulfilled by President Kerry? It’s hard to say.

If Bush’s signature weakness is communication, Kerry’s is confusion. Bush seems to know what he wants to do, but can’t seem to get his message across; Kerry, on the other hand, seems to have no message besides “Bush screwed up” and “I have a plan”. Given all that’s at stake, I’d rather have a poor communicator than a poor decision-maker.

All the President’s Problems

I, and many other supporters of the President, am reluctant in my support. Why? If there is a one-word response, that word is communication.

Much has been made of the President’s hesitant command of the English language–too much, if you ask me. The President’s personal speeches are not the sum total of the Executive Branch’s responsibility to the people, and focusing on a personal weakness ignores the other areas where the Administration falls short.

In general, it’s hard to judge what the Administration’s position really is on some issues. The war? Yes, that’s clear. But fiscal responsibility? Well, we do have a lot of spending to do in the wake of September 11, but Medicare drug benefits isn’t part of that. How does Medicare fit in the picture of promising fiscal responsibility, proper war priorities, and so on? The President’s rhetoric on tax cuts suffers here, but not because of a clumsy tongue; rather, the Adminstration has not done an adequate job of explaining the place for Medicare spending in the context of all the other new ways we’re spending tax money these days, and it’s not hard to wonder if “the rich” couldn’t spare a little more change to get over the hump. The same could be said for increased spending on the AIDS crisis in Africa and No Child Left Behind, both worthy causes that might not be the best idea with the pressures the country faces.

(Note: I am not saying anything about the policies themselves here. The point is not that the policies themselves are objectively wrong, but that the Adminstration has not made the case for them.)

Even on issues such as the war, the Administration has at times seemed at odds with itself, and has not made the case as well as it could be made. In particular, French and UN perfidy was not emphasized enough, and the consequences of inaction were not hammered on early. Instead, they have left themselves open to nitpickers, who can point to the mess in Iraq and talk about how much better things would have been had they been in charge. Never mind that most of the nitpicking is fantasy; no one will notice if you don’t tell them.

To a degree, this isn’t the Administration’s fault. The CBS forged memo incident shows just how little objectivity remains in the press these days; even the press themselves are admitting their pro-Kerry bias in public. So there’s an extent to which the Bush message has been actively obfuscated by the press: magnified when mistaken, buried when not. But this has been a problem for other Administrations. Reagan certainly was able to overcome it, at least, and even Bush the Elder seemed to get his message out better than his son has.

Many of the people opposed to Bush are well aware of his policies, and better communication would not change their position. But nearly everyone, even Bush supporters, lean away from Bush to some degree, and in many cases this can be traced to a fundamental uncertainty that they have the whole story about his policies. Too many times, there’s a good story to tell; how many votes would be won by simply telling those stories? We may know in hindsight, years from now, but that won’t help the President in November.

Vietnam Syndrome

It seems to me that most of the underhanded tactics being employed in this election center around the Vietnam War, and how each candidate served his country during that war. Most of that is wasted effort (or should be, and at least is for me).

To see why, let’s assume the worst for each candidate. Let’s say Bush pulled family connections to get into the Air National Guard, was lazy and/or incompetent and/or insubordinate for his entire time in the Guard, and again pulled strings both to whitewash his record and get himself out early. So? Isn’t Bush’s ill-spent youth, and his subsequent turnaround, a part of his story? Certainly one would think a proven DUI conviction would be a lot more damaging than controversial and ill-sourced allegations over his diligence in military service.

Similarly, what if Kerry tried to avoid military service, used a little (unsuccessful) savvy to dodge dangerous duty, and embellished his war record to take advantage of a loophole and get out after only four months? It’s a part of his story, and speaks to his credibility to a degree (if all this is true, why hasn’t he been honest with us?), but it’s also water under the bridge. Kerry may not be making the case for his own ill-spent youth, but he certainly deserves as much consideration as Bush does on that score. More importantly, it seems clear to me that Kerry did deserve at least some of the honors bestowed on him during that time, which makes the endless nitpicking at his record all the more distasteful.

Both candidates have thirty years of activity separating them from their Vietnam duties, which should be plenty of time for either candidate to make up for any blemishes on his military record. If the indiscretions of three decades ago are all the negatives we have to judge each candidate, then we have two very fine candidates indeed. In the real world, the more relevant negatives that do exist (and they do, for both candidates) should be consuming the bulk of the time currently being spent on Vietnam.

Breaking Political Silence

I’ve been hesitant to discuss politics here, if only because the impending election has consumed all the available political attention, and most of that attention has been inane and nasty. I’ve also tried to avoid being too strident too early. I don’t think now–the eve of the first Presidential debate, two days after the Indiana governor’s debate, and little more than a month before Election Day–is “too early”.

For the record, this election is leaning heavily Republican for me. In particular, my vote for George W. Bush as President is pretty much sewn up. I’m also leaning Republican in the Indiana governor’s race, and I have little doubt that my U. S. Representative (Dan Burton) will be reelected whatever my vote (though I still plan to research that one).

Still, I pride myself on my independence, and plan to explain my position in future posts. Neither party has distinguished itself recently in my opinion, and I certainly do not despise those whose political calculus leans more towards the Democratic party. But I do not lean that way. And given the amount of misinformation blowing around, I feel that defending my position may help to clarify things for others.

Being Debian

Benjamin Mako Hill comments on, among other things, my recent post on the advent of Ubuntu.

For the record, he gets my intent exactly right. I do not consider “fork” or “outside-ness” to be perjorative in any way, or any kind of excuse to avoid cooperating. So the sense in which he disagrees about Ubuntu being a fork–the sense which sees Ubuntu as dissociating from Debian–is certainly not the sense of “fork” I intended.

Mako also brings up a good point. What does it mean to “be” Debian? And how can we avoid making existential questions like this into excuses not to cooperate?

At a fundamental level, Debian is about an engineering philosophy: the process that creates such great individual pieces of free software as Linux and Apache can also create an integrated system built entirely out of those pieces. This was the motivation behind Debian’s founding, at least. Since then, it seems to me that Debian has also encompassed the importance of community, as well as a more decentralized cooperative model (as opposed to the more command-hierarchy-based model most companies use) which tends to emphasizes consensus and best practices instead of expediency.

I would submit that “outside” projects and organizations can participate in this as well as anyone else, as long as they agree to the ground rules. This would, perhaps, distinguish between companies like Progeny and companies like Corel used to be: do they really believe in the essence of what makes Debian great, or do they merely see Debian’s product as a nice basis for their own efforts? Further, I see a bigger divide between these two groups than I see between “inside” groups (like CDD, Debian-Jr, etc.) and “outside” groups (like Progeny and Ubuntu) who all embrace the former philosophy.

And if that’s so, I think it’s entirely appropriate. There’s nothing wrong with using Debian to meet your own goals, but it is a little odd to respect Debian the product without respecting the process that created it. And to the extent that projects participate in the process, they become more a part of the community. That, I think, is what should determine the “Debian-ness” of a particular project: to what extent that project acts in the Debian spirit, which includes cooperating without regard to affiliations that might be divisive.

(Alas, Mako also reminds me of promises unfulfilled. I really need to get my lazy butt over to CDD and participate.)

Ubuntu and Progeny

When I was at DebConf in Brazil recently, I learned that Mark Shuttleworth (the founder of Thawte who also became the second space tourist on the International Space Station) was getting involved in Debian development by funding a bunch of Debian people. At the time, it wasn’t clear how things would shake out, but they just announced their future direction: a new Linux distribution, based on Debian and focused on the user. Scott James Remnant, one of the Canonical people, posted a little blurb on his blog about the future of Ubuntu and Canonical’s game plan.

Many of their future plans involve things Progeny has been wrestling with for some time now: relationships with Debian and the wider community. So, here follows some advice for the Canonical people, for what it’s worth. (Nothing?)

  • Recognize your differences. It’s a fact that Ubuntu is a fork. It’s also a fact that Canonical will have different priorities and opinions than the Debian project. If these weren’t true, Canonical could just use straight Debian. It’s important to not expect otherwise, both for Canonical and for Debian; otherwise, frustration tends to come up when things don’t mesh like you want them to. Being a fork isn’t good or bad; it’s how you handle the fork that makes the difference.
  • Be aware of your limitations. Debian has a lot of needs, and many of these will align strategically with Canonical’s needs. That doesn’t make those needs the right ones for Canonical to solve, unless Canonical truly has the resources to take them all on at once. It’s too easy to bite off more than you can chew. Don’t be afraid to make resource decisions that might differ from those the Project might make.
  • Be careful when expecting things from the community. Often, things happen at their own pace, and there isn’t a whole lot a company can do to force things that doesn’t also make the company look like a bully. It’s best to expect that you’ll have to do all the work, and let yourself be pleasantly surprised. The pleasant surprises do happen, and frequently, but it’s not wise to take them for granted.
  • Don’t rule out cooperation with “competitors”. So far, most of the Linux world has taken the attitude that cooperation is a good thing, even among competitors. I have experience in this through working with Red Hat on Anaconda, who have been very helpful with our efforts despite being competitors with us in several ways.

I suppose one more Debian company makes for competition for Progeny, but I do hope we all can find niches to prosper in. So, good luck to Ubuntu and Canonical. Progeny looks forward to taking advantage of your good work (heh heh).

(ObDisclaimer: I am speaking for myself here, not Progeny.)

Fallen Leadership

Eugene Volokh has some harsh words for Jimmy Swaggart. As usual, Swaggart deserves the criticism he gets.

Volokh also seems to be under the impression that Swaggart is a “Christian leader” in some meaningful sense, even after his defrocking in the late ’80s by the Assemblies of God over his defiant attitude and his dalliances with prostitutes. In E-mail, he counsels me that “it’s not hard” to simply repudiate him.

Well, so be it. Everyone who remembers my denunciations of Swaggart over the past 17 years can rest easy; I really meant all of them. And the next time Swaggart says something stupid, I will still have the same opinion of him.

Southerners today are not expected to monitor and disclaim all the rants of the Klan, because we’ve all moved on; we’d like it to be the same with Christians and Swaggart. Thus, we don’t disclaim most of what he says because we’ve stopped paying attention; we’ve stopped paying attention because we’ve moved on, and we hope everyone else has, too.

But I could be out of touch. Can anyone find a religious organization, other than his own, which recognizes his authority today?

UPDATE: Volokh has posted again on the situation, where he explains a bit further. Apropos of that, it’s interesting that a search of the cable service in my area shows no hits for “Swaggart”, which seems to indicate that Swaggart does not, in fact have any TV presence worth speaking of.

UPDATE 2: Volokh notes Christianity Today’s own denunciation of Swaggart, and engages in a little hermeneutics of his own regarding Leviticus 20:13. Christians researching the homosexuality issue should focus on New Testament references, if only because Jesus warned against a strict, legalistic adherence to the Mosaic Law; none of these references give believers the right to kill the immoral.

UPDATE 3: Looks like this is getting some traction. See Joe Carter, Winds of Change, and Rob Vischer, among others. Confusion still seems to reign regarding his status as a recognized minister. Oh, and Swaggart himself sort of apologizes, for what it’s worth (not much, IMHO).

Sayonara!

I’m hosting the Web site of my good friend Kurt Saban. We just recently went live, which was a good thing, as he and his family have just moved to Nagoya, Japan, to start a new life as “tent-making” missionaries. (The “tent-making” refers to Paul’s making of tents to support himself during portions of his ministry. Kurt will be teaching English to support his own efforts.)

Besides the usual weblog text updates, he has a photo gallery set up (using this software). So check it out, and pray for him and his family.

CompUSA’s Customer Service Problems

Via Instapundit, we learn of two recent horror stories, here and here, involving CompUSA.

As Donald Sensing points out, this is sometimes as much an individual store thing as anything else. On the other hand, I’ve had my own share of problems with them. Mine, however, involve something worse–upselling, with accompanying defamation in some cases.

On one occasion, a neighbor asked me for my opinion on what to buy for a memory upgrade. I examined the memory in the computer and wrote down the exact quantity and speed to ask for. A few days later, I saw him again; he gave me a funny look and told me that he bought something different on the advice of the sales clerk. Upon questioning, it turned out that the sales clerk had taken my recommendation, told my neighbor that I didn’t know what I was talking about, and sold him some dual-speed memory at twice the price. I told my neighbor that he had been tricked, but he decided to stick with what he had, since it seemed to work.

Later, I had opportunity to buy memory for myself, and decided to check out the situation. The back shelf had all their memory laid out, with prices; after an exhaustive search, I located the memory I needed (on a bottom shelf, somewhat well-hidden), and asked the clerk to give it to me. He replied that I should probably buy something else that should work much better: yup, dual-speed memory, at nearly twice the price. I literally had to argue with the young punk behind the counter to get what I wanted, and nearly walked out on him; he gave me the dire warning that the memory was likely not to work as he handed me the package. As of this writing, that memory has been working perfectly for over a year.

Some people have mentioned Best Buy. I’ve had mixed results from them. Their habit of rebating everything is irritating, and I’ve had one rebate refused for missing some portion of the magic pixie dust ritual they make you go through. On the other hand, I bought my current laptop from them; the first model was busted out of the box (probably a short in the sound card circuitry) and they just exchanged it with very little hassle. When they heard I was planning to run Linux on it, they even found a resident Linux tech expert to consult with me, which was far more respect for Linux than I’m used to.

Between these and Circuit City (who completely melted down in the face of an exclusive distribution agreement to sell a white-hot item, something most retailers would kill for), I’m not sure what to do about the current sorry state of electronics vendors.

UPDATE (2007-12-09): Commenter JD wrote, “I am amazed every day that they are able to stay in business.”  Well, wonder no more.

Esperanto Rekomendo kaj Nekredeco

[en] Translation of this post into Esperanto.

(Tradukita el ĉi tiu angla afiŝo.)

La “Lessig Blog” (jes, la sama unu mi malbondiris pli frue, kaj ankaŭ de la sama aŭtoro) poŝtigis iu interesajn informojn pri Esperanto, kaj per mia instigado. (Ĉu vi scias ke alta oficialulo de la usona oficejo “FCC” parolas Esperanton?) La komentario interesiĝis, sed ŝajnas ke mia respondo ne plaĉas al la komputila kodo, do mi devigis forlasi tiun diskutaĵon.

La plej interesa komento fariĝis je S-ro. Mortazavi, kiu aperas havi interesan retlogon ĉi tie. Li ankaŭ reskribis sian komenton en sia retlogo.

Li havas multajn bonajn temojn pri diverseco kaj multa-kulturismo, sed malatingas:

Do, okazoj por diverseco estas multa pli bona kaj pli rekompencanta ol la okazoj por inventita, unuforma tutmonda lingvo, kiu ofte ne havas vivanta kulturo, riĉa literatura historio kaj tradicio. (Je la “vivanta kulturo” de lingvo, mi signifas la kulturo de socioj kiuj plejparte parolas tiun lingvon.)

Kiu estas cirkla. Nur naciaj lingvoj povas havi kulturo; tiel, oni ne kulturiĝas sen lerni naciajn lingvojn. Mi kredas ke Esperanto havas veran seriozan kulturon, kiu ŝajnas al mi malpruvi la tutan aferon.

Sed antaŭ io plu okazas. Ĉu oni povas lerni pri aliaj kulturoj per traduko? Sr-o Mortazavi ne ŝajnas pensi tiel. Mi cedas ke nenio estas tiel lerni la indiĝenan lingvon por profunde partopreni en kulturo. Sed oni nur povas profunde partoprenas en kelkaj kulturoj ĉi tiel, dum tute de la kulturoj de la mondo estas havebla al la Esperantisto. Ĉu profundeco estas pli bona ol larĝo? Mi ne pensas tiel.

Kaj profundeco havas malavantaĝon. Kiu elektos fosi en la profundecon de, ekzemple, la kulturo kaj historio de Katalunujo? La katalunoj povas diri al vi: tre malmultaj, tial estas kial ilia kulturo foramasiĝas per la “grava” hispania lingvo kaj kulturo. Nun, mi ne supozas diri ĉu Esperanto mem haltus la tendenco, sed certe helpus se katalunoj decidus uzi neŭtrala lingvo kiam trakti pri la eŭropa burokrataro anstataŭ deviĝas uzi hispana por fari tiu. Certe, reduktanta la premon sur tia malplimultaj lingvoj plibonigas diversecon, ĉu ne?

Certe mi ne povas paroli tutajn mondajn lingvojn, aŭ tutajn “gravajn” mondajn lingvojn, sed mi povas ligi kun pli multaj homoj ĉar mi povas paroli, legi, kaj skribi en pli sa unu lingvo.

Simile, povanta ligi kun pli multaj kulturoj je partopreni facil-lernadan alilandan lingvon parolitan je iu homoj ĉie faras onin pli diversaj, ĉu ne?

Mi dubas iu ajn kiu provis nek lerni nek legi nek skribi ĉine kaj ne lernis aŭ vivis ĝin tradukus (ne laŭvorte, sed figure parolanta) tiun vivanton, tiun historion, tiun tradicion tute en iun alian lingvon, ĉu esperanto aŭ anglalingvo.

Mi ne povas analizi gramatike tiun. Ĉe nominala valoro, li ŝajnas zorgi pri la fakto ke neĉinparoluloj plej certe estas malbona ĉe dissendado ĉina kulturo en alilandan lingvon. Mi konsentas ke indiĝena ĉinuloj certe faras pli bone, kvankam mi ne vidas la problemon. Do, mi kredas ke mi maltrafis lian punkton.

Almenaû, estas interesa ke li elektis la ĉina lingvo ekzemplo de kulturo nealirebla al Esperanto. Ĉinio havas unu de la plej daŭra gazetoj ie ajn. Ili lastatempe finis gastigi ilian duan Universalan Kongreson de Esperanto. Ili dissendas hodiaŭe en esperanto. Do, se lia punkto estas ke Ĉinio ne povus dissendi signifa kvanto de sia kulturo kaj mesaĝo en esperanto, ŝajnus ke la ĉinujoj mem ne konsentas.

Nekredeco esperanta certe ne estas malvalida, sed estus bona vidi iom informita nekredeco por ŝanĝo, nekredeco kiu aŭskultas al la punktoj tiu esperantistoj faras kaj atingas respondi al ili. Rigardanda al tiu kaj tiu estus bona komenco.

Dividing Texas

From InstaPundit, we find this article in OpinionJournal (an online publication from the Wall Street Journal) by two law students. In it, they propose increasing Republican dominance in the Senate by splitting Texas into four states:

Article IV, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution says that new states may be created out of existing ones, but only with the consent of “the States concerned as well as of the Congress.”

These days, a partisan Congress would never agree to a Texas carve-up, since any resulting new states would surely be politically conservative. But Congress need not take any action at all today: It granted its consent to Texas’s potential subdivision 159 years ago.

It’s as well that their proposal is a bit tongue-in-cheek, because the good law students have their history wrong. The authorization Congress granted was acted on at the time.

The borders of the Republic of Texas, as annexed by the United States and as fought over in the Mexican War, were greater than the current border of the current state of Texas. This map shows how the territory claimed by the Republic was eventually divided: one full state of Texas, plus portions of Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, and New Mexico.

Astute readers will note that this makes for a total of six states, not four, and that the territory of Texas ended up yielding only one full state. Does this mean that the old Congressional authorization is still valid? I doubt it; the explicit reference to “territory” is good evidence that the authorization only extended to the creation of new states, not the subdivision of existing ones. Plus, while “portion” is still accurate when talking about New Mexico, it’s clear that we’re talking a Texas-sized portion when compared to the state in its final form.

Of course, all of this is in fun; I don’t expect even Texas Republicans will take this seriously. But even in fun, historical accuracy is important, especially when writing for such a high-profile publication as the Wall Street Journal.

Esperanto Boosting, and Skepticism

[eo] Kial Esperanto ne havas kulturon. Tradukita Esperante ĉi tie.

The Lessig Blog (yes, the same one I slammed on earlier, and by the same guy too) posted some interesting information about Esperanto, at my prompting no less. (Did you know that a high official at the FCC speaks Esperanto?) The comment discussion got a bit interesting, but it seems Lessig’s blog software didn’t like one of my responses, so I’ve been forced to abandon that discussion.

The most interesting comment was by M. Mortazavi, who appears to have an interesting blog here. He echoed his comment on his blog as well.

He has a lot of good points on diversity and multiculturalism, but falls short:

So, opportunities for diversity are much better and more rewarding than the opportunities for an invented, uniform global language, which will often lack a living culture, rich literary history and tradition. (By the “living culture” of a language, I mean the culture of communities that primarily speak that language.)

Which is circular. Only national languages can have culture; thus, you can’t become more cultured without learning national languages. I’d say that Esperanto has a pretty serious culture going on, which seems to me to disprove the whole thing.

But there’s something else going on, too. Can one learn about other cultures through translation? Mr. Mortazavi doesn’t seem to think so. I’ll grant him that there’s nothing like learning the native language for getting deeply involved in a culture. But, then again, one can only get deeply involved in a few cultures in this way, while all the world’s cultures are available to the Esperantist. Is depth really superior to breadth? I don’t think so.

And depth has a drawback. Who will elect to delve into the depths of, say, the culture and history of Catalan? The Catalanese can tell you the answer: very few, which is why their culture is slowly being crowded out by the “important” Spanish language and culture. Now, I won’t presume to say whether Esperanto would stem the tide by itself, but it certainly could help if Catalanese could choose to use a neutral language in their dealings with the European bureaucracy instead of being forced to use Spanish to do so. Certainly, easing the pressure on such minority languages improves diversity, does it not?

I certainly cannot speak all world languages, or all “important” world languages but I can connect with more people because I can speak, read and write in more than one language.

By extension, being able to connect with more diverse cultures by virtue of sharing an easy-to-learn foreign language spoken by some people everywhere makes one more diverse, right?

I doubt anyone who’s neither tried to learn nor read nor written Chinese and has not learned or lived it could translate (not literally, but figuratively speaking) that living, that history, that tradition in full into some other language, whether Esperanto or English.

I can’t parse this. At face value, he seems to be concerned about the fact that non-Chinese speakers are most likely poor at transmitting Chinese culture into a foreign language. I agree that native Chinese would likely do better, though I don’t see the problem. So I expect I’ve missed his point.

At any rate, it’s interesting that he would pick Chinese as an example of a culture impermeable to Esperanto. China has one of the longest-running Esperanto periodicals around. They just got done hosting their second World Esperanto Congress. They broadcast in Esperanto daily. So, if his point is that China could not possibly transmit any significant amount of its culture and message in Esperanto, it would appear that the Chinese themselves do not agree.

Esperanto skepticism is certainly not invalid, but it would be nice to see some informed skepticism for a change, skepticism that listens to the points Esperantists make and seeks to address them. Looking at this and this would be a good start.

Kontraŭ Esperanto (Against Esperanto)

(English version follows.)

Kiam mi interesiĝis en Esperanto, mi serĉis en la reto por opinioj kontraŭ ĝi. Mi volas scii ke mi ne malŝparis penon kiam lerni ĝin. Neniu de tiuj opinioj ŝanĝis mian opinion. (Evidente!)

Hodiaû, mi vidis unu de tiuj paĝoj en Vikipedio, la “Ranto” de Justin Rye (anglalingvo). La ideo de praktiki mian Esperant-lingvon per kritiki tiun paĝon plaĉas al mi, kaj mi bezonas praktiki.

Lia tendenco estas la plej granda problemo:

It looks like some sort of wind-up-toy Czech/Italian pidgin.
(Ĝi ŝajnas kiel ia volv-ludila ĉeĥ-itala piĝino.)

This crazed inventory [of phonemes] is a splendid demonstration of Dr Z’s linguistic incompetence…
(Ĉi tiu freneziĝita inventaro [de fonemoj] estas grandioza manifestacio de la lingveca nekompetenteco de Dr-o Z…)

Same, iom da lingvoj ne plaĉas al li:

The distinctively Central/East European dependence on guttural consonants, closed diphthongs and strings of affricates is generally acknowledged as unappealing – and no, this isn’t a matter of subjective opinion, it’s a matter of statistical databases.
(La aparte centra/orienta eŭropa dependo de guturalaj konsonatoj, fermitaj diftongoj, kaj kordoj de afrikatoj ĝenerale agnoskiĝas esti nesimpatia – kaj ne, tiu ne estas afero de subjektiva opinio, estas afero de statistikaj donitaĵaroj.)

Mi havas neniu ideo kiel listo de stereotipoj konvinkus min ke Esperanto estas malbela. Ĉu la slavoj ne rigardas siajn lingvojn belaj? Se jes, ĉu ili malpravas? Kiu rajtas diri?

Kiam oni ignoras ĉi tiuj, oni havas neniu krom iuj supozaj eraroj. Mi kredas ke multaj de liaj eraroj supozas ke latino estas la plej bela lingvo, aŭ havas aliajn stereotipojn, sed ne gravas. Se ni bezonas perfektecon en nia internacia lingvo, ni neniam havos ĝin. Iu ĉiam povas trovi erarojn, speciale se ni ne havas klarajn normojn. Komunikando, ne perfektecigando, estas la celo.

When I became interested in Esperanto, I searched on the Net for opinions against it. I wanted to know that I wasn’t wasting effort learning it. None of those opinions changed my opinion. (Evidently!)

Today, I saw one of those pages in Wikipedia, the “Ranto” of Justin Rye. The idea of practicing my Esperanto by critiquing that page intrigued me, and I do need to practice.

His bias is the biggest problem:

It looks like some sort of wind-up-toy Czech/Italian pidgin.

This crazed inventory [of phonemes] is a splendid demonstration of Dr Z’s linguistic incompetence…

Similarly, he doesn’t like some languages:

The distinctively Central/East European dependence on guttural consonants, closed diphthongs and strings of affricates is generally acknowledged as unappealing – and no, this isn’t a matter of subjective opinion, it’s a matter of statistical databases.

I have no idea how a list of prejudices would convince me that Esperanto is ugly. Do Slavic people not consider their languages beautiful? If so, are they wrong? Who is entitled to say?

When you ignore these, there’s nothing left but some alleged errors. I believe that many of his errors assume that Latin is the most beautiful language, or have other prejudices, but that’s not important. If we need perfection in our international language, we will never have it. Someone can always find mistakes, especially if we lack clear standards. Communication, not perfection, is the goal.

Why Blogs Don’t Need Editors

A while back, Orin Kerr from The Volokh Conspiracy posted a story about how the Census Bureau provided the Department of Homeland Security with profiling information on Arabs. The New York Times and Reuters implied that this was a disturbing privacy intrusion, without mentioning that the data is publicly available, and that anyone can perform such queries themselves if they wish.

It turns out that this information was in the original article, but was removed by an overly aggressive copyeditor, who apparently considered this fact to be unimportant to readers of the Times.

There’s an idea out there that blogs really need editors to do serious journalism, for, among other reasons, fact-checking and accuracy. Those who would rely on blogs for “serious” news are prone to being misled, according to some:

How can we know which blogs are accurate, [and] which are not? Should we depend on a blog of blogs to steer us in the right direction.

Judge for yourselves who was steered in the wrong direction, and who did the steering.

Esperanto: Huh? (Esperanto: Ĉu?)

You may have heard of Esperanto, either from me, or perhaps from other places. For those who haven’t: Esperanto is a language designed to be easy to learn and useful as a second language for communicating around the world. Here is a good introduction to the language, and here is an index to a lot more English-language information.

Esperanto has been my folly for quite a while. I’m intrigued by the idea of a simple language, useful for accessing cultures around the world. It’s true that many of the world’s works have made it to English translation; it’s also true that English is difficult to learn as a non-native language, and thus the barriers to entry for many “lesser” works are less when translating to Esperanto than English. Plus, because of the aforementioned difficulty with learning English, it’s a lot easier to converse in real time and actually be understood in Esperanto.

In my effort to learn the language, I intend to post in it every so often. Most of these posts will be in the Esperanto category, or accompanied with English translations, like this one. Feel free to skip the funny-looking stuff if you’re not interested, or check out some of the online resources for learning Esperanto if the idea of holding conversations with Frenchmen, Japanese, Iranians, and Brazilians at the same time interests you.

And if you’re an old hand, feel free to follow up in Esperanto, or correct my usage, which is likely still poor.

(Ĉi tio estas defendo de Esperanto, kaj tial nenio dirita necesitas traduki esperante. Ĉar mi estas nova Esperantiso, mi penos traduki ĝin en Esperanto. Korektu min, mi petas, se vi vidas erarojn.)

Vi povus informiĝi je Esperanto, aŭ de mi, aŭ eble de iu. Por la ne informitoj: Esperanto estas lingvo desegnita por esti lernita facile kaj utila kiel dua lingvo, por komunikiĝi tra la mondo. Jen bona prezento al la lingvo, kaj jen indekso al multe pli da informoj anglaj.

Esperanto estis mia stulteco por longa tempo. Mi interesas en la ideo de simpla lingvo, utila por aliri kulturojn ĉirkaŭ la mondo. Estas vere, ke multaj de la verkoj de la mondo atingis traduki angle; ankaŭ estas vere, ke la angla lingvo estas malfacila lerni kiel dua lingvo, kaj ĉar la obstakloj eniraj estas malpli por multaj “malpli bonaj” verkoj kiam oni tradukas esperante anstataŭ angle. Krome, ĉar la antaŭmenca malfacilo kun lerni angle, estas pli facile paroli kaj vere kompreniĝi esperante.

En mia peno lerni Esperanton, mi intendas enskribi en ĝi iam. Plej da ĉi tioj skribantoj estos en la kategorio “Esperanto”, aŭ havos tradukon angle, kiel ĉi tio estas. Ignoru la strangajn vortojn, se vi ne interesigas, aŭ envidu iom da rimedoj interretajn por lerni Esperanto se la ideo de paroli kun francoj, japanoj, irananoj, kaj brazilianoj samtempe interesas vin.

Kaj se vi estas spertulo, respondu esperante, aŭ korektu mian uzadon, kio verŝajne estas malbona.

NOVA: Mi korektis la poŝto en Esperanto laŭ la komentoj malsupraj. Dankon al ĉiuj. Mi daŭre korektos ĝin sen rimarko, do la esperanta parto signifas pli precize kiel la angla parto signifas.