Letters to The Ethical Spectacle

I rarely watch the Weather Channel but this week we spent several days intermittently watching the spectacle of two storms converging on the New York area, with the prospect of a foot and a half of snow.

We were spending Christmas week on the East End of Long Island, where power outages are common in severe weather, and can last for days. Our house has no back-up system, not even a fireplace, for coping with a loss of electricity in cold weather.

Should we stay here or drive back to the city? In the end, we stayed because the prediction for the East End had been downgraded to 2 to 4 inches of snow. In the event, it snowed for about an hour, turned to rain and was sunny again that afternoon.

The Spectacle is founded on the premise that the universe is knowable, at least in the sense that we can precisely define terms and use them to predict outcomes. The storm this week seems a much better metaphor for human experience. However, as I point out in this issue's essay on The Internet Bubble, when we humans use storm metaphors, its often a way of disclaiming responsibility for our own actions by mislabelling them as a natural cataclysmic event.

Some years ago a software developer told me what I assume was a joke masquerading as an anecdote. He claimed that at the University of Oklahoma, where he went to school, a mainframe program had been developed that could accurately predict the weather. You fed in a huge group of variables, the mainframe chugged away for six weeks and then output a precise description of what the weather had been, the day after you input the data.

Your email is my back-up system against the storm. (That sounded sentimental, didn't it?) I can be reached as always at jw@bway.net.

Jonathan Wallace


Schrodinger's Election
Dear Mr. Wallace:

I mostly agree with your Schrodinger's Election essay, and am glad to find some better phrasing for some of the thoughts I've been trying to put into words over the past few weeks; I think you dismiss the federalist benefits of the electoral college too easily, however.

Just as there are valid local differences about prostitution and obscenity, I believe there are, or at least can be, valid local differences about how voting rights should be granted and what voting procedures should be used, and that within certain broad guidelines these should be encouraged.

The constitution now forbids states from denying someone the vote based on race, color, previous condition of servitude (15A), sex (19A), failure to pay poll or other tax (24A[1]), or age, for those 18 or over (26A). Additionally, representation levels can be affected by states restricting the vote to male citizen inhabitants 21 and over, for reasons other than rebellion or crime (14A).

Other than that, states can decide on their own who should be allowed to vote. If the President and VP were directly elected, then either there would be a single national standard for who could vote (in those elections at least, but states would incur additional expense and hassle if they tried to have a different standard for different elections), or states could 'artificially' increase their presidential-election-power by increasing their franchise. (I grant that that isn't necessarily a bad thing, but I don't think it's the intent of your proposal?)

Right now, states differ in their rules on what persons convicted of crimes can vote. Other possible differences which seem legitimate (which isn't to say which I would support):

o by age, under age 18:
everyone over 16
everyone old enough to perform the mechanics of voting
everyone over 8 who can pass a basic civics test
everyone, with guardians voting by proxy for those who can't or choose not to vote for themselves

o literacy and basic knowledge test (this one obviously has some pretty severe history to work against it, but I don't think it's necessarily illegitimate if it can be designed to be provably race-neutral); to the extent that it disenfranchised males 21 and over, it would reduce representation, but I think a state could reasonably choose to take that hit in exchange for hopefully better local government

o resident aliens

There are also valid differences in voting procedure; as your essay mentions, there is already some difference here (although the two oddball states, Maine and Nebraska, don't divide their electors proportionally as your essay says: they give 2 to the state-wide winner, and one to the winner of each congressional district; the difference in electors given a hypothetical uniform 51/49 split across the states shows the large difference). There is room for quite a bit more experimentation, in true proportional division and in alternate voting schemes such as instant-runoff and preferential voting systems.

I am personally undecided on whether the electoral college is still preferable to a direct election, but I don't think the federalism aspects of the current system should be dismissed so lightly.

Todd Larason jtl@molehill.org

[1] Interestingly, this applies only to (primary or other) elections for President or VP, electors for President or VP, Senator or Representative; the other restrictions apparently apply to all elections.


Dear Mr. Wallace:

I agree with Mr Agre that certain Republican party activists behaved abominably in Miami-Dade county during the vote counting process. They were unruly and they did attempt to interfere with a count they believed would go against them.

However, his characterization of them is misplaced. First, Jonathan Wallace's characterization of this as Schrodinger's Election is for the most part correct -- the actual will of the voters is essentially unknowable, because the margin of victory is at best on the order of about 0.02%. Agre's allegation that Republican operatives are trying to steal the election is therefore disingenous -- it's a tie for one legally indivisible prize, and both sides are fighting tooth and nail for it, a fight they believe they owe to their most ardent supporters. Their behavior reminded me of nothing so much as fans at a baseball game booing the umpire.

The biggest problem is his characterization of the Republican tactics as fascist. They stood in a hallway and made a ruckus and said intemperate things in the heat of the moment. It was certainly abominable, but no more. They did not kill anyone; to the best of my knowledge they did not even injure anyone. Real-world fascism has always been characterized by homicidal violence.

In fact, no-one has been killed or even seriously injured over this whole election imbroglio. And that is the real triumph here. In most democratic nations, including those of Western Europe, an election dispute of this magnitude and the resulting power vacuum would be distinctly unfunny. It would be a disaster, resulting in widespread riots and election violence. The worst thing that's happened here is a bunch of (mostly) young male party activists stood in a hallway and behaved like drunken sports fans. I vastly prefer that to the alternatives offered by history.

Pierce Nichols

Phil Agre replies:

A United States Congressman ordered a gang of paid thugs to shut down the counting of votes in a presidential election. That is a fascist tactic. Sure it's at the low end of the fascist scale. But it has nothing to do with democracy.


Dear Jonathan,

John Samples defends the Electoral College by arguing that the "founding fathers" didn't mean for us to have a true democracy but instead intended a constitutional republic. He tells us that "nothing could be more alien to the spirit of American constitutionalism than equating democracy with the direct, unrefined will of the people."

Mr. Samples' argues from a particular partisan perspective, however, and not out of lofty regard for the survival of government of the people, by the people and for the people. Being obviously inclined to interpret U.S. history from the vantage of the Federalists, he conjures "James Madison's famous Federalist No. 10" which he says "makes clear that the Founders fashioned a republic, not a pure democracy." But as in the case of apologists for political parties and corporations, I remind Mr. Samples that the Federalist Papers are no more a part of the US constitution than are political parties and corporations. In fact, none of them are mentioned in the core legal document of the nation.

The Electoral College, far from being a judicious damper of unbridled public opinion, ("mob rule," is how I recently heard democracy described) is a relic of elitist privilege that institutes the same condecension of power over the will of the goverend as the House of Lords did in Britain until but a year ago. And what a contrast there is in this! A nation that retains its figurehead monarch has done away with the power of birthright legislation, but its revolutionary ex-colony retains the active power of its institutions of privilege in the Electoral College and in the Senate.

States rights arguments are the best that John Samples can muster in defense of the Electoral College. Montana may stand up to the other states by having just as many senators in Congress. But to say that abolishing the Electoral College would diminsh the standing of states with small populations as well as the standing of all non-metropolitan voting blocks is to presume that there are no viable alternatives to doing away with the dinosaur of the Epectoral College. In fact, there are better ways to hold representative elections. And there are ways that can increase regional representation beyond anything offered by the electoral college.

Proportional representation is certainly the most viable and attractive alternative. Why, for instance, should a county with a 3 to 1 democratic registration vs republican registration (or the reverse) ratio only and always send democratic representatives to congress? Must the minority settle for no representation in perpetuity, or decide to move to another county? What if the number of representatives sent to congress was based on the proportion of the vote in a district that any party received? In such a case, a highly republican district might send 5 reps to the congress, the democrats might send 2, and a third party might send 1. All the citizens in that district would be proportionally represented in this case.

There are many viable alternatives to the Electoral College. But to argue, as does John Samples, that a candidate receiving a minority of the popular vote can legitimately win an election, is to embrace something other than people-run government. It is to favor a tradition with no justification. John Samples says that people should not knowingly ask "Are we not a democracy that honors the will of the people?" He says that "the very question indicates a misunderstanding of our Constitution." I think that his saying so betrays a misunderstanding of the spirit of liberty on which the nation was founded. And if remnants of the old hierarchy of privilege survived into the later history of the nation, they are and ought to be the target of our democratic instincts for betterment and reform, not, as Mr. Samples argues, a justifiable "filtering of the popular will through the Electoral College," the abolition of which, in his opinion "would breach our fidelity to the spirit of the Constitution, a document expressly written to thwart the excesses of majoritarianism."

To say, as does John Samples, that the Electoral College is an "affirmation, rather than a betrayal, of the American republic," requires a betrayal of the people of the nation. The republic, run by parties, federalists, and corporations may well survive. Government of the people, by the people, and for the people has yet to be established, and has little chance if such opinions are not marginalized as the anti-democratic pablum that they truly are.

Ben Price BenGPrice@aol.com


Dear Mr. Wallace:

Excellent!

One correction. You said:

Problems with absentee ballots included ones sent via military mail which were not postmarked and numerous ballots which failed to include the voter's ID number. In some cases, Republican party members who had filled out the ballots and sent them to voters for signature, were allowed to add the missing ID numbers after the ballots were received.

I believe that the forms mailed out, and corrected after their return, were not ballots; they were requests for ballots. No-one has alleged that Republican party hacks filled out ballots (i.e., voted) for overseas military personnel. Rather, *both* parties sent out pre-filled-in requests for ballots which, in the Republican case, contained the wrong data (a birthdate, or some such) in the field where they should have had the ID number.

I have a different view of the electoral college than you do. I feel it introduces a salutary granularity, limiting the general effect of fraud or error. I'd like to see "electoral districts," rather than statewide "winner take all," to further limit the scope of anomalies. Right now, for example, either Chicago or downstate Illinois can perturb the outcome for the entire state. With separately-contested districts, either would only affect its own district(s). Separately-contested districts, and to a lesser extent the current system, also eliminate the need for a large-scale (potentially nationwide!) hand recount in "coin-flip" situations like the present one.

Again, excellent! I enjoyed the read very much!

Gary Owen Gary.Owen@PowerQuest.com


Dear Mr. Wallace:

Thanks for your lucid commentary on the election and its aftermath. I have been forwarding many of your comments to about fifty of my friends. Perhaps you'd like to see my summation of the situation.

1) It seems highly likely to me that, had there been no election fraud and had all the votes been counted, Gore would have won. But there was massive election fraud in Florida -- thousands of black people being turned away from the polls, illegal tampering with absentee ballot applications, the "butterfly" ballots, half of which would not fit in the machines properly, etc.

See http://www.bushneverwonflorida.com/

2) If Bush had any interest in democracy he would have agreed to the Democrats' offer to recount all of Florida. He did not, and showed an interest only in winning, not in determining the truth or the will of the people. (Who knows what Gore would have done in the same situation? I'm not claiming Gore is any better, only that Bush is not, in my humble opinion, fit to be President because of his lack of respect for democracy.)

3) The Supreme Court has shown itself to be corrupt. After a long tradition of keeping hands off the States' internal affairs, the court has overthrown the state of Florida's completely legal and consitutional right to conduct recounts as it sees fit. The majority helped out their Republican buddy instead of standing on principle.

4) The United States is no longer a democracy. This is true even if the vote had been uncontested. See the excellent commentary by Jonathan Wallace at

http://www.spectacle.org/1000/demo2.html/

Here is an excerpt:

"

American democracy has a single point of failure. If the people's ability to vote candidates in and out of office has no meaningful influence on the decisions they make while in office, then democracy does not exist, because the will of the people has no influence on policy. Money has broken that link. Once the people admit a candidate in the gate, they have no further say in what he does, because his exclusive constituency becomes the people who give him the dollars for his next campaign. Though the voters have the authority to remove the politician from office on the next go round, two, four or six years later, this authority is easily defeated by a game involving media-disseminated disinformation, public complacency and short memory, and a byzantine legislative system which shields legislators from being held accountable for the choices they make.

So what can we do about all this?

* Roll over and give up? Not my cup of tea.

* Get involved in local politics where there is more chance of real change. Sounds good to me. I have volunteered to serve on a local city advisory board. Haven't heard yet whether I have been accepted.

* Try to reform the national electoral process. I plan to agitate stubbornly for

a) Abolition of the Electoral College, to be replaced by direct popular vote for the President.

b) An Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) system, whereby one votes for one's first choice, then second choice, then third, etc. If no candidate get a majority, all the first-choice votes for the candidate who came in last are discarded, and those voters' second choice votes are counted. The process continues until a candidate gets a majority of the votes. This system is used successfuly in Australia. The Center for Voting and Democracy says

Instant Runoff Voting allows for better voter choice and participation by accommodating multiple candidates in single seat races, while assuring that a "spoiler"-effect will not result in undemocratic outcomes. Instant runoff voting allows all voters to vote for their favorite candidate without fear of helping elect their least favorite candidate, and it ensures that the winner enjoys true support from a majority of the voters. Plurality voting, used in most American elections, does not meet these basic requirements for a fair election system that promotes wide participation.

See http://www.igc.apc.org/cvd/irv/index.html

Perhaps there are other alternatives as well. If you think of some, please let me know.

With warm regards,

Bill Meacham - bmeacham@bmeacham.com - http://www.bmeacham.com


Dear Mr. Wallace,

I stumbled across your site somehow a few months ago, and spent several enjoyable hours reading quite a bit of it, your fiction as well as your essays. For the first time, I was tempted to write a site owner a thank you for the effort and thought that was put in that resulted in a stranger's pleasure. I didn't write then, it was one of your comments in your "Schrodinger's Election," essay that finally moved me to write, but that doesn't diminish the gratitude I feel for the work you've put in to making your thoughts public. Thank you.

A few days after this post-election stuff started, I visited your site to see what you thought about it all, but I don't think you had posted anything then. Checking back today, I find you've thought about it quite a lot and, as always, I've enjoyed reading your thoughts.

About the only thing about this election I found when I checked back, the day or two after the election, was your essay Why I'm Voting for Ralph Nader.

Reading Schrodinger's Election, I see you've mentioned Nader again. I think the "Nader factor" is something that would have been much more discussed, post-election, if this Florida thing hadn't popped up. I find all this Florida stuff fascinating, I watch CNN, etc., all the time, where I never did before, and no one ever brings up Nader (Except for James Carville once saying that he'd turn his back on Nader at any party they happened to both attend.)

Even though nobody much is discussing it, it's still interested me, and I happened to find a Nader chatboard run by the filmaker Michael Moore. Lurking at the chatboard, I tried to get a sense of how Nader voters viewed the election, and the results of the election.

I think I see that most Naderites are disenchanted former Democrats, and that there's a lot of anger on the part of Naderites towards the Democratic party that has been moving more and more to the right, abandoning the liberal ideas and "common man" type focus that made them our party of choice. Reading there, at Nader's own website, and your "Why I'm voting for Nader," essay, I also see the assertion that there's really no difference between Bush and Gore, or the Republican or Democratic parties.

Post election, you, as well as most of the Nader supporters on Michael Moore's Nader chatboard, seem to say that you'd prefer that Gore win instead of Bush.

Another thing I thought I saw, pre-election on Nader's own website, as well as in your "Schrodinger's Election," essay, is that the gist of Nader's presidential run this year wasn't really to elect Nader as president, but an attempt at a wakeup call to the 2 parties that a significant number of people felt their concerns weren't being addressed. To put it more simply, it was an attempt, I think, to get the Democratic party to move back to the left.

What I'm trying to get around to saying is this; In your "Schrodinger's Election," essay, you say that "The real question is... what the Democrats did to alienate two million mostly Democratic voters, and what they could do to get them back."

Now, I'm no political scientist, but it seems to me that if this was really Nader's, and Nader's voters' goal, to get the Democratic party to move back to the left, the Nader campaign, especially in light of the result, that Nader picked up more votes than the difference between the Republican and Democratic candidates, has to have the exact opposite effect on the Democratic party... Because of Nader's campaign, and election showing, the Democratic party will have to move further to the right.

This only occurred to me when I happened to read something on the 'net, some guy reminiscing about an old friend of his, whose motto was "Always vote for the most progressive candidate who can win."

It's that last part, "who can win," that I'm thinking is left out of your, and Nader's rationale...

So we have the Democratic party winning the popular vote by a mere 300,000 votes, and not a strong enough result to win the electoral college. Now if I were the Democratic party, looking ahead to the next elections, I'd be thinking... where can I get more votes? We have 2 million or so Nader voters over here on the left, there's a possible pool to draw voters from, yes... but over on the other side, we see 49 million Bush voters. Where are my best chances to get votes from? Can the Democratic party afford to move any to the left, in hopes of getting some of those 2 million Nader voters, or are they going to see that their best chance is to try to move towards those 49 million Bush voters?

If the Democrats had won this election, the need to move even further to the right wouldn't have been so great. But losing it by the smallest of margins seems to me to make it imperative, for the Democratic party to win next time, to optimize its chances by going after the largest voter pool. And, ironically, it might have been Naders' voters desire to force the Democratic party to move further to the left that forces it to move further to the right.

I see some people say, as one of the letters you posted on your website says, that "Your reasons for voting for Nader are not sufficiently persuasive to justify helping to elect a Republican, Bush, and a Republican Congress." And when Nader voters hear that, they get angry.

But it seems to me that the more significant effect of the Nader campaign won't be a Republican president for 4 years, etc., but the effect on the Democratic party itself, of forcing it to move even further to the right, forcing it to go after more big corporation money, etc. And it seems to me that that effect is unavoidable, and is completely contary to what Nader voters were working for. And it seems to me too that if the Democrats lost this election, that the stronger Nader's showing was, the more it would have forced the Democratic party to move to the right, towards big business contributions, and towards the larger pool of potential voters, to attempt to find the numbers, in this larger pool, that they had lost to the smaller Nader pool.

Thanks again for your website, it's wonderful.

Regards,

Nico nico@hom.net


Dear Jonathan:

Excellent essay on the election. You'll probably be getting a lot of mail about this one.

Brilliant mention of the Challenger catastrophe; there are parallels here, sadly. We could have prevented this, but there was no Feynman (still isn't!). I wonder if we'll see, in six months, a memo about the poor voting user-interface which was sent up some chain of command and ignored for budgetary reasons?

Of course both sides are just trying to win the damn election, it's just a matter of which can muster the more realistic rationale for their attempts. "No grandeur, no sense of honor" until one of these two concedes the election despite maybe being able to force the issue; isn't it ironic that we will only know who deserves to be a statesman when they give up that possibility?

I'm less than halfway through the Federalist Papers (I got the edition you mentioned) but I spent some time skipping around looking for references to the electoral college. As far as I can tell it was only instituted for these two reasons:

1. As a gimme to the slave states, to allow each 1 white Southerner have more effective voting power than 1 white Northerner. (Three-fifths compromise would be ridiculous to pull off with a popular election, but the electoral college gives it a patina of normalcy.)

2. Because decentralization of the electoral college makes it more difficult for them to be corrupted. (In 2000, we have to think for a minute before we realize why this would even have been an issue in 1787.)

I haven't seen mention of it protecting democracy from the popular vote for bloody, Athenian reasons, but I probably just haven't read that part yet. Nor have I seen mention of it making the smaller states more powerful, though that could not have failed to be a factor (want your vote to count? move to Rhode Island!).

I read Gore's attempts to win differently than you do. Based on what I've seen and read, clearly Gore has more votes, and when the state is counted fairly we'll all know that. As Salon points out in a piece on Friday, the "Sunshine Laws" mean that universities and media will get to do a full recount sometime next year and we'll know who really won.

Imagine President Bush's horror when CNN, MSNBC, the New York Times, Tulane, and the University of Iowa all start to report, one by one, that Gore would have won Florida except for the Republican lawyers' stalling the recounts. Unless I miss my guess this is a real possibility and a very frightening one.

The issue of the military ballots is a little misleading. What the media is not reporting is that unpostmarked military ballots are rejected every year, and -- importantly -- in the same percentage that they were rejected this year. The law says that they are illegal ballots that cannot be counted, which is unfortunate but that's what the law says.

The Republicans have been clamoring for these illegal votes to be added to their total, which is unbelievable to me. How can prominent Republicans go on the record as saying that clearly-illegal ballots should be counted in an election? How can they fight tooth and nail against the Democrats' arguments that voters' intent trumps the law, and yet demand that an exception be made when they expect to profit?

The Democratic equivalent would be to say that the double-punched Gore/Buchanan ballots, which are also illegal, should be counted. I haven't heard anyone from Gore's camp make this claim, thankfully.

Bush's camp is also guilty of saying nothing about dimpled chads when it gets them net votes (as it did in several heavily-Republican counties) but going nuclear against them when they think it will get Gore net votes. Texas statute, by the way, and that of several other states, allows dimpled chads to be counted when voter intent can be ascertained; it's not like this is anything exceptional.

My favorite underreported story, to date, is about the 4,700 illegal absentee-ballot applications in Seminole County. When these applications came in from 4,700 registered Republicans, lacking some information which the law demands "the person making the request" fill out (IX 101.62(1)(b)), the Republican supervisor of elections told a Republican volunteer to take the ballots to the Republican Party headquarters, where she spent ten days filling in the missing information so these registered Republicans could vote Republican.

Gore's team has said nothing about this and is giving a local Democrat who is filing suit no support. If they did weigh in, it would be spun as being on the side of not-counting-votes, so I don't know whether their inaction is (a) stupid, (b) principled, or (c) very savvy.

As I say, they're both just trying to win the election, but one side seems to me clearly more hypocritical than the other. Overall, my impression is that Bush's team is fearful that a recount will strip them of the win, and more importantly, that Gore's team honestly believes they will have more votes once they are all counted. Gore is the one who proposed that the lawyers go home, that every county in Florida do a count by hand (the way our Republic counted votes for its first century or so), and that he would accept any result. I believe that overture was sincere.

-- Jamie McCarthy spectacle@mccarthy.vg


Jonathan,

Under a typical absolutist proclamation from Bob Wilson shouting Gore Lost. Now Go Home! I was amused to find Bob shift the usual right wing argument away from the dogmatism of one dollar equals one vote to the more novel property-rights version of representative democracy, wherein the unit to be represented was not only NOT the individual citizen, and not the individually considered dollars of campaign donars. Instead, having quickly revamped his core philosophy and beliefs to fit the arguments needed to support his preferred outcome of the election, Bob decided to argue that one acre of land equals one vote, or that it should in the situational ethics he is adopting for the undecided presidential election.

No, he really argued for a one acre one vote stance! He wrote: "The number of counties won by Gore was 677, while Bush won 2,434. To see how this plays out in terms of landmass, check out this link http://www.geocities.com/diosprometheus/election.jpg "

It seems irrelevant to Bob that many of the counties won by Bush are sparsely populated desert tracts (in more ways than one) compared to the counties won by Gore. Hence the proportional discrepency between the number of counties and the number of voters (which Bob easily dismisses, saying "Gore won the popular vote (we are told) by a slim 300,000 votes nation wide. That means it was statistically (within the margin of counting error) a tie." Well, call me old-fashioned but where I come from over a quarter of a million votes nationwide isn't a tie. It's a choice.

We could, of course, look at Florida, where the necktie of democracy seems to have got caught in the old-time clothes wringer of a machine ballot in which the dimpled chad has had the smile wiped from his face as he sees the grinding certainty of a laundered electoral outcome flash before his ayes and nays. We could, I suppose, almost call it a tie if we considered the 500+ vote margin by which George W(on't count the votes) Bush says he thinks Gore ought to concede. We could stretch incredulity even further and believe No-Count George meant it when he said "I'm for the people; they're for big government." We could, but we aren't that dumb.

Now don't get me wrong. I didn't want either of these corporate lackeys in the White House. I wasted my vote on the man I thought had integrity and the right policies, and no baggage. I voted for "None Of The Above" in the jargon of the party dogmatists who call themselves Democrats and Republicans. I voted for Nader, and I'm still happy about my choice.

But I have to check myself again. Yes, checking my understanding of English here, I think Bob is saying he prefers acres to people as a basis for democratic representation. I'm not making this up.

Bob is understandably interested in the rule of law and that the letter of the law be adhered to in this electoral case. (I seem to recall some mushiness on his part regarding the rule of law and how it might restrict military actions and government secrecy about intelligence operations. Ambiguity is not a crime. But selective dogmatism deserves ridicule). Bob writes: "Without strict obedience to the rule of law, our nation becomes a third world country, subject to the whims and winds of whoever musters the backing of brute force. " I'd laugh, but Bob might be offended. Bob equates the Gore lawyers, in this instance, with the "brute force" set on thwarting the rule of law. Bob the nuke man Wilson finds lawyers intimidating and brute! But in a way I can understand and sympathize. Lawyers sometimes do more damage to liberty than bombs.

Hmm. Lawyers thwarting the law. I guess we shouldn't allow people in positions sworn to uphold the rule of law to distort and bend it to partisan ends. Yeah. I agree with that. I can get behind that, Bob.

That's why I'm a little surprised, given Bob's tight embrace of "strict obedience to the rule of law" that he has not raised his considerable voice in protest of the mob action orchestrated by U.S. House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, who sent (and lodged and fed and fetted for the Thanksgiving holiday) Republican House staff members to Florida with a mission to override the rule of law. He shipped House Staff Members to Florida to intimidate the Miami-Dade County board of canvassers into stopping the hand count of ballots mandated by the Florida Supreme Court. They shoved and stampeded and bullied their way into the ballot counting areas and refused to identify themselves. But they have been identified as lackies of the impeachment engineer, Tom DeLay, who has said publicly that if Gore were to win the election, he will have "stolen it" from the Republicans.

Last I checked, neither Tom DeLay, the US Supreme Court, Florida's Legislature, nor the US Congress are first in line to pick the president. The votes are there! The people have chosen! They did so on election day. Count all the overseas ballotts. Recount the whole state if you want to! Machines have refused to count all the votes, so people must. I voted for Nader! My guy lost. Whoever had the most US citizens vote for their presidential candidate is the president. Count them up! And if you refuse under whatever guise, then you have rejected democracy and embraced some authoritarian kind of governance that is not generated by the will of the people.

I am amazed that George W(on't Count the Vote) Bush, who argued in the debates that he is "for the people," and Gore is for "big government," isn't demanding that every absentee ballot and every machine rejected vote be examined to determine what the people he is "for" really wanted. I am appalled that the next lesser of two evils to take office may not have the moral spine to risk electoral defeat by insisting on a fair vote count. But I am NOT amazed that the gradualism of the process of electing the lesser of two evils has at last, in my lifetime, brought America to the end of its experiment with democracy.

Hire what spin doctors you will; if George No Count Bush thinks he can fake his way past the entrance exam of the U.S. presidential election and get a seat in the oval office the same way he got admission to Yale and the Board of Directors of his daddy's oil company, he might be right. But if he is, it's time for a revolution.

I am here on record. I reject any such authoritarian government. I do not recognize its legitimacy. As a sovereign citizen, unless the Bush camp insists on a full and complete count of all votes cast, I accuse it and its supporters of treason against the US constitution. Let the chips fall where they may.

Ben Price BenGPrice@aol.com


Israel
Dear Jonathan,

I haven't touched base in a while. I've been really busy working as faculty on a new e-course for the church. I am also expecting my first grandchild within the week.

The reason I write is that I have a friend currently in Israel. He has been there the last two weeks as part of a pastor's orientation for those leading tours through Educational Opportunities. I talked to his wife on Sunday. She was in contact with him. His message: "Don't believe anything you see on the news." He and his group have been from the Galilees, down through the West Bank, to Jericho and Masada and then to Jerusalem and Bethlehem (Palistinian controlled) and have seen no signs of civil disturbance or heavy militarization. (They weren't in Gaza and that appears to be where most of the shooting is.)

When I was there a couple of years ago, both Israeli and Palistinians told me that there unwritten rule was "Don't shoot the tourists!" Tourists are the life blood of the economy. Thus his report doesn't surprise me. However, the battle scenes on the news (along with the political events) would lead one to believe that the whole country is in disarray. That doesn't seem to be the case.

Take it for what its worth, but first hand accounts are often helpful in deciphering situations.

The best to you and yours in this holiday season and in the new year.

Walter Lee walt@crcom.net


Dear Jonathan:

Your analysis of bias regarding the treatment of Israel in our media is quite good. That you don't see a similar "pro-left" bias regarding domestic political affairs is curious.

Bob Wilson


Dear Jonathan Wallace:

I'm coming to the depressing conclusion that there will be no peace in Israel until everyone alive in 1948 (and possibly their children and grand-children) are dead, and Greater Jerusalem is made a UN protectorate.

However, I have a radical proposal that might allow real and lasting peace in the very near term. it came to me while I was listening to Edward Said being interviewed on my local NPR station. He pointed out, I beklieve correctly, that the fate of the Israelis and the Palestinians are to intertwined to ever be seperated.

Israel should become a multi-ethnic, multi-religious democracy encompassing all of what is now Israel and the Occupied Territories. As part of this, the following measures should be taken immediately:

- Palestinians now living in that area should be given full citizenship immediately, including full rights (i.e. right to own land, travel freely, etc).

- Palestinian refugees should be allowed to apply for citizenship in the new nation on an expedited basis.

- A full amnesty for all crimes committed by each side in the struggle should be granted.

- A truth and reconciliation commission should be established fully document everything that happened in the struggle, ala South Africa.

- A reperations fund should be established to compensate victims and their families for land confiscations, terrorist acts, murders, etc.

Obviously, this would only go a little way towards redressing the wrongs committed, and the extremists on both sides would fight it bitterly. But the truth is that it would provide a moral high-road to peace.

-- Pierce Nichols


Dear Mr. Wallace:

To all the Israelites that think that God gave them the sole rights to the land of Palestine, may I refer you to Ezekiel chapter 47, verses 13 thru 23 where God declares that the people of Palestine have an equal inheritance, among, the people, of Israel.

Dave White midawhite@cs.com


Censorware
I came across your article on the constitutionality of blocking software in public libraries.You seem to be quite passionate about the subject as I am about protecting my children. Admittedly the blocking software is not perfect but it seems to be a good tool to protect our youth.

When was the last time you saw a Hustler Publication in your library? Just because it's out there doesn't mean the library has to buy it. If Larry mailed the magazine to every library would they have to accept it? I think not. And so goes the internet. Just because it's there doesn't mean the library has to have it for the public to see. I think your argument is weak on this point. You just seem to gloss over this fact by re stating your original statement that filters are unconstitutional.

You are quick to point out that the purchase of blocking software by public libraries is unconstitutional....what about the everyday struggles of life....trying to raise kids in a safe atmosphere....can you take it down to a personal human level? How would you propose to solve the problem of all the smut on the internet and it being viewed by say a 9 year old? Do you have children? How do you protect them?

I am interested in your further thoughts.

Respectfully,

T. Smith nwliving@home.com

Jonathan Wallace replies:

1. The only court to rule on this issue so far agreed that the use of censorware in public libraries is unconstitutional, because it is overbroad and blocks protected speech. Mainstream Loudoun v. Loudoun County Board of Library Trustees.

2. Censorware is no substitute for parental supervision because it also lets through a large amount of hard core pornography. The Internet is huge and changes by the minute and neither hand-compiled blacklists or flawed "AI" technology are adequate to identify and exclude all the stuff you wouldn't want your child to see.

This technology simply does not and (given current etchnological constraints and the size of the Internet) cannot function as promised.


Dear Mr. Wallace:

I thought you might be amused at this: http://unquietmind.com/censorwear/

So far, it's an ongoing project, requiring at least a few more 'episodes' before we'll be done with it. Because of the extremely useful work you've both done on the subject being parodied, you're both mentioned (sorta) in one current piece and at least one future chapter.

I'm a regular reader of both your sites, BTW. Thank you for all you do.

-- The Mystic unquiet@pobox.com
http://unquietmind.com/


Miscellaneous
Dear Mr. Wallace:

I've come back for another look at your website. It's always enjoyable and enlightening.

I happened to hit upon an exchange of messages on the subject of pornography. It isn't an issue that has had much to do with my life, but I'm interested in society and consider this to be an interesting issue. My comment has to do some research I did while writing a paper for a college psychology class a few years ago.

The first study had to do with learning theory, and it advanced the notion that although our main method of learning behavior is trial and error, we can also learn behavior through observation, never having tested the behavior for ourselves.

A second study I cited in the report had to do with how we develop our belief systems. Some beliefs are foundational to the continuity of our lives: the sun will rise in the morning, our neighborhood will be in its place when we walk out the front door. Some are more ordinary beliefs that will cause us some discomfort if they are disturbed: the bus will arrive on time or a spouse will be faithful. Some are inconsequential.

Some of our beliefs are based on our own experience. However, a great many are based on an authority we've accepted at some point in our lives--parents, religious leader, etc. Once that authority has been accepted, we no longer need to question what it presents to us. We've tacitly accepted everything it presents to us.

Combining the concepts of these two theories, it seems possible to speculate that if people learn some of their behaviors from observation alone; and if people have accepted television/movies as a kind of pseudo authority for elements of their belief systems; and if television/movies present a constant barrage of violent and/or demeaning sexual images; then perhaps the apparent increase in violent sexual behaviors in our society (as well as the belief that these behaviors are in any way okay) can be attributed, at least in part, to pornography--hard or soft core seen in movies and on television.

People who say they don't think it's proved that pornography (sex and violence) influences social behavior have either not read the studies or choose to discount them. I'm reminded of the denials of the tobacco industry for so many years, preferring to cite their own in-house studies to support their contention that the jury was still out on whether smoking caused cancer.

Beverly Scofield BGSco@juno.com


Dear Mr. Wallace:

So, Saving Steven Spielberg? I don't know, who you are, but if you have not longer filmography with better films than Mr. Spielberg, you have no idea what are you writting about. I hate people, who writes criticaly about something what they themselves can't do and don't understand. So, when you will shoot better film, than Mr. Spielberg ever has directed, than you can write, that he makes very bad movies. And at the end- no movie is so bad. When you will shoot some, you will understand. Have a nice day,

Silvie Pacalova SilviePacalova@seznam.cz