Tuesday, December 30, 2008

NASA reports graphic details of Columbia deaths

NASA reports graphic details of Columbia deaths

I'm glad they released this report. The knowledge about what happened to the Columbia astronauts during reentry may help save lives in the future. I was particularly interested in this:

And in the case of the helmets and other gear, three crew members weren't wearing gloves, which provide crucial protection from depressurization. One wasn't in the seat, one wasn't wearing a helmet and several were not fully strapped in. The gloves were off because they are too bulky to do certain tasks and there is too little time to prepare for re-entry, the report notes.

The fact that the shuttle is designed so poorly that tasks necessary to landing (I assume that's what they mean) can't be performed while the astronauts are wearing their gloves is amazing to me. This is an inexcusable design flaw and it boggles the mind how it happened. However, this is just the kind of thing that future engineers need to keep in mind when designing new vehicles. Hopefully, the release of this report will help stimulate conversation and ideas to make the next generation of space vehicles, both government and private, safer.

I remember the day the Columbia burned up on reentry: February 1, 2003 It was my 33rd birthday. Two days later David Horsey the political cartoonist for the Seattle PI published this cartoon:

It not only explains why we go to space it sums up the reasons why we will always push to explore new frontiers and strive to learn all there is to learn. It is part of what makes us human. If we ever lose that impulse because we are afraid or because its too expensive to we have other priorities then we will have started down the road to our own decline as a people.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Nickels' gun ban assailed

Nickels' gun ban assailed

Nickels called for banning guns on city property after a shooting at the Northwest Folklife Festival on May 24 that injured several people. The 22-year-old suspect had a concealed-weapons permit, despite a history of drug abuse and mental health problems.

Although Nickels' proposal is an administrative one, anyone caught bringing a gun to a city park or building could be ticketed or arrested for criminal trespassing.

State Attorney General Rob McKenna issued a decision in October stating that cities cannot pre-empt state gun laws. McKenna said the mayor's proposed restrictions would violate state law blocking cities from enacting gun rules.

I think that this kind of arbitrary gun ban is a bad idea not to mention that it is illegal under state law. Don't get me wrong, I do believe in gun control but this sort of knee-jerk reaction to an isolated incident is wrong. The system failed when it issued the permit to the shooter not when it allows people with legitimate permits to carry weapons.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Mental health system ailing

Mental health system ailing

I've long believed that a lot of problems with homelessness and murders like this one can be traced back to the Reagan administration cutting funding for mental health back in the 80s. With less funding many mental health institutions were closed and people with mental health issues went untreated and many who needed to be institutionalized were put out on the streets. These people wouldn't be a threat and indeed many could probably lead fairly normal lives if they had the help they needed but instead they were cut loose and in some cases are a danger to themselves and others.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Voter's Intent and the Hand Recount in MN

I ran across this blog post about the recount in Minnesota a little while back and I thought it was interesting especially since I have a little experience in the area of judging voter intent due to my stint working as a duplicator at King County Elections.

Aside from clerical errors, most if not all of the changes to the ballot total in the MN Senate race will be caused by ballots that weren't counted by the optical scan machines during the first counting process. Optical scan machines will reject ballot or not count votes for a variety of reasons including using pencil to mark the ballot, not filling in the line or bubble enough, circling a candidates name or some other marking method and damage to the ballot that will not allow it to pass through the machine. If a ballot is rejected by the scan machine it it examined to determine the problem and (at least in King County) if the voter's intent can be determined the ballot is duplicated by a team of two people and then run through the scan machine in place of the original.

In my experience the most common problem is using pencil or a light colored ink to fill in the vote. In this case the intent of the voter will be easily determined and the ballot will be duplicated or hand counted with no debate. The next most common problems are damage to the ballot itself and stray marks in the timing lines that run around the edge of the ballot. Again the intent of the voter in these ballots is not generally hard to determine and the votes can be counted with little debate. Where the real trouble begins is when the voter fails to follow directions and doesn't mark the ballot the way the instructions indicate or fail to correct a vote in the correct manner.

The sample challenged ballots in the article on the Minnesota Public Radio blog are mostly of the incorrect marking/correction type. Most of the other challenged ballots seem to be based on the "no identifying marks" rule in the Minnesota Statute governing voter's intent. Like the Washington guide to determining voter's intent a wide latitude is provided. The idea is that if there is ANY reasonable way to determine who the voter wanted to choose that vote should count.

If you haven't done so yet, go to the MPR page and go through the samples. Pay attention to who challenged the vote and on what grounds.

OK, now it seems to my admittedly unbiased eye that the Coleman campaign challenged too many votes where the intent was fairly obvious - mostly cases where the Franken vote wasn't in the bubble but was obviously on the same line or next to Franken's name. The Franken campaign had some dumb challenges as well (#9 on the first page where the mark next to Franken was clearly erased) but they have fewer. Regardless, based on the provided samples I think BOTH campaigns are challenging too many votes and are at least somewhat intentionally disenfranchising Minnesota voters. Again, the Franken people seem to be doing so less than the Coleman folks, but I expected better from them than I do the Republicans who have a history of screwing with elections. If the voter intent is obvious the ballot MUST be counted these ridiculous challenges only serve to delay the outcome and put a shadow over the eventual winner.

The purpose of any election is to determine the will of the people. No matter how you or I feel about a particular candidate or issue a fair election should determine the winner. It is incumbent upon us to make sure that every vote cast is counted if the voter's intent can be reasonably determined. The representatives of both campaigns need to get their heads out of their rear ends and remember this as they go about this tedious but necessary task. Their job as a member of the campaign may be to get their man elected but their first duty as an American is to make sure the election is first and foremost FAIR and ACCURATE.