The 2020 elections

It’s that time again. Four years later, and along with the big one (the presidential election), here in Harris County, Texas, the major law enforcement-related positions are once again up for election.

I’m going to just comment on the races I know about, some of them from the standpoint of the party primaries, some of them mainly in the context of the general election, in no particular order.

First up, Harris County sheriff. Both parties have multiple candidates vying for the position. The Democrats have incumbent Ed Gonzalez, running against Harry Zamora and Jerome Moore. I personally see no reason to replace Ed Gonzalez, plan to vote for him in the primary, and also expect him to easily win the primary.

If only things were so simple on the Republican side. Randy Rush got the endorsement from the Houston Chronicle. His challengers are Paul Day, who might not be so bad… and of course, two-time losing candidate for Precinct 1 Constable Joe Danna, who I just now found out actually got fired from his deputy constable position right after the 2012 election (for falsely stating he served someone with papers at an address later shown to be a vacant apartment at the time). His LinkedIn listed his occupation as self-employed; the Community Impact Newspaper lists it as deputy sheriff which means either someone failed to check him out or chose to ignore what they found. I’m encouraging my Republican readers to vote for Randy Rush, the most fit for the office of the three.

The Precinct 1 Constable election also looks interesting, with three Democratic challengers to incumbent Alan Rosen, those being “Ced” Collier, Perry D. Wesley, and Gilberto Reyna. Nobody is running in the Republican primary, so this may well be a de facto election of a new constable. I don’t see any reason to unseat Alan Rosen as of now.

My choice for president is pretty easy: Bernie Sanders, probably the most electable of the field. Though, there are a lot of good choices; if you are voting Democrat and just can’t bring yourself to vote for Bernie, please choose wisely among the remaining candidates. On the Republican side, there are challengers to the incumbent but I’m not expecting any of them to carry Texas. (I will probably discuss this more as the general election draws closer, but we need to slam the brakes on the country’s ride straight to hell, and that means voting for whoever wins the Democratic primary come November.)

There’s a US senator seat up for election in Texas, too. On the Democratic side, I’m not sure who the front-runners are in the field of eleven, but Sema Hernandez seems to be a solid choice. On the Republican side, it would be nice to see someone oust John Cornyn, but I’m not counting on it by any means. I do think Cornyn needs to go. Beto O’Rourke almost beat Ted Cruz in 2018; I’m hoping higher turnout this time around means we will finally get rid of Cornyn.

More as we get closer to election day…



How the XFL gets football wrong

If you are not up on exactly what the rule changes are between the (current) XFL and NFL, this article at the Tampa Bay Times, the Wikipedia article on the current XFL, or the YouTube video embedded below should help bring you up to speed. I’m going to assume you’ve either read or watched in the rest of this post. Note that I’m not going to necessarily go through the changes in the same order as either the articles or the video, nor am I going to go through every single change (there are a lot).

The first change that, to me, completely messes with the balance of the game and the scoring as we have come to know it in NFL, NCAA, NFHS, and other high school football, is the extra point conversion. In the XFL, all conversions are by a play from scrimmage, not a kick, with a play from the 2-yard line scoring one point, from the 5-yard line scoring two points, and from the 10-yard line scoring three points. This means, potentially, that a team could kick three field goals and merely tie the game if the other team scores a touchdown and a three-point conversion. (I intentionally leave the CFL out here as they have their own oddball set of scoring rules.)

The last time the NFL has tinkered with the scoring rules was in 1994 to add the two-point conversion. Before that, the last change in scoring was in 1912 when a touchdown was increased from five points to six, three years after a field goal went down from four points to three (see this history of NFL rules page). There is a reason for that, and I think if there was a compelling case for a three-point conversion, we would have seen it in the NFL by now.

One of the less questionable changes is the XFL’s decision to allow multiple forward passes behind the line of scrimmage. However, I still feel like this allows some plays that shouldn’t be legal plays, particularly in a professional league. Stuff like throwing a forward pass from five yards behind the line, to a receiver a yard behind the line, who can then throw forward again to a guy in the end zone, touchdown. If we’re going to have a football analog to Harlem Globetrotters basketball, this makes great entertainment, but it isn’t the football I turn on the TV to watch.

However, the XFL wasn’t done botching the rules after those two changes. Perhaps the most egregious change is the “comeback period”. In the NFL, the clock stops after a timeout, incomplete pass, or a player going out of bounds, and at two minutes left in the half. In the XFL, the clock runs continuously until two minutes remaining in the half, and then during the last two minutes of each half, the clock stops after every play. Not only that, but the clock doesn’t start again until five seconds are off of the play clock. I’d rather see the halves made longer with 16- or 17-minute quarters rather than this botch of a rule change.

Speaking of the play clock, that’s another one the XFL has tinkered with. The play clock in the XFL is always 25 seconds, versus the NFL where it’s 40 seconds with a few situations where it starts at 25 seconds. (Sidenote: Arena Football uses a 32-second play clock, which makes a bit more sense since it takes place on a smaller field.) This, to me, seems like more change for the sake of change.

Another knob that Vince McMahon felt like twisting was the number of timeouts per half. The XFL only gives you two, unlike most other football leagues where you get three. I’m not a fan of this one either, it has potentially more implications for competitive imbalance than may be obvious at first glance.

Yet another oddball rule change the XFL decided to implement is the adoption of the NCAA and NFHS “one foot in bounds” rule for pass completion (as opposed to the NFL which requires two feet in bounds). If this was such a great change for a professional league, the NFL would have adopted it years ago. (And I know the CFL also uses the one foot rule, but again, it’s a different beast.)

I’m not going to go through every rule change, though I will mention in passing that a bunch of knobs have been twisted around. Things like kickoffs, punt returns, overtime, etc. Arguably, it’s almost like crumpling a paper airplane into a ball and still calling it a paper airplane. But the real deal breaker to me is a rule change that amounts to a bill of attainder against Colin Kaepernick and those who take his side: players are required to stand for the national anthem. (See previous post from 2016 August.)

Some will say Colin made his point already. I don’t think he has, at least not to the right people; too many people still think Colin was protesting the anthem itself (he was, and we would assume still is, protesting racial injustice). There are NFL players still taking a knee during the anthem, one of them playing for the Houston Texans. I would much rather have seen the XFL take a policy to either not have the national anthem before games, or allow players to remain in the locker room.

Another bonehead screwup by the TSA: trashing a kora

Well, we know the TSA is run by idiots, but this is a new low. NBC News reports on this completely inexcusable gaffe of TSA agents dismantling a custom-made Malian kora belonging to well-known musician Ballaké Sissoko. From the article:

“Normally they just open the flight case because of the strange shape of the instrument and case,” [Ballaké] said. “This time, they disassembled and broke it.”

Calling it a “terrible situation,” he added that he hoped “to get an apology at some point.”

And the story goes on to report this absolutely tone-deaf, bonehead move by the TSA agent responsible:

The case was accompanied by a note in Spanish from the TSA, which said: “Smart security saves time.”

A note about smart security. Right after an agent working for the agency makes the TSA look even worse than they normally look, by making an absolutely, positively, galactically stupid move.

I’m not going to quote the article but Ballaké mentions having to go back to Mali (specifically, the capital and I would assume major city, Bamako) to get replacement parts for the instrument. It would not surprise me for the TSA to tell him he’s on his own for paying for that trip and the parts, though it would be refreshing to see them own up to it and pay up to make things right.

I get that we need security at our airports. But am I really asking much for the people in charge of it not to be total screw-ups? Especially when it comes to one-of-a-kind, custom music instruments? Is the same IQ limit for ordinary law enforcement also in place for TSA agents, I wonder? Are these the same kind of people that mistake an AriZona iced tea for a beer?

Happy holidays, and thoughts on recent events

First, even though it’s been relatively quiet here, I’d like to wish everyone out there who is still following the blog a happy holiday season, as I have in years past. The 25th of December kind of snuck up on me this time around. If you so desire, feel free to come back to the rest of this post after the holidays have concluded. For everyone else, keep on reading…

I have been following recent events, including the long overdue impeachment of DJT (Wikipedia), and as reported by Vanity Fair, the absolutely egregious statements by Mitch McConnell, Senate majority leader. From the latter article, I quote:

McConnell told reporters Tuesday that the political nature of impeachment means he’s not even going to pretend to be fair or impartial on impeachment, no matter what the facts dictate or the oath he swears to uphold. “I’m not an impartial juror,” McConnell said. “This is a political process. There is not anything judicial about it. Impeachment is a political decision . . . I’m not impartial about this at all.” The Senate leader was also fully willing to embrace his hypocrisy when a reporter presented McConnell with a quote he said during Bill Clinton‘s impeachment, in which McConnell supported impeachment witnesses testifying at the trial and said the practice was “certainly not unusual.”

[…] “Everything I do during this, I will be coordinating with White House counsel,” McConnell told Fox News last week, adding that there will be “no difference between the president’s position and our position as to how to handle this.”

This is insane and a complete perversion of any idea of justice. Neither Nixon nor Clinton had the luxury of a Senate with their own party’s majority. But during both of those impeachments, we didn’t have Senators openly saying they couldn’t be impartial (they are sworn to be) or that impeachment is a political process (it’s not, or at the very least not supposed to be). I am counting Nixon’s here, even though he resigned, as the impeachment process did begin.

There’s a reason I have taken to calling Mitch McConnell by the derisive nickname “Yertle the Turtle”. The amount of proposed legislation Senator McConnell has left on the table waiting to be debated is staggering. Most of the bills left to rot have come from Democrats or address liberal causes (common-sense safety laws regarding who can purchase guns, for example). That’s one thing, but perverting the entire system of checks and balances can’t be allowed to go unanswered. If John Cornyn gets re-elected, so be it, but McConnell has got to go.

Moving on, the political situation locally after the general election was, to say the least, a bit of a botch. The runoff wound up being between Sylvester Turner, who I didn’t really like and wanted to replace, and Tony Buzbee, a known DJT supporter who leans right on too many issues and who threatened to fire our police chief on purely political grounds days before the runoff. There were some strong parallels to the 2016 presidential election, where the candidate I really wanted (Michael Boykins in this case, Bernie Sanders in 2016) didn’t make the cut in the previous round, and I had to settle for voting for someone else. In this case, that was Turner; in 2016, of course, it was Hillary Clinton.

The difference this time around, thankfully, is that the candidate I voted for won (in fact, all seven candidates I voted for in the runoff won, the first time in a long time that has happened). I’m not happy with what Turner has done for us. However, the idea of voting for a flaming Republican/conservative was just too much to stomach. Especially one who supported DJT, who is now facing impeachment. (Yes, city of Houston elections are nominally non-partisan, but political party affiliation does come into play at some point anyway.)

Once again, happy holidays, and best wishes for a new year. I’ll try to post more in 2020. For a while, I was too outraged about what was going on to sit down and blog about it. That has gotten better in the past few weeks, as there is now some real hope things will get better.

An open letter to Richard M. Stallman

Subject: Events of the last week – open letter

This is perhaps the most difficult letter I’ve found myself in a position to write in my entire lifetime.

A couple of days ago, I was reading the cypherpunks mailing list when I came across a thread with news articles and commentary indicating you had been constructively removed from both your positions as Free Software Foundation president and the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) at MIT. I know you refer to these as resignations, but it is obvious to me that you did not resign of your own free will.

To say the least, I think it is unfortunate that a decades-long legacy of trailblazing in the name of software freedom would come to such an abrupt and undignified end. From the coining and definition of the term “free software” itself, all the way to 2019 where GNU variants have outpaced all proprietary versions of Unix, the free software movement you have started has been an unquestionable success.

I’m not surprised that someone has chosen to “misunderstand[] and mischaracteriz[e]” something you have said. I’m a couple of decades younger and it’s happened to me more times than I care to count–often, but not always, by someone who has an interest in knocking me down to make themselves look better. It is awful that someone would mischaracterize your statements and use that as an excuse to constructively remove you from your tenured leadership positions.

I realize some of your viewpoints are not very popular. Some probably characterize a few of them as unreasonable (to put it nicely). But we need unreasonable people to bring change in an unreasonable world. You have established one hell of a great legacy when it comes to freedom in computing over the last 36 years, even if you get nowhere near the credit you’ve earned and most people think some guy from Finland did all of it when all he did was add the kernel at the end.

One of the other contributors to the cypherpunks list called upon you to withdraw your resignations. This is one of the rare occasions where I think this particular contributor is spot on and that resigning from your positions of leadership was the wrong call. Even if you suddenly decided, of your own free will, that it was time to retire (which I don’t believe for a second), the timing would be such that it looks like it’s because of the controversy.

We, the free software community, still need your leadership. I am looking forward to the day that the idea of proprietary software is the unreasonable idea and free software is the status quo everywhere: our computers, our smartphones, our tablet computers, and our connected appliances like TVs, refrigerators, HVAC units, etc. I still trust your leadership. I hope the majority of the community still do as well and see this attempt at constructively removing you from your positions for what it is: an unconscionable raw deal for a modern-day legend of computing history.

Shawn K. Quinn - [email address] - [phone number]