Left Out Program Notes for October 30, 2007

Welcome to Left Out, reality-based independent radio on WRCT 88.3FM, and on the worldwide web at leftout.info. Left Out discusses the news from a perspective left out of the mainstream media. Left Out is co-hosted by Bob Harper and Danny Sleator. Today's program is produced by John Koutrouba. Listeners are invited to call the program at (412) 268-WRCT (9728), to send email to bob@leftout.info, or to join the AOL chat room "Left Out" during the show.


The International Relations Program at Carnegie Mellon presents Retired U.S. Army Gen. John Abizaid, former commander of the U.S. Central Command. His talk is titled "Strategic Challenges in the Middle East". When: 10:30 AM Wednesday October 31 (Halloween). Where: Rangos 1, University Center.

Cindy Sheehan will be here to accept the Thomas Merton award! The 2007 award dinner will be on Thursday, November 15th at the ballroom of the Station Square Sharton. 6pm Social Hour 7:20pm Dinner. See this link at www.thomasmertoncenter.org more information, or call 412-361-3022.


Listen to the broadcast (requires MP3 player). (Streaming, Download, Podcast)

Harry G. Frankfurt

Princeton Professor of Philosophy (Emeritus) Harry G. Frankfurt is our guest today on Left Out. Prof. Frankfurt has written a pair of books of exceptional relevance and considerable charm. The first, On Bullshit, reacts to the burgeoning level of BS in contemporary life by asking, just what is Bullshit, and why is it bad? The second, followup, volume, On Truth, seeks to explain why truth matters.

I (Sleator) would like to see this work expanded to include the plethora of rhetorical techniques in common use by pundits, politicians, and by corporations in advertising campaigns (not to mention everybody else). It's very important for people to understand how they're being manipulated, and to defend agaist it. The taxonomy might include these:

Sleator on Voting Machines

Here's an article about voting machines from the Pittsburgh Tribune Review. The machines we use here in Allegheny county are the same ones that were used in Sarasota Florida last November. And in that country the election for house of representatives was anomalous -- there were 16,000 undervotes. That is 16,000 people went to the polls to cast votes, but did not choose to cast a vote in a very highly contested and highly publicized contest. And the rate of undervotes in that particular county was much higher than it was for any other county in that distrcict. So something was clearly VERY wrong with the voting process.

Anyway, in the interview Sleator is quoted as follows:

"Touch-screen machines are bad for voting," said one of the plaintiffs, Danny Sleator, 53, of Squirrel Hill, a Carnegie Mellon University computer science professor. "They're too vulnerable to both machine errors (and) calibration errors ... as well as nefarious manipulation of the vote."

To elaborate a bit, the reason "Touch-screen machines are bad for voting" is very simple. Everybody (or almost everybody) is now convinced that a purely electronic method of recording the votes is not acceptable. That is, a paper trail is necessary. So a "solution" for the use of touch-screen machines is to equip them with a printer so that the vote can be recorded on paper, and then verified by the voter.

So the voting process is as follows. The voter (for example, a woman) makes her selections on the touch-screen machine. After she makes all of her selections, the machine prints out a paper copy of her vote. She then has to verify that the paper properly represents her intent. Then (if it's correct) the paper ballot is deposited into a ballot box. (If it's not correct, something ugly has to happen to allow a revote, but let's ignore this.)

So the voting process itself has a completely counterintutive part -- verifying that the printed copy of the vote is correct. Why is it necessary, the voter says, to do this extra work to check this paper ballot? And of course, to ensure the reliability of the system she MUST do this. Furthermore, now the polling places have to deal with keeping the printers in good working order.

The answer, of course, is to switch to a completely different system -- optical scan voting. In this case the voter marks her choices on a paper ballot, then feeds the ballot into a scanner. If the ballot is acceptable (e.g. she didn't select two candidates for president, etc), then the ballot is accepted. If not, the ballot is rejected, and the voter can revote. Optical scan systems are cheaper, much more intutitive for voters, and can even accommodate people with disabilities (via the use of an "automark" machine that helps the voter to prepare the paper ballot).

It really is this obvious. The fact that optical scan systems are not the default by now is a testimate to the power of the industry to corrupt the political process.

Two articles worth reading

The Real Iraq We Knew, By 12 former Army captains, Tuesday, October 16, 2007, in the Washington Post:

Today marks five years since the authorization of military force in Iraq, setting Operation Iraqi Freedom in motion. Five years on, the Iraq war is as undermanned and under-resourced as it was from the start. And, five years on, Iraq is in shambles. more

Only a US Withdrawal Will Stop Al Qaeda in Iraq By Raed Jarrar and Joshua Holland in the Global Policy Forum:

One of the last justifications for continuing the U.S. occupation of Iraq despite overwhelming opposition from Iraqis, Americans and the rest of humanity has come down to this: U.S. forces must remain in order to battle "al Qaeda in Iraq." Like so many of the arguments presented in the United States, the idea is not only intellectually bankrupt, it's also the 180-degree opposite of reality. The truth of the matter is that only the presence of U.S. forces allows the group called "al Qaeda in Iraq" (AQI) to survive and function, and setting a timetable for the occupation to end is the best way to beat them. You won't hear that perspective in Washington, but according to Iraqis with whom we spoke, it is the conventional wisdom in much of the country. more

Calling Bullshit

As we all know, the real Iraq is a full catastrophe, as even Ricardo Sanchez admits, now that he's safely in retirement. Sanchez is now repudiating the Bush administration policies that he carried out in Iraq, including the infamous mistreatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib Prison in Iraq.

Had he resigned at the time, rather than implement a blatantly ill-conceived strategy, we might not be in the ever-deepening quagmire we are today. What ever happened to the Republican "politics of personal responsibility"?

It's About The Oil, Stupid

We have often commented on Left Out that the true purpose of the Iraq invasion was to impose a Warsaw Pact-like arrangement in which a puppet government (originally to be led by the fugitive Iraqi Ahmad Chalabi) would invite the U.S. to protect it from imminent invasion by its neighbors, much as the Soviet Union guarded Hungary from invasion by Austria during the cold war.

Jim Holt argues much the same his article "It's The Oil" in the London Review of Books.

Our Brilliant Secretary of State

Condoleeza Rice can see around corners and then some. In a statement that defies parody, she lectures Vladimir Putin, whose very soul Lord Bush has examined approvingly, on the principles of democratic government. nt unchecked power.

The supercilious Secretary was confronted by a Code Pink activist just prior to her testilying before the Foreign Relations Committee last week. Displaying bloody hands, the protester accused Condi of being a war criminal, to which Condi responded with disdain. How dare a commoner confront her like that? The protester was arrested for the crime of exercising her free speech rights under the first amendment of the U.S. Consitution.


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Last modified: Wed Oct 31 11:05:06 2007