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Jun. 12th, 2016 @ 09:35 pm Making elections more fair

(I also posted this on Facebook, so those of you who follow me in both places may have already seen it.)

This year's primary election cycle has made a lot of election-related problems visible - some of which are widespread and some of which are unique to primaries. I'm going to focus mostly on the Democratic Party process here because it's the one I know most about, but most of the same things probably also apply to the Republicans. Some of the problems favored Clinton; some favored Sanders; still others are hard to calculate the effect of.

Here is my list of changes that need to happen. We need to do this to restore confidence in the fairness of the election process.

1. Caucuses must go. They are inherently undemocratic.

2. Onerous voter ID laws must go. They discriminate against the poor, against non-white populations, against the young and the elderly, and against people who do not drive cars. (Any process where one population must do something extra to get the necessary ID while others already have it because of other life circumstances or choices discriminates against the group that has to take the extra action. That's why I oppose automatic voter registration linked to driver's licenses.)

3. Adequate numbers of adequately staffed polling places need to be provided. Most especially, distribution of voting locations and staffing that discriminate (or even appear to discriminate) against disadvantaged populations must stop. The goal should be that nobody ever has to wait more than 15 minutes to vote; if an election falls short of that goal it means that the staffing level of polling places is inadequate.

4. The hours of voting must be long enough to allow everybody to get to the polls regardless of work or school schedule. For the final presidential election I support a 24 hour voting period that would be the SAME 24 hours - real time, not clock time - in all 50 states; thus the polls would close at exactly the same time everywhere, so nobody would be voting after results from other states have already been released.

5. The window of registration should at the very least be open until one month before election day. Some states allow day-of registration; we should investigate whether that is feasible to do everywhere.

6. Removal of people from the voter rolls should be done at least six months before the relevant election, so that the voters have ample time to respond and correct any errors that were made. Ample notification must be provided to anyone who is removed.

7. We should come to an agreement about who is allowed to vote in a primary and who is not. I favor, at the very least, allowing anybody who is not enrolled in any political party to choose to vote in any party's primary, and it should be possible to make that choice at the polls.

8. All voting methods must provide a full paper trail and allow a manual recount. Randomly selected polling places in every election should be recounted so we can detect if there are patterns of machine results that do not match the manual recount of the paper trail.

9. Rules that obfuscate the process of registering for an election or the process of becoming eligible for a specific primary must be eliminated. The process should be as simple and as well published as possible.

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Jan. 5th, 2016 @ 02:17 am (no subject)

I wrote this longish post as an introduction on a transgender group on Facebook. But I thought some of the rest of you might like to read it, so here goes...

So... who am I anyway?

As a child I was a misfit, but I didn't see the lack of fit as a gender issue because I didn't even imagine that was an option. When I was born, the word transgender was still over 20 years in the future. I liked some of the boy things; I'm a geek, so the building toys and electrical stuff was just fine, and I enjoyed games with running. But I was very uncomfortable with others. I hated dressing up and just thought it was about the discomfort and impracticality of the clothing, rather than wanting to wear something else. And I never stopped liking the company of girls as was expected of me in that time and place.

When I was 12 I moved away from the small Pennsylvania town and spent my high school years on Long Island. Things got a bit better, in part because by then it was 1969 and I was now living in a liberal area so the roles were looser. In a few years I went away to college and discovered the SCA, where everybody gets to do a lot of things that mainstream society considers inappropriate for their gender if they wish. (There is no stigma for men showing interest in cooking or sewing, or women who want to do armored combat, and everybody gets to wear pretty clothes.) I met the woman who would become the great love of my life. And for a long time, getting to be reasonably authentic in my primary hobby and my relationship was enough.

I first started considering the possibility that I was transgender in the 90s, once people started talking about it more. I experimented with a female persona on an early chat site. The name Shirley comes from that experience; I was known as Shirley You Jest, inspired by the joke in the movie Airplane (which doesn't use those exact words but does touch on the theme.) I discovered Kate Bornstein's books and read them avidly. Meanwhile, I finally married the woman I had first gotten involved with 20 years earlier and we had some discussion of the issue; transition would have been a deal breaker but she was willing to let me experiment more with my gender expression.

In 2005 I found Second Life, the online virtual world. There was no question in my mind that I was going to be a woman in that space. I acquired the name Marquez then; at the time you chose your last name from a list of available names, and I picked Marquez because I was studying Spanish at the time and was fascinated with Latin American culture. (As it happens, it also contains an echo of my past life first name but I wasn't thinking of that at the time.) I later also created a male avatar to see how the experience differed but spent at least 90% of my in-world time as Shirley.

I was in the closet in Second Life for my first three and a half years; only a couple of people knew of my real life gender. When I came out I sent a note to all my friends about living a Second Lie... but that wasn't quite right either though I didn't realize that for another year or so.

Then in 2010 my wife died. And everything changed.

The catalyst for thinking about real world transition was the announcement that the 2010 Second Life Community Convention (a real life gathering of people interested in the virtual world which sadly is no longer held) would be in Boston, where I live. My first thought was "I have to go". That was very quickly followed by "I have to go AS HER". I then went all-in; I not only signed up to go but also became one of the convention organizers, and committed to spending the entire three days living as Shirley.

That went well, so I continued with some additional experiments over the rest of the year: attending some conferences as well as taking some evenings out. In January 2011 I spent each of the four days of the Arisia science fiction convention in a different identity and wardrobe: my past life male identity, my SCA persona, Shirley, and a mashup of all three on the final day.

Later that month I decided to try going full time for a week, doing all my normal activities, not just special nights out: riding the T, shopping for groceries, going to the dentist, practicing with my morris dance team, and so forth. It was an enlightening experience that took a bit of time to process.

In March 2011 I decided to try another week. After seven happy days, I woke up on day eight and decided it didn't want it to end. I thought about it for a while and could find no reason why it should end. So the first thing I did after that was talk with my then girlfriend (who had been with me through the process and is still a good friend, but sadly is no longer my girlfriend and has moved to the other coast) about my decision. The second thing I did was log into Facebook and change my name, which is the modern equivalent of proclaiming it in the town square. Auspiciously that day was March 20, the first day of spring, an excellent day for a new beginning; that is the day that I count as my transition day because it's when I made the commitment to make it permanent.

Since then life has not been perfect, but it has been better than it was. I am happier being my true self and friends agree. I'm still part of the social circles and activities that I was in the past, in addition to finding new ones, and nearly all of my existing friends have accepted and welcomed the change. My birth family is another story and a source of some unhappiness; they still want me in the family but mostly don't acknowledge my proper gender. My sister is a happy exception; she has been supportive.

I refer to my "past life name" rather than my "dead name"; there are lots of people who knew my previous identity who are still in my life so I can't simply walk away from it. (If you're curious you're welcome to look at my profile; you will find my old name there as well as some pre-transition pictures.) Disowning that identity would also mean disowning the happy years with my late wife, which I will not do.

These days I'm a happy woman but not traditionally girly in every way. I'm a geek, after all. I still love board gaming and I will still fix your computer, I'll just look more fabulous while I do it.

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Dec. 29th, 2015 @ 09:46 pm No Buttery New Year this year.
The house has been invaded by bedbugs. I could not schedule extermination in time,and cannot in good conscience invite people to a big party. Things will be better in 2017...
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Oct. 3rd, 2015 @ 02:55 pm The free market: whose freedom do you want to protect?
Today there was a post on Slashdot about a new image format: FLIF (Free Lossless Image Format). It's an attempt at producing an image format that has better compression for lossless images than existing formats that have not been optimized for that particular task. The project itself is a good idea, and having the format be unencumbered by royalties and patents is also good. But that's not what I'm mostly here to talk about.

In the discussion there have been a lot of comments about the merits and demerits of the GPL (GNU Public License) and GPLv3 (the newest version of the GPL) in particular. People have argued about whether it protects or limits freedoms. It really comes down the question of WHOSE freedoms are being protected, and the same question is also key to many other public debates such as the question of gay wedding cake bakers.

Conservatives, and libertarians in particular, are mostly concerned with freedoms of the SELLER. That is, the people who make goods and services should be free to sell or not sell them to whoever they wish. Liberals are mostly concerned with freedoms of the BUYER; that is, people who want to buy goods and services should be free to buy what they want.

Libertarians claim that they are interested in the freedoms of both sides; that no commercial transaction should take place unless both sides consent. This argument is mostly disingenuous because the situation is not symmetrical; people being compelled to buy a product is rare. (The Affordable Care Act is a notable exception, and to be fair to libertarians they oppose it on those grounds.) In most cases the relatively small number of sellers have more power individually than the large number of buyers do, and it is easier for them to act collectively. I don't think any rational person could argue that black people in the days before civil rights legislation were not harmed by the fact that many white people chose not to sell goods and services to them.

These two freedoms are inherently in conflict. It is impossible to fully satisfy both sides. Society needs to balance the conflicting positions and choose a stand that minimizes the social damage of the conflict.

To my mind it comes down to the question of whether a good or service is offered to the public or is a one-to-one transaction. I believe that if you offer a good or service publicly, the seller, by the action of offering the good publicly, waives the right to be selective about who can buy it. The wedding cake maker must make the cake for all customers, because although the cakes are made to order they are a standardized good; bakers generally offer a few basic designs with minor options for customization. Furthermore, the baker is not an active participant; there is no need for the baker to be present at the ceremony. But I would allow a minister or a photographer to choose not to offer services to a gay wedding because that is a one-to-one transaction where the seller is an active participant in the wedding. (The photographer's role typically goes beyond just lurking and taking pictures; he or she also organizes the standard photo shoots, and sometimes other events such as the cake slicing.)

Going back to the software question: how does this framework apply? The GPL protects the freedom of software users (buyers isn't usually an accurate term because most GPL software is offered free of charge) to use the software in whatever way they wish, including modifying it and offering the modifications to others. But the GPL denies some rights to software authors, notably the ability to keep the software secret. If you use GPL software in your project you are also compelled to release your work under the same terms, and that limits your ability to make money from your work. But the GPL also gives software authors an important right. the right to build on the work of others: you are denied that when people keep their work secret.
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Nov. 9th, 2013 @ 01:34 pm Gaming at The Buttery?
We haven't done any board gaming here for a while. Anybody up for some short-notice gaming tomorrow (Sunday, November 10)?
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Sep. 16th, 2013 @ 05:14 pm Still alive
I haven't posted anything here in ages. One reason is because Facebook no longer limits the size of entries, or at least has a much larger limit than it once did (enough so that I haven't hit it yet), so I tend to say stuff there instead. Life goes on, no momentous changes, and I try to keep busy doing fun things.
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Aug. 13th, 2012 @ 07:07 am Why this November matters
Mitt Romney can't fix the US economy. Neither can Barack Obama. The basic problem is that the world has gotten too good at making stuff (robotics, computers, etc.) and distributing it (globalization) and so we have a worldwide glut of labor. We can make all the stuff the world can afford to consume without needing all the available people to do it. The glut has the expected effect: wages decline.

The world will eventually reach a new equilibrium, but the period of getting there won't be pleasant. Americans are probably going to be poorer than we were during the 20th century.

What the government can do is adopt social policies that ease the pain of this readjustment. The Democrats will (on the whole) do that. Mitt Romney and the Republicans will make the situation worse by adopting policies that let the rich get richer.

Worse yet, they're trying to wire the dominance of the rich into the political system so that the rich will rule forever. Romney probably considers that to be a good thing. Ryan, an avid follower of Ayn Rand, certainly does.

The choice we face this November is an important one. This is why.
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Apr. 23rd, 2012 @ 03:26 am (no subject)
Current Mood: cynicalcynical
NEFFA finished earlier today; mostly it was a good festival for me. The Black Jokers did their last NEFFA performance and it was the best one in years; the team energy was high and nobody made any serious mistakes. Red Herring's performance was less perfect but still OK. I had fun at the contra medleys, and doing hexagons (thank you for making that happen, Kat!) in the Singing Squares session. I got some nice clothes from Nancy Dresses and Eagle Ray. Lots of friends were there.

And yet something isn't right. I hesitate to gripe because mostly my experiences living as a woman have been so good, but I think there are gender-related problems going on with my recent experiences in the dance community. It's not that anybody is making me feel actively unwelcome; it's just that they don't want to be my dance partner. Except for fellow genderqueer people hardly anybody asks me to dance, if they do it's at the very end of the partner search as if I'm a consolation prize, and the ones that do are mostly women who expect and/or want me to lead. I'm a reasonably experienced dancer at contra and English, so it's not as if I should be in that situation. (Not everybody there knows me, but after seeing me on the floor for a dance or two it should be apparent that I possess some amount of clue.) And if I'm there in a really nice twirly dress as I was on Saturday, it should be obvious that I'm planning to use it to full advantage, which means following rather than leading.

Oddly enough, I think the fact that a number of men choose to dress unconventionally at NEFFA works against me. In normal settings, people see dress, boobs (even if they're fake), and dangly jewelry, and they figure “woman”. But at NEFFA they read “man in a dress” and behave according to those gender expectations. Short of adopting a hyper-gendered presentation (hard to maintain over a day of festival dancing, as it would involve heavy makeup and foundation garments) I can't figure out what I could possibly do to counter that misreading. I suppose I could try F-cup breastforms but I'd have to buy a bunch of new clothes (most of my wardrobe would be too tight on top) and it's not who I want to be anyway.

There are other possible explanations. I might be too old, or insufficiently pretty, or not sufficiently well known in the dance community. Maybe I'm reading too much into nothing. But it will take some time and some more positive experiences to fully convince me.
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Jan. 21st, 2012 @ 01:42 am Keeping up with an old house
A couple of days ago we had water dripping from the parlor ceiling. It happened during a storm so I thought it was a roof leak, but it turned out to be a problem with a radiator. It's been fixed now, but some ceiling and walls will need repainting (there is a bit of peeling and some rust staining); that will happen next week after they've had time to dry thoroughly. And I'll check to make sure the ceiling is still sound.

All in all, a pain but it could have been a LOT worse.
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Jan. 18th, 2012 @ 04:34 pm Discount deal for Fabric Place
This is an online deal for $30 worth of fabric for $15. I know some of you sew...

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