Promoting electoral reform and sound government.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Who is Purchasing Your Legislator?

The top 100 organizations buying political influence at the national level in the US.

But don't worry, the politicians insist they aren't getting any special consideration for their money.

Monday, November 22, 2004

Some More Crazy Taxi2000 Ideas

How about a low power electric car that get on a PRT line AND get charged while on it? It would have to be compatible, of course.

What is needed is the creation of standards for both hardware and software. Such standards may make it more difficult for one company to own an entire market, but the size of the market will grow much faster if anybody can build a PRT line or build cars for them to an open standard.

Such standards should also encompass automated inspections of both cars and lines by each other (cars would inspect lines and lines could inspect cars) for compliance to the standards.

I think the latter notion actually has some merit. While letting electric cars in is not very feasible, having a standard would certainly help comfort those who would pay for such a system.

Once purchasers see inertia building with several companies building cars and/or lines to a standard, the investment starts to look predictable and that is certainly needed here.

An open standard would encourage companies to get into the business as well.

Saturday, November 20, 2004

I think its significant that Taxi2000 is a private initiative. Public works with access to your taxes frequently overlooks the simpler, lower-cost, strangely more elegant solutions. There is no pressure to find or create such alternatives.

One of the biggest boondoggles around where I live (San Jose, California) is the light rail system. Its positive effect on the traffic situation is minimal. Apparently, it costs at least 12 times to move someone on light rail as it does on the freeway. The federal incentives apparently make it easier to make bad decisions like this.

Friday, November 19, 2004

The future of transportation

Salon has an article (get a day pass by viewing an ad) about this on-demand, automated taxi monorail system that seeks to address the major problems of mass transit. The big annoyances seem to be that you have to wait a lot, you have to ride with a bunch of strangers and how expensive it is to build mass-transit networks that are easy enough to access.

These guys envision elevated tracks going everywhere, but I think the real deal will happen underground. The more places this system goes to, the uglier it will become.

I also see this system being used to move packages securely directly into the home. I mean, really, why should you have to move 3000 pounds around just to get some milk moved to your house? You do want that to be underground, or this world starts looking really ugly. In any case, FedEx starts looking redundant, as do half of the trips you make on the weekends to Home Depot.

I think that an underground system will actually end up being pretty competitive with air travel and will replace it all together for short to medium trips. No waiting! No terrorists traveling with you. No reservation required. And once you get smaller sections in place, it becomes easier to piece together a coast-to-cost system.

And when robotic tunneling and strong, flexible nano-materials become feasible, we should start seeing a wholesale replacement of the surface streets with an underground network. These underground networks might even be evacuated, making it possible to go extremely fast with no air resistance. Then we can get rid of all of those parking lots.

Monday, November 08, 2004

Doing Electronic Voting Right

To go along with the verification mechanisms in the voting system I proposed October 18th, here's an organization pushing for an open source system. Open source is the way to go, clearly.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Thankfully a Decisive Election

I was gratified to see a clear, if not big, majority in the popular vote and electoral college in Tuesday's presidential election.

Of course, the appetite for "reinventing democracy" would be greater if there were a lot of turmoil again, but its probably not a good thing to make such changes just because circumstances are driving things. Its better if a concensus is reached that the system can and should evolve into something better.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Here's a more permanent link for the cost of the presidential race:
Its official: the 2004 presidential race is the most expensive in history, costing well over a billion dollars.

And to think, a lot of other countries just let the legislature pick their chief executives, which probably costs a lot less.

I think that approach would work fine if the composition of the legislature actually reflected the political will of the people. But without proportional representation, this is not the case.

Also, in the American system, the balance of the three branches of government would probably change because the chief executive would be selected by the other branch instead of being elected by the electoral college.

Monday, October 18, 2004

Technology for Voting

Electronic voting machine used in Brazilian el...Image via Wikipedia

About electronic voting. It seems to me that technology should only be applied (at first, anyway) to the aspects of traditional voting that have proved problematic.

One area is in the balloting process, in which the voters record their wishes on paper or cardboard ballots.

A machine could present the options to the voter, allows the voter to specify his other choices and then records those choices on the ballot. All of the various rules could be enforced in the software. A ballot would not be released to the voter until it qualified to be counted. A unique ballot code based upon the name and social security number of the voter and the date could be encoded onto the ballot as well.

Once a ballot is released to the voter, along with a receipt bearing the unique ballot code, he or she should be able to take the paper ballot over to a completely different machine, perhaps even manufactured by a different company, and confirm what was encoded on the ballot. This is an unnecessary step, really, but would build confidence in the system.

Then the ballot could be given to the poll workers as is ordinarily the case or it could be placed by the voter into a machine that would transmit it to the central office. The paper ballot would be retained in case there is a need to recount the ballots.

Sampling could be done with these retained ballots to confirm the accuracy of the electronic transmission of each ballot.

Another area where technology might be useful is in allowing voters to verify that their ballots where counted and were not modified.

At any time, the voter should be able to check over the Internet that the ballot was counted using the unique ballot code. Not how the voter voted, but that the voter's vote was counted.

At any time, the voter should be able to go to the central office and view an electronic representation of the ballot by presenting the unique ballot code and identification. The name of the user and their social security number can be used to validate that individual is authorized to see the ballot.

Other than the date, no data should be stored with the ballot at the central office. A system at the office could use the voter information and the date to regenerate the code. If it matches the code recorded for the ballot, the voter would be allowed to view the ballot.

These mechanisms for confirming that one's vote was counted and for being able to view one's vote should go a long way towards increasing confidence in the system, while still protecting voter privacy.

I also think it would be useful if there were one publicly funded open source project for software AND hardware for such a system. This would keep things transparent and avoid duplication of efforts. Open source is working in the private sector; with some adaptation, it can work in the public sector as well.
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Tuesday, October 12, 2004

According to, John McCain supports instant runoff voting. Or at least he did back in 2002.

I think I first liked the idea of IRV because it greatly increases the chances that someone like John McCain would get elected.

He is so much more rational than the other candidates, is very respected by people of both parties and frequently disagrees publicly with his party when he feels that the issue is important.

I think we'd all be a lot happier with the outcome of elections we could choose a candidate that was more in tune with the majority of the people. Systems like IRV and approval voting bring us closer to such outcomes than the existing system.

Monday, October 11, 2004

I have two questions for those that think changing to proportional representation would be a bad thing.

Would proportional representation be more democratic than the way the US system currently works?

Would proportional representation give people their fair share of influence on the issues?

Of course, the answer to both questions, I feel, is yes. I think where people disagree is with the notion that people SHOULD have an equal share of influence or that more democracy is better.

There are those that think that concentrating power is better than distributing it around. And one can point to scenarios where thats actually been the case.

But experience has also shown that those societies that have opened up their systems to participation by more and more of their citizens have had greater stability, faster technological advancement and greater influence in the world.

I think Great Britain is the chief example of that. Not to say that oppression hasn't occurred (hey, I'm of Irish descent), but you can't really argue that that society hasn't been an astounding success in many respects.

Sunday, October 03, 2004

Drug companies funneling money to politicians on the sly,
to make sure that drug prices stay high.

Another reason to go with proportional representation. If you can select who represents your interests out of ALL of the possible candidates, you can select someone that is commited to your agenda.

And if your elected representative understands that you'll switch your support to someone else if he or she fails to stick to that agenda, it becomes very difficult to sell his vote to the highest bidder.

And that candidate doesn't need as much campaign money to try to convince EVERYBODY to vote for him. He or she just needs to make plain his or her views and then convince those that share that agenda that he or she can move that agenda forward.

That doesn't mean that the drug companies won't have their interests represented. Their employees and shareholders can all vote too.

Saturday, October 02, 2004

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Both hours of Michael Krasny's Forum program on KQED radio this morning discussed proportional representation and instant runoff voting. The shows can be heard here.

Apparently, instant runoff voting will b eused in the upcoming election.

The Greens presidential candidate was on the first hour and was advocating that people throw away their votes by voting for the Green party candidates and somehow that will change the system. That's just silly.

However, I absolutely do believe that the Green party should be have their fair proportion of the representation. We need a ballot initiative. I would gladly get involved with such an effort.

Monday, September 27, 2004

With health care costs threatening to grow out of control, we need to start thinking about how to apply technology in significant ways.

It is my belief that accurate, realtime information of a person's medical condition can, if acted upon, can keep most conditions from spiraling out of control.

I was in a medical office in January. As I sat and watched, the family of the woman in the wheelchair attempted to complete the medical history forms that have to be filled out before seeing the doctor.

The first of her four bladder surgeries was in 1963, the year I was born.

When her granddaughter asked for her social security number, I could have discretely typed it into my PDA had I been so inclined.

At least the doctor's office had a two page privacy policy.

The real problem with the medical system is not that our private data is being shared without our consent (although that happens). It is more of a problem to me that are actual history is unavailable to new physicians. The patient is relied upon to remember it all.

Data is the real problem in health care. Take symptoms, for example: Can you accurately remember your symptoms and relate them to your physician?

Then there's delay. It frequently takes time for you to realize that there is a problem significant enough to go to the physician. More time passes before you actually make an appointment, which then might still be several days away. Then the doctor must try to divine what is actually going on before deciding if any tests are needed.

This will all change once realtime medical information becomes a reality. Imagine a sensor that can measure your vitals from inside the body. Such devices will eventually be used routinely test for blood pH and sugar, levels of critical hormones and even the nutritional content of your food.

The effects of a new medication on the body could be monitored.

Periodically this information could be relayed out of the body via Wi-fi, Bluetooth or even a cell phone network.

Imagine the datamining that could be performed on all of the data collected. Correlations between supplement like ephedra and elevated blood pressure and heart rates could have been found much sooner.

Finding elevated levels of a chemical found in people living in a certain area could head off years of exposure to a toxin before dozens of cancer cases get the chance to develop.

Having a heart attack could cause such a device to instantly call 911 for you. And alert your family.

If you're a victim of a crime, your body responds in an observable way with elevated heart rate, blood pressure and certain chemicals. In such an instance, a device could notify the police of your situation, speeding a response.

Now there are risks and privacy issues with this sort of technology. But the benefits greatly outweigh the downside. Serious research needs to be done in this area. If we play our cards right with the privacy and information challenges we ALREADY have, we can be prepared when this next leap in medical technology is ready.

And we have to. According to some projections, we'll be spending half of the federal budget on Medicare and social security.

Medicare should make up 70% of that, so if we can slash the cost of medical care by 50%, that'll defer insolvency by a decade or two.

I think its worth investing 10 or 20 million in now to jumpstart this technology

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

Regarding Iraq, I believe the US needs to do a number of things to establish a democracy. The success of any attempt to impose democracy is questionable at best, but it has been done before. In Japan, for example.

Of course, Japan is a much more homogenous society. In Japan's case, the US military wrote the constitution and ensured that it was followed by maintaining forces in Japan.

I think we need to write a constition that stipulates a federal system that keeps any particular ethnic group from getting complete control of things.

There should be a legislature established through proportional representation, a system of independent courts (with its initial judges appointed by the US or a US appointed committee of Iraqis) and a WEAK executive branch. And, most importantly, a bill of rights, complete with freedom of speech and religion.

This constitution should be put to a general vote of all registered Iraqis and would be ratified with the approval of 50% or more. If 50% do not approve, it should be reworked until we get that 50%.

Perhaps the most important thing is enforcement. the government should be held to the letter of the constitution.

Monday, January 12, 2004

Today I am going to the Comedy Sportz Improv beginning workshop. Should be alot of fun. The first session was quite a bit different from Pan Theater's workshop; the instructor, Jeff, has 20 years of experience.