On Voting

The comic strip Dullard, er, I mean, Mallard Fillmore, is at it again, trying to convince people not to vote.

Now, while I don’t agree with this, I don’t go the other way either. Indeed, I hate it when someone says something like “If you don’t vote then you have no right to complain,” which in one pithy comment helps set the cause of free speech back 250 years. This attitude isn’t helpful, either. While I believe people should vote, I also feel people have the right not to vote, while still having the right to complain about the outcome.

Here are some arguments to try to encourage people to vote:

  1. Voting helps keep politicans more honest. I think nothing would frighten the politicians more than if voter turnout went up by 50%. Especially if a lot of disaffected fringe voters who don’t support either major party were to show up.
  2. Going to vote is fun! Well, I think so, anyway. But then, voting for me just involves a plasant 10-minute walk to my polling place and (usually) a short wait in line. Your mileage may vary.
  3. You might be able to shake up the system! If you hate the major party candidates, go vote for some minor party candidate. They might not win, but you might help their party establish a footing in your area. If everyone who doesn’t like their major party candidates went to vote for a minor party candidate, that would be pretty neat. It would certainly make politics more interesting, which given the shape their in probably wouldn’t be a bad thing.
  4. You can send a message. I hate referenda, propositions, ballot initiatives, or whatever they’re called in your state. I tend to vote against them because I feel they’re an abdication of responsibility by the government. I vote for representatives to act, not to send things back to me to vote on later. Occasionally I vote for one, but the bar is set very high. I want to vote against the others to help send the message that ballot initiatives suck and I work against them just on principle. (You could make the same argument about bond measures, with the additional factor that bond measures are a way of sidestepping the tax system.)
  5. If you didn’t know who your Congresscritter was until election season, maybe the problem doesn’t lie on your end. Maybe it’s time to elect someone who will be a little more, um, useful.

While I would be happy to see the Democrats take control of Congress by Wednesday, I would be even happier if voter turnout vastly exceeded the expectations of the politicians, media and analysts. That would be really, really cool.

Doctor Who: One Versus Two

I’ve seen the first four episodes of the second season of Doctor Who, and I’ve noticed that they each resemble an early episode from the first season:

  1. The first episode of each season involves an invasion of Earth by some improbable aliens (“Rose” vs. “The Christmas Invasion”).
  2. The second episode of each season takes place in humanity’s far future and features a number of unusual aliens (“The End of the World” vs. “New Earth”).
  3. The third episode of each season takes place in the 19th century and involves a classic horror element (“The Unquiet Dead” vs. “Tooth and Claw”).
  4. The sixth episode of the first season and the fourth episode of the second season features the return of well-known figures from the original Doctor Who series (“Dalek” vs. “School Reunion”).

On top of this, both series feature a recurring background element (“Bad Wolf” vs. Torchwood, the latter I guess laying the groundwork for the spin-off series). Hopefully Torchwood will have a more rewarding climax than Bad Wolf did.

Is this correlation just coincidence, I wonder?

Daylight Savings Time Without A Saving Throw

The official Dreamhost blog notes that computers will need to change their algorithms for handling Daylight Savings Time starting in 2007.

No, really.

I had heard about this change, but hadn’t considered the implications to the computer industry. Not to mention everyone who’s used to their VCRs and PDAs and other electronic gizmos adjusting their clocks for DST automatically, and whose software is unlikely to ever be revved. (Cell phones are less problematic since they seem to already get the local time via a server uplink.)

Next up: Congress passes law instituting a return to the Julian Calendar.

(In case my entry title baffles you, here’s the entry for saving throw.)

Morning Ride

I went for a 13-mile ride this morning, and took my camera so I could snap some shots of my route in the fall:

Creek.jpg

Creek at high tide. I once stopped on the bridge I took this picture from, looked down and saw a ray swimming up the creek. I don’t know where it was going, but I hope it got there.

Trees.jpg

Lovely red tree amidst all the greenery.

Trail.jpg

This trail is more scenic than it looks in this picture. I often see dogs and cats patrolling the space around it. The area to the right beyond the fence used to be a commercial nursery, but they left earlier this year. I think they’re going to build housing on the site.

Scalzi: Star Wars Not Entertainment

Not that he needs any referrals from me, but John Scalzi’s post “The Lie of Star Wars as Entertainment” is both funny and insightful.

(Scalzi, for the both of my readers who don’t know, is a prince of a man and also one of the world’s elite kitten-jugglers, er, I mean, one of the most popular bloggers on the Web.)

I think he goes a little over the top in criticizing the original trilogy (Star Wars, Empire and Jedi), though he does allow that people other than George Lucas worked to make it entertaining. But my understanding is that Lucas didn’t get on his myth-making kick until after the original Star Wars came out. (I thought the original trilogy was solidly entertaining until they rescued Han Solo in Jedi, at which point it took a bizarre left turn into la-la land.)

Another point to spin out of Scalzi’s post is…

…those of you who know me can see this coming, right?…

…you can level almost identical charges against Star Trek: The Next Generation, which was primarily concerned with stroking the asinine Trek mythology about a bright, shiny, happy future for humanity, and which shoved aside (with great force) all of the conflict and character drama which made the original Star Trek good entertainment. Like Star Wars Eps 1-3, NextGen is largely bland and tedious, because it’s fundamentally unconcerned with entertaining the viewer.

Destroying Poker

Although I haven’t often written about it, I’ve been playing poker recreationally for the last 9 months. I’m not very good, and I stick to low-limit hold ’em poker games in the local casinos and in Vegas, but for the most part I have fun. (Losing $90 in 90 minutes at a $3-6 table would be the “not so much fun” part. On the other hand, I’ve won that much in 2 hours, too, so like I said, mostly fun.)

Anyway, I started playing poker because I wanted to have a game to play in Vegas in which I wasn’t playing against the house, with the odds de facto stacked against me.

One of my plans for this month was to investigate playing poker on-line. For instance, Poker On a Mac is a pretty nifty resource for those of us who own Macs and don’t want to install Windows on them. My plan was to play in some no limit hold ’em tournaments, since the casinos around here only seem to offer fixed limit and spread-limit games, which aren’t really the same.

It looks like I won’t get a chance, though, since the Republicans passed a bill making it illegal to transfer money to on-line gambling sites from most bank or credit card accounts. Actually, weasels that they are, they didn’t pass a separate bill but attached it as an amendment to the Port Security Bill at the 11th hour. The bill – which I think was regarded as one of those “must-pass” pieces of legislation, on to which some legislators love to try to tack unrelated amendments such as this – passed by a 98-0 vote in the Senate.

(The House passed its own bill regarding on-line poker. It passed 317-93.)

Many think that it’s likely that this bill will destroy the on-line poker industry in the United States – even the Motley Fool thinks so – and I’m inclined to agree. One blogger thinks that the on-line poker companies simply flubbed the ball when lobbying Congress.

Another blogger makes some grim predictions about the future of poker in the US. I can’t argue with his reasoning. One implication of his predictions is worth spelling out, since it affects the little casual players like me directly: It’s going to become a lot harder to play poker on-line. And that means that even if there are a few on-line sites which decide to risk the penalties of Federal law, the barriers for players to figure out how to get their money to those sites to play will be too high for most people (the casual or curious players), because they just won’t care enough to make the effort.

I wonder whether this will spill over into card rooms, too. With fewer members of the general public playing on-line, I could see card rooms lose popularity, and possibly increasing their rakes to make more money. The competition there would become stiffer, which in turn could dissuade new players from coming in to play, because the learning curve relative to the average player would become that much steeper.

And then there’s the elephant in the room: Poker at the big casinos is (I’m told) just not as profitable as slot machines. So a general decline in the popularity of poker could cause many of those shiny new card rooms at big casinos to downsize or go away entirely. Which means more players forced to play in less savory joints, which further dissuades the casual player from showing up.

The end result of this legislation is that it’s going to effectively destroy an industry and ruin a fun experience for hundreds of thousands of Americans in the name of… what? Helping those few gambling addicts who aren’t so addicted that they wouldn’t care whether they’re violating the law when they gamble anyway? (The correlation between the on-line gambling bill and Prohibition seems obvious, and I’m not the only one to think of it.)

For myself personally, the law means I’m probably not going to play on-line poker. Even though the players aren’t being targeted by the law, do I really want to take that risk? Moreover, do I want to go through the hassle of trying to get money to and from whichever sites remain active in the US? Not so much. I’ll still play in card rooms from time to time, but I missed my opportunity to get in a bunch of relatively inexpensive practice at no-limit hold ’em.

It’s too bad.

On the other hand, I’m trying to console myself that I really ought to be working on my writing rather than playing poker.