October 21, 2016

Larry's Ballot Recommendations for November 2016


The election is less than three weeks away, and it's that time again. Here are my ballot recommendations for the November 2016 general election, California edition.

Elective offices
Ordinarily, this would be more complex. But this is no ordinary election. This year, I will be voting a straight Democratic ticket, and recommend you do so as well. Why? Because we need to ensure a Democratic Senate that will take action on judicial nominees and others. The Republicans have proven themselves to be the party of obstruction above all, and I'm tired of it. Vote the bastards out.

Ballot propositions
Note: Ballot proposition numbering in California runs in twenty-year cycles, to avoid confusing current propositions with prior ballot propositions. This year's propositions begin with Proposition 51.

Proposition 51 - School Bonds - NO
Everybody loves schools, right? The problem is paying for them. California already has billions of dollars in educational bond debt payments every year, and this adds another half-billion a year to pay back. Governor Jerry Brown opposes this measure, and so do I. I recommend a NO vote.

Proposition 52 - Medi-Cal Hospital Fee Program - Initiative Constitutional Amendment - YES
Ordinarily, I am opposed to state constitutional amendments via initiative. The California state constutition is already an almost-unworkable mess of amendments. However, there are exceptions, and this year there are some worthy ones, including this one. A yes vote will extend a current program that provides $3 billion in federal funding annually with no cost to California taxpayers, and prohibits the Legislature from diverting this funding to other uses. I recommend a YES vote.

Proposition 53 - Revenue Bonds - Initiative Constitutional Amendment - NO
At a time when California faces the need to upgrade an aging infrastructure, this would require voter approval for state projects that use more than $2 billion in state revenue bonds. Might sound good at first, but in a state prone to earthquakes, there's no exemption for natural disasters or emergencies, and ballot propositions and initiatives are a lousy way to make decisions on this kind of thing, let alone policy. I recommend a NO vote.

Proposition 54 - Legislature - Legislation and Proceedings - Initiative Constitutional Amendment - NO
This bill adds a host of requirements that must be met before the Legislature can vote on a bill, adding needless delays to an already-slow system. It claims to promote openness, yet all bills can currently be viewed online by anyone. It eliminates the ban on use of legislative proceedings in political campaign ads, and is being entirely bankrolled by a billionaire with a history of contributing to right-wing candidates and opposing things like an increased minimum wage and education funding. By their friends, ye shall know them. I recommend a NO vote.

Proposition 55 - Tax Extension to Fund Education and Healthcare - Initiative Constitutional Amendment - YES
This is an easy one. Prop. 55 extends for another twelve years a previously-approved temporary increase in income tax on earnings over $250,000 for single filers, and over $500,000 for joint filers. It allocates this revenue to schools, community colleges, and healthcare. It allows a previously-approved temporary sales tax increase to expire. I recommend a YES vote.

Proposition 56 - Cigarette Tax to Fund Healthcare, Tobacco Use Prevention, Research, and Law Enforcement - Initiative Constitutional Amendment and Statute - NO
As much as I hate smoking and second-hand smoke, I'm also not a big fan of "tax the minority." If every smoker voted no, they'd still get hit with more tax, and that doesn't sit right with me. It will probably pass, but not with my help. I recommend a NO vote.

Proposition 57 - Criminal Sentences. Parole. Juvenile Criminal Proceedings and Sentencing - Initiative Constitutional Amendment and Statute - YES
This allows parole consideration for persons convicted of nonviolent felonies, and authorizes the Department of Corrections to award sentence credits for good behavior, educational achievements, or rehabilitation. It will save millions by keeping the violent felons locked up, but not filling up the prisons with nonviolent offenders. We put too many people in prison already. I recommend a YES vote.

Proposition 58 - English Proficiency - Multilingual Education - Initiative Statute - YES
This proposition removes some outdated requirements that restrict the methods that can be used in bilingual education. I recommend a YES vote.

Proposition 59 - Corporations - Political Spending - Federal Constitutional Protections - Legislative Advisory Question - YES
This is a non-binding advisory measure that would recommend that California's elected officials should propose and ratify an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that overturns the Citizens United ruling. If you believe that corporations aren't people, you should vote YES, as I intend to.

Proposition 60 - Adult Films - Condoms - Health Requirements - Initiative Statute - NO
Yes, we actually have to vote on an initiative that would mandate the use of condoms in porn. It's a badly-written measure that has managed to do the unthinkable--garner the opposition of both the Republican Party and the Democratic Party. That's right, it's so badly written it brought Republicans and Democrats together. Whatever you think about porn, condoms, or sex, I recommend a NO vote, and can't believe I really have to vote on this crap.

Proposition 61 - State Prescription Drug Purchases - Pricing Standards - Initiative Statute - NO
This would prohibit the state from buying any prescription drug at a price higher than the price paid by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, except where required by federal law. The crazy thing is that it exempts a huge portion of the state's Medi-Cal (Medicaid) program, and does nothing for those with private health insurance, or those on Medicare--as much as 88% of the population all told. So why do it? And I can't shake the nagging feeling that this is also economic idiocy. We all want lower drug prices, but this seems like a bad way to do it. I recommend a NO vote.

Proposition 62 - Death Penalty - Initiative Statute - YES
This would ban the use of capital punishment in California. I'm a firm believer that the death penalty is barbaric and costs a ridiculous amount of money, to the extent that life imprisonment is actually cheaper. Stop the insanity and help us join the rest of the civilized world in abolishing capital punishment. I recommend a YES vote.

Proposition 63 - Firearms - Ammunition Sales - Initiative Statute - YES
Prop. 63 would require individuals to pass a background check and obtain Department of Justice authorization to purchase ammunition. It also puts restrictions on possession of large-capacity magazines, regulates their disposal, requires that lost/stolen firearms be reported to law enforcement, prohibits those convicted of stealing firearms from possessing firearms, and places those persons in the national criminal background check system. Screw the NRA, and vote YES.

Proposition 64 - Marijuana Legalization - Initiative Statute - YES
This is it--the ballot measure that legalizes marijuana. I'm no fan of pot. I hate the smell and I generally don't enjoy the feeling of being high on anything--I don't even drink. But our current drug laws clearly aren't working, or else the drug war would be over by now. All we've managed to do is put a lot of people in prison, mostly young black men. It's stupid. Let's stop doing the same stupid thing over and over again and expecting a different result. Legalize it, regulate it, tax it. Vote YES on Prop. 64.

Proposition 65 - Carryout Bags - Charges - Initiative Statute - NO
Read carefully: "Redirects money collected by grocery and certain other retail stores through sale of carryout bags, whenever any state law bans free distribution of a particular kind of carryout bag and mandates the sale of any other kind of carryout bag." This was placed on the ballot by a group of plastic bag companies to make sure that if plastic bags are banned, the grocery stores won't make any money from selling reusable bags. Basically, it's the plastic bag industry having a hissy fit because several localities banned single-use plastic bags, and they're pissed that we might just do it statewide. Screw 'em. Vote NO.

Proposition 66 - Death Penalty Procedures - Initiative Statute - NO
This is more suited to Texas, or maybe China, than California. It would shorten the time death penalty challenges take, ensuring that the state could execute more people more quickly. It would increase the likelihood of an innocent person being put to death. The death penalty is barbaric, and needs to be ended, not made more efficient. I wholeheartedly recommend a NO vote.

Proposition 67 - Ban on Single-Use Plastic Bags - Referendum - YES
This would prohibit grocery and certain other retail stores from providing single-use plastic or paper carryout bags to customers at the point of sale. It would permit the sale of recycled paper bags and reusable bags at a minimum price of 10 cents per bag. Plastic bags are a plague that harms wildlife and increases litter. Meanwhile, people in other locations and countries have been happily using reusable bags for years--just ask a European. I recommend a YES vote.

October 19, 2016

A change of course

This is purely a personal statement that is likely of interest to very few. Feel free to click away now, if you like.

For some time now, I've argued that third parties in the United States served a useful function, and that it was better to vote your conscience than to vote strategically, because the entire point of voting is to vote your beliefs.

That is still true, somewhat. Somewhat.

This election has changed my personal view and intentions. As the GOP has descended into a morass of obstreperous, dog-whistling white nationalism, and has nominated a would-be dictator and accused sexual abuser with little to no understanding of how our government functions, the political landscape has changed. I now believe it's more important for progressive Americans to unite to work for the common good and in the interest of common human decency than it is to engage in internecine arguments over ideological purity. That is something we can no longer afford. Nothing less than the fundamentals of democracy and human liberty are at stake. Even if Trump is defeated, his followers will remain, and there is no doubt that they'll continue to be with us for many years to come.

Therefore, once this election is over, I'll be re-registering as a Democrat. Someday, years from now, when we've decisively eliminated the danger of the far right taking power, I'll reconsider my options.

But for now, there's work to do. Let's do it.

October 19, 2016

Random observations before tonight's debate

A few random thoughts:

  • Hillary Clinton is bringing Mark Cuban, and Donald Trump is bringing the President's brother, Malik (formerly Roy) Obama. Maybe next time some thought should be given to making the debates less of a reality show. I suggest having them stand behind podiums in an empty studio, no audience, moderated by a journalist who understands the importance of fact-checking.

  • With respect to the above, Malik Obama is a useful idiot for Donald Trump.

  • With respect to Malik being a useful idiot, the President didn't get to choose his relatives.

  • I'm really looking forward to this entire nauseating election season being over.

  • With respect to the nauseating election season, I'd really like to time-travel forward to November 9.

  • I have no illusions that 2020--or the midterms in 2018--are going to be any better than this. Welcome to the new reality, folks.

October 18, 2016

Would you like some cheese with that whine?


So, this happened:

The Pixel is an ugly phone. The design is a little fatter than last year’s Nexus 6P, and the bezel on the bottom lip of the phone is much bigger. Yuck. There’s also a big slab of glass at the top of the phone’s back that feels sticky and a little uncomfortable to hold. The design is nowhere near as sleek, clean, and easy to use as the iPhone 7.

--Michael Nunez, Gizmodo

I honestly don't know what people want. After years of allowing OEMs to slap Android onto their own devices, and allowing the network providers to manage upgrades, Google has finally produced one of its own, emulating the all-in-one Apple model of designing both software and hardware for a more integrated experience. And still, people complain.

Put it next to an iPhone and the design inspiration is obvious, and Apple sells iPhones as fast as they can make them. Apparently, that isn't enough.

Look, I get that people want to see innovation. That's normal. But we've reached a point where we've pretty much standardized the look and feel of smartphones, and a lot of that is for very good reasons:

  • It's going to be a rounded rectangle, because it's the most efficient shape. Sharper corners would catch on things (like the threads in your pocket).
  • The front is going to be mostly a slab of glass, with bezels top and bottom to allow for things like the antenna, home button, and so on.
  • There will be volume buttons or a rocker on the side, because that's the most ergnomically correct place for them.
  • There will be some kind of charging port on the bottom, along with speakers, because it's the most logical place.
  • The back will be metal, plastic, or glass, with the first two optimal for durability, and the second two optimal for antenna operation. Lots of people feel plastic is cheap, so a combination of metal and glass makes some sense (and that's what the Pixel has).
  • The operating system UI will be based on a grid of icons, because that's what people expect. Microsoft tried to get away from that with the tiled Metro interface on Windows Phone (which was brilliant, by the way), and look where that got them.

That last point is an important one. We standardize on things for a reason. If you've ever climbed into an older Porsche and found the ignition switch to the left of the steering wheel, or into a Saab where it was on the floor between the seats, you'll understand. Clutch pedal on the left, accelerator on the right, brake pedal in the middle. It's like that because people expect it. It doesn't have to be that way, and it didn't use to be--try driving a Ford Model T sometime.

As for that bit about it being "nowhere near as sleek as the iPhone 7," here they are side-by-side:



If he's referring to the thickness of the phone, that's a tradeoff I'd happily make for improved battery life. As an iPhone 6S user, I often wish Apple would give up on their obsession with thinness and give me a bigger battery.

There was some silliness about the camera, too:

Every shot is accurately colored, super sharp compared to other Android phones, and vibrant as hell.

It still leaves you wanting more compared to the iPhone 7. The Pixel’s photos appeared to be washed out and just weren’t as vibrant as the ones we took with the new iPhone.

How can photos be accurately colored, super-sharp, vibrant...and washed out, all at the same time?

And then there was this:

The great thing about Google’s old reference design phones, like the Nexus 6P, was that you’d get a premium phone for under $500. At $650, the Pixel is as expensive as most flagships for no good reason.

No good reason, except that it is a flagship phone that most reviewers have agreed is at least in the same league as the iPhone, and can command a similar price.

Mr. Nunez does make one good point--the Pixel isn't water-resistant, and it probably should be. Fair enough. I lost my Lumia 1520 to an ill-timed drop into water, so I see value in water resistance. But we've been living with smartphones for the last ten years that weren't, and we've mostly managed to muddle through somehow. I don't think that would dissuade me from buying the phone unless I were a lifeguard or a fisherman.

Of course, I'm not in the market for a phone right now. I have another year before my iPhone is paid off. But as Apple starts removing stuff I like and use (like the headphone jack), I'm keeping my options open--and from what I've seen, the Pixel looks like an option worthy of consideration.

Maybe the author was having a bad day, or maybe he was just cranky. But overall, this article was basically just a reminder of why I don't normally read Gizmodo

October 11, 2016

Moving past

As you can see from my recent post, I've mailed in my resignation from my local Orthodox parish and, in the process, let them know I'm moving on from Orthodoxy as well.

But I'm not just moving on. I'm moving past.

What I mean by that is that at the age of fifty, after a lifetime of interest in the subject of religion and two formal affiliations, I'm moving past the point where I feel the need for someone to explain the world to me. I'm not looking for fairy tales any more. I've seen enough, done enough, lived enough to be at the point where I'm skeptical of anyone who tries to tell me how to live my life, what to eat, how to dress, where I have to be on Sunday morning.

It's liberating.

Many years ago, when I was still a boy, dissatisfied with the answers I was getting at the Lutheran church my mother sent me to, I found a book in the public library called The Renewal of Civilization by David Hofman. This slim volume in a red-and-white dust jacket would have a profound impact on my life. It was an introduction to the Bahá'í Faith, and while I did not join for many years, the ideas it introduced to me became a part of who I am--equality of men and women, racial equality, harmony of religion and science, the need for an international outlook, etc.

When, many years later, I finally joined, I was in for about nine years before the cognitive dissonance became too much and I resigned. While the Bahá'í Faith has many progressive elements, it's ultimately an authoritarian organization choking on its own religious bureaucracy1, at the pinnacle of which are nine men in Haifa who are considered to be infallible in the exercise of their duties. You can see how that might be a problem.

Still feeling a need for some kind of spiritual home, I did some reading and found myself drawn to the Eastern Orthodox tradition in Christianity. After a very brief catechism, I was baptized at the local Greek Orthodox church, which turned out to be a small disaster, the details of which are for another time. Feeling uncomfortable there, I visited the local parish of the Orthodox Church in America, which descended from the Russian Orthodox mission in North America. And that's where I resigned from yesterday.

Why resign? I guess I've just had enough of hierarchy, old men, and excessively complicated theology that produces arguments about the most astonishing minutiae. As I progress inevitably towards becoming an old man myself, I find that old men don't have any particular insight into matters spiritual. Hierarchy complicates things too. As the former metropolitan of the OCA2 said, "You dress someone up like the Byzantine emperor, tell him to live forever, and you wonder why you have problems?"3 And as for excessively complicated--go look up aerial toll houses, let alone the mental gymnastics involved in understanding all the implications of the Trinity. Oy. And then there's the uncomfortably close relationship between the Orthodox Church (as embodied by the Moscow Patriarchate) and the Russian government, which is giving new life to some of the more regrettable aspects of Orthodox culture. If there's one thing that's been proven time and time again, when church and state get too cozy, bad things happen.

But more than all that, I'm tired of the culture wars. I honestly don't care who marries whom, and I think there can be justifiable reasons for abortion, and I embrace the fact that we live in a secular republic whose laws aren't necessarily going to coincide with the canon law of any particular religion or denomination. It's something that everybody needs to just get over. Don't agree with same-sex marriage or abortion? Fine, don't have one. Failure to restrict the freedom of others is not an impingement on your religious liberty.

There are some people who can manage to think as I do and still keep it together as a churchgoer, and God bless them, but I'm not one of those people. And that's why I'm likely done with any organized, structured church membership. This is not to say I'm an atheist--that's a kind of certainty that seems presumptuous--but any direction I might choose to go in is likely to feature a much more direct relationship between me and the divine, call it what you will, without intermediaries or partners.4

The journey continues...

  1. For example, you are issued a membership card and number. For a religion.
  2. Orthodox Church in America.
  3. This was someone who was elected as metropolitan to succeed a notoriously corrupt predecessor, and who was himself replaced within a few years after much turmoil and, yes, Byzantine intrigue.
  4. And yes, you can parse that in a couple of different ways. No, I won't tell you which one is intended.

October 11, 2016

Yes. This.

I was writing a follow-up to my last post, to explain it a bit, when I ran across the best piece on Trump and the GOP that I have yet seen.

Here's an excerpt, which perfectly captures my feelings on the matter (bolding added for emphasis):

And obviously to me, no one with sense should cast a vote for Trump. He’s not just a candidate, he is an active repudiation of what we should expect from the United States and those who lead it. A candidate who can’t open his mouth without a lie falling out — a lie that everyone including him knows is a lie — doesn’t deserve to be president. A candidate who threatens millions because of their religion does not deserve to be president. A candidate who promises to extralegally throw his political opponent into jail does not deserve to be president. A candidate who fosters white nationalism, racism and anti-semitism does not deserve to be president. A candidate who brags about sexual assault and then tries to dismiss it as mere talk does not deserve to be president.

These are not merely Democratic or Republican issues. These are American issues, human issues and moral issues. You can’t vote for Donald Trump and say you don’t know what you’re voting for. You’re voting for hate, and chaos, and the deluge. Anything else that you think you get from voting for him will be washed away in the flood.

Go read the whole thing.

October 9, 2016

Moving on


October 6, 2016

A brief thought on iPhone 7 vs. Pixel

Whether or not it took "courage" for Apple to remove the headphone jack, there are two things I know:

  1. Removing the headphone jack on the iPhone 7 does not solve a problem for me.
  2. Unlimited storage for photos from the Pixel in Google Photos does solve a problem for me.

Still got a year to go before I can get a new phone, but this will be a consideration. YMMV.

October 3, 2016

A small automotive pet peeve

As a self-described car nut, I read a lot of blogs and sites about cars. One of my regular daily visits is to Bring A Trailer.

Frequently, I'll see a comment about a steering wheel wrap on an older car:


I suppose that most of this stuff is written by people younger than me, who don't remember anything before the Clinton Administration, so I'd like to clue them in:

It was common practice in the 1950s and 1960s to install a wrap or cover on the steering wheel, because the materials used back then got extremely hot in the sun in the days before window tint and reflective windshield covers, especially in warmer climates.

In fact, it was basically a necessity in southern California in the summer. It definitely doesn't mean the buyer is necessarily trying to hide something, although it's a possibility.

Now you know. And be thankful for modern steering wheel materials.

September 30, 2016

An angry mob

I’ve been thinking some more about this election, and what’s really happening in terms of our system and our democracy.

It’s been a common theme on the left to decry the rise of Trump as the rise of fascism, which to some degree it is. Certainly, he’s followed the script left by fascist leaders of the past—tacit condoning of violence, oblique calls for the assassination of his opponent, scapegoating of minorities, and the use of the Big Lie technique of repeatedly lying until the lie becomes perceived by his followers as the truth, among others.

It’s an imperfect analogy, though. It’s missing legions of uniformed followers in colored shirts (the black shirt of the Italian fascists, the brown shirt of Hitler’s SA, the blue shirts of the Spanish Falange, etc.), as well as any coherent ideology. Even fascists usually believe in something, even if it's wrong.

I’m beginning to think it’s something even worse—the first stirrings of a transition from democracy to mob rule.

Democracy follows rules. Democracy requires people to abide by certain norms, and a written or unwritten constitution. Democracy requires a basic understanding of how government works.

Mob rule requires none of that.

Mob rule requires only that a big enough, angry enough mob seize the reins of power and impose its will on everybody else. Mob rule can be easily manipulated by someone authoritarian enough to promise to give the mob whatever they want, whatever the cost, the rules be damned.

Build a wall, kick out the Mexicans, keep the Muslims out. The enthusiastic support of the far-right, white-supremacist fringe should be a warning.

That's what we're seeing with the Trump campaign. That's what the Republican Party has allowed itself to be seduced by.

That's what must never be allowed to happen. Because it's a lot harder to step back from the precipice once you've gone over it.

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