Monthly Archives: June 2008

ATMs and Voting Machines, or, Waiting for Perfection

ATM_Cabinet.jpg This is true, but misses the point:
If ordinary bank ATMs can be made secure and reliable, why can’t electronic voting machines? It’s a simple enough question, but, sadly, the answer isn’t so simple. Secure voting is a much more complex technical problem than electronic banking, not least because a democratic election’s dual requirements for ballot secrecy and transparent auditability are often in tension with one another in the computerized environment. Making ATMs robust and resistant to thieves is easy by comparison.

ATMs can fail, too: It isn’t just voting machines. Matt Blaze, Exhaustive Search, 23 May 2008

Yes, and Lyndon Johnson stole a Senate race by ballot box stuffing back in the days of all-paper ballots.

But that doesn’t change the simple fact that it’s far easier to fiddle results with paperless electronic machines than it was with paper ballots. Or that an ATM failure tends to be very localized and limited, while voting machines can be hacked in bulk. Or that the results of a failed election can be an unnecessary war, more than 4,000 U.S. dead, a million others dead, quadrupled gas prices, $40+ trillion in debt, peak oil without deployment of solar and wind, environmental crisis near or beyond tipping point, and need I go on? At what level of demonstrated risk does it become obvious that waiting for perfect voting machines isn’t the right answer?

Fortunately, some states have gotten the point already.


Logging to Fund Firefighting?

CommunityForestry.jpg Got too many wildfires and need somebody to pay?
The forest service’s reasoning is simple: sell trees to loggers, use the money to clear areas of potential fire fuel. What the loggers cut can be potential fuel. With one sale, a fire hazard can be removed and the agency paid so it can remove more fuel.

US judges order stop to California logging projects, McClatchy newspapers,, Thursday May 15 2008

The federal Ninth District Court didn’t think that was so clever, or at least not so legal, and also not the only way:
Two for one always has an attractive ring. But are there no alternative ways of getting money to do the clearing that is imperative? Obviously, there may be. First of all, there is the USFS’s own budget. Does that budget contain any funds that could be devoted to fuel removal? Is every one of its activities so necessary and so tightly allocated that no money could be shifted? We do not know the answer because this alternative has not been explored.

Suppose that the USFS and its parent, the Department of Agriculture, cannot spare a dime. What then? Appropriate appropriations come from Congress. The work of fire prevention is work of the first importance. If the USFS does not have enough, why should not Congress be asked to give it more? Surely the avoidance of catastrophic fire in the national forests must rate a high priority among the needs of the nation.

No. 07-16892 D.C. No. CV-05-00205-MCE, United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, 14 May 2008

Coming soon: eating seed corn to prevent hunger, credit card debt to get rich, and other clever risk management strategies.