Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Brainiacs of 2016 on the way

This blog will award what was called 'Texan of the Year' as a TPA collaboration in years past, but since that doesn't happen any longer we'll change the name to "Brainiacs of 2016" and publish the winner(s) sometime before Sunday, the beginning of a fresh new year for Democrats to dread and the end of a true annus horribilis.

I'll go a little farther than another tired critique of Worst Texans (oddly enough, they're all Republicans), avoid a back-patting listicle of Best Stories, and kick up the acidity a notch from Daily Jackass honorees Chris Hooks, Misandry Angie, Jef Rouner, John Cobarruvias, Tessa Stuart and Brent Budowsky, Kris Banks and Allen Brain, and Barack Hussein Obama.  Oh, and everybody who said that a vote for Jill Stein was a vote for Trump.  Especially Matthew Rozsa and Dave Wasserman.

An early dishonorable mention goes to local Shrillbot Kim Frederick, still spewing venom all over her social media at Bernie Sanders and his supporters seven weeks after the Hillocaust.  If you want to understand why the Democrats are going to keep on losing, just take a look at her bilious slurs against progressive Democrats (and everybody who agrees with her).

While I finish up the roster, here's a little scattershooting a couple of trending topics.

-- Those crazy kids at Rice have cooked up a voting machine that may be hack-proof.

The drumbeat of election rigging and foreign hacking of voting machines have energized ongoing efforts to develop a new model of digital election equipment designed to produce instantly verifiable results and dual records for security.

Election experts say this emerging system, one of three publicly funded voting machine projects across the country, shows potential to help restore confidence in the country's election infrastructure, most of which hasn't been updated in more than a decade.


A prototype of the system, dubbed STAR Vote, sits in an engineering lab at Rice University, and bidding is open for manufacturers who want to produce it wholesale. Similar efforts to innovate voting systems are in the works in Los Angeles and San Francisco.

"County clerks in these jurisdictions are the rock stars of running elections," said Joe Kiniry, CEO of Free & Fair, an election systems supplier currently bidding on contracts to manufacture the designs of both Travis and Los Angeles counties. "If they have success in what they do, it will have, in my opinion, a massive impact on the whole U.S."

I saw no mention of Stan Stanart in this article.

Primarily, the team aimed for a digital system with easily verifiable results. So they devised a machine that records an electronic vote, then prints a copy of the paper ballot, which the voter examines then puts in a ballot box. If there are concerns about the accuracy of electronically tabulated results, they can be compared with a sampling of the paper ballots.

"It has a belt and suspender approach to verifiability and security," said Philip Stark, associate dean of the Division of Mathematical and Physical Sciences at the University of California, Berkeley, who collaborated on the design.

STAR Vote runs automatic audits, comparing a statistical sample of the paper ballots with the digital records to verify results. "The savings are just enormous over doing a recount," Stark said.

While other systems allow for comparison of precinct-level data, STAR Vote can compare paper ballots with individual voters' digital ballots, which are encrypted and posted online. Officials could take a small sample of printed ballots and compare them with digital results to conclude with high confidence that election results were correct.

I suppose my friend Brad Friedman will stick to the Luddite method he's championed for so long, and I'd like to observe some field test, logic-and-accuracy run-throughs before I can be convinced, but Wallach, have a large reservoir of trust established in this corner and I'd like to see what they have designed.

-- As someone who spent some time as a grief counselor with the Houston-based death conglomerate SCI, this has lots of appeal to me (and none for them).

Dennis White knew he was going to die soon, and he had a plan. The 63-year old Massachusetts man had a disease called progressive primary aphasia — a condition that slowly robbed him of cognitive function and made it difficult for him to speak. In planning his own funeral, he had seen a TED Talk by artist Jae Rhim Lee about her idea for a mushroom burial suit, and realized it was for him.

White had his death planning process filmed and turned into a short documentary. The Infinity Suit he chose is a hand-sewn shroud made of mushroom spores and other microorganisms that are supposed to aid in decomposition and neutralize toxins, according to Coeio, the company that makes the garment (which costs $1500).


White passed away in September and got his wish to be buried in the suit. Namrata Kollo, a partnerships manager with Coeio, says that planning ahead — the way White did — can help people make better decisions around their own death. "It not only eases the burden on them, but helps people think about the legacy they want to leave for the planet," she says. "With death, as much as possible, we'd like to become food of the planet and return nutrients."

People are now rethinking relationships with death and burials, from the ground up. It's part of a movement that reimagines humans' relationship with the earth, says Suzanne Kelly, author of "Greening Death: Reclaiming Burial Practices and Our Tie to the Earth."

Traditional burial and even cremation -- which has an enormously large carbon footprint -- is just not sustainable.  Certainly not as modeled for excessive profit by the United States' monopolistic death merchant, Service Corporation International (operating funeral homes and cemeteries around the world under the Dignity Memorial brand).

Kelly points out that before the 1830s, people celebrated and buried their dead without caskets, embalming or vaults, on family farms or in church graveyards. But a rise of urbanism collided with a fear of sanitation. "It was believed that if something smelled bad, it would make you sick," Kelly says. Reformers set their sights on cemeteries and banned them from town centers. Slowly, people became more distanced from dead bodies.

Today, the way we manage the dead isn't sustainable. Each year, 2.6 million people die in the United States, and most are buried in a cemetery or cremated, impacting land use and contributing to climate change. 

Go read the article and watch the video.  It's an eye-opener, but not for those who are squeamish about death or the deathcare industry (yes, that's its real name).


BradF said...

"I suppose my friend Brad Friedman will stick to the Luddite method he's championed for so long"

Your friend Brad Friedman will stick to his call for election results that are independently verifiable and overseeable by the citizenry. Has nothing to do with Luddites. :-)

"Wallach, have a large reservoir of trust established in this corner"

Maybe, but democratic elections are not built on trust. They are built on checks and balances (public oversight). If you wish to simply "trust" that a computer printed ballot has been verified as matching voter intent, or that encrypted results that cannot be overseen by the public after an election are good enough for the U.S., I would disagree with you.

You would also disagree with YOU, I suspect -- just after an election with questionable results and no way to know if those results *actually* reflected the will of the electorate. :-(

PDiddie said...

That was a little more screechy than I expected, friend.

BradF said...

And if my reply came across screechy in return, in ANY way, it was completely accidental. I was trying to be both wry and informative in the middle of the night. :-)

PDiddie said...

Apology accepted, Brad. Hey, why don't you go ahead and take another week off, friendo? Clear your head a bit more. I'd be happy to submit something, keep your home fires burning, while you refresh and regroup.

BradF said...

Would love (LOVE!) another week. You're right, I need it badly! And thanks for offer to help fill in. But unless you're in the mood and able to produce 5 radio shows for my stations this week, I need to get back. :-(

On my way. Unfortunately.

But happy 2017 to you, amigo. Somehow or another!

(And, hopefully you know your contributions are welcome whether I'm back or not!)

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