Sunday, December 28, 2014

Rambling about women in STEM

Army scientists energize battery research by U.S. Army RDECOM is licensed CC BY-SA 2.0.
If this post reads like I'm blowing my nose every paragraph or two, there's a reason for that.

Via Slate Star Codex, I read Scott Aaronson's comment about being a shy male geek in a feminist world. Normally I wouldn't post it in its entirety, but it is a comment, and the rest of this post won't make much sense without it; having said that, I encourage everyone to read it in context:
Amy #144: Sorry for the delay in answering you; I had to attend to my grandfather's funeral.

You write about tech conferences in which the men engage in "old-fashioned ass-grabbery." You add: "some of the gropiest, most misogynistic guys I've met have been of the shy and nerdy persuasion ... In fact I think a shy/nerdy-normed world would be a significantly worse world for women."

If that's been your experience, then I understand how it could reasonably have led you to your views. Of course, other women may have had different experiences.

You also say that men in STEM fields--unlike those in the humanities and social sciences--don't even have the "requisite vocabulary" to discuss sex discrimination, since they haven't read enough feminist literature. Here I can only speak for myself: I've read at least a dozen feminist books, of which my favorite was Andrea Dworkin's Intercourse (I like howls of anguish much more than bureaucratic boilerplate, so in some sense, the more radical the feminist, the better I can relate). I check Feministing, and even radfem blogs like "I Blame the Patriarchy." And yes, I've read many studies and task force reports about gender bias, and about the "privilege" and "entitlement" of the nerdy males that's keeping women away from science.

Alas, as much as I try to understand other people's perspectives, the first reference to my "male privilege"--my privilege!--is approximately where I get off the train, because it's so alien to my actual lived experience.

But I suspect the thought that being a nerdy male might not make me "privileged"--that it might even have put me into one of society's least privileged classes--is completely alien to your way of seeing things. To have any hope of bridging the gargantuan chasm between us, I'm going to have to reveal something about my life, and it's going to be embarrassing.

(sigh) Here's the thing: I spent my formative years--basically, from the age of 12 until my mid-20s--feeling not "entitled," not "privileged," but terrified. I was terrified that one of my female classmates would somehow find out that I sexually desired her, and that the instant she did, I would be scorned, laughed at, called a creep and a weirdo, maybe even expelled from school or sent to prison. You can call that my personal psychological problem if you want, but it was strongly reinforced by everything I picked up from my environment: to take one example, the sexual-assault prevention workshops we had to attend regularly as undergrads, with their endless lists of all the forms of human interaction that "might be" sexual harassment or assault, and their refusal, ever, to specify anything that definitely wouldn't be sexual harassment or assault. I left each of those workshops with enough fresh paranoia and self-hatred to last me through another year.

My recurring fantasy, through this period, was to have been born a woman, or a gay man, or best of all, completely asexual, so that I could simply devote my life to math, like my hero Paul Erdös did. Anything, really, other than the curse of having been born a heterosexual male, which for me, meant being consumed by desires that one couldn't act on or even admit without running the risk of becoming an objectifier or a stalker or a harasser or some other creature of the darkness.

Of course, I was smart enough to realize that maybe this was silly, maybe I was overanalyzing things. So I scoured the feminist literature for any statement to the effect that my fears were as silly as I hoped they were. But I didn't find any. On the contrary: I found reams of text about how even the most ordinary male/female interactions are filled with "microaggressions," and how even the most "enlightened" males--especially the most "enlightened" males, in fact--are filled with hidden entitlement and privilege and a propensity to sexual violence that could burst forth at any moment.

Because of my fears--my fears of being "outed" as a nerdy heterosexual male, and therefore as a potential creep or sex criminal--I had constant suicidal thoughts. As Bertrand Russell wrote of his own adolescence: "I was put off from suicide only by the desire to learn more mathematics."

At one point, I actually begged a psychiatrist to prescribe drugs that would chemically castrate me (I had researched which ones), because a life of mathematical asceticism was the only future that I could imagine for myself. The psychiatrist refused to prescribe them, but he also couldn't suggest any alternative: my case genuinely stumped him. As well it might--for in some sense, there was nothing "wrong" with me. In a different social context--for example, that of my great-grandparents in the shtetl--I would have gotten married at an early age and been completely fine. (And after a decade of being coy about it, I suppose I've finally revealed the meaning of this blog's title.)

All this time, I faced constant reminders that the males who didn't spend months reading and reflecting about feminism and their own shortcomings--even the ones who went to the opposite extreme, who engaged in what you called "good old-fashioned ass-grabbery"--actually had success that way. The same girls who I was terrified would pepper-spray me and call the police if I looked in their direction, often responded to the crudest advances of the most Neanderthal of men by accepting those advances. Yet it was I, the nerd, and not the Neanderthals, who needed to check his privilege and examine his hidden entitlement!

So what happened to break me out of this death-spiral? Did I have an epiphany, where I realized that despite all appearances, it was I, the terrified nerd, who was wallowing in unearned male privilege, while those Neaderthal ass-grabbers were actually, on some deeper level, the compassionate feminists--and therefore, that both of us deserved everything we got?

No, there was no such revelation. All that happened was that I got older, and after years of hard work, I achieved some success in science, and that success boosted my self-confidence (at least now I had something worth living for), and the newfound confidence, besides making me more attractive, also made me able to (for example) ask a woman out, despite not being totally certain that my doing so would pass muster with a committee of radfems chaired by Andrea Dworkin--a prospect that was previously unthinkable to me. This, to my mind, "defiance" of feminism is the main reason why I was able to enjoy a few years of a normal, active dating life, which then led to meeting the woman who I married.

Now, the whole time I was struggling with this, I was also fighting a second battle: to maintain the liberal, enlightened, feminist ideals that I had held since childhood, against a powerful current pulling me away from them. I reminded myself, every day, that no, there's no conspiracy to make the world a hell for shy male nerds. There are only individual women and men trying to play the cards they're dealt, and the confluence of their interests sometimes leads to crappy outcomes. No woman "owes" male nerds anything; no woman deserves blame if she prefers the Neanderthals; everyone's free choice demands respect.

That I managed to climb out of the pit with my feminist beliefs mostly intact, you might call a triumph of abstract reason over experience.

But I hope you now understand why I might feel "only" 97% on board with the program of feminism. I hope you understand why, despite my ironclad commitment to women's reproductive choice and affirmative action and women's rights in the developing world and getting girls excited about science, and despite my horror at rape and sexual assault and my compassion for the victims of those heinous crimes, I might react icily to the claim--for which I've seen not a shred of statistical evidence--that women are being kept out of science by the privileged, entitled culture of shy male nerds, which is worse than the culture of male doctors or male filmmakers or the males of any other profession. I believe you guys call this sort of thing "blaming the victim." From my perspective, it serves only to shift blame from the Neanderthals and ass-grabbers onto some of society's least privileged males, the ones who were themselves victims of bullying and derision, and who acquired enough toxic shame that way for appealing to their shame to be an effective way to manipulate their behavior. As I see it, whenever these nerdy males pull themselves out of the ditch the world has tossed them into, while still maintaining enlightened liberal beliefs, including in the inviolable rights of every woman and man, they don't deserve blame for whatever feminist shortcomings they might still have. They deserve medals at the White House.

And no, I'm not even suggesting to equate the ~15 years of crippling, life-destroying anxiety I went through with the trauma of a sexual assault victim. The two are incomparable; they're horrible in different ways. But let me draw your attention to one difference: the number of academics who study problems like the one I had is approximately zero. There are no task forces devoted to it, no campus rallies in support of the sufferers, no therapists or activists to tell you that you're not alone or it isn't your fault. There are only therapists and activists to deliver the opposite message: that you are alone and it is your privileged, entitled, male fault.

And with that, I guess I've laid my life bare to (along with all my other readers) a total stranger on the Internet who hasn't even given her full name. That's how much I care about refuting the implied charge of being a misogynistic pig; that's how deeply it cuts.

You could respond to this, I guess, by treating me as just another agent of the Patriarchy trying at length to "mansplain away" his privilege. If you do that, then I'll consider this discussion closed, as neither of us will have anything more to learn from the other. But you seem like an interesting, reasonable person, so I hold out some hope for a human response.
Being a relatively shy male geek myself, I can certainly sympathize. Thankfully - though I certainly didn't see it that way when I was younger - I "came of age" in a comparatively rural, socially conservative area that just flat out didn't have time for such musings; if I was a teenager in a major urban area, I'm not sure I would have turned out all that differently, but, given the right inputs, I could see having some of the same concerns voiced by Scott above. I was being raised in Southern California, after all, until we made the move to Nevada in the mid-'90s.

That's not what I want to write about, though.

Let's flip the script around. Imagine you're a woman - there's about a 50/50 chance you're one already, so this probably won't be a tremendous leap of imagination. Let's further imagine that you're a young, reasonably attractive woman - this might take a bit more imagination, depending on your present circumstances, but work with me. Now, imagine you meet Scott before he gets himself established. What would that be like? If I had to hazard a guess, "cold" would be the first adjective that would come to mind. He probably wouldn't say much - if he found you attractive, it sounds like he'd be deathly afraid to say much of anything at all, lest he get labeled as a 'creeper' or something similar. So, he'll try to keep it professional to a fault, saying as little as possible and focusing solely on whatever is necessary to meet whatever academic or financial need brought you two together. Idle chitchat, needless to say, would be virtually impossible with him under these circumstances.

I know this because I've done this.

How pleasant would that interaction be? How much would you look forward to going to work with someone that was consistently cold and professional to a fault? Now, imagine if Scott wasn't the only one - what if, say, a third of the guys you meet in this field are like that with you? Or half? Or more? Could you imagine working in a world where at least one out of every three people you meet treat you like a particularly temperamental computer terminal, deathly afraid to say the wrong thing to you lest you 'crash'? Bear in mind that these guys won't just be coldly professional, either - a lot of them will be damned annoyed and angry with themselves for not being able to relax around you. What are their faces looking like? Are they wearing their anger and self-hostility on their sleeves?

You bet your ass they are.

Of course, this behavior doesn't just get directed in your direction - you also notice that it's being presented to every other young woman that walks in. Here's the kicker, though - if you're one of the women in those rooms full of men treating you and your fellow women with thinly-disguised contempt, you're not thinking, "Wow, these guys really don't know how to handle themselves around a young woman and really hate themselves for it." You're thinking, "Wow, these guys really hate women."

Which, to be fair, they kind of do.

At this point, if you're a young woman, you have a couple of choices. If you really like the field, you might stay in, shrug, and try to understand some of these guys. Who knows - maybe as you get older and less physically intimidating, some of these guys might mellow out a bit. If you don't - and, in your formative years, you probably don't like much of anything near enough to really suffer for it - you're going to find something else to pursue, like teaching or nursing - something that doesn't leave you surrounded by people that treat you with cold disdain and contempt.

Not surprisingly, most women will pick the latter option.

Now let's fast-forward a few decades. If most women pick the latter option, there will be fewer women in that field where a high proportion of cold, distant, somewhat hateful guys are located. This will cause a lot of somewhat better adjusted young men (well, at least around women), to reconsider their career choices as well - do they want to be surrounded by a bunch of depressed, anxious guys that treat women with thinly-veiled contempt, or would they rather do just about anything else? And lo, the business school receives another application. Meanwhile, the proportion of near-violently shy males to halfway normal, socially adjusted people in our hypothetical field adjusts just a little further to the shy.

Congratulations - we've just created a negative feedback loop. Moloch would be proud.

So, the question becomes, what do we do about this? It's obviously not in anyone's best interests - not the women, not the halfway normal men, especially not even in the interests of shy male geeks - to let this continue. If we do, several of our STEM fields, the vast majority of IT, and so on will be dominated by a bunch of shy, maladjusted men that can barely handle themselves, much less each other. If you think a lot of positive collaboration is going on in that environment, you're nuts. Do you think a room full of insecure people are going to reliably share credit with each other? Do you think a room full of insecure people are going to make bold, daring decisions with the possibility that they might be wrong? More importantly, do you think a room full of insecure people are going to talk themselves out of being insecure, or are they just going to share various anecdotes that reinforces everyone's insecurities?

And lo, Men's Rights Activists were borne.

Now that we've identified the problem, how do we fix it? It's not going to be easy - for whatever reason, our current society is effectively designed to sort everyone into narrow microcultures that get increasingly self-selecting and self-serving. Heck, the bulk of our modern information infrastructure is built by a particularly idiosyncratic and notoriously insular microculture. So how do we get past it?

One possible solution that really doesn't seem to be working is ostracizing people whenever they say something we don't like. Whether you're talking about programming conferences or tech CEOs, branding people with Scarlet Letters of Shame that guarantee the denial of future employment forever and ever is just going to guarantee that everyone else is going to get increasingly cliquish and defensive. Sure, those insensitive Python programmers lost their jobs because of a bad joke, but do you think tech companies are more or less likely to bring someone in from the outside that might take offense to their "in jokes" after that? With Brendan Eich out, are we more or less likely to have homogeneous political views at the workplace, and what will that mean? If you're a startup led by politically conservative people - like, say, Paypal - are you going to take a risk, bring someone in from the other side of the spectrum, and hope they don't make a big stink on the TV when they disagree with you? Or are you going to raise the drawbridge and put people through various loosely scheduled social activities to check for "cultural fit"?

Oh. Right.

Besides, having one microculture point fingers at other microcultures and start chest-thumping about how they're soooo much smarter and soooo much more enlightened than the other microcultures won't break any barriers - on the contrary, that sort of behavior is explicitly designed to reinforce them. If we actually want to avoid STEM and their related fields from becoming yet another self-referential microculture dominated by a very self-selective group of people with very particular personalities, we need to encourage people to get together and talk to one another. This means accepting that some people have interests that we don't necessarily share and that's okay. This means accepting that some people laugh about things that other people don't find funny and that's okay[1]. In a lot of ways, it sometimes feel like our grandparents (or parents, or great-grandparents, depending on how old you are) understood this better than we do now, if only because they had to work together with people from different backgrounds to get through the Great Depression and World War 2.

The good news is all hope is not lost. There are still quite a few women in STEM, and still quite a few men who aren't interested in letting STEM settle into a morass of anxious depression and sexually frustrated rage. Wired recently had an article about the JoCo Cruise Crazy that I can't recommend highly enough, which detailed the outgoing-almost-to-a-fault attitude of the Sea Monkeys, along with the awkward behavior of some of the guys. Amazingly, everyone survived and had a good time and nobody had to walk the plank. Everybody more or less met each other halfway, learned where everyone else's boundaries were, found a thing or two in common to bond over, and made it work. We need a lot more of that right now, in STEM and in life.

1. That AFV is still a thing in the age of YouTube is absolutely mesmerizing to me, but I'm not going to laugh at anyone that watches it.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Thoughts on Windows Scripting

For the past few weeks, I haven't been posting much because my attention has been diverted elsewhere. The picture above is a little sneak preview of what I've been working on, which is related to my previous efforts in solving Project Euler problems using Windows batch script - it's almost ready for me to share with the world (though, if you look around, you'll find it since I have it hosted publicly in the cloud), though there are a few i's I'd like to dot and a few t's I'd like to cross before I really promote this thing.

And what a thing it is! But I'm not ready to talk about it just yet.

Instead, I would like to talk about the general topic of Windows scripting. For years, my attention has been focused on small business IT - in that environment, there's a limited amount of automation available to the IT professional, at least as long as the customer is hosting their own equipment. Though a clever IT shop can probably find some way to leverage tools like Puppet and Chef to make on-site deployments more consistent, it's a little difficult to avoid treating servers like pets instead of cattle when each "farm" only has one or two "cattle" and the "farmers" don't like to share (to stretch the already overwrought metaphor a bit). In that environment, the limited nature of old-school Windows batch scripting - a language that traces its lineage all the way back to the early days of DOS - wasn't immediately apparent. Oh sure, there was the occasional heated discussion over whether it was more intuitive to suffer through RUNDLL32's myriad flags and byzantine syntax, or through VBScript's ridiculously verbose but at least sort of intelligible at a glance AddPrinterConnection method, or to just give up entirely and use KiXtart, but the results usually didn't matter all that much in the end. By the time you were done writing a script, testing it, and rolling it out, most scripts just weren't worth the time. So, every client would have a script or two with some "NET USE" commands, some clients with more dedicated IT professionals might have a slightly more complicated batch script with a control structure in it (I was notorious about this, though not near as notorious as some of my coworkers) and that was pretty much it. In our context, PowerShell was observed, tried out, and then promptly ignored as much as humanly possible - it took more typing than CMD, we couldn't count on it being on every machine we wanted to automate (it wasn't installed by default until Windows 7/Server 2008 R2), and it didn't do anything we weren't already doing for ourselves.

These days, though, I'm dealing with a somewhat larger environment. It's still not large enough to really see the benefits of PowerShell firsthand - we're talking about less than ten servers, virtual or otherwise, and approximately 250 PCs, more or less - but it's big enough where I can certainly imagine what a larger environment would look like and some of the challenges I would have keeping things halfway consistent and manageable. That's part of the reason I've been doing the Project Euler exercises in the first place - at some point, my scripting chops will need to be ready for a larger environment. While working on my exercises, though, I've run into some pretty serious difficulties - difficulties I've been able to overcome, mind you, but ones that definitely show that CMD is, shall we say, a product of its time:

  • CMD can't math. No, seriously, ask it what 2/3 is:

    set /a _test=2/3

    That's right - no floating point support. Decimals aren't a thing in CMD, and neither is rounding.  
  • CMD's roots as a scripting language cutting its teeth in the heyday of BASIC really show. Functions are kind of a thing, if you're sort of creative about it, but it's pretty clear that they were bolted on well after the fact. There's exactly one loop structure - if you want a do/while loop, you're going to have to get creative with GOTOs and labels. 
  • Delayed Expansion makes a lot of things possible - without it, I don't think I could functionally use a FOR loop or an IF statement in my Project Euler code. That doesn't mean it makes things easy, though. Divining the pattern between "the interpreter will interpret this as it's happening by default" and "the interpreter will just read ahead and only parrot back what the results will be after that loop is done" (General rule - if what you're doing happens between parenthesis, you probably want Delayed Expansion if you're used to any other programming language ever) is a royal pain.
  • You know what's awesome? When you can do things like this:

    set /a _test=2000000000^2

    And you get a result like this:
    Invalid number. Numbers are limited to 32-bits precision.

    But if you do something like this:

    set /a _test=2000000000*2

    You end up with this:

    Neat, huh? I agree, Microsoft - consistent error checking is for chumps.
  • Arrays? They don't exist. No, really - they don't. Except... if you're really creative... and abuse Delayed Expansion a bit... you can kind of fake them, as long as you're only querying their values in a FOR loop. See, if you try to trick the interpreter out by doing something like:

    SET _test0=Foo
    SET _zero=0


    You'll just get 0 because it'll attempt to extract the value of _test (which doesn't exist), then the value of _zero (which is 0). However, if you do something like this:

    FOR /L %%G IN (0,1,0) DO (

    It'll actually work, resolve %%G first, then resolve everything between the exclamation points as one variable. Spooky, eh? If it helps, the rest of CMD's syntax is every bit this consistent.
  • I don't expect a scripting language to have a firm type casting system - quite the contrary, in fact. However, CMD's is particularly... interesting. For example, let's say you want to calculate the elapsed time between the start and end of a script. Easy enough:
SET _TimeStart=%time%
CALL RandomScript.bat
SET _TimeEnd=%time%

FOR /F "tokens=1-4 delims=:." %%G IN ("%_TimeStart%") DO (
SET _HStart=%%G
SET _MStart=%%H
SET _SStart=%%I
SET _mSStart=%%J

FOR /F "tokens=1-4 delims=:." %% K IN ("%_TimeEnd%") DO (
SET _HEnd=%%K
SET _MEnd=%%L
SET _SEnd=%%M
SET _mSEnd=%%N

SET /A _mSElapsed=_mSEnd-_mSStart

:: Insert conditional to handle occasions where _mSElapsed is negative because the script took longer than a second or it started near the end of a second.

SET /A _SElapsed=_SEnd-_SStart
:: Insert conditional... etc.

And so on. Well, if you tried to write the script like that and ran it, two things would happen:
  1. Your failure to use Delayed Expansion when you called the %time% variable would result in the script always returning 0 since it would only query the value of %time% once - at the end of the script.
  2. If any the time blocks (HH:MM:SS.MS) have a zero at the start (say, 12:09:14.54 - _MWhatever would equal "09"), CMD won't interpret the result as "9" when you ask it to do some math against it. Oh no. Instead... well, I'll just let Microsoft explain this one:

    Numeric values are decimal numbers, unless prefixed by 0x for hexadecimal numbers, and 0 for octal numbers. So 0x12 is the same as 18 is the same as 022. Please note that the octal notation can be confusing: 08 and 09 are not valid numbers because 8 and 9 are not valid octal digits.

    That's right - "09" suddenly becomes 9-base-8, which seriously doesn't exist and will lead to some fascinating results.
So, you end up writing a bunch of code like this to convince SET to, no, seriously, save the damned number as a base-10 number, please and thank you very much:

IF %_HEnd:~0,1% EQU 0 (
SET _HEnd=%_HEnd:~1,1%
IF %_MEnd:~0,1% EQU 0 (
SET _MEnd=%_MEnd:~1,1%
IF %_SEnd:~0,1% EQU 0 (
SET _SEnd=%_SEnd:~1,1%
IF %_mSEnd:~0,1% EQU 0 (
SET _mSEnd=%_mSEnd:~1,1%
IF %_HStart:~0,1% EQU 0 (
SET _HStart=%_HStart:~1,1%
IF %_MStart:~0,1% EQU 0 (
SET _MStart=%_MStart:~1,1%
IF %_SStart:~0,1% EQU 0 (
SET _SStart=%_SStart:~1,1%
IF %_mSStart:~0,1% EQU 0 (
SET _mSStart=%_mSStart:~1,1%

For those playing along at home, that's just a series of statements that say, if the first character in the variable is a zero, throw that zero in the trash can and just keep the last number. 

Yeah. Now imagine having a thousand or so servers to manage and putting up with this. Given the utter lack of responsible error handling and the head-scratching syntax parsing, it's only a matter of time before somebody writes a script that they think checks a system's MAC address in a text file somewhere and uses netsh to assign an IP address and computer name based on that MAC address, only to have it assign the same IP address to every system or just refuse to properly parse a MAC address' delimiters in some weird corner case that magically converts it into octal or hexadecimal or base 23.7 or Roman numerals or the numbering system of Mayan moisture evaporators or something. Compared to this, bash and its ilk must have seemed like a revelation to anyone even slightly seriously interested in server automation. This doesn't even get into how there are several corners of Windows that are virtually impossible to get to via CMD unless you feel like directly editing registry values with REG (given everything covered so far, what could possibly go wrong?) or you feel like stepping into the object-oriented nightmare that is VBScript[1]. Something needed to be done. Windows needed a proper, honest-to-goodness scripting language that acknowledged some progress in interpreted languages had been made since the first term of the Reagan administration.

I'm glad Microsoft took care of that, even if it's still something that remains mostly tangential to my day-to-day administration experience. For now.

1. That five line example right there in CMD turns into:

NET USE H: \\myserver\users /PERSISTENT:NO

And my former coworkers wondered why I preferred CMD, even with its flaws.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Man vs. Android - The Road To Victory

It took way too long to see this...
I have something of a love-hate relationship with Android. On the one hand, as backed up by Coyote Blog, among several others, there's really no way to describe the difference between the Google ecosystem and any of the other ones. Since I work in IT, having a small, portable computing Swiss Army knife is really useful, and, for various security reasons, you can't get anything like Wifi Analyzer or Terminal for iPhone or Windows Mobile. Which is really a shame, because, like clockwork, after I keep whatever Android phone I have for about a year or so, it slowly but inexorably does its best imitation of a long-suffering Windows 98 install. It runs slower. It randomly reboots. It freezes.

I kid you not - it even bluescreens.

My current phone, a Motorola RAZR HD (XT956, for those keeping track at home), started acting up about a year or so ago after an OTA update ("Over-The-Air" - one provided by my cell phone provider). Ever since then, it just hasn't been the same. For a while, I was willing to just sort of deal with it - sure, it was slower after the update, and yeah, it wasn't as stable as before, but maybe the next update will clean some of that up. Sure enough, about a month or so later, another update came to my phone and I tried to install it.

Tried and failed.

Okay - no problem. Maybe I can install my own updates - maybe, if I'm feeling really bold, I can install my own version of Android, one without all the random apps that Verizon likes to toss on to all of their phones. Unfortunately, the first update I installed locked the door (though only temporarily, it seems) on unlocking the bootloader[1]. Once I learned that, I decided to hold off, suffer a little longer, and see if things improved over time. Perhaps someone would find a way to unlock my phone, perhaps some of the applications on the phone would get updated, or perhaps my upgrade period would come around and I'd decide whether I'd rather have a flexible but unstable Swiss Army knife or instead opt for something more stable but a little less usable in certain circumstances.

Time passed. Things did not improve.

After suffering for a while, I decided that I was close enough to my upgrade window to roll the dice - if I failed and ended up with a brick, I could always go to the store over the weekend and do a little phone shopping. So, I decided it was time to have some fun. I had recently read about Safestrap and thought that it might let me in far enough to get off of Jelly Bean and install KitKat - an upgrade, by the way, that would've been available to my phone if my phone could install updates. To install Safestrap, I needed root access - no problem, plenty of walkthroughs for that. The first step was to grab the DROID RAZR HD Utility, a handy pile of scripts and files that included a factory firmware for my phone.

Perfect - the first step was to literally wipe and reload my phone. I was pretty happy at this point.

Eventually, I successfully installed root, gained the access I thought I wanted, installed Safestrap, and... learned that Safestrap will only let you install ROMs based on the stock version of the kernel you have installed. That was a problem for me since one of the problems I wanted to solve was the lousy memory management in my phone's kernel - despite having 1 GB of RAM and consistently having over 100 MB free, it would keep trying to page from the much slower flash memory. Since one of the big benefits of KitKat was "Project Svelte", Google's focus on a leaner, meaner kernel, I was really interested in getting off of the one my phone was equipped with somehow.

After growing disillusioned with Safestrap, I began to explore my recently wiped phone and discovered that it was requesting an OTA update. Just for kicks, I went ahead and tried to install it.

It was successful.

Ah! Now we're getting somewhere. Do this a few more times and I'll finally be on KitKat yet! I installed the next one... then the next one... and then there it was, all 400+ MB of it - KitKat. The end goal was in sight.

The install failed.

I tried it again. It failed again.

Now I was desperate. I was this close to pulling this off. It was past midnight, I was tired, I was close... I made a desperate and nearly catastrophic move.

While poking around through some of the utilities that I was using to gain root, I noticed that the DROID RAZR HD Utility just had a bunch of Android system files lying around and a shell script that called some Motorola programming utilities to push the files on to the phone. "Well," I thought to myself, "what if I just download the KitKat update, replace the files in the HD Utility, and call it a night? Maybe I can force the phone to take the update!"

Oh, it took it, all right. It took it good and hard, which is why I'm finishing this blog post at 3:15 in the morning.

It turns out that the script only updates some of the files, not all of them, which is a problem since many of the files in the update deal with radio updates, changing the file structure of the phone itself, and a whole host of other changes that are far beyond the scope of a tool that's designed to get a RAZR HD back to where it was when it was first removed from the box. Consequently, when I attempted to boot off of my "updated" system, I was attempting to boot off of what was, at best, a half updated system.

The phone really didn't like that.

Thankfully, after a considerable amount of patience, holding down the power button and the down volume button for 30 seconds, then quickly flicking the volume finger to the up volume button over and over and over again, some trial and error, and an absolutely fantastic tutorial (Mr. Bluecoat, whoever you are, thank you!), I was able to get my phone back up and running with KitKat installed.

Chocolate-flavored kernel victory is mine!


1. On a computer - and, these days, modern smartphones qualify - getting from "powered off" to "usable" is a two (okay, three if you want to get really technical) stage process. In the first stage, the computer looks for what's called a bootloader, a small piece of software. The bootloader then tells the computer where to find the rest of the operating system (in Android parlance, a ROM) - this is where everything else is located. On most PCs, the bootloader is very small and limited, though that's changing somewhat; on cell phones, however, the bootloader is considerably more involved and is usually baked into the operating system directly. This is done to keep cell phones more or less secure - when a bootloader gets compromised, it can literally tell the computer which operating system to load and in what way so that whatever compromised the bootloader becomes virtually undetected. On a home computer, this is incredibly annoying; on a cell phone, it can lead to rather expensive phone bills that customers refuse to pay. Consequently, cell phone providers are rather insistent that phone bootloaders remain inviolate, save for the occasional well-heeled developer willing to spring for a developer edition phone. Even then, Android is the only platform to openly offer such an edition; Apple and Microsoft are considerably more protective of their platforms.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Let's Talk About Sex - And Rape

couple holding hands Myrtle beach sunrise by David Cooper is licensed CC BY 2.0.
After reading Reason's "Liberal Feminists, Stop Smearing Critics as Rape Apologists" on Steve Horwitz's wall, my thoughts began to turn toward my oldest son, who is rapidly approaching an age where the topic of sex and how he should react to it is going to become increasingly germane. Since he doesn't live with me, my options are fairly limited and will necessarily involve a bit of shock value - I can't just repeat the same message over and over again and hope it sticks, so I'll have to resort to somewhat more creative means. In addition, he lives in a very conservative, rural, isolated part of Nevada, one which honestly isn't quite as isolated as people think (thanks to the internet, no place really is anymore), but which is still a bit more socially and culturally homogeneous than most anywhere he might move to when he grows up. With that in mind, I've been pondering what key lessons I want to get across in a hurry that, preferably, won't fly completely in the face of what his mother is telling him (don't worry - we're not that far off and we communicate with each other reasonably well). At the same time, I've also been paying attention to the changing culture and discussion about sex and relationships, especially in colleges, with some interest, in no small part so I can fill him in on the background of the conversation and help him do more than just guess the culture's password on the subject.

One of the key pieces of advice that I've tentatively decided to give him is that, until he graduates from high school and starts dating adult women, he shouldn't have sex. The reason for this isn't moral or philosophical, at least on my end - my reasoning is actually considerably more pragmatic. Until he dates adult women, he won't be dating women that are capable of making responsible choices with their reproductive abilities - consequently, the only forms of birth control available to him will be the ones that science gives him direct and total control over. Thus far, that's a pretty short list with a high error rate if you go for the one option that actually allows insertion of a penis into a vagina. This doesn't absolve him of responsibility for his reproductive ability once he gets older and dates adult women, but the chances that a sexually active adult woman would decline to use birth control are considerably less - I suspect by at least an order of magnitude, but I don't have the numbers to back me up - than the chances that a sexually active teenage girl would be denied birth control by her parents but would still remain sexually active anyway.

Thinking about that piece of advice, however, got me thinking - the conversation about controlling reproductive decisions, due to the current state of science on the subject (which, thankfully, is improving), leaves the vast majority of the choices - and thus the responsibility - on the woman's side, at least once you choose to be sexually active. Similarly, most of the advice about preventing rape similarly focuses on what women can do to prevent being raped, which at least implies that women have choices, and thus responsibilities, when dealing with rape. This is, not to put too fine of a point on it, a... sub-optimal message. Consequently, when you stop and think about it, it makes some sense that feminists would rather shift the message from the choices that women can make to avoid getting raped and instead focus on the choices that men can make to avoid raping anyone.

Fair enough. Let's talk about those choices, then.

As any self-respecting Christian will tell you, the easiest way not to rape anyone is to simply not have sex with anyone. Of course, as most people these days will tell you, "simply not have sex with anyone" is about as useful a solution as suggesting starvation as a food poisoning prevention plan and about as effective. At the same time, the people pointing out that there's a noticeable correlation between alcohol consumption and rape also have a point - it's not just drunk (or otherwise incapacitated) women getting raped, it's also sometimes drunk men who inhibitions have been removed that are doing the raping. Consequently, most of the advice I'd recommend for men is the same advice that people give women:

  • Don't lose control. As you get increasingly intoxicated, stoned, or whatever, your ability to control your own behavior decreases. Alcohol, for example, lowers your inhibitions and increases your tolerance for risk. That might sound wonderful if you're a wallflower that's ordinarily afraid to talk to people, but it also means that you might interpret actual resistance and rejection as "hard to get" behavior.
  • Control what you consume. Keep an eye on what you're being served and how your drinks are being prepared. Don't get pressured into drinking mass quantities of alcohol or anything else - this means no more than a couple of shots per hour tops. Don't let friends tell you that you need to "catch up" - you don't. If friends are mixing your drinks, pay attention to what they're putting in them and how much and control future consumption accordingly.
  • Designate a sober(-ish) wingman. A good wingman will keep you from getting sloppy. He won't let you get sloppy drunk. He won't let you make a fool of yourself. He won't let you drive home if you're in no position to. He won't let you get in trouble by trying to take advantage of a half-comatose sloppy drunk woman. He's got your back. To do this, he makes sure he's in a position to watch his own by controlling what he consumes and maintaining control. Note that, even if you and your wingman are avid "pick-up artists" and are looking to "score", it's in both of your best interests to make sure that everything happens on the up and up - you can't watch each other's backs if one of you gets expelled or ends up in prison. Oh, and don't forget to return the favor from time to time.
  • Know who you're having sex with. It's true that date rape happens more often than stranger rape, but that really shouldn't be surprising - it's a lot easier to talk yourself into interpreting a "no" as a "yes with objections to overcome" when you're comfortable around the person, especially when the person knows you well enough to care about your feelings and soft-pedal that "no". Similarly, salespeople sell more to people they know than people they don't. Even so, that same familiarity also gives you both a better understanding of the non-verbal cues you're each giving off, which should - assuming you remember to care about her feelings at all - make it easier to tell whether she's really interested in what you're interested in or not. Oh, about that better understanding of non-verbal cues? Yeah, it also applies in the bedroom, too. Familiarity can be a good thing!
  • Sex is like humor - don't push it. Ever try to crack a joke, only to have nobody laugh, and then try to tell the joke again or explain the punchline? Does it ever help? Well, sex is like that, too, only with potentially legally binding consequences. If her body is saying "no", even if her mouth hasn't bothered to say it yet, listen. She's probably trying to spare your feelings and is hoping you'll take the hint. Can't tell if her body is saying "no"? Well, that probably means you've lost control of yourself, in which case you need to start assuming a "no" ASAP and getting out of wherever you are, stat. Or, you're having sex with a dead carp. Either way, stop what you're doing - you're better than this. And where's that useless wingman of yours, anyway? He's supposed to keep you from doing stuff like this...
Now, is the above a comprehensive list? Not at all, but I think it's a good start. Granted, it's not going to stop the 4% that are actual, honest-to-Jehovah rapists - the kind of people that just don't give a single flying fornication for the feelings of others and behave accordingly - but it, or other lists like it, just might help a guy or two who doesn't want to rape from inadvertently raping someone. At the very least, it should help reduce the prevalence of awkward sex in this country, which, anecdotally speaking, is as endemic as ever. 

Also, to be perfectly clear, I'd rather have this conversation with everyone now than explain to my son in a few years why he has to fill out a poorly proofread quiz before registering for class, why his rights to due process don't exist at college, and why people who should really know better think he should be in a state of perpetual fear regarding sex and consent. At some point, we have to take this issue back from people with an ax to grind - on both sides - before we and our sons become whetting stones ourselves. 

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Libertarians and Veterans Day

Sunflower Field in Kansas by Ted Duboise is licensed CC BY-SA 2.0
Libertarians have historically had a conflicted view, if not an openly contrarian one, regarding militaries in general and the US military in particular. There are a variety of reasons for this, some philosophical and some historical. From a historical standpoint, the Libertarian movement was birthed in the United States and is consequently focused on its own backyard - since Libertarians advocate non-interference in other countries' affairs, it makes sense for them to focus near-exclusively on the actions of their own country. Also, since the modern Libertarian movement was established in the late 1960's, its views on the foreign policy and the government of the United States are very consistent with many of the concerns people shared back then. Between the poor behavior of American troops in Vietnam, the discovery of Operation Northwoods and Project MKUltra, the Tuskegee syphilis experiments, and J. Edgar Hoover's notorious conflicts with the Civil Rights movement, it's not surprising in the least that leaders of the Libertarian movement of the time began to openly sympathize with the Soviet Union, a decision that many of us might understand under the circumstances but find regrettable today. Meanwhile, from a philosophical standpoint, Libertarians are naturally allergic to "aggression", which, in Libertarian circles, roughly translates into, "making someone do something they wouldn't otherwise do through threats or use of violence". Since a military's sole existence revolves around perfecting the use of violence to serve its ends, it's no surprise that Libertarians are more than a little nervous about the existence of a military, to say nothing of its use. Following the Civil War, for example, Lysander Spooner, widely considered the grandfather of the modern Libertarian movement, had this to say about Abraham Lincoln and the war effort:
Abraham Lincoln did not cause the death of so many people from a mere love of slaughter, but only to bring about a state of consent that could not otherwise be secured for the government he had undertaken to administer. When a government has once reduced its people to a state of consent – that is, of submission to its will – it can put them to a much better use than to kill them; for it can then plunder them, enslave them, and use them as tools for plundering and enslaving others. And these are the uses to which most governments, our own among the rest, do put their people, whenever they have once reduced them to a state of consent to its will. 
The idea that, although government should rest on the consent of the governed, yet so much force may nevertheless be employed as may be necessary to produce that consent, embodies everything that was ever exhibited in the shape of usurpation and tyranny in any country on earth. It has cost this country a million of lives, and the loss of everything that resembles political liberty. It can have no place except as a part of a system of absolute military despotism. And it means nothing else either in this country, or in any other. There is no half-way house between a government depending wholly on voluntary support, and one depending wholly on military compulsion.
This tradition of suspicion, if not outright hatred and hostility, of the government and the power it wields through the military continues today. Joseph T. Salerno from the Ludwig von Mises Institute demonstrates the tone:
All governments past and present, regardless of their formal organization, involve the rule of the many by the few. In other words, all governments are fundamentally oligarchic. The reasons are twofold. First, governments are nonproductive organizations and can only subsist by extracting goods and services from the productive class in their territorial domain. Thus the ruling class must remain a minority of the population if they are to continually extract resources from their subjects or citizens. Genuine "majority rule" on a permanent basis is impossible because it would result in an economic collapse as the tribute or taxes expropriated by the more numerous rulers deprived the minority engaged in peaceful productive activities of the resources needed to sustain and reproduce itself. Majority rule would therefore eventually bring about a violent conflict between factions of the previous ruling class, which would terminate with one group establishing oligarchic rule and economically exploiting its former confederates. 
The second factor that renders oligarchic rule practically inevitable is related to the law of comparative advantage. The tendency toward division of labor and specialization based on the unequal endowment of skills pervades all sectors of human endeavor. Just as a small segment of the population is adept at playing professional football or dispensing financial advice, so a tiny fraction of the population tends to excel at wielding coercive power. As one writer summed up this Iron Law of Oligarchy: "[In] all human groups at all times there are the few who rule and the many who are ruled." 
 Thus, a permanent state of war or preparedness for war is optimal from the point of view of the ruling elite, especially one that controls a large and powerful state. Take the current US government as an example. It rules over a relatively populous, wealthy, and progressive economy from which it can extract ever larger boodles of loot without destroying the productive class. Nevertheless, it is subject to the real and abiding fear that sooner or later productive Americans will come to recognize the continually increasing burden of taxation, inflation, and regulation for what it really is — naked exploitation. So the US government, the most powerful mega-state in history, is driven by the very logic of the political relationship to pursue a policy of permanent war.
The article continues in that general vein - read the whole thing if you're so inclined. Personally, I think it is a grand example of how some in the modern Libertarian movement learned a little too much from Communism, including the use of emotionally charged, polarizing hyperbole, and the embrace of a reductionist Marxist-style dialectic in which all of human and social history can be viewed through an idealized Libertarian political-philosophical lens and critiqued accordingly. However, that sort of thing is coin of the realm at the Ludwig von Mises Institute, among other venues - that's not what compelled me to write today.

No, what got my attention was "What Makes Someone a Hero", by Bleeding Heart Libertarian's Jason Brennan (quoting excerpts to get to the point - please read the whole thing):
Today is Veteran’s Day, yet another day when Americans are supposed to thank soldiers for their service. But are (some, most, all?) soldiers heroes? This depends on the facts. A hero–as we use the term in typical English discourse–is someone who voluntarily engages in rightful service to others, even though that service puts him at risk of harm, and who does so out of benevolence rather than a desire for personal gain. So, to assess whether soldiers are heroes, we’d need to know 1) what their motives are, 2) the degree to which they were at risk of harm, 3) whether they were rightfully serving others. The qualifier “rightfully” is important. After all, Nazi soldiers and Gulag guards served others, but they don’t serve the right ends, and they didn’t conduct their service in a morally permissible way. Superman is a hero not simply because he puts himself at risk on behalf of others, but also because he serves the right ends the right way. 
Whether you think the typical American soldier is a hero or not will depend a great deal on your view of American foreign policy. Some American wars are beyond the pale; no reasonable person could believe them to be justified: e.g., the various wars fought to exterminate and uproot Native Americans, the Mexican-American War, and the Spanish-American war. What about other wars and military incursions? I’ll lay my cards on the table and say that I think hardly any US military actions have been justified according to the correct theory of just war.
From a very narrow Libertarian-Anarchic philosophical sense, a sense that Brennan is adopting, there's no such thing as a "just war", at least in any view of "war" as we would recognize it, as the book Brennan links to at the end of the excerpt above discusses. Since, according to a particular vein of Libertarian philosophy, there's no such thing as groups - only individuals choosing to act individually or collectively as they deem fit - the only "just war" is one in which you defend yourself from someone who is quite literally walking up to you, gun in hand, and getting ready to point the trigger (I exaggerate slightly, but you get the idea). Anything short of immediate individual self-defense requires such a high moral and philosophical aversion to murder to overcome that it's virtually impossible to do so, especially at the level of an organized nation-state. Since it's also assumed that governments and states are openly antagonistic against individuals (see the LvMI post linked above), even an invasion by a foreign power wouldn't meet the necessary qualifications of a "just war" unless each individual was personally confronted violently by an armed soldier from the invading army - until that happened, each individual would be morally required to assume that the invading army was an enemy of the state, not of the individual, and should thus be morally compelled to assist the invasion to help overthrow the state, at least unless or until the invading army attempts to set up another state or government to replace it.

Though this certainly seems a principled approach to war, it's actually just the philosophical and deontological codification of the Worst Argument in the World:
"X is in a category whose archetypal member gives us a certain emotional reaction. Therefore, we should apply that emotional reaction to X, even though it is not a central category member."
To apply this to our current topic of discussion, X is the military, or the state, or government in general, and the archetypal member it belongs to is "murder". Let's sketch this out:
  1. Murder is wrong.
  2. Murder is defined as the killing of a human being by another human being, usually intentionally though not exclusively.
  3. In war, humans kill other human beings.
  4. Therefore, wars are conducted through murder, which is wrong.
  5. By the transitive property, war is therefore as wrong as murder, times the number of casualties.
Let's continue on this train a little farther...
  1. Wars are conducted by opposing militaries, which are trained to kill on command.
  2. Since the primary goal of a military is to successfully kill others in war, the primary goal of a military is therefore murder, which is wrong
  3. By the transitive property, militaries are therefore wrong.
  4. Due to #3, anyone who chooses to participate in a military, either by volunteering or by refusing to conscientiously object to participating if conscripted, is therefore a murderer
  5. Therefore, Veterans Day is a holiday explicitly designed to celebrate murderers.
If you ask most people about this line of reasoning, they'll instinctively flinch away from it, though they won't be able to tell you why. If you ask deontologically driven Libertarians why that's the case, they'll tell you it's because of cognitive dissonance, or just a general unwillingness to face the truth - the rules for moral human behavior are plain as day, after all, and here are people violating them in the worst way possible. I have a different hypothesis, however - emotions are the mind's way of communicating to us what our words cannot, and, for most people, even if they can't quite articulate it, this line of reasoning just feels wrong.

It should.

What most people are intuitively sensing is the same thing most people intuitively sense when faced with something like PIV is always rape, ok? - the feeling that, yes, there might be some logic to it, but there's so much wrong with it that it's not even wrong anymore, even if they don't possess the intellectual or rhetorical chops to meaningfully identify where the point of ultimate confusion lies. In the case of the deontological Libertarian critique of Veteran's Day, and militaries in general, the ultimate point of confusion lies in the fact that we have separate words for "soldier" and "murderer", separate words for "murder" and "kill", "war" and "mass murder", and so on. That we have separate words or phrases for these concepts suggests that there are distinctions between each of them, much as there are distinctions between "ice" and "water vapor" even though they are both technically "water". Just as the "PIV is always rape" article broadens the definition of rape so broadly that it's impossible to conclude that any sex involving a penis can't be rape, assuming you accept that author's definition of "rape", many Libertarians make the mistake of broadening the definition or "murder" so broadly that self-defense almost becomes murder itself[1].

In the case of soldiers, militaries, and war, versus murderers, gangs, and the like, the distinction ultimately comes down to who's ordering the killing and why. Wars, at least in principle, are supposed to ultimately benefit someone other than the people doing the killing, especially in the long term. Militaries obey the commands of their government - which, in principle, are supposed to derive their consent by the governed. Soldiers obey the commands of their military. This is why we view military service as a form of service worth honoring - for a limited but predefined period of time, in principle, an individual chooses to act in the interests of their society. By contrast, a murder kills merely to satisfy their own desires.

Now, I'll be the first to admit that there's a wide gulf between principle and reality. Soldiers, for example, are not just morally required to refuse to follow an unjust order - in many militaries, they're now legally required to refuse one as well, which is a consequence of some of the worst excesses of the two World Wars. Militaries, meanwhile, don't always obey their governments - oftentimes, they become the government, especially in places with otherwise weak public institutions. As for the benefits of war, they rarely accrue to everyone in the society that wages it, and they certainly never accrue evenly; however, it wasn't just arms suppliers that benefited from the Allies' successful prosecution of World War II, and it was a lot easier and considerably less bloody for America to overcome Jim Crow than it was to overcome slavery. Incidentally, even within the Bleeding Heart Libertarians community, there are some who see the glimmer of a difference.

Of course, that some wars have had some positive benefits for large groups of people shouldn't be used to excuse all wars, or all militaries, or all soldiers, or even all American soldiers. Some American soldiers behave badly. Some American military leaders give and follow morally reprehensible orders. Some American Presidents are power-hungry demagogues. However, it's important for all of us, as Libertarians or as Americans, to remember that, unlike a common murderer, a military, the soldiers that constitute it, and the government it serves are reflections of ourselves. They reflect our ambitions, our fears, our desires, and our needs. If our ambitions are violent, our government and its military will be at least as violent. If we are fearful and defensive, our government and its military will behave at least as defensively. If we prioritize our desires and needs over the desires and needs of our neighbors, so will our government and its military. Even so, despite our imperfect natures, there are those among us who voluntarily choose to grant us the power to control whether they live or die and whether they kill or demonstrate compassion, either by explicitly volunteering into our military, or implicitly by accepting its summons when conscripted, even though they know that the people they are granting control of their lives to aren't infallible or incorruptible. That's a bold choice, one that the rest of us should treat respectfully while we decide whether we should be allowed to have that sort of power over another human being to begin with.

With that respect in mind, while remaining skeptical of the institutions that we grant these powers to, and while remaining skeptical of the nature of power itself, I publicly wish our veterans a Happy Veterans' Day. Here's to each of us doing what we can to ensure that those of you that make the choice to become a soldier are ultimately placed in positions to act heroically, preferably filling sandbags instead of corpses, even though we all know that we will, at times, fail in this.


1. As things currently stand, our cultural norms on self-defense have shifted broadly enough toward a consensus that human life is sacrosanct. So sacrosanct that, in many states, you have to be able to assess the threat level of the intruder before you kill them in self-defense, even if they've violently entered your home and even if they're taking your belongings, since no personal possession is worth a human life. Back

Friday, October 24, 2014

Voter Guide 2014 - Partisan Offices

Please Vote! by Coaly Bunny is licensed CC BY 2.0
All right - this is the end of the Voter Guide 2014 series. You can catch up on the previous installments here:
Now it's time to tackle the partisan offices. When it comes to higher profile races, it's easy to face information overload. The Reno News & Review just released their Election Guide and their list of endorsements, plus the Libertarian Party of Nevada released their Voter Guide at the beginning of this week, the Reno Gazette-Journal has their list of endorsements out as well... point being, there's no shortage of material out there. My personal attitude is to do my own research as best I can and to trust those whom I know have more time and knowledge on their hands if necessary. Truth be told, though, most of you probably already have your mind made up on bigger races, anyway, so I'm going to start with the top of the ticket and work my way down to the races that are theoretically a little harder to sort out.

To make life a little easier for those that are curious about which party line I'm voting, Republicans will be red, Democrats will be blue, Libertarians will be purple, and everyone else will be green.

Representative in Congress
District 2

My vote: Kristen Spees

Let's make something clear - it really doesn't matter who I pick here because Mark Amodei is going to run away with this. It's not going to be close. His opponents are woefully underfunded and inexperienced or just a little too socially conservative for my taste. That said, I looked at the issues that Kristen Spees is running on and... she's not half bad. Don't take this the wrong way - if I thought she had a realistic shot at winning, I'd probably vote differently because she is woefully inexperienced, both politically and practically. She has an impressive background that I sincerely believe will pay off in another ten to twenty years or so, but, for now, she's all ingredients and no cake - honestly, if she were elected into Congress this year, I'm worried she'd be devoured whole.

I will note that I harbor no ill will toward Rep. Amodei. His reaction toward Cliven Bundy and the Bunkerville standoff was uncharacteristically mature compared to the rest of Nevada's congressional delegation, neither demonizing nor lionizing either side, and his voting record, though not great, isn't horrible, at least by congressional standards. If I thought this race would be close - meaning, within 10% either way - I'd probably vote for him. However, I think it's important to communicate that, just because he's been good this long, it doesn't mean he has a blank check.

Keep an eye on Kristen, though - I have the sneaking suspicion we'll be hearing from her again in the future.


My vote: Brian Sandoval

This isn't so much a vote for Sandoval as it is a vote against the other guys. Robert Goodman lost to "NONE OF THESE CANDIDATES" in the primary, which gives you a pretty good idea how Democrats feel about him, and David VanDerBeek is, well... how do I put this... nuts.

I'm willing to vote for Kristen against Amodei because, in the highly unlikely event that she wins, I'm not going to regret my vote all that much. If I voted for any of the people running for Sandoval and they actually won, however... no. Just no. Not that it's going to happen, anyway, but still. No.

Lieutenant Governor

My vote: Mark Hutchison

Now things are starting to get a little interesting. The Libertarian Party of Nevada's position is to just vote for "NONE OF THESE CANDIDATES", which is arguably not the worst way to go. The Reno Gazette-Journal tersely gives the nod to Mark Hutchison. The Reno News & Review, not surprisingly, chose Lucy Flores. As the RGJ points out, though, none of these candidates are particularly impressive. Though Lucy has a rather inspiring personal story of overcoming adversity and eventually rising to the challenge, her positions and voting record would make more sense if she was running for Congress in, say, Alameda County, than they do as a candidate for statewide office in a consistently purplish state. As for Mark, his campaign has been consistently in a "Prevent Defense" - campaigning "not to lose" by saying as little as humanly possible - since day one. Given his uneven voting record, that's not hugely surprising, but still, it's a little disappointing that this is arguably the most substantial intellectual contribution he's made in this race:

Even so, I'm going to vote somewhat strategically on this one. Whoever wins this race will have a commanding position to run for Governor in 2016, assuming Sandoval runs for the Senate. Given that, demographically speaking, we can expect Nevada to have a strongly Democratic legislature, keeping a Republican in the Governor's Mansion will help ensure a small measure of political anarchy, if nothing else. Anything that keeps our state government in check is generally a good thing in my book.

Oh, what about Mike Little? Well, by IAP standards, he's relatively sane, but that's sort of like having a relatively fast car compared to a stock VW Bug, a Geo Metro, and a cinder block. The closest I could find to his issues are the ones he mentions in his biography, which are certainly illuminating. If you want to issue a binding protest vote (remember - in Nevada, "NONE OF THESE CANDIDATES" has the same effect as choosing not to vote at all; if it didn't, Sandoval would be in a two-way race with VanDerBeek), you could do worse, I suppose.

Secretary of State

My vote: Barbara Cegavske

The Libertarian Party Voter Guide recommends her. I talked to our State Chair about her and he confirmed that she was one of the candidates that the Party leadership was quite enthusiastic about supporting - in fact, in the Voter Guide, she's listed as one of the four "Featured Candidates". Considering how they interviewed people for months, talking directly on the phone with various candidates, while I sat behind a keyboard for a few hours, I'm going to go ahead and trust their judgment on this one.

If it helps, both the RGJ and the Reno News & Review endorsed Kate Marshall, which can't possibly be good.

State Treasurer

My vote: Kim Wallin

This is another one where I'm punting and trusting the LP Voter Guide. Both the RGJ and the RN&R endorsed her as well, which has to be good.

State Controller

My vote: Andrew Martin

He's the only CPA on the ballot, which is a pretty important qualification for the effective "Chief Financial Officer" of Nevada. Also, he has support in the LPNV's Voter Guide, the RGJ, and the RN&R, which, as we've established earlier, has to be good. Right?

(I actually know a couple of people that will be disappointed with this choice - they were pretty bullish on Knecht. I don't blame them; Knecht is a lot of fun to watch. However, I prefer my accountants boring and nondescript. Knecht would be fantastic in the State Legislature somewhere.)

Attorney General

My vote: Adam Laxalt

I'm not going to lie, I have some concerns about this one, but I had more than a few libertarians, both in and out of the LP, tell me that I really needed to give Adam a chance. When it comes to the higher profile races, unless you think you know something everyone else doesn't, you're sometimes better off outsourcing your choice to people you usually agree with and trust that have a little more time on their hands to dig into some of them, and all the people I trust are saying to vote for Adam Laxalt. So... I will trust them.

State Assembly District 25

My vote: Niklas Putnam

This, to be bluntly honest, is Pat Hickey's race to lose. However, even though I don't think Niklas really has a snowball's chance in Hades, I really like the issues he's running on. If he wins, and if he's true to his word, I think he would be a legitimately superior choice in the Assembly than Hickey.

I have no idea who he would caucus with, though. There's no way the GOP would let him anywhere near them if he unseated Hickey, and his agenda doesn't mesh with the Democrats in Nevada at all.

County Assessor

My vote: Michael Clark

In this case, I'm going for a "vote against the incumbent" strategy here. Also, this site is still a thing, and it looks like Washoe County's still trying desperately to fight it. A change in assessor might - just might - lead to a change in attitude.

One can hope.

County Clerk

My vote: Nancy Parent

I don't have strong opinions either way on this one, which is a pretty good sign the County Clerk, currently Nancy Parent, is doing her job. I'd try to apply the "vote against the incumbent" strategy here as well, except Bobee appears to be running a paper campaign - put another way, she doesn't have a campaign web site and didn't respond to the RGJ's Voter Guide questionnaire.

Public Administrator

My vote: Don Cavallo

Similar logic to the County Clerk race listed above. Chase didn't bother responding to the RGJ's questionnaire and the campaign web site listed by the Washoe Democratic Party leads to her hypnotherapy practice's web site. Meanwhile, Don's the current Public Administrator, so there's that.

County Recorder

My vote: Lawrence Burtness

Similar logic as the previous two races. Lawrence is the current County Recorder; meanwhile, Robert Townsend doesn't have a campaign site and didn't answer the RGJ questionnaire, nor does or did Don Cochran.

If you're not going to take your campaign seriously, don't expect me to.

County Treasurer

My vote: Tammi Davis

Not that I have a choice - she's the only person in the race.


All right - that's all of them. Every last race on my sample ballot has been considered and accounted for. If there are any races on your ballot that aren't on mine, I encourage you to do a little research. Some good resources include:

Good luck and happy voting, everyone!