Prop 2

Venice Beach Skateboarder

On Tuesday, Missouri voters passed Proposition 2, legalizing medical marijuana. Two other competing propositions were defeated. Missouri is arriving rather late to this party, most other states have already passed similar measures.

I first encountered medical marijuana in 2011, when our LAX flight was delayed and we had a few hours to kill. We headed over to Venice Beach, which at that hour was still rather dead. Strolling the promenade there, we encountered a young man, dressed in surgical scrubs, with a stethoscope draped around his neck. His attempt to look like a medical professional was belied by the large placard that he held. He was selling marijuana evaluations for $40. A couple of businessmen playing tourists were interacting with him. They were trying to ensure that their $40 would result in some pot, but under the strictures of the law, the young man could not offer any promises. We moved on before they reached any resolution.

Last summer, we stayed in Butte, Montana. This once prosperous mining town showed numerous signs of economic distress. Getting lost on our way “uptown” for dinner, we encountered roads badly in need of repair, a derelict city center, with many storefronts closed and the seemingly only open establishments being pawn shops and payday loan outfits. Joining these other businesses were a host of medical marijuana dispensaries that were scheduled to open the next month. 

Neither of these two state’s experiences with medicinal weed bode all that well for Missouri’s. That is because medical marijuana is the proverbial camel’s nose under the tent. People use and abuse these systems to get high. These laws only saving grace is that they help expedite the legalization of recreational marijuana and an end to all of the phoniness surrounding medical marijuana.

My only other regret about Prop 2 is that Chief Wana Dubie did not live to see its passage. Born Joseph Bickelle, he died last year at the age of 58. This colorful advocate of pot most famously contested Roy Blunt (R) for his US Senate seat in 2016. Maybe medical marijuana would have saved him. 

Slow and Steady

Tortoise and Hare at Copley Square, Nancy Schön, 1995

Today, the race for the next election has officially begun. Hey, I know that only yesterday was Election Day, but why dwell in the past? In Missouri there was no Blue Wave. In fact if anything the state became even redder, what with the Senate seat loss of Claire McCaskill. Maybe, you are just sick of electioneering at this point. Some of us are physically so, but remember, slow and steady wins the race. The Democrats are in a deep hole at this point. So, let’s get moving.

In the past, Missouri has employed an equally apportioned partisan commission to draw voting districts. This has led to a gerrymandered congressional map that safely elects partisan incumbents, almost all of them Republicans. Yesterday’s two-thirds passage of Amendment 1 could change this. This amendment calls for the choosing of a non-partisan demographer, who will draw the new map after the 2020 census. It is my hope that like in other states that have had their district boundaries redrawn by court order, a more representative and centrist congressional delegation will result. A few more Democrats would be OK too.

To that end, Amendment 1 was opposed by most Republicans. Only, elder statesmen from that party endorsed it (i.e. not Trumpsters). Claire endorsed it too. The amendment calls for the state auditor to draw up a list of candidate demographers that one will be selected from. This auditor is a Democrat. The MO Senate Leader (R) and Senate Minority Leader (D) are tasked to choose a candidate. In they can’t agree, then an arcane process is followed to select one.

The demographer is tasked to minimize each districts wasted votes or votes for the loser and votes more than 50% for the winner, based upon recent election results. If for this last election, this policy had been in place, the Democrats would have won more house seats than they did. Detractors on both sides are correct in arguing that this method will dilute both the black inner city vote and the white rural vote. It should increase the volatility of the MO congressional delegation, while making it more centrist, which in these times is a good thing.

Amendment 1 won’t have any impact in 2020. We’re looking at a long ball game here. The earliest that it could affect elections would be 2022. It also would not have any direct impact on offices that are held statewide. However, since most statewide office holders first work their way up to those posts, frequently though house seats, over time it would begin to affect them too.

Eeyores versus Heffalumps

We need to address the Heffalump in the room. – Royston Robertson

Two years in the making, this day of days has finally arrived. I’m not saying that she was any more anxious than the rest of us and just couldn’t wait, but Anne was up at 3:30  AM and was out the door an hour later. She is doing her election gig again and working these midterms as an election official, precinct captain no less. Her grueling portal-to-portal sixteen hour-long day will extend even after the polls have closed. She will still have to deliver the votes cast to be counted.

My day was a little bit more laid back. I slept in and when I thought that I had waited long enough for the morning rush-hour lines to have gone down, I walked over to the polling place. At ten, I found the longest line that I have ever encountered. It went all of the way down the hallway and then wrapped around and extended halfway back. Even with the very long ballot, the line moved quickly enough. I was only in line for twenty minutes. There were lots of voting machines available and like me, most voters must have done their homework. I saw two neighbors, Molly and Mary. All the single ladies… came out to vote.

Ours is a heavily Democratic precinct. So, a big turnout at the poll is a good thing. I suspect though that everywhere else is also enjoying a large turnout. There is really only one main partisan battle on our ballot, the one for US Senator. Incumbent Claire McCaskill (D) is running neck-and-neck with challenger Josh Hawley (R). I’m sure that Anne will be home long before any meaningful election results are announced. I’m not so sure though that she will still be awake when that happens. 

Antelope Canyon

Antelope Canyon

It is hard not to take a good picture in Antelope Canyon. Tours of this Arizona slot canyon are run by the Navajo. What makes this place unique is that unlike most slot canyons, which are V-shaped. Antelope is A-shaped. It is almost a cave, except for a narrow gap at its top. Its walls of flowing stone are sculpted by annual monsoon torrents. Flotsam lodged in cracks can be seen by looking up. Its swept flat sand floor makes walking easier in the dark. Navajo guides utilize this sand for photographic effects, such as manmade sand waterfalls that glitter in the rays of sunlight that penetrate only at noon.

This morning’s news is dominated by reports that bombs have been sent to the Obamas, Clintons, Soros and CNN. A report that a bomb was also sent to the Whitehouse is false. None of these bombs exploded, no one was killed or hurt and none of the bombs ever came close to their intended victims. In the end all that was delivered was a message, a threat. The fact that the intended victims are all Democratic or liberal would indicate that the perpetrator is probably some right-wingnut, who has been egged on by rhetoric that tars all these people as traitors, criminals and enemies of the people. Now who could this instigator be? 


Storm Clouds Over the Badlands

When I first began watching the TV series “Person of Interest”, I blogged about it here. I can now proudly proclaim that I have successfully binged all 103 of its episodes. This may not seem like all that much of an accomplishment, but for me completing a TV series is rare. I don’t think that I’ll ever do the same with “Game of Thrones”. Kudos to creator Jonathan Nolan for holding my attention.

Over the show’s five seasons it morphed from a buddy act to a battle for the future of humanity. In the beginning, two guys with the help of an all-seeing artificial intelligence try to do good and save people whose number has come up. Over time an ensemble coalesces into a resistance to a rival AI that is taking over the world. One of the series’ high points was its prediction of Edward Snowden and his data breach that outed the NSA’s spying on America. Homage was paid to Snowden in the show’s final episode when the wi-fi modem that he purportedly used to first breach the NSA network is filched from an evidence locker and is again used to breach the agency’s firewall.  

“Person of Interest” is fiction, but in this week’s New Yorker is an article that goes down many of the same rabbit holes that it had. Author Dexter Filkins’ “Enigma Machines” as the article (Paywall) is entitled in the magazine’s print edition, dissects a particularly arcane aspect of the Russian investigation. It involves the 2016 computer communications between the Trump organization and the Russian Alfa bank that could have been the mechanism for collusion.

The Domain Name System (DNS), a worldwide network that acts as the Internet’s phone book, is at the heart of this investigative piece. The DNS is ubiquitous on the Internet. You used it to find this post. The gist of the article is that much like the NSA use of phone metadata, who called who, when and where, a similar hack of the DNS existed in 2016. With this hack, as the article lays out, a meticulously detailed communications chronology is described.

Filkins has written an interesting article, but as the print edition’s title alludes to, it is ultimately unsatisfying and the reader is left with an enigma. This is the fundamental problem with metadata. It can tell you who and when, but never what. You know when two parties communicated, but you don’t know what they were saying. In the case of the Trump-Alfa logs, it could be collusion or it could just as well be marketing spam.

For the NSA, just knowing who a person of interest is communicating with is relevant. Piecing together such leads is how they eventually track and takedown terrorist networks. Filkins’ article does offer some tantalizing clues using the timing and frequency of the Trump-Alfa communications, but there is no smoking gun here and in the end it is all circumstantial. The NSA uses metadata as a filter to whittle down their leads to a manageable number that can then be prosecuted using more traditional means. Filkins concludes that any resolution to the enigma of the Trump-Alfa logs will require an analogous approach.

In The Atlantic, Franklin Foer, who first broke the Alfa Bank story in Slate, a week before the 2016 election, has revisited his story in light of Filkins’ New Yorker article. It provides some journalistic back story to this investigation.