Larry's Ballot Recommendations for November 2010

Here's how I voted on the California ballot propositions (I vote by mail), and my rationale for each:

Prop. 19 (Marijuana legalization)

I voted yes. I'm no fan of marijuana or the drug culture, but it's about time we admitted the war on drugs is an abject failure. Because we did not learn from our own history (i.e., Prohibition) we have repeated the mistakes of the past. As the prohibition of alcohol in the 1920s allowed the Mafia to flourish, the prohibition of drugs has allowed the Mexican and Colombian drug cartels to flourish, as well as gangs like the Crips, Bloods, and others. As the _Economist_ has pointed out, we have treated a public health problem as a criminal law problem, which has had the side effect of filling our prisons with drug offenders at a time when the state is in financial crisis.

It is true that it will not change federal law. Nevertheless, if the experience of medical marijuana is any indication, the federal government will eventually quietly acquiesce. There are also issues with the Tenth Amendment to be resolved. Oh, and did I mention the abject failure of the war on drugs? It's easier for kids to get pot, meth and LSD than it is for them to get beer. This is stupid.

Prohibition doesn't work, period. We should stop banging our heads against the wall. Vote yes.

Prop. 20 (Congressional redistricting)

I voted yes. This measure transfers authority for Congressional redistricting to the redistricting commission that we voted for in a recent election. It will help reduce gerrymandering and districts designed to ensure the re-election of incumbents. Vote yes.

Prop. 21 (Vehicle License Surcharge)

I voted no. This measure adds an additional $18/year to vehicle license fees in order to fund state parks. We all love state parks, but this is the wrong way to fund them. Vehicle license funds should be used for transportation projects and infrastructure. The right way to fund parks is through general taxation and appropriation of the requisite funds by the state legislature. I refuse to do their job for them, and neither should you. Vote no.

Prop. 22 (Prohibition on borrowing of funds by the state)

I voted no. This measure is an initiative constitutional amendment that prohibits the state from taking or borrowing local funds used for transportation, redevelopment, or local government projects and services even during times of severe financial hardship. I have two problems with this measure: 1) It seems shortsighted to tie the hands of the state in times of crisis, tying the hands of the legislature, and 2) it is a constitutional amendment, of which we already have far too many in California. We need to stop micromanaging the legislature. Stuff like this is what has gotten us into the mess we are in today. Vote no.

Prop. 23 (Suspends implementation of air pollution control law)

I voted no. This measure would suspend the implementation of AB 32 until such time as the state's unemployment level drops to 5.5% or less for one full year.

If you're wondering what the hell unemployment has to do with air pollution control, you're not alone. This measure was funded by the companies who would be affected (no surprise there), using the scare tactics of OH MY GOD WE'RE GOING TO HAVE TO CUT THOUSANDS OF JOBS AND LEAVE CALIFORNIA AND SEND THE STATE INTO A TAILSPIN JUST BEFORE WE CRASH AND BURN OH MY GOD THE HUMANITY. Oh, please.

Also, just as an aside, given our current circumstances it's likely to be a hell of a long time before our unemployment level drops to that level for a sustained period, and in fact historically it has only been that low in California for brief times on a few occasions.

Like smog? Vote yes. Otherwise, just vote no.

Prop. 24 (Repeals legislation allowing businesses to lower their tax liability)

I voted yes. This measure, which in a perfect world would be called the Corporate Welfare Act of 2010, would repeal recently passed legislation that was part of a budget compromise, which allowed businesses to lower their taxes. I'd like to pass a law that lowers my taxes, too. People in hell want ice water. Sorry, but I'm not feeling it. Despite the all the fear, uncertainty and doubt they're sowing, all this does is restore business taxes to the levels they were previously. That's all. Vote yes.

Prop. 25 (Simple majority to pass a budget)

I voted yes. This should have been done a long, long time ago. If this was already law, we would have had a state budget months ago. California is one of the few states that requires a supermajority to pass a budget, and it's one of the reasons for the annual budget circus of IOUs and so on. This measure fixes the problem and brings us into line with other states that only require a simple majority (50% +1) to pass a budget. I can see no logical reason to oppose this. Vote yes.

Prop. 26 (2/3 vote to approve certain fees)

I voted no. Go back and read what I wrote about Prop. 25\.

OK, got that? Apparently, since the state budgeting process has been so successful over the years (ha!) someone got the brilliant idea to require a two-thirds vote to approve certain fees. No, no, no. Bad idea.

Also, this is a constitutional amendment. Go back and read what I wrote about constitutional amendments in California in my remarks on Prop. 22. Do you have any idea how hard it is to overturn one of these after it's passed? Somebody should go find whoever dreamt this up and force them to spend the next five years listening to Gloria Allred recite the insurance code. Vote no.

Prop. 27 (Eliminates state redistricting commission)

I voted no. This one gets the 2010 Chutzpah Award. This measure would eliminate the nonpartisan state redistricting commission, and give the job of redistricting back to the Legislature, who have done such a sterling job with it in the past. Bloody hell. Just for good measure, this is also a constitutional amendment. Oy.

Look, if you're happy with gerrymandered districts, noncompetitive elections, and the general way things are going in California, then by all means vote yes. But if you're not happy with all of that--and nobody I know is--why would you give the current crop of Sacramento officials this kind of virtually non-repealable authority? This is a bald-faced attempt at subverting the previously expressed will of the people, and should be stomped on and left to die. Vote no.

Afterword on statewide offices

In the races for public office, you can make up your own mind, but as for me, for the first time in my adult life I find myself unable to vote for any Republican. I will simply not be associated with, or cast my vote for, any group, candidate or organization that has even the remotest link to, a partnership with, or which panders to the Tea Party phenomenon, with which I have major and fundamental disagreements on the most basic level. Therefore, I voted a straight Democratic ticket for the first time _ever_.

And that's my take on the election. Happy voting…

Resistance Is Futile: Rejoining Facebook

Yes, it's true. After making a somewhat noisy exit from Facebook (dead link) a while back, and having some uncomplimentary things to say about it, I've signed up again (sorry, S-P!).

Why? It's complicated, but paradoxically also simple. It's not that I've changed my mind about anything I've said or written--I still think Facebook is the AOL of the 21st century, I still think that Facebook the corporation is fairly untrustworthy, and I still think there are serious privacy concerns. I still think Facebook comes with an awful lot of baggage and cruft that I can live without.

That said, none of that matters. What matters is where the people are. The fact is that the world has increasingly adopted Facebook as a standard communication platform. There are people I want to hear from, photos I want to see, and things I want to share, and it is getting more difficult to do that without being a Facebook member, rather than easier. It's all well and good to say "I have a blog and a Flickr account and a Twitter feed, and people can follow me there," but the reality is that, people being people, they're not going to go to three different places when they can log into one and see everything there. It's not a question of laziness; it's a question of time management, of how much information individuals feel able to manage in the time that they have, and how they can simplify the process of information gathering. I have come around to the opinion that if you want to be a connected global citizen of the 21st century, you need to have a Facebook account, whether you like it or not, in much the same way that a mobile phone has become a necessity.

I tried to achieve the same thing with Google Buzz, but Google Buzz is a mess. It can't decide whether it wants to be Twitter, your blog, or your Facebook page, and in the end manages to do none of those things very well. Maybe Google will have better luck when it rolls out its rumored Google Me social network, whenever that may be, but in the meantime we have to deal with the world we have, not the one we wish we had.

And so, rather than be "that guy"--you know, the one who lives in the ramshackle house at the end of the block, insists that OS2/Warp is a superior operating system, refuses to carry a cell phone or get broadband, and drives a rusting Peugeot that sits in the weeds where the lawn used to be--I've chosen to acknowledge that the world won't mold itself to suit me. Except for me and a few other cranky geeks, nobody cares, so I'm back.

However, I'm approaching it a bit differently this time. I'm back with a new philosophy, which is as follows:

  1. Privacy is dead. Rather than expect Facebook to protect my privacy, I'm opening everything up wide, and assuming that whatever I post will be public now and forever. That way, I have no worries the next time FB changes its privacy settings, terms of service, or defaults.
  2. My friends are my friends, and I reserve the right to choose them. If we're close friends or family, if you're part of my church community, or if you're one of the few I've entrusted with my cell phone number, you're in like Flynn. If you're somebody who dated my brother twenty years ago, or sat three rows behind me in 8th grade social studies in 1979, it's not so automatic. I hope you have a wonderful life, and I'm sure you're a fine human being, but I'm really not here to reminisce about an awkward childhood. I'm here to keep in touch with people I know in real life, who I really care about, and I only have so many minutes in the day to do that.
    That isn't meant to be harsh, just honest. I'm not trying to violate Wheaton's Law, I'm just trying to firewall my time and my personal life in a way that makes sense to me and doesn't create a huge timesuck. I once calculated that since entering elementary school in 1971, I've worked and studied with literally thousands of people--significantly more than a thousand in my restaurant career alone, and that's not counting customers. I have to draw the line somewhere, and I will. Please don't be offended by that.

  3. No games, apps, or virtual gifts. No Farmville for me, thank you very much. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but it's not my thing.

  4. I'm going to make a supreme effort not to get dragged into political stuff. If you think Obama is a Muslim, or Dick Cheney is the devil, or Sarah Palin is the savior (or destroyer) of American civilization, fine. But I'm not getting involved. From where I stand, the American political scene has gone mostly nuts, and I'm taking a step back from it. "Put not your trust in princes, in sons of men, in whom there is no salvation…"

Finally, a word about The Name. I'm participating in Facebook under my baptismal name (no, I'm not going to tell you what it is here, for various reasons, although if you know my Gmail address you know what it is). For some reason, Facebook won't let me add my birth name (Larry) to my profile, so all of you who know me as Larry will just have to get used to seeing the other name instead. Relax--I'm not insisting that anybody call me that, although I'll answer to both, and that's what my church community mostly knows me as. But I'm most emphatically not insisting that family and old friends do likewise--that would just sound weird to everybody.

Also, using my baptismal name has another advantage. In all candor, there are a few people I'm not terribly eager to be found by, and it will throw them off the scent somewhat. I've set up corresponding accounts on Twitter and the like under my Orthodox name as well, and over time I may very well transition over to them more and more--but that's a subject for another post.

So, to sum up, Facebookers, I'm back. See you there.

A Quick Note on the Proposition 8 Ruling

Here's what I wrote on the subject some months ago, on my "About Me" page. I still stand by today what I wrote then:

Barring significant constitutional changes, I think legalization of gay marriage is likely inevitable. I opposed Proposition 8. I believe that we live in a secular republic whose laws will sometimes contradict religious teachings, and unless we want to live in a theocracy (I don't) we have to accept that.

My personal preference would be for the government to get out of the marriage business altogether, and let churches, mosques, synagogues, temples, etc. decide which marriages to sanction. Perhaps this will spur some kind of change along those lines. We shall see.

Of Eggs & Baskets

This is true, and all too often forgotten. Back up your stuff, folks. Example: I'm posting this to Blogger via Posterous. If one goes down, the other will still be there. A link is getting autoposted to both Twitter and for the same reason.

Remember: If it's only in one place, it doesn't exist.

More On My Withdrawal from Google Buzz

Pursuant to my last post, a few loose ends:

  1. I've emailed Google to request withdrawal from the Google Buzz beta-testing program. This should happen within 48 hours, according to Google.
  2. I'll be turning off Buzz in my profile sometime between now and Monday. This will likely mean the deletion of all my Buzz posts. Update: This has now been done. My profile itself will remain, however. Edit: Turns out I can't delete Buzz without deleting my profile. So be it. I'll recreate it later. Update: Profile has been recreated.
  3. The custom URL to my Google profile has been turned off, and I have reverted to the standard numeric URL. This is to prevent possible future abuse of my Gmail address. Edit: If you'd like an easy-to-remember URL for my profile, just go to

That's about it--my Google Buzz experiment will be coming to an end soon. If you follow me there and you wish to continue doing so elsewhere, here are the relevant addresses:

Changing It Up A Bit

Today, I tuned into my Google Buzz stream to find this comment on a post by Josh Braun, left by someone who's abandoning Buzz:

To be honest, aside from my obvious social difficulties with Buzz motivating my switch back, I like Twitter better. I think the 140 character limitation forces me to think more creatively when trying to say things, plus I much prefer "yelling into the void" then "yelling into a room full of people who all have their own opinion and want to share it with you".

I know what he means. When Buzz first came out, I was a huge proponent of the new service. It incorporated two of the things I had liked most about Jaiku, the service that Google bought and subsequently killed through neglect: threaded responses and the ability to pull in feeds from other sources. It seemed like the answer to a prayer--a more full-featured service than Twitter, with none of Twitter's connectivity problems (no fail whale!). Integration into Gmail seemed like a stroke of genius, as having one's status updates, email and chat in one place promised a one-stop approach to online communication. And, of course, being an early adopter is kind of exciting, because you get to help define some of the basic etiquette and best practices.

Soon, however, some of the basic weaknesses of the service started to make themselves known. First there were the privacy concerns, which I felt were overblown, but they scared many people away. More irritating, at least to me, were the usability issues. Muted posts didn't stay muted. Posts jumped around in the queue in a seemingly random fashion, rather than staying neatly chronological. The method by which one could add a site to feed into Buzz, which involved editing one's Google profile, was more complicated than it needed to be. Commenting didn't always work, particularly when something was shared from Google Reader. As our British friends sometimes say, it was a bit of a dog's breakfast. And while integration into Gmail seemed like a winning idea, it started to become apparent that there were times when it was inconvenient to have to load Gmail before being able to access your Buzz account.

Then there were the unidentified and unblockable followers, as seen in the (missing) screenshot above. There's a link to block, but they keep coming back. I eventually gave up trying. Although all of us who post online make a conscious choice to be public, there's something more than a little creepy about being followed by anonymous strangers.

So when I read the comment on Josh's post today, it struck a chord. I've mostly withdrawn from active participation in the Buzz community in the last several weeks, as increasing responsibilities at work have cut into the time I can spend on social media (and blogging). I just don't have the time to devote to it lately, particularly with respect to Buzz, which demands a higher level of participation given its conversational nature. And while everyone is going to have a different experience depending upon whom they follow, my stream lately seems to have more and more shares from Google Reader (and posted-from-the-web links, which amount to the same thing) and fewer and fewer original posts. Frankly, there isn't much pulling me in these days.

At the same time, I've started to feel more and more frustration with Buzz's tendency to jump posts around in the stream. I'm no longer certain that I'm seeing everything from the people I follow, nor that my own posts are being seen by those who follow me. There needs to be an option to view in chronological or reverse-chronological order, and Google seems disinclined to provide one. It's a shame, because the current model simply isn't working for me any more.

The upshot of all this is that with all of its problems, Twitter is serving my needs better at this point. Short posts that require some thought to put together are more interesting to me than 3000-word blog posts imported into Buzz and promptly forgotten by the poster, who may never visit Buzz in the first place. It's not perfect, of course; anyone who tried to log into Twitter during the World Cup knows the fail whale all too well. But it's where the crowd is, by and large, and it's where I'll be spending more time in the days and weeks to come, at least when I can get in.

When I can't get in, and when I want to post a status update, I'll be doing it from my single-user site. It federates with and other sites running software, and pushes updates out to Twitter instantaneously. I find that being on Twitter is almost obligatory, but Twitter is not always reliable. This way, I have a backup, and it should also be noted that is in some ways superior to Twitter, for example in the way it handles conversations (click the "in context" link by the timestamp, and you get a threaded conversation view). The community surrounding and also is quite a bit smaller, and in general much, much geekier than Twitter's. This is a good thing. And, when rolls out its premium services, which founder Evan Prodromou has told me will be quite soon, I can map my site to my own domain, which is also a good thing. It's important to me to own my own stuff, even if I put it out under a Creative Commons license, and there's no better way to do that than on a domain that you own.

So, to recap, here's where you can find and follow me from now on, if you're so inclined:

Microblogging: or

Blogging: (fancy-schmancy Blogger site) or (stripped-down Posterous site) -- _Same content on both sites_

Buzz? I'll still poke my head in from time to time, but it won't be my main thing any more. Eventually, if it seems appropriate, I may delete my profile, but for now I'm leaving it alone.

And lastly, a brief word about something different. I've started the preparations to launch separate blog, Twitter, and sites for what I envision will be a very occasional series of posts on a religious theme, something I've shied away from on my main site out of a sense of my own inability to address it properly. However, as I've grown more and more disenchanted with politics and the culture of the world we live in, I find myself compelled to start writing on religious themes--not deep theological treatises, which I leave to those with more knowledge than I have, or triumphalist polemics, which I find generally misguided, but simply what it's like to be an Orthodox convert who's made many stops along the way. It seems appropriate to give those posts their own home. When the time comes to launch, I'll put links in all the relevant places.

Consider yourselves warned. :-)

iPhone Madness

OK, folks, it's over.

Steve Jobs hauled himself back from vacation in Hawaii, which like _totally_ harshed his mellow, and spent an hour or so explaining in front of God and everyone else that the iPhone 4's antenna problem really isn't much of a problem. Well, it's *sort of* a problem, but it's not unique to the iPhone 4, so it's really *not* a problem (like the guy at the dealership said, they all do that). Still, Apple loves you (*they like you! they really, really like you!*) and since they want all you whiny crybabies everyone to be perfectly happy with this totally awesome phone that's like, life-changing and stuff, and totally cool, they're going to give away free cases to everybody who's bought an iPhone 4 until September, when they'll presumably introduce some kind of fix or mod that, uh, takes care of this, um, non-problem. Or something.

Got that?

Good. Now, I'd like to say something about the whole debacle.

I don't care. Get over it. Grow up. Get a job.

You see, there is a whole host of reasons why I'm not particularly interested in an iPhone anymore, and the antenna issue is about the least important of them. You could start with the network (AT&T is bloody useless in half the places I find myself during the day), move on to the whole app approval concept (it's my phone and I'll put whatever I want on it, thank you very much) and finish up with Google Voice, or more precisely the lack thereof (want it, use it, love it, gotta have it). And did I mention AT&T sucks? Well, it does.

So when a bunch of overpaid tech journalists and self-important bloggers start in on what a _horrible_ problem the iPhone's antenna is, and how Apple needs to recall the whole lot of them, and give everybody a free case and solve global warming and plug the leak in the Gulf while they're at it, my response is "meh." You're having a First World problem. Go climb in your Priuses and drive to Starbucks and commiserate over a couple Grande White Chocolate Caramel Mocha Cinnamon Orgasmaccinos, because I don't care.

Look, here's the deal: Apple generally makes nice stuff. If the iPhone 4 works for you, use it. If it doesn't, go get a different phone. There are lots of them out there, including some very nice Android phones. Get an Evo, or a Droid X, or a Nexus One or an Incredible. And if you can't bear the thought of being torn from Apple's loving embrace, get a case--ANY case--and slap it on there. Yes, it'll cover up the neat little metal strip that runs around the phone, but you'll be able _to make calls._ (And what's the big deal about the metal strip anyway? I had a Cowon iAudio X5L that had a metal strip around it, and it looked like it was designed by East Germans. There is truly nothing new under the sun. Sheesh.)

Of course, if none of this soothes your damaged and fragile soul, you can always think about the gear you were using ten years ago--massive and bricklike phones, computers that were beige plastic boxes connected to boxy CRT screens, pagers, cameras that required film, and maybe even a Sony Walkman. Now consider that most any smartphone you buy today, including the iPhone, not only functions as all of the above, but is likely to be smaller, cheaper, and more powerful than any of them. _And you get to pick exactly the one you want_. Got a flawed one? Pick another one.

And that, my friends, is why I love living in the 21st Century.

Simplicate, and Add Lightness

Constant readers of this blog (advt) know that I'm an inveterate tinkerer, and on occasion this has brought me some good-natured ribbing. The last several months has seen frequent changes in the structure, format, and host of this blog, and you might think I would leave well enough alone for a while. You would be wrong.

My last move, to Blogger, was largely because it offered more eye candy. I was tired of the limited theming available to Posterous users who don't want to become CSS experts, and Blogger offered me some attractive alternatives. I still like the look, but I must admit I'm missing Posterous' unrivaled ease of use and autoposting ability. Being able to post a photo with a caption, have the photo sent to Picasa and Flickr, and post a tweet with a link all in one shot is a thing of beauty. I'm also wondering if the background, widgets, and other bells and whistles are just adding bling and detracting from what should be the focus--my entries.

In pursuit of an answer to that question, I'm trying something different. I've used Posterous' import tool to re-import my entire blog into Posterous, and picked a relatively simple theme with dark text on a light background to enhance readability. Thanks to Posterous' aforementioned autoposting ability, I'm going to run both blogs in tandem for a while. It doesn't cost me anything to do so, and gives me a chance for an extended comparison.

The Headline Is Just a Distraction

I happen to think Apple deserves a good spanking for this and a few other things, but the headline of this article is not the most important thing on the page.

Seems to me that those four orange words below the title of the publication are far more significant in terms of what they mean, not only for the future of Apple, but for the future of publishing in general.

Feelin' Cranky

Random thoughts on a sleep-deprived Monday morning…

  1. Yes, Twitter has a 140-character limit. You knew that when you signed up. Stop whining about it. If you can't handle it, go use Buzz or Friendfeed, or sign up with and run your own microblogging site that interacts with and others, and set your own limit.
  2. Foursquare, Gowalla, and other automated location-spam services are a plague upon humanity and the internet. Don't expect me to follow you if you use them, and do expect me to unfollow you if you continue. I don't care where you're having lunch. And if you care where I'm having lunch, you must have a very boring and incomplete life.
  3. Dear apartment manager: Thank you so much for not answering calls placed to the after-hours line last night. Apparently the rental agreement we all signed doesn't mean anything. Good thing the place wasn't burning down. Also, I wonder what your boss at the property-management company (whose number I have, by the way) would think about that.
  4. Dear noisy neighbor: Are you a complete idiot, or is it just that your social development was arrested at about age 13? What the @#$% is wrong with you (other than being a loud, inconsiderate, obtuse, possibly alcoholic schmuck)? Maybe if you grew up, you could get a date. Unless, of course, the guy visiting you last night was your date, which if true is way more information than I require.