63% of Republicans still think that Iraq had WMD in 2003 and that the president is not an American.

This should be a wake-up call to the grown-ups in the Republican Party. Fetishizing ignorance and demonizing education has led to two-thirds of the party’s members being morons. I can understand why some people are confused about global climate change and evolution—there’s been a well organized attempt to spread misinformation on these scientifici topics. But being wrong on these topics? It’s pure insanity, on the level of faking the moon landing or Elvis being alive. 

Muller concludes that humans are behind climate change.

Physicist Richard A. Muller was in the news last year after his Koch-funded study of global climate change concluded that it’s real, surely to the Koch brothers’ dismay. Now he’s penned an on-ed for the New York Times in which he says that his ongoing research has led him to the same conclusion as 99.9% of other experts in the field—that “essentially all of this increase results from the human emission of greenhouse gases.” Muller’s research shows that the UN and the IPCC actually understate the problem. He researched the climate change causes claimed by non-scientist skeptics (urban heating biases, cherry-picking data, faking data, solar activity, and global population), and found that none of them explained climate change. What did explain it perfectly was atmospheric carbon dioxide. 

New Virginia Decoded features.

Since March, my 9–5 job has been building The State Decoded, software based on my Virginia Decoded site. Although it would be fun to have spent all of this time adding new features to Virginia Decoded, most of it has been spent adapting the software to support a wide variety of legal structures. I released version 0.2 of the software earlier this week (3 weeks late!), and I’m on target to release version 0.3 next week. Which is to say that I’m finally getting to the point where I have a solid software base, and I’ve been able to start adding features to the core software that are making their way into Virginia Decoded.

Here are some of the new features that are worth sharing:

  • Newly backed by the Solr search engine (courtesy of the good folks at Open Source Connections, who did all of the work for free!), not only does the site have really great search now, but I’m able to start using that search index to do interesting things. The best example of that is the “Related Laws” box in the sidebar. For instance, § 2.2-3704.1—part of the state’s FOIA law—recommends § 30-179 as related. As well it should—that’s the law that spells out the powers of the Virginia Freedom of Information Advisory Council. But it’s found clear on the other side of the Code of Virginia—somebody would be unlikely to stumble across both of them normally, but it’s easy on Virginia Decoded. This is just the first step towards breaking down the traditional title/chapter/part divisions of the Code of Virginia.
  • Several hard-core Code readers have told me that they wish it were faster to flip around between sections. I agree—it should be super easy to go to the next and prior sections. Solution: I’ve bound those links to the left and right arrow keys on the keyboard. Just open a section and try out your arrow keys.
  • The indecipherable history sections at the bottom of each law are being translated into plain English. For instance, compare the text at the end of § 2.2-3705.2 on Virginia’s website and on Virginia Decoded. It’s an enormous improvement. This certainly isn’t perfect, but it will be with a few more hours of work.
  • Amendment attempts have detailed information. Whenever a law has had bills introduced into the General Assembly to amend them, whether or not those bills passed, they’re listed in the sidebar. That’s not new, what’s new is a bit of Ajax that pulls over details about those bills from Richmond Sunlight when you pass your mouse over each bill number, showing you the bill’s sponsor, his party, where he represents, and the full summary of the bill. (For example, see § 9.1-502.) This is one step closer to providing an unbroken chain of data throughout the process of a bill becoming law (becoming a court ruling).

There’s a lot more coming, now that I’ve just about got a solid platform to add features to, but these few were just too good not to mention.

43% of Philadelphia voters lack photo ID.

Approximately 437,237 Philadelphia residents will not be able to vote under Pennsylvania’s controversial new voter ID law. Statewide, it’s 1.6M people, or one in five voters. This law was pushed strongly by Republicans and—damnest thing—it’s mostly Democrats who are disenfranchised by this law. It’s no wonder that the U.S. Attorney General is investigating whether the law violates the Voting Rights Act. 

There is no voter fraud in Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania is defending their voter ID law in court, and they’ve just dealt themselves a serious blow. In a filing, they’ve admitted that there “have been no investigations or prosecutions of in-person voter fraud in Pennsylvania; and the parties do not have direct personal knowledge of any such investigations or prosecutions in other states,” as well as that “in person voter fraud is [not] likely to occur in November 2012 in the absense of the Photo ID law.” They’re preparing to disenfranchise 750,000 voters for absolutely no reason whatsoever. Well, not NO reason—those 750,000 folks are liable to vote for Obama. 

Unsurprisingly, Medicaid helps people.

Some conservatives have long argued that Medicaid doesn’t actually help people—that private charity is sufficient and, anyway, most doctors don’t accept Medicaid. Many others, of course, argue that privacy charity is far from sufficient, and people fare much worse without health insurance. Oregon accidentally provided the first test of this with a control group, for lack of enough funding to cover all applicants, resulting in the first meaningful study, conducted by Harvard. That found that, by an enormous margin, those Oregonians who received Medicare coverage fare overwhelmingly better than those who did not. In all regards, the lives of those folks on Medicare are vastly better than those who are not. At last, the question is settled. 

The NRA just keeps going too far.

I have no doubt that I would have been a member of the NRA as it existed a few decades ago. Every time I think about joining, they do something absolutely insane. It seems they tried to do just such a thing in Tennessee, and it’s backfiring on them. The NRA tried to get a bill passed that would prohibit business owners from banning firearms from their property. As you can imagine, that was received poorly, and Republican leaders refused to support it. An infuriated NRA is trying to toss one of those leaders from office now. 

Sunlight Foundation “OpenGov Champion.”

The Sunlight Foundation has put together a very kind mini-documentary about my open government technology work. (I can’t see that any of its contents will come as news to anybody who reads this blog.) It was fun to participate in the making of it, and it was a joy to watch filmmakers Tiina Knuutila and the aptly named Solay Howell at work throughout the process. I’m a big fan of the Sunlight Foundation (they funded the addition of video to Richmond Sunlight in the first place), and it’s flattering that they’d even be institutionally aware of me.

Wikipedia: South Asian numbering system

In India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Nepal, they don’t group numbers by three decimals like we do, but by two. That is, while we have thousand (1,000), million (1,000,000), billion (1,000,000,000), etc., they have lakh (1,00,000), crore (1,00,00,000), etc. Sometimes there are two decimals between each comma, sometimes three. Somebody with 10 million rupees would have 1 crore rupees, or 1,00,00,000 rupees. I had assumed that three decimals was universal, and that language followed accordingly, but in retrospect there’s no reason why that should be so. 

UVA hijinx.

My blogging for the past three weeks has all been over on cvillenews.com, entirely on the topic of the University of Virginia’s unsuccessful ouster of President Teresa Sullivan. That imbroglio has largely wrapped up, but you might be interested in reading through my coverage. (If you read just one thing there, make it my translation of a statement by the Board of Visitors, which was one of the most-read things I’ve ever written. There were some great discussions there, and I was happy to see the site serve as a hub for coordinating the defeat of Rector Helen Dragas’ ill-conceived plot.