Joi Ito's blog carries the wonderful news that the Library of Congress is working to digitize 30 million old newspaper pages and put them online for entirely free use by educators, students and anyone else interested in the history they reveal.
The articles cover the period from 1836 thru 1922 and, as such, are in the public domain. A test sample of articles from the military publication Stars and Stripes is already online, with the next batch expected to be released sometime in 2006.
I wonder which historian will be the first to edit and compile this material into a public domain textbook? Surely there will be more than one.
"American amnesia is dangerous," says Bruce Cole, Chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities [which is supporting the project]. "Democracy is not self-sustaining; it needs to be learned and passed down from generation to generation. We have to know our great founding principles, how our institutions came into being, how they work, what our rights and responsibilities are."
Amen to that.
Several people have asked me whether I believe the election results were valid given my longstanding opposition to the use of electronic voting machines whose results can't be independently verified.
I believe in the maxim made famous by former President Ronald Reagan: trust, but verify.
This is the first national election in the history of our country where the results cannot be independently verified. So my answer is that I do not really know who won this election. How can any of us know?
What I do know is that the Bush administration had four years to make sure this election was conducted with procedures that removed all doubts about the accuracy of the count. They did not do that. Instead, key GOP-run states such as Florida and Ohio selected a technology that generates results that cannot be independently verified.
Now, why would they do that?
Sociologist and political theorist Jeff Weintraub passes along the following timely passage from one of Thomas Jefferson's letters circa 1798 which, as Jeff notes, seems to capture the right spirit for the present moment:
"A little patience, and we shall see the reign of witches pass over, their spells dissolve, and the people, recovering their true sight, restore their government to it's true principles. It is true that in the mean time we are suffering deeply in spirit, and incurring the horrors of a war and long oppressions of enormous public debt...If the game runs sometimes against us at home we must have patience til luck turns and then we shall have an opportunity of winning back the principles we have lost, for this is a game where principles are the stake.
To which Jeff adds:
We'd better not trust to luck (though I doubt that Jefferson meant that literally), but otherwise this should be taken to heart. The essential message is also conveyed by a well-known aphorism of Antonio Gramsci's: "pessimism of the intelligence, optimism of the will."
Link to complete copy of Thomas Jefferson letter.
These two charts are definately worth taking a look at. I am interested in knowing if anyone has confirmed or rebutted this information.
The first is a chart comparing the exit poll results versus official results in states that used paper ballots vs. states that used unverifiable electronic voting machines. If these data sets are true, they indicate that the exit polls were inaccurate in states that used unverifiable electronic voting machines (namely Florida and Ohio) but mostly accurate in states that used old-fashoned paper ballots.
The second is a chart comparing registration by party with the election night vote tallies from several counties in Florida.
These data underscore the worries I have previously expressed.
The Social Sciences Research Council recently announced the formation of the National Commission on Elections and Voting to investigate electoral process controversies from the 2004 election. The announcement was made a few days before the election in response to widespread but anecdotal reports of election abnormalities.
The Commission's membership includes "18 of America's most distinguished historians, sociologists, political scientists and legal experts," according to the press release announcing the formation of the group.
The Commission is expected to release an initial report of its findings in early 2005. Let's hope these respected scholars can cast some light on the conflicting reports about the discrepencies in the 2004 exit polls vs. the official tallies.
The commotion about charges of possible election fraud has obscured one very important fact about last week's election, which is the way President George W. Bush won. He won dirty. In fact, it was the dirtiest, most divisive and unethical national campaign I have seen since, well, since his father, George H. W. Bush, used TV ads to scare white people into believing violent black thugs would flood their streets if his opponent, Michael Dukakis, won.
In this case, the Bush team spent tens of millions of dollars to paint a decorated Vietnam war veteran, John Kerry, as a traitor and a liar. This from the camp of a man who used family connections to avoid service in Vietnam.
The Bush team did not use this campaign to talk about the real issues that matter in our lives, including health care, the plight of the middle class, or even the best strategy to stop terrorism. Instead, they made sure this election was all about fear, right down to the pack of wolves they set loose in their final TV ads.
But even that pales in comparison to the way the Bush crew stoked the fires of homophobia and prejudice with their multi-state crusade against gays, which succeeded in denying them the same rights to happiness and security as everyone else. What can be worse or more reprehensible than villifying a minority group for political gain?
So yes, history will record that President George W. Bush has won re-election. But history will also record how he did it. And that stain will endure much longer than the four more years of power President Bush secured with his scurrilous campaign.
The SF-based Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has gathered more than 1600 names on its online petition calling for an independent test of the voting machines used in eight counties where problems were reported during the 2004 presidential election.
Here is an excerpt from the EFF press release:
"On November 2, voting machines in many states...had problems that led thousands of citizens to call a national voter protection hotline. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the Verified Voting Foundation (VVF) were at the other end of the line, and the two organizations are very concerned about what they heard. In several states, voters who chose one presidential candidate were presented with confirmation screens that listed another candidate's name. In others, machines crashed and were rebooted repeatedly, but nobody knows whether votes were lost...EFF and VVF have responded by sending letters to voting officials in the eight counties that experienced the worst technical problems, urging the officials to allow independent testing of the machines...The counties in question are Broward and Palm Beach in Florida, Mahoning and Franklin in Ohio, Mercer and Philadelphia in Pennsylvania, Harris in Texas, and Bernalillo in New Mexico."