Letters + Opinion » The Town Dandy

Tricky machines



We carry no brief for Diebold, Inc., so we weren’t saddened to hear about California Secretary of State Debra Bowen’s weekend massacre, in which the company’s touch-screen voting boxes, along with those made by competitors, were decertified for use in the upcoming presidential primary (Feb. 5) and beyond. Bowen immediately recertified the machines, but she placed severe restrictions on their use. Only one touch-screen machine will be made available per polling place, as an option for people with disabilities.

This is causing a great big freakout in some California counties — namely, those which unwisely decided to go all touch-screen a while back. Bowen’s action comes in the wake of her “top-to-bottom review” of the many different elections systems used in California. The review pointed out major security problems with the hardware and software used in nearly all of today’s high-tech voting systems — problems that could, in theory, permit someone to hack the vote (See “Town Dandy,” Aug. 2).

This is a case where Humboldt County’s native paranoia has worked to its advantage. When others were going touch-screen, we stuck with pens and paper. And though Bowen’s recent diktat will affect us, as well, we’re in much better shape than some.

“If you look at Los Angeles County, where they literally have an auditorium full of [touch-screen machines], they’re going to have some problems,” said Humboldt County Clerk/Recorder Carolyn Crnich Monday.

Crnich’s problems, by contrast, are relatively minor. The Bowen survey found problems with the central tabulating software that we use, so our elections office will have to change up procedure a bit. In the past few years, the voting machines in each of the county’s precincts have phoned home the results shortly after the polls closed. That is now a no-no. The machines will have to be physically delivered back to Elections HQ before the counting commences, which means that we will no longer have election night results.

A more immediate problem is that Humboldt County recently lost its top two elections officials. Former Elections Manager Lindsay McWilliams was lured away to Solano County, and his No. 2, Lou Leeper, has retired. It’s been a couple of months since McWilliams left, but the county is just now setting about finding his replacement. And the county’s next election is just three months away.

Four floors down from Crnich’s sumptuous penthouse digs in the courthouse, Treasurer/Tax Collector Stephen Strawn battles back rumor that he’s gone mad with power. We received a breathless call last week informing us that Strawn was in the process of secretly installing Internet surveillance cameras in his office, so that he could spy on his employees from the comfort of his home La-Z-Boy. The caller predicted that there would be a mass exodus of people from the Tax Collector’s Office, and that the county would be paying out millions to stem the inevitable lawsuits.

This is a case where Humboldt County’s native paranoia has not worked to its advantage. If those Chatty Cathys in the courthouse had done their research, they would have discovered that the cameras in question were part of this year’s county budget, and are intended to serve as a deterrent in the event someone gets it in his/her head to rob the treasury. They were recommended by law enforcement. They will be focused on the lobby only, according to Strawn — not on the employees. And their video will not be broadcast on the Internet.

“They have the capability to go on the Internet, but I have much better things to do at home,” Strawn said. “And besides, with the county’s firewall it’s not possible.”

The big Internet boom may have long come and gone, but Old Town man of the streets Jumbo Nolan — that big fellow hanging out at Has Beans — thinks there’s still plenty of room for a guy to make his mark, if not his millions. Lately, Jumbo has been pursuing a business strategy that exploits the webbiest of Web 2.0 sites, the online video sharing portal YouTube. How? By emulating the sleaziest of the old-school scammers: the domain squatters.

Beaming with pride outside Has Beans last week, Jumbo announced that he had secured any number of YouTube subdomains, which he planned to use to harass those local businesses he feels have wronged him. First up: youtube.com/theeurekareporter, which currently features a video of the giddy, ponchoed Jumbo ripping the free daily to shreds, then flipping off the camera. “I’m the real Eureka reporter!” he says.

In his impromptu Has Beans press conference, Jumbo reveled in the fact that this particular YouTube subdomain would belong to him always, and would be at his disposal whenever he wished to issue another such trenchant critique. He claimed to own several other YouTube sites as well, each pertaining to another Old Town business which met his disapproval, but a cursory two-minute search failed to locate them.

Shortly thereafter, though, Jumbo sent along an e-mail that seemed to indicate he had of late been concentrating his efforts on the media in particular. Another of his sites — youtube.com/arcataeye — features content provided by one-time Arcata City Council candidate Nick Bravo, whose toehold on the corporeal plane seems ever-diminishing. And just to mess with our heads, Jumbo noted that he had also registered a YouTube account under the name of “hanksimsthetowndandy.” No content yet, but we shudder at what will surely come.

Well played, Jumbo. Well played.

Finally, tonight — a heartwarming story about the tenacity of our county’s agrarian heritage. Remember back when SoHum land subdivider Bob McKee and county government were battling it out in court over McKee’s subdivision of the old Tooby Ranch? Their fight has pretty much died away now, with the county having taken it in the shorts on most of the major matters of dispute. But if we turn the clock back, we remember that one of the county’s concerns was that the division of the 13,000-acre ranch into about 40 parcels would essentially take the land out of agricultural production.

Well, no one need have worried. On Friday, the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office and the Drug Task Force harvested 3,046 healthy flowering plants and 20 pounds of finished agricultural produce from five sites on just one of those parcels. They even invited one of the farmers to come back to Eureka with them, so as to hear more about his horticultural technique. Truly, a fine example of the Humboldt County can-do spirit.

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