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Pedometers and Other Black Boxes

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Pedometers and other Black Boxes

By Joan Brunwasser, voting integrity editor, OpEdNews

Something happened this week. Nothing major, it wasn’t very earthshaking, as things go. But it’s been on my mind.

I recently started a “more exercise now” regimen. I’m quite committed to it. In my own defense, it’s not as if I’ve been a slugabed up until now. I have been swimming regularly for the last five years or so.

I read many years ago, that if a person continues to eat exactly the same amount year in and year out, around middle age, s/he will start to gain two pounds a year, forever. You do the math. And all without adding a single, solitary calorie! Major bummer. It was a purely academic matter when I was in my twenties and thirties. But, it hits way too close to home right about now. As my metabolism slows, I sometimes wonder if it’s ‘in there’ at all.

The less than stellar results from my recent glucose test have made ramping up this exercise program a big priority. So, I bit the bullet and bought myself a pedometer. Since you need to clip it to your underwear, it has an unfortunate, unadvertised tendency to fly into the toilet. So I went for simple and basic. I was all set for less than ten bucks.

When I got home, I carefully read the instructions. Before you head out the door, you must calibrate the device to the length of your stride. That makes sense. I’m a short person; my stride isn’t nearly as long as that of my much taller son or his basketball buddies. I derived my personalized setting in the comfort of my own home, cleverly taking advantage of the 12-inch tiles on my family room floor.

Then, I clipped on the pedometer and started walking. The recommendation is a daily minimum of 10,000 steps. Initially, I was averaging between 6-7,000. So, I have stepped up my efforts by taking another walk whenever possible and have been able to top 10,000 most days. Emma, always a good sport, has graciously accommodated herself to my new routine. A mere glance at the leash, or in its general direction, and she’s raring to go. So far, so good.

Then, a few days ago, I made a disturbing discovery. I generally clip on my little gadget as soon as I roll out of bed. That way, I don’t have to worry about forgetting it altogether. And I don’t waste a single stride. Out of curiosity more than anything else, I counted my way to the bathroom. Fourteen. I peered at the pedometer. Nineteen. Hmmmm. Even half asleep, I knew that this was way off. Not good., I then went for a walk with my friend Evvy. The route we take is somewhere between 5,000-5,500 steps. This time, my pedometer registered slightly more than 4,400. Huh? Within one hour, my pedometer had run first fast, then slow. What was that all about?

This little black box is not like a wind-up alarm clock that I can simply reset. The inner workings of this miniature computer are a mystery to me. I can fiddle with it and hope for the best. But how can I be sure that I have actually been reaching my daily goal? You may point out that this is really a very trivial matter. And you would be right. It doesn’t really matter exactly how many steps I take. The principle is to get moving and to keep moving. That I am doing. Accuracy is not a requisite part of the equation.

But it got me thinking. What about the computers that we use in other parts of our daily lives? Would a spread of 25% be acceptable at the bank, for example? What would happen if the teller told me that I had just deposited around $500? Or that my balance was $2,000, give or take several hundred dollars. That wouldn’t work for me. How about air traffic controllers? I shudder to think what would happen if they substituted approximate safety clearance margins for more precise ones. And then we have those voting machine companies. To whom are they accountable? Who tests and certifies their wares? How confident should we be about the integrity of their products? The vast array of problems nationwide, both reported and ignored, point to the answer to that last question.

Election officials are quick to point to voters who rave about how convenient, fast, and easy these machines are to use. Let’s examine that ‘quick and easy’ argument for a moment.

It’s definitely easier, faster, and more convenient to skip exercise. Ditto for eating healthfully. And endless TV is much easier than reading a book, taking a walk, having an intelligent conversation, or just thinking about the state of the union. So, what happens when we choose the faster, easier, and more convenient path? The proof is in the pudding. We have become a nation of fatties, diabetics and couch potatoes with the attention span of a flea. Celebrity gossip, cable sports 24/7, and other non-news have swamped our desire or even ability to be well-informed. As a nation, we’ve been lulled into a trance by bread and circuses, and too much sugar. Of course, it’s easier to eat junk food than to cook. It’s also easier to cheat than to work hard for what we want. Taking the easier path can lead to cutting corners and refusing to take responsibility for our actions.

It’s also easier to wait passively for someone else to fight for us. One irony of going to war as a way to spread democracy is that what we now have left at home is a pale imitation of its former self.

It’s really a pretty simple, straight-forward equation. Your heart needs exercise and the right fuel to function properly. Lack of exercise and lousy nutrition make us flabby, weak, and lethargic. The same goes for our democracy. While we prefer not to think this way, democratic fundamentals are not guaranteed. They have to be nurtured and maintained. And, they are ours to lose. Look how far we’ve slipped already in the last few years – habeas corpus, checks and balances, a vital and free press, proper medical treatment for our vets, the concept of government officials as public servants. Going, going, gone. Paul Wellstone wisely said: “If we don't fight hard enough for the things we stand for, at some point we have to recognize that we don't really stand for them.” So, we’ve already seen where easy, fast, and convenient lead. Is that what we want? If not, we need to make better choices; and, we need to act. Now.

Bottom line: Use it or lose it. Exercise your democracy!

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Joan Brunwasser is a co-founder of Citizens for Election Reform (CER) which since 2005 existed for the sole purpose of raising the public awareness of the critical need for election reform. Our goal: to restore fair, accurate, transparent, secure elections where votes are cast in private and counted in public. Because the problems with electronic (computerized) voting systems include a lack of (more...)

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