Submitted by brad on Sun, 2005-12-04 20:46.
I’ve been thinking more about environmental economics since I blogged about retail carbon credits. I was surprised about how cheap (some would say unrealisticly cheap) wholesale credits are — about $2.20 per tonne of CO2. (Update: This price keeps changing. The U.S. price is clearly out of whack down to just 25 cents per tonne in 2009. The European price has declined too, from $20/tonne when I wrote this to $14/tonne in fall 2009.)
Today, many of my friends have bought a car like the Toyota Prius, feeling they are doing their bit to help the environment by burning less gas. The Prius costs around $3,000-$6,000 more than a comparable old-style engine car (in part because high demand keeps the price high), and the savings on gasoline don’t justify it on a financial basis unless you do nothing but drive all day. So the main reason to buy it is to help the environment and to make a statement before your peer group. The Camry Hybrid, which gets 32mpg instead of 23mpg costs about $5,000 more than the regular Camry.)
Problem is, there’s an argument that you’re hurting the environment, counterintuitive as that sounds. And no, it’s not just the unanswered questions about recycling the fancy batteries in the Prius when they fade, where fairly positive results have been returned so far. Read on… read more »
Submitted by brad on Sat, 2005-11-26 22:21.
Washington, DC: The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) issued a stern warning today to Televangelist Pat Robertson. Robertson had recently condemned the citizens of Dover, PA to the wrath of God for not voting in a school board that would teach Intelligent Design in classes.
“We’d like to say to the good Reverend Robertson: if there is a disaster in your area, don’t turn to Science, you just rejected it from your life,” AAAS said on its daily television show broadcast from Washington, the 3.14159 Club.
“And don’t wonder why it hasn’t helped you when problems begin, if they begin. We’re not saying they will, but if they do, just remember, you just pushed science out of your life. And if that’s the case, don’t ask for its help because it might not be there,” they said. “In particular, you won’t have a phone to call the ambulance, and it won’t exist even if you could call it. And even if the doctor lived next door and you could call her, she would only bleed you and put smelly poultices on your forehead to balance your humours. And she would be a guy.”
“Actually, we’re just kidding,” the AAAS later corrected. “Science works whether you believe in it or not. That’s what’s really cool about it,” they said.
“What they said,” indicated Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, in an independent statement. read more »
Submitted by brad on Wed, 2005-11-16 23:45.
I don’t post most EFF news here, since the EFF has a news page and 2 blogs for that, but today I’m doing it
twice because congress is voting tomorrow on renewal of the PATRIOT act. There was a lot of effort to
reduce the bad stuff in the bill, efforts that seemed to be getting somewhere but were ignored.
Ok, do I have to tell you why this erosion of so many fundamental rights is a bad idea? At first,
I thought the PATRIOT only came about because in the weeks after Sept 11, the country was acting
in anger and shock. It did things it wouldn’t do with time to be calm and reasoned about it.
And the PATRIOT act has resulted in huge waves of new surveillance as we’ve been seing in the past
So do what you can to stop it. Our Action Center will help you contact your representatives to give them the message. Plus you can read the bill and
commentary on it on the EFF web site.
We’ve been saying these things for so long you may be getting tired of it. But every time we strip away
rights, make society a little bit more scared — each time we live in fear — I think that’s exactly
what terrorists want. Like the name says, their goal is to sew fear and terror in hope of getting their
way. Sure, people were angry when this law was first passed, but there is no excuse today. Take action
yourself. Donation to organizations like the EFF and others if you don’t have time to take all the action
you think you should, but do have the money. It’s as simple as that.
Submitted by brad on Fri, 2005-09-30 16:08.
Recently, I discovered something that others have known for a while but many don’t know. Namely that effectively all modern cars that say they should use Premium (high-octane) gasoline run perfectly fine on regular. Since the early 90s, cars have had more advanced carb/fuel-injector systems which adjust to the octane of the gas and don’t knock. Like an idiot, I’ve been filling my car with premium. The engineers at all the major car vendors have confirmed this.
I worked out that since the USA uses 370 million gallons of gas a day, or 135 billion per year, at 12% premium sales, that’s 16 billion gallons of premium sold, almost none of it needed. Call it 15B gallons. At a surcharge of 20 to 30 cents/gallon that’s over 3 billion extra dollars charged to no purpose in the USA, and presumably another 3 billion outside (though perhaps they buy less hi-test outside.) The USA uses about 44% of world gasoline.
So why do many cars come with a line in the owner’s manual saying to use premium gasoline? Turns out the marketing departments believe customers of higher-end cars are ethralled by horsepower. They want to advertise the highest peak horsepower number they can. And you can deliver a slightly higher peak horsepower on higher octane. Nothing so big that you would notice it outside of extreme driving conditions or pro racing, but you can publish a higher number. So long as you spec the car as using premium.
So to satisfy these marketing numbers, the world is spending about 6 billion extra bucks each year on high octane fuel. And I’m not even considering all the extra infrastructure required (fancier pumps and blending systems, more tanks with risk to leak into the ground etc.)
Many people think high-octane gasoline is “more powerful.” In fact, oddly, the octane rating measures how non-explosive the fuel is. The higher the octane, the less likely it will explode under pressure. People think of high-octane fuel as more powerful because with high octane fuel, you can design a higher performance car that works at higher compression, safe in the knowledge you won’t get explosions from anything but the spark plug, ie. knocking. The fuel is not higher power, it’s the engine, which is why putting premium into a regular car is a waste unless it’s knocking. Lead cheaply reduces knocking at low pressure which is why they used to add it until they realized, “holy crap, we’re filling our fuel with toxic lead!”
There is still controversy over whether high-compression engines get better mileage than when they run at lower compression with regular.
What a scam. Spread the word.
Submitted by brad on Fri, 2005-08-19 18:30.
Hot in the blogosphere these days, as a result of the Creationism/ID vs. Evolution debate is Pastafarianism, the worship of the Giant Flying Spaghetti Monster. The idea is to show that something as made up as the GFSM is as consistent as ID.
Now as I’ve written before, I think we should teach creationism and ID in the schools as an example of bad science. All students should learn how to identify when bad science and bad math (in particular bad stats) are being used to lie to them. They should take exams where they are given examples of bad science and must spot the flaws to pass.
However, never one to pass up a joke religion, I still think the Pastafari go too far. I propose Monolithism. (Perhaps monolitheism?).
Monolithism is a variation of Intelligent Design which proposes that man was given the gift of intelligent thought by giant black alien monoliths. They came to Earth long ago and are waiting out there for us to show them the results.
Now Monolithism has great visual aids already to show the process. It meets many of the requirements of I.D. except that most people know it’s a movie.
Submitted by brad on Mon, 2005-07-18 13:31.
On 9/11, we all wondered how 19 men had lived for a year among us and still given their lives to carry out such acts. Now people wonder even more at how young native British men would give their lives to kill random fellow Britons.
But there is something different here that troubles me. Most suicide terrorists ostensibly use this tactic because there are targets you can only attack if you give your life. Suicide was an essential part of flying a plane into a building.
But you very plainly don’t need to kill yourself to set off a subway bomb. Even with increased vigilence, anybody could leave a backpack behind, rush out the doors just as they are about to close, and then blow up the bomb as the train enters the tunnel, without dying or even getting caught (except perhaps on camera.) There was almost no tactical need for these men to kill themselves. Yes, it makes it a little more certain to do it that way, but we hope that committed terrorists (especially with such clean pedigrees) are not so many in number that they can be wasted this way.
But they were wasted this way, and I think deliberately. I suspect they were chosen not as the most committed, but as the most unlikely, just for the shock value, the idea that your neighbour could be a suicide bomber. And strong shock value it is, because while you don’t have to die to bomb a train, there are a lot of targets where willingness to die is tactically necessary to carry it off, and it’s close to impossible to defend against such attacks.
Those who think careful ID checks and national ID cards will stop terrorists now must step back. These kids had clean ID. The security cameras have helped discover the story but of course could do nothing to prevent it.
I have contended (to much opposition) that terrorism and suicide bombing is a tool used against democracies that are accused of oppression. A recent book (Dying to Win by Robert Pape) now backs this up. The answers are not good.
Submitted by brad on Thu, 2005-06-23 17:49.
Well, the Supreme Court ruled today that expropriation for private development can still be legal if the town council seems to think there’s a public benefit. It’s a terrible decision, with strange logic, and strange votes from the judges, but you will probably read many other articles about that today. What I want to figure is, given this ruling, what can we do to make it better?
What we will see happening is a land developer coming to the city with a plan to demolish a redevelop a block in a way that they claim will be good for the city — perhaps bringing in tourists, jobs, business, whatever. Of course the deal is very good for the land developer, or they would not be drafting it.
I suggest we make it less sweet for the developer in such cases and give some of that sweetness to the expropriation victims. Today they get a “fair market value” for their property (that part of the 5th amendment wasn’t shredded) but I say, if the expropriation is for private use, let’s give them more.
First, start by paying them this fair market value at the date of expropriation, as we do now.
Then, after the deal is complete (with some time limits and other good constraints) we want to determine just how much “value” came from aggregating the properties. Right now this value goes to the developer. We’re going to give most or all of it to the expropriated folks. So we come up with a value for the amalgamated property. (More below on how to do that.) This pre-opening profit would go, all or most of it, to the landowners. The developer keeps any further appreciation of the property as they operate it — they need an upside too, of course.
More ideas follow… read more »
Submitted by brad on Mon, 2005-05-30 17:36.
There’s a lot of talk about the coming threat of Avian H5N1 flu, how it might kill many millions, far beyond the 1918 flu and others, because of how much people travel in the modern world. Others worry about bioterrorism.
Plans are underway to deal with it, but are they truly thinking about some of the tools the modern world has that it didn’t have in 1918 which might make up for our added risks? We have the internet, and a lot of dot-coms, both living and dead, created all sorts of interesting tools for living in the world without having to leave your house.
In the event of an outbreak, we’ll have limited vaccine available, if there’s much at all. Everybody will want it, and society will have to prioritize who gets what. While some choices are obvious — medical staff and other emergency crews — there may be other ideas worth considering.
Today, a significant fraction of the population can work from home, with phone, computer and internet. The economy need not shut down just because people must avoid congregating. Plans should be made, even at companies that prefer not to allow telecommuting, to be able to switch to it in an emergency.
Schools might have to close but education need not stop. We can easily devote TV channels in each area to basic curriculum for each grade. Individual schools can modify that for students who have internet access or even just a DVD player or VCR. For example, teachers could teach their class to a camera, and computers can quickly burn DVDs for distribution. Students can watch the DVDs, pause them and phone questions to the teacher. (However, ideally most students are able to make use of the live lectures on TV, and can phone their particular teacher, or chat online, to ask questions.) Parents, stuck at home would also help their children more.
Delivery people (USPS, UPS etc.) would be high in line for vaccination to keep goods flowing to people in their homes. You can of course buy almost anything online already. Systems like Webvan, for efficient grocery ordering and delivery could be brought back up, with extra vaccinated delivery drivers making rounds of every street.
Of course not everybody has a computer, but that need not be a problem. With so many people at home, volunteers would come forward who did have broadband. They would take calls from those who do not have computers and do their computer tasks for them, making sure they got in their orders for food and other supplies. Of course all food handlers would need to be vaccinated and use more sterile procedures. read more »
Submitted by brad on Thu, 2005-04-28 08:01.
George W. Bush names Jesus as the philosopher he admires the most. The most central of the teachings of Jesus can be found in the Sermon on the Mount.
I have come upong Bush's edited version of the sermon, amended to make the dictates of his Saviour easier to follow in these modern times.
Enjoy here in the Sermon on the Mount (George Bush Version)
Submitted by brad on Mon, 2004-12-13 08:52.
Creationists regularly complain that schools teach evolution improperly and should also offer creation science as an alternative. They went so far as to push one school board to put stickers on biology textbooks remindng students that evolution is a theory and should be critically viewed.
Well, surprisingly, I have some agreement with them. Evolution, like Quantum Mechanics, gravity and others is indeed a theory. And in proper science all theories are subject to intense scrutiny and testing. They are required to make predictions which can turn out false, and those predictions are tested with repeatable experimentation and observation.
So now I wonder, why if we give them their way — sort of — and mandate the teaching of “creation science” in the shools. Except I mean a rigourous, scientific treatment, by non-religious teachers, where a lesson about science and bad science is taught. Other examples of bad science should also be covered.
Students should be challenged to consider the predictions, past and present, of the creation “scientists” and whether they have come true. They should learn what happens when people conclude the results in advance and try to bend the facts to fit them. It happens in all areas of science, and a good education trains you to identify when it is happening, and when you are doing it yourself. They should of course also learn the predictions of evolution and many other theories and how they have been tested and verified. They should learn about theories that had supporters but then failed their tests and thus fell from favour.
Why creation science and not every other bogus fake science? Well, studies show it is probably the one most widely believed by the public, though psychic powers, alien abductions and others also rank highly. So as the #1 it deserves a place in our curriculum, because the critical examination of bad science deserves a place.
Indeed, for a student not actually going into science, it could well be that learning to understand bad science would be the most important thing they take out of the program. They will almost assuredly never need to calculate the velocity of a spherical monkey hanging from a massless rope over a frictionless pulley. But they will encounter bad science and have to deal with it.
(I think the same is true in math for non-professionals. One of the most important things they should learn is how statistics are misused.)
So give them what they want, and then see them beg to take it back.
Submitted by brad on Mon, 2004-11-08 12:56.
David Brin, whom I debated on the topic of Transparency yesterday, has been putting forward for some time the general idea of a henchman's amnesty law. Namely that, in the event of a criminal conspiracy, the first underling who whistle-blows can get some level of amnesty, witness protection and/or cash reward. A serious reward, in the millions. Such a rule would make it harder to pick henchmen, since in effect you're making them a millionaire if they turn on you.
Indeed, you have to worry that the very reason they might be joining you so easily is they plan to rat you out for the millions.
We have had a program for whistleblowers on companies that try to cheat the government, with some success, but I might suggest a good place to try a henchman law would be vote fraud. Combined with very stiff penalties (including life in prison for major vote fraud, which is effectively a coup d'etat) this should keep the conspiracies small, and less powerful.
Howoever, hacking of voting machines at the factory is a special type of vote fraud which could be done by a very few conspirators for a big result, so we still need voter verified ballots.
Of late, I've become curious about how readily we could, using certain encryption techniques, design a ballot system which would let you change or repudiate an already cast ballot, but still preserves the important principles of secret ballot. As you might guess, that's a challenge, since it seems inherent that if you can reverse a ballot you can know what it is. But it's possible some blinding algorithms might allow this.
Another option for mail-in ballots would be to provide each mail-in voter with two or more mail-in ballots. The ballots would be marked with a code, such as a red or green sticker. The voter would be told, through a secure and in-person channel, that one of the ballots is real and the others false. They must remember the colour of the true ballot. If they send in the ballot of the wrong colour, it also contains an encoded number that only the counting office is able to tell tags it as a bad ballot (and a sign of attempted voter coercion.)
The vote-coercer might have you send in all your ballots. One defence would be to have this void your vote. This allows vote coercers to use force or money to stop people from voting (which they already can do) but not to vote a particular way. Combined with my plan for secure internet voting it could allow one half of the secret ballot equation with votes cast over the internet.
Should we be able to perfect this, by finding a means for an audit trail on internet voting, this would, aside from saving much money, eliminate the problems of lines at the polls.
Submitted by brad on Thu, 2004-11-04 15:31.
We see the talk of an America divided in 2, but in fact it's not. There are more viewpoints than that. Normally a 2 party system tends towards the middle, this election was unusual in having a larger than normal difference among the candidates.
But perhaps now is the time to take the Democratic energy and try to push it into a movement for real reform. Not ballot recounts, not crazy dreams that can never happen.
By that, I mean getting at least one state to move to a preferential ballot system, such as Australian "Instant Runoff," Approval or Cordorcet, with an unfortuantely complex additional rule for how to cast in the electoral college when done.
Reforming the electoral college is unlikely (though an interesting hack is discussed elsewhere in this blog). 3/4ths of states must ratify any change to the college, and the small states would need a big constitutional price in exchange for stripping themselves of the extra power they have in the college.
However, individual states can change how they select their electors through ballot resolution or legislative action. Entirely on the local level. Ballot resolution seems the simplest approach. The only thing standing in the way is that many voters get confused by instant runoff systems. Basic Condorcet is easy to understand, but the tiebreaker modifications are often hard to understand. Still, the Australians manage it.
The first effort will probably fail and only educate the public. Eventually, some state, probably a small one, will go over and have such a ballot. This in turn will start to educate the rest of the nation. The ideas, once understood, are good ideas, and will appeal to the populace. It's hard to argue against them.
However, the 2 major parties will _want_ to argue against them because they are bad for those parties. In many elections, there is somebody who won because there wasn't a preferential ballot. In particular, Bush in 2000 and (arguably) Clinton in 1992. (On the other hand, Bush the Elder arguably _lost_ because there was such a system, and thus might support it.)
That's why a ballot proposition is the right way to do this. read more »
Submitted by brad on Tue, 2004-11-02 07:29.
Idea futures are interesting, so I went to tradesports.com to buy Kerry Futures contracts, since I believe pre-election polling is notoriously poor in quality. They were trading at 43 for a contract that pays 100 if he wins, and that seemed a good buy. By the time I could buy them (slow site, overloaded) they were 50 but now they are at 71. The bidders clearly have developed a strong reversal of feeling.
One source is the exit polls. While U.S. media are not publishing them, the CBC in Canada has few viewers in the USA and has no reason not to, and the news is good for the Senator, particularly in Pennsylvania.
Many have argued that idea futures with real money on the line are very good predictors. However people also clearly follow the polls, which is why Bush led in those futures for most of the election race, and even up to just a few hours ago. Still, Bush went south in these long before other sources so they're a good source as far as that is concerned. And perhaps I made a few bucks. (Not a lot, they limit you to $250 credit card if you do instant signup.)
Submitted by brad on Mon, 2004-11-01 03:19.
There has been much writing (including here) about problems with the Electoral College in the USA, and I've even proposed solutions such as a tiebreaking system for close votes. I also noted the amazing coincidence that in the 4 times the winner of the college lost the popular vote, 3 were the 3 times we had a son or granson of a President elected.
But I thought it might be worth exploring the merits of the college, even though most individuals want it abolished. (Though no smaller states want it abolished since it gives them disproportionate power.)
First of all, there is the "official" goal of using the college system. It requires the President, who must win a true majority of the college, to be popular in at least half, and probably more, of the country. The framers didn't want it to be possible for a candidate with extremely strong support in one particular region to win the Presidency.
Example: Say a candidate, coming from a particular region, had immense support in that region, getting 90% of the popular vote, and much lower support (10-25%) outside that region. Such a candidate could win the popular vote since all those votes in their own region would count, even though they are not a national candidate. To win the college, their "region" would have to contain half
the population of the USA.
(This is based on the traditional, but not required all-or-nothing allocation method, which states do because it makes candidates want very much to please them.)
I'm not a fan of some regions having more power than others because of the political legacy of how big states were. 2 senators for Wyoming and 2 for California is grossly unfair. However, the concept of federalism does require some protection for regions, so you don't get one region ruling the land at the expense of another, which can lead to seperatism.
Another benefit is election cost. Due to the college, candidates know to spend their election money only in undecided, "swing" states. As such, they can campaign with much less money. With a popular vote, or even a proportional electoral college, they would have to campaign everywhere. This of course has downsides in terms of fairness, but if they had to campaign everywhere they would have to raise even more money, and be more beholden to the special interests that gave it.
Submitted by brad on Sun, 2004-10-31 08:36.
You may have heard of the vote-trading concept, where a voter in a "decided" state (whose vote will make no difference) who wishes to vote for a major candidate pairs up with a voter in a swing state who wants to vote for a minor candidate. The idea is they swap choices. The swing state minor party supporter votes for the major party candidate (typically Kerry this time) and has a chance at making a difference in the swing state. The decided state voter, facing a large likely margin in their own state, votes for the minor candidate, boosting the national popular vote total for that candidate, which is all minor party voters care about since they don't plan to win.
Sounds good, but as you will see at votepair.org, they have 19,700 waiting and only 2300 pairs matched up, so the vast bulk of eager Kerry supporters won't get to swap.
There are many reasons to explain this. Some are simple. There are many more Kerry supporters than minor party voters. There are many more people in decided states than in swing states. And of course some people may wonder how much to trust the honour system used in vote swapping. You are supposed to meet your counterpart, and judge that they aren't a republican trying to play tricks, though in theory there is not much for them to gain by doing so.
One problem is the trade offers a lot to the Kerry supporter -- trading away a meaningless vote that can't change the results for a precious vote in a swing state -- but offers effectively nothing to the minority voter, since it doesn't affect the vote total for the minority party. (Indeed, it may hurt the minority party's prospects in that state.) As such, you are only going to get people who were more than happy to vote Kerry anyway, as they now will feel they gained from the trade.
Of course, a real market in votes is illegal, as these orgs know, but you can't ignore the realities of what makes a market work.
As such, the sites should consider offering a larger trade. They should let minority voters set a price for their switch, which could be 1.5, 2 or even 3 minority votes in the decided states. Then both sides would gain and it could up the count. (Libertarians, who value deeply the concept of win-win contracts as a basis of society, would be particularly swayed by this, and they are one of the largest minority parties.)
The existing 2300 might still be willing to do it for just one vote (remember, they probably were considering doing it for nothing.) Others could ask higher and higher "prices." Of course ask too high and you won't get anything, the voters will be allocated first to those asking less.
Yes, you can do a 1 for 1.5 swap, and I think that's the easiest and fairest. In this case each minority supporter is given two people to arrange swap with, one fully, and the other 50%, in that this other is expected to have an identical 50% deal with another supporter of the same minority candidate.
(Ethically, after you arrange things with the first voter in a 50% partnership, you would need to tell them if the 2nd voter fell through, and get it resassigned. Ditto for a 2 for 1 exchange.)
Submitted by brad on Wed, 2004-10-13 06:04.
I have often heard it said that being a Senator is a good stepping stone to President of the USA. Research shows this to be really false, and that's bad news for Kerry. Oh, many sitting senators run for President, but for over 120 years, they have rarely and barely won.
The one exception that proves the rule is John F. Kennedy, the only sitting senator of the modern political era to be elected President. And barely so -- there are many who still say JFK stole the election, and in any event it was one of the closest in history before Bush/Gore. JFK was also a congressman, and he sat out a few years of his Senate career due to back problems.
Before Kennedy we have to go back 84 years, and out of the modern era, to Warren Harding, who won handily from the Senatem then died in office. And before that you go to Benjamin Harrison, who lost the popular vote but won the electoral vote.
The first century of U.S. history has many Senator->President transitions, which may have created this myth.
Some suggest that the reason is that a Senator has a long voting record which can be used against him or her, and that does appear to be the case. But the suggestion it's a good stepping stone is false.
(Also worth noting that Kennedy, Harding and Harrison did not defeat sitting Presidents. Defeating sitting Presidents is of course hard to do, but Carter and Clinton, who did it, were both Governors.) I didn't research enough to find out how far back you have to go to find a Senator unseating the President. read more »
Submitted by brad on Mon, 2004-08-09 10:22.
One of the thing that annoys Bush's opponents so much is that Bush does not appear to be the sharpest tool in the shed, and we feel the President should be so. I talked with Bush when he was running, and he wasn't as stupid as he appears on TV under all that scruity (nobody is, everybody reported that Quayle wasn't), but he's not at Clinton's level, for example.
In spite of sharing this feeling, I challenge people to look back in history for the Presidents who were smart at "presidenting." While there have been smart Presidents, the truth is the most admired presidents (in the modern era) seem to be admired not for how clever they were, but for their boldness or the strength of their convictions and leadership.
Intelligence, the voting public seems to feel, is not a top quality for the President, though his advisors should have lots of it. The President's job is to have his vision and decide which of his smart advisors' advice best implements that vision. The vision itself probably can't be all that smart, since the general public has to grasp it and follow it and approve of it.
A stupid President isn't good. He can be fooled by his advisors. He can be fooled or fool himself into thinking that you can invade an occuply a country simply because you have vastly superior miltary force. But smart Presidents can also make stupid decisions on the hard problems. (Americans should know the USA could never have existed if military power were enough to hold a territory.)
We keep an ideal of a philosopher-President like Jefferson, but we haven't had one for a while, we may never have one in the current electoral system. We yearn for President Bartlet perhaps. We like to hear how Clinton was on top of all his advisors told him, but what do you point to and say "This, that was done by Clinton or Carter or Nixon or whoever ... this was really smart."
The Democrats may not understand this. They don't understand how, with Bush shown to be a bit dim every day, he still gets half the country on his side. It's because it's not what that half of the country is looking for.
Submitted by brad on Sun, 2004-08-01 14:42.
Much of the coverage I read last week of the Democratic Convention harped on how the conventions no longer mean anything. The platform is decided in advance. The candidate is decided in advance. Yes, there is lots of networking and schmoozing and building relationships for the elections of the future, but how much is accomplished in the here and now?
Not a lot. And I've seen estimates placing the cost of the convention at well over $150 million. $60 million for security alone. Other costs paid for by the city, and of course the party and its members and the other 35,000 attendees must easily spend 50 million or more on travel, hotel, food, facilities etc. The networks covered 3 hours of it. Cable covered more, but a lot of it was remarkably boring speeches by local politicians saying the same thing to an often mostly empty convention hall. The hall was full for the big speeches. The protesters were relegated to a distant free-speech-zone, in an aggregious violation of the 1st amendment.
All that to do nothing except put on a show for the cameras? What if a party had the guts to declare they would not hold a fancy convention like that. They would conduct the formal votes on platform and candidate by mail.
Of course, they would still have a big acceptance speech and related big speeches, and the networks would still cover them (if only because of equal time laws relating to the coverage of the other party's convention.) The faithful would watch in local gatherings, and the hall in Kerry's home town would still be filled with thousands of cheering Democrats, just not delegates.
Why? Well, first of all, anywhere from 50 to 100 million to spend on the campaign where it matters -- swiing states. Not chump change. A secondly, the bold step of leading by example, not just by words. "We don't waste 100 million of taxpayers money and shut down a town just so we can put on a fake show that rubber stamps a result worked out months ago. We don't waste our own money. We want to focus on substance, not flash."
Deeds mean a lot more than speeches. Showing up the other party would be a powerful message for the first party with the guts to do this. One would still get airtime for the introduction and acceptance speeches. And later, when it means something, have a lower-key convention to focus on real issues like the party platform, and networking among party members. And do a lot online.
Yes something would be lost, but at what cost is it kept?
Submitted by brad on Mon, 2004-06-28 13:36.
In Canada, polls leading up to the election all the way to yesterday showed the Liberal and Conservative parties neck and neck. Yesterday's poll had them effectively tied in popular vote with anybody's guess as to who might form a government, presumably a minority one.
Now real results are in, and while not complete we see this:
| Overall Election Results
|LIB ||127 ||11 ||138 ||37.43%
|CON ||85 ||8 ||93 ||29.36%
|BQ ||52 ||2 ||54 ||12.76%
|NDP ||17 ||5 ||22 ||15.15%
|NA ||1 ||0 ||1 ||.04%
|OTH ||0 ||0 ||0 ||5.26%
A remarkable difference and clear victory for the Liberals. As noted, we have seen this before. Surveys measure only "what people who bother to talk to pollsters want to tell pollsters." In spite of their claims of small margins of error, they can be very, very wrong.
It's important to not just learn when not to trust polls, but also to ask why, even when we see this sort of error time and time again, we continue to trust polls. We grasp at any information, even what we know to be unreliable.
It causes huge events. I remember in the 80s the provincial Liberal party seeing polls that showed a comfortable majority, so they -- based on the polls -- called an election. And were soundly trounced. (In part, in Heisenberg style, because people were annoyed they called an election for no other reason than their good poll numbers.)
So the idea to promote here: We often hear complaints from the "ordinary" folks that they don't like having to take all that Math in school because it will not be relevant to their life.
One course that everybody should take, and which is relevant, is a course on how to understand statistics and the misuse of statistics. Even if they came out of it not know a chi-square from a hole in the ground, they might be able to tell when stats can't be trusted. One hopes.
Submitted by brad on Mon, 2004-06-14 09:00.
Here’s my most disturbing idea yet. There are drugs which erase memory (or rather block the formation of memories while they are used.) It seems disturbingly probable to me that these might be being used for torture. Espcially considering the light of new memos giving the US the green light for torture.
If you don’t know of this class of drugs, you may have heard of “Roofies” the “date rape” drug which have been used to both make a victim pliable and also to make her forget the rape. There are stronger drugs, such as Versed, which are used in surgery.
The surgical use is quite disturbing. They want to perform a procedure on you while you will be somewhat conscious, but it is painful and upsetting and will leave mental scars — so they put you through the pain but block you from remembering it.
However, it must be obvious to those wishing to do torture that this could be applied here too. Apply the drug, then apply torture which leaves few permanent marks. The victim would awaken unaware they had been tortured or what they had confessed to. They could not testify later about their torture, they would not even know to.
It’s hard not to think that this would be a more “humane” form of torture, in the same way the surgical use of the drugs is humane. After all, you just want the information, why leave the victim with psychic scars, as there always are from torture. This is frightening because it might make the public much more accepting of torture. And on top of that, how will we ever find out if torture is going on? Only from the torturers themselves.
This is just the start of a trend. Tools like “brain fingerprinting” already exist which cause no pain but examine your brain to find out if you remember something you are being shown, or if it’s the first time you are seeing it. People have already suggested this is so benign as to be suitable for airport screening!
I predict we’ll see newer and “better” torture and interrogation techniques in the near future. Better brain scans. Polygraphs that actually work. More powerful drugs that affect not just memory but compliance. Perhaps eventually nanomachines that reach in and target brain centers to create compliance.
Some of these may already exist — though I think not too many or our intelligence communities would be doing a better job on terrorism than they are.
But they will exist. How will we as a society cope with them? We already seem willing to forget about the prohibitions on torture in the constitution and international law. We’ll pretend the prohibitions don’t even exist for these new forms.
The only way to avoid them will be to work soon for strong laws and eventually an explicit constitutional amendment protecting the right of privacy in our thoughts. And that will be a long time coming.
Update: More stories of Versed and other memory drugs in my new memory tag.