Category Archives: Theory of Democracy

Findings of the week

From Janne in Osaka – when does a political party become mindless?

And a study in the benefits of bounded rationality from the New York Times: sometimes, learning is costly, so it’s only for the environmentally challenged. Hey, damn it! We humans are environmentally challenged. Are we smart enough for it?


I not the gamer I used to be, now that I have a toddler to take care of. So finding a computer game which is both fun for my 3-year-old boy and interesting enough for me is not easy. We tried the incredible machine – which is a very very cool game. But my toddler is a tad to young for it, and he enjoys the much more after I show him how to finish the levels.

Another great download is phun – basically a Master’s degree work by Emil Ernerfeldt, which enables you to build all kinds of stuff – from bouncing balls to rockets and strange machines. If only I had Phun when I was a boy!

But both Phun – great fun that it is – and the incredible machine were made for children – not for toddlers. Toddler games are usually unimaginative, silly, and utterly dull. Toddlers need large buttons with an easy operation. They need compensation when they get stuck or do the wrong thing. If your character just dies or explodes, they cry. They need something more emotionally- friendly, where a wrong move still gives an interesting outcome, or better some insight on what the right thing to do was. Where do you find such a game?

Then comes ON.

I don’t know his name, but his creations are just what I sought for. They are witty, hilarious, ingenious, interesting, sometimes hard – but always trivial to function. These flash games are all that is good in computers and can’t be made without one. Most of his games are played by pressing on large, well defined buttons. It always does something – your job is to discover the correct order in which to press the buttons.

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How to cheat on a poll without actually lying

As you can read on various blogs (I did on Mark Chu-Carroll’s), there is some fuss over Washington State Republican caucus. Apparently, the GOP stopped counting votes on 87%, declaring McCain a winner before all votes got counted, and said the final results would be determined sometime next week. Now I won’t get into the gory details of the Republican party’s election methods (and gory they are, what a mess!). Some people, however, claim none of it matters. After all, was this really cheating? Isn’t the GOP right? They’ve counted 87% of the caucus. McCain has an edge, so what’s the chance that the total caucus will be different?

Well, today we shall answer that first question. Bottom line: it does matter, it was cheating, and pollsters do cheat like that all the time.

This is election lesson no. 1:

How to cheat on a poll without actually lying

What if Huckabee did have an edge? Suppose, hypothetically, that he had 55% of the votes, and that the other 45% were McCain’s. The chairman, who is a McCain supporter, supervises the votes counting. There is a very simple thing which he can do if he wants McCain to win – he can wait for a McCain to gain a temporary advantage, then stop the count, and declare McCain the winner. If you like riddles, you should try this question out, and then skip to the end of the post: what are the chairman’s chances of success?

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Bureaucracy and death

This is somewhat late. Non the less…Respectful Insolence has all the gory details:

The American government’s Office for Human Research Protections (OHRP) has forced some hospitals to halt a program that threatened to save thousands of lives (and millions of dollars) annually. Why? Because it was, allegedly, an unethical experiment, done without the approval of the patients. To the uninitiated, this might seem to be an interesting conflict between doctors who want to carry on doing dangerous experiments, and government officials who try to bind the doctors to the rules of a democratic society.

Forbidden fruit
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Consumerism. Why did they do it?

A good friend has emailed me with a very cute little link, depicting the wows of consumerism. It’s rather charming. Really. Have a look:

The good people at “story of stuff” make an interesting mistake glitch, though.

The presenter, Annie Leonard, correctly ascribes consumerism, that plague that makes us violate the earth, to post-WWII American politics. As she describes it, the US government (followed suit by the rest of the western world) developed consumerism because it was “a means to boost the economy”. That is a gross understatement, and a historical misunderstanding. I agree wholeheartedly with most of what she says in that short movie of hers. But this is one point I would like to correct. It is a rather interesting one. If you want all the gory details, go and read Tony Judt’s excellent PostWar. Here comes the shorthand:

The consumer-goods economy isn’t a matter of governments sucking to big corporations. It’s really a political issue of a grander scale. In fact, it is about fighting (and winning) the two most important political wars of the 20th century: the war on communism and the war on fascism.
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Are you a Zionist? (part 1)

I live in a rather tiny village – no more than 60 family homes, on a small Galilean mountain top. The village’s infrastructure are somewhat (meagerly) supported by “The Jewish Agency of Israel“. I’m not quite sure what exactly they are doing to help the village. They did buy the land for the village, but, after all, we had to buy the land from them (though I’ve signed a legal piece of paper giving them the right to evacuate me from my home “in accordance to the national interest”), and the infrastructure (roads, sewers, electricity, etc.) are paid for by the settlers themselves (that is, by us). But I needed to register at their offices and get their formal approval to join the village. So far so good. True, I have been denied some inessential assistance by a religious clerk who resented the fact that my wife and I are not “officially married” by a Rabbi. But that didn’t matter much. At least it didn’t matter enough for us to rush and get a religious matrimonial ceremony at the nearby Rabbinical institution. But my resentment of religiously defining my life is not the issue of this entry.

The issue here is ethnicity.
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Towards a new theory of Democracy – general framework

In the first entry I tried to show that many of us have some intuitive notion of Democracy that goes beyond the “majority rules” principle. In this and the following few entries I intend to dismantle that principle altogether.
In this post I’ll give the essentials – a short description of the claims which I intend to convince you of.
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Notes towards a new theory of Democracy – I

A few years ago, a friend of mine was working as a teacher, filling in for a sick colleague on a “citizenship” class. The teenagers in class had very little interest in the subject, as expected in normal schools. The substitute teacher found the class impossible to teach. “We know everything there is to know” they told him. “Israel is a Democratic state. That’s all there is to it, really”.
“And do you know what democracy is”? He demanded.
“Sure we do: it’s the rule of the majority”.

“Ok”. said my friend. “As you already know it all, we won’t study today. However, your teacher asked me to make sure you don’t leave the classroom a mess. So we thought maybe we’ll make a simple arrangement. I propose this: as of today, and throughout this year, all pupils sitting in rows 1-2 will stay a few minutes after school is over, to clean the classroom. Next year it will be rows 3-4, and the year after that it will be rows 5-6”.

Naturally, rows 1-2 were vehemently resentful. So he proposed a vote. Democracy, right? The class agreed, and naturally enough rows 3-6 were for, rows 1-2 against, so the proposal won by 2/3.
Rows 1-2 were now very upset. They declared the result “undemocratic”. “But the result passed by a majority!” claimed the teacher. So a discussion ensued, in which rows 1-2 spoke and the others had very little to say. Eventually they agreed that the vote violated the right for free speech, because they didn’t have a chance to discuss it properly.
He gave them 10 minutes. The second vote was identical to the first. Rows 1-2 were baffled. It seemed awfully undemocratic to them, but they couldn’t spell out the reason.
Neither could most people.

This blog is mainly about that reason. What exactly is Democracy? What is it good for? What can it do for you and how can you use it and improve it?