Wednesday, May 13, 2015

PR under FPTP

Any Member of Parliament could be elected on the following manifesto:
  1. "In Parliament, and in all my work with the public, and before public scrutiny, I will remain a spokesperson for my party. I will show the greatest sympathy to my party line, although I will of course take care to refine it, and to constructively criticize it, whenever my intelligence and my conscience suggest that that is necessary."
  2. "However, in any parliamentary vote, I will always vote according to the wishes of the majority of my constituents. Sometimes -- even often -- that may require me to vote against my better judgment. But I will do so, respecting the higher principle that I am my constituents' delegate in Parliament."
In constructing such a covenant for voters, the details are important. In particular, the details of how the MP would seek to know their constituents' wishes. The core mechanism would be secure and accessible online polling. But provision would have to be made for constituents who didn't have reliable internet access, or who couldn't figure out their phones. Some provision could also be made for constituents who were too beaten down, busy and/or jaded to actively involve themselves.

The covenant would also have to set precise thresholds which, if not met, would permit the MP a degree of discretion. At least two kinds of threshold would be involved. Ideally these should be interlinked, although there are also good reasons to avoid making the covenant too complex.
  1. A support threshold. The higher the proportion of constituents who support a particular vote, the more binding it should be on the MP. A very evenly split constituency should give the MP (or the MP's Whips' Office) the chance to exercise discretion. (For instance the covenant might include some provision like this: if fewer than 40% support a particular Bill, the MP must vote no, if it is 40%-47%, the MP may choose between no and abstention; if it is 48%-52%, the MP may choose between aye, no, and abstention; if it is 53%-60%, the MP may choose between aye and abstention, and if it above 60% the MP must vote aye).
  2. A quorum threshold. If very few constituents are interested in a particular poll, it may provide a skewed result. 
The covenant should also have a legal contractual form, so that constituents would have the option of pressuring a rogue MP through the courts.

At the present moment, the approach I have described might appeal to any single-issue independent candidate without a great chance of winning. It could potentially appeal to Liberal Democrat or even the Green candidates in some of their most hopeless-looking seats, and perhaps to Labour and the Conservatives in Scotland. At first it would have to varnish wonkishness with hope. If the approach were successful in winning a seat, or even in a startling gain for an outlier, it would no doubt be adopted by others at the next election.

As I see it, there are two main kinds of danger.
  1. New forms of voter intimidation, treating, and misinformation, new patterns of exclusion and disenfranchisement, and in particular, the rise of canny MPs who learn to filter and manipulate polling to produce whatever mandates they want. What if, after a few successful iterations, an MP "refines" this democratic practice, by introducing a short quiz prior to each vote, just to make sure that only "properly" informed constituents have their voices listened to?
  2. The public getting its way.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

An excerpt from "Popular Magic: Cunning-Folk in English History" (2003/2007)

By Owen Davies.

Yet, the fact that cunning-folk like Walton unscrupulously imposed upon their clients is still no proof that they were completely cynical about the powers they professed. Walton evidently believed in the veracity of astrology, believed in witchcraft and the power of charms, and considered himself capable of achieving results in both areas; but to save time and effort, and also to satisfy the convictions of his clients, he cut corners and pandered to them rather than correcting their false suspicions.

Note on Mieville's The City & The City

Could we imagine crosshatched money?

It is not beyond imagining. But it is more difficult to imagine than any crosshatched space or object.

And this difficulty speaks to something about the nature of money. It tells us that money is closer in its nature to the one phenomenon which absolutely cannot accommodate crosshatching, the one thing which must be in Besźel, or in Ul Qoma, or in Breach.

That is, money is like people.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Quick Hugo thought

If none of this makes any sense to you, lemme suggest counting yourself lucky and not looking into it any further.

Some folk out there seem to be hemming and hawing between (a) No-Awarding the Puppies selections or (b) No-Awarding every Puppy-dominated category, since it would be totally unfair to give "The Day the World Turned Upside Down" a Hugo by default, and pretty unfair to give e.g. The Goblin Emperor a Hugo with reduced competition.

I'm hemming and possibly even hawing too, but I know exactly what would let me make up my mind: releasing the full nomination data. 

That way you could see who else could have been on the ballot. Then the procedure's simple: you construct a virtual ballot from a Puppy-free world (the kind of Stalinist disappearing we SJWs lurve) and make your choice. If your selection from the virtual ballot is on the real ballot as well, you vote for them above No Award; otherwise you No Award the whole category.

But we don't have the full nomination data, right?


Also: Nate Silver has predicted a hung Hugo in the novel category, which means we're likely to see Skin Game forming a coalition novel with Ancillary Sword ... if they can reach an agreement. (Not really).

Elsewhere: "Instead of a sword, I carry two sets of tactical laser turrets." A frosty read-through of Puppy nominees by secritcrush.

Earlier: my sample proposal for reforming the voting system for the Hugo Awards. And possibly for the UK Parliament, now that I think about it. (Basically I've solved everything? Anyone want to help me work out the details? Any nifty coders, for example?)


PS: Maybe it's a pity that the Hugo nomination rules are likely to be altered to reduce the influence of slates. Each iteration of the Sad Puppies campaign has been a little different, and it might be interesting to watch future mutations under the twin suns of Outsider Cachet and Basic Decency. Could they perhaps scrape together a genuinely diverse slate next year in terms of authorship, while still promoting mainly tie-in fiction, military science fiction, and conservative and/or libertarian science fiction? Could they exorcise Rabid Puppies and GamerGate? They are only a few tweaks away from someone like me giving them the time of day -- reading their nominations with a carjack-opened mind -- though I'm dubious whether they could make those tweaks without alienating their core supporters.

Vimes & Eggs

One of the things Terry Pratchett's City Watch series does is celebrate the keeping of the peace, and the rule of law. It therefore also finds itself celebrating the police.

1) The keeping of the peace and the rule of law are not to be sniffed at. Getting inside the head of Sam Vimes (Vimes is brave; Vimes is obstinate; Vimes is put-upon; Vimes is grouchy and ill-tempered in a way which is really a kind of grim good humour; posh people make Vimes's skin crawl; Vimes is a hugely reluctant social climber; Vimes struggles with his old-fashioned bigotry and sexism; Vimes doesn't have to be an idealist or a realist because he's just always a bit knurd; on some level Vimes is probably a bit overwrought that he has never quite had to sacrifice his life for the greater good; Vimes is prone to inner conflicts between an id-like "Beast" and a superego-like "Watchman"; Vimes is exactly the person you want with you in a tight corner; Vimes is (sorry) bae) is an excellent way not to sniff at them.

2) Nor should we forget the angle at which Pratchett first came in on the City Watch, imparting a general orientation to everything which followed. In the rhetoric of TV Tropes, these police started out as genre-savvy mooks (or redshirts, perhaps: and cf. e.g. John Scalzi's Redshirts, and the massacred henchmen of Austin Powers).

That is: one of the running themes of Guards! Guards! is the way in which stories treat certain minor characters as disposable, just to show off the swordplay and other heroic antics of the major characters. But here are characters who don't feel "minor" and who refuse to be disposable.

I really like, by the way, guessing at the shifting nuance of these translations of that excellent title. Look especially at the Italian, the Norwegian/Swedish, and at the Spanish:

Стражите! Стражите! (Bulgarian)
Stráže! Stráže! (Czech)
Wacht! Wacht! (Dutch)
Vahid! Vahid! (Estonian)
Vartijat, hoi! (Finnish)
Au Guet ! (French)
Wachen! Wachen! (German)
שומרים! שומרים! (Shomrim! Shomrim!) (Hebrew)
Őrség! Őrség! (Hungarian)
A me le guardie! (Italian)
I lovens navn! (In the name of the law) (Norwegian)
Straż! Straż! (Polish)
Guardas! Guardas! (Portuguese - Brazil)
Gărzi! Gărzi! (Romanian)
Стража! Стража! (Russian)
Straža! Straža! (Serbian)
¡Guardias! ¿Guardias? (Spanish)
I lagens namn (In the name of the law) (Swedish)
來人啊! (繁體中文)

3) Nor should we forget that what is fantastical about the City Watch isn't exactly that it includes dwarves and werewolves and vampires and trolls and so on in its ranks -- Captain Carrot Ironfoundersson, Captain Angua von Überwald, Lance-Constable Salacia "Sally" von Humpeding, Sergeant Detritus, Sergeant Fred Colon, Corporal Nobby Nobbs, Sergeant Cheery Littlebottom, Constable Reginald Shoe, Inspector A. E. Pessimal, Constable Igor et al., hi guys <3 -- which is really less extraordinary than the idea that the Watch is roughly representative, in many different ways (see note), of the population it polices.

The Watch is not an elite fraternity of mostly financially flourishing white men, whose individual kindnesses and cruelties mostly cancel out (as in the expression "oh, it'll all come out in the Watch"), leaving only their Job, and who will, if you try too energetically to advance a Vimesian agenda of peace, order, pragmatism, mild cosmopolitanism and substantive legal equality, come up to you and wound you, because that's their Job. Guard labour! Guard labour! In other words, there is an element of utopianism to the Watch -- or at least of a weirdly inverted satire -- since half the time it is the Watch's virtues, not its vices, that are grotesquely amplified and enlarged compared with Roundworld correlates.

4) But. There's no easy way to say this. You guys, Vimes is a cop. I hope it won't be too long before we will all look back at the crime fiction genre in general, and police procedurals in particular, and be absolutely mystified and a little horrified that (with a few exceptions) any of this celebration of the bullying, butchering carceral state was even intelligible, let alone successful as propaganda. And Pratchett is certainly part of that. His cops are cuddlier than most (in some cases literally).

5) Although the Watch sequence is interested in exploring the space between the voice that shouts "Guards! Guards!" and the voice that shouts "Police! Police!", it frequently finds that space to be unexpectedly cramped.

I think there is an intermittent discomfort with the whole idea of taking a police perspective in the first place, a restlessness which finds expression in many ways. The novel Night Watch is perhaps one big example, in which a time travel conceit lets Pratchett just park that liberal progress shtick, and stick his copper on top of a barricade in pitched battle against a repressive state.

But I also just noticed a small example in Thud!, which was really all I want to point out here. "Pig" is, of course, a way of referring to a police officer when you don't want to hear any excuses. It's a way of saying, "Because all humans, despite and because of our sublime diversity, are in some fundamental and important sense equal, the only truly inhuman thing anyone can do is a Job which wages endless war on that equality." It's a way of saying, "Become human again." It's a way of saying, "Quit."

It can be a way of saying, "Die," although this can also depend on things like vegetarianism.

In Thud! Vimes is, in two separate ways, associated with not the pig, but with the ambivalent figure of the pig-not-pig. A kind of Schrödinger's Pig.

The first is, of course, the "BLT" sandwiches with which Vimes hopes to evade Lady Sybil's health regime, and which contain either superabundant bacon and negligible garnish, or jungles of lettuce and tomato and next-to-zero bacon.

The second has a direct link with finance. It sees Vimes encircled by a spectres of frozen, temporally inverted pig meat. Vimes visits the Pork Futures Warehouse:
The Pork Futures Warehouse was one of those things, the sort that you get in a city that has lived with magic for too long. The occult reasoning, if such it could be called, was this: pork was an important commodity in the city. Future pork, possibly even pork as yet unborn, was routinely traded by the merchants. Therefore, it had to exist somewhere. And the Pork Futures Warehouse came into existence, icy cold within as the pork drifted backwards in time.
*   *   *

Note: Btw & fwiw: there's a fairly strong sociologically working class vibe in Vimes's Watch. How do their finances stack up? Setting aside the fact that the Discworld hasn't been pedantically worldbuilt in advance, and various mentions of salaries and prices don't always seem to quite fit together: if a Watchman gets $30 a month, then using the 50c-per-day rate for stable hands mentioned in The Truth as an analogue for the UK minimum wage, that would give us a back-of-the-envelope Watchman's salary of around £26,000, very close to the actual starting police officer salary in my part of Roundworld (although not counting overtime bonuses, which can be enormous: ultimately the Job is compensated at more-or-less the same level as dentists, accountants, and civil engineers, and a bit below architects, lawyers, and the lower tiers of finance professionals).