The Electoral College and the popular vote

An article about the statistics of the Electoral College as opposed to the popular vote. The graphic showing the relative unimportance of most states in the Presidential elections is particularly illuminating, as is the conclusion, that it is only those states that have any incentive to change the system. Come on, Coastal states, time to assert ourselves.

More disinformation

Just saw JoJo Rabbit. One of the main things I see is the way the some of the adult characters believe all sorts of bullshit, about Jews, about Russians and Americans, and how the 10-year-old kid who’s the main character absorbs all that. And how some of the characters of course don’t believe any of it, but profess to because of the power it gives them, or because it keeps them safe. Part of the reason the movie works is because these ludicrous ideas are treated seriously by the children. Why wouldn’t they think Jews had horns when all the serious adults are telling them so? And when you could be killed for not believing it?

Bad UI design

Started Quicken this morning, and it

  • fired up a dialog saying “searching for updates”
  • fired up a second dialog upon completion, with the message “no updates found, you’re up-to-date, make sure you check frequently” and an “OK” button

This is the “normal” case: I’m going to check for you to see if something needs to be done. One would hope that, in the normal case where nothing needs to be done, no further information needs to be imparted and no further action required on the part of the user. It would all seamlessly happen behind the scenes, and a dialog would only be shown if the user needed something or needed to tell the system something. I suspect the “make sure you check frequently” was just added to the text as a rationalization for having the dialog box in the first place.

I don’t consider myself much of an expert on UI, but I know what I don’t like …
update: … and then it didn’t bother to open the program (!)

Trump and disinformation

The political theorist Hannah Arendt once wrote that the most successful totalitarian leaders of the 20th century instilled in their followers “a mixture of gullibility and cynicism.” When they were lied to, they chose to believe it. When a lie was debunked, they claimed they’d known all along—and would then “admire the leaders for their superior tactical cleverness.” Over time, Arendt wrote, the onslaught of propaganda conditioned people to “believe everything and nothing, think that everything was possible and that nothing was true.”

I read the article “The Billion-Dollar Disinformation Campaign to Reelect the President” in The Atlantic this morning (of which the above quote forms part of the conclusion) and it struck a chord. A campaign of uncertainty and lies, whispered into people’s ears. If the truth-checkers are themselves discredited, as the article points out, appeals to correctness won’t work. According to the article, some in the opposition think that using the same techniques is the answer, but to me that just opens them up to justified charges of dirty tricks which’ll be exploited by the administration and it’s representatives.

I’m not sure what the remedy is. Worth a read, and a think. One thing for sure, though: invalidating our tools for coming to grips with reality is a negative-sum game – reality will always bite you in the ass.

Brexit happened

Take a road trip from Greece to Sweden, from Portugal to Hungary. Leave your passport behind. What a rich, teeming bundle of civilisations – in food, manners, architecture, language, and each nation state profoundly and proudly different from its neighbours. No evidence of being under the boot-heel of Brussels. Nothing here of continental USA’s dreary commercial sameness. Summon everything you’ve learned of the ruinous, desperate state of Europe in 1945, then contemplate a stupendous economic, political and cultural achievement: peace, open borders, relative prosperity, and the encouragement of individual rights, tolerance and freedom of expression. Until Friday this was where our grown-up children went at will to live and work.

Ian McEwan, in The Guardian,

Gun buyback

So, the government won’t do it, at the local, regional, site or federal level. Let’s have the churches do it. Follow the example of and pay money for guns. Fund it from the congregation. Hold it as a multi-day carnival. Point and shame the churches that won’t participate. Big finish, where guns are destroyed in a big metal press or something, to the cheers of the crowd. Freedom of religion, baby!

This I did not know

Donald Trump has been calling the press for decades using pseudonyms, passing on rumors that cast a favorable light on Donald Trump. Using this technique, he has inflated estimates of his net worth and his desirability amongst rich and powerful women.

There’s an article in Fortune magazine from 2016 that describes his practice. Apparently still doing it as President.

A simple model of how trade breaks down

One of the most interesting papers I’ve read this year, and it comes in at the end of December:

Is Inequality Inevitable, Bruce Boghosian et al, Scientific American Nov 2019

(Via a post from Brewster Kahle where he implements the authors’ model as a dice game, The Game of Oligarchy

It shows how a simple model of free trade between equals degenerates into classes of rich and poor, even when the trade is voluntary, the value of the trade to each partner benefits one or the other randomly and the mechanism is iterated for a large number, how this reflects many well-understood processes in nature where phase changes emerge from chaotic interactions between individual elements, and how a simple model of redistribution can (and does, in real societies) fix the problem.