Posts Tagged ‘presidential election’

I have just joined a reading group related to prediction markets and crowd wisdom. One topic that has come up is range voting.  Our current election system in the US is known as plurality voting:  the person with the most votes wins.  This is fine in elections with two candidates, but when there are more candidates it is very bad.  More on that in a second.  Range voting takes a different approach and lets you assign a value on a scale to each candidate.  Let’s suppose the scale is 1 to 10, with 10 being your favorite choice.  The person with the most points at the end of the day wins.  This is much, much better.  So much better.

Bayesian regret is very simply the difference between the best case scenario and what actually happened measured in terms of utility.  The obvious question is “what does utility mean in a voting system?”  It’s not exactly something that’s easy to quantify.  Will I gain financially if Obama is elected?  Will I gain satisfaction if Nader is elected?  Will I lose my mind if McCain is elected?

Warren Smith has this solution:  generate a multitude of random simulations and see which method comes out on top.  It’s impossible to generate every possible permutation of voters in an election of any significant size, so he uses Monte Carlo methods to randomly sample the space.  This has the added advantage of alleviating the need to quantify utility for real people.  Just assign them a random value according to some model of voter mentality.  Smith points out that’s not perfect since these simplified models cannot exactly match real human behavior.  But if you run the simulation enough, it all comes out in the wash.

The result is that range voting beats everything every time in his simulations.  Even when considering strategic voters, range voting performs better against other voting styles with strategic voters.  Strategic voters are those who choose the lesser of the evils that they think might win.  Plurality voting is actually one of the worst methods when it comes to elections with more than two candidates.  So our voting system reinforces the two-party system we have in America.  Go figure.  The high numbers our method gets on Bayesian regret plays out in everyday life.  There are all these rallies to get people out to vote.  Most won’t, since they are disillusioned with the whole process.  Why shouldn’t they be?  It blows.  Read the paper or check out for details.

Instead of rocking the vote, let’s change it altogether.  Less Bayesian regret.  I should sell T-shirts.

less bayesian regret

Range voting: less bayesian regret

This is an absolutely awesome visualization of the Democratic race so far.

President Nobody

Posted: 17 April 2008 in Uncategorized
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Vote for nobody

But if you must vote, vote for Nader.

Names unnamed, sources unsourced, a CMU professor told me the other day that the best way to identify the party affiliation of political blogs is to find out who the blogger talks about all the time. Republicans spend their time, not bolstering their own candidates, but denegrating the Democrats. Ditto the Democrats. This is perhaps true on average, but you will undoubtedly find counterexamples the instant you start looking. So what about blogs that are leftist that criticize Democrats and Republicans? I suppose there are the right-wing counterparts, but I avoid those since I suspect they are mostly crackpot cults, white-power activists, and warmongers. Or Ron Paul supporters.

Which leads me to my next point. Ron Paul supporters got really motivated this primary season. It was at first inspiring, followed by slightly disturbing. The last time I saw that kind of fanaticism in white suburban males was when Star Wars Episode 1 came out. And like after Episode 1, their hopes were left like fish to die washed up on the rocks of failure beneath an unyielding sun. The so-called revolution did not come. Nor could it.

Next comes the Obamagasm. He talks a pretty talk, but like all mainstream candidates he has sacrificed a number of his ideals. While a little guy in Chicago, Obama met with the Arab community to discuss the issue of Palestinian liberation. Now he has cozied up to America’s client-state, Israel in an effort to improve his electability. I’m trying to rid myself of the feeling that “a candidate has to stick to one position for his entire career or else he has lost his integrity.” It’s just not human to do that and would represent a serious character flaw if the guy in the next cubicle did it. So why must politicians? Pre-Iraq War I was a Republican, but as I grew older and learned new things, that stance has shifted wildly. Shouldn’t I forgive such wishy-washyness in candidates? One might say it is important for a candidate to know himself, which I clearly did not, but new data comes along and sometimes you just have to change.

Every election of importance since 9/11 brings me to an eventual state of despair. Think of the lines of power in a political system. George R. R. Martin, my favorite fantasy author, has a great illustration in one of his books (which I will now present from memory, so consider this a semi-direct quotation with noise). The Master of Whisperers comes to the newly minted Hand of the King (the guy who does the day-to-day running of the kingdom) and presents him this riddle (paraphrased): “A rich man, a priest, a king, and a soldier are all in a room. The rich man says, kill them and I will give you half of all my wealth. The priest says, kill them in the name of the gods. The king says, kill them in the name of your king. Who does he kill?” The Hand in the story ponders the question, which has no answer (or rather, too many). It depends on the soldier. Who has the power? The man with the sword is nobody.

In a democratic society, are we the man with the sword? What is our allegiance? Are we greedy and side with the rich man, or pious and side with the priest? Are we loyal subjects and obey the king? Who taught us that each of these figures (and feel free to add your own) has power over us? Are these teachers the ones with the real power? Or are they just the front for the people with the real power? Where do the lines lead or is it just a jumbled graph that leads nowhere and everywhere? Maybe the power is an emergent behavior of the system — Adam Smith’s invisible hand. Either way, can we ever hope to change it?

Ralph Nader enters the race

Posted: 24 February 2008 in Uncategorized
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Green logo

The best criticism Obama can level against him is that he criticizes people for not living up to his standards. When it comes to choosing a president, I want someone with high standards.

Meh Tuesday

Posted: 5 February 2008 in Uncategorized
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My longtime friend over at the Wrathful Dove has an excellent post today on the lack of superness in this so-called Super Tuesday, and I wanted to give it a plug.  Here is a brief excerpt that I thought sheds light on the charade that we call “elections” in America:

I was reading the “issues” section of the Atlanta Journal Constitution on Sunday where there was an entire article devoted to comparing the musical selections of the candidates to see what exciting insights this exercise might provide. The same article also subtly observed the importance of selecting a candidate who seems likely to win in November, effectively reducing elections down to the horse race terms in which it is often framed in the corporate media.

These elections are a sham and an obscene circus.

Every four years the American public gets to select its master-in-chief from a narrow field of candidates who fiercely compete and debate within a very narrow range so as to give the illusion of choice and dialog while keeping the true options fixed to those acceptable and profitable to corporate America.

Check out his blog for the rest of the post.

The Crowd Thins

Posted: 30 January 2008 in Uncategorized
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Well, Edwards is all set to announce he is dropping out of the democratic race and Ghouliani has withdrawn from the republican side. Of the mainstream democrat candidates, Edwards was the least likely to become corporate lapdog of the year. He had some unfortunate things against him, which made me less than meh about his bid, but I would have preferred him to Clinton or Obama. My prediction is Obama will take it. As for the Republicans, I was terribly wrong about McCain’s prospects. Which evil would be worse? McCain or Romney in the White House? I must say, though, I am so, so glad that Ghouliani was a miserable failure. If he had been made president, the world would have been a much darker place.

Rudy Giuliani (Ghouliani) - EPIC FAIL

At this point, no one is heading to the White House that I support. I refuse to support the lesser of two evils and so will almost certainly be voting Green as a protest.

Fred Thompson has dropped out of the race for president. I liked him on Law and Order, not so much as a presidential candidate. Now he can go back to doing something he’s relatively good at. I’d feel more secure if Ghouliani dropped out (kudos for the name). His continued presence gives me shivers. He’s probably waiting for McCain to screw up and drive the electorate into his arms.

There is a fine line between conspiracy theory and reasonable deduction. Most would agree it is insane to believe that a group of elite men have existed since before the founding of the United States with the purpose of ruling the world from secret. Most would agree that it is insane to believe that 9/11 was staged by people in the US government. But there are all these little coincidences out there that hint at something deeper going on. When we place them all side by side it seems almost reasonable to believe in the conspiracy theory, but the problem is that we have access to a limited set of the data. If we sampled from the distribution of coincidences again, we might come to a completely different conclusion. This is part of the difference between believing in a conspiracy theory and coming to a reasonable conclusion from the facts.

So consider these “coincidences” [source]:

  • The owner of MSNBC and NBC is General Electric, who also owns Raytheon
  • Raytheon is a defense contractor
  • General Electric has a vested stake in Yucca Mountain
  • GE and its affiliates have contributed to the main democratic contenders (Clinton, Obama, Edwards)
  • GE and its affiliate employees have individually contributed nearly $70,000 to those candidates
  • NBC has consistently excluded Kucinich from presidential debates
  • Kucinich opposes the War in Iraq and opening Yucca Mountain

In the latest presidential debate, NBC stated its criteria for selecting candidates was being ranked in the top four. Since Bill Richardson exited the race, much to my pleasure, Kucinich was now in the top four. NBC extended him an invitation only to rescind it two days later. Kucinich sued on violation of contract and won. NBC appealed and Kucinich lost. NBC claimed their first amendment rights were infringed by being forced to include Kucinich. Corporations have first amendment rights?

So is it right to conclude from these series of “coincidences” that NBC and its corporate masters have conspired to affect the election by removing from consideration candidates who would not be financially beneficial to them? Or is it a reasonable deduction to conclude from the facts that GE has a vested interest in making sure candidates who will support their goals are given media attention, which translates directly into votes? If you will not agree with that, then surely you must agree that by excluding Kucinich, they materially affect the distribution of votes in the election.

Brother Rudy

Posted: 2 January 2008 in Uncategorized
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Good ole Rudy Giuliani is up to no good. His recent television spot is nothing short of evil. I’m sorry, but when you blatantly use FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt) for political gain, you might as well announce your intention to become a tyrant. He’s apparently using the political playbook of Goebbels. By simultaneously portraying muslims as vicious animals and Iran as a warmongering nation led by a madman, this ad is a masterpiece clumsy bit of propaganda. I hate to think that people are stupid enough to believe him.