September 18, 2006

The Swedish Political Undergrowth

part.pngYesterday's elections in Sweden were unusually interesting, not just because of the number of major and minor scandals, the uncertainty and the eventual defeat of the social democrats, but also because of the growing interest in the smaller parties. The minor parties got 5.24%, more than twice last election.

I plotted the number of votes vs the rank of the party, log votes and a log-log diagram (click on picture for a PDF). A few observations:

The 4% cut-off to enter parliament is very visible. Once you are in it is much easier to get attention, and you get party support money. But the same step seems to almost exist between the two largest parties and the rest: once you are a big party you can also set up the system to serve you. There is even a hint that there is something similar happening outside parliament, easiest to see in the single log diagram around Sjukvårdspartiet (the health care party). It might even repeat a few times below that, but now the samples are getting small. But it doesn't strike me as strange that there would be stratification among the minor parties. Sverigedemokraterna, Piratpartiet, Feministiskt Initiativ and Junilistan were mentioned and discussed in the media, most of the others were not.

In fact, if we plot log votes vs log number of references on Swedish web pages we get a pretty good linear fit.

Enhet ("unity"), being a single and relatively common word, gets a lot more hits than it should. It is interesting to note that the retiree party SPI gets unusually few google hits - maybe the members are less keen on computers? There is also a clear gap or break between the 10,000+ reference parties and the smaller ones of an order of magnitude. The feminist party and piracy party were surprisingly weakly represented on the net - I would have expected them to be far more referenced. Now they just follow the line.

The single log diagram shows that voting numbers could be fitted with a simple exponential (votes for party N = 10^(5.3425-0.1645 N)), which correctly predicts 32-33 parties with more than one vote. But as the loglog diagram shows, one could fit a power law to the smaller parties and maybe the larger one, with a break at 4%. The lesson is that with data that doesn't stretch across decades it is hard to distinguish different distributions.

Overall, I'm most impressed by the piracy party. In my opinion they have a very flawed ideology and no political experience whatsoever. Yet they managed to get more than half of the votes of the feminist party, led by an experienced and well-known political leader. And they beat Junilistan, who last election did a surprise run at the EU poll. My theory is that they got both the youth and a number of the high tech votes - a voting group that none of the other parties have done anything to attract. It is very likely that the party will continue to have an influence on the Swedish IP debate.

The party I missed in this data was the Donald Duck Party, which has declined since 1991 (1500 votes) to just 10 last election and apparently none this one. But then again, I once voted for the Ezenhemmer Plastic Bags and Child Rearing Utensils Party, mostly since they had promised to make me Minister of Science if they won. In fact, there seems to be a lack of frivolous parties in the data right now. Maybe people are indeed taking politics too seriously.

ADDENDUM: I just noticed a list of parties with only handwritten notes. So the Donald Duck Party did not vanish, it just got 8 votes (plus some alternate spellings). And it seems that it is down here among the one-vote parties we find the old joke parties. As well as Ny Demokrati, which always was a joke.

Posted by Anders3 at 07:51 PM | Comments (0)

September 17, 2006

the Globalization of Cheap Electronics

keyboard-assembled2.jpgThe Cheap Electronics Dissection Project fascinates me. The author buys cheap electronics in Ecuador for less than $10 and then picks it apart to see what is inside. And it is impressive how much one can get for so little. A wonderful example of technology diffusion and globalization at its best. While the devices are obiously lagging behind what you get in the richer countries they are not astronomically far behind, something I have been worrying about in terms of enhancement technologies.

Now we just need to figure out how to put together a $100 with a smarter businessplan than the current well-meaning but state-oriented project. If we want a laptop in every home I think we will be more likely to succeed if they are just very cheap and desirable, not by convincing a government to pay for it ("Great idea sir, but if we pay for it must run keylogging software so kid's parents not use it to blog illegally!")

Posted by Anders3 at 12:09 PM | Comments (0)

September 15, 2006

Sugar, Surprises & Scalpels

sugar.jpgI haven't linked to my CNE blogs for a while. My most recent one was about genetic testing for diabetes and whether it would be useful. I was somewhat surprised to see just how widely Janssens et al. were quoted about these tests being fairly useless. Either the journalists were really trying to find some balancing counterpoint, or this team is doing a great job of spreading their research findings. Or they have an axe to grind. Normally when I feel sceptic about the latest hype I tend to talk about it, but seldom to this extent.

Before that I talked about the inevitable surprises in cancer treatment. It is amazing how small trends can add up and how easy it is to miss them.

Fair trade scalpels is another interesting topic. But as I argue, they won't do much good in the current centralistic medical sector. Fair trade works when it is decentralized, not when it becomes corporativist.

Posted by Anders3 at 12:16 AM | Comments (0)

September 14, 2006

Conservative Life Extension

Charles N.W. Keckler on TCS Daily makes a Conservative Case for Immortality. I'm reminded of Eric K. Drexler's keynote speech at Extro 3, where he argued that cryonic suspension of recently dead was the 'cautious and conservative thing to do'.

It is a nice essay, but will hardly convince any conservatives. Because preserving the greats of the past, stabilising society and maybe slowing down progress isn't all that conservatism is about. Conservatives try to protect a particular way of living, a pattern of life. The fear is that life extension would change the way we live or see ourselves, not that it would lead to a world of little old ladies.

The mistake here, made by both conservatives and transhumanists, is of course the assumption that life extension really changes things. Some institutions would have to be adjusted, but it is not immediately obvious that much longer lives radically changes what it means to be a human. Even a doubling of lifespan in many areas of the world over a mere century did not cause people to cease to be people. Maybe we are too obsessed about the periphery of human existence to notice that it is the core, the everyday life, that really makes up human beingness. Of course, I want to change that too.

Maybe the conservative thing to do is to figure out how to preserve life patterns more efficiently. Stopping progress and change never works, and while tempering the worst stupidities of the new is always worthwhile it will not preserve life patterns very well. Maybe we should aim at cultural cryonics: finding ways of setting up communities that can opt out of the mainstream and keep their particular patterns alive. A bit like the culture reservations in Transmetropolitan. This is in many ways similar to having seed banks of varieties of crops and other plants. If something happens, there is always a backup. So instead of wringing hands at the folly of the neophiles, the conservatives should look at space colonisation, applied sociology and virtual community building and start constructing a cultural cryonics toolbox. That would be the cautious and conservative thing to do.

Posted by Anders3 at 03:53 PM | Comments (0)

Hail Eris!

Resize of planets3.jpgIt is now official, 2003 UB313 (formerly known as Xena) will be named Eris.

The entire brouhaha about Plutos planetary status has annoyed me to no end, partially because it presupposes that planets is some form of natural kind, but also because it reminded me of astrology. I always get annoyed by astrology because it is like the incompetent elderly uncle to science.

Western astrologers seem to be happy to include new planets into horoscopes, which is OK in my book: that shows that they at least believe the real world matters.

"The teaching in western astrology, the only astrological system in the world which accepts new planets, is that when a new planet is discovered and named, the archetype of that planet is available to everyone on Earth. The name of the planet counts, so does the planet's mythology and the story of the planet."

And divining the astrological significance, it at least sounds quasi-empirical (but the discussions do not appear to be very careful with standards of evidence). But then comes the assumption that the name is significant. Which should mean that now the female warrior archetype has got replaced by the spiteful female (or hopefully, the LSD-illuminati-sexy-mother-goddess). Due to a decision among a small group of astronomers. If one really believes that naming objects have significance, one ought to stop the IAU from naiming all these transneptunians sinisterly: Chaos, Deucalion, Orcus, Ixion and so on. This mixing up between labels and things is typical for pseudoscience.

And then there is the ephemerid problem. Astrologers don't seem to mind that the precession has made the planets be in different signs on the sky than they are on the charts (not to mention that Ophiuchi should be part of the zodiac). I wonder if they are adjusting the location of the newly discovered planets to fit the astrological signs or the real ones? And now they are happily adding transneptunians to the charts without caring that they often have a high inclination (Eris has 45 degrees inclination). So Eris could be in signs outside the zodiac (right now Cetus), but arbitrarily gets assigned to one of them.

It is this arbitrariness that annoys me to no end. Astrologers not only claim their methods work, they also claim they are based on some higher cosmic order. But apparently this higher cosmic order is quite random or arbitrary, not regular and logical. So in the end nothing is gained: the purported cosmic machinery of destiny is just as hopless as mere chance.

Maybe Eris is the real goddess of astrology.

Posted by Anders3 at 03:12 PM | Comments (0)