Voters and non-voters

 

Hillary Clinton in Concord, New Hampshire
Hillary Clinton in Concord, New Hampshire (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Hillary Clinton won more votes than Donald Trump in the US elections, yet she didn’t win the presidency. This has led to many of Clinton’s supporters to cry foul, and talk about getting rid of the electoral college system that they have in the US.

It’s not going to happen. The electoral college is a result of the unique formation of the United States of America. Before the Union all the states were autonomous and had their own laws and regulations and these were protected in the US Constitution. One of the safeguards which was built in was to protect the electoral system within a state from being replaced or modified by those not from that state, and this resulted more or less directly in the electoral college system.

English: 1908 Electoral College
English: 1908 Electoral College (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As a consequence of this being part of the constitution, it is very difficult to change. To just become a proposal an amendment requires a two-thirds vote in congress, and requires a three-quarters vote by the states to be adopted. Since the two major parties pretty much share the country, it would require all the votes of one party and around half the votes of the other party.

There have been many ways that the leader or leaders of group of humans is chosen, and there are many words that end in the suffixes -ocracy or -archy. All have their advocates and their denigrators. All have probably been tried somewhere at sometime or other.

Countries highlighted in blue are designated &...
Countries highlighted in blue are designated “Electoral Democracies” in Freedom House’s 2006 survey Freedom in the World. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In an attempt to define how a person should be treated and the rights that he or she should have, Eleanor Roosevelt chaired a committee which wrote the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a somewhat fatuous document which was adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations.

Article 21 of the UDHR talks about the right of everyone to take part in the government of his/her country, and implies but stops short of prescribing representative democracy. As such, the UDHR has plenty of “wriggle room” for alternative for other methods of government, as even a dictator could argue, and they often do, that what preceded them was worse and the dictatorship is merely a step towards returning or giving the power to the people.

(1) Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives.
(2) Everyone has the right of equal access to public service in his country.
(3) The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.

Many regimes though, don’t even try to argue they are merely filling a gap, but no doubt think that they are doing the best for their people. No one surely sets out to be a blood-thirsty dictator, after all. Arguably, though, a volatile country might benefit from a period with a strong leader, but eventually a strong leader will become succumb to a feeling of hubris and entitlement. Eventually he will be overthrown.

60 th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration...
60 th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (2008) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There exists a strong feeling that democracy is the best form of government that humans have tried. Whether or not it is the best system that is possible is another question. In a democracy everyone has a say and theoretically at least the government can be replaced, without revolution or bloodshed, if the population at large decides that it doesn’t like those it has elected.

Most democracies are representative democracies, in that the population do not normally vote on all issues, but elect a person to represent them in governing the country. Ideally such a representative would canvas or solicit views on topics that have to be decided, but in practise a potential representative will lay out his/her views and the electors pick the person who most closely fits their viewpoint.

Women standing in line to vote in Bangladesh.
Women standing in line to vote in Bangladesh. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Since this is done before the representative is selected, a future contentious issue may find the representative at odds with many of his constituents on the issue. While a good representative will make his views known and may solicit electoral views, and the electors can make the representative aware of their views by various means, the communication between the representative and his electors is to say the least inefficient.

A big thing about democracy is that everyone has at least one vote. In some systems a person may have more than vote, and in almost all democracies the voter gets a chance to vote to fill various roles, such as mayor, or sheriff, or local councillor. A democracy is an involving system, soliciting voter views on a periodic basis, so why don’t people get involved?


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In the recent American Presidential election only just over 50% of the electorate voted, and this was in one of the most controversial elections of recent times. Since each candidate took almost half the popular vote only one in four voters voted to make Trump president. Of course only about one in four voters voted for Clinton (who got more votes than Clinton).

People don’t vote if they can’t be bothered, if they think that their vote will not make a difference and a small number don’t vote because they disagree with the process, maybe for political or religious reasons. The US is not alone in this, as a significant number of voters do not vote in an election in many democracies.


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I would suggest that this is true in most democracies, but I don’t have the data. Some people suggest that making the voting easier by introducing electronic voting over the Internet, but I feel that this will not make a big difference. I feel that the reason for low turnouts is disinterest and a belief voting doesn’t make any real difference.

“For politicians, passing laws is like passing water,” said Narayan. “It all ends down the drain.”
Rohinton Mistry, A Fine Balance

Election promises are rarely believed and seldom acted upon. There is unlikely to be a wall built between the United States and Mexico. Trump has succeeded with that promise however, not because people believe that he will do, but because he most aligns with what people would like to do, and I don’t mean build a wall. He has proposed a solution to a perceived problem, and that is good enough for those who turned out and voted. Any solution that catches the imagination of the voters would have done as well.


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Post-rational


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Science has achieved marvellous things. It’s sent people to the moon, It’s reduced disease and the impact that disease has on people. It’s given us transistors, computers, the Internet and cell phones. It’s given us non-stick frying pans.


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Science and its descendants, like biology, physics, and chemistry, and their descendants, like engineering, agriculture and medicine, have been an immense boon to the human race, to the extent that the human race would not have achieved the majority of things that we see around us. Railways, planes, roads and cars have all been achieved by the applied use of science.

Why then are people beginning to reject science and all that it has done for us? Why is there this anti-science, anti-rational groundswell, and does it really matter?

English: Anti-Science (including math, physics...
English: Anti-Science (including math, physics, chemistry, biology, computer science, etc.) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There have always been flat-earth proponents – people who disbelieve science, and bend the predictions of science almost to breaking point to favour their point of view. While they in general accept the facts, they do not like the conclusions drawn from the facts and build their own convoluted theories and explanations instead.

Then there are those who attack the theories of relativity. Here at least there is some justification as relativity is not easy to get your head around. It is not intuitive, and that is a weak way to some extent excuses the attacks on it. However the relativity opponents are generally unwilling to throw some maths at the problem – and without the maths, their objection do not stand up to scrutiny. In fact if they were to apply the maths, and were able to understand the maths, then probably the only conclusion they could come to is that the theories of relativity apply.

Banesh Hoffmann, in the 1979 film Continuum, s...
Banesh Hoffmann, in the 1979 film Continuum, speaking about the theory of relativity (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Many of those who oppose scientific theories do not understand what a theory is. A typical case is where someone declares that “evolution is only a theory“! What they don’t understand is that everything is a theory.

It is a theory that the sun “rises” because the Earth spins in its orbit, causing the Sun appear to rise in the East. (I’ve lost the Flat Earthers by this point of course). It’s a very good theory and one that is incredibly unlikely to be disproved, but it is still a theory.

Only A Theory
Only A Theory (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A theory is something that explains the known facts, and trying to dismiss something as “only a theory” pretty much amounts to dismissing all of science, as science is a network of interconnected theories.

This ignorance of what science is and theories are goes hand in hand with the simplified and cartoonish way that science is taught in schools. Here is an atom is behaves in so and so way, it reacts with these other atoms, and so on. Very little of the history of the development of the concepts is done, and unless someone gets interested and studies the roots of science, much of science becomes merely didactic and not fundamentally informative in any way.


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Students do get told a little about how one theory may supplant another theory, but very often the concept doesn’t really sink in. A scientific theory is taught authoritatively – students are told that the ancient Greeks had some weak ideas which could barely be called theories, but Newton tossed that junk aside and used Reason to develop his theories. Then Einstein came along and “disproved” Newton’s theories.

There is an idea that theories can be discarded, but the next part, where another theory takes its place is skipped over or ignored. Inconvenient facts are ignored, or “explained” as errors or bias. It may often be implicitly or explicitly asserted that scientists have a vested interest or that there is a conspiracy to suppress the true theories.

Three models of change in scientific theories,...
Three models of change in scientific theories, depicted graphically to reflect roughly the different views associated with Karl Popper, Thomas Kuhn, and Paul Feyerabend. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There is one huge example, the tobacco industry, where bias and vested interests have had a negative influence on the science, and this, one can see, seems to validate the point of view that scientists are regularly distorting the results of science for their own ends.

So, it is not uncommon to have a case where people refuse to accept the science and go with their own views. One case that I saw recently was in a discussion of the so-called Supermoon on November 14th 2016 and the earthquake in North Canterbury, New Zealand early that same morning.

A SuperMoon is a perigee-syzygy, a new or full...
A SuperMoon is a perigee-syzygy, a new or full moon (syzygy) which occurs when the Moon is at 90% or greater of its mean closest approach to Earth (perigee). The March 19, 2011 supermoon is just 221,566 miles (356,577 kilometers) away from Earth. The last time the full moon approached so close to Earth was in 1993, according to NASA. it is about 20 percent brighter and 15 percent bigger than a regular full moon. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the discussion several people were looking at the coincidence of the two events and linking them in their minds. After several people had pointed out that the science shows that there is no noticeable correlation between “supermoons” and big earthquakes, people were still saying that there must be something in it.

They had replaced the current scientific theory with their own thinking, without really explaining the facts away – there is no known or even noticeable link, and that lack of any apparent evidence should be explained by any replacement “theory” before any new theory can be put in place.

1755 copper engraving showing Lisbon in flames...
1755 copper engraving showing Lisbon in flames and a tsunami overwhelming the ships in the harbor. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Similarly, I’ve come across people who oppose the use of fluoride and chlorine in public water supplies, and those who refuse to inoculate their children against diseases. In past decades people died from water-borne diseases, children have died from childhood diseases and whole populations have been wiped out. Children’s’ teeth have rotted in their mouths.

Why do these people do these things? In general they are fairly well-educated, fairly well read, and not unintelligent. Of course there’s a fear factor, but in previous generations fear was the thing driving people towards chlorination and fluoridation and inoculation against diseases.

La vaccination. Inoculation against smallpox i...
La vaccination. Inoculation against smallpox in Paris in 1807 as shown in a painting by Louis-Léopold Boilly at The Wellcome Library, London. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

However, I think that there’s more to it than that. There’s a rejection of rational thinking. They realise that science has done so much for them, yet they only pay it lip service. “Proof” of their views is obtained by scouring the Internet for the few dissenting voices. Any establishment voices are dismissed as biassed or merely toeing the establishment line. This is not a rational argument. A single or even a small set of dissenting voices is not proof of anything.

This worries me. We have always had the “alternative” views, the crystal gazers and the iridologists, but those people completely reject science as a world view. That’s OK. We don’t expect science from such people.

Human Iris, Blue Type
Human Iris, Blue Type (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The antivaxers and the fluoride opponents however pay lip service to science while rejecting it, which is not logical. They know something of how science works, as evidenced by their rejection of current evidence of the benefits of fluoride and chlorine in the water, but they don’t follow through with meaningful data to support an alternative theory.

(Coincidentally I came across this article after publishing my post. http://www.irishtimes.com/news/education/teach-philosophy-to-heal-our-post-truth-society-says-president-higgins-1.2875247)

Cover
Cover (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Trumpery

Donald Trump enters the Oscar De LA Renta Fash...
Donald Trump enters the Oscar De LA Renta Fashion Show, New York. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Well, as politics goes that was great theatre. Trump won when no one thought that he had a chance of even getting the nomination for the Republican Party. Trump as president is highly scary, not only for the US, but for the whole world.

Given that Trump is the man that he is, why on earth did anyone vote for him, let alone around half the people who voted? People have been puzzling the answer to this one ever since the election, and while it is clear from the statistics that there was a big swing to Trump by white non-college male voters – blue collar America.

Blue Collar Radio
Blue Collar Radio (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It would easy to attribute this swing to gullibility and malleability of the non-college voters male voters. It would be easy to suggest that Trump’s evident charisma appealed to this sector of the electorate, but there must be more to it than that. Much more.

Notably the statistics seem to show that no other group of people fell for the Trump’s braggadocio like the white male non-college voters. Of course he turned off female voters to some extent by his behaviour and attitude towards women, but really, there was no huge backlash in that respect.


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It seems that Trump’s call to “Make America Great Again” (trademarked by him in 2012) resonated with many Americans in this election, but it is not the first time it has been used. Several previous presidential candidates have used it. It implies that things were better in the past, but in general, that view is illusory, and one sees the past through rose-tinted spectacles.

“How many people long for that “past, simpler, and better world,” I wonder, without ever recognizing the truth that perhaps it was they who were simpler and better, and not the world about them?”
R.A. Salvatore, Streams of Silver

Another button that Trump pressed for many people, not the white, male, non-college voters alone was the race button. Technically one should not be called racist if what one says is the truth. Trump in many peoples’ opinions went a long way past that point.

English: A racist drawing of blacks in the 189...
English: A racist drawing of blacks in the 1890s, made by whites. The caption says “Last one in’s a nigger.” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

While labelling Mexicans as all being drug dealers and rapist, he definitely went well past the point of propriety, but it appears that many people believe that there is a grain of truth there. In an American post-911 many people are wary of all immigrants, especially those from the Middle East. Again many people resonate with this.

Trump’s stated policies are ridiculous. Building a wall between Mexico and the US and making the Mexicans pay for it is silly, though I note that there are fences along much of the border already. A wall can be climbed over, tunnelled under, flown over or merely circumvented. All known walls of this type, Hadrian’s Wall, the Great Wall of China, the Berlin Wall, have all failed.

English: Hadrian's wall just east of Greenhead...
English: Hadrian’s wall just east of Greenhead Lough, Northumberland in October 2005. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Trump threatens to catch and extradite all illegal immigrants in the US. Not only would this be fabulously expensive, it would cause immense upheavals and distress to many in the US, especially those families are mixed with legal and illegal immigrants. Apart from that the economy of California would collapse as many of the lower paid workers are illegal immigrants.

The threat to extradite all Muslims is not only silly, it is probably not legally possible. Many Muslims have been in the country legally for generations. A Muslim grandfather who came to America to escape conflict and even religious persecution in his homeland may face extradition merely because his sons or grandsons may at some time in the future become radicalised.

English: Turkmen Moslem Mullah, Nohur village,...
English: Turkmen Moslem Mullah, Nohur village, Turkmenistan, 21 April 2008. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Trump’s policies may be ridiculous, they may be very expensive, but above all they may be impossible to carry out. Trump cannot write the laws himself, and there are some things that it may be legally impossible to do, and there may arguably be things that are constitutionally impossible to carry out. Trump’s policies may fail when confronted with political reality.

Trump appears to be passing off at least some of his powers to his Vice-President Michael Pence. This makes sense because Trump is a political novice and Pence has years of experience. At best this could make Trump look weak, and at worst, it could turn him into a puppet. As it is it seems that Trump is softening his stance on the issues that have assisted him to the Presidency.

Official portrait of Congressman (R-IN)
Official portrait of Congressman (R-IN) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This raises the question of what happens at the next election in 2020? If the Republicans don’t make any progress in addressing the issues that the white male non college voters have, if they don’t produce jobs, if people don’t see any progress in handling the illegal immigrant issue or the issues around Muslims in the US, it is hard to see him or the Republicans retaining the presidency and their ascendancy in the Senate and the House.

Trump could be a great president or middling president or useless president. While it is hard to read the future, going by his character, his lack of political abilities, the possibility that he will have roadblock after roadblock placed in front of him, and the almost impossible task of “Making America Great Again”, and the need to retain the loyalty of white, male, non college voters, I’m going to predict that he will most likely achieve very little, and will not get a second term.

US Navy 040611-N-9319H-054 USS Ronald Reagan (...
US Navy 040611-N-9319H-054 USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) Sailors salute the American flag during the memorial service for President Ronald Reagan on the flight deck aboard his namesake aircraft carrier (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the mean time, while he is trying to actually achieve some of his goals, the Democratic Party has time to reflect, make changes especially to the party hierarchy and structure, and to win the loyalty of the voters. In particular they can reflect on what went wrong.

Would Bernie Saunders have done any better than Hillary Clinton? It is unlikely. The fact that Trump got selected for the race shows that voters wanted change and Saunders would most likely have provided a softer target for Trump.

Should the Democrats select Saunders for President next time? Well, he is 75 now and will be 79 by the time of the next election, and that is ten years older than Ronald Reagan was when he became President. Incidentally Trump will become the oldest President to be elected when he is inaugurated.

I see some people are calling for Michelle Obama to stand in 2020. This doesn’t address any of the issues that this election has raised, so she would probably fail. In any case, she wisely says that she would not stand.

First Lady Michelle Obama visits with Former F...
First Lady Michelle Obama visits with Former First Lady Nancy Reagan at the White House on June 3, 2009. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Measuring things

English: Ruler Italiano: Righello
English: Ruler Italiano: Righello (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When we measure a length, with a ruler, say, we can’t measure it exactly. The ruler will be marked off in, say, millimetres, and the length we are measuring will probably fall somewhere between two markings on the ruler, so we can only say that the length is somewhere between the distance between the two markings and the start of the ruler.

Probably. Actually there are a number of things that could mess up our measurement. We may not be able to line up the start of the length we are measuring with the start marking on the ruler, as the marking on the ruler is not of zero width. The best we can do, when aligning one end of the length to be measured with the ruler, is to align the start of the length to the middle of the marking on the ruler.

English: A close-up picture of a section of ru...
English: A close-up picture of a section of ruler with British (inches) and Chinese (cun) scales on its two sides. This is the 10th cun – the last cun of a chi, so that one can see that 1 chi (10 cun) was equal to 14+5/8 inches, i.e. 371 mm. A metric ruler is shown next to it for scale. As can be seen from the worn corners, the ruler has been well used in measurements of length, such as perhaps of garment cloth, for trade transactions. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We then have to transfer our attention to the other end of the ruler. Probably the other end of the length and the edge of the ruler don’t align, so we shuffle the ruler to try to align the two ends of the length with the edge of the ruler, checking all the time that the start of the ruler is in line with the start of the length to be measured.

When all is aligned we can then read of the approximate value of the length, assuming that the ruler is still properly aligned and that the start of the ruler is still properly aligned with the start of the length. However, as mentioned above the end of the distance being measured will probably fall between two markings.

A carpenters' ruler with centimetre divisions
A carpenters’ ruler with centimetre divisions (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So any measurement with the ruler should be stated with an estimate of the margin of error in the answer. “About 73mm, with an error of about 0.5mm” might be a reasonable estimate.

The accuracy of a measurement may depend on the material from which the ruler is made. It may be wood, plastic or metal, or some other material. Wood is a natural material, and as such it may warp, or shrink or expand unevenly. It may deteriorate over time, so that today’s measurement may be slightly different from today’s. The ink used to make the markings may migrate into the wood through natural pores and cracks in the wood, rendering them wider and fuzzier than when the ruler is new.

Diagram showing operation of temperature compe...
Diagram showing operation of temperature compensated “gridiron” pendulum, invented in 1726 by British clockmaker John Harrison. The pendulum uses rods of a high thermal expansion metal, zinc (yellow) to compensate for the expansion of rods of a low thermal expansion metal, iron (blue), so the overall pendulum doesn’t change in length with temperature changes. Therefore the period of swing of the pendulum, and the rate of the clock, are constant with temperature. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A metal ruler can be marked more accurately, and the markings won’t blur, and the markings can be much thinner or sharper than those of a wooden ruler. Unfortunately metal will expand and contract depending on the temperature, adding errors to the measurements. This can be alleviated by careful choice of alloy for the ruler, but not eliminated.

All rulers are these days fabricated by machines of course, and the markings are made by these machines. Such a machine has to be as accurate or more accurate than the end product of course, which means that the scale marks must be located more accurately, and probably be narrower than those of the end product.


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In order to be more accurate, various techniques are used to achieve the extra accuracy, and I’m not going to discuss them here, mainly because I can only guess what they are! Vernier scales and error averaging techniques spring to mind, but as I said, I don’t what is actually used.

Microscopes and similar allow the measurement of very small distances against a scale calibrated to very small tolerances. This pattern is repeated endlessly – to measure small distances accurately your measuring device (or technique) needs to be an order of magnitude more accurate than the distance to be measured.

Microlitic volcanic lithic fragment, scale in ...
Microlitic volcanic lithic fragment, scale in millimeters. Top picture in plane-polarized light, bottom picture in cross-polarized light. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If we want to measure atoms, we need an atomic sized scale and that cannot be made of atoms, obviously. We can use electromagnetic waves, other atoms, subatomic particles and so on, of course, but we are now in the quantum world, so not only do we have the sorts of issues mentioned above, but we have issues that related primarily to the quantum world – such as the Uncertainty Principle, and the fact that an atom can behave like a particle or a wave.

Down at these levels we use atoms to measure other atoms – there is of course no possibility of a ruler type scale which is made up of atoms. Instead things are measured by noting the frequency of emissions from the atom as its electrons changes from one quantum state to another.

Atomic Clock FOCS-1 (Switzerland). The primary...
Atomic Clock FOCS-1 (Switzerland). The primary frequency standard device, FOCS-1, one of the most accurate devices for measuring time in the world. It stands in a laboratory of the Swiss Federal Office of Metrology METAS in Bern. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is referred to as a quantum jump and is popularly interpreted as an electron moving from one electron shell to another, in the common view of an electron orbit around the nucleus of an atom like a planet around a star.

A popular view is that at quantum levels the apparent continuity in time and space is not seen and that space and time appear to have a discrete structure. At some scale this makes it impossible to measure very small lengths, as it is impossible to tell whether or not two points are at different locations or not.

Dr. Max Planck
Dr. Max Planck (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It follows that in the usual macro world that apparent continuity is probably illusory – if we can’t tell the difference between two points at a very small level, our measurements at the macro level are not well defined. It seems that the appearance of continuity at the macro level is an emergent phenomenon.

Maybe. The appearance of continuity probably comes from the fact that when we look at a line from A to B we can always pick a point C between them. We can then pick a point D between A and C and a point E between A and D and so on, apparently forever. But in fact the process has to stop, and the stopping point is where we find that we can’t distinguish the two end points of the line.

Reality-Virtuality Continuum.
Reality-Virtuality Continuum. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Is the issue caused by a conflict between our physics, which is at heart a description of the world as we see it, and what the world is actually like? A line is a mathematical concept which has extent (length), but no width. In the real world a line is marked by some means, pencil or laser beam, and has an extent, which is what we are trying to measure, and certainly has some width, the width of the lead of the pencil, the width of the laser beam. Are we starting to find out about the things that we can’t know about the world?

PencilTip
PencilTip (Photo credit: Wikipedia)