Democracy – maybe we should try it sometime


Embed from Getty Images

We in the rest of the world are watching the run up to the Presidential elections in the USA in November. It has now been decided who the two main contenders will be, Hilary Clinton for the Democrats and Donald Trump for the Republicans. In the USA, there are no significant other parties, so it is very highly likely that the next President of the United States will be one of these two people.

An extraordinary fact is that many US citizens dislike both candidates, with one Republican commentator saying that people might be choosing the lesser of the two evils. Trump is seen as brash and unversed in politics and Clinton is seen as being untrustworthy.

US President Bill Clinton (center with hand up...
US President Bill Clinton (center with hand up), first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton to right of photo; their daughter Chelsea Clinton to left. On procession in public. The President, First Lady, and Chelsea on parade down Pennsylvannia Avenue on Inauguration day, January 20, 1997. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So, how did the US voter get left with a choice between two unpopular candidates? The US has a candidate selection process which is complex and unwieldy. A special subset of voters vote on the candidates who present themselves, and the sequential nature of the selection process turns the selection into a horse race, with candidates vying to “collect” the delegates in each state and achieve a threshold which means that they cannot be beaten by other candidates.

Each state selects the candidates using a different method, and there are different numbers of “delegates” in different states. Of course a mining state may and often does prefer a different candidate to the candidate preferred by a farming state. Commentators try to out guess each other in predicting the results, state by state.

Map of number of electoral votes by state afte...
Map of number of electoral votes by state after redistricting from the 2000 census. Modified by User:Theshibboleth for the font to be consistent with electoral maps. Edited with Inkscape. Reuploaded by User:King of Hearts to correct spelling (vs. Image:Electorial map.svg). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The wonder of the system is that it often throws up a candidate who has a reasonable amount of public support, in spite of the complexity of the process. This time however, it appears that the selection process has thrown up two candidates who don’t appear to appeal to the electorate. The voters do indeed have to select “the lesser of the two evils”.

In most democracies around the world things tend to be simpler. A candidate puts him or herself up for election, and he or she gets voted for or not as people choose. Of course, a candidate who aligns with a party needs to get the party’s approval, and cannot stand under the party banner without it.

English: National Awami Party (Muzaffar) banne...
English: National Awami Party (Muzaffar) banner at opposition rally, Dhaka. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

However the above describes the process for electing a local representative. A presidential election raises extra problems. For instance, in the US the president is always a member of a political party. In countries where the president is preferred to be independent and outside of party politics issues arise in his/her selection.

If the president is elected directly by the populace the potential candidates will need to campaign countrywide when seeking election, and this will be expensive. The candidate therefore has to be very rich, sponsored by some organisation or be aligned with a party. The last two options work against the requirement for the president to be independent, and the first option restricts the field to those who have a large amount of money, which may be unacceptable or not achievable in a poor country.

English: Seal of the Executive Office of the P...
English: Seal of the Executive Office of the President of the United States (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Many countries, including India and the US have got around this by using an electoral college system, though few systems could be as convoluted as the US method of selecting a candidate to stand for election as president. Such a system uses the fact that the population has already elected individuals to government, and uses the already elected individuals to decide on the candidates for president or select the president directly.

While this means that the most powerful political parties select and maybe elect the president, the representatives are doing what they are elected for, which is to make decisions on behalf of their voters. The elected representatives often select someone who may not be the most preferred by the grass roots electorate, but generally the selected person is not too disliked.

English: Sheep pasture The sheep have eaten th...
English: Sheep pasture The sheep have eaten the grass down to the roots, and must appreciate the fodder put out for them in these wheeled feeders. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the case of the latest selection process for US president, the Democrats have selected Hilary Clinton as the most likely Democrat candidate to win, and while this is true, polls show that there is a lack of trust in her at the grass roots level. It is unlikely that this factor will weigh too heavily with the voter come the election, though.

The Republicans have selected Donald Trump, in spite of the belief early in the process that he stood no chance. The Republicans believe that he is the best choice of prevailing over Hilary Clinton, but many people dislike his brashness. On the other hand, many people like his approach to some of the issues that are hot topics in the US, such as immigration and the threat of terrorism. The real issue is whether or not his solutions to such topics are reasonable or will be effective.

While the people get to vote for the person that they want to be president, the process seems to me to not be overly democratic. The sheer number of people in the US and in most other countries means that direct election of a president is never going to be possible. There is always going to be a distance between the President and the populace and this dilutes democracy. As it is, voters can only vote for a few candidates in the election. They have little say in who gets selected to stand.

How much does this dilute democracy? Hmm, good question, Cliff! It depends. Given that “representative democracy” like in many country puts distance between the electorate and the elected, if people do not like the candidates very much, this could reduce voter turn out at the election as people decide not to vote for either of them. If, however, enough people on one side hate the opposition candidate strongly enough this may encourage them to turn out and vote. The president is likely to be elected by the vote of only a few of those allowed to vote.

Italiano: Diluizione-Concentrazione
Italiano: Diluizione-Concentrazione (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It is likely that the apathy effect is going to override the hate effect, in my opinion, and voter numbers are likely to drop. If only a small number turn out to vote, then has either candidate got a real mandate? Not really, I suggest.

The US form of diluted democracy means that only a favoured few get to stand for president. Up until Obama, all previous presidents back to the early days have been rich white men. Standing in an election for president of the US costs billions of dollars and few people are able to afford the price.

English: Total public debt outstanding, United...
English: Total public debt outstanding, United States, 1993-2011 (billions U.S $) Français : Dette publique totale des États-Unis en milliards de dollars, prix courants, 1993-2011 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So we have a rich businessman vying to become the most powerful man in the world, and making ridiculous promises, like a wall between the US and Mexico, and the wife of a previous president vying to become the first female president. While Hilary Clinton is not enormously rich, she is much richer than most of us, and she and Bill Clinton have powerful friends.

US-Mexico border barrier near Monument Road, S...
US-Mexico border barrier near Monument Road, San Diego, California, USA, looking into Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico. Commonsing ok. knoodelhed 17:53, 4 September 2007 (UTC) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Space – the Final Front Ear

Portrait of William Shatner
Portrait of William Shatner (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sorry about the fabricated mondegreen, which obviously references the Star Trek series of films and TV shows. Captain Kirk saw space, or more correctly distance, as a barrier, but it really is one of the factors that determines the structure or shape of our Universe.

It is interesting to me, that, although the Universe is finite, if it derived from a Big Bang, there is a human urge to explore outwards, as if it were infinite. That is probably one of the factors that led scientists such as Fred Hoyle and others to support a Steady State Theory of the Universe.


Embed from Getty Images

Personally, I believe that there is no such thing as a steady state in anything. When we see something which appears to be in a steady state or equilibrium state we should look for the feedback factors that are keeping it that way. For example a pendulum hangs straight down when at rest because any deviation from that position results in gravitation forces pulling it back to the rest position.

If friction is low the pendulum will actually pass through the equilibrium position and swing to the other side, whereupon gravity will slow it and draw it back towards the equilibrium position again. Eventually friction will slow the pendulum down and the pendulum will again hang vertically.

De :en:Image:Pendulum.jpg
De :en:Image:Pendulum.jpg (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So we have two forces, gravity and friction, resulting in the pendulum returning to the equilibrium position. No pendulum lasts for ever, as the pivot will wear out or an elephant may step on the thing, so the equilibrium will only exist for a finite time, but it will last long enough for us to use in clocks or in scientific experiments.

Space is itself expanding as I understand the theories and some of it is out of our sight, over an event horizon, which is a locus where everything is moving away from us at the speed of light. That doesn’t much our location special – it is true of any point in the Universe. LGM on a planet around a star that is over the event horizon from us have their own event horizon, and while they may be able to see a star inside our event horizon and we in theirs, we cannot see each other.

Alien (creature in Alien franchise)
Alien (creature in Alien franchise) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Space separates us form the LGM, but it also separates from things local to us. Ben, our dog, is over there, about 3 metres away. My cup is mere centimetres away. It is fair to say, I think, that this is the essence of space – it is hard to conceive a universe which doesn’t incorporate a spacial concept. Or rather, a separation concept to allow things to be different from one another.

Space is not the only “separation concept” that I can think of. Things can also be separated in time, so two different bodies can exist in the same spacial position, but just not at the same time. Time is so connected to space that Einstein and others were able to link time and space into a complex space/time concept.

Time dilation spacetime diagram06
Time dilation spacetime diagram06 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The similarity between the space dimension and the time dimension is striking. You can even measure distance in time units as astronomers do when they talk about light years. We also do it when we say that a distant town is three hours away.

We less frequently talk of time in distance units, for example, when we say things like “six laps later”, to describe the time between two events in a car race. At some level we acknowledge that time and the space dimension have a lot in common.

English: MMTC workout. 10 of 1 mile laps witho...
English: MMTC workout. 10 of 1 mile laps without rest. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Space in the sort of concept that everyone knows and experiences but no one thinks deeply about. There’s no doubt that space separates events from one another. You can’t have two solid objects occupying the same space at the same time, without catastrophe ensuing. Scientists have been trying to achieve this for years, with the aim of harvesting the energy generated from the ensuring nuclear fusion.

Space appears on the macro (normal) level to be continuous. We appear to move smoothly from one location to another when we walk, incidentally forcing the air out of way as we do so. There is no sudden jumps that we notice, we don’t hop from point to point like a chess piece on a board.

Animation of the Knight's tour
Animation of the Knight’s tour (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The philosopher Zeno came up with a number of paradoxes related to movement, that is getting from point A to point B. For instance, the athlete Achilles could not overtake a tortoise in a foot race, because Achilles would need first to reach the tortoise’s starting point, by which time the tortoise would have moved on. Achilles would then have reach the point that the tortoise had reached now, by which time the tortoise would have moved on. And so on, ad infinitum.

Of course Achilles does overtake the tortoise, and I believe the main issue in this case is related to the summation of an infinite number of decreasing distances, which intuitively one might this would sum to an infinite distance. In fact the sum of the distances is a finite number. If Achilles runs 10 times as fast as the tortoise and they start 10 feet apart then Achilles overtakes the tortoise after he has travelled 11 and 1/9 feet exactly.

Triumphant Achilles in Achilleion levelled
Triumphant Achilles in Achilleion levelled (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Zeno’s paradoxes still inspire debate, but his conclusion was that movement, the smooth transition of something from one place to another is an illusion. One of the assumptions used is that distance is a continuously varying property, but it may be that it is not, and there are hints of that at the quantum level. The Planck length is the smallest distance about which statements can usefully be made and it is impossible to determine the difference between two locations less than one Planck length apart. Perhaps we do hop from place to place like chess pieces, or at least our atoms and their constituent particles do.

Max Planck 1910
Max Planck 1910 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Space and time enable events to happen uniquely, and without collisions. Events may happen in the same place as long as they happen at different times. It may be that events of different probabilities happen at the same place and time, so long as the sum of the probabilities of all events is one. It may therefore be that probability is a dimension with the same sort of status as the space and time dimensions. This would require that our view of probability, of one event out of many being the one that actually happens is an illusion and that events of all probabilities happen in a sense.

English: The probability pattern for a single ...
English: The probability pattern for a single electron atom. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)