Procrastinating on the sidelines of history

I wasn’t born to be a blogger. I can’t respond to events in real-time. When history happens, I might or might not be there to react. To give one example: I still don’t have any update to share about the Australian models. (Hopefully soon.)

To give another example: last week Al Gore — the most famous American politician to think in complete sentences since Abraham Lincoln — won the Nobel Peace Prize, and where was I? At a workshop in Germany, wondering how it could be that if UNSAT many-one reduces to a set of subexponential density then NP is in coNP/poly. (More on that another time.)

So, Al Gore. Look, I don’t think it reflects any credit on him to have joined such distinguished pacifists as Henry Kissinger and Yasser Arafat. I think it reflects credit on the prize itself. This is one of the most inspired choices a Nobel Peace Prize committee ever made, even though ironically it has nothing directly to do with peace.

With the release of An Inconvenient Truth and The Assault on Reason, it’s become increasingly apparent that Gore is the tragic hero of our age: a Lisa among Cletuses, a Jeffersonian rationalist in the age of Coulter and O’Reilly. If I haven’t said so more often on this blog, it’s simply because the mention of Gore brings up such painful memories for me.

In the weeks leading up to the 2000 US election, I could almost feel the multiverse splitting into two branches of roughly equal amplitude that would never again interact. In both branches, our civilization would continue racing into an abyss, the difference being that in one branch we’d be tapping the brakes while in the other we’d be slamming the accelerator. I knew that the election would come down to Florida and one or two other swing states, that the margin in those states would be razor-thin (of course no one could’ve predicted how thin), and that, in contrast to every other election I’d lived through, in this one every horseshoe and butterfly would make a difference. I knew that if Bush got in, I’d carry a burden of guilt the rest of my life for not having done more to prevent it.

The question was, what could a 19-year-old grad student at Berkeley do with that knowledge? How could I round up tens of thousands of extra Gore votes, and thereby seize what might be my only chance in life to change the course of history? I quickly ruled out trying to convince Bush voters, assuming them beyond persuasion. (I later found out I was wrong, when I met people who’d voted for Bush in 2000 but said they now regretted their decision. To me, it was as if they’d just noticed the blueness of the sky.)

And thus my attention shifted to the Right’s #1 friend and ally throughout history: the Far Left. All over Berkeley I was seeing Ralph Nader placards. At the lunch table, I even heard the strange argument that if Nader caused Bush to win, it would ultimately be for the best, since it would finally force everyone to see how bad things were: an update of the old Marxist doctrine of “heightening the contradictions.” (I wondered: if Nader supporters truly believed that, then why didn’t they just forget about Nader and vote for Bush outright?)

Yet it seemed to me that most Nader supporters were still sane enough that, conditioned on Nader losing (i.e. conditioned on 2+2=4), they would prefer Gore over Bush. The problem was this: how to convince Nader supporters in swing states of something that, were they convincable, they would’ve been convinced of already? That’s when I read about an idea due to law professor Jamin Raskin, called “Nadertrading.” The idea was simple: Nader supporters in swing states (like Florida and Pennsylvania) would vote for Gore, having arranged for a Gore supporter in a “safe” state (like New York or Texas) to vote for Nader on their behalf, thereby helping Nader get the 5% he’d need to qualify for federal funds in 2004. Two separate irrationalities of the US election system — (1) the Electoral College, and (2) the lack of something like Approval Voting to handle three or more candidates — would be played against each other.

Almost as soon as Raskin published his idea, websites arranging the swaps were set up and were being used. Nadertrading clearly appealed to a nontrivial fraction of Nader supporters, possibly even enough to tip the scales of fate. Yet in magazine articles and message boards, I repeatedly saw fallacious arguments against the idea: for example, that Bush supporters could game the system; that you shouldn’t agree to a vote swap if you think there’s any nonzero chance of the other person reneging; that trading a vote has the same moral status as selling it.

So I set up a little web page called In Defense of Nadertrading, to make the moral and game-theoretic case for Raskin’s idea. The next morning, I was surprised to find myself an “expert” on the topic: getting Slashdotted, deluged with email, woken up by a call from CNN, etc. I also got a fair amount of hate mail, some of which I posted on the site and ridiculed: good experience for my blogging career.

The Nadertrading movement took a hit when, in a few states, the sites arranging the vote swaps (which didn’t include mine) were shut down by state attorneys-general (all of whom happened to be Republicans), over the protests of civil libertarians. But sites hosted in other states remained up and running.

In the end, though, the Nadertrading movement simply failed to reach enough of its target audience. The websites put up by me and others apparently induced at least 1,400 Nader supporters in Florida to vote for Gore — but 97,000 Floridians still voted for Nader. And as we know, Bush ended up “winning” the state by 537 votes.

After the hanging-chad circus and Gore’s withdrawal, I tried to bury myself in quantum complexity classes and worry as little as possible about the future of civilization. My main news sources became The Daily Show and The Onion. Yet much as I’ve wanted to forget, for seven years I’ve carried certain questions on my conscience like a sack of stones:

Why does the US have a failed oilman for president rather than the Churchill of climate change? Why was the president vacationing in Texas when bin Laden’s plans to strike the US came up in a daily briefing? Why are we stuck in Iraq?

There are, of course, many correct answers to these questions, but there’s one correct answer I keep coming back to: because I didn’t make a good enough website. Because my prose wasn’t tight enough and my jokes weren’t funny enough. Because I spent too much time procrastinating when I should’ve been pounding away at my keyboard.

60 Responses to “Procrastinating on the sidelines of history”

  1. Matt Says:

    Here is the page, still available in archive.org.

  2. anonymous Says:

    From the Tehran times:

    “Vice President Gore, however, is hardly to be identified with the cause of “peace.” One of only ten Senate Democrats who voted for the first U.S. war against Iraq in 1990, he was second-in-command of an administration that dispatched U.S. troops to Somalia, Haiti and Bosnia, financed death squads in Colombia, bombed Iraq, Afghanistan and Sudan, maintained an economic blockade of Iraq that caused the death of an estimated 500,000 Iraqi children, and waged a devastating air war against Serbia.”

  3. anon Says:

    Ahhh, the Tehran Times: Fair & Balanced reporting.

  4. anon Says:

    The basic facts are right: he was indeed VP during those times. However, the piece implies that he was responsible for all of that, and this implication is unsubstantiated by fact.

    By the way, just the fact that you had to dig up a quote from the Tehran Times tells us something about your reasoning.

  5. Scott Says:

    anonymous: Good to know TT is on top of this story, as they were on the story of Israel masterminding 9/11. But has Der Stürmer weighed in yet on Gore’s Nobel-worthiness?

  6. Scott Says:

    Matt: Thanks for the link!

  7. Michael Brazier Says:

    At first I couldn’t figure out what the point of this “nadertrading” thing was, but the link makes it clear: to make sure Nader qualified for federal campaign funds, without splitting the Democratic vote where it would matter. This strikes me as an excellent argument against federal funding of election campaigns — surely it’s a waste of public money to help someone campaign for office when he has a snowball’s chance in Hell of winning?

    Also, if Gore had been legally elected in 2000, he wouldn’t now be “the Churchill of climate change”, or the darling of the Left, as he is now. He’d have governed as Clinton did, trimming between Left and Right; but, lacking Clinton’s talents, Gore would have done so less skillfully.

    And I expect that, if Gore had been President when the WTC fell, his response would’ve been judged a failure, and he’d have been defeated in 2004 by a Republican promising to fight the terrorists properly — meaning, not by prosecutions in federal court, as Clinton did, but by actual force of arms. The invasion of Iraq would only have been delayed by two years, not prevented.

  8. anonymous Says:

    “By the way, just the fact that you had to dig up a quote from the Tehran Times tells us something about your reasoning.”

    Anon, I didn’t dig it up. I saw it on Reddit, thought it was interesting, and then came here and saw this. I like Gore, and was happy when he won the prize, but I also think it’s important to remind ourselves of the less pleasant facts about the public figures we admire. So it does say something about my reasoning, but not what you thought it said. Also, since you’re keen on reading into people’s reasoning processes, perhaps you could tell me what it says about our own media that none of these unpleasant facts are ever mentioned.

    “the piece implies that he was responsible for all of that, and this implication is unsubstantiated by fact.”

    I think voting for a war does make you responsible for it in some sense, but maybe that’s because I’m a crazy person, as evidenced by the fact that I’m willing to read something from the Tehran Times with an open mind.

    And Scott, thanks for pointing out that the Tehran Times prints false stories, but that doesn’t mean everything they print is false. For instance, everything in the quote that I pasted in was true, and verifiably so. I’m not happy about the fact that I had to wait for the Tehran Times to mention it, but there it is.

    I still trust the New York Times for the most part, in spite of the fact that they’ve been caught printing numerous false stories, and actually had a policy of not using the term “Armenian Genocide” until 3 years ago. This obviously isn’t as bad as theTehran Times going to print with anti-semitic conspiracy theories, but that’s why I like the New York Times, and dislike the Tehran Times. The point is that if a newspaper prints false information, they are still capable of printing verifiably true information on other occasions. I’m not sure why this should come as a surprise. Most newspapers implicitly endorse the truth of astrology, but their stock price listings are probably accurate.

    By the way Scott, I’m disappointed to see that you seem to have deleted an inoffensive comment of mine. You may not like what I’m saying, but there’s no need to censor it.

  9. Scott Says:

    you seem to have deleted an inoffensive comment of mine.

    Sorry; I might have mistakenly identified it as a minor rephrasing of an earlier comment. You’re welcome to repost.

  10. Ernesto Says:

    Hi Scott, I didn’t know about your Nadertrading days. I suppose rationality and politics don’t mix well, but you had a very good shot at it. Congrats!

  11. James Says:

    Dear anonymous #2 (and 8), the Tehran Times is not a credible source for any information. It can hardly be compared to the NY Times. I guess your argument is that there are days when it prints stories with some basis in the truth… But really, why quote it at all?

    I think that the National Review has the definitive statement on Gore’s prize. Iain Murray writes,
    “Who Else Should Al Gore Share the Prize With? How about that well known peace campaigner Osama Bin Laden, who implicitly endorsed Gore’s stance – and that of the Nobel committee – in his September rant from the cave.” :)

  12. Gus Says:

    Very moving. I identify with the plight. It seems that we’re not so different, you and I. (That last sentence spoken with a Dr. Evil accent.)

    A don’t-beat-yourself-up reponse:

    Suppose you put enough extra effort into Nadertrading to secure 1000 additional votes for Gore. Now suppose that a gloomy weather forecast in Florida on election day caused 1000 apathetic Gore-voters to stay home instead of voting.

    As much as it galls, it seems that, modulo a conspiracy theory, the 2000 US presidential election was an expensive, glorified coin toss.

    Do you believe that you could have induced enough Nadertrades to overcome random noise? If so, then by all means, feel regret. But I have a hunch that noise held far more influence in that election than you ever could have, at least at any reasonable cost to yourself.

    On dealing with broken electoral systems:

    I like the don’t-get-mad-get-even strategy of Nadertrading. If such a scheme were ever to enjoy widespread use then the resulting “heightening of contradictions” would be far more glaring and effective than voting your conscience could ever be.

    A relevant digression:

    I’d like to see a don’t-get-mad-get-even strategy employed here in Canada. In my fantasy, a bunch of Green Party supporters ditch the suburbs and gather in a remote area to form a small eco-town. Only a fraction of the 2/3-of-a-million Green Party voters in the country would be needed to create a riding large enough to warrant it’s own member of parliament. It’s the same strategy employed with great success by other small parties in Canada such as the NDP (with unions) and the Bloc Quebecois (with separatists). It’s a negative and divisive strategy, but those are the hoops through which we must jump.

  13. cody Says:

    i go with the ‘dont beat yourself up’; hey, you did a lot more than most, including myself. thanks for bringing me down! and at the time the onion and the daily show were my main sources of information too, though i have lost touch with the daily show as i have no tv and can no longer download it easily. my main sources of information now are the onion, wikipedia/wikinews, and you.

    also, you linked ‘The Assault on Reason’ to the imdb page for an inconvenient truth.

  14. Peter Sheldrick Says:

    Two questions – a general one and another relating to recent events:

    (1) What are effective political instruments?

    (2) What does climate change have to do with peace?

  15. anonymous Says:

    “the Tehran Times is not a credible source for any information….”

    James, I agree with you: the Tehran Times is not a credible source, whether they print true or false information, because they’ve been known to print egregiously false information in the past. The quote which I posted is an example of true information coming from a source which is not credible. Luckily, we don’t have to take their word for it, and the truth-value of a statement doesn’t depend on the credibility of its source. I invite you to peruse whatever sources of historical information you find to be credible, and you can see for yourself that the above facts are true. I myself did some fact-checking on Wikipedia, although I admit that it is only slightly more credible than the Tehran Times.

    “But really, why quote it at all?”

    -it’s interesting
    -it’s factually correct
    -it’s relevant to this post
    -it’s the only media source I’ve seen that mentioned the more bellicose side of Gore’s C.V.
    -I actually care about whether the Nobel Peace Prize is given to people who deserve it

  16. Dave Bacon Says:

    Scott I am hopeful that when the Christian conservatives bolt the Republican party and put up their own candidate for president who is more in keeping with the true meaning of the Bible, that you full heartedly throw your endoresement behind their candidate. Indeed, from my Pontifical throne that is exactly what I plan on doing.

  17. Dave Bacon Says:

    And thus my attention shifted to the Right’s #1 friend and ally throughout history: the Far Left. All over Berkeley I was seeing Ralph Nader placards. At the lunch table, I even heard the strange argument that if Nader caused Bush to win, it would ultimately be for the best, since it would finally force everyone to see how bad things were: an update of the old Marxist doctrine of “heightening the contradictions.”

    Reminds me of a great line from one of my favorite books, (set in Berkeley, of course) “The Transmigration of Timothy Archer” by Philip K Dick:

    Dreams of poverty excited universal enjoyment in Berkeley, coupled with the hope that the political and economic situation would worsen, thowing the country into ruin: this was the theory of the activists. Misfortune so vast that it would wreck everyone, responsible and not responsible alike sinking into defeat….

    Ah, I miss living in the one place in the world were I am not considered very very liberal, but probably almost a right winger.

  18. Scott Says:

    you linked ‘The Assault on Reason’ to the imdb page for an inconvenient truth.

    Thanks — fixed!

  19. Job Says:

    Question: if you were one of the Nader traders, at voting time, would you vote for Nader? What would you have to lose in voting for Gore in that situation? Any remorse over having lied to a trader would be canceled by your belief that a vote for Gore would be in everyone’s best interest (that’s actually similar to religion’s “God exists, so it’s ok to lie to get people to believe”).
    I think Gore and Nader would’ve split the votes of the traders equally in the end.

  20. Scott Says:

    Job: The key point you overlook is that, were I in the situation you describe, I would necessarily be in a safe state. This means that, while in some sense I’d have nothing to lose in voting for Gore, in the same sense I’d have nothing to lose in voting for Nader. Furthermore, I’d have my entire self-image as an honest person riding on the latter.

  21. Chris W. Says:

    Michael Brazier,

    If your hypothetical Republican elected in 2004 had any goddamn sense, the invasion of Iraq might well have been prevented, not least because because he would have recalled the perfectly good reasons given by Dick Cheney in 1994 for not overthrowing Saddam Hussein during the first Gulf War. (Who knows whether he uttered them sincerely; either way they were well-founded.) God knows the invasion and its aftermath was an ill-considered and dishonest response to the events of 9/11/2001.

    Any president would have to rise to the occasion on and after 9/11. It is facile, to say the least, to suppose that Gore was any less capable of doing so than Bush. In retrospect it seems pretty clear that much of the Republican Party’s “leadership” and strategy was concerned with exploiting 9/11 to pursue a pre-existing agenda riddled with crackpot overreaching and sheer mendacity.

  22. Gray Area Says:

    Plus if enough Gore supporters backed out, the posted numbers would reveal this, which would cast doubts on effectiveness of Nader trading in future elections.

  23. Job Says:

    That’s right, the safe state thing, i did overlook that.

  24. Joseph Hertzlinger Says:

    If we’re looking at potential alternate time lines in which we had an intellectual President, we should remember that if the Republicans had done a little better in the 1998 elections, we might have had Professor Newt Gingrich as President.

    On the other hand, one Woodrow Wilson was enough.

  25. Scott McKuen Says:

    Two questions: first, what’s “irrational” about the Electoral College? Second: why do you like Approval Voting? The math in your posts is always excellent, so I’m hoping there’s some math behind your election-mechanism preferences, too.

  26. SP Says:

    I very much agree that the past two presidential elections have been nothing more than, “Who will do less damage” type decisions, and to be honest with you I believe that we probably have made the right decision as a country.

    I completely disagree with your love affair of Al Gore as a leader. The main problem with Gore being the “Churchhill of climate change” is that he’s not, he’s involved as much with changing the climate as he was with “inventing the Internet”.

    Gore is to climate change as the PETA director is to being a diabetic taking insulin (which comes from pigs). The same as John Kerry owning SUVs sometimes but not others, depending on who he’s been talking to, the same as Giulliani is with his pro-gun control/anti-gun control depending on who he’s talking to at the time.

    Career politicians are what’s wrong with our electorate. Nothing more, nothing less.

  27. Scott Says:

    what’s “irrational” about the Electoral College?

    That the outcome is too sensitive to small perturbations, of precisely the kind we saw in Florida. That Gore won the popular vote is a statistically significant fact; that Bush won the electoral vote is not.

    It’s now a theorem (due to Mossell, O’Donnell, and Oleszkiewicz) that, if you want a balanced Boolean function with minimal sensitivity to random perturbations, then you can’t do better than direct majority.

    Second: why do you like Approval Voting?

    Well, we know from Arrow’s Theorem that every system for choosing among three or more candidates will have flaws. For me, the main argument for approval voting is empirical: in almost every case where the standard system produced a “ridiculous” outcome, one finds that approval voting would’ve produced a more intuitive outcome. (Of course, one should also look for examples in the other direction — but apparently political scientists have studied these things systematically and found that approval voting is generally better. Anyone have a good reference?)

    Now, there are several voting systems that improve on the standard one by letting voters express more than log2(n) bits about their relative preferences among n candidates (one example is instant runoff voting). But among those, approval voting has the enormous advantage of being the easiest for non-nerds to understand.

  28. Scott Says:

    [Gore is] involved as much with changing the climate as he was with “inventing the Internet”.

    Since Gore did, in fact, introduce the 1991 bill that led directly to the expansion of the Internet and the development of Mosaic (as Vint Cerf, Robert Kahn, and Marc Andreessen have stated publicly), that statement is probably truer than you think.

  29. Greg Kuperberg Says:

    Boy this conversation puts me in a bad mood. A lot of people don’t understand that the presidency is a job where, usually, you can either do a moderate amount of good or a great deal of harm. In this respect, it is like brain surgery and is the opposite of research in mathematics.

    So, first, they ridiculed Gore for giving prudent help to respectable causes. Then they elected Bush, who really does has a Churchill complex. Nine months into his job, he received the greatest personal political gift of any president since Roosevelt, even though it was a national crisis. A year and a half later he rushed in where angels fear to tread and ruined everything.

    Even if Gore were no more than a conceited marshmallow, which is not true, he would be a lot better than what we got instead.

  30. wl Says:

    “approval voting is generally better. Anyone have a good reference?”

    You might want to examine some of the information at The Center for Range Voting (http://rangevoting.org/RangeVoting.html). Yes, it is co-founded and run by “that” Warren Smith, but it has a wealth of information about range (approval with greater flexibility) and approval voting and simulated comparisons to other methods.

  31. Cheshire Cat Says:

    “and waged a devastating air war against Serbia”

    Oh, those poor Serbians. Whatever had they done to deserve that?

  32. Deja vu Says:

    One of only ten Senate Democrats who voted for the first U.S. war against Iraq in 1990,

    This is a testament to Al Gore’s intelligence. While other doves stood by their foolish consistency, Gore could see something was different about the invasion of Kuwait. The first Gulf War was ultimately supported by UN resolutions as well as 34 nations on the ground including Bahrain, Bangladesh, Egypt, Kuwait, Morocco, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Syria, and the United Arab Emirates.

  33. GrEp Says:

    The problem was that in 2000 Bush was a classical conservative. Many people including myself voted for Nader thinking that Bush sleaze, like the Texas Railroad Commission, would be held in check by the congress and he might do a good job of restoring the federal government to fiscal sanity.

    Nope. The congress proved it had no backbone whatsoever and let Bush run roughshad over them. My ire goes to the 2004 Republican primaries where Bush ran unopposed. Our party lost almost all integrity after that.

    At least this time around we have Ron Paul as a voice of reason. Rudy, Mitt, and Fred are doing a great job of cannibalizing each other’s neo-con vote. Let’s hope they keep it up.

    Paul will devistate Clinton in public debate. Her husband bombed Iraq for 8 years, along with the al-Shifa asprin factory, turned a blind eye to Rawanda,…

    On healthcare she would also be swiftly dismounted from her white horse. Living in Mass. you would probably agree that a Mass. ran statewide universal health care system would function orders of magnitude better than a federal one. All those who appreciate the Vetran’s Administration health care system raise your hand, because thats what she is asking for.

    As for NSF funding, Paul will cull congressional earmarks. Especially in computer science where the majority of the budget goes to hardware, not research assistants, earmarks are devastating.

  34. Aaron Denney Says:

    Approval voting gets you N bits of information. Condorcet gets you log_2(N!) ~ N log_2 N bits. Approval voting is simpler, but I think Condorcet can be described fairly simply as well: “You rank the candidates so we can do all possible pairwise races and see who wins.” Yeah, sometimes this doesn’t work, and more complicated rules come into play, but that’s the gist, and that’s all people really need to know.

    Finally approval voting (and IRV) is subject to strategic voting, whereas Condorcet is not. I think that matters.

  35. Mitch Says:

    Randomly, two links:

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/7047486.stm

    “A number of voters in Argentina are seeking to auction off their votes on the internet ahead of the presidential election later this month.

    Opening prices for the votes range from 1 peso ($0.30) to 300 pesos ($95). ”

    and (some rationality closer to home that you obviously knew about already)

    The ThreeBallot Voting System: We present a new paper-based voting method with in-
    teresting security properties….

    http://people.csail.mit.edu/rivest/Rivest-TheThreeBallotVotingSystem.pdf

  36. Attila Smith Says:

    Scott,
    don’t you realise how tiresome and utterly banal your smug anti-Bush tirades are?
    “I could almost feel the multiverse splitting into two branches of roughly equal amplitude that would never again interact.”
    Almost? Come, come, no such modesty from a soul of your sensitivity.
    A.S.

  37. Scott McKuen Says:

    Aaron,

    Finally approval voting (and IRV) is subject to strategic voting, whereas Condorcet is not. I think that matters.

    What do you mean by this? Doesn’t the Gibbard-Satterthwaite Theorem say that every nondictatorial system that gives all candidates a chance to win is vulnerable to some kind of strategic voting?

  38. Greg Kuperberg Says:

    I certainly agree that approval voting for the Presidency would be a big improvement over the plurality system that we have now. It is not a question of “bits of information”, but rather the game-theoretic properties of voting systems. Voting systems have been propagandized lately, they promote something that they call “choice” voting, which in practice means specifically transferable vote schemes. I don’t see any great virtue of this specific solution for a single-seat office, other than that it opens the door the widest to radical candidates. So it’s understandable that radicals would want this system, but I’m not a radical.

    As I understand it, approval voting is a centrist system that gives candidates an incentive to promote themselves instead of demonizing their opponents. I do not know for sure, because I have not seen it used in contentious ballots. All systems are open to strategic voting and strategic campaigning. But if the incentives are salutary, then that is the best that you can hope for.

  39. Scott Says:

    don’t you realise how tiresome and utterly banal your smug anti-Bush tirades are?

    Attila, the present post is not an “anti-Bush tirade” in any sense whatsoever. Bush’s idiocy is not the thesis of the post; it’s simply one of its premises.

  40. Leo Says:

    I posted a reply to this here:
    http://absolutely-regular.blogspot.com/2007/10/bemused-metablogging.html

    So Scott calls Al Gore “the Churchill of climate change” — this despite the fact that the fact that Gore’s science is so shoddy that a British High Court ruled that his film can’t be shown to schoolchildren. I would love for this to be a bad case of a malfunctioning irony meter (mine), but I fear the worst. (Was Churchill also a shameless hypocrite?)

    Then sneaky old Aaronson goes ahead and links to a something this, thus ensuring that readers like me will continue to return and wade through the standard liberal tripe for the occasional (well, ok — frequent) gem.

    [Links are in my blog post, a reply there is more than welcome.]

  41. Kamal Jain Says:

    Scott, I read your explanation of Nadertrading all I can say is even if it is not yet illigal, it should be. I am not a lawyer but from logical point of view, one of the reference you have make it illigal. You have to decide whether a vote is a valuable consideration. If not then why care. If yes, then Nadertrading is selling one vote for Gore in a safe state for something of value, i.e., one vote for Gore in a swing state.

    Why Nadertrading is immoral? For that you have to understand the reason behind electoral college. I think the math theorems you are quoting may also break down. Electoral college is enacted because not all votes are considered independent. Suppesedly votes in nearby constituencies could be correlated. For an example how a natural clamities are handled or how funds are disbursed to states. It is easier to see this correlation in countries with explicit differences, e.g., India. Americans from different parts of countries have differences. Another example of correlation, in UN a country has one vote not a vote proportional to population. Otherwise India and China can pretty much determines the world affairs. The reason is that in the world issues the opinion of two Indians (or two Chinese) would be correlated.

    In the presence of correlation, on one hand one can do the voting between independent opinions, just like one country one vote. If that is done in US, one state one vote then federal politicians will pay more attention to smaller states. Because it is easier to do more good for one vote.

    So in national politics it is important to keep some sense of one person one vote paradigm too. But it is also important to have competition between independent and diversified opinions.

    In theory, Electoral College is a balance between these two contradictory desires, i.e., one vote one person and one vote one independent opinion. In practice, you may argue that the vote of people in one state are not correlated. If this sentence is taken to be true, then why the heck do we have swing state and safe state? This notion itself suggest that the votes are correlated.

    No matter whether the balance adopted is the right balance but it is what Americans have adopted before the elections. What Nadertrading is doing is violating this agreement both in letter and in spirit. Nadertrading is selling two votes. It is changing the outcome of one electoral college. It is swapping something of waste (votes in safe state) with something of value (votes in swing state). It is changing the outcome of an election which is not expressed in people’s true desire. People in swing states have to choose whether they desire Nader to have at least 5% vote or they are willing to accept Bush as their president. Certainly Bush is not that bad a choice, if you see that Nader supporters consider Nader to get 5% vote at a higher value than the difference between the 4 years presidency by Gore and Bush. If you wanted to change that course of history then the only way is to convince these people that Nader get 5% is less important than the difference between Gore and Bush. Everything else is just what it is, trading. I personally would accept, forget Bush, but even Saddam’s presidency for four years if the cost is the democratic principles.

  42. Kamal Jain Says:

    BTW, I should also describe that an opinion expressed, which is not true, free, and fair, to impact the outcome is exactly what defines “gaming the system”.

  43. Johan Richter Says:

    Kamal, the reason that America has two parties is that people have “gamed the system” and voted for people they didn’t really like over people that they preffered but who didn’t have a chance to win.

    And your theory about why the US has the electoral college is wrong. It was instituted so that the slave-holding southern states would agree to the constitution, since otherwise the Northern states would dominate the presidential elections. And it hasn’t been changed because of inertia in the political system.

  44. Scott Says:

    I personally would accept, forget Bush, but even Saddam’s presidency for four years if the cost is the democratic principles.

    Kamal, I was debating how best to refute your arguments, when I noticed that with the above statement you’ve refuted them yourself. We know that once a Hussein or a Hitler becomes president, the number of years until the next election is irrelevant.

    (From Spaceballs: “Evil will always triumph, because good is dumb.”)

  45. SP Says:

    [Scott]Since Gore did, in fact, introduce the 1991 bill that led directly to the expansion of the Internet and the development of Mosaic (as Vint Cerf, Robert Kahn, and Marc Andreessen have stated publicly), that statement is probably truer than you think.[/Scott]

    So, by expanding an existing capability we are now crediting people with Invention? I think you’re short changing the real innovators and thinkers that came up with the idea (since he just re-hashed what the UCLA/University of Utah/Stanford computer science collaborative efforts had already proposed and consequently were already developing.

    Would you give Bush the same credit for “inventing” ethanol? Probably not, in you’re mind they aren’t even related topics.

    Re-wording ideas given by someone without giving proper credit to the originator is plagiarism is it not? I guess taking responsibility for inventing the Internet is blatant plagiarism.

    Again, I think your love affair with Al Gore is off base, and seems to be affecting your critical thought.

  46. Barak A. Pearlmutter Says:

    Regarding #34:

    “… approval voting (and IRV) is subject to strategic voting, whereas Condorcet is not”, that is false. Approval voting and Condorcet both suffer heavily from strategic voting, in a fashion that leads directly to two-party lockin. See http://rangevoting.org/RangeVoting.html for an excellent discussion of these issues.

    On the other hand, “Al Gore — the most famous American politician to think in complete sentences since Abraham Lincoln” is a pretty silly thing to say. Bill Clinton was a Rhodes Scholar and a very smart cookie. While Bush, in college, was an underachieving C- student who sat in the back and chatted during lectures, Gore was a B+ overachiever who sat in front constantly asking stupid questions and making look-I’m-smart comments while the actual good students rolled their eyes, then dropped by during office hours to beg for extra points.

    Certainly he would have made a much better president, but don’t delude yourself into thinking he’s some sort of intellectual heavyweight.

  47. Scott Says:

    Barak: Yeah, I agree that Clinton thinks in complete sentences; he simply pretends much of the time that he doesn’t (which is part of why became president and Gore didn’t).

  48. Bram Cohen Says:

    Barak: The page on voting you link to is quite misleading. It is true that all voting systems have some kind of strategic voting, but under condorcet they only apply under the strange circumstances of the general public having non-transitive preferences (where strictly speaking condorcet doesnt pick a winner and you have to use one of the variants), while approval voting has strategy under lots of circumstances, and range voting even more.

  49. Johan Richter Says:

    Gore never claimed to have “invented” the Internet. He did exaggerate his role of course but Scott’s right that his role in bringing the Internet to the masses wasn’t completely trivial either.

    And statement being “truer than you think” doesn’t meant that it is completely true.

  50. Douglas Knight Says:

    It’s not true that every voting system is vulnerable to strategic voting. Maybe if you make other assumptions, like, invulnerable to clones, or the condorcet condition, it then follows. But the system in which one voter is chosen at random to pick the winner is invulnerable to strategic voting.

  51. Aaron Denney Says:

    Barak: I’m technically wrong, you’re half-right, and Bram is actually correct.

    http://rangevoting.org/IncentToExagg.html is such an example. But defectors have to know fairly closely what the balances will be to take advantage of it.

    rangevoting itself is actually subject to exaggeration — the best a voter can do is to rank everybody at max or min, devolving it to approval.
    You say people won’t do that? Well, it’s much easier than figuring
    out the best thing in more complicated cases…

  52. Kamal Jain Says:

    Scott @#44, I am discussing the math and logic. You ignored all the math and logic and jumped to a political statement. Hitler is an extreme case of a bad political leader. If you like an extreme case of compromising democrating principles, then assume voting for Hitler by everybody in every election forever. You see what is a worse situation. One time Hitler or always Hitler? Let us discuss the math and logic. If you like to discuss politics well then that’s not an area of my expertise.

    Your logic is pre-assume that Gore would have been a better president than Bush. I am not sure it was apriory clear. Democracy is supposed to pick what people believe apriory. Your math assumes a higher weightage to your opinion and all you are proposing how you could have gamed the system by Nadertrading. I do not see any thing ethical with gaming an adopted democratic system. There should be laws erected to prevent gaming of the system whenever anybody propose a new gaming scenario such as
    Nadertrading.

    You put Hussain and Hitler in the same sentence. If that’s your opinion see who got rid of Hussain?

    I think what Bush did in Iraq was wrong. But I can write a math argument based on complexity theory that somebody else might have done even more wrong. I wrote my proof here but realise that it may be offending to some so erased it out of respect. But let me give you an analogy. I assume you know complexity theory so therefore you could create the proof analysing that somebody else might have done more wrong to Iraq.

    Many Indians hate British rule in India. Sure Britishers did a lot of wrong during their rule. There are now very few people alive who lived in British rule in India. So the new generation is not that touchy about the history.

    Assume Britishers were evil in India during the rule and Indians could blame Britishers for their evil rule. But India was in a bad situation before Britishers too. India had to pay some cost to enter the modern world of freedom and liberty. So the important question is not whether Britishers were evil. The important question is whether Britishers were less or more evil than an expected evilness India would have to suffer to enter the modern world of freedom and liberty or the evilness which India would have to suffer by not entering such a modern world altogether

    When you ask this question then you start seeing the better side of British rule in India. In the absence of British rule, what could be expected? One expected situations could be that all the countless kings who ruled India would be fighting with each other for various personal ambitions. They will be spending many times more on war than on social welfare. Today, many neighboring states in India has dispute on water sharing. Their dispute is currently under control by Federal government. You could imaging if these states were ruled by independent kings then how the dispute would have looked like. You could see various examples in the history and as well as in the present world to see how cruel an open dispute could be.

  53. Barak A. Pearlmutter Says:

    Regarding #48: “all voting systems have some kind of strategic voting, but under condorcet they only apply under the strange circumstances of the general public having non-transitive preferences” is false. Non-transitive preferences are not at all strange; they are extremely common. Consider Bush/Gore/Nader. I myself ranked G>N>B. My friend Lance ranked N>G>B. My friend Anne ranked B>G>N. My friend Eric ranked B>N>G. Non-transitive preferences arise because people have different opinions about various issues, and also different opinions about the importance of various issues. Similar non-transitive situations arise constantly in, say, faculty search committees.

    MATHEMATICAL INTERLUDE

    Theorem: Range Voting with fully strategic voters elects the same winner as Condorcet with fully honest (non-strategic) voters. So if you like Condorcet you should support Range Voting.

    Regarding #50: “no dictator” is another assumption of that theorem, which “choose a dictator at random” violates.

  54. SP Says:

    [Johan #49]Gore never claimed to have “invented” the Internet. He did exaggerate his role of course but Scott’s right that his role in bringing the Internet to the masses wasn’t completely trivial either.

    And statement being “truer than you think” doesn’t meant that it is completely true.[/Johan]

    It’s more fun to say “invent”. I believe the word he used was actually create or something like that, but in essence what he was trying to convey on CNN (I think) was synonymous to invention.

    Whether you want to call it salmon or pink, it’s still pink and he still said it.

  55. Johan Richter Says:

    So what you’re saying SP is that it is okay to shade the truth in order to attac someone for shading the truth?

    On another note, I am intrigued by the comparision to Churchill. Did Scott mean it as an unreserved praise, or as “like Churchill, Gore has many faults but was/is right in the question that really mattered/s?

  56. Scott Says:

    Did Scott mean it as an unreserved praise, or as “like Churchill, Gore has many faults but was/is right in the question that really mattered/s?

    The latter.

  57. RM Says:

    I used to mock Gore for claiming he invented the internet, too. Then one day I looked into the facts of the situation, looked up what he actually said, the context in which he said it, and what the actual inventors of the internet (to the extent that anyone can be called that) said about it[1]. I realized my mockery was unfounded and that continuing to spread this meme would not only make me feel foolish but would in a small way undermine the (perceived) credibility of more legitimate complaints about Gore.

    [1] See, for example
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Al_Gore%27s_contributions_to_the_Internet_and_technology#1999_CNN_interview

  58. Aaron Denney Says:

    Barak: Oh, I do support range voting. I support approval more, as it’s even simpler. They’re good, workable methods. Much better than IRV.

    Do you have a link to where that theorem is proved? Or is it just a supposition at this point?

  59. Bram Cohen Says:

    Doug Knight: you have a technical point, although having a dictator is undesirable for a whole host of other obvious reasons.

    Barak: If you assume fully strategic voters then first past the post looks quite good too, and on my planet the vast majority of people who voted for Nader would have put Gore as their second choice, giving him the clear victory had Nader not been in the race, or had the voters been more strategic.

  60. SP Says:

    [Johan]So what you’re saying SP is that it is okay to shade the truth in order to attac someone for shading the truth?[/Johan]
    No. That’s not what I said at all. If you would have read past the first sentence you could have answered that question yourself.