Geographic Representation

Adam Langley dips his toe in the waters of political punditry, and (to stretch a metaphor) turns out to be all wet.

proportional representation means that no one is responsible for you. At the moment, you can type your postcode into TheyWorkForYou and find out your your MP is. Your very own MP and there’s no discussion about who is responsible for listening to your concerns.

Party lists mean that many people are responsible for you, and that means that no one is. And they have to vote with the government because their job depends on it. MPs in this situation become so useless they could just as well give the parties a block vote and be done with it.

What Adam seems to be considering is only a pure party-list system, in which there is no geographic representation at all, but that’s not the only kind. In fact, under either an Additional Member System or Mixed Member System (from the copy of the Voting Systems FAQ that I’ve been hosting for two years), the exact balance between geographically-elected and “at large” candidates can be set anywhere from one extreme to the other just by adjusting the number of representatives selected each way. If the “my local representative works for me” dynamic is weaker under such a system, it’s by design.

That brings me to a more general kind of question about arguments like Adam’s. Why is geographic representation considered so important anyway? Does it really matter more that I live in Massachusetts vs. Texas, for example, than what I believe with regard to separation of church and state or the merits of free markets vs. socialism? Even in a truly federal system where most law is made by the states, why should geographic interests be placed above others in federal lawmaking? I would say it shouldn’t, and that it ever did was more a matter of tradition and convenience than anything else. In today’s world where people move quickly and information even more so, I don’t think it makes much sense. For every person who might have nobody in their district to represent them in a party-list system, there are ten who might have nobody of their ideology to represent them in today’s. Which is the greater injustice? If I had my way I’d have the US Senate elected according to a strict party-list system, then throw them and the House (still elected geographically) together to eliminate the vast duplication of effort and tendency toward gridlock in our legislative system.

Random Science Stuff

I’m pressed for time today, and I found a bumper crop of interesting science tidbits in my RSS “inbox” this morning, so I’ll take advantage of the chance to be lazy.

Food Fried in Vegetable Oil May Contain Toxic Compound (via SciScoop)
when highly unsaturated vegetable oils are heated at frying temperature (365 F) for extended periods–or even for half an hour–a highly toxic compound, HNE (4-hydroxy-trans-2-nonenal) forms in the oil.
New drug from lizard’s saliva (via SciScoop)
A chemical part of the saliva of a poisonous lizard, the Gila monster, has become an integral partner in the control of Type 2 diabetes.
Slow balls flummox young kids’ brains (via Science Blog)
Exasperated parents practicing throw-and-connect skills with their young children will be relieved to know that their child’s inability to hit a slow-moving ball has a scientific explanation: Children cannot hit slow balls because their brains are not wired to handle slow motion.

Amy Sounds and Video

First, here’s a recording (108K MP3) from March 21, of Amy giggling. Her giggles are the best, and I wish they were easier to capture for posterity. The problem – and it’s even worse with video – is that she finds recording devices fascinating. This introduces a kind of Heisenberg effect, in which the act of trying to record her doing something makes her stop doing it.

The big news is that now she’s able to stand, at least with something (often me) to support her. Here’s a video (892K WMV) of her standing. She’s pretty smart about sitting down, too, which a lot of babies aren’t, but she’s not quite 100% yet. Here’s a bad example of her technique (375K WMV), and a much better one (820K WMV).

I apologize for the orientation, but I find myself amazed at the lack of video editing tools that can rotate video ninety degrees from the way it was taken without squashing it to fit into a traditional TV-like “portrait” format. Don’t the people who write these things realize that users know what they want, the output isn’t always going to be viewed on TV, and information should be preserved during conversions? The still-photo folks managed to figure this one out, but I guess video guys are stupid. The lighting’s also not that great in the second and third clips because I forgot to turn on the “backlight compensation” mode while shooting and had to lighten things up manually while editing, but I hope people will still be able to enjoy them.


It’s probably old news to many of my technically-inclined readers, but I found this paper about “honeytokens” quite interesting. Basically a honeytoken is like a honeypot except that it’s a datum instead of a system. Some people might also have heard them referred to as tripwires or canaries, but the basic idea is the same: nobody should be interacting with it, so anybody who does is probably up to no good. I particularly like the idea of providing access-specific honeytokens, much like the old trick of distributing several versions of a confidential memo so you can tell who leaked it.