Not Designing Democracy

The recent Brexit vote, where a margin of less 2% of those who voted caused: economic dislocation, increased open hostility towards immigrants, a trainwreck of diplomatic efforts since the end of WWII, etc., etc., has evidenced so much hand wringing and blame gaming, but something is being missed in all this noise.

Each democratic act is designed.

It may not be consciously designed but rules under which it is carried out are either designed, or designed by continuing with whatever the default setting are, and these default settings are not changed. That’s design by ignorance. It seems straight forward: One person, one vote. But that isn’t at all there is to the default settings.

Some default settings that were not interrogated as part of the #Brexit Process:

1. Only a majority is required. Really? What if the vote is to make an irreversible change that carries a significant risk? Is there ever a reason to require a super majority of some kind? Taxation issues in the United States, for example, frequently require a super majority of 66% or 60% or even 4/5 in some jurisdictions. This rule is not anti-Democratic as long as it can be changed by a clear and transparent process–that is, it could be changed but then there would be a need to vote on the principle, separate from the facts of a specific issue.

2. What are the boundaries of each voting area? this is not always obvious, especailly in my home town of Saint Louis where the City is divided from the County and the County is divided into many small pieces. Since there is no forum (boundary set) for regional issues, they don’t get decided very well in Saint Louis. When a boundary set is designed the decided and great things happen, like the Saint Louis Zoo/Museum District. For Brexit, shouldn’t more of those impacted have had a say? And should each defined political unit have been required to clear a majority? Taking this design step in the Brexit referendum would have ensured against unintended consequences, for example Scotland leaving UK, and the vote breaking up two unions rather than just maybe one.

3. Is the Vote a One Step Process? Having two steps ensures that an unintended consequence does not occur, e.g. in votes where many options are on the table, a series of votes ensures that the will of a plurality isn’t given the imprimatur of decisiveness. So if you three of four candidates, if none receive a majority than a run off makes sense. How could this have applied to Brexit? Perhaps not applicable, but just what if the vote was to set up different rule sets for the future vote? For example, to require a supermajority to leave, to to establish the requirement that all political subunits vote a majority to leave? Many organizations rightly have an inherent bias toward the status quo, and it is a open question whether that bias should be reflected in the rules for voting. The US Constitution, for example sets out elaborate multi-step processes for requiring certain fundamental changes. Those processes were designed. 

These are just outlines of some big picture design thought that could have–but obviously did not–occur to David Cameron et al who set this process in motion, in a flippant, non-reflective gesture, but one with consequences. The misfeasance in setting such an important consequential for many generations decision into such a simplistic, winner-take-all process is an object lesson: Do not design democracy by default.

Not Designing Democracy

2010 in review

The stats helper monkeys at mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Wow.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

The average container ship can carry about 4,500 containers. This blog was viewed about 14,000 times in 2010. If each view were a shipping container, your blog would have filled about 3 fully loaded ships.

In 2010, there were 86 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 422 posts. There were 15 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 2mb. That’s about a picture per month.

The busiest day of the year was December 8th with 537 views. The most popular post that day was HOW TO DONATE TO WIKILEAKS updated 7X (last update 2010-12-27 04:39-GMT).

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were,,,, and

Some visitors came searching, mostly for hugh ferriss, how to donate to wikileaks, where is wikileaks, hugh ferris, and the empires of the future are the empires of the mind.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.


HOW TO DONATE TO WIKILEAKS updated 7X (last update 2010-12-27 04:39-GMT) November 2010


Journey to the End of the Night (Hugh Ferriss edition) November 2006


Wikileaks makes the nightly television news in Iceland (Updated 2X) August 2009


Can’t play your DVD on SuSE 11.1? (updated) January 2009


Where is wikileaks? It will be back soon, courtesy of the ’09 F9 effect’ (updated December 4th, 2010) February 2008

2010 in review

A good article, perhaps everyone will wake up…

I couldn’t have said it better myself, William Greider writing in The Nation::

The End of New Deal Liberalism
William Greider
January 5, 2011

Political events of the past two years have delivered a more profound and devastating message: American democracy has been conclusively conquered by American capitalism. Government has been disabled or captured by the formidable powers of private enterprise and concentrated wealth. Self-governing rights that representative democracy conferred on citizens are now usurped by the overbearing demands of corporate and financial interests. Collectively, the corporate sector has its arms around both political parties, the financing of political careers, the production of the policy agendas and propaganda of influential think tanks, and control of most major media.

A good article, perhaps everyone will wake up…

Top Posts, past week

“The empires of the future are the empires of the mind.” 21 views

Can’t play your DVD on SuSE 11.1? (updated) 20 views

Journey to the End of the Night (Hugh Ferriss edition) 13 views

Journey to the End of the Night (Seadrome Edition) 10 views

The Self-Regulating Market requires state intervention 9 views

SuSE 11.1 with Amarok, that actually plays mp3′s out of the box… 7 views

What you can do about antibiotic-resistant bacteria 6 views

Wikileaks makes the nightly television news in Iceland (Updated 2X) 6 views

Top Posts, past week

Climate Crises victims

Here are some of the many victims of Global Warming. Those who deny Global Warming are killing these people.

Raj Patel: Mozambique’s Food Riots Are the True Face of Global Warming

Thirteen people died and hundreds were wounded last week in the African nation of Mozambique when police cracked down on a three-day protest over a 30 percent hike in the price of bread. The UN says the riots in Mozambique should be a wake-up call for governments that have ignored food security problems since the global food crisis of 2008, when countries around the world saw angry protests in the streets over the rising prices of basic food items. We speak with author and activist Raj Patel. [includes rush transcript]

Climate Crises victims

William Gibson likes (real) books, too

I agree with much of his observation below.  The bookstore of the future looks more like a showroom, with some machines that can make books on the spot, or perhaps have them made and mailed to you.  Certainly kindle and other ebooks have a convenience factor for some, but they still don’t beat regular books:

Will you mourn the loss of the physical book if eBooks become the dominant format?

It doesn’t fill me with quite the degree of horror and sorrow that it seems to fill many of my friends. For one thing, I don’t think that physical books will cease to be produced. But the ecological impact of book manufacture and traditional book marketing –- I think that should really be considered. We have this industry in which we cut down trees to make the paper that we then use enormous amounts of electricity to turn into books that weigh a great deal and are then shipped enormous distances to point-of-sale retail. Often times they are remained or returned, using double the carbon footprint. And more electricity is used to pulp them and turn them into more books. If you look at it from a purely ecological point of view, it’s crazy.

How would you do things differently?

My dream scenario would be that you could go into a bookshop, examine copies of every book in print that they’re able to offer, then for a fee have them produce in a minute or two a beautiful finished copy in a dust jacket that you would pay for and take home. Book making machines exist and they’re remarkably sophisticated. You’d eliminate the waste and you’d get your book -– and it would be a real book. You might even have the option of buying a deluxe edition. You could have it printed with an extra nice binding, low acid paper.

William Gibson likes (real) books, too

Ministry of Privacy

EFF deep links has a story about ways governments could forge SSL certificates to defeat SSL session privacy. Certainly this is now being done by NSA:

“Cryptography is typically bypassed, not
| Adi Shamir

FLAW? Researchers released a draft paper about an inherent
browser security flaw with evidence that governments
may be able to surreptitiously spy on users’ “secure”
communications. Most modern browsers rely on certificate
authorities (CAs) to vouch for whether a secure site
is what it claims to be. But there’s evidence that
governments are being sold tools that they can use as
part of a scheme to have CAs issue certificates for
surveillance operations, enabling the undetectable
spoofing of ceratin websites or services.

For details about the security research:

The paper itself:

Ministry of Privacy