Book Report: Predictably Irrational

A series of musings about how people really behave. Or, rather, how they misbehave. Describes experiments about placebos, cheating, and other circumstances in which people lie to themselves and to others. I'd heard about some of these topics. Lately, some economists have pointed out how people don't follow the simple economic model--that people follow other rules, similarly predictable albeit less sensible.

But there were new-to-me ideas in this book. E.g., that to encourage people to be honorable, you might occasionally ask them to swear an oath to be honorable. Not necessarily because you expect them to respect the force behind that oath, but instead to remind them that honor is important, to remind them that they think of themselves as honorable, that they take pride in it.

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Zine Report: Giant Robot #57

The Obama posters say "HOPE", but when Obama himself picks people... well, he undercuts hope. It's like he scraped my old book reports, looking for books about USA politics with villains and chose those villains. He chose the viper Wade Randlett as a fundraiser. He chose the redbaiting Bill Richardson for his cabinet.

Giant Robot #57 has a painting of Obama on the cover, and cover article is about Obama. But it's not about evil appointees; it's mostly about art. You know that Shepard Fairey Obama poster? OK, this article is about artists like Shepard Fairey, making Obama-themed art, putting up posters. It's about a guy named Yosi Sergant, working for the campaign, reaching out to artists. It was interesting, inspiring even.

Maybe Obama's going to turn out to be just another politician, a demagogue who threw the word "HOPE" on a wall and let each American latch onto whatever... whatever they hoped for. But it's inspiring to see so many people working for change. Maybe it means that Americans are ready to make their country a better place in spite of their politicians. And we need that--and would have needed it, no matter who we elected.

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Book Report: Sources of Power

This book came out ten years ago. It discusses how people make decisions. Not necessarily how people ought to make decisions--but how they do. It does have some advice on how people can make better decisions--not by trying to fight our natural decision-making patterns, but by nudging those patterns. It's well-written. I didn't get much out of it-- I'd already heard most of what it had to say. Risk of reading a classic. A fun read, but depending on what else you've read, maybe not the best use of your time.

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Book Report: Pirate Freedom

If you travel through time, are you free? Or are you hemmed in by predestination? (Postdestination? What do you call destiny when time travel is involved?) That's a complicated question, and fortunately Gene Wolfe mostly ignores it, giving us a fun pirate story. Well, maybe "fun" isn't the right word. It's brutal in places. It's... it's a good book. Check it out.

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Book Report: Deliver the Vote

Deliver the Vote is a history of crooked elections in the U.S. of A. It doesn't try to describe all crooked elections. Just some good stories, just enough to fill up a few hundred pages.

George Washington bought booze for voters. As far as corrupt electioneering goes, this was pretty benign--Washington wasn't having anybody beat up, shot, or what-have-you. He was just handing out alcohol. Our elections nowadays are fairly harmless--the theft is done through miscounting, not through violence. But there's been a constant theme of theft. If anyone tells you that the 2000 election was an anomaly, laugh at them.

Bleeding Kansas.

Rutherfraud Hayes.

In the late 1800s, Southern Democrats weren't happy about black folks, generally Republicans, getting the vote. So the Democrats used violence and ballot-stuffing to wipe out those votes. When you hear about civil rights folks heading South, risking harm at the hands of violent racist Southerners, it's easy to think, "Well, that violence happened because these 'invaders' riled them up." But the violence had been going on the whole time.

A polling place gets moved to a place where some uppity neighborhood's residents can't find it. Mysterious boxes of votes are "found" late on election night. When the women of Texas wanted suffrage, it was once voted down, with most of the votes coming from mysterious precincts whose polls had never opened.

Bush/Gore does get a mention--the overseas absentee ballots that arrived after the election ended, many without postmarks, but which were nonetheless counted.

Maybe we get the government we deserve, but we don't necessarily get the government we mostly ask for.

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Book Report: How to Rig an Election

This morning, I'm munching my breakfast, reading Slashdot's feed and I see a name I recognize. The strange part: the name is that of a politico, not a computer programmer. The Slashdot post is pointing out that the USA election's dirty tricks are heating up, citing a newsblurb about some flyers trying to scare voters away from polls, warning of undercover police waiting to arrest folks. The newsblurb quotes Allen Raymond. I recognized the name because I read How to Rig an Election, the book that he wrote while in jail, serving time for his electioneering crime.

Allen Raymond helped folks to win elections. This is his autobiography... well, his autobiography that he wrote with Ian Spiegelman. Raymond dug up dirt on candidates. He spread lies. He worked for the RNC. He saw Republicans doing dirty deeds. He didn't have much trouble digging up dirt on Democrats, either. You might think you're already plenty cynical about politics, but don't be surprised if this book makes your opinion sink even lower. Towards the end of the book, there's something interesting for the security-heads--Raymond used a phone bank to Denial-of-Service an opponent's phone bank. A clever trick--and the trick that landed him in jail.

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Book Report: Gaming the Vote

I know what I can say about BANG 19 preparations. It's necessarily vague, in the name of seekricy, but it's heartfelt. Thank you you past Game Control folks who have shared advice, "war stories", and wisdom from past games. When we don't know what to do, often the path to a solution starts out with "Hey, didn't they already deal with this in the ______ Game?" And soon we have an answer. Thanks also to XX-Rated for leaving the Paparazzi Game waiver up online.

Hmm, that probably wasn't so interesting to read. Maybe it's time for a book report on Gaming the Vote

William Poundstone continues to write about ideas. This time, he writes about voting. Do you remember how you felt when you learned that a three-way election might be unfair--when you learned that there is no system of voting such that a three-way election is certain to reflect the will of the voters? When I learned that, I felt like I'd been punched in the gut. That was years ago. I figured that we were doomed to plurality voting, the two-party system. Doomed, doomed, doomed.

Poundstone writes about this, but... but he gets past it. If there are more than two candidates running, no election system is guaranteed to work all of the time. That said, most reasonable systems work most of the time. And some systems probably work better than others. This book is about past "unfair" elections, voting systems, and how to manipulate voting systems. If you've been discouraged by Condorcet cycles and are ready to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and move on, this would be a good book to read.

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Book Report: The Wisdom of Crowds

Ron and Sua were in town on Friday. That's why I was stuck on a train. I'd had dinner with them on the peninsula, caught the train back, blammo. But it was good to see Ron, good to see Sua. This blogging software lets me "tag" my posts, assign them to categories. A while back I named one of my tags "wisdom of ron". This was a joke on the book "The Wisdom of Crowds". I guess if I'm going to make fun of books, I should read them. I finally got around to reading this one.

I'd heard a lot about this book before I read it. I thought it was going to be a "Casablanca" book--you read it, you say "there's nothing original here", and then you realize that's because the ideas have already leaked out into the world so much. Some of that had happened. I'd heard plenty of people talking about the ideas in the book. But the book is more interesting than what I'd heard; some distortions had crept in. So I'll assume that you've heard the same things that I have, but that you haven't read the book (or else why would you be reading this book report?), and I'll try to point out some things I'd heard that weren't quite echoing what the book had to say.

Word-of-mouth says that this book says that a group of 100 randomly-chosen people can make better decisions than an expert. But that's not quite right. This book says that 100 people who are at least kinda interested in some topic can make better decisions than an expert in that topic (assuming those decisions are in the relevant topic). It also says that if you grab 100 randomly-chosen people, not necessarily interested in your topic, they'll make better decisions than you would probably expect.

Of course, it's not so easy to get information from 100 people. Do you poll them? Ask all questions such that they have numerical answers so that you can find the average answer? Markets do this--they want to find out where supply and demand meet. The answer emerges in the form of a price. A market can tell you how much a chair is worth. But if you're wondering: I have two ideas for totally new chairs, one with rockets, one with flowers... you can't poll the market to tell you which you should build. The market isn't a polling service; it can't answer questions about future developments. The only way you can get the market to tell you the answer is to build both chairs, attempt to sell them, and see which one generates more demand. Our political elections can only tell us "yes" or "no". They don't tell us "We'd like another candidate very similar to this one but with more free speech and less blaming violence on video games."

You can get small groups together and ask them to come to a decision. That's a way you can get an information that's more rich in detail than "The price is 12" or "We voted yes". However, you need to be careful of group dynamics. A persuasive ignoramus might sway the answers of some gullible folks, throwing off the results. You want to find a way to let people learn facts from neutral sources, then negotiate with each other to reach a decision. But you don't want to let persuaive people sway other people about what the facts are, what the priorities are. It's not clear how to prevent this, however--to encourage people to be stubborn about some things but pliable on others.

This book was better than I thought it would be based on people's reports. I learned from it; it made me think. I recommend reading it.

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Book Report: What's the Matter With Kansas?

Thomas Frank, a member of the liberal intellectual elite wrote this book for other members of the liberal intellectual elite to tell them that the formerly-liberal working class is tired of liberal intellectual elites ignoring the voice of the working class.

Ideally, people who read this book would then go out and listen to some fundamentalist preaching, and thus better gain understanding of the other messages which the working class is picking up. I haven't heard about that happening. Even though this book sold pretty well.

Great, now I've written a rambling post about politics and the media. Just what the blogosphere needs. I should go read something else.

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