Agent of Chaos

2014/08/23

In social orders, as in the physical realm, the innate tendency is towards increased entropy or disorder. Therefore, the more Ordered a society, the more Social Energy is required to maintain that Order, the more Order needed to generate that Social Energy, the two paradoxical needs feeding upon each other in an ever-increasing exponential spiral. Therefore, a highly Ordered society must gro ever more Ordered, and thus can tolerate less and less Random Factors as the cycle progresses.

It seems that I am on streak of books that deal with Democracy and other forms of Government. This was the second time that I read Agent of Chaos (the first being its Greek translation, 10 years ago).

Imagine a world where the US and the USSR have merged government and have managed to colonise the Solar System. This is the dystopia of the Hegemony of Sol which is governed by a Council of ten, five of them chosen scientifically by a computer and five by elections. In the Hegemony of Sol, a total surveillance state, what is not specifically permitted is prohibited.

Who can oppose such a systematic regime of absolute control? There exist two players. The basically insignificant Democratic League that fights to restore Democracy although they really do not know what it is and the resilient Brotherhood of the Assassins. The Democratic League was formed 10 years ago while the Brotherhood lasts for centuries.

The Brotherhood see themselves as agents of Chaos, and oppose the total Order imposed by the Hegemony by performing what seem to the Hegemony unexplained and unpredictable acts – but acts of defiance nonetheless. Can they or the Democratic League oppose the Hegemony? Will they change its police state? How? How, where and when one can defend against such a State is the picture that Spinrad paints. Is there any hope?

Yes there is, but the thing is that hope is not a strategy. So it is best that we do not let Governments slip into this dystopic model.

In placing Chaos opposite Order, I could not help but remember the Elric saga. I guess since Spinrad published in a magazine managed by Moorcock.

I must say that I really enjoyed reading this book on the kindle, although the production of the ebook is not without problems. Quite many spelling errors (at least enough to remember to write this). It seems like this was not retyped but OCRed.

PS: I am certain that anyone who has read the book would want Spinrad to have a complete edition of his Theory of Social Entropy as presented in the book by the fictive author Gregor Markowitz.

Numbers Rule

2014/08/17

I wanted to read Numbers Rule ever since I spotted a review of it at Mike Trick’s blog (by the way a theorem by Mike Trick is mentioned in the book).

The book is a concise history of voting systems, be it a majority voting system that deals with electing a leader, or with the proper apportionment of parliament seats. While doing that, using high school mathematics, it explains the algorithms that are used to appoint seats in a parliament (narrating the story of how the US Congress decided on the same issue) and gives a brief biography of key persons in the history of voting systems. The book stars Plato, Pliny the younger, Ramon Llull, Cusanus, Borda, Condorset, Laplace, Lewis Carroll, Willcox, Hill, Huntington, Arrow, Gibbard, Satterthwaite, Balinski, Young, Bader and Ofer. Von Neumann also! And I am always fond of books that mention von Neumann.

Reading this book was both educating and amusing. I understood why for some votes Robert’s Rules requires a 2/3 majority, instead of the simple 50% plus one vote. Do you really think that a 50% + 1 is a selection that represents the will of the people? Think again. The book is full of examples of why this is not the case, including strategic voting. It was amusing enough for me while discussing fair apportionment methods because I always had in my mind the proponents of this magic voting system in Greece (which has never been put to the test) that allocates members of parliament is a fair manner. It struck me that for so many years the proponents always mention the fairness of the system but I have never ever seen the mathematics of it documented anywhere. And it is not that it is complex or complicated stuff. But hey, if you put it down on paper you have to deal with reality and the fact that a seat in the parliament cannot be fractional.

The book is heavily focused in the history of the apportionment of seats in the US Congress, but it also makes a brief passing from Eurovision (although the author makes a small error about the voting points) and also discusses the Swiss and Israeli methods of apportioning seats in a Parliament. The Israeli method of party alliances is really interesting. One should not be let down by the heavy US orientation of the book. It is used by the author as an excellent vehicle in order to present apportionment paradoxes.

Arrow’s paradox takes about a chapter in the book, and the author manages to explain to the layman what Arrow proved with his thesis (and with specific references to certain pages of it). If you want to have a quick explanation of why Arrow’s theorem is important start from this chapter.

In the end I liked this book, because it added two more books in my reading list: The Arrow Impossibility Theorem and Fair Representation.

A lot of people speak the word Democracy. Few understand it. Start testing your understanding by reading this book.

Ένα χρόνο (και λίγες ώρες) πριν κατά τις 11 το βράδυ χτυπάει το τηλέφωνο. Ήταν ο Χ:

- Έλα ρε, τα έμαθες για τον Θ;
– Όχι, είπα σκεπτόμενος πως για να με παίρνει ο Χ τέτοια ώρα ή κάποιο βραβείο είχε πάρει ο Θ, ή πήγαινε και αυτός για τρίτο παιδί.
– Ένα αμάξι πήγαινε ανάποδα στην Αττική Οδό και τον χτύπησε. Ήταν με την μηχανή.

Ο Θ είναι ζωντανός και όρθιος, γιατί φόραγε όλα τα προστατευτικά, αλλά κυρίως γιατί δεν το έβαλε ποτέ κάτω.

You rule my friend.

Beggars in Spain

2014/08/12

“Withdraw from the beggars, you withdraw from the whole damn country. [...] Beggars need to help as well as be helped.”

I never knew about Nancy Kress until I listened to the techwise episode where she was the invited guest. And although I still read the IEEE Spectrum, I somehow skipped Someone to watch over me. So I set out to check her work. And I bump into the Beggars in Spain.

Years ago I had a discussion with my good friend N. about whether sleep is a waste of time or not. I still maintain that within the day we’ve got 8 hours for sleep, 8 for work and the rest for commute and life balance. Well, the Beggars in Spain caught on me because they deal with how life could be if we did not need sleep. They deal with the creation (and introduction in our society) of a human species that does not need sleep and hence they get the 8 hours advantage. What would that mean to the economy? What would it mean to the “sleepers”? Would there be discriminations against the “sleepless”? I think I have a lot of liberal friends who would love to read the book. I find it hard to comment on the book without spoilers, but it felt like a nice vacation reading and it has been a long time since I read about science fiction dealing with genetics.

I am now waiting for Yesterday’s Kin.

Anthem

2014/07/31

I finally got the time and read Anthem, the 1937 Novella by Ayn Rand. I began reading it from the Project Gutenberg copy, but bought the cheap Kindle edition because it was easier to read on the device. Random thoughts that passed through my mind while reading this fascinating work:

- Gollum
– 1984
– Yoda
Raft
– Kolmogorov
– Sergei Korolev

and finally:

Chuck D singing “United we stand, yes divided we fall”.

I understand where Rand came from (timeframe and fleeing from Soviet Russia) and why she wrote what she did. But I do not have to agree with her last two chapters.

It is SysAdmin Day today and I will start with a bitter joke. A well known management one, but tailored for sysadmins:

The old sysadmin had resigned and the new one was taking things over. After having finished orientation of the systems and important stuff that needed to be performed since day one, the old sysadmin gave the new three envelopes.

- Open these if you run up against a problem you don’t think you can solve, he said.

After a few months passed by a severe problem arose. Downtime was long, management and customers furious and all over our sysadmin. Desperate and without any other help, he opened the first envelope. The message read, “Blame your predecessor.”

So he did and everybody got off his back. In a calmer environment and with less pressure he was able to get things working again.

About a year and a half later, havoc rose again. Deadlocked, our sysadmin opened the second envelope. “Reorganise” said the message.

He decided to switch automation software, documented why this was beneficial for the company’s business and indeed the systems behaved better and everyone was happy again.

Time passed and it just so happened that the system was inexplicably inoperable again. So the helpless sysadmin decided to open the third envelope. The message read, “Prepare three envelopes”.

You know people at work appreciate you when they do not let you open the second envelope.

Nicely put:

“Okay, I’m going to just keep my head down and do what I’ve always done, because then I can be the most productive.” So, from the outside, after it runs for many, many years, it gets really broken. And part of that, I think is because it’s not only a lack of accountability. There’s also a lack of reward system for taking any risks. There’s only a negative consequence to taking risk. There’s no positive consequence to taking risk in government.”

See? Not only in the Greek public sector.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,653 other followers