Friday, August 24, 2007

More on the electoral college

Slate has a good piece up about the electoral college and that new BS initiative in California by Maryland State Senator Jamie Raskin. Interesting in general, and makes a good three points about what's wrong with the current system:

First, it betrays the principle of majority rule, threatening every four years to deliver the White House to the popular-vote loser. Second, it reduces the general election contest to a matter of what happens in Ohio, Florida, and a handful of other swing states, leaving most Americans (who live in forsaken "red" and "blue" states) on the sidelines. This in turn depresses turnout and helps give us one of the worst rates of voter participation on earth. Third, because of its proven pliability, the Electoral College invites partisan operatives, legislators, secretaries of state and even Supreme Court justices to engage in constant strategic mischief and manipulation at the state level.

What I found interesting in the article, however, is what's called the 'national popular vote plan', whereby the states create an interstate compact and agree to award their electoral college votes to the winner of the national popular vote. Several states have passed it already, and after all, the Constitution specifically gives this freedom, in Article II Section I: "Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors..." (my italics, obviously).

The current system is arbitrary, accident-prone, and increasingly untenable. On that I can agree with the Republicans who back the California initiative. What I cannot accept is that a more convoluted system, undertaken by a single state for transparently political reasons, is the solution. It is time for the American people to elect the president directly and democratically.

Here, here.

Russia's going to hell

But at least they provide entertainment.

Japanese Tourism

Good piece in the Informed Reader here, on why Japan attracts so few tourists.
The original BusinessWeek article, and Pollack, seem to buy the claim that its

partly because with an export-driven economy, the country has invested far
less in its tourism infrastructure than many other nations

While potentially true, I think that Japan has invested far less in tourism infrastructure because they dont care. Japan, in my view, has always been one of the most xenophobic and racist cultures in the world, and my impression is that the Japanese dont really want foreigners to come and visit.

Obviously this is inflammatory, and a broad painting of an entire people. I dont claim to imply that this applies to individuals, only to the country as a whole (we are talking macro-level here).

iPhone coming to a country near you?

Finally it appears that Apple and AT&T's unwise bid at a monopoly over iPhone use has been undermined. A 17-year old new Jersey kid, collaborating with 4 online strangers, figured out how to unlock his iPhone and is now using it on T-Mobile:
George Hotz, 17, confirmed Friday that he had unlocked an iPhone and was using it on T-Mobile’s network, the only major U.S. carrier apart from AT&T that is compatible with the iPhone’s cellular technology. While the possibility of switching from AT&T to T-Mobile may not be a major development for U.S. consumers, it opens up the iPhone for use on the networks of overseas carriers.

In a classic collaborative open-source screw-the-corporation mindset, Hotz made a video of how to crack your phone and posted it on his blog.

Since the details are public, it seems likely that a small industry may spring
up to buy U.S. iPhones, unlock them and send them overseas.
“That’s exactly, like, what I don’t want,” Hotz said. “I don’t want people making money off this.”He said he wished he could make the instructions simpler, so users
could modify the phones themselves.“But that’s the simplest I could make them,” Hotz said.

Amusing, always amusing, to see an individual (minor no less!) stick their finger in the eye of big corporations. Especially because I think the Apple-AT&T agreement was fundamentally a bad move for Apple (it is the exact opposite of Web2.0 and the entire collaborative ethos that Apple is trying to foster).

Couple of questions....what exactly is the legal agreement covering iPhone use with AT&T? If the terms of use that comes with the iPhone specifically prohibits you from using the device with any provider other than AT&T, this will have no impact on US dynamics, only in international markets.

However, what could be interesting is that AT&T may be forced to compete (the horror!). Considering that the vast majority of complaints since iPhone launch have been about AT&T (see this story about a $4k bill), this could be good for everyone (except AT&T).