Vincent Cheung

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Saturday, November 05, 2005

Irreversible democratic decisions

This topic came up over one of those 2 hour lunches with my supervisor and my fellow slaves here. I don't quite remember how we got onto the topic, but I started educating the Yugoslavian, Mexican (not Mexican’t), and the American about the whole Quebec separation thing. It’s a strange thing because supposedly, if the majority votes for separation in a referendum, then Quebec would separate. The kicker is that there’s essentially no limit as to how many referendums there can be. There’s already been 2 and there’s talk of a 3rd. One majority of “yes” means separation, regardless of how many “no” referendums there are. But once you get that “yes”, then that’s it, there’s essentially no going back. So, in the limit, you’re basically guaranteed to have separation…

Now, is this how irreversible decisions should be made? Repeated attempts at doing something, with basically no consequences of failure, but a success is final. Seems rather strange. If you get a bad sample (i.e. strange voter turnout), then this could skew the results. I guess maybe that’s why Jean Chr├ętien was saying that 50% + 1 vote is not enough…

So, the reason I thought of this recently is the whole digg thing. My most recent attempt at getting onto digg worked, but after appearing on the front page for half an hour, I was unceremoniously removed. There are mechanisms built-in so that stories can be weeded out by the people. Not sure if a story is removed if it gets a certain number of “bad” votes or it’s a thing of say, “if more problem reports (or some fraction) than diggs, then kill”, but once it’s gone, it’s gone (I asked). Now, this is a strange way of dealing with things. People may report the story for the wrong reason or out of jealously or whatever, or maybe you get a bad sampling of the population. But, it’s one of those irreversible decisions handled by some sort of “voting public” where the vote can be done limitless number of times, but once you reach the breaking point, there’s no going back.

Am I bitter? No. Am I disappointed? A little, but I’m over it now. Just ranting about the oddities of the world. Do I have a better solution? Not really, but it does seem like some educated and intelligent higher power, leader (i.e. not Bush), or committee/judge panel should be calling the final shot on things like these.

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