Sunday, March 02, 2008

Thinking about the distinction between promise and action in evaluating the greenness of the three likely candidates .... Leads me to a good tool for thinking about politics in general.

Thevenin's method is a foundation of practical electronics. When you hook up your stereo system, you may notice indications like "1 volt 8 ohms" on an output plug. This tells you that the output could provide one volt of potential under ideal circumstances, and that the output has an impedance of eight ohms. The impedance describes how the ideal potential drops when you connect a speaker or other load to take energy from the amplifier.

Obviously this tells you nothing about how the internal circuitry is arranged. It does tell you all you need to know about connecting this plug to a speaker.

Similarly when designing or repairing a device, Thevenin helps to reduce various parts or main modules to simple terms, so you can build or check the next part in line without having to think about the fine details of the previous one.

There is a similar pair of 'black box' measurements for cars, which doesn't show up as a label on the car but is useful in road tests: How fast can it go under ideal conditions, and how much of a hill can it climb without stalling?

That's the key to Thevenizing a device. You reduce the thousands of internal components down to two basic measurements for an output:

How much potential difference can it provide in ideal load-free circumstances,


How susceptible is the device to stalling? How much opposition or impedance can it stand before the potential drops to zero?

Then, after connecting the load and using or enjoying the result, you ask the most important question:

How much actual work gets done?

This can be predicted from the potential and the impedance.

Applying this to politics, we have plenty of discussion on the potential side of the formula. We have endless shouting and screeching about the promises and the principles, but we have almost no discussion of the susceptibility to opposition. Experience comes close, but isn't really the same thing.

That's why the New Scientist editorial is highly useful even if their goals are genocidal. They actually analyzed the susceptibility of the three candidates and concluded that McCain was most likely to deliver their desired potential difference to America, given the characteristics of the actual loads on the political system.

= = = = =

The real political system, at least until recent times, had a vastly important extra component which made this type of two-figure analysis hard or impossible. The extra element, intended to be the MAIN element, was feedback. Our original designers, familiar with steam engines, understood the notion of self-government perfectly.

They built this system to function like a living organism, with thousands of independent feedback loops running between the people and their representatives at various layers. Each layer of government has a mechanism for watching how the people respond to its actions. This doesn't mean "government by the people"; somehow Lincoln's Big Gettysburg Lie has metastasized into the silly idea that we are meant to run the place. Feedback doesn't work that way, and the Constitution wasn't meant to work that way either.

Nevertheless, the constant monitoring of popular response was meant to keep the government in line with the people's needs. If the people show too much impedance to an idea, the government is supposed to try a different idea.

Well, where did the loops go?

In the last twenty years, our system has been taken over by electoral engineers like Karl Rove and Dick Morris, who have accomplished something new and disastrous.

Instead of simplifying the analysis, they have simplified the system.

With the help of Comrade McCain's assault on political speech, they have rigged the system so that it no longer needs to monitor the people's response. Using cynical advertising techniques and shit-quality candidates, they have repelled the flexible voters out of the election process, leaving only the rigid ones.

The flexible voters, those who respond rationally on the basis of their vested interests, the voters whose varying response could give politicians an indication of success, no longer bother to vote, because they are smart enough to understand that it makes no difference.

Only the "broken-glass" voters are still casting ballots; only the mindless voters who could be perfectly replaced by automatic R-marking machines or D-marking machines.

This allows the electoral engineer to calculate with remarkable precision how much money it will take to bring his particular brand of machines into the polling place.

Joe Trippi in a discussion on C-Span last week [sorry, can't find it online] observed that the Rove-Morris approach may finally be breaking down, and Obama is the breaker.

Trippi talks about top-down (Rove-Morris) politics versus bottom-up politics; he describes the bottom-up method as new, but actually it's the old and original technique. Because so many of our intermediate feedback loops have been broken, it can't work the same way now, but the essential principle is the same. Trippi says that Obama is winning because he is riding on the people's shoulders.

As long as Obama continues to listen, he will be able to accomplish actual work. The voters who are moving in parallel with Obama will apply so much voltage to the terminals of Congress that even Congress will have to jump a couple of inches.

Though Trippi was only discussing Dems, I know that Huckabee has the same bottom-up quality. Why didn't he exert the same force on the R side of the circuit that Obama exerted on the D side?

Not clear to me. Could be that the right side of the McCainstream Media is more unified and reliable than the left side, as I observed here and here. Or it could be that the brand-R establishment is so thoroughly and unredeemably corrupt, so totally devoted to maintaining its numerical advantage while giving up 100% of its principles, that it simply had to delete the outsider by pure blind instinct. The elite response to Huck certainly has a hissy reptilian lower-brainstem quality.

= = = = =

Tech note: Yes, I'm aware that I'm using impedance and susceptance very, very loosely! The proper meanings would require too much explanation in this context.

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Polistra was named after the original townsite of Manhattan (the one in Kansas). When I was growing up in Manhattan, I spent a lot of time exploring by foot, bike, and car. I discovered the ruins of an old mill along Wildcat Creek, and decided (inaccurately) that it was the remains of the original site of Polistra. Accurate or not, I've always liked the name, with its echoes of Poland (an under-appreciated friend of freedom) and stars. ==== The title icon is explained here. ==== Switchover: This 2007 entry marks a sharp change in worldview from neocon to pure populist. ===== The long illustrated story of Polistra's Dream is a time-travel fable, attempting to answer the dangerous revision of New Deal history propagated by Amity Shlaes. The Dream has 8 episodes, linked in a chain from the first. This entry explains the Shlaes connection.

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