Drive Carefully, Pop-Pickers…

by Tom on August 9, 2003

You must have noticed a particularly irritating rock’n’pop tactic to which certain songwriters resort when forced into a desperate compositional corner: having flogged every last bit of life from their tune but being unable think of any natural way of killing the damn thing off, a last-ditch decision is made to shift everything up a semi-tone and just keep going, in the hope (i) that this will provide the dirge with an extra dose of energy, and (ii) that the listener won’t notice the awful jarring effect as the musical gears screech protestingly.

It usually sounds absolutely horrible, but that hasn’t stopped Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson and many others from indulging in this reckless musical practice as repeat offenders.

It just won’t do, and now there’s a website, the Truck Driver’s Gear Change Hall of Fame, dedicated to keeping track of the list of musicians who have been tempted by the dark side in this way. When the revolution comes, this kind of behaviour should be punishable with at least a stern ticking-off by the musicological authorities, so it’s important to maintain a list of the principal perpetrators to date.

The FAQ gives this high-minded description of the site’s purpose:

This site functions as an educational resource with the aim of ensuring that in a better future world, our children, our children’s children, and ideally also our children’s children’s children, avoid this musical crime. Equally, there is an element of name-and-shame involved, to help prevent those who may already have offended from doing so again in their career. Although frankly I think it’s too late for Westlife.

I especially enjoyed Dominic Pedler’s essay on the musical theory of the Truck Driver’s Gear Change, which includes a discussion of some cases in which it appears at first sight that even the Beatles couldn’t resist. Quite rightly, Paul McCartney is released without a stain on his character for the modulations in ‘Good Day Sunshine’ and ‘Penny Lane’, but Pedler is a bit less sure about ‘Octopus’s Garden’ and a few others, deciding to nominate the moptops for an honorable Yorkie in recognition of these lapses in ingenuity.

Update: Non-British readers will most likely have no idea what a Yorkie is and what its relevance might be. Fair enough: the Yorkie is a perfectly ordinary chocolate bar which was advertised in the late ‘seventies and early ‘eighties as being so extraordinarily chunky (I believe that was the adjective chosen) that the biggest baddest trucker could subsist on nothing but as he drove up and down the nation’s motorways during the night. Personally, I’ve always preferred a bag of wine gums.

Canadian Lawful Access Consultation

by Maria on August 9, 2003

The Canadian justice ministry has published the results of last year’s consultation on communications interception. Reading it is like entering an alternate universe where sanity and moderation prevailed. There’s no sign of the draft legislation yet, but the signs are good that it may actually contain the ‘balance’ between law enforcement, human rights and industry interests we’re always hearing about but I have yet to see. And for a justice ministry, the Department of Justice of Canada runs an exemplary consultation.

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Scenes from Canberra Traffic

by Kieran Healy on August 9, 2003

We pull up behind a 1970s-vintage Holden something or other. A youngish guy is driving. There is a sticker on the back window:

bq. If its’ got tits or tyres your going to have trouble.

There is a pause. “You know, that’s very satisfying,” says Laurie.

Deliberative Democracy and Social Choice

by Kieran Healy on August 9, 2003

If you’re interested in the relation between deliberative democracy and social choice theory, which Henry has just written about, then you might want to read an interesting and constructive paper by two of my new colleagues here at the RSSS, John Dryzek and Christian List. The paper, “Social Choice Theory and Deliberative Democracy: A Reconciliation” [pdf] just appeared in the British Journal of Political Science. Here’s the abstract:

bq. The two most influential traditions of contemporary theorizing about democracy, social choice theory and deliberative democracy, are generally thought to be at loggerheads, in that the former demonstrates the impossibility, instability or meaninglessness of the rational collective outcomes sought by the latter. We argue that the two traditions can be reconciled. After expounding the central Arrow and Gibbard-Satterthwaite impossibility results, we reassess their implications, identifying the conditions under which meaningful democratic
decision making is possible. We argue that deliberation can promote these conditions, and hence that social choice theory suggests not that democratic decision making is impossible, but rather that democracy must have a deliberative aspect.

It’s a good introduction to why results from social choice theory pose a challenge to what we think democracy can do, and also a useful corrective to the idea that these results should just make us chuck the whole idea of democracy out the window.

Beating the system

by Henry Farrell on August 9, 2003

Jon “blogs below”: about winning office with a mere plurality, which touches on issues that political scientists, and theorists of a certain bent, have thought a lot about. Kenneth Arrow’s “impossibility theorem,” which I’ve blogged about before, indicates that if you make certain reasonable assumptions about people’s preferences, no possible voting system (or other means of social choice) can be expected to aggregate people’s preferences without distorting them. This suggests, according to the late William Riker, that democracy is bogus.

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Paranoid Android

by Henry Farrell on August 9, 2003

And while we’re being snippy with tech-crazy rightwing bloggers, has anyone checked out Steven den Beste lately? His topic du jour is how European males “don’t like”: rugged, manly Harley-Davidson bikes, and have persuaded them to come out with a ‘castrated,’ ‘effeminate’ version. Whatever. I dunno – I’ve never been able to get the den Beste thing myself. He’s always reminded me of the bloke in Searle’s “Chinese Box”: – parsing and recombining facts without ever understanding them. I imagine him locked in a cubicle somewhere, endlessly surfing the web for factoids which he weaves together into vast conspiratorial ‘explanations’ that are almost, but not quite, unlike real political analyses. His posts are vaguely interesting on the level of spectacle, but I can’t for the life of me imagine why anyone takes him seriously. Evidently, the WSJ _Opinion Journal_ disagrees.