Monday, May 15, 2006

Theory of modular politics

Software world and politics have many parallels, but one in particular is of great educational capacity. In software there is a concept of platform, and of a plug-in. For example, any operating system, like Windows or Linux, is a platform. So is Internet. Other programs can be considered platforms in a more narrow sense - for example Photoshop is image manipulation platform. Biology, surprisingly, also works the same way. In every tissue there are so called HK (house keeping) genes, and TS (tissue specific) genes. HKs are a platform, and TS are modules specific for every tissue (or several). What makes Photoshop or HK genes a platform are two things:

1. Breadth of coverage: they provide all the necessary basics for performing set of "house keeping" tasks. For example, operating system talks to hardware, manages memory, communication over network, security, e.t.c.

2. Depth extensibility: they allow easy plugging of additional components that are designed to help perform very specific tasks. In operating systems world this means applications, in photoshop - special effects plug-ins.

This second part, and it's design, are very important. Every user wants something different from the system, and those interests overlap in some parts, and don't overlap in others. If one was to take the union (in Venn diagram sense) of those interests and try to integrate them all into a platform it would quickly become apparent that the system is capable of much more then any single user needs. This comes at a price: the system becomes much more difficult to manage and use. Another reason this is important is that no single group can hope to unite everyone to work on the same project - the platform, because people's priorities and agendas are too different, and so we naturally tend to modularize our efforts.

This is how all this relates to politics. A ruling party can be looked upon as a platform. It provides the breadth coverage of all basic ideas of how to manage a state. In dictatorial regimes the ruling party is also integrated with all it's modules. In a democracy there is a possibility of appearance of modularization: smaller parties that defend specific agendas but only marginally step on each other's turf. Those parties form the ecosystem of the platform: the ruling party. If two small parties try to address similar problems in dramatically different ways they are usually flocking to different platforms. This ecosystem is absolutely essential and without it the platform becomes irrelevant. Party that alienates it's ecosystem by attempting to build modular functionality into it's own core is going to loose on two fronts: it will become harder to manage, will be teared by internal conflicts, and will confuse voters as to what the agenda is, loosing those who do not support the new agenda in it's entirety. But most importantly the alienated ecosystem will go to a different platform, or unite around brand new one, taking all the alienated voters with them. In essence, attempt to integrate ecosystem makes the platform less, not more attractive for voters.

This is a crucial point, contradicting the idea that ruling party needs to be as big as possible and have a say on every issue. The opposite is true: the best platform is party that represents the smallest common denominator of a given cluster of ideas.

Lets take a look at a recent example in Israeli politics. In previous elections Shinui positioned themselves as a cross-platform modular party. The reason for the rise of Shinui was specificity and unambiguousness of their agenda. One of the reasons for their subsequent downfall was their ambition to become a platform party while still carrying most of the properties of a module. The voters were confused and left.

There are two platforms in Israel: Avoda and Likud. Each has an ecosystem of parties that support them. Compared to Likud, Avoda has a small ecosystem because they keep cannibalizing it, integrating every successful party that appears on horizon into Avoda itself. Meretz, the lone holdout, is the only hope for Avoda to ever come to power. If they ever integrate Meretz into Avoda it will be the end of both parties. In fact, the perceived weakness of the right wing camp, multiplicity of parties, is also their biggest advantage - unrecognized and unleveraged.

Kadima, the new platform in town, suffers from near absolute absence of ecosystem. Their only true ally is Gil party, but Gil is a fashion party, and like any fashion will soon go away (that said, the reason for their rise is, again, narrow agenda). After beating every other party in the elections they got a chance to create their own ecosystem by stealing it from Avoda and Likud. But greed for power closed their minds to reason, and instead they did the unthinkable: they accepted another platform into their ecosystem. This is the equivalent of running Linux inside Windows, or, if you will, using house keeping genes for tissue specific tasks. Those misused genes will keep trying to step on the turf of house keeping, until eventually something will break because 2nd task is unmanaged and first uncoordinated. In other words, Avoda will try to act as the ruling party, eventually bringing the coalition down, and all the mismanaged ministries into stupor. It is, well, in their genes. The future of Kadima is bleak. They will not be able to form loyal ecosystem because there is nothing to form it around.

The optimal political system is one of competing platforms, each pestering their own ecosystem of satellite parties. The most important point here is that a platform party and module party have very different purpose and architecture. One can't just grow or shrink one into another. Winning platform will be the one with the best ecosystem. That means making a right decision about what not to include in the platform. It also means creating interfaces for coordination with modular parties: a plug-and-play architecture. Public statements like "we are delegating task X to a satellite party that is designed specifically for X and proves it has the public support in the elections" can go a long way. In fact, this opens the door for true technocratic governments where every party specializes in specific areas, and fights for specific ministries. For example, party with military expertise can fight for ministry of defense, and one filled with businessmen for the ministry of trade. In addition to cases mentioned above there are many examples how public claims for specific office bring a lot of popular vote: it happened with IBA when they claimed ministry of internal affairs (the famous "MVD pod nash control"), and recently with Lieberman who proclaimed he fights for ministry of internal security. Finally, such plug-and-play architecture (and it's fair and consistent use) can create a lot of confidence in a satellite parties that the platform is not going to monopolize them away, and hence grow the ecosystem to be very large, diverse, and competitive. This will in turn up the quality of the parties and give voters more flexible choice. Such a platform will inevitably carry the elections, essentially turning them into battle of ecosystems instead of battle of fat men with 5 funny arms.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Trends in Israeli news sources

There is a new service from google, called "Trends". It allows you to compare frequencies of searches for different things on the internet. So, I thought it would be an interesting idea to compare israeli online news media. Lets take a look:

Legend: Blue: haaretz, red: maariv, orange: a7 (I didn't pick it, I promise!), green: jerusalem post, violet: ynet.

Notice how the a7, the right wing portal of the seventh channel radio in israel, beats or on par with any other news source except the very popular ynet. However, if we take a look at region distribution we see that in israel itself a7 is merely a blip on a radar - not unread, but not a significant presence either. Conclusion: it's popularity comes from the overseas. Indeed, in several countries, like (surprise) France, Germany, Italy e.t.c it is much more popular then any other news source. In germany in particular it's popularity is overwhelming. One would think that since a7 has a russian version of their portal, and germany is filled with russian jews, that has to be the reason. However, google claims that the queries were made in german and dutch. How is a7 in german? Hm... can this be attributed to ambiguity of a7 query? I wouldn't rush to this conclusion, since google is very good at guessing what you mean (trust me, I know the algorithm, and saw the stats). The mystery however, remains.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Popularity contest: round 1

On, website were all the students hang out, there are some interesting statistics on student's preferences. Here is one of them: nationwide preference in books among students:

1. The Da Vinci Code
2. Harry Potter
3. The Bible
4. Catcher in the Rye
5. Angels and Demons
6. To Kill a Mockingbird
7. The Great Gatsby
8. 1984
9. Lord of the Rings
10. Pride and Prejudice

Hm... Da Vinci Code and Harry Potter giving the Bible a run for it's money. Interesting days we live in.

Overall not such a bad choice of books. Of course, only students that actually read books pitched in on this survey.

Friday, May 05, 2006

It's the intentions, stupid

The new Israeli government has signed in. How does it look?

First, we have 25 ministers, and no deputy ministers. With 66 coalition members (yes, *that* number) there are 2 ministers per every 5 people. Olmert says the government is not too big because there are no deputy ministers, but it doesn't takes much to remember that before Barak changed the law it stated that there can be no more then *18* ministers. That is in a country with 7 million people. US government is quite content with 14 ministers serving 300 million people, thank you very much. Expenses aside, it does not even matter what is the size of the government as long as there is solid logic behind every ministry. Is there? Lets see...

1) Ehud Olmert - Minister of Social Welfare
Yes, he is that too, in addition to being prime minister. Just in case anyone forgets who is the champion of the poor. Be careful Mr. Olmert. Instead, people might blame you for a thing or two. Like prices going up on bread, for example.

2) Shimon Peres - Minister for the Development of the Negev and Galillee
Mr. Peres needed a ministry, doesn't matter what it is. So, let there be ministry of development of negev and galillee. Why not? Maybe next American president Mrs. Clinton can make the first man of the state, Mr. Bill Clinton, secretary of development of Alaska.

3) Yitzhak Cohen - Minister (responsible for the religious councils)
I hope Mr. Cohen is a responsible man. If he proves himself, maybe next time we can merge his ministry with the one responsible for chess clubs.

4) Rafi Eitan - Minister (responsible for pensioners)
When an entire age group gets it's own minister, something *must* be wrong with the country. What about minister responsible for students? Minister responsible for married couples with only daughters? Minister responsible for housewives? Unfortunately, the only ministry for which Mr. Eitan *is* qualified for is ministry of millionaires.

5) Ya'akov Edery - Minister, responsible for liaison with the Knesset
In a Knesset where every 2.6-th member of coalition is a minister, and every minister is a member of Knesset, this must be a very important role. Can I say "minister responsible for ministers" ?

6) Meshulam Nahari - Minister without Portfolio
apparently, this is the "non responsible minister". He has no responsibilities. None whatsoever. He just is. Like the weather.

7) Eitan Cabel - Minister (responsible for the Israel Broadcasting Authority)
This is actually a very important ministry, just the name is wrong. They used to call it much more intuitively: "Minister of Propaganda". But we will know that things got really bad when the name changes to "Israel Broadcasting, Multicasting, Unicasting, and Receiving Authority". (broadcasting = 1 to all, multicasting = 1 to many, unicasting = 1 to 1).

Until the next time,
Minister of Offence

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Emergency product placement

CNN: "trapped miners got food, water, and iPods".

Can somebody tell me why they need food and water? Couldn't authorities just get them couple of DELL laptops with WiFi, so they could order in?

Russian Knesset

I thought it will be interesting to how is the Russian-speaking community in Israel is represented in politics. Although this is by no means a definitive measure, taking a look at Knesset members might give us a clue. Let see. The first year and the city are the year and city of birth. The second year is the year of aliyah. There are 12 people:


Zeev Elkin (Kharkov 1971, 1990)
Marina Solodkina (Moscow 1952, 1991)
Michael Nudelman (Kiev 1938, 1991)


Natan Sharansky (Moscow 1948, 1986)

Israel Beitainu (Israel Our Home):

Avigdor Liberman (Kishinev 1958, 1978)
Robert Ilatov (Andizhan 1971, 1985)
Sofa Landver (? 1949, 1979)
Alex Miller (Moscow 1977, 1992)
Stas Misezhnikov (Moscow 1969, 1982)
Yosef Shagal (Baku 1949, 1990)
Yuri Shtern (Moscow 1949, 1981)


Zahava Gal-On (? 1956, 1960)


What can we learn from this list? First, that Russian-speaking Israelis are underrepresented: only 12 members, even if one counts Zahava Gal-On, who is hardly in touch with her russian self. The reason is that many Russians vote for not Russian candidates. While this is definitely a good thing, the underrepresentation would never have happened if non-Russian voters voted to the same extent for the Russian candidates. And that is not such a good thing.

Second thing to notice is that Moscow is over-represented. Why is that?

Third, is that russian street is not represented in Avoda (Labor) at all. Can it be the influence of Peretz? Or that Kadima and Israel Beiteiny sucked all the russians out of the system? Is it because they know russian street won't vote Avoda even if you bring back Sofa Landver and put her in charge?

Finally, the big and most recent alia of 90's is severely underrepresented - only 5 out of 12 members. It is interesting that 3 out of 5 are members of Kadima - beating even Israel Beiteinu. Moreover, Kadima's list was hand-picked by Olmert - which means those 3 people didn't go through the usual scrutiny of internal elections. They are riding the popularity of the party itself. One of the remaining two - Alex Miller - is representative of Israel Beiteinu's youth, and simply had to be from the alia of 90's if he were to be born outside of Israel and be young both at the same time.
What does it say about alia of 90's, to which, by the way, I also belong? Is it that the older Russian Israelis are not letting the newer Russian Israelis into politics? Is it that the new ones are not interested in politics? Is it because they are simply not popular enough? I don't know, but if you do, pray say.

Separated at birth?

Israeli left wing politician Yossi Beilin

Russian comic Yevgeni Petrosian.

Now I know why every time I hear Beilin speak I feel like laughing, and every time I see Petrosian I loose my sense of humor.