Canadian campaign ad

I am listening to the Blue Jays’ audio feed of their playoff game against the Rangers. I am doing so for two reasons: (1) I am attempting to work and have no TV in my office; and (2) MLB has a lousy video-streaming policy for its postseason games. This game is not available to MLB.TV subscribers unless they are outside the US and Canada. (Thanks, MLB, for your not-safe-for-21st-century live-video policy.)

I just heard a campaign ad. The announcer points out that for years, Canadian voters have voted Conservative when tired of Liberals, and Liberal when tired of Conservatives. He then says, this year, “vote for change”, but unless I missed it (I am, after all, attempting to work), no party other than Liberal and Conservative was mentioned. At the end it was indicated that the message was paid by one of the unions (specifically indicated, but I do not recall).

It was pretty clearly a pro-NDP ad, and I assume they can’t mention the party they want you to vote for due to some provisions of Canadian law. Can anyone enlighten me on campaign law?

Shemini Atzeret, 5776

Shemini Atzeret is a holiday dedicated traditionally to a core Jewish principle–so core it is at the center* of daily morning prayers (although not in a Reform prayerbook, unfortunately): that our actions affect the climate, including whether we get the rainfall we need. It’s not a crazy liberal-lefty idea; it’s an ancient religious one, more relevant toady than ever.

An article in JTA, “Why Shemini Atzeret is the pinnacle of the High Holidays season“, summarizes why I find the “closing” holiday of this season so meaningful. It is sad, in a way to me, that it starts with the phrase, “You might not know it…” Indeed, the holiday seems almost unknown to many Jews who do not engage in synagogue life or who do so through a Reform framework.** Knowledge of the meaning of the holiday is not helped by the fact that Simchat Torah–which really just originated as a way to celebrate second-day Shemini Atzeret in the Diaspora–has taken over the original holiday’s purpose, especially but not only in Reform Jewish communities in the US. Yet it is actually a holiday with a very important, central message, to be celebrated and taken seriously in its own right.

Chag sameach.


* See the section at that link that is from Deuteronomy 11.

** Nothing against Reform, per se. They get many things right, including not having two days of holidays (other than Rosh HaShannah).

The three divisions, two wild cards, format (2015 edition of a recurring rant)

Regular readers will know how much I dislike the current major-league baseball format of three divisions (which we have had for a while now) and (more recently) two wild card teams who face each other in a single game to decide which one goes on to the Division Series. Just last night I again heard an announcer praise how wonderful this format is; I think they must be under some sort of directive from on high to repeat that mantra.

I am still not sold, despite the fact that my team’s* only shot at the playoffs this year will be if it can win the second wild card. For supporters of the format, the AL is turning out this year the way they like it: three mediocre teams (Angels, Twins, and the team they currently are chasing, the Astros) are all in contention here in the last week. Also good for their cause, the Astros were only recently supplanted for the AL West division lead by the Rangers; a similar reversal took place just a while ago in the AL East (Blue Jays overtaking Yankees). That there is one race in the final week–really the only one still realistically alive in either league–and that teams recently dumped to second place in their divisions can look forward to, at best, winning a single game to advance, are points in favor of the current format. That is, if you do not object to mediocre teams fighting it out to potentially win just one game against a team that was their better by potentially 4+ games during the regular season. (As of today, the Yankees hold the first wild card, and thus the home field, by a 4.5 game lead over the second wild-card Astros.)

The NL is, however, a very different story. And not for the first time. The two wild card teams (Pirates, then Cubs) are currently separated by 5.5 games. Mets fans have to really love the current alignment of the divisions. Their team gets to be the first to clinch a division title… despite having the FIFTH best record in their league. (When the Dodgers lost a little later on Saturday, the Mets backed into fourth place by half a game.) It makes no sense that a team that–barring a significant closing of the gap in the final week–has finished so far behind the other wild card gets a single shot to knock out a superior team.

On the plus side, however, the second wild card may prevent the “injustice” of the league’s third place team (Cubs) having no playoff games while the fourth and fifth likely get crowned as division titlists. Even so, the way it is set up, one of the (current) top three teams would be eliminated in a single game, and either the fourth or fifth best (Dodgers, Mets) is guaranteed to be in the NLCS. I call this an institutional design fail!!

Although I still prefer my old two-divisions, two wild cards proposed format, with (or without) asymmetric series to privilege the division winners, I recognize that two wild cards are here to stay.** One small tweak I would like to see, however, is having the team with best record play in the first round the team among those still standing that had the worst record. Instead, it automatically plays the wild card, regardless of regular-season record. The principle ought to be to maximize the chance that the LCS pits the league’s two best, and in this year’s NL that is evidently going to be two teams from the Central, while one of the inferior teams is guaranteed to advance to the Division Series simply because it beat out weaker competition in its own division.

Whatever the outcome, October ball is almost here, and even dumb institutional design can’t ruin that!


*The Angels, for those who are not regular readers. Regulars, of course, know this well.

** Besides, I have to admit that this format gave us last year one of the best games in years. The two-divisions, two wild-cards, also is not very workable with the realignment to 15 teams in each league, which took place at the same time as the second wild card was implemented. Given that this is a blog that is largely about institutional design, I invite readers to come up with a format that involves 15 total teams per league, five of which advance, but without a single-game playoff or the other anomalies I have identified. (An obvious solution of a wild-card playoff that goes longer gets little traction because giving the division winners a few days off is not generally considered to their advantage.)

Catalonia election, 2015

Catalonia held elections to its regional parliament today. An alliance of separatists has won a majority. According to Reuters,

The main secessionist group “Junts pel Si” (Together for Yes) was on track to secure 62 seats, while the smaller leftist CUP party would get another 10 [out of 135].

Their votes combine for 47.8%, and there was “record turnout” (78%).

This F&V planting is located in “Spain” because, at least for now, it is.

Polish electoral system referendum

Poland held three referendums on September 7th, one of which concerned a proposal of changing the Sejm (the country’s lower house) electoral system to one of single-seat districts. The proposals were submitted to referendum by outgoing president Bronislaw Komorowski. Under the Polish Constitution either the president, with consent of the Senate, or the Sejm, may submit proposals to referendum (article 125), the result of which is binding if turnout is over 50%.

Turnout in the referendum was extremely low: only 7.8% of Polish voters bothered to vote. Almost 79% voted in favour of changing to FPTP, which was very much in line with the polls, which had consistently shown large majorities in favour.

However, it is doubtful if the electoral system proposal could have been implemented even if the turnout threshold had been reached, considering that the constitution mandates proportionality in Sejm elections. Moreover, the procedure used was a ‘regular’ referendum rather than the procedure necessary for a constitutional amendment, which requires a two-thirds majority in the Sejm.

What led to this referendum? The issue was basically put on the agenda by Pawel Kukiz, a rockstar, social activist and presidential candidate, who came third in the first round of the presidential election in May with just under 21% of the vote. Electoral reform, in the shape of adoption of single-seat districts, was one of his few main issues in his grass-roots, anti-system campaign, with the stated aim of breaking up the ‘partocracy’ and making politicians more individually accountable. In response, after the first round Komorowski ordered the referendum on the issue.

This is not the first popular movement in favour of a move in the direction of more majoritarian electoral systems. Romania and Italy have had comparable movements, successful in Italy, almost successful in Romania. Personally I’m a little puzzled by Poland’s movement, or at least the supposed aim as I would expect that individual MP accountability would be a relatively strong side of Poland’s open-list system (which allows a high degree of voter influence over which candidates are elected from each list), while local representation wouldn’t be too big an issue under its moderate district magnitude (7 to 19, mean is about 11). Are they indeed grasping at straws, or am I missing something?

House of Commons question

As some readers will be aware, I am working on a large project called Party Personnel Strategies. The nutshell version is we are seeking to determine the characteristics of legislators (career background, marginality of electoral situation, rural/urban district, etc.) that are associated with assignment to legislative committees and other offices. The “personnel” analogy refers to the notion that party leadership would seek to match the characteristics of members with the policy-making (or supervising) roles of committees.

I have a question for those who are familiar with the workings of the UK House of Commons. The intention is to focus on “permanent” or “standing” committees, as distinct from “ad hoc” committees. Continue reading