What is a “wild” crop? One that is not cultivated, correct? That certainly is my understanding of the word, wild. As far as I know there is no labeling standard for the various products that are called “wild,” and thus cultivated fruits can be in processed foods that are labeled wild.
Now, what if a beer is called Wild Hop Lager and bears the USDA seal that it is organic? As far as I know, there are no hops growing in the wild that are used by brewers anywhere, but you might assume that, even if the hops in this beer were cultivated, they at least would have been cultivated organically. Reasonable assumption, no? Uh, no. The hops in question are grown with chemical fertilizers and pesticides.
Of course, if you noticed that that Wild Hop Lager was produced by mega-factory brewer Anheuser Busch, you might be less surprised at the misleading labeling. The USDA has interpreted the Organic Foods Protection Act of 1990 as allowing various ingredients that constitute a stipulated maximum percentage of the total product to be produced non-organically without disqualifying the product itself from bearing the USDA organic seal. And that list is about to be expanded, and the percentage of allowable non-organic ingredients in a product is about to be increased (to 5%).
What a shame that the USDA is allowing such debasing of the value of the organic label that products can have significant non-organic ingredients. Certainly hops are a significant ingredient in beer, even if a little goes a long way. (Well, not for me, but then I am hophead. I could eat them raw and have been known to enjoy a cup of hop tea now and then.)
I remember some years ago when there were discussions among organic producers about the mixed blessing of the then-budding mass interest in organic products. Of course, those of us who grow and consume organic products want the concept to spread–for both our own interests and those of the planet. But we knew it was inevitable that government agencies would begin to relax standards at the behest of the big-time processors and retailers, who can hire better-connected lobbyists than the committed organic growers can. An article from earlier this month in the LA Times, from which the not-wild, not-organic hop lager story comes, suggest that this relaxation of standards is very much underway.
My own advice is not only to look for the “organic” label, but to favor relatively smaller producers who specialize in organic whenever possible. If it is local, even better.
At one time, avocados from high up the steep fruited slope of Mt. Ararat were brought down to trucks via this rail car, which ran on a single track.
In our shed there is an old motor, and around the grove there are several old bins that would have been placed on this car.
The second photo shows the line from farther up, above LF HQ, the house, and the valley so low (note the banana grove, before the freeze, just above HQ). Alas, the line is not functional. I have always fancied the idea of making it work and planting the highest part of the slope and using this line to get me and materials up the hill. However, it would be costly–and probably not very safe.
I have had a few people come by the finca who have been associated with the avocado business for many years and they usually say they have heard of these devices being used in the area, but are not aware of any other tracks still in place, let alone working systems.
Of course, in some other parts of the world, one can find working systems similar to this–for instance in some Italian vineyards.
Is any electoral system in which a tier of single-seat districts (SSDs) is accompanied by a noncompensatory tier of list PR a “mixed-member majoritarian” (MMM) system? This question arises in advance of the 30 June legislative election of East Timor. But that is actually getting ahead of the story…
Of course, my first step was to do what every academic does, and turn straight to the bibliography and index to check the citations to and discussion of my work. On p. 111, Professor Reilly accuses me of making little sense. And you know what, he is right: some systems that I would label as MMM should not be so identified.
In East Timor’s 2001 election, there were 75 seats allocated by closed-list PR and 13 single-seat districts allocated by plurality. Yes, thirteen of 88, or 14.8% of seats are allocated by the “majoritarian” nominal-tier. For 2007, the 13 SSDs will be the same, but the total number of seats has been cut to 65, making the nominal tier only slightly larger in percentage terms (20%).
Of course, in branding the noncompensatory (parallel) mixed-member systems as MMM, I have always had in mind systems in which the nominal tier was either “close to” half or well over half the total number of seats.* In such combinations, the list-PR allocation is unlikely to prevent any party that can emerge from the nominal tier over-represented (perhaps substantially) from retaining over-representation. Of course, such a party’s over-representation can only be reduced by the addition of the PR seats. Nonetheless, any party in a position to be over-represented in the nominal tier will also obtain a large (and approximately proportional) share of the list-tier seats. It thus will retain some degree of over-representation far and away beyond what it would have with any compensatory mixed-member system (MMP), even one with a relatively small PR tier and/or small magnitudes in that tier. Hence, “MMM.”
But what if the nominal tier is very small? Of course, the system is not going to be very majoritarian–even if one party pretty much sweeps the nominal tier. Reilly suggests calling the system MMM only if a majority of the seats are allocated in the nominal tier. I think that might be going too far, and not only because the label, MMM, certainly should be retained for parallel systems with a 50:50 split between the tiers. Even Hungary, with around 54% of its seats in the list tier and a mechanism for partial compensation is quite majoritarian in its impact (and thus should not be called MMP, as it is in some works, including other works of which Reilly is a co-author). But I can certainly agree that 15% nominal tier and noncompensatory allocation do not add up to a majoritarian system.
Classification aside, why would anyone want a noncompensatory MM system with such a small nominal tier? I can see the logic behind a very small list tier (as in South Korea, for example). Such a system provides some minimal degree of representation to parties that are small or have dispersed voter support and reduces the risk of overwhelming single-party majorities while still retaining a mostly “majoritarian” and nominal logic to the overall system. But why do the reverse, and have a mostly PR system with a small tier of SSDs that one party might sweep, as Fretelin almost did in 2001*? The potential for one party to dominate the nominal tier increases the actual majoritarianism of the system only if the largest party was very short of a majority of list seats (and therefore not in need of much a bonus to become a majority party) and, owing to the large geographic extent of the districts (relative to country size), there certainly is not much local representation at work. It is an odd combination, whatever we might call it.
* The concept of MMM was debuted on p. 13 of Matthew Soberg Shugart and Martin P. Wattenberg, Mixed-Member Electoral Systems: The Best of Both Worlds? (Oxford, 2001). The definition is not much different from what is written here, and we make no mention of a minimum percentage of seats in the nominal tier (or, for that matter, of the list tier of an MMP system).
** Fretilin won 12 of the 13. When added to its almost perfectly proportional share of the 75 list seats, this gave the party 62.5% of the total seats on 57.4% of the list votes for a fairly modest degree of over-representation (advantage ratio of 1.08).
In the 2006 election, as I discussed at length at the time in various plantings (click “Palestinian Territories” above and scroll down), Fatah only narrowly lost those elections in the party-list vote, 44-41. Yet, the seat allocation was extremely disproportional, thanks to a variant of MMM (mixed-member majoritarian) that was based on a nominal tier of MNTV (multi-seat districts in which the voter could cast votes for as many candidate as there were seats in the district).
Hamas’s narrow plurality on 44% of the party-preference votes translated into close to three fifths of the seats, partly because of the inherent tendency of such a system to exaggerate pluralities and partly because of the far greater discipline of Hamas voters, who were somewhat more likely to cast all of their votes for Hamas candidates than were Fatah voters to do so for their candidates.
One must be cautious in a setting like the Occupied Palestinian Territories about attributing too much to institutions, but without a Hamas parliamentary majority, President Mahmoud Abbas could have appointed a Fatah-plus-independents cabinet with Hamas constituting the opposition. Not a fully peaceful opposition, surely–this is Hamas we are talking about–but in such a scenario, the US, Israel, and EU would not have had the justification for the boycott of the Palestinian Authority that has done so much to destroy both infrastructure and hope.
Thanks to the folks at Fair Vote for noticing Fatah’s expression of support for PR. I have a small disagreement with Jack’s conclusions in the just-linked post, however. He suggests that Fatah’s substantial underrepresentation was a result of over-nominating, that is, having too many candidates for its votes to support. That would be a valid conclusion were the nominal tier elected by SNTV or limited vote, or if voters for the largest party had not been so party-oriented. But given that in most districts, Hamas had the plurality of voters, who were generally willing to give all their votes to Hamas candidates, a different nomination strategy could hardly have made a significant difference in the outcome. The problem was the electoral system itself, and not nomination strategy.
The summer solstice is here,* so it is time to continue my occasional forays into the intersection of agronomy, astronomy, and spirituality!
With the sun at its highest angle of the year here in the San Diego area, there is only minimal shadow beneath the hedgerow (or over it, from the tall grapefruit trees at the left/south), in stark contrast to the maximum shadow exactly six months ago, at the winter solstice, or even what we saw three months ago at the vernal equinox.
Today, the sun rose at 5:41 a.m., the earliest it will be all year. The sunset will be at 8:00 p.m., giving us 14 hours, 18 minutes, and 30 seconds of daylight. (The sunset will actually get a bit later–as late as 8:01 from 28 June to 1 July, but by then the sunrises will be creeping later as well.)
The winter solstice this past year occurred very close to the darkest time of year, taking into account the moon cycle as well as the sun. In fact, that is why the winter solstice coincided almost perfectly in the year 2006/5767 with Chanukah, during which we remember the re-dedication of the ancient Temple by kindling candles at sundown during the waning moon closest to the winter solstice (follow the first link above for more).
So, when will we have maximum light? That would be the full moon closest to Tekufah Tammuz (the summer solstice), and in the year 2007/5767 that will be the night of 29-30 June (14 Tammuz, which also happens to be Shabbat). Unfortunately, by then we will have to settle for a mere 14 hours, 16 minutes, and 40 seconds of daylight preceding our full-moon night. (The solstice and a full moon closely coincided last in 2005 and will not again till 2024, in both cases the middle of the month of Sivan, whereas this Gregorian/solar year we are already several days into Tammuz at the solstice; today is 5 Tammuz, 5767, on the lunisolar Jewish calendar and the moon is thus just about to reach its first quarter.)
The summer solstice for many centuries has been marked by various pagan festivals. However, there is no holiday on the Jewish calendar to mark the summer solstice, despite the obvious fact that other holidays like Chanukah and Passover are built on the backs of pre-Jewish pagan celebrations (as are Christmas and Easter, too). Nonetheless, as the OC Register (not my favorite paper, but whatever) article just linked notes:
some modern Judeo-Christian groups are reviving solstice worship. [Let's assume the writer intended that to be taken as not worship of the solstice but worship on it.--MSS]
“Many of those who grew up in Jewish and Christian religion want to see the modern holidays in their agrarian origin,” Lucas said. [Amein--MSS] “These green Jews and green Christians are incorporating the solstice into their current practices.” [Hey, Green Jew, that's me!--MSS]
Some religious groups point to biblical passages that may have occurred on the summer solstice, including the verse in Joshua 10:12 in which Joshua stops the sun in the sky. (The term solstice is actually from two Latin words meaning “sun stands still.”)
“There is also a legend that Adam and Eve were cast out of the Garden of Eden on the summer solstice,” said Rabbi Jill Hammer, director and cofounder of Tel Shemesh, a Jewish organization focused on the celebration of nature. “In the Jewish tradition, the summer is always about this trade-off: abundance but also danger. The summer is about exile and sorrow and loss.”
Tel Shemesh offers a description of its summer-solstice ritual. As for the Joshua 10 reference above, it refers to the narrative of the battles for the conquest of Canaan (as re-told well after the events). Often ancient battles stopped at nightfall (night-vision technology being rather primitive back then); might the battle have taken place at the summer solstice?
“Joshua Commanding the Sun to Stand Still” by Gustave Dore, (d. 1883) (courtesy Wikipedia.)
Some tradition says the battle was on 3 Tammuz. While we can’t possibly know–and the historicity of the events described in Joshua is dubious in any event–if there was an ancient battle on 3 Tammuz, the impending night after the standing still of the sun indeed would have been very dark (being just days past the new moon).
Of course, as the orchard photo above and its counterparts at the two earlier linked plantings show, each of these solar seasonal transitions (equinoxes and solstices) marks an important transitional point for the grower of deciduous fruit trees in a Mediterranean climate (such as the Land of Israel or southern California). At the winter solstice, the trees are in their deepest dormancy, while at the vernal equinox most of them are blooming or have just set their fruit. Now, at the summer solstice, we are approaching peak season for the fruit of the deciduous trees.
As the photo above shows, the ‘Geo Pride’ pluot has much fruit that is nearly full size, although not yet turning color and ripening (though it will do so very soon!). In the vernal-equinox photo, this tree was days past its peak bloom. As if on queue, the ‘Newcastle’ apricot, which is immediately to my back as I take these photos, dropped its first ripe fruit today!
The “production cycle” for the deciduous fruits and other crops may have much to do with why there is no Jewish holiday tradition at this time of year. Unlike in the winter and spring, there are few natural forces that seem to contend with one another in “battles” the outcome of which will determine the farmer’s bounty for the coming harvest (completed shortly after the autumnal equinox, and celebrated one full moon cycle after that equinox with Sukkot!). In the winter, we worry about warm days preventing good flower-bud set and about not having enough rain. In spring we worry about too much rain, or early heat and drying winds. For an ancient people being slowly weaned off polythesim, each of these battles was a temptation to stray and “bow before other gods” (paying homage to the god of rain or the god of sun, or whoever.)
Here at the summer solstice–the tension between “abundance but also danger” notwithstanding–we have the bounty of sunlight, the warm days and calm nights, almost no threat of major storms (in Mediterranean climates), and thus little to threaten the fruit.
Summer thus offers few temptations by those other gods, but plenty for which to give thanks to the One.
* Unless, you are way down south, of course, in which case it’s the winter solstice.
** Well, other then the squirrels and birds that the Ladera Frutal Dept. of Fruitland Security is always looking for new ways to keep at bay.
The connection between agriculture, mono- vs. poly-theism, and the Jewish festivals is developed in a terrific book by Nogah Hareuveni, Nature in our Biblical Heritage (Kiryat Ono, Israel: Neot Kedumim, 1980). There is nothing in that book about the summer solstice, however, because of there being no significant Jewish tradition about this solar event. There is an interesting discussion about Tu B’Av, however, but one thing at at time! That’s not till next month.
Armenia uses a mixed-member majoritarian (MMM) system, in which there are 41 single-seat districts (elected by plurality) and 91 national closed-list seats (allocated by PR, but with no consideration of the single-seat results). In the most recent election (12 May 2007), there were widespread chrges of fraud, particularly in the single-seat districts (SSDs). Now one of the disputed districts will have a by-election, and one of the candidates for the seat will be the top-ranked candidate in the list tier for the opposition Zharangutyun (Heritage) party, which won 7 list seats and no SSDs.
Perhaps this has happened before somewhere, but it certainly is unusual to have a sitting list member running in a nominal-tier by-election. If the legislator, Raffi Hovannisian, were to win, the party would increase its seat total to eight, given the noncompensatory nature of the PR tier. Presumably Hovannisian’s current seat would be taken by the candidate at the no. 8 rank on the list from the last election, which is standard practice when a member elected in a list system resigns (even if in this case the member would be resigning his seat to take a different seat!).
The government-backed “independent” candidate in the district in question, who had originally been declared the winner of the 12 May race, Khachik Manukian, is running again. So are two other candidates named Khachik Manukian.
The two men were clearly told to run for parliament by one of his rivals keen to damages his electoral chances. One of the obscure Manukians is a 75-year-old unemployed man, while the other works as a costume maker in a state theater in Yerevan.
Ah, the value of name recognition under nominal voting!
We have a nice crop on the blueberries this year, especially on the ‘Jubilee.’ And they have excellent flavor!
The blueberries are all growing in large pots outside LF HQ (perfect for snacking during the workday!). The pots allow for controlling the pH through the potting medium in a way that would be almost impossible in our neutral-to-alkaline soil.
Just behind the blueberries are the blooms of one of my favorite perennials, the canary Island sage (Salvia canariensis). Not only does this little-known sage have great blooms, but it also has furry white stalks, making it perfect for any petting garden!
Farther in the distance, looking off to the east, is the LF avocado grove.
The party in question is the Peoples New Party, which was one of the parties formed by the “traitors“–the LDP (ruling party) legislators who in 2005 voted against then-Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s postal privatization plan. The defectors on that vote caused the bill to be defeated in the upper house, and Koizumi responded by dissolving the lower house and making the snap (11 September 2005) election a “referendum” on postal privatization, running “assassins” (Koizumi-recruited candidates with popularity outside of politics) against the “traitors.” Koizumi won big, but some of the traitors were reelected under their new party labels and now the PNP is struggling to survive as a a small old-timey conservative party.
The upper house in Japan, the House of Councillors, is elected partly by nominal voting (specifically, SNTV), and partly by a national tier which uses open-list PR (in which voters write either the name of their political party of choice or the name of a candidate on a party list). So there is most certainly a premium on running well known candidates–in both tiers. And Fujimori, the son of Japanese-born parents who emigrated to Peru, is certainly well known in Japan. He is being considered as a candidate in Tokyo’s four-seat electoral district, in which voters choose one candidate (i.e. the nominal tier), although the possibility of his being a candidate in the national open-list tier is also not ruled out.
An irony in this is that Fujimori, during at least the first term of his presidency, was a darling of the international group of “privatizers.” Now he might run as a candidate of a party that was born in reaction against a privatization plan.
At the conclusion of the first round of voting for the French National Assembly, with projections showing a majority for newly elected President Nicolas Sarkozy’s UMP ranging from nearly two thirds to more than three fourth of the seats, I posed the question of whether France needed a new electoral system. With the party system fragmented, yet now dominated by two large and relatively moderate parties, the old majority-plurality two-round system no longer seemed to be serving the country well. When the electoral system was adopted in 1958 (and used for every election since then, except for 1986), there were no real “giants” in the fragmented party system and not even two clear blocs. One of the largest parties was a doctrinaire Communist party. In that context, a system that very quickly realigned the parties into two major blocs and led to the under-representation of the Communists was a reasonably good choice. (The realignment was also aided greatly by the adoption of direct, two-round majority presidential elections beginning in 1965, although it was already in evidence before then.)1
In light of the projections arising from the first round, I suggested (perhaps rather shockingly) that even first-past-the-post would be an improvement over the current system, given the tendency of the two-round system to over-exaggerate the lead of the largest bloc, and within the bloc, its largest party. In other words, the 2007 elections were about to show, at the conclusion of the second round, that the electoral system no longer served the purposes for which it had been devised, but rather was just inflating the dominance of the president and his party. (Once again, we have to look beyond the electoral system itself: this dominance is greatly aided by the change in the presidential term from seven to five years, which effectively guarantees that a newly elected president will have an immediate National Assembly during his “honeymoon.”2)
Well, a funny thing happened on the way to the UMP’s two-thirds or three-fourths majority: the voters corrected it! Given a chance in the second round to exaggerate or trim Sarkozy’s majority, the voters (or, rather, the 60% who bothered to vote) cut it. The majority will still be large enough to empower Sarkozy’s government (apparently minus Alain Juppe, a former prime minister to whom Sarkozy had already given the environment and energy portfolios, but who lost his parliamentary seat). The UMP won 313 seats, or 54.2% of the 577-seat National Assembly. However, under several alternative electoral systems, the majority might have been bigger.
Le Monde has a nice interactive graphic that allows one to see estimated seat totals for the various parties under several alternative electoral systems. (Even though it is in French, you do not need to read French to understand the graphics.) It just so happens that the FPTP scenario is 421 seats for the UMP, or 73%. Even a PR system is estimated to give the UMP 333 (58%) of the seats. The estimate under German-style MMP with a 5% threshold is 317 (55%).3
Now it is worth noting that any such simulation is to be taken with a grain of salt. It is a “ceteris paribus” exercise; it assumes voter behavior would not change under the different system. In fact, the shape of the vote would have been different under any of these systems. Nonetheless, the exercise is a reminder that, for a given vote distribution, a two-round system is not necessarily as disproportional, once the voters have gone to the polls a second time, as it might appear from a projection of the first round.
I would still conclude that a PR system (whether MMP or all-list) would be better (surprise!), for the reason I articulated before.
A proportional system would have the advantage of confirming the strong position of the presidentâ€™s party, while making the assembly election matter for the precise shape of the coalition the president builds.
After all, even with this diminished (relative to projections) majority for the UMP, it is still a single-party president-dominated majority. And such an outcome was never in doubt, making the election largely an exercise in coronation rather than choice. And that is why the turnout was so low–at 60% (both rounds), I believe it was the lowest for a legislative election under the French Fifth Republic. Given the new electoral cycle of Assembly elections shortly after presidential, as long as the electoral system is practically guaranteed to generate a majority, there will appear to many voters to be little at stake in the parliamentary contest. A PR system, and the different patterns of alliance building it would induce, would re-energize French parliamentary elections and be much more consistent with the premier-presidential (semi-presidential) model France has, in which the president dominates policy-making only to the extent that the voters (and the electoral system) permit him or her to do so.
1. In 1958, after Charles de Gaulle had been chosen as president by the National Assembly, France held its first election under the new Fifth Republic, under the two-round system (majority required to win a district’s sole seat in the first round, but a plurality suffices in the second). The largest parties in votes percentages nationally were Gaullists (20.6), Conservatives (20), Communists (18.9), Socialist (15.5), and Popular Republican (11.1). However, thanks to the electoral system, the seats percentages were, respectively: 42.6, 28.6, 2.2, 9.5, 12.3. (Yes, 2.2% of the seats for Communists, despite 18.9% of first round votes!)
In 1962, the second election under this electoral system, but still before the first direct presidential election, the leading vote-winners were: Gaullist (33.7), Communist (21.9), Socialist (12.4), Conservative (11.5), Popular Republicans (7.8). Their seats, respectively, were 49.5 (!), 8.8, 13.7, 6.9, 8.0.
Over the subsequent four elections, the trend of Gaullist dominance of the right and Socialist dominance of the left would accelerate. Socialist dominance of the left would accelerate even more after the election of President FranÃ§ois Mitterrand and his exercise of his right to dissolve parliament and call a “honeymoon” election in 1981. The electoral system had worked to consolidate two blocs, each dominated by relatively moderate parties, replacing the earlier fragmentation and strong Communist Party.Mission accomplie.
2. “Cohabitation,” in which a president from one ideological bloc must appoint a premier of the opposing bloc because the latter controls the Assembly, happened only at the elections that occurred five years into each of Mitterrand’s terms (1986 and 1993) and again in 1997 when President Jacques Chirac gambled on an early dissolution of the National Assembly and wound up with a Socialist majority. Other elections have resulted in pro-presidential majorities, including Mitterrand’s two dissolutions after his own election in 1981 and reelection in 1988 (mission accomplie!) (Some of these majorities have not been dominated by the president’s own party or have required post-election cooperation by centrists from outside the two blocs.)
3. The list-PR simulation assumes proportionality with each department serving as a multi-seat district and a 5% (district-level) threshold. This would appear to be identical to the system used in the one PR system of the Fifth Republic, in 1986 (when the Socialists changed the system to conserve their own expected losses and to hand the new right-wing majority a parliament that would include the far-right National Front; again, mission accomplie). Under this variant of PR, many smaller parties with regional concentration do better than under the MMP simulation requiring a party to win either some (I assume, as in Germany, 3) single-seat districts or 5% of the national list vote in order to win seats from the list tier. The MMP simulation has seats for only the UMP, Socialists, and FranÃ§ois Bayrou’s new centrist MoDem. The latter party gets 61 seats under MMP, compared to only 28 under departmental PR (and 3 in the actual majority-plurality system)–no wonder Bayrou supports MMP! Also worth noting is that the National Front (4.3% of first-round votes) wins 5 seats under departmental PR, and none under any of the others (though, of course, it might well clear 5% of the votes if the latter were sufficient for representation, in which case it would win at least 30 seats).
Replanted here (from one week ago) on the occasion of the second round. How big will the majority be?
The answer is not nearly as big as anticipated. And, in fact, smaller than in the previous assembly. Still a majority more than 56% of seats, but that’s a lot less than the two thirds or more that was projected after the first round.
After the first round of voting for the National Assembly, projections for the final result suggest that newly elected President Nicolas Sarkozy’s Union for a Popular Majority (UMP)* will end up with between 383 and 470 seats. The low end of that projection would be just two seats short of a two-thirds majority. The upper end of that range would be 81%. The mid-range of that projection would be six seats short of a three-fourths majority.
Any time the real question about a legislative election is whether the ruling party will get two thirds or three fourths of the seats, one should ask the question, does this country need a new electoral system? But when the ruling party in question has won only 39.5% of the vote, the question should be asked in the loudest possible voice.
The Socialist party has come in second in votes, with 24.7%, the Mouvement Democrate (or MoDem, the party just formed by third-place presidential candidate, FranÃ§ois Bayrou) third with 7.8%. The National Front took 4.7% of the vote, and the once mighty PCF managed 4.6%. That leaves 18.7% for various “others,” few of which will win any representation.
The Socialist Party is projected to win between 60 and 185 seats; that is, 10.4% (!) to 32.1%. So, depending on the outcome of the runoffs, the principal opposition party could be barely large enough to function as such, or could even be somewhat over-represented, yet with less than one third of seats.
Unsurprisingly, turnout was well down from the two rounds of the presidential election in May: just over 60%. This is the lowest for the first round of a parliamentary election in France in forty years. There was a time–around forty years ago, in fact–when the two-round majority-plurality system made sense for France. The party system was deeply fragmented, the Communist Party was the largest party on the left, and the two blocs that have come to define French politics might not have emerged at that time without this electoral system’s encouragement. By now, France clearly has two parties that dominate the field. But the electoral system grossly exaggerates the dominance of the leading one, while leaving all manner of other viewpoints (including the center) under- or un-represented.
Yes, France needs a new electoral system. At this point, even FPTP would be an improvement. Most districts will require runoffs next Sunday, notwithstanding that only around a fifth of them will be competitive between left and right and that the outcome of the second round will only inflate the dominance of Sarkozy’s party. A proportional system would have the advantage of confirming the strong position of the president’s party, while making the assembly election matter for the precise shape of the coalition the president builds.
The story of the enthusiastic greeting Bush received earlier this week in Tirana, Albania, and a post at The Reaction entitled, “We’ll Always Have Tirana,” sent me down memory lane, recalling one of the most amazing travel experiences I have ever had. I was in Tirana in the fall of 1991 on a democracy-assistance mission (which, apparently, was of minimal value, but that’s not the point of this planting).
One day, as I was walking around central Tirana, I came upon this square where a statute of one of the great leaders of the proletariat had stood until recently. As I snapped the above photo, a man came up to me and said, “Long live George Bush.” He spoke just enough English for me to understand that he was telling me that was what the graffiti said on the pedestal. (Note the “Xh. Bushi” visible in the photo below; in Albanian “xh” makes the “Ge” sound in George.)
Then he said, “to us, Americans are like gods.”
I also recall seeing transit buses with pictures of Bush (the father, of course) and Jim Baker (who had visited shortly after the fall of perhaps Europe’s worst communist dictatorship).
Yes, the Bushes will always remember Tirana fondly. And if the US government can pull off its plans for an independent and internationally recognized KosovÃ«–the plans that generated the massive outpouring of support for Bush the Younger–it would be an almost divine act.
The Aprium tree has a really heavy crop this year. The fruits are fantastically rich in flavor, better than any orange-fleshed apricot (other than perhaps Moorpark).
An Aprium is a complex hybrid of plum and apricot that leans genetically in the latter direction. They are thus cousins of pluots, which are likewise complex hybrids but are much closer to plums. This variety–and so far the only available variety, as far as I know–is ‘Flavor Delight.’ It may not be a very inspiring name, but it most certainly is accurate.
In the first photo, the companion tree at the right is a ‘Katy’ apricot, which had a very light crop this year, but much tastier than usual. Normally I am less than impressed with Katy, which is too sub-acid for my taste. In front, with the reddish leaves, is the re-growth of the ‘Citation’ semi-dwarf rootsock on a tree that originally had both ‘Royal Rosa’ and ‘Tomcot’ on it, both of which died. I recently replaced the Royal Rosa, which had its first crop this year. It is the best early apricot I know of (although Flavor Delight, for all practical purposes an apricot, is also quite early). I hope soon to secure some scion wood of an apricot variety not currently in the collection and graft on to the rootstock sprout.
Ireland will be getting Greener, as that nation’s Green Party has agreed for the first time to join a coalition government. Fianna FÃ¡il, the party of current premier, Bertie Ahern, has agreed to introduce a carbon tax during the lifetime of the next parliament in exchange for the Greens’ entry into the coalition, while the Greens agreed not to use their government role to block Fianna FÃ¡il’s road-building plans or to stop Iraq-bound US military flights from using Shannon airport.
As Wilf Day pointed out in the earlier planting, under Ireland’s single transferable vote (STV) system, we know the patterns of vote transfers between candidates of various parties. It just so happens that Green votes were highly unlikely to transfer to Fianna FÃ¡il and more likely to go to the leading opposition party, Fine Gael. So, in terms of the connection between votes and executive-formation, assuming the coalition goes ahead, do we have here a systemic failure, or at least a mandate violation? The coalition agreement needs to be ratified by a two-thirds vote of the Green’s national conference today (which about 500 party members are expected to attend).
It is not yet known which or how many portfolios the Greens will get, but they are seeking Transport (which would put them in charge of implementing road projects that they campaigned against!) and Environment. The Greens would like to reorganize the ministries, combining parts of Energy and Environment to address global climate-change issues.
Ahern is also working on support deals with two independent members of parliament.
Update: The coalition is approved, with 86% of Green delegates to the conference approving, although the Greens party leader is stepping down to honor a previous pledge not to enter a coalition with Fianna FÃ¡il. Greens will have two portfolios (probably environment and energy, rather than transportation) and the PDs one. The Irish Times has more detail on the agreement, including its policy guidelines and the information that the Greens will also have two junior ministers. Thus four of its six legislators will have government posts. Meanwhile, the article also notes that Ahern continues to offer budgetary commitments so far up to “hundreds of millions of euros” with three non-party members (with a fourth possibly also to be signed up).
the real political news of the last six months is the fact that the US now has a standard two-party system, arguably for the first time in its history. From Reconstruction until the final success of Nixonâ€™s Southern strategy in the late 20th century, the fact that the Democratic Party represented the white establishment in the South made such a thing impossible. Under the primary system the two â€œpartiesâ€ were little more than state-sanctioned institutional structures to ensure that voters (outside the South) got a choice of exactly two candidates.
He then discusses some of the recent trends in US parties, noting the push-back by more ideological activists against efforts by the Democratic Leadership Council and others to keep the Democratic party a catch-all party (though John does not use that term):
The netroots phenomenon is one reaction to this. But even more striking is the fact that the Democrats in Congress now match the kind of party discipline shown by the Republicans. After the 2006 elections, most commentary assumed that the party could not possibly hold together with its slender majorities in both houses, but they have clearly learned the basic dictum of party politics â€œWe must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.â€
Then John makes a comparative point:
The degree of partisanship in the US, until recently far less than in other democracies, is now greater than in many. [This is in the CT version, and is phrased a bit differently in the other blog.]
My comment (at Crooked Timber) was:
In context, it seems it refers to voting in the legislature. Is there evidence that cross-party voting is becoming more common in the legislatures of other older democracies at the same time it is becoming less common in the US House (and even Senate).
And John’s response was:
Iâ€™m referring to a range of things, including the improved performance of third parties and independents in a number of English-speaking countries (Australia, NZ, UK) for example, and (more subjectively) a tendency towards convergence in the political positions of major parties.
It looks as if comments are now closed at CT, but I was hoping to keep the conversation going, so might as well do so here. It is certainly true that third-party voting is on the rise in the countries mentioned in John’s response. In NZ they now have proportional representation, so that is hardly a surprise. (And, of course, Australia has had PR in its Senate for a long time.) Nonetheless, third-party voting had increased in NZ even before the change in the electoral system. And indeed, third-party voting is up in the UK, even with no change in the (national) electoral system.
But the bigger point is that the way I understood the point about partisanship in John’s post (which I may well have misunderstood), it was referring to increase in party discipline, the ideological content of party platforms, the distinctiveness of the two main parties, and other indicators that the parties, per se, are more important for structuring political debate and conflict. This is really a separate question from the number of parties. In fact, these are two separate dimensions–intraparty and interparty–though they may be related systematically.
There has always been higher third-party voting in the other English-speaking democracies using first past the post (or, in the Australian lower house, the alternative vote) than in the US. One way to understand this difference that has always made the most sense to me is that there was less demand for third parties in the US because the two parties themselves were so flexible that they can accommodate views that would find expression in separate parties elsewhere. British institutions–parliamentarism, specifically–demand greater party unity, which in turn generated more demand for separate parties to express viewpoints that can’t be accommodated in the bigger parties.
So, the question for the US party system would be whether greater consistency and distinctiveness of party positions–and discipline in legislative voting–will increase demands for new parties. Well, maybe it already has. It is not widely appreciated is that third-party/independent voting is up in the US, too. It looks trivial compared to these other countries, but since 1990 it has generally been at around 5% while having been consistently under 3% range previously. (I do not know the 2006 numbers, but I suspect they will be low, because third-party voting is driven so much by protest votes, and in 2006, Democrats would have received most of these, as Republicans did in 1994–temporarily.) Still very low, from a cross-national perspective, and perhaps not indicative of much of anything. But still a change. And perhaps it will rise further, if we have indeed entered an era when we finally really do have a “standard two-party system, arguably for the first time in its history.”
Finally, regarding John’s point about “convergence of the major parties” in other English-speaking countries. I agree that this has happened in the UK and that the increase in third-party voting is partly a response to that. I suspect that even with “converging” UK parties and the “diverging” US parties, on most issues the two US parties remain closer to one another than do the two main UK parties. More to the point, it is worth noting that polarization of the leading parties can also produce a rise of third parties–the Social Democrats in the UK in the 1980s being a case in point. Third parties can arise in either the center or the “extremes” or on entirely new dimensions. The key distinction between the US and the other democracies we are discussing here is the extent to which the issues that might give rise to third parties can be instead represented within an existing party. In the US, the answer has almost always been that they can be, through capturing a primary election in some districts where the new issue–or a more extreme position on an existing issue–is salient. That’s a matter of the intraparty dimension, and if the US parties are becoming more cohesive, there could be increasing pressures for some issues to gain expression through third parties.
If by my laws you walk, and my commands you keep, and observe them,
then I will give-forth your rains in their set-time,
so that the earth gives-forth its yield
and the trees of the field give-forth their fruit.
--Vayikra 26: 3-4