#GE11 Profile: Sinn Fein achieves national currency…

sinn-fein-logoIt’s tempting to overwrite any profile of Sinn Fein’s spectacular move out of its stronghold areas. There were obvious highlights: Gerry Adams topped the poll in good style in Louth and likewise his two Donegal colleagues, Pearse Doherty and Padraig MacLochlainn.

The party also performed particularly well in Dublin where there had been concerns about the defections of a number of councillors over the last few years.

It’s out in the rest of the country where I think the party may have scored its strategic triumph. Many will dispute the party’s claim to progressive, or leftist values. That’s largely to do with the fact that it is also a nationalist party, not far from the values of many of those who have previously voted Fianna Fail.

This is significant because it comes at a time when Fianna Fail has spectacularly lost the trust of many of those voters. Fianna Fail’s difficulty, party strategists may argue, will be Sinn Fein’s opportunity.

With TDs now in Sligo North Leitrim and Cork East (where there will be no Fianna Fail TDs in the 31st Dail), the party has an opportunity to bed itself down and become part of the local political ecosphere.

That won’t be easy. The 2009 local elections for the party in both places produced mean yields in both places. They currently have no councillors elected for Cork County and only the veteran Sean MacManus in Sligo. Time and no doubt much hard work on the ground will tell whether this is a serious advance, or high tide mark.

Yet the key point is that Sinn Fein’s chippy nationalism can give it a strong appeal to many of those who originally made Fianna Fail their long term home: ie, the small farmer and the rural worker who now see their children heading off for employment in Canada or Australia after a boom from which they saw few direct benefits.

There will be no remarks this time out that Gerry Adams is British, not least because the party has just become a great deal more than Gerry Adams.

Sinn Fein is no longer purely the interest (some might say obsession) of assorted internet anoraks and ‘Nordies’, but a political force that will factor much more highly now in Dail 31 than in any previous legislature. As Mr Adams is often fond of saying, “tus maith, leath na oibre”… no doubt adding to his activists, “tada gan iarracht”…

But the party has a great deal more to do, no doubt when, as one reader emailed, ‘nationalist’ sentiment within the wider electorate could be considered to be in significant decline:

While Sinn Fein’s surge in Dail seats is notable, coupled with Fianna Fail’s decline, the next Dail will represent a severe decline in seats represented by parties that claim the Republican banner. After the 2007 general election, Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein held 81 seats between them, whereas after yesterday they will combine for 30+ seats. Could this be an indication about the relevancy of Republicanism in modern Irish politics or simply the way the math played out and a process that had little to do with the national question?

It’s an interesting question, and one to which Sinn Fein (and Fianna Fail) will no doubt be determined to find an answer over what may be the next rough and traumatic four or five years.

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  • Comrade Stalin

    Mack:

    There are other steps you could take to improve the transparency of the results and increase confidence. If the or system was a customized smartphone like device it could take a digital image to be storedwith the ballot data.

    I definitely don’t think the idea of something resembling a camera installed inside a polling booth will go down at all well.

    It could be signed and dated by a count official perhaps with the ballot box number and a code word only known to count officials a short period before use.

    Anything that could potentially used to trace a vote back to the voter has the potential to damage the outcome of the election.

    Once party workers and count officials satisfied data entered correctly for each ballot it could be streamed live to the web. You could have extraofficials working in parallel acting as qa either double checking everything or checking the results from random ballot boxes.

    That’s a hell of a lot of complication, and a hell of a lot of opportunity for things to go wrong.

    But none of this addresses my question. There is an issue to do with verifying that the ballot results have been stored correctly – which you have addressed – but there’s still the issue of confirming that the computer has correctly calculated the result. It’s especially complex with STV because the computer will be selecting ballots to transfer at random. Cue arguments about the definition of “random” ..

    As I said, by the time you sort all this out in a way which retains the privacy of the elector you’ll have spent a vast amount of money (with significant ongoing maintenance costs) with a modest improvement in the count time. The money would be better spent on understanding how the manual count can be speeded up.

    Greenflag,

    Yes that’s exactly why in this rare type of problem I don’t agree that computers should be used. The manual count process lends an authenticity to the result that can’t be obtained when the only people who understand how the result was derived are software engineers or computer scientists. With the computer involved you are essentially conducting the count in secret, just like they do in all those middle eastern dictatorships (and the USA). I think it’s a retrograde step.

    I think the effort to use electronic voting years ago was stopped when concerns such as the above were raised. Moreover, a lot of the software on those machines was dodgy as hell. In the USA the counts were going wrong due to very, very simple software bugs (eg 16 bit integer overflows). It’s very obvious that something is wrong when the computer tells you that a candidate won -32767 votes, but there is no way to know when the result is close that the computer hasn’t innocently skewed the outcome.

  • Greenflag

    Nevin -numbers – it’s the numbers . Despite it’s success in trebling it’s representation SF only managed to get 10% of first preferences and this time they got better preferences . In NI it’s close to 30% or 6% short of what FG got in this recent election and 13% more than what FF got .

    As for the move from the frying pan into the fire ? This piece tells us what most of us already know -namely that our former Finance Minister Mr Cowen was’nt listening to his Departmental advisers for much of the period 2000 to 2008, which was no doubt a forerunner of paying Merril Lynch 7 million euros for advice in the midst of crisis and then refusing to take it . Merril Lynch advised against the FF/GP Government making that guarantee .

    I always suspected that Brian Cowen was a little ‘uneasy ‘ with Bertie’s ‘expansionism ‘ but then as the ‘heir ‘ to the throne he decided to keep quiet . Theres a time to listen to the mandarins and a time to ignore them or discount their offerings .

    ‘excerpt’
    An independent review of the performance of the Department of Finance over the past decade has found that the Department did warn the Government about the dangers of the economic policy it was following, but that its advice was overruled by the Cabinet.
    The report says the budget-making process was overwhelmed by programmes for government and social partnership.
    This review by independent experts from Canada and Holland looked at the advice the Department provided to Cabinet over the past decade.

    http://www.rte.ie/news/2011/0301/finance.html

    As to that Lyndon la Rouche -I had a quick glance and would be slow to believe any SF connection . ‘There are some very good and informative USA ‘think tanks’ but one should always source where their funding is coming from to decide whether you are getting ‘disinformed ‘ or merely spun .

    When I’m looking for the non established ‘truth ‘ in international ‘current crisis ‘ matters I prefer to listen to this chap who sometimes goes a little over the top but hones in on some harsh truths.

    Osborne , Britain , Ireland , Lenihan and Trichet get a ‘mention ‘ from about 7 minutes in -also Thatcher and Bobby Sands -not for the faint of heart .

  • Mack

    @Comrade Stalin

    I think you’ve set your stall against the idea. I don’t think (bar, possibly, usability for older people – and hand written votes could be transcibed at the count into a machine readable format) you’ve raised any absolute blockers. To see whether there is any value, you might consider thinking if there are constraints, processes or technologies that could solve the issues you raise.

    To your points in particular

    1/ Any OCR system is effectively camera (or visual digitization device). It can easily be embedded inside a machine, such that it can’t photograph people or the room (you could have additional hardware constraints – the digitization may only work under very high levels on brightness, within your counting machine you have powerful LED lights shining on the ballots, take the digitization component out of the box and it won’t work).

    2/ Having count officials sign and date the ballots doesn’t make them traceable to the voter – they sign and date them at the count long after the voter has departed the scene. It’s just away of assuring that the ballot is valid (it can be compared visually against physical ballots both at the time of digitization & later).

    3/ Having count officials / accompanied party officials check and compare physical and digital data is just an extra layer of fraud protection. Random can be defined as either sees fit. If they think they should check them all – they can, if they are confident everything is in order they need only pick the odd box to check (representitives of both the candidates and count security should be able to choose these).

    4/ Releasing the data, once verified, in real time, means that the tallies can be calculated by other software systems. If your tally matches the tally from the count (and both can be automated – and there could be many, many tallying systems out there verifying the count) then you can be reasonably sure you’ve got the right result. If you suspect otherwise the physical ballots will still exist to be counted the old fashioned way – but in the meantime the media, electorate and polls will have data that I suspect will nearly always be accurate they can work off.

  • Mack

    @Comrade Stalin

    Oh sorry, see what you mean by random.

    I think that process of randomly transferring the surplus is a hack. Surely in an automated system you would actually transfer the accurately weighted transfers?

    I.e. there would be no need to disenfranchise the non-selected majority of voters for surplus candidates.

    Surely that is an argument for, rather than against, automated systems?

  • As far as I can see, some intelligent guys here, who should know better, have spent much of the last twenty-four hours trying to fix something that isn’t broken.

    The traditional system of ballot paper and pencil, then hand-sorting, does what it says on the box: it delivers a convincing, believable and checkable result. It also does so in a time-span that is strictly comparable with any mechanical system. Complex as STV is, Ireland (Saturday to early hours of Tuesday) achieved its electoral result as quickly as the UK did last May (Thursday night to Saturday and with a much simpler sudden-death system), quicker (and more reliably, more convincingly) than Florida did with those marvellous machines. Indeed, in Florida it came down to the odd vote of the nine Supreme Court Judges: if that’s a “teething trouble” of machine voting, Krakatoa was projectile vomiting.

    The doings in Wicklow — two dozen candidates, and only the one within a spit of a quota, needing nineteen counts — , in Laois-Offaly and in Galway West are explicable when one looks at the complications of the transfers. If anything went adrift it was affronted personal prides, not the system.

    No electoral process is ever going to be impeccable. The best that can be achieved is an emotionally and intellectually satisfying closure, where voters and defeated candidates can go home satisfied (the victors are usually happy whatever). I’d no more change the system we’ve got (be it for STV or FPTP) than I’ prefer Bach played on a stylophone.

  • Mack

    Found this ‘spec’ for local government elections – they are using the last ‘packet’ of ballots for distribution rather than anything random. But still that disenfranchises all previous voters whose votes aren’t transfered. Working out the weighted votes (particularly as you move down the list) would be inordinately complex manually, but straight forward for a computer.

    http://www.environ.ie/en/LocalGovernment/Voting/PublicationsDocuments/FileDownLoad,1895,en.pdf

    Just need to be sure the data is right in the first place..

  • Greenflag

    Comrade Stalin,

    ‘there is no way to know when the result is close that the computer hasn’t innocently skewed the outcome.’

    Or even not so innocently ?

    Btw -excellent post – I won’t even try to go down the ‘random’ selection road but it’s absolutely imperative that ‘counts ‘ should not be seen as being done in secret.

  • Mack

    @Greenflag

    Doing the count on a computer is not doing it in secret (not least because the physical ballots still actually exist and could be counted manually if needs be), it is the exact opposite – because the data can be made available instantly to *every* citizen. If you can follow the algorithim for determining how the manual count works then you can understand the process a computer would use.

    What’s more with software you can make the entire process graphically traceable & repeatable. Think of the RTE elections site but with the detail to drill down to verified ballot sheets, should you wish…

    If the data is made publicly available (and why wouldn’t it be) you can rerun the count however many times you like. Either manually or using your own software (purchased from trusted software companies or developed yourself – there are enough software engineers in this country that every party could have their own tally system, and it is hardly rocket science).

    With every week, month and year that passes the cost of such processes and their potential increases.

    Vorsprung durch technik, indeed.

  • Munsterview

    I have let this particular argument regarding the merits of ballot check play out without comment so far as I am a player, or I have been, and I am making observations from direct insider experience rather than comment.

    I have been on the tally and indeed directed tally at quite a few elections. I have argued over spoiled votes and I have brought in Senior Council in one occasion when the count had to be redone and FF brought in the big guns.

    First off the tally itself during the opening of the boxes provide a valuable participatory element of voting democracy and engagement for both the watching public, the candidates, the political parties involved, the press and the academics and political commentators. It is a significant and engaging part of the process that lends a magic to the aura of the proceedings.

    The boxes can be traced back to the polling stations : once opened and the counters start to open the individual papers, the numbers start appearing. While every individuals vote is private and rightly so, these boxes show how a particular community as a whole responded to the election. This is valuable information for regarding local demographics, voting patterns, transfers etc. Add in local tally people with a feel for what they are doing and what can be gleaned is unbelievable.

    Jackie Healy Rae is presented in the National media as a figure of ridicule but the same Jackie when in Fianna Fail could rattle out box after box results for the various areas and tell how party votes were going from election to election.

    Incidently, to digress a moment, Jackie was also in younger days part of a show band, long before politics he knew how to give the public what they wanted and ‘play to the gallery’ He has been presented as an old reactionary etc, yet Jackie had separation and all that went with it in a small country town, long before such things became commonplace. Consequently he was one of the most helpful public representatives those from a broken relationships could go to. The private Jackie was far different from the ‘ Kerryman character’ that he so ably played for the media.

    The lead up to the election can be a very elating high for all involved but reality sets in with the tally : I was sitting at a table directing a tally the morning my late father died, his death was expected and when the news came through a pressman friend,( before mobile phones) one of the first to have a quite word was a Senior FG man and Minister who rightly said that….. “Politics can be a cruel business, X, you should not have to be here to-day”

    The count immediately took a tea break to allow for the interruption ( another small act of kindness from the many on the day from officials and others alike involved in the process ) and after the break, I was again in my place until I had the first results and predictions to send off to SF headquarters with a verbal assessment of the situation.

    Bertie left his own mothers funeral to take part in the GFA, Michael Noonan led the FG comeback and gave a sterling performance despite the ongoing personal tragedy in his own life. The are other endless examples. In my own instance what I did was very little compare to what my Northern friends and colleagues of that period faced and were asked to do at that time. Whatever of policies and the disgrace to and betrayal of politics by a minority of politicians, the majority of party activists and back-room people are involved for all the right reasons.

    In this ‘cruel business’ whatever one may think of politicians, they are human too, the ongoing tally allow for a “not looking good Tim…. Mary or whatever” there is a gradual let down and adjustment among friends and fellow professional as the results unfold. All politicians have to fit in their personal lifes around political involvement, many do not have a life apart from politics.

    The loss of a seat to people like this irrespective of party is a very traumatic event and it is played out in the public arena. The story of how a would be TD ‘lost it’ and wrecked his family home the morning of the election when they got phone results of the first tally is now gone into regional lore! Misery loves company as the saying goes and in election day there is more than enough to go around.

    When the people have their say Aquadomes like Dick Springs brought to Noth Kerry or Conference Centres like John O’Donoghue brought to South Kerry do not matter, it is the old atvestic ‘revenge be Jasus, revenge’ and nothing can stand in the way of that ! When Micheal Martin stand in Bodenstown this year he might take the injuction of Padraig Pearse to ‘Beware the Risen People’ as a starting point for his speech !

    ( There can not be one aware politician in Fine Gael or Labour that cannot know that they are dicing with political death if they get this wrong. The swinging cuts cannot be sold to a considerable section of the Irish people. If what the Fine Gael Overclass consider the revolting Underclass, reall start Revolting, then the writing is really on the wall for ‘politics as we knew her’ on this Island.

    In the first electronic system tryout, I can still recall Nora Owens state of shock on TV as she learned just minutes before that she had lost her Seat and was not alone out of Government but also she was effectively out of politics.

    Maureen Quill was at one stage neighbor and is still a personal friend, I was there the night of the long count when she gave up, conceded defeat and went home to bed despite our pleadings to stick it out, the transfers came in the last two counts and she was in. That cliff edge drama is as much about participatory politics as is the cross floor party exchanges.

    The present tally and counting system is open and transparent. It is a historical part of the process that give a sense of involvement, theater and finale to the party activists. It provides a continuity to politics where elections are part of a continuum and it is part of our body politic. In this regard my beliefs are unapologetically conservative : for all the reasons given, leave it exactly as it is, pencil, biros, clipboards, calculators and all !

  • Comrade Stalin

    Mack,

    Yes, I am set against it because the ability for candidates and their representatives to monitor the count at close quarters – without having to have a specialist degree in computer science – is, to me, a fundamental cornerstone required to establish confidence in the democracy. Imagine you have a party that accuses the government of rigging the ballot, as the DUP did during the 1998 referendum campaign. How can you confront that allegation when you have an electronic or mechanical voting system ? As I explained earlier, the manual ballot system provided a way whereby the DUP could not make this allegation.

    Fundamentally, what you will always be dealing with here is the fact that the votes disappear into a black box, a bunch of highly complex things (properly understood only by a small number of people) take place, and the result spits out. That’s really the crux of the problem. You can’t dismiss it with the wave of a hand – which is pretty much what the usual suspects in those questionable countries do when anyone accuses them of fiddling the system. (no I’m not accusing you of being a despot .. )

    There are two absolute blockers. First there is the expense of introducing a counting system that meets the requirements of transparency. A lot of the problems are solvable, but the expense of doing so is so great that you have to ask where the justification comes from in the first place.

    Second is the fact that a machine-based count can never be completely transparent. You can’t prove that the computer counted the votes correctly without counting them manually, by hand. It’s not like a bank or similar critical computer system where you have transaction logs and, and where there is formal and informal verification (a bank’s computer error will be spotted when you spot it on your bank statement – it happens all the time). Like I said, this is a unique problem domain.

    I misunderstood what you meant earlier when you were talking about digital imaging. The idea of providing a computer printout and then counting that is novel, but it is still susceptible to human error during the verification process, and of course we are back at the point where we can’t prove that the computer counted all the votes correctly.

    You got my other point later about randomness. Yes, the computer can practically count STV results to a far higher degree of accuracy than would be possible for a human count so this wouldn’t be a factor. That would be a nice thing to have but I still wouldn’t trade it for transparency.

    Doing the count on a computer is not doing it in secret (not least because the physical ballots still actually exist and could be counted manually if needs be)

    So how do you define “if needs be” ? On what basis do you determine whether or not a challenge to the electronic count is valid ? An expert witness in a court of law would be required to explain that the probability of an error may be low but can never be zero, and to point out one of the fundamental laws of computer science that every undergrad learns in their first year which is that no non-trivial computer program can be proven to be correct, and that there is therefore no way of proving that any given count is valid. A fair judge would therefore be required to rule in all cases that a manual recount would be necessary.

    it is the exact opposite – because the data can be made available instantly to *every* citizen.

    Imagine you had genuine concerns over whether the government was manipulating the election results. Would you trust the data the government was serving up to you from a government-run website ?

    If the data is made publicly available (and why wouldn’t it be) you can rerun the count however many times you like. Either manually or using your own software (purchased from trusted software companies

    I would argue vociferously that a working democracy cannot be built on trust. It must be built on transparency.

  • Mack

    There’s a lot in that post. I’m seeing solutions to the problems you raise (it’s like a red rag or something 🙂 ). I don’t hold any particular candle for this. Like many things though, I think it will come eventually.

    There’s a big debate on the security of e-voting systems over on politics.ie, like most problems in computer science it will probably be overtaken by technological advancements.

    While I take your point about the difficulty in proving the mathematical correctness of a complex program, the probability of an error in a count decreases significantly with the number of alternative implementations of an algorithm that verify it’s correctness. The specs are public. There is no reason why (eventually) the data can’t be too. If you have access to the data you can run your own count and verify the result. If you get a different result you complain. (While you can’t be sure the computer hasn’t counted the results correctly, you can’t sure a human did either. Again thanks to Moore’s law the cost of developing count machines will fall dramatically in future years / decades. There is no reason why the parties couldn’t run their own counts after the official count in minutes).

  • Greenflag

    Mack ,

    I read Comrade Stalin and Munsterview’s posts and find I remain to be convinced that electronic voting will add anything to the democratic process other than ‘speed ‘ In a world where bond traders can vaccuum out banks in one part of the world and transfer billions elsewhere in a few seconds or less -maybe it’s good to have a few things take more time .

    Transparency and trust and vice versa .

    Again 50 million went into a hole in the ground in the last experiment.I don’t know the whole story or was anyone ever held accountable ?

    Given the state of the national finances throwing several hundred at something like this would be a waste of taxpayers monies at this time . And anyway with talk of Senate abolishing and changes to the voting system and maybe multi seat constituencies -any ‘electronic ‘ change should be shelved until all the above is ‘settled ‘ imo.

    But thanks for the info all the same also CS and MV.

  • Mack

    The €50 million went in 10 years ago. The cost of developing software has plumetted since then, and what can be delivered has increased exponentially.

    E.g. It cost £60,000 for a Websphere licence per server 10 years ago (J2EE webserver), you can run much better webservers today using open source software today

    Oracle / Sybase licences for high performance databases were even more expensive. Today you can run ultra powerful Hadoop and NoSQL clusters running on free open source software. They can handle and process absolutely massive data sets, data that would have taken weeks to process a decade ago can be processed in seconds or less. Ever wonder how Google or Bing search indexes for billions of webpages, second guessing what you are actually searching for in milliseconds?

    High end Sun servers cost tens of thousands also. You can buy more power for €200 today.

    I think in the end, what you’ll get is accuracy and enfranchisement (the correct transferability of surplus votes) as well as transparency (as the results could be available to everyone very quickly). In the end, the big win might be greater participation (the cost of running referendums and the like could be greatly reduced). Give it time, who knows what will happen? 10 years is epoch in technological terms..

  • Mack

    By the way, I meant to mention in my reply to Comrade Stalin, the advantage of automation is repeatability. Once that can be done that cheaply, it can / will become ubiquitous and as a result you get both security and transparency..

  • ItwasSammyMcNally

    Mack,

    From what I remember of the issue was the complexity of the software and the fact that it was riddled with bugs and far to difficult to test – I suspect to use a bit of jargoneese it was not componentised and not written in programming language that was suitable/widely known.

    The contract to accept and pay for the system before the the software had been proven to work was presumably the main problem and whoever agreed to that – a high ranking civil servant with no relevant experience no doubt – should have booted out of their job – with the minister responsible (cant remember who it was) following them.

  • Munsterview

    Off thread but in keeping in the election subject and the funniest comment that I have heard so far and all the better that it was inavertent.

    A friend of mine owns a small local grocery shop in Limerick : an old over seventy guy came in for twenty Sweet Afton, one of the red tops on the counter was had a front page dedicated to the fact that two of the incoming TD were openly gay. The man read the headlines and the sub heads.

    ” Jeazus” he exclaimed ” or whats the world coming to at all; them two saying that they were gay and they were elected” ( pause) ” still sure they might be straight ” !

  • Mainland Ulsterman

    Itwas…
    I’m way behind but just to pick up on this from yesterday:

    “Orangeism seem to be the most prominet aspect of their culture”
    Well, it’s visible and it’s distinctive, so yes it is prominent. But I’m sure you know better than to think it is definitive or even particularly indicative of Ulster British culture more generally, which mainly consists of sets of values, beliefs and outlooks lived out in unremarkable ways in everyday life. Orange marches are an exceptional and to many of us pretty odd aspect of our culture. For a start, it would be a way too public, showy and over-stated a way to express yourself, even if it weren’t weighed down with patriarchal and conservative values.You have to remember most of us have nothing to do with the OO. But that said, I think a lot of the protests against them smack of intolerance, miss the point and are frequently in themselves sectarian in tone. So I find myself defending the buggers quite often as the lesser of two evils. Even to English people!

    “and one that is not appreciated by the vast majority of reasonable people either in Britian or Ireland or elsewhere largely becuase of its close association with sectarianism and intolerance which are very un-British charcteristics.”
    Yes, that’s true that the OO are a PR nightmare and are associated with sectarianism and intolerance. I’m not sure Britain is always as purely liberal as is sometimes made out though and nor do I think the OO is as sectarian and intolerant as is made out. So I don’t see it as un-British – this country is nothing if not diverse and the OO represents one very deeply rooted strain of British culture, which used to be a lot more widespread. It’s only in NI that conditions have kept it alive. But yes, it does stick out and I hope it becomes more marginal in the future. It’s not part of my Britishness at all.

    I note you don’t seem to dispute that there is a strong xenophobic impulse within Irish Republicanism – regardless of some of its internationalist rhetoric.

  • ItwasSammyMcNally

    MU,

    Re Uninoist culture.

    “which mainly consists of sets of values, beliefs and outlooks lived out in unremarkable ways in everyday life”

    You suggested earlier that Republicans denigrated Unionist culture unfairly but I’m not sure they denigrate what you have included above rather the parts that most Biritsh people on the mainland would also denigrate becuase they would rightly see it as sectarian and intolerant ie Orange Culture. The fact that Nationalists may have sought to make poliitcal capital out of Orange Parades/Culture does not mean that such Orange Parades are therefore somehow reasonable.

    UCUNF offered moderate Unionists a political (and cultural) link to the mainland via an arrangment with the Tory party which was spurned – not becuase of an aversion to right wingery but – if we are to believe local Tories – at least in part because of sectarianism. The very values that mark out the Briitsh people are the very ones least evident in what most people consider to be Unionist culture.

    I know, sticking up for ones tribe, as I do it myself, is of course understandable but I simply dont understand why Unionsts who are positive about the Union (as opposed to wishy washey like Alliance) dont either a) lead a crusade to rid themselves of any association with the Orange Order or b) insist the Orange Order tidies up its act to the extent that it keeps its nose firmly out of any activity which feeds into community tensions. Ironically, the Orange Order not only give Unionism a bad name but it also gives Ireland a bad name as many British simply see such outdated intolerant behaviour as the work of mad Paddies – and as yet no (mainstream) Unionist politiican has had the balls or the sense to stand up and tell the Orange Order what it badly needs to hear – probably for fear of being Lundified.

    In relation to Republican xenophobia if you give me specific example of what you are referring to then I will address that.

  • Mainland Ulsterman

    Itwas,
    Orange parades – I think there’s a big difference between parades or bands that have a go at Catholics and those that merely seek to assert the continued existence of a Protestant people in Ireland. In my view Protestant parading is both in theory and in practice much, much more about the latter than the former, though given the scale of it there are frequent (often disgraceful) exceptions.

    But is it reasonable to stop it / protest against it? No, because in a tolerant, multi-cultural society, it’s a downhill slide if you start objecting to long-established cultural practices of other groups, unless they clearly are causing harm to others, other than just irritating them by their presence. The parading is peaceful in intent and nature and should be tolerated as long as it is. So it’s not a question of whether it’s “reasonable” or not.

    As for getting rid of the OO, I agree with you, unionists should do more. I called for the link with the UUP to go. And privately, most unionists I know are scathing about the OO. But it would be great to hear a big unionist figure condemning the OO’s influence on NI society. Maybe the NILP might?

    Re UCUNF: I don’t think the failure of the Tory connection in NI is due to sectarianism, though I’m sure they would say that. It’s because Tory values are not shared by many unionists. Yes many might be conservative in many respects, especially in rural Ulster, but they are also averse to elitism, privilege, social pretension and posh English people generally. There is a strong chippy egalitarian strain within Protestant culture, though the kind of cock-sure people who go into politics rarely reflect it. I just don’t think there is a large electorate in NI of the kind of twats who vote Tory in England. The past (unavoidable) primacy of the security and national identity issues have made many look more right wing than they really are in their social values.

    Finally: example of Republican xenophobia: how about the oft repeated phrase “Brits Out”?

  • ItwasSammyMcNally

    MU,

    “I don’t think the failure of the Tory connection in NI is due to sectarianism, though I’m sure they would say that. ”

    Bad and all as some may say the Tories are I cant see them simply making that up without some basis.

    “But they are also averse to elitism, privilege, social pretension and posh English people generally. ”

    The positive aspects of Unionist culture, as above and independence of thought are often lost in the blaze of negative (Orange) stuff.

    “Finally: example of Republican xenophobia: how about the oft repeated phrase “Brits Out”?”

    If that is aimed at Unionists then very much so, but if it expresses a political aspiration then it is entirely legitimate and a view actually held by many (and possibly a majority) of British people (being a fair minded bunch) themselves.

  • Munsterview

    Itwas ” and a view actually held by many (and possibly a majority) of British people (being a fair minded bunch) themselves…..”

    I can vouch for that, in my special interest alternative and hidden history society, I have travelled in France, the only Irish member of a mainly English touring party. All in the society know my background and while I do not wear my politics on my sleeve, neither do I avoid frankly discussing the ‘Irish situation’. I have yet to meet a military person of any rank who served in the Six Counties who believed that the British should be there.

    Ironically time and again I have found myself defending and explaining the Unionists cause from a historical perspective and the context of the Counter Insurgency Of the Low Intensity War. Far from having any problem selling the ‘Low Intensity War’ concept, time and again ex-service men have been have been far more emphatic and condemnatory of the practices than I have.

    We often forget that in post service conditions those who have been at the ‘inflicting’ end of things, once they leave the reinforcing ethos of the armed forces and reflect on what they did, they too suffer and I have met more than a few that admitted to Post Traumatic Stress disorder.

    As some one who had an NCO stripes on my sleeve in the Irish Defense Forces Reserve before the then Minister Of Defense decided my services were no longer required ( must find the reason one of these days), I know the Barrack Room ethos and can to talk to these people from inside regular army culture.

    I have yet to meet any English person that demanded the occupation of part of Ireland or justified it continuing for the anything bar the briefest time to allow a peaceful hand over to the South. They resent the drain of coin and energy and above all they despair of the behavior of ‘The Bloody Irish’ especially those who wear Orange Collars and insist in marching where they are not wanted.

    The Northern Unionists have a reputation for being a hard headed, realistic lot. I am completely baffled as to how so many can be so unaware of the English attitudes that I continually encounter and have for years. I am on the look out for years and would also welcome the opportunity to have an indept exchange with a good Old English Imperialist to get an appreciation of their mindset, but so far I have not met anyone to fit the bill.

    I am not baiting or gloating on this, the subject is far too bloody serious for that and I also readily admit that down here we also have individuals of totally intolerant extremist Nationalist / Catholic ethos but thankfully like the TUV, they have never achieved a mass of any significance or traction. Like much else in Ireland, it would seem that their time too has passed and they are a dying breed.

  • Comrade Stalin

    There’s a lot in that post. I’m seeing solutions to the problems you raise (it’s like a red rag or something 🙂 ).

    There is no solution to the question of transparency, not that I can see at the moment.

    I don’t hold any particular candle for this. Like many things though, I think it will come eventually.

    Let’s hope not.

    There’s a big debate on the security of e-voting systems over on politics.ie, like most problems in computer science it will probably be overtaken by technological advancements.

    I’m not convinced about this. Anonymous vote counting is a unique kind of problem in computer science terms. If you take away the anonymity then it isn’t a problem of course (hence electronic vote counting is no problem eg. in the Dáil or the US Senate).

    While I take your point about the difficulty in proving the mathematical correctness of a complex program, the probability of an error in a count decreases significantly with the number of alternative implementations of an algorithm that verify it’s correctness.

    That’s all true but irrelevant given that the public can’t verify the correctness of the outcome of a given vote.

    Again thanks to Moore’s law the cost of developing count machines will fall dramatically in future years / decades.

    Moore’s law is also utterly irrelevant here. Even if we take a few liberties, it basically tells us that in 18 months the amount of computing power that you can buy for the same amount of money will double. This does not mean that the cost of the hardware will reduce. For the past six or seven years the price of a basic low-end PC has been around £300 and hasn’t moved – just the capabilities have increased.

    Moreover, counting a few tens of thousands of votes (even if it has to be done a ten or so times) is nothing in computational terms. That’s ten iterations over a dataset which is tiny. 50,000 ballots with 20 preferences, say, is about a megabyte of numbers to tot up. That’ll all fit in the L3 cache on a current x86. That cheap low-end PC up there would be able to do it so fast it would seem instantaneously. Moore’s law contributes nothing here.

    The reason why technology has come down in price is plain old economies of scale in manufacturing. Same reason that furniture, food, etc has come down. Moore’s law has a kind of indirect effect there as some R&D processes (eg processor design itself) would be CPU-intensive, and being able to do them faster and more accurately increases manufacturing yields and reduces cost, but I don’t think that’s what you meant.

    The €50 million went in 10 years ago. The cost of developing software has plumetted since then, and what can be delivered has increased exponentially.

    I would definitely query that one about the cost of developing software. What made you think this ? Sure, we have a wealth of fantastic tools and techniques, and the platforms are more stable. But software has become exponentially more complex. Quality hasn’t kept pace with the complexity either.

    E.g. It cost £60,000 for a Websphere licence per server 10 years ago (J2EE webserver), you can run much better webservers today using open source software today

    Yes, but this is because the whole industry model for almost everything has changed. Software complexity (which I don’t think you are accounting for) has increased to the point where it is expensive and pretty much impractical for everyone to invent the wheel their own way, and IT customers hate having to maintain a zillion different kinds of wheel, so you’re getting convergence around open source. IT professionals now make money out of adapting (there are many definitions of “adapt”) open source toolkits and platforms for use by their customer. I personally have done very little hard core coding in my career, because it’s very seldom that I’ve been working on a problem that someone else hasn’t already solved. 90% of my time is spent modifying or adapting code for use. This in a lot of ways is the ultimate goal of software engineering – extensive reuse.

    Microsoft really stand as the one exception to this rule; their revenue is still around selling licenses. Having had some insight into what is involved in maintaining Sharepoint and Exchange sites, I can’t see this being something that will last forever.

    Oracle / Sybase licences for high performance databases were even more expensive. Today you can run ultra powerful Hadoop and NoSQL clusters running on free open source software. They can handle and process absolutely massive data sets, data that would have taken weeks to process a decade ago can be processed in seconds or less. Ever wonder how Google or Bing search indexes for billions of webpages, second guessing what you are actually searching for in milliseconds?

    Indeed, but while you’re at it you might want to explain why Oracle is one of the largest IT companies there is – larger than either Google or IBM (I didn’t believe it either the first time I saw it – go check). The idea that you can do everything for free is a bit of an illusion.

    High end Sun servers cost tens of thousands also. You can buy more power for €200 today.

    Sun equipment – and software – was finely engineered, innovative, and built to last. It was expensive (my first employer ten years ago kitted everyone with Sun Ultra 60s which where £10K each, and we had a fantastic Sun Enterprise E420 with four CPUs and what was then a stonking 4GB RAM for running – spit – Clearcase) but you were getting the best, along with the best support – a Sun engineer onsite within four hours.

    The new RISC architectures of the day such as SPARC (and the DEC Alpha) easily outstripped the best available x86 CPUs especially for multiprocessor work. The big change here has been driven by the massive uptick in home computing and commodity x86 servers which has led to the x86 architecture being enhanced to the point where – similarly with proprietary vs. open source software – it’s not possible for anyone to engineer a CPU that beats it. I really doubt that current midrange and mainframe architectures like IBM POWER and SPARC will continue to exist in five year’s time. Some of these architectures, especially ARM, are of course finding new life in the embedded world where their low cost and low power requirements make them an obvious choice.

    A lot of this is very sad. A lot of the innovations we have in computing today came from Sun, and a lot of the other startups around the place in Silicon Valley were started by ex-Sun employees or are now run by ex-Sun employees. That’s a whole ecosystem which is now gone, and it’s not a good thing.

    I think in the end, what you’ll get is accuracy and enfranchisement (the correct transferability of surplus votes) as well as transparency (as the results could be available to everyone very quickly).

    The results might be available quickly, but we won’t know whether they’re right or not, or whether or not they have been subject to government tinkering.

    In the end, the big win might be greater participation (the cost of running referendums and the like could be greatly reduced).

    You’ll note in the USA that despite lots of polling, automated vote counting and fast availability of results, voter participation is very low. I really think you’re trying to oversell this thing.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Sammy:

    The contract to accept and pay for the system before the the software had been proven to work was presumably the main problem and whoever agreed to that – a high ranking civil servant with no relevant experience no doubt – should have booted out of their job – with the minister responsible (cant remember who it was) following them.

    Sadly, this is certainly not unique. Providing a guarantee like that for bespoke software is very expensive. Persuading the bean counters to spend the extra can often prove difficult.

  • Mack

    Comrade Stalin,

    Step back from details, concentrate on the bigger picture 🙂

    In terms of cost – I think it’s a well established fact. Y-combinator fund startups (many of them very successful) with I think less than $10k each. 10-11 years ago you simply could not run a startup on that. Today, you don’t even need to worry about the hardware – you can run your own automatically scaling setup on services like Amazon’s Elastic Compute cloud (using if you are doing something really fancy with data – internet scale document databases and/ or Map Reduce implementations)

    In terms of software complexity – what *huge* teams were developing using J2EE 10 years ago, teams of 2-3 developers are doing today in Python or Ruby (Rails etc). No doubt some there are software houses out there using the wrong tool for the job (and Java and .Net are the right tools when you *need* large teams). There’s a lot more open source software that tends to do already 80-90% of the kind of stuff people were developing 10 years ago in house.

    Google is actually bigger than Oracle (market cap 190bn vs 160bn). But that’s besides the point – the kind of problems you use NoSQL dbs to solve are very high end (at least today). Most bog standard webapps could survive comfortably on Oracle owned free open source MySQL. Brian McAlister Chief Architect at Ning has an interesting blog about an interview question, about distributed key-value databases, being obsoleted over the last few years by hardware advances. What requires a cluster today, can be done on a single machine tomorrow and a mobile phone the day after.

    Counting votes is simple, if the votes are already digitized. Reading the content of a paper ballot as (for example) they fly past your digital camera over a perspex layer at high speed is rather more complex (could today’s cameras even manage it? or how much would you have spend for one that could?). That’s a repeatable process. No reason why multiple different implementations couldn’t be plugged in, in different phones (just give your phone to a count official to plug into a counting machine for example).

  • Mack

    This does not mean that the cost of the hardware will reduce.

    I’ve already hinted at this previously. It absolutely does mean that the cost of a unit of processing decreases. There are certain fixed costs in a home computer Moore’s law won’t affect (casings, labour, distribution, materials etc) replacing today’s low end machine’s with even lower-end chips of yesterday year wouldn’t necessarily reduce the price – and there are always update essentials – no home computer would be sellable without – video cards, usb ports etc), but if you are hiring processing power in the cloud (as is becoming increasing commonplace) those fixed costs are fixed investments made by the data centres. Moore’s law is a rule that will drive your processing costs down (if that is what you want), or (like in home computing) facilitate increasing your scale and/or scope upwards.