Sober Horoscopes

I hope that you all had a great September (or at least you were prepared for how September treated you). After a month spent carefully computing the locations of the planets and pretending that reading niche astrology books count as having a hobby, here are some general and sign-specific notes for the upcoming month. 

There are a few major astrological events of note this month that will affect all of the signs. On October 13th, there will be a full moon in Aries – this can create a deep feeling of uncertainty. You can see this as a risk (and then practice the associated avoidance strategies), or you can take it as an opportunity to take a stand. On October 23rd, the sun will leave Libra and enter Scorpio, so be aware that the balanced lifestyle you may enjoy for the first half of the month might quickly intensify. 

Lastly, on October 31st, Mercury will enter retrograde in Scorpio – while Halloween itself might be spooky, this is terrifying. Mercury retrogrades bring issues with technology and communication, and a retrograde in Scorpio brings deep tension and conflict in all aspects of life. Spend this month preparing for the retrograde, and keep in mind that you will find deeper truths on the other end of it.

Here are some sign-specific notes for you all. Remember that just judging by your sun sign is not a very holistic way to read your horoscope. For some more insights, also consider your moon sign (which rules your emotions and inner self) and your rising sign (which rules the way you present to other people). If you don’t know what your moon and rising signs are, you can use an online calculator, assuming you can first find out the time you were born at. 

Aries (Mar. 21–Apr. 19): 

Aries, your ruling planet is Mars. Mars is not doing anything particularly interesting this month, but worry not – this month’s full moon (on October 13th) is in Aries! Use this opportunity to reflect on who you truly are and what motivates you, and then make sure that you think about how you can carry those learnings forward, regardless of whether you are thinking about what to eat in the dining hall or where to work next summer.

Taurus (April 20-May 20): 

Taurus, your ruling planet is Venus. While Venus is not having too eventful a month, it will be sextile to Pluto on both October 20th and October 25th – note that this is happening both in Libra and in Scorpio. Because interactions between Venus and Pluto brings some intensity to your personal relationships, make sure you stay level-headed and pragmatic even when it is exciting to obsess over the details. 

Gemini (May 21–June 21): 

Gemini, you are ruled by Mercury. While Mercury is interestingly positioned in relation to several planets over the course of the month, most of the impacts you will feel are linked to the looming retrograde. While the Mercury retrograde is an opportunity to learn more about yourself, there is sometimes a place for just trying to manage the chaos and reflecting on the other side – we practice that all of the time at Olin. Just do not forget to eventually do a plus/delta session and come up with a measurable kaizen afterwards!

Cancer (June 22–July 22):

Your ruling celestial object is the moon. This month, there will be a full moon in Aries on October 13th and a new moon in Scorpio on October 27th. Both of these signs are fairly individualistic, so let this be a chance for you to channel your own conviction into meaningful action. While how small Olin is can feel suffocating sometimes, it can also be empowering, and this month is your chance to leverage the environment you are in. 

Leo (July 23–Aug. 22): 

Leo, your ruler is the sun. As the sun moves from Libra to Scorpio this month, you will have many opportunities to experiment with your ability to pursue your lofty ambitions while maintaining a realistic and balanced life. Note that pushing yourself to be the best you can and living a reasonable lifestyle is a balance in and of itself, and no one except for you can find how that translates to your day-to-day life. 

Virgo (Aug. 23–Sept. 22): 

Virgo, like Gemini, you are ruled by Mercury. Mercury is going through several different changes in position this month, and while you are more likely to feel them than Gemini is, remember that these are only minor setbacks in face of the looming retrograde in Scorpio. Learn everything you can for the beginning of the month, and remember that the following period will likely not be as bad as you envision it to be. 

Libra (Sept. 23–Oct. 23): 

Enjoy the end of Libra season! This opportunity for clear thinking literally only comes one time every year, so take advantage of this time to make a plan for the near (and distant). Your ruling planet, Venus, will be sextile to Pluto on October 20th and October 25th this month (both when the sun is and is not in Libra) – this event usually brings some gravity to your personal relationships, so be ready to stay grounded even when you feel like you have every right not to be. 

Scorpio (Oct. 24–Nov. 21):

The coming two months are chaotic for you. Your ruling planet, Pluto, exits a five-month retrograde on October 3rd – as it goes direct, take some time to turn your self-reflection into actionable goals, as you will need them to recenter. The sun enters Scorpio on October 24th, which will positively impact your thinking and identity, but the Mercury retrograde in Scorpio starting on October 31st will bring miscommunication to your closest relationships, regardless of whether that be with the people around you or the technology you use. You are allowed to feel okay even when your world suggests you should not. 

Sagittarius (Nov. 22–Dec. 21): 

Saggirtarius, your ruling sign is Jupiter. On October 13th, the sun will be sextile to Jupiter, which should empower you to work towards your personal goals. As this is also the day of a full moon in Aries, you can feel free to ask yourself deeper questions about your personal conviction and how that connects to your day-to-day actions. Extra points if it also helps you on your job interviews/grad school applications.

Capricorn (Dec. 22–Jan. 19): 

Saturn, your ruling planet, is back in direct this month, which provides you an exciting opportunity to get to work after a less grounded time in your life. Maintaining that personal drive will be really important this month, especially on October 7th when the sun will be square to Saturn. This event can potentially bring some personal struggle and conflict around the beginning of the month, but things will cool off quickly. A walk around Parcel B can fix more problems than you think it can, but please use bug spray.

Aquarius (Jan. 20–Feb. 18):

Aquarius, your ruling planet is Uranus. On October 7th, Mercury will be opposite Uranus, and this will probably make the early half of the month fairly hectic for you. While the middle of the month will be a lot calmer, make sure to stay grounded. On October 28th, the Sun will be opposite Uranus, which will bring additional uncertainty. Note that this energy is not necessarily a bad thing, and while you might initially feel overwhelmed it might bring additional clarity in the future. 

Pisces (Feb. 19–Mar. 20): 

Your ruling planet, Neptune, is not very active this month. However, a few small events – including that it will be trine with Venus on October 21st and sextile with Mercury on October 15th, will cause an increase in your own capacity for personal reflection and creativity. This is a great time to start a new art project or revisit ones you might have forgotten about. 

Penny For Your Thoughts

Random thoughts of the Olin population.

 

Olin’s development into a more protest-literate culture could be really constructive move for us to participate in global climate discourse

-Anonymous

 

I went to the Boston Climate Strike on Friday. I walked there, if that makes a difference. The walk over was pleasant, the commitment to going was a relief, like I was reordering my priorities. Personally, that’s what this was for me: a reordering of priorities, things to consider for my future. When I got to the gathering in front of Government Center, I teared up a little seeing the people gathered there, proudly displaying their posters.   In some ways, it was a little disappointing. Climate change is an issue that reaches every part of our global society, and is closely related to a large array of systemic issues and injustices. So it’s easy to redirect the conversation about climate change towards these other issues. But this can make the message unfocused, which makes it a lot harder to get the point across. People need to be on the same page, otherwise we find ourselves confused and lost as to what we are trying to achieve, particularly if we’re trying to achieve many things all at once (I saw a non-trivial number of “down with capitalism” posters. Maybe it’s consumerism that hurts us more? Or are the two inseparably linked? who knows. anyway,) Many things need to change, that’s for sure. But the task (in this case, legislation to curb climate change) gets monumentally harder to do in a focused manner the more we tack on to it.    And ultimately, meaningful change doesn’t happen through brute force and spiteful shaming and silencing of the people we disagree with. So maybe less of the vitriol towards people who haven’t gotten on board with the message, yeah? We need to rock the vote. We need to strengthen and broaden our communities. We can’t just go to these gatherings and post pictures on social media with our clever signs and call it a day. If the climate strike made you want to do more, good. If you feel like you’ve already done your part, it’s just the beginning. If you didn’t go, I encourage attending another event in the future. Even if you don’t like crowds, even if you don’t see a point, even if you don’t care, it’s something to experience, and we have the privilege and position to be a part of it.

-Miranda

 

The John Wick trilogy takes advantage of its simple plot structure to explore the motivations and intentions of its characters, as well as nuanced themes of good and evil, with a depth that is belied by its status as an “action-forward violent movie.”

-Connor Novak 

 

Single Ladies, but bluegrass.

-Anonymous

Horoscopes by Spoooky Editors

Taurus (Apr. 20 – May 20): Watch out this halloween for you will actually be frightened by jack-o’-lanterns as if you were a vampire or as if you had just undergone a horrible break-up with a man named Jack O’Lantern.

Gemini (May 21 – Jun. 20): It turns out, you are a vampire, which is why you hate garlic and have never shown up in mirrors.

Cancer (Jun. 21 – Jul. 22): You will miss your classes and Olin professors will simultaneously start taking attendance that very day. 

Leo (Jul. 23 – Aug. 22): Remember that spider you killed last week? You know what I’m talking about. Well his name was Greg, and his family misses him and his sister Valencia is coming to exact revenge. She says she will show no mercy and she will lay her eggs in your shoes.

Virgo (Aug. 23 – Sep. 22): You will wake up one day with the strange, but unmistakable, feeling that you were a donut in your past life and your friends killed and ate you to survive the winter.

Libra (Sep. 23 – Oct. 22): You will start the book It by Stephen King and realize that you’ve enslaved yourself for life, or at least the semester. But you’ll enjoy yourself because it’s a good read.

Scorpio (Oct. 23 – Nov. 21):  The SAG apple apple you pick will have a worm in it. His name is Earl. You will become a great friend, but he will die soon thereafter. He is a worm, their life spans aren’t long.

Sagittarius (Nov. 22 – Dec. 21): You will wake up one morning and realize that you no longer have pass-no-record.

Capricorn (Dec. 22 – Jan. 19): The dining hall staff will be replaced by robots who don’t care how much corn you want in your power bowl. 

Aquarius (Jan. 20 – Feb. 18): You will realize that, all along, you were not meant to raise living things. The infamous basil plant was just the final drop in the bucket. You let a cactus die once. How could you ever forget that. Watch out, this career fair, instead of being recruited by Microsoft, you may be recruited by…the GRIM REAPER.

Pisces (Feb. 19 – Mar. 20): You wake up on a season of Survivor only to realize that you are the asshole who gets voted out first.

Aries (Mar. 21 – Apr. 19): Your tangled headphones will finally consume you and everything you love.

The El Paso Shooting and Home

While it took the white supremacist who aimed to kill the “growing Hispanic Population” 10-11 hours to get to El Paso, he could’ve easily have gone to my hometown of Laredo, which is only eight hours away from Allen, the suburb off of diverse Dallas. If you remember my story slam piece, I’m from Texas. Specifically, I was born in Laredo and now live in San Antonio. Except I kinda live in New England these days as I’ve been at Olin and have worked here over the summers for two years now. 

Sometimes leaving makes me feel like I’m guilty of a crime. When I was in highschool, I left Laredo for San Antonio because my mom got married. He had a job; my mom had just lost hers. It made sense. We didn’t choose San Antonio because it was safer. When I left San Antonio for college, I left to escape “events I can’t speak of sober” that happened at home. Not because Texas was unsafe. I mean it was, for me, but not because I was a documented Mexican-American. 

But the truth is, I went to a safer place for brown immigrants. People are more likely to be massacred at a highly Hispanic city, like the ones I left, than a small white college no one knows about. “Is my city going to be the next location of another domestic terrorist attack?”  is a thought I share with friends and family, even other Oliners. I should feel safe knowing that I’m not in those cities anymore, but leaving the violence feels wrong. I left, I did. But I didn’t bring my family with me. I left them to the coyotes.

They are people leaving violence, seeking asylum and dying doing so. If they don’t die along the way, they are put in concentration camps. They’re being starved, denied health care, left to die, and being sexually abused, again. But don’t forget why they’re seeking asylum. These people (families, children, or whatever you want to call them, just don’t forget they’re humans) are seeking a better place than the ones they’re leaving. I’m not going to detail what they’re leaving or what they’re experiencing because those articles just make me hurt all over. IWhat those who are crossing and those being detained are facing, whether they’re wrong or not, is inhumane.
Maybe the right word for what I’m feeling isn’t guilt. Maybe it’s shame. I feel ashamed for not suffering with everyone else like me. Maybe it’s fear. I’m waiting for the next attack to be closer. Maybe it’s disgust. I’m complaining about American Cheese while so many inexplicable horrors are happening.
I left my neighborhood, but I didn’t leave the violence on the news. I didn’t leave my worry behind. I didn’t leave the desire to be at home. A home currently targeted by white supremacy and over run with fear. Because even as El Pasoans are buying self defense weapons, they’re still afraid.Why would they need to defend themselves if they weren’t? My friends are all sharing posts warning of the next attack even if they’re false because we are all afraid. We don’t even know what to say about this fear, except the same thing over and over again: “It could’ve been us. It could be us.”
I have wanted my family. All this time, I’ve struggled to feel comfortable at this college and at my summer jobs. I was just one of the few like me. I was brown, but apologetic. I’ve struggled between knowing I should be worried about all the things happening in the border but being unable to cope if I was. Maybe if things were bad at college like at home, I’d feel like I found the right place. Maybe if instead of going to therapy to cope with the past, facing my nightmares would feel familiar enough that I could feign comfort.

I have dealt with terrible things often in my life, but my mom has helped me get through them. At college though, I’m alone in processing what events like the El Paso shooting mean. I’m isolated from my family in a time where I want them around me for safety. No matter how many times I video call my mom, that will not change. No matter how good our wi-fi connections are, our phones are incapable of sharing the warmth and hope my mother radiates. 

Last year, when the children crossing the border started being separated from their parents, I could not drag myself out of bed. I could not stop crying. I couldn’t show up to work. During that period, I went to therapy and was talking to my mom. My therapist talked about how maybe my obsession with the safety of these children was because I almost lost my mom several times, but that did not make me feel better. It was only when my mom lied to me that I had a sense of relief. She told me it was going to end soon. Here we are a year later. I knew that it was a lie. I was still able to tell people my mother lied to me and yet feel comfort me as it was the truth. My mom’s lie felt like a prayer. I didn’t ask her to, but maybe she knew I wouldn’t be able to keep it together without her trying to make me feel better.
So here I am, finding myself seeking lies, feeling guilty, ashamed, disgusted, and afraid. I’m not sure if I’m losing myself or growing a thicker skin. I’m just trying to get through college, like you are. I’m not trying to focus on the news and crumble instead of getting a degree. I’m trying to focus on the new problem set and grow, just like you are.
I want to thank everyone who has donated their time by protesting or volunteering with those affected or donating money to charities. Thank you for being public about it and calling those around you to help as well. Doing that makes Olin feel a little bit safer to call home.

Transphobia at Olin

Content Warning: Contains vague narrative descriptions of transphobic violence at Olin.

I don’t talk very openly about my gender on campus. I’m here for the same reasons you are: to learn, be close to people, and plan for a career. My gender and my body’s position in the bimodal distribution often simplified as “biological sex” shouldn’t be relevant to any of that. I’m speaking up because I saw a disturbing pattern on campus last semester, and I’m calling on our community to change. This letter is especially relevant for people who had never met a trans person before me. I want to focus on eigenvalues and spline curves, on core dumps and Parcel B walks and the people I love, but my lived reality last semester kept me from bringing my full attention to any of that. I want that to change.

First, the background: I’m a transgender person. When I was born, a doctor checked “male” on a sheet of paper. Assigning “biological sex” as exclusively male or female is not only a statistically inaccurate abstraction for transgender and intersex people—it makes healthcare worse for everyone. It hurts patients because it encourages doctors to make assumptions rather than think critically about individuals, and it leads to spurious research conclusions. Humans display a wide natural variation in sex characteristics, but doctors and researchers often operate based on assigned sex, which cannot be accurately classified as male or female for as many as 2% of people at birth. Physical bodies are different from gender, which is internal, but variations in both occur frequently and are often hidden.

“Male” inaccurately describes my gender, so I found more accurate language. I’m still figuring out what words best describe me, but I prefer being referred to with the pronouns “she/her/hers” or “they/them/theirs.” So you could say: “Sam is writing an article about their gender” or “Sam really appreciates that you are bringing an open mind to her lived experiences.”

In many ways, Olin has been incredibly welcoming. For most of my first semester, my gender identity was not something I had to think about every day. Many professors asked for pronouns, which was affirming and is a great way to be an ally to trans people. At the same time, I heard a few disturbing categories of jokes that mock trans people in coded ways. I know most of the people making these jokes don’t intend harm, but they make Olin a more hostile place for trans students and that matters more than the intent.

I first noticed a common joke trope: the Man In Dress. I have lost count the times I’ve heard Oliners joke about men wearing dresses. It’s often casual, sometimes in reference to specific comedians’ jokes about trans women. Let’s be clear: trans women are female, and men can wear dresses. If the idea of a man wearing a dress feels wrong, awkward, or amusing to you, it’s because our society normalizes strictly gendered clothing. Think about it rationally: there’s nothing intrinsically “male” or “female” about a cut of cloth. Portraying “men in dresses” as humorous or depraved is not just alienating, social scientists have shown that it provides a cognitive permission structure for violence against trans people. In short, it dehumanizes. In the Americas, trans women have a life expectancy of 30-35 years on average because of the violence against us. In 45 states, the “trans panic” defense is still legal, so arguing that a trans woman is responsible for her own murder (by not conforming to gender expectations) is a valid legal defense. Joking about and mocking gender-nonconformity enables and normalizes the hate that often leads to violence. It doesn’t just make me feel uncomfortable or unwelcome, it makes the world meaningfully less safe for people like me. It’s also the same language strangers have used before assaulting me in public for my identity, and it hurts to hear that in a place I love.

I also heard more subtle jokes that target trans people for our identities. The thread of jokes about “identifying as a _______,” like identifying as an Apache Attack Helicopter, are specifically intended to mock non-binary identities. Choosing a label for your own gender experience is a historic process that has existed in diverse cultures for thousands of years. For example, Navajo culture recognizes some individuals as both men and women, and reveres those individuals as nádleehí. Genders that are both male and female, neither, or a distinct category were recognized throughout pre-colonization societies in the places we know as Argentina, Australia, India, Italy, Massachusetts, Mexico, and more. Jokes that arbitrarily identify people with objects ridicule the process of choosing a gender label, which has existed for most of recorded history. Language is socially constructed, and you can use whatever gender label most accurately describes your lived gender experience. Jokes about gender “not existing” undermine the validity of all gender identities. All genders are real, valid, and not determined by physical characteristics.

Most concerningly, I noticed a pattern of more direct harassment and inappropriate questions. I’ve been laughed at, mocked, misgendered, and asked what I “am.” I’ve also been asked about my genitals in public spaces at Olin. The summer housing survey implicitly asked inappropriate and irrelevant questions about the medical history and bodies of transgender students. I am very grateful that Seth corrected that survey at the request of myself and many other students. At several public Olin events, I was misgendered directly both by Oliners and visitors. In one case, another student’s family member pointed at my “she/her or they/them” pronoun sticker, read it, and then continued to point and laugh while walking away.

Last semester, an Oliner made a series of public blog posts that explicitly misgendered another student on campus. The posts even accused them of changing identities to somehow avoid “male guilt” and were shared alongside accusations that people choose gender identity labels to pressure others into sex. In a few specific instances, other transgender students and I were directly intimidated for our attempts to argue back against those ideas—we were targeted for arguing for our own existences. I have been physically threatened on multiple occasions. I know of several students still having nightmares because of fear for their safety.  I found that Olin simply does not have an official harassment or bias response policy to cope with situations like this.

It’s not all bad. I’m profoundly grateful for this community’s openness to change and the deeply empathetic support I have experienced from almost everyone here. I’ve heard so many open-minded questions from other Oliners who wanted to understand more about people like me, and I love you all for caring enough to hear more. Thank you.

Please think honestly and critically about the jokes and content you share. You don’t have to police your speech, just ask who you’re targeting and why. We are designing the future of our community and society at all times. When you hear another Oliner making fun of gender identity, ask them to be more respectful. When you hear someone reinforcing unified biological sex as a valid scientific construct, challenge them! You are the designers of Olin’s future culture. Include gender acceptance. However awkward it may feel, speaking up is infinitely safer for people who aren’t transgender than for those who are—and it can be more powerful. If you are not transgender, you can use your privilege to help make space for trans people to exist. We need your help. I welcome any  This is our community to build, so let’s make it inclusive and give every single Oliner the space to question their own identity and feel welcome.

Where Does the GOP Go?

Hello! If you’re a first year, or were gone last semester, this is a continuation of a series focusing on the effects of demographic change on the future of American politics. Check out franklyspeakingnews.com to read previous articles on asymmetric politics and the future of the Democratic Party. 

Today we’ll be looking at the future of the Republican Party in America. Republicans now have more political power than at almost any time in recent history. 

But being in power has a way of revealing and widening political fault lines. You don’t have to look far to find articles prophesizing the downfall of the Republican Party due to their failure to capture the growing number of minorities. 

While this will eventually be a problem for the party, those predicting an impending doomsday are wrong. The mere political presence of ethnic minorities consistently pushes other voters to the right. This action will largely counteract any political power Republicans lose because of an increasing number of non-white voters. 

Instead I want to highlight a specific division in the Republican Party; one that has become increasingly prominent during the Trump era: The divide between social conservatives and the business wing of the GOP. These two groups form the core of the GOP coalition. 

Initially, the shared enemy of communism created their alliance. The Soviet Union, with its state run economy and avowed godlessness was the worst enemy of the religious social conservatives and free-market, small government libertarians. 

The shared enemy allowed them to ignore that their world views were fundamentally incompatible. Is the role of government to ensure individual freedoms through low taxes and deregulation as the business wing believes? Or is it to create a ‘moral’ society by any means necessary. We can look to a classic issue in American politics: pornography. For social conservatives this is something that needs to be contained and banned; a harm to society. For a libertarian this would be unnecessary government regulation; people have a right to make their own decisions. At the extremes, this is an argument about liberal democracy itself. What is more important: freedom or morality?

This division is most clearly seen among political elites and conservative intellectuals. The most recent and dramatic rift has been between Sohrab Ahmari and David French. Armari published a piece online titled “Against David French-ism”. 

He claims to be inspired by seeing a poster for a children’s drag queen reading hour at public library in Sacramento and by the ‘mistreatment’ of Brett Kavanaugh by the left. 

He writes that in the “culture war” the ultimate goal is “defeating the enemy and enjoying the spoils in the form of a public square re-ordered to the common good and ultimately the Highest Good”. He continues that David French, who represents the libertarian wing of the party, is simply too nice to win this war. By rolling over and allowing, even if not agreeing with, things such as gay marriage, libertarians are failing conservatism. 

A confluence of factors has led to this rift gaining prominence in recent years. The shared enemy of communism died with the cold war. 

The election of Donald Trump has given Republicans a massive amount of political power. However, at the same time, society has continued to shift further and further to the left, deepening the fears of social conservatives. Compounding this fear are two other societal shifts: Diminishing numbers of Americans identifying as Christian, and white Americans continuing to make up a smaller and smaller proportion of the population. 

How will the Republican party react to a browning America? For the business wing this is business as usual. Tax cuts are (theoretically) race neutral; the size of government (theoretically) affects all people equally. But for social conservatives this is a crisis. Looking at more recent year

s, it’s hard not to say that social conservatives are winning out. Donald Trump, while not himself a die-hard social conservative, represents that group. He has shown a personal disregard for the small government principles of the libertarian wing. Instead he has appealed to the growing anti-immigrant, socially conservative sentiment I have previously discussed. 

The biggest sign of this shift in Republican ideology is the story of Representative Justin Amash. Amash is a founding member of the Tea Party: the ultra-conservative republican group that emerged in opposition to Obama’s policies. Amash made headlines recently when he called for the impeachment of Donald Trump. 

His opposition to Trump comes from his disagreements over executive power and limits of government. These are the principles on which the Tea Party was founded on, and these are the principles Amash cites. But the rest of the Tea Party turned on him. He was roundly denounced and ultimately, he left the Republican Party. Amash is not a moderate in any sense of the word; he turned on Trump because he saw him as betraying libertarian and conservative values.

In the broader American political context, this is a risky move. By doubling down on social conservatism, especially regarding race and immigration, Republicans have positioned themselves to take full advantage of the backlash to a browning America. 

This is a powerful force that is not to be underestimated.The risk is not losing support from people of color, they never really supported Republicans in the first place. Instead it is white, moderate, voters that present the most active threat. In 2018, droves of white suburban voters (especially women) abandoned the Republican party and handed Democrats a massive victory, even in traditionally Republican areas like Orange County. 

We’ve examined the people, and the parties on their own, but next month we will look at how they interact in the penultimate article of this series. See you then!

A Better Voting Alternative

“Vote for only one.” It’s written on most ballots, on most races, between the name of the race and the names of the candidates. But why is a ballot with multiple filled bubbles void? And what is this “excellence” thing people do at Olin?

To start, the system used by the U.S. and most other national governments is plurality voting, a.k.a. “first-past-the-post”. In this nearly ubiquitous winner-take-all electoral system, each person gets one vote, and the candidate with the most votes wins.

Critics of plurality cite various negative mathematical and historical consequences of elections carried out in this fashion and generally hold up instant-runoff voting, a.k.a. “transferable voting”, as a fairer single-winner electoral system that is more conducive to healthy democracy—“the alternative vote”.

But is instant-runoff really better than plurality? Well, yes. But is instant-runoff really the best alternative to plurality? By most metrics, not really no.

Despite the fact that instant-runoff receives by far the most attention and discussion of all alternative electoral systems, there are numerous systems that are far better suited to choose our elected officials than either plurality or instant-runoff. 

To aid in comparisons, let us distance ourselves from real politics and consider a vote for the new state capital of Texas. The five candidates are Dallas, Fort Worth, San Antonio, Austin, and Houston. In this scenario, geographical location is an analogue for political alignment. That is, voters, distributed according to the real population distribution of Texas, will vote for the cities that are physically closest to them.

Figure 0. The map of Texas that will serve as the basis of this discussion.

It’s not immediately clear from looking at it which city is best to lead, so let’s hold an election.

With plurality, it’s straightforward. 23% of Texans vote for Dallas, 17% for Fort Worth, 23% for San Antonio, 10% for Austin, and 28% for Houston. Houston has the most votes, so it wins!

But wait. Is Houston really the best choice here? I mean, for one thing, 72% of Texans voted against it, among them the nontrivial western vote that sees this as the worst option.

For another, Dallas and Fort Worth are practically one city, and if they ran together, their combined voter base would be 40% of the population, enough to handily beat out Houston. 

This is the spoiler effect: when two similar candidates run separately in a plurality election, split the vote, and lose where either of them could have won. The spoiler effect is the most commonly-cited flaw of plurality voting, and there are two common Band-Aid® solutions to it.

In the U.S., we have primaries. That means that similar candidates organize into parties, which then each choose a single nominee to run on behalf of all of them. In our example, Dallas and Fort Worth can team up as a single Northern Party. Taking the western vote, Fort Worth wins the nomination and goes on to the final.

Figure 1. The hypothetical party line with which our primaries operate.

However, in practice (as you may have noticed), such systems typically come to be dominated by exactly two parties. San Antonio, Austin, and Houston also team up as an opposing Southern Party. The South primary nominates Houston by the same pluralistic mechanisms as before. Then, Houston collects a 52–48% lead over Dallas and wins again.

This is kind of an improvement. At least now that we’ve seen the direct showdown between Fort Worth and Houston, we know why Dallas–Fort Worth didn’t win: given the choice between them and Houston, voters chose Houston.

It still wasn’t a very enfranchising election for western voters, though. Those in El Paso didn’t see anyone in the final election that they liked at all.

Beyond that, primaries are problematic for other reasons. They require voters to go to the polls twice each cycle—a biɡ ask for some—and they give immense power over our democracy to political parties, which it’s easy to forget are private organizations.

The other common solution is runoffs, a.k.a. “the two-round system”. An election governed by runoff voting starts off as an ordinary plurality election, but if no candidate earns a majority of the votes (or some other threshold), all but the top two candidates are removed and the ballot is run again (this is called the “runoff election”).

In our first scenario, the two top winners were Houston and, by a slim margin, San Antonio. In the runoff, San Antonio picks up western voters but, unable to win over Dallas and with a smaller core base, loses to Houston 58–42%. The final candidates were different, but the results were the same.

Western voters at least felt more enfranchised in the final election this time. That combined with the fact that runoff systems don’t automatically let political parties choose who ends up on the ballot makes runoffs solidly better than primaries. It still requires of voters multiple trips to the polls, though, and the result was still an eastern extremist.

Both of these issues are corrected by instant-runoff voting. Instant-runoff, as you might have guessed, is an expansion of the runoff system. It allows many runoffs to be virtually held while only requiring voters to ever go to the polls once per election. It does this through a ranked-choice ballot.

First, every voter ranks the candidates from best to worst. Then, a plurality election is held, with each voter’s vote taken as their top choice. If no candidate earns a majority of the vote (or, again, some different threshold), then the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated. The votes that went to that candidate then go to the candidate that those voters ranked second. This repeats until one candidate has a majority of the votes.

Let’s return to Texas, and assume that each voter ranks the candidates from nearest to furthest. The first vote is the same as our plurality vote, then. The most votes one candidate has is Houston’s 28%, while the candidate with the fewest is Austin with 10%. Since Houston has no majority, Austin is eliminated.

Austin voters are divided four ways on whom they would choose next, with most turning to San Antonio. The new tallies come out to 23% for Dallas, 19% for Fort Worth, 30% for San Antonio, and 28% for Houston. Still no majority, so Fort Worth drops out next.

Unsurprisingly, Fort Worth voters mostly favor Dallas next, bringing it up to 40%. San Antonio’s number rises to 31%, and Houston remains at 28%. Having fallen behind, Houston becomes the final elimination.

Now this is the final showdown voters wanted to see. The two contenders represent a broad spectrum of geography, so while not everyone is completely satisfied, pretty much everyone has someone they at least like a little. Those who had voted for Houston are split, but most of them prefer San Antonio, handing it a 55–45% victory over Dallas.

The process is a clear improvement on plurality and its cousins. The spoiler effect is practically eliminated, as one of a pair of similar candidates will always be eliminated before the other. Because every voter is effectively consulted on every elimination (without requiring them to turn out multiple times), voters should feel more enfranchised, and the resulting candidate should better represent the whole of the population.

It’s still not the best answer, though. What if I told you that Austin, prior to its early elimination, had 49% of second choice votes? Or that San Antonio is actually farther from the average Texan than Houston? While instant-runoff is intuitive and spoiler-free, it’s far from mathematically sound.

A more advanced ranked-choice system is Condorcet voting. This is technically a family of electoral systems that includes Schultze, Ranked-pairs, Kemeny–Young, and others.

In a Condorcet election, the winner is the candidate who would beat every other candidate in a one-on-one election, if such a candidate exists. In the uncommon event that it doesn’t, the winner depends on which Condorcet algorithm is used.

Final tallies in Condorcet voting take the form of matrices: for each candidate i and for each candidate j, how many voters prefer candidate i over candidate j, or equivalently, by how many votes would candidate i beat candidate j? The answer is

i, j D. F. W. S. A. A. H.
D. 0% +2% -9% -20% -5%
F. W. -2% 0% -12% -19% -4%
S. A. +9% +12% 0% -54% -17%
A. +20% +19% +54% 0% +33%
H. +5% +4% +17% -33% 0%

The only city with no negatives in its row is Austin, so this time, Austin wins! At last, we have the one true capital of Texas. I didn’t want to spoil it earlier, but Austin is actually closer to the average Texan than any of the other contenders, so this is the best choice in my opinion.

So does this mean that Condorcet is the better “alternative vote” for which we’ve been looking?

Well, it still has its issues. Most importantly, it’s on the complicated side. It didn’t take as long for me to explain as instant-runoff, but expressing the final tallies did require tabular formatting.

Plus, there’s the question of what to do when there is no Condorcet winner. It’s very uncommon—I didn’t see it in any of the 51 simulations I ran—but it does happen. As I said, each algorithm has a way to select a candidate in that situation, but they’re all different, and most of them are themselves pretty complicated.

Then there’s Arrow’s theorem, which basically states that no ranked voting system can be both fair and logical, but that’s a whole discrete analysis rabbit hole I don’t want to fall into.

What if I told you that there was a third alternative about which almost no one talks that consistently achieves the same results as Condorcet, brings back the simplicity of plurality, and always has an unambiguous winner?

This is score voting, a.k.a. “range voting”, “point voting”, “evaluative voting”, “utilitarian voting”, “libertarian voting”, or “capitalism voting”. Score voting is simple and intuitive: each candidate is rated, say, from 0 to 10, and the candidate with the highest average score wins.

Running the Texas election again, we now assume each voter rates the candidates linearly by distance, normalized so that each voter gives at least one 0 and one 10. We now see Dallas get a 4.5/10, Fort Worth 4.4/10, San Antonio 3.8/10, Austin 5.5/10, and Houston 4.3/10. Austin wins again. Even though next to no one would place Austin as their first choice, it’s the one city that everyone can agree is a little bit better than average.

Despite the fact that score is way simpler than Condorcet, they usually get the same answer. In my simulations, whenever they disagreed, it was because score chose a smaller, slightly more central city. That results from the fact that score takes magnitude of voter preference into account while Condorcet knows only polarity.

Score is, in many ways, the ultimate electoral system. Still, there’s one last alternative about which I would like to talk: the special case of score voting where the fineness of the ratings is reduced to two levels, 0 and 1.

This is approval voting, or as we call it at Olin, excellence voting. Approval can be described as plurality with the one alteration that voters are free to vote for as many candidates as they like. The candidate with the most votes (the highest predicted approval rating) wins.

The points in approval’s favor are very different from those in score’s. In approval voting, voters can no longer express the magnitude with which they like or dislike candidates; only whether they approve or not. This reduction in information often leads to worse results.

In the case of Austin, its distance from the other major population centers is such that a handful of people like it a lot, and a lot of people dislike it a little bit. That’s what enabled it to rise above 5/10 last time. In approval, those preferences become pure likes and dislikes, pulling Austin down to 43% approval. The other cities, which polarized more evenly, fare similarly to as they did with score: Dallas gets 46%, For Worth 46%, San Antonio 34%, and Houston 39%. This time, Fort Worth wins by 0.1% over Dallas.

As I’ve stated before, Austin was, mathematically speaking, the best choice. It was preferred by voters over every other candidate when compared directly, and it was closer to the center of population than any other candidate.

But does it really matter? Fort Worth is actually only 7% farther from the average Texan than Austin, and, looking at the map, it’s not obvious that one is significantly better as a capital than the other.

I ran this simulation with all fifty states plus Washington D. C. (that one was pretty unexciting), and Texas was the only one that gave me four different results for seven different electoral systems. Most of them got the same capital no matter what was used.

That’s why, in spite of score voting’s mathematical superiority, I think that approval is the electoral system voting reformists should pursue. It’s a good enough improvement over plurality that can easily be expanded into full score voting later if public opinion favors it. Its similarity to plurality makes it more likely to catch on than instant-runoff or score, and it requires no modification to existing polling procedures beyond the removal of “Vote for only one” from the ballots.

But then again, there’s always [strong Arrow’s theorem](xkcd.com/1844).

In any case, happy voting this upcoming cycle, and remember: the other party is not the enemy. The Annunaki are.

Thanks to the Center for International Earth Science Information Network and the International Center of Tropical Agriculture for the population data I used.

Welcome!

Welcome back, and to all you fresh faces, welcome to this year’s first issue of Frankly Speaking!

For all you fresh people, Frankly Speaking is Olin’s student unofficial student-run newspaper, which means we publish almost anything and we do it for free.

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