Voting & the human mind, & Northern Illinois

For my family -- if you remember my housemate from Chicago, Dave Gunkel, he is a professor at Northern Illinois. I don't normally see the news right away, but I checked it last night just by coincidence right when the shootings happened, so emailed him my sympathy. What a terrible thing to go through with your students! Still, I think I'd rather have gone through such a thing in a university than elsewhere. Universities are full of thinking people who are professionals at helping with learning and growth. I was certainly glad to attend the MIT ceremony after September 11 (though I got much less from the Harvard one.) Anyway, Dave appreciated supportive email.

I was meaning to post about a talk I went to a couple days ago. It was about how the EU states are now signing as a treaty a negotiated document two of them (France & the Netherlands) had rejected in 2005 as a constitution through referendums (the UK would have too.) By renaming it as a treaty most countries have got around needing to have referenda. There were speakers who were experts on France and the Netherlands (the latter was Cees, Will's boss). It turns out that really neither country had needed to have a referendum in the first place legally, but had just had one for reasons of domestic politics (they were sure they would win and they thought it would advance other agendas.) The weird thing that was interesting though was that people weren't that unhappy that their government had gone the other way just two years later. In France for example they had just voted for Sarkozy knowing he would do this. It would be one thing if everyone was making a compromise (after all, the entire point of politics -- you have to get the whole nation to agree on one course), but it seems more like many people have their opinions set by who they voted for -- although they make their own decision, the combination of that decision and the elected person's platform gives the voters new opinions. I was surprised about this since normally computer scientists think of data driving process, but the political scientists just laughed at me, they know voters minds can be changed by process. I knew this too from the perspective of lawyers and individuals, but I hadn't thought of politics as the mass practice of updating everyone's beliefs and behaviour before.