A Proposal For Every Century

For various reasons, I was rereading Meditations on Moloch today, and this leapt out at me:

14. Congress. Only 9% of Americans like it, suggesting a lower approval rating than cockroaches, head lice, or traffic jams. However, 62% of people who know who their own Congressional representative is approve of them. In theory, it should be really hard to have a democratically elected body that maintains a 9% approval rating for more than one election cycle. In practice, every representative’s incentive is to appeal to his or her constituency while throwing the rest of the country under the bus – something at which they apparently succeed.

From a god’s-eye-view, every Congressperson ought to think only of the good of the nation. From within the system, you do what gets you elected.

…if you were wondering, this is exactly why the Charter specifies that Senators should be chosen from the centuries, rather than from geographic areas, where the centuries are themselves filled by random assignment and as such contain roughly equal numbers of every clade, race, and other characteristic, roughly equally spread across all 234 worlds and innumerable subdivisions. Even if a Senator had a motivation for it (not being up for reelection), try figuring out how to serve the approximately 1.5 billion randomly distributed sophonts of the 714th Century specially relative to everyone else.

 

27 thoughts on “A Proposal For Every Century

  1. One of my sci-fi writing groups brought up how the House of Representatives originally had one representative for every 30,000 people, and that if we still followed that rule we’d have over 6,000 Congresscritters to deal with.

    And to imagine what a representative republic spanning multiple planets would require.

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    • Well, I don’t know if I’d say dependent. It is limited by speed of communication – it’s hard to have a town-hall meeting or an Athenian democracy when the light-lag gets high, and representative assemblies become tricky when it can take most of a term simply to get from district to Congress.

      But I don’t think it’s as deterministic as it’s sometimes portrayed (say, some versions of Traveller and its jump-implies-feudalism; while jump delay does constrain things, you could have a hierarchy of parliaments and ministers as easily as a hierarchy of nobles).

      That said, in the Worlds, what speed of communication does determine is less the type of government but its shape.

      For example: assume a couple of Earth-type worlds in neighboring systems. Their stargates are going to be somewhere out just beyond the orbit of Uranus, due to tech constraints. That makes the transmission time from planetary ‘net to squirt router something around four hours on average, less with a favorable alignment, rather more if planet and stargate are in opposition and you’ve got to relay up-and-over the sun via the polar statites. Double that to get planet-to-planet lag, and it’s maybe eight hours to get a message between neighbors, and add that again (as an approximation; in reality, this depends on the angular separation of the stargates) for every system you have to cross. Add some more if you’re talking to or from a ship or small hab rather than a big, established network, meaning you have to rent an antenna slot and point a beam at your target, rather than relying on an always-on link.

      (All of which is assuming you’re sending a high-priority message or over quiet links so it never has to queue for bandwidth availability.)

      You can cut down on this using tangle, obviously, but tangle is (a) expensive, (b) consumed as it’s used, and (c) is destroyed if you jump one end separately from the other, which limits its applications – and in particular, makes it of very limited use to communicate with starships except via painstakingly, subluminally-positioned-in-advance, message buoys.

      All of which means that whatever type of government you use, it has to be delocalized enough that things can be handled in a timely manner despite the comms delays. (Looking at the Imperial Fringe map, for instance, if there’s a border incident at Serenniar, it’s going to take nearly a week for regular message traffic to get from there to Fleet Command, Palaxias and for a reply to get back, and we haven’t even left Imperial space yet.) And so you are more or less obliged to have strong local executives and captains, commodores, and admirals whose instructions amount to “Do what you feel is necessary according to Our policy as We have set it.”

      But you can still have a lot of variety in type, even if the structure is fixed.

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      • Idle thought: It may not be limited by the speed of communication per se, but whoever owns the gate at the key bottleneck (in this case the stargate) could essentially dictate what happens by what information it chooses to give priority.

        (I’m thinking in particular of the infamous Western Union – Associated Press cartel of the 19th century, and even more in particular of the way they managed to manipulate an American presidential election in 1876. Ars Technica has an excellent article on it here: https://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2011/05/how-the-robber-barons-hijacked-the-victorian-internet/ )

        (The Charles Sumner in that article, incidentally, is not the same person as the US senator from Massachusetts who was caned on the floor by fellow senator Preston Brooks (from South Carolina) after giving a scathing criticism of slavery and slaveowners. A fascinating historical incident in its own right, and I’d encourage anyone who doesn’t already know about it to read up on it.)

        Of course, I’m sure the Empire has a solution to that particular problem as well, though I’d certainly like to hear the details…

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        • By far the majority of stargates are owned by Ring Dynamics, and all the squirt routers on their stargates are owned by Bright Shadow, and they look with, ‘hem, extreme disfavor on anyone who might consider tarnishing their reputation for probity, security, and ensuring the free flow of traffic, those being their monopoly-retaining USPs, belike.

          (We’ve seen what getting a warning from them looks like before – https://eldraeverse.com/2013/02/19/were-the-phone-company/ .

          Nobody’s been stupid enough to take it to the next stage beyond getting a warning – which is to say, having their contract canceled – since losing access to interstellar communication and/or transit has the same effect on the average star nation as running into a period does on a sentence.)

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          • But how do they secure themselves against an “enemy within” — say, a Board of Directors with delusions of playing Shadow Government?

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            • What would be the point?

              They’re the Directorate of a starcorp. They own the transportation network of the civilized galaxy. The company’s gross revenue is bigger than the GPP of most star nations; any of ’em could buy a planet in their own right, cash. By the year 120,000, they confidently expect to be sitting pretty on the majority market share of transportation throughout the Starfall Arc and have made inroads into two more galaxies, and they’re also confidently expecting to be there sipping mojitos at the stockholder’s meeting.

              They aren’t going to throw all that away to play silly-ass short-term games down in the tarpit.

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              • What would be the point?

                Let’s throw one out there: Qalasír.

                Specifically, a sort of qalasír that views mere “forcible impression” onto the universe as an inadequate substitute for total outright ownership and / or control of said universe; that does not like the presence of variables (like other sophonts) outside its control, and — while perhaps ethically conscious enough to avoid outright choice-theft — may be willing to engage in “leveraged choice-foreclosure” to get what it wants. The sort of mindset that is never content with what it has because it wants everything, including what you have.

                The sort of mindset whose ultimate goal is to “have everything::be everything”; that can say “This is my Universe” as surely as they can say “This is my body”; the sort of mindset for whom the economic inefficiencies and societal catastrophes caused by such a disruption would merely be short-term losses as part of the cost for the long-term goal of being::owning the Universe Entire, acceptable because it places no value on that which is apart from themselves.

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                • Okay, well, you’ve got three problems here.

                  One, your hypothetical dude is insane by any local standard, in a sense that not only precludes him from being on the Directorate of a starcorporation, or in just about any other senior position (Sophont Synarchy is going to ask), but raises serious questions as to how exactly he’s managed to avoid spending quality time with the Guardians of Our Harmony all these years, dealing with pernicious irrationalism being their job, belike.

                  Two, he’s also an idiot given his supposed position and long-term goals because he’s burning a vast long-term asset he controls for a small short-term gain. Just think of the opportunity costs! It’s like smashing a Ming vase to use the shards as a razor. People who make decisions like this are also not going to be found on starcorp Directorates, because they have a strong hiring prejudice against morons.

                  And three, despite being an obvious bearer of both the Villain Ball and the Idiot Ball, he also possesses the high level of competence in the technical skillset necessary to pervert a bunch of systems designed not to let anyone do this sort of thing and to report any tampering, along with the charisma necessary to get both the rest of the Directorate and all the corporate counterparties in a position to notice to go along with this counter-to-basic-ethics-good-sense-and-corporate-policy-all-three plan and cover it up in a world in which transparency in operations is the general practice…

                  And at this point, in-‘verse, we’ve entered the plot realm of Michael Bay Thinly Justifies Shit Blowing Up Real Good. Ain’t gonna happen.

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                  • Sophont Synarchy

                    Who now?

                    but raises serious questions as to how exactly he’s managed to avoid spending quality time with the Guardians of Our Harmony all these years, dealing with pernicious irrationalism being their job, belike.

                    Who says that he necessarily came from within the Empire?

                    As for the probability concern, I invoke in tandem the “Law of Truly Large Numbers” and the “Black Swan Theory.” Improbable events happen, and in a large and heavily-populated galaxy they may happen with surprising frequency given their supposed improbability.

                    If you prefer, a (possibly) more plausible alternative scenario with much the same outcome:

                    Consider the “good men” of the galaxy, and the burdens and barriers that they face: https://eldraeverse.com/2018/02/02/the-world-is-a-mess-and-i-just-need-to-rule-it/

                    Consider the fact that, as you’ve already established here ( https://eldraeverse.com/2013/02/19/were-the-phone-company/ ), companies like Bright Shadow are more than willing to leverage their market position to dictate terms to their customers if they feel it is in their best interests, and that they at present have enough of a market presence that they feel comfortable in doing so without endangering their monopoly. (Which raises the tangential question: Why haven’t any competitors appeared even with prices being so low, if Bright Shadow is already known for doing things like this? Even if there’s no single competitor big enough to challenge Bright Shadow outright on the entire galactic market, wouldn’t there still be the possibility of individual polities and corporations constructing their own “wildcat” stargate links to evade oversight, with these forming a sort of heterogenous network of their own?)

                    So let’s say that rather than doing what he did in canon in trying to surreptitiously deploy his new retrovirus, Vinav Amaranyr had instead realized where that would likely have gotten him, and instead reached out to a group of likeminded people with wealth of their own to form an activist investing fund dedicated to attaining a controlling interest in Bright Shadow’s stock, with the intent of forcing the appointment of a new Board of Directors from among their own (c.f. “corporate raid”). This Board of Directors subsequently cancels all outstanding contracts with parties they deem, by their own criteria, to be “irrational” — paying whatever fees are dictated by the cancellation clauses (eldraeic contracts have those, right?) from a “war chest” created by the fund for just such a purpose — and renegotiates new terms that makes access to their services contingent on accepting the general distribution of said retrovirus within their polities’ borders. All nice, neat, and contractual, so that nobody can scream “coercion!” and sicc the Fourth or Fifth Directorate on them.

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                    • Sophont Synarchy

                      Who now?

                      The equivalent of human resources in a polyspecific society where they’re more focused on optimizing sophont dynamics in teams-slash-Initiatives on the upside rather than in staving off downsides. Although, on the latter, they are also the people who want to be sure that you’re sane and rational before putting you in a decision-making position. Just checking qualifications, y’know.

                      Who says that he necessarily came from within the Empire?

                      No-one. But these are starcorps of Imperial domicile, and if you want to be considered competent to hold high corporate office in said domicile, you’re going to need the appropriate level of tort insurance, and you aren’t going to get that without a few, ‘hem, “sanity checks”.

                      As for the probability concern, I invoke in tandem the “Law of Truly Large Numbers” and the “Black Swan Theory.” Improbable events happen, and in a large and heavily-populated galaxy they may happen with surprising frequency given their supposed improbability.

                      As a counterpoint, I invoke the lack of spontaneous herring conversion insurance despite that also being guaranteed by the law of large numbers in a sufficiently large universe.

                      Or, more seriously, it’s a big Earth with a lot of very rich men around, and yet there has yet to be any real-life Auric Goldfinger, Karl Stromberg, Hugo Drax, Elliot Carver, or Elektra King converting their corporate assets into a vehicle for flashy bwah-ha-ha plots, which suggests that in reality they’re likewise below the threshold of Needing To Worry About This In Advance.

                      Consider the fact that, as you’ve already established here ( https://eldraeverse.com/2013/02/19/were-the-phone-company/ ), companies like Bright Shadow are more than willing to leverage their market position to dictate terms to their customers if they feel it is in their best interests, and that they at present have enough of a market presence that they feel comfortable in doing so without endangering their monopoly. (Which raises the tangential question: Why haven’t any competitors appeared even with prices being so low, if Bright Shadow is already known for doing things like this? Even if there’s no single competitor big enough to challenge Bright Shadow outright on the entire galactic market, wouldn’t there still be the possibility of individual polities and corporations constructing their own “wildcat” stargate links to evade oversight, with these forming a sort of heterogenous network of their own?)

                      Because their customers like the way they run their networks and enforce terms of service. (Well, not “like”, but prefer to virtually all other possible arrangements of the universe.) Their reputation for doing this sort of thing when freedom of [physical|network] transit is threatened is one of the major selling points for buying from them that helps to maintain their monopoly.

                      Which is to say, their customers’ eagerness to be able to pull this crap on other people is overwhelmed by their desire for other people not to be able to pull this crap on them. After all, there’re rather more of them.

                      Look at The Core War. Ring Dynamics maintains the freedom of transit even in the middle of a war. You can’t buy reliability of service like that from just anyone.

                      Now, there are people who go out and build their own stargate networks and interstellar extranet hardware. At best, they have a reputation issue, to wit, not having one; at worst, people figure that they built their own specifically to get away with some of the deeply hinky stuff that Bright Shadow, say, does not allow on their hardware, like ECHELON or the Great Firewall of China. This does not encourage people to route through them rather than Old Reliable.

                      So let’s say that rather than doing what he did in canon in trying to surreptitiously deploy his new retrovirus, Vinav Amaranyr had instead realized where that would likely have gotten him, and instead reached out to a group of likeminded people with wealth of their own to form an activist investing fund dedicated to attaining a controlling interest in Bright Shadow’s stock, with the intent of forcing the appointment of a new Board of Directors from among their own (c.f. “corporate raid”).

                      Bear in mind that Vinav Amaranyr was a Renegade for his view before engaging in the specific plan that got Fourth Directorate to censure him. Now your new hypothetical isn’t a Renegade; he’s just razorwalking along the edge of what’s legal and pretending that that means it’s also moral, and literally everyone can tell that a mile off and is Not Impressed. Just because paracoercion is technically legal doesn’t mean deliberately leveraging it is looked upon favorably by anyone; this sort of thing is social and reputational poison, the kind that ends up with sanctions.

                      (As I speculated to Amy last night would be coming up because you do somehow seem to keep missing the above point every time it comes up, I must point out that “The [person] you describe has a big old fetish for controlling and/or owning people. On Earth, that makes you a politician, an activist, a truly terrible middle-manager, or President of the Homeowner’s Association. There, however, all that gets you is disinvited from all the good parties and a write-up of your very own in Psychotic Whackjobs Quarterly .”)

                      In short, this scenario is basically analogous to “the Westboro Baptist Church somehow raises a fairly large country’s GDP in order to buy out Amazon, somehow replaces or buys off everyone who would object to the shift in policy, and make it refuse to deal with any X such that GOD HATES X”, and attracts about the same amount of concern.

                      This Board of Directors subsequently cancels all outstanding contracts with parties they deem, by their own criteria, to be “irrational” — paying whatever fees are dictated by the cancellation clauses (eldraeic contracts have those, right?) from a “war chest” created by the fund for just such a purpose

                      They can.

                      But consider the customers.

                      You’re a star nation. You’re signing service contracts/leases for wormhole transit and extranet links, two things that are absolutely, utterly vital for not only your prosperity, but for your actual existence.

                      How enthusiastic are you about such a contract having a rescission (i.e., unilateral cancellation without cause) clause?

                      These companies sell reliability. Short of a customer default or mutual agreement, they aren’t written to be canceled, or even for their option to renew to be canceled. Their customers need guarantees, so that’s what they’re sold.

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            • I mean, consider the scale. We’re talking the board of Amazon throwing their customer service reputation away to affect a single counselor’s election in Butt-Ass Nowhere, AL levels of Epically Bad Planning with Lousy Payoffs, here.

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              • Part of the problem is that humans have constitutional, built-in-the-brain programming that makes it difficult to avoid conflating “make things better for me” with “make things worse for someone else”. A species (and society) which lack that particular short circuit will naturally be drawn to different courses of action than we who are less removed from our monkey brains.

                When faced with two choices which to simplify I will sum up as A: “improve the state of everyone else in the universe by a factor of twelve, and my own by a factor of eighteen” and B: “improve my own state by a factor of eight and no one else changes at all”, humans are distressingly likely to feel that option B leaves them better off than option A, no matter what the math says. An eldrae will not, and this lays part of the groundwork for the Empire as a whole. As you will very nearly always end up better off in the long term by cooperating in every exchange than you will by grabbing what you can carry and running for the hills, and screwing the customer is not going to put them in a cooperative mood.

                You have something they want – even need – and while you could (figuratively, I presume) dangle it just out of reach and laugh while they grovel and beg, this will leave them looking as hard as possible for either a way to get it elsewhere or a way to do without it. Sell at a reasonable price with mutually beneficial terms, on the other hand, and while it could theoretically be possible they could find a better deal somewhere, it would be a pain in the ass to search, a pain in the ass to switch, and a big risk that the grass on the other side was actually only painted green. Ain’t nobody got time for that shit. Best to stick with what already works damn well, and shows every inclination that it intends to continue working damn well until we’ll after your star has died.

                So from the perspective of the corporation providing the service, yes, they could do what you describe. You could also grab the next person who knocks on your front door, yank them inside, go through their pockets for anything interesting or valuable, hit them really hard on the head, and throw them back out. Problem is, that would leave you richer by one wallet-and-watch for however long it takes the person to go to the cops and have your ass arrested – which makes it a stupidly short-sighted move. People who think on timescales and scopes like those in the scenarios under discussion would regard poisoning the well of client trust to be AT LEAST that stupidly short-sighted. And as Alistair mentioned elsewhere, Imperial companies don’t hire idiots or the criminally insane at all, let alone to run huge chunks of their networks without oversight.

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  2. Or, more seriously, it’s a big Earth with a lot of very rich men around, and yet there has yet to be any real-life Auric Goldfinger, Karl Stromberg, Hugo Drax, Elliot Carver, or Elektra King converting their corporate assets into a vehicle for flashy bwah-ha-ha plots, which suggests that in reality they’re likewise below the threshold of Needing To Worry About This In Advance.

    Are you sure about that? Sure, it’s not on the flashy “Bond supervillain” level, but human history has a surfeit of examples of people who leveraged control of scarce resources and / or the means of access to the same to hold entire populations at their mercy. Say what you will about them being “irrational” (and I wouldn’t disagree with you),but there wouldn’t be so many willing to play that game if it didn’t, on some sort of level, get returns.

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    • I’m going to guess that one of the basic human instincts the Precursors edited when making the Eldrae was territoriality.

      Also, they don’t seem to have anywhere near the same birthrate as humans for whatever reason.

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    • Human history.

      As I’ve said before, and Amy has endeavored to point out in her comment above, you’re generalizing from the wrong hominin. To get that sort of petty bullshit, you need three preconditions:

      (a) People who are distressingly prone to flex at the knees – especially when faced with intimidation – and for that matter, lacking in initiative and poor at coordination, such that you can get them to knuckle under.

      [Eldrae (and for that matter, the Imperially acculturated) don’t intimidate worth a damn. Someone presented with the above type of deal who doesn’t spit in your eye, tell you where to stick it, and offer to meet you at dawn is acting grossly out of character.]

      and

      (b) People who get their jollies by exercising power over others, to the point that they’re willing to trade off significant amounts of other values for the opportunity to do so.

      [Here, that’s practically a psychological universal among humans. There, it’s chapter three of the Criminal Insanity section of the Pernicious Irrationalities volume of the Manual of Mental Diagnostics, 271st. ed., and most people find the concept vaguely nauseating. (After all, it’s not a balanced exchange, and as such sits uneasily with mélith.)]

      and/or (c) People who are dumb enough to actually believe that it’s better to have a large slice of a small cake than a small slice of a large cake, and other classic cognitive errors.

      [Eldrae are, by and large, smart and educated in how to think in a way that even higher education on Earth never provides, and that was true long before their different-in-any-case set of cognitive biases started to be genetically curable.]

      (I leave it as an exercise for the reader to decide which of (b) – i.e., Humans Are Bastards – or (c) – i.e., Humans Are Morons – is more prevalent on Earth today, but one hardly has to spit to find examples of either.)

      None of these preconditions are present.

      Really, a lot of these questions answer themselves if you take a minute or two to look at what’s been said about the psychology, culture, etc., and go from there.

      Heh. I may resort to Socratic techniques myself, next time, and get you to tell me why such and such would or wouldn’t work…

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      • The impulse can’t be entirely foreign to them; otherwise the Drowning of the People would have never happened in the first place.

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        • That was deep in the mythic past back in -2,980, and the korásan were a dying clade even then, a last remnant of the ancient warlords out of the bloody pre-even-mythic-historical-past, and demonstrates, I think – inasmuch as those were the moderates in slaverosity terms being waterfalled – exactly how well the chunk of the population that basically everyone alive today is descended from responds to that sort of thing.

          There were very few left after the Drowning because, well, that was a dramatic moment in the historical pattern, not the whole pattern; and every year that passes, there were fewer and fewer throwbacks as the genes and memes continued to be filtered out, and absolutely none of them were in much of a position to do a damn thing about it because acting on it would be pretty much walking down a street in Tel Aviv wearing an “I ❤ HITLER” T-shirt. You’re a slaver in a nation whose unofficial motto is ‘Death to slavers!’, and you don’t have to be a transsophont genius to figure those consequences out.

          The most common time of writing is around the 7120s.

          But I can say with absolute certainty that even long before then, people suffering from a liking for non-literal jackboots were one of (a) contemplating or having contemplated a pistol with one shot; (b) undergoing serious therapy at their own request to purge such tendencies; (c) Renegades booking it for somewhere where their social approval index is higher than that of pedophiles, serial killers, and necrotising fasciitis — of whom perhaps the most notable are the thin (i.e. very small in numbers) ruling caste of the Magen Corporate — or (d) so deep in the closet that they’ve gone right past Narnia and Archenland and are currently sitting pretty in southern Calormen. And (d) is a very temporary state because their very first mental audit is going to move them irreversibly to one of the former three categories.

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    • Also, that’s not exactly the same thing we’ve been talking about above, now is it?

      But anyway: the other problem, of course, with transplanting this sort of penny-ante oppression scheme into the ‘verse is that it’s petty : petty in scope and petty in motivation. Anyone raised in that culture will go for the big, flashy James-Bond-villain plan in a heartbeat, because their magnificent self is, quite frankly, too good for this sort of junior-grade what-would-Donald-Trump-do bullshit.

      No-one wants to be a common criminal. It’s too common.

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  3. (Just as an aside, you might want to look at your formatting, some of these responses are a vertical column of words)

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  4. Tangential to Robert Houghton’s original query: How did this work in the “early days” of the Empire and its predecessors, before the advent of things like computers, the telegraph / telephone, and / or motorized transportation?

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        • There really aren’t details to get. The sortition was just scheduled far enough ahead to allow for the slower speed of communication and travel, whether that meant farspeaker relays or heliographs or plain old neither-snow-nor-rain-nor-heat-nor-gloom-of-night messengers. That’s literally it.

          It’s not like it’s an election where opinion changes affect the outcome, and people are long-lived. You could select the next dozen Senates in advance right now if you felt like it with minimal effect on functionality or outcomes.

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        • As for the sortition itself, in the days before better tech for getting genuine randomness was devised, Senators were chosen using the President of the Senate’s official, ceremonial, platinum-iridium d12.

          (After its retirement in 1619, it has served subsequent Presidents as a paperweight, and occasionally in late-night games of Chimerae & Catacombs.)

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