WTF Fun Fact 13553 – The Old Roman Senate

Apparently, a great many men these days have the Roman Empire on their minds a lot – but how often do they think about the Roman Senate, more specifically? Maybe more often after they read this.

The term “senate” comes directly from the Latin word “senex,” which translates to “old man.” In Rome’s vast political landscape, the Senate was a beacon of experienced governance and thoughtful deliberation. Also, a bunch of old men.

The Roman Senate Old In More Ways than One

Ancient civilizations, including Rome, frequently turned to their older members for guidance. Age brought with it a wealth of experience, and societies believed that elders, having lived through diverse challenges and changes, offered wisdom essential for leadership.

The Roman Senate, as a council of these respected elders, embodied this sentiment. It wasn’t just a political entity; it was meant to symbolize the gathering of Rome’s most esteemed minds and the cumulative knowledge of generations. Hence the word “senex” – because, of course, there were no women. (Roman women couldn’t vote, hold office, or serve in the military.)

Now, you can translate senex in a few ways. We like “Board of Old Men,” but you can go with “Council of Elders” if you like. And since the age of senators in the U.S. has been in the news quite a bit lately, it seems all the more…relevant.

The reverence for age and wisdom didn’t stop with Rome. The structure and function of the Roman Senate inspired many modern governments. Numerous countries now have their version of the Senate, acting as an upper house in their legislative frameworks.

Although the specific roles and requirements differ, the foundational principle often remains the same: a place for those with experience and knowledge to guide national decisions.

The Legacy of “Senate”

Modern senates, in many ways, still reflect the Roman tradition of valuing age and experience. In the United States, for instance, while individuals can serve in the House of Representatives at 25, they must wait until 30 to join the Senate. This age distinction, albeit subtle, underscores the continuing respect for experience in governance.

However, modern societies also grapple with the dynamics of age and wisdom. Questions arise:

Does age always equate to wisdom?

Should there be more representation from younger demographics?

While the term “senate” anchors us to a traditional reverence for age, contemporary debates challenge us to redefine the association between age and effective leadership.

The word “senate” serves as more than just a title for a legislative body. It connects us to centuries-old traditions, reminding us of the connection between age and wisdom that has shaped governance structures worldwide.

But today, we’re often looking for ways to balance that respect for experience with the need for diverse perspectives in leadership.

 WTF fun facts

Source: “Roman Senate” — World History Encyclopedia

WTF Fun Fact 13446 – Danish AI Political Party

The Synthetic Party is a Danish AI political party led by an AI chatbot named Leader Lars.

How does an AI political party work?

Denmark’s political landscape is making an intriguing pivot towards artificial intelligence. Leader Lars was brought to life by artist collective Computer Lars and the non-profit art and tech organization MindFuture Foundation. Is this a new era in political representation?

The Synthetic Party, established in May 2022, aspires to represent the values of the 20% of Danes who do not vote. This AI chatbot is not just a figurehead. It’s equipped with policies drawn from Danish fringe parties since 1970. And its human members are committed to executing these AI-derived platforms.

Why involve an AI in politics?

The Synthetic Party seeks to represent data from all fringe parties striving for a parliamentary seat. It’s a novel concept that allows individual political visions, usually limited by financial and logistical constraints, to gain representation. The unique aspect of this political approach is the interaction between citizens and Leader Lars on Discord, a platform where people can speak directly to the AI. This feature fosters a unique form of democratic engagement.

The party’s AI-led political approach raises questions about the viability and accountability of machine learning in government. For instance, can an AI truly grasp and represent human needs and values? How do we hold an AI accountable for its decisions? The Synthetic Party’s response to these questions lies in the transparency and auditability of AI decision-making processes.

Party policy

The Synthetic Party’s policies are bold, to say the least. From establishing a universal basic income of 100,000 Danish kroner per month (equivalent to $13,700, and over double the Danish average salary) to creating a jointly-owned internet and IT sector within the government, the party seeks to innovate and challenge the status quo.

Crucially, the Synthetic Party is not about putting a chatbot in charge. Instead, it’s about exploring the democratic potential of AI and machine learning. The party sees AI as a tool to amplify and understand a wide range of opinions, even if those opinions sometimes contradict each other.

In addition to offering fresh political perspectives, the Synthetic Party aims to raise awareness about the role of AI in our lives and the importance of AI accountability. For example, it advocates for the addition of an 18th Sustainable Development Goal. This would focus on the relationship between humans and AI to the United Nations’ SDGs.

The Synthetic Party seeks to promote a more democratic, accountable, and transparent use of AI in politics. The party needs 20,000 signatures to run in the 2023 November general election. If it gets those, it could introduce a novel form of political representation in Denmark. It would be one that goes beyond a simple figurehead and instead uses AI as a tool for political change.

 WTF fun facts

Source: “This Danish Political Party Is Led by an AI” — VICE

WTF Fun Fact 13250 – Posting Uninformed Comments

We all know that the comment section is a black hole that attracts uninformed comments. It’s the place where dignity and informed debate go to die. But a 2019 study by researchers at York College of Pennsylvania gives some insight into why these comments are so prevalent.

However, the authors distinguish between being uninformed (recognizing one’s own ignorance) and misinformed (confidently holding inaccurate beliefs). In this case, we’re talking mainly about misinformation. But not all researchers use these words in the same way.

Why are there so many uninformed comments and misinformed commenters?

In a nutshell, it’s because people just don’t read enough. If they do, they skim previews of most content. This is especially true when it’s about something that riles them up – like politics. They don’t take the time to really try and process what an article is about before they comment on it. In fact, skimming makes them highly confident that they do have something worthwhile to say. Never mind that this is correlated with having less reliable insight.

According to ScienceAlert’s coverage of the research (cited below):

“By glancing through article previews, instead of reading the full piece, many users overestimate their understanding of an issue, and this is especially true for those whose knowledge is guided by strong emotions – and, therefore, strong opinions.”

The research on uninformed comments comes from the academic article “A little bit of knowledge: Facebook’s News Feed and self-perceptions of knowledge” published in the journal Research & Politics.

There, the authors note:

“We argue that Facebook’s News Feed itself, with its short article previews, provides enough political information for learning to occur. However, this learning comes with an additional consequence: audiences who only read article previews think they know more than they actually do, especially individuals who are motivated to seek emotions.”

Emotions over data

You’ve probably noticed that people with strong opinions like to throw out information they seem confident about. But it’s worth considering how much it matches their desire to seem smart.

The researchers noted, “Those who are more driven by emotion allow the positive feelings associated with being right to override the need for actual accuracy, thus coming away from limited exposure to information falsely overconfident in their knowledge of the subject matter.”

Sound like anyone you know on social media?  WTF fun facts

Source: “Didn’t Read The Article Before Commenting? Science Says It Really Shows” — Science Alert

WTF Fun Fact 13233 – History of the State of the Union Address

The U.S. presidential State of the Union address wasn’t always given as a speech to a joint session of Congress. Starting with Thomas Jefferson, presidents delivered the State of the Union as a written report to Congress. It wasn’t until Woodrow Wilson’s presidency in 1913 that the address resumed as a speech delivered in person to Congress.

The history of the State of the Union address

While the U.S. Constitution mentions the President’s duty to “from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient,” it does not specify how this duty should be fulfilled.

George Washington gave the first State of the Union address to Congress in 1790. This practice was followed by his successor, John Adams, and continued until Thomas Jefferson took office in 1801.

Jefferson believed that the Constitution’s requirement for the President to report on the state of the union was too formal. He thought it would make the President appear too much like a monarch. As a result, Jefferson chose to deliver the State of the Union address as a written report to Congress. This practice continued until 1913 when Woodrow Wilson re-established the tradition of delivering the State of the Union as a speech.

According to the U.S. House of Representatives website (cited below):

“There have been 98 total in-person addresses from 1790 to 2022…The address was formally known as the Annual Message from 1790 to 1946. Since 1947, it has officially been known as the State of the Union Address.

How the report became an address

The State of the Union address has evolved over time and become an important event in American politics. The speech provides the President with a platform to outline their legislative agenda, discuss important policy issues, and set the tone for the coming year.

The SOTU is also an opportunity for the President to respond to current events and other pressing concerns.

The role of the SOTU in American politics

The SOTU address has also been a platform for Presidents to address controversial issues and push for legislative changes.

In his SOTU address in 2002, George W. Bush called for the creation of the Department of Homeland Security in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. In 2010, Barack Obama called for the passage of the Affordable Care Act.

In recent years, the State of the Union address has become a partisan event. Members of Congress are often divided along party lines in their response to the President’s speech. Despite this, the SOTU remains an important event on the American political calendar.  WTF fun facts

Source: “State of the Union Address” — United States House of Representatives

WTF Fun Fact 12817 – The 3-Year-Old Mayor

In 2012, Dorset, Minnesota had a 3-year-old mayor. He even “won” reelection the following year. And no doubt the townspeople were relieved since he ran on a no-nonsense platform of “Be nice and no poopy talk.” If only other politicians could take a page from his campaign strategy.

How does a town get a 3-year-old mayor?

According to TODAY (back in 2015): “James became the ceremonial head of this northern Minnesota tourist town of about 22 people this month as his name was drawn from the ballot bucket at the annual Taste of Dorset food festival. It cost $1 for each vote cast.”

James is not the only pint-sized mayor the town has ever seen. TODAY also reported: “He hit the campaign trail running, with an experienced political adviser close at hand. His 6-year-old brother, Robert, who made national headlines when he served two terms as mayor at ages 3 and 4, taught him how to shake hands and look voters in the eye.”

A ceremonial position

Of course, the position is ceremonial. The tiny town is run by a small group of business owners.

But that doesn’t mean the mini-mayors don’t take their jobs seriously. According to ABC 7 News (cited below): “Both James and Robert Tufts have long been contributing members of their community, even at their young ages. The two often volunteer their time to help the Salvation Army, plant gardens, and raise money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.”

Robert said of James: “He doesn’t do too much mean stuff, and I taught him how to be nice.”

According to their mother, they “take it all in stride.” And neither has plans to go into politics long-term. Both boys wanted to be fishermen when they grow up last time they were asked.

 WTF fun facts

Source: “3-year-old James Tufts elected mayor of Minnesota town” — ABC 7 News

WTF Fun Fact 12441 – The National Hotel Disease

Once the poshest hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue, the National Hotel was at the center of a nationwide mystery after a disease outbreak among its guests in 1857. According to records from the U.S. House of Representatives, almost three dozen people died and 400 people were sickened by a mystery ailment that continued to plague guests (and lead to their deaths) years after their 1857 stays at the hotel.

Founded in 1827, the National Hotel was located between the White House and the Capitol, catering to Members of Congress. “Apart from the Capitol and the White House, there is no building in this city so historic as this,” remarked the Washington Post in 1930. “For more than half a century the history of the Nation was made there.” 

But in 1857, President-Elect James Buchanan was staying at the hotel prior to his inauguration, as were many other politicians due to attend the event. Even he was sickened but made a speedy recovery.

At the time, some reported that the outbreak was actually the result of arsenic poisoning in the water. Buchanan was from Pennsylvania but held so-called “Southern beliefs” at the time when it came to slavery. After sensationalized news stories were published, people suspected a murder plot by radical abolitionists, but there was never a speck of evidence that it was anything other than an infectious disease outbreak.

These days, we understand a lot more about how infectious diseases work, and those who have examined records of the symptoms think it was likely mild cholera or (more likely) dysentery.

Dr. D.H. Storer was a National guest and victim who shared his symptoms with the National Intelligencer: “A dreadful nausea has been, in my case, the very worst and most miserable attendant upon this complaint. I have felt it almost all the time from the first till now. If I were even to-day to take an ounce of beef steak, or that amount of any animal food into my stomach, my experience thus far is that I should suffer for hours from this horrid nausea.”

Most guests were infected in March, around the inauguration. However, that’s when the hotel was most crowded. It disappeared soon after guests from that event went home and never happened again. However, among those who died were Rep. John Montgomery of Pennsylvania and Rep. John Quitman of Mississippi.

The hotel continued to operate for years until it could no longer compete with the grander establishments being built around it. The building was demolished in 1924. – WTF fun facts 

Source: “The Mysterious National Hotel Disease” — United States House of Representatives Archives

WTF Fun Fact – Gary Hart

WTF Fun Fact - Gary Hart Womanizer

Gary Hart was a Presidential candidate in 1988 and an alleged womanizer. He invited the media to follow him around to prove his innocence. The media accepted his invite and he was caught having an affair two weeks later. WTF Fun Facts