Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Revolution Isn't Over

Americans - and citizens of other countries too - can sometimes take the fact that we live in a free society for granted.

But the truth is that for the vast majority of recorded history governments have existed not to serve their people, but rather to draw sustenance from them.

Sometimes we forget that the idea of democracy was a pretty radical experiment at the time. Even now these freedoms that we take for granted are a pretty rare thing compared to the rest of the world.

The truth is that a lot of the human race today is not permitted to say what they want, or to believe what they want, or to live their lives the way they want.

America did not invent the idea that human beings have rights, nor did we invent the system of democracy. But the American Revolution put these ideas into practice at a point in human history when they were ripe to flourish.

These ideas have been spreading ever since, to people who might live in distant places and might lead very different lives, but who still felt the conviction that these ideas were true for them too.

Not only have these values been spreading, they have been accelerating. Ideas spread insatiably, and every advance that helps them to travel faster - whether it was the printing press, the telephone, the radio, the television, or the Internet - has also helped them to outrun those who would try to suppress them.

Governments who try to control the free spread of ideas do so out of fear of what it represents: a system where power cannot be hoarded by an arbitrary few, but rather where it springs in equal portion from everyone.

The Revolution isn't over. And it won't be over until the whole human race is free.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Iran Election: Numbers Followup

The British think tank Chatham House has published a preliminary analysis of the Iranian election results, and they also find anomalies when comparing the results of the 2005 and 2009 elections, particularly in the peculiar swing in support from reformist to conservative candidates that the 2009 results would indicate.

The paper, by Professor Ali Ansari, Daniel Berman and Thomas Rintoul, also discusses the unrealistically high voter turnout in Mazandaran and Yazd provinces, although the voter registration information they worked with actually show turnouts of more than 100%, clearly demonstrating voter fraud if these numbers are in fact accurate.

You can download the full paper here.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

iPhone Landscape Stand, MacGyver Style

Bert was following these instructions to make an iPhone stand out of business cards, and was less than satisfied with the results. After staring at my own phone charging on the desk, I figured that the dock cable connection would be a useful mounting point for any stand. Bert dared me to make a stand with only office supplies, and a few minutes later I had a fully functional stand using nothing but a medium binder clip.

iPhone stand

Just clip a medium binder clip over the plug, tip the iPhone back and bend the rear hinge of the clip until it balances naturally. The dock cable is an integral part of the balancing system; make sure the cable is lying flat to help weigh the iPhone down or it will topple over helplessly. To remove the iPhone, simply unclip the binder clip and unplug the phone.

clip close up

I happen to use one of the old "fat" charging cables that came with my now-deceased 2nd generation iPod. The new ultracompact dock connector cables also work, but I find the binder clip to be a little wobbly because it has less of a purchase on the smaller plug. However, you can easily make it more sturdy by clipping a small binder clip onto the cable first, giving the medium binder clip more surface to sink its teeth into. This configuration has the advantage of allowing quick release; the old dock connectors have locking tabs on either end that you need to squeeze to disconnect, so you need to remove the binder clip before unplugging. The newer dock connector cables can be yanked right out.

ultracompact version

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Iran Election: The Numbers

My earlier post was not factual (well, the US map was), but the joke did find its roots in the uncanny coincidence of a victory with nearly two thirds of the vote. This post will discuss the official election results from three rounds of Iranian elections, the first round of the 2005 elections, the runoff round of the 2005 elections, and the first and only round of the 2009 elections (there is only a runoff election if no candidate wins a majority in the first round - in 2009 Ahmadinejad was declared the winner with more than a majority of the votes).

You can view the full spreadsheet with election results broken down by province here. The numbers originally came from the Iranian Ministry of Information and were translated into English by the Guardian newspaper. I have taken the liberty of reformatting it (specifically to make it less annoyingly British - what sort of depraved society adds a period after every single number in a table?) and performing additional calculations (specifically adding a "Differences" section to highlight interesting changes between the 2005 and 2009 elections).

I am not a statistician, I simply work with spreadsheets a lot. This is not a proper analysis, just a basis for discussion amongst laymen.

After looking over the numbers the feature that stands out the most to me is the extreme similarity between the percentage of votes for the different "blocs" in each round of voting:

2005 election, first round
All conservative candidates: 63.0%
All reformist candidates: 37.0%

2005 election, second round
Ahmadinejad (conservative, placed second in first round): 63.2%
Rafsanjani (conservative-leaning moderate, placed first in first round): 36.8%

2009 election, first round
Ahmadinejad (conservative): 63.3%
All other candidates: 36.7%

These similarities led me to consider the following scenario:

Both elections were rigged. Back in 2005 the Iranian leadership thought to itself "63% is a good number to win with. It's almost a two-to-one margin, but it's not so high as to be unbelievabe." In 2005 all the conservative candidates were allocated 63% of the votes during the first round, but no one candidate won a simple majority, just to make it exciting. In the second round they gave 63.2% of the votes to Ahmadinejad, their choice for president, a slight increase of the magic 63% to show his increasing support amongst "the people." In 2009, for whatever reason, the Iranian leadership was too afraid to allow a second round of voting; maybe Ahmadinejad did win, but not with a simple majority, and they were afraid that Mousavi's status as a symbol of reform would only continue to gain momentum if given another week of campaigning. Or maybe they actually saw Mousavi winning as the returns started to roll in and they panicked. Whatever the case, they gave Ahmadinejad 63.3% of the vote (Yet another high! His support grows ever greater!) and hastily declared the election over.

This is pure speculation on my part, with only the barest amount of information inspiring the idea for it. It makes a plausible story, but just because a story fits together neatly doesn't mean that it's true. However, a story can make a good starting point for a discussion.

The fact that the 2005 runoff results broke along almost exactly the same percentage points as the first round of voting broke along conservative/reformist lines is very odd considering both candidates in the runoff were conservative. Most observers of the 2005 election considered Rafsanjani to be something of a reformist candidate compared to Ahmadinejad, but it doesn't make sense that the 22% of conservative voters who supported him during the first round of voting would completely abandon him when once again given the opportunity to vote for Ahmadinejad instead, nor that his only support would come from reformist voters who flocked to him en masse. It does make sense, however, that the Iranian leadership would reclassify Rafsanjani as a reformist when placed in a runoff with Ahmadinejad, and decide to give him the 37% of the votes they had decided to allow the candidates and ideas they wanted to marginalize.

The spread of results is again nearly identical in the 2009 election, despite the fact that there were 10.6 million more votes in 2009 (an increase of 37.8% over the 2005 election) and individual provinces recorded ideological shifts of up to 35.6% increased support for conservative candidates and up to 19.4% increased support for reformist candidates between the two elections (see the spreadsheet for the breakdown). Also, many writers have already expressed extreme skepticism at the official results' claim that two provinces (Mazandaran and Yazd) reported voter turnouts of over 99% of eligible voters in the areas.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

How to Spot a Rigged Election

Today's lesson is intended to help you quickly and easily identify fraudulent election results. Study the figures below. Do you notice anything strange in either? Discuss.

Figure A
Fig. A
: An example of a free election
“O” indicates the percentage of the population that voted for Barack Obama
“M” indicates the percentage of the population that voted for John McCain

Figure B
Fig. B: An example of a different type of election.
“A” indicates the percentage of the population that “voted” for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
“M” indicates the percentage of the population that “voted” for Mir-Hossein Mousavi