Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Leaf Cafe in Pordenone, Italy

I'm staying at a friend's place in Italy this week. This friend of mine is running a cafe in Pordenone, a town in northeastern Italy. Today I worked with my laptop all day at this cafe, and I came to a conclusion that Leaf (the cafe's name) is my ideal cafe: proper coffee, quality sweets, stylish but not intrusive decor, soothing background music, free wifi, tasty lunch, and some twist in menu such as matcha latte.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

What is democracy: a case of Egypt

A long time ago, I listed up the requirements for a country to be a democracy often mentioned in social science studies. Here's the list:

A1: Suffrage is universal - (nearly) all adults can vote.
A2: The executive is directly elected or indirectly elected by legislature.
A3: Elective legislature exists.
A4: Opposition parties are allowed to exist.
A5: No gerrymandering (ie. manipulating electoral rules and districts in favour of the ruling party) is undertaken.
A6: Press freedom is ensured.

B1: Opposition candidates can freely run for office.
B2: Opposition candidates can freely conduct their electoral campaign.
B3: Voters can freely cast their ballots.
B4: Votes are neutrally counted.

C1: The executive is checked and balanced by legislature and judiciary.
C2: Non-elective veto players do not intervene politics.

The Economist magazine recently reported how the Egyptian ruling party has held power for a long time.

First, those who would oppose the ruling party find it difficult to register as voters.

Few people register because the legal period for doing so is short and comes many months before elections. Besides, registration involves a visit to a police station, which many Egyptians prefer to avoid.
This can be seen as violation of condition B3 above.

Second, condition B1 is violated:
The parties allowed to run for the People’s Assembly, Egypt’s parliament, are selected by a committee controlled by the ever-ruling National Democratic Party (NDP), which is headed by Mr Mubarak. Independents can stand, which is how the Muslim Brothers, banned as an organisation, field their candidates. But they risk arrest on some pretext, and harassment even without one. (...) Since 2005 there have been elections for the presidency, too, replacing the previous embarrassingly unanimous referendums. The next one of those is scheduled for September 2011, albeit under restrictive rules that, in essence, allow the NDP to choose not only its own candidate but his opponents as well.

Condition B2 is violated, too, if we regard the post-election period as the campaign period for the next election:
In the previous presidential poll, in 2005, nine selected opponents were allowed to run against Mr Mubarak, yet he still grabbed 89% of the vote by the official count. His closest challenger, Ayman Nour, a youthful lawyer, was locked up in prison on flimsy charges of forgery soon afterwards and released only last year.

Condition B3 is also more obviously violated:
In the parliamentary election of November 2005 voting was spread over three rounds because a ruling by the constitutional court required that judges should monitor it closely. The Brotherhood, wary of showing too much strength and so provoking a backlash, fielded candidates for only a third of the 454 seats. In the first round they trounced most rivals. In the second and especially the third round police simply locked many polling stations and sent everyone home.

The last half of the article talks about Mohamed ElBaradei, a potential presidential candidate. The strategy for the government to sabotage his campaign is to punish his supporters:
Kuwait, a country friendly to Egypt’s regime, summarily expelled a group of Egyptian workers who had innocently created a local support group for Mr ElBaradei. In advance of his scheduled visit to the rural province of Fayoum in May, companies that rent equipment for public events received warnings not to work with him or risk having their equipment seized. Private television stations have been “advised” to pay less attention to the upstart, well aware that their owners’ useful government links may be at stake.
These episodes violate condition B2 in a broad sense. But we could treat them as an additional condition for democracy: opposition supporters are not economically threatened by the government.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Isao Hashimoto (2003) "1945-1998"

A work of art can be more powerful than any social science studies or any politician's speech.

Chris Blattman's blog post took me to this video today. Please watch this with sound.

The video shows when and where which country conducted nuclear weapon tests (and the two actual uses of the weapon) in the periods 1945-1998.

After slowly showing three explosions in 1945, each second of the video represents a month and locates nuclear weapon tests conducted in that month (if any) on a map of the world. Each test comes with a tone (different for each conducting country), which is particularly effective to create a sense of something chilly going on when many tests are shown to be conducted in successive months.

You could convey the same information by listing these tests this way. But Isao Hashimoto's work is way more powerful to convey the message.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Lake Barcis

It's a hidden gem in northeastern Italy: Lake Barcis. The turquoise water surface changes its expression depending on the sky as we arrived on the day of the precarious weather.