Chaos in Iran

iran2009elections.jpgMillions of people in Iran are in the streets, protesting a stolen election. Nate Silver, who did a great job on US election statistics has this:

However, given the absolutely bizarre figures that have been given for several provinces, given qualitative knowledge – for example, that Mahdi Karroubi earned almost negligible vote totals in his native Lorestan and neighboring Khuzestan, which he won in 2005 with 55.5% and 36.7% respectively – there is room for a much closer look.

Nate is a big fan of data, and posted the official election results.

What’s most interesting to me is the role of power and chaos in the midst of this. The first use of power, Ahmadinejad’s theft of the election, was a classical use of power by the leviathan to exert control. The responses of the world’s hyper-power is deeply constrained by history. In 1953, the CIA overthrew the elected Prime Minister, Mohammed Mossadeq, a fact well known to Iranians. If the US acts improperly or throws power around, it will de-legitimitize whatever result comes. The sheer extent of power that the US has makes it hard to use without looking like a bully.

In the meantime, in the chaotic world of everyone a publisher, opposition is forming, organizing, and changing the face of Iran. It’s hard to know how it will all turn out.

Twitter is being used to cover the election and protests and the rate of posts is staggering. It’s worth a few minutes just to see the pace of use of the #iranelection tag. (Compare the pace to whatever happens to be in second place by looking at how many seconds of posts are between the first and last on the page.) Iranians on Twitter during the june clashes. A moving Flickr slideshow is here. There’s also a tremendous amount In the more traditional media, Andrew Sullivan is doing as good a job as the New York Times capturing the English language end of it. Both add some context and history, as does Wikipedia’s Iran presidential elections 2009 article. Neither capture the sheer energy and pace of on the ground reporting.


Publius Outed

The pseudonymous blogger, Publius, has been outed. Ed Whelan of the National Review outed him in what appears to be nothing more than a fit of pique at a third blogger, Ed Volokh, and Publius commented on Volokh’s criticism of Whelen, so Whelen lashed out at Publius. Or so it seems from the nosebleed bleachers I sit in.

I suppose Publius isn’t completely blameless, but the only thing I’d criticize him for is his taste in names. “John J” would have been cuter, and heck why not just use “Jim Madison”?

However, the particulars aren’t really important. What’s important is the issues of pseudonymity, and so on. So I will move on to those.

Let’s get something straight from the start: pseudonymity and anonymity are not the same thing. I feel like it shouldn’t need constant repeating, but hey, if law professors can’t get it right, how can we expect other people to get it right? A pseudonym is an identity. It is an identity that is earned, because you don’t get to use any of your previous reputation. You’re starting from zero, especially when blogging.

There are many reasons people use a pseudonym. Publius did it because he’s a reasonably young law professor and has heard that there can be tenure issues for controversial blogging.

Maybe. If what you write isn’t very good, there’s a low cost to it, personally. But if what you write is good, then ironically, being known to be a pseudonym is better than the pseudonym itself. Mark Twain, Voltaire, and are better known than their so-called real names. Think of all the great actors and musicians who are known far better by their stage names.

This is why outing a pseudonym is a two-edged sword. It will likely irk the person using a pseudonym, but it’s less likely to hurt them, especially if they’re reasonably good. John Blevins is probably not going to have tenure problems, especially now that Whelan outed him. Ironically, he’s probably better off for having been outed than not and part of that is who outed him.

Well-known personages who are irked by pseudonymous writers may think they’re being attacked by some anonymous little nobody who is hiding, but no, they’re being attacked by an identity that’s just not easily tied to some SSN. The power relationship is such that the better-known person is unlikely to look good. Whelan certainly hasn’t come out on top on this one. While pseudonymity is somewhat controversial, it cuts across political lines and some of the most thoughtful criticism of Whelan comes from his admirers. And in the future, everyone in the law biz who remembers Publius will think better of Blevins. We human beings do that; that’s why the old movie star’s dictum about publicity is, “spell my name right.”

In other cases, the pseudonym still wins. Dan Lyons wasn’t hurt by being outed as Fake Steve Jobs. Joe Klein wasn’t hurt by being shown to be Anonymous. Juan Non-Volokh was probably helped by being outed, too, and Prof. Brian Leiter, who outed him, probably suffered in his reputation.

This is perhaps, I think the most important point, as it’s simply practical. If a pseudonym ticks you off, you’re better off letting them stew in their own juices. The better known a pseudonym is, the better it is for the author to be known as the pseudonym.

There are exceptions to this, of course. If Publius were a politically conservative professor blogging out his inner liberal, there’d be a hypocrisy issue that would hurt him, but it doesn’t make it any more right. Thoughtful people who out hypocrites usually talk about the outing being necessary despite it being questionable.

Nonetheless, an important lesson to this is that as Feedie said, outing a nym is “a matter of basic decency” and “unworthy of someone with [his] impeccable professional credentials”.

Pirate Party Victory in Sweden

“Together, we have today changed the landscape of European politics. No matter how this night ends, we have changed it,” Falkvinge said. “This feels wonderful. The citizens have understood it’s time to make a difference. The older politicians have taken apart young peoples’ lifestyle, bit by bit. We do not accept that the authorities’ mass-surveillance,” he added.

Funny thing about what happens when the majority of the population participates in an illegal activity: eventually it’s not illegal anymore.

So writes John Quarterman in “Pirate Party Legitimized by Winning EU Parliament Seat.”

As an author who’d love to make enough money to live off my writing, I’m somewhat saddened by the idea that people’s creative work is easily copied. I wonder a lot about the business models of the future, and what winner-takes-all and the rise of prosumer enthusiasts means to the middle of the production curve. That is, people who aren’t Steven King or J.K Rowling or ever going to get a book on the Times bestseller list. Will there be thousands of people able to earn a living writing book-length articles without a patron?

But I’m heartened to see the abuse of power result in a backlash. I can’t help looking forward to the first copyright hearings in the new EU parliament.

Mr. Bureaucrat, Please Report to Room 101


As I’ve said before, all non-trivial privacy warnings are mocked and then come true.

Sixty years ago today, George Orwell published 1984. He unfortunately failed to include a note that the book was intended as a warning, not a manual.

Today, in England, there are an unknown number of surveillance cameras, including many around Orwell’s house, despite the fact that they don’t reduce crime. People can be detained for 28 days without charge, there are “anti-social behavior orders,” which allow a civil court to impose behavioral restrictions on children as young as 10 based on low somewhat relaxed standards of evidence.

Being modern, the UK has outsourced most of its torture to other less reputable nations like Syria and the United States.

Photo: MI5

Bialystock Triumphs in Berlin


The crowd for the premiere seemed pleased. It wasn’t your typical Broadway musical audience, to judge from the number of smart-looking young people with interesting haircuts. A “lively counterpoint to Hollywood productions like ‘Valkyrie’ and ‘Defiance,’ with their impeccable Resistance heroes and clichés,” decided the reviewer for Spiegel Online.

“The New York triumph was repeated in Berlin,” concluded the newspaper Tagesspiegel.

“Celebrated effusively by Berlin standards,” observed Stern magazine, the production nevertheless caused some theatergoers to wonder “whether it was really necessary to have so much Nazi paraphernalia onstage.” That’s not to mention the little Nazi flags with pretzels in lieu of swastikas that were handed out to everybody in the audience (including a troop of dirndled transvestites who waved them around like lost cheerleaders).

The Führer Returns to Berlin, This Time Saluted Only by Laughs.” You have to appreciate the devotion of the New York Times in spelling Führer correctly.

Photo by BillyPalooza.

Amusements with Alpha

I just saw a link to someone who had broken Wolfram Alpha. Their breaking question was, “when is 5 trillion days from now?” The broken result is:

AMPMLowerCase]} |
{DateString[{13689537044,5,13,16,57,18.5796},DayName],, ,DateString[{13689537044,5,13,16,57,18.5796},MonthName], ,DateString[{13689537044,5,13,16,57,18.5796},DayShort],, ,13689537044}

Which is certainly amusing. A quick check shows that even one trillion days gives a similar error.

A bit of the old binary searching will yield that (today’s — 3 June 2009) maximum question is, when is 784 billion 351 million 562 thousand 378 days from now?

That’s an odd number of days for the maximum to be, even while being even and finite. The source of the error can be found in that final displayable day: 31 December 2147483647.

That year happens to be the maximum signed 32-bit integer, which tells us the problem. The display code isn’t using bignums for years (or even long longs).

The inverse question is, “how many days until 31 december 2147483647?” but sadly, Alpha doesn’t know how to parse that. It does know how to parse “how many days until 31 december 9999” which is the furthest-out date it can answer. The year 10000 does not work.

I am amused at what this tells us about the guts of Alpha. In some display code, there’s a signed 32-bit integer limiting output. In some input code, there’s an assumption that years have four digits.

Open Thread

What’s on your mind?

Extra points for mocking other members of the combo for not posting.

Me? I’m wondering why the opening of the Parliament of South Africa involves so many bagpipes.