Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The March of Time, Daily Show Edition

You can watch every episode of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart on their website. This got me thinking: I could construct an image demonstrating the eroding effects of time on the host. Sic transit gloria mundi, amigos. Just kidding. We'd be lucky to look this good when we're 57.

(click for larger)
Prestigious Internet tip for looking young: Don't sleep in a beef dehydrator.

Some people take a picture of themselves everyday in hopes of someday constructing such a time line. Fortunately for us, television personalities are photographed nearly every day. Sure beats working on it for 12 years.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Film Review: Survival International's "Mine"

Survival International's new film "Mine: Story of a Sacred Mountain," tells the story of the Dongria Kondh, a tribal people in India trying to save their way of life from an uncaring international mining corporation, Vedanta Resources. While similar to the story of the blockbuster hit "Avatar," "Mine" is considerably lower budget. The special effects were not nearly as immersive as in "Avatar." Further, the antagonists are barely present in "Mine," merely being represented by a smoking aluminum refinery in a formerly fertile plain, and as construction equipment driven by faceless drivers. I would recommending seeing it, as it is not very long. My only real criticism is the unrealistically evil protagonist. Are we to believe that Vedanta Resources would really destroy an entire people just for aluminum? That verges on cartoonish super-villainy. Lastly, the film ends on a cliff-hanger. It remains to be seen what will become of the Dongia Kondh and their mountain. Find out more here.

Trouble in Hague City

The 2006 elections in the Netherlands presented an interesting problem. For those of you unfamiliar with parliamentary democracies*, after the election the parties in the parliament must form a coalition that will govern the country. There are several costraints on these coalitions. The goal is, generally, to have the smallest coherent coalition that has a majority. Coherency involves not being so ideologically opposed that they cannot work together.
*Americans and people who live in one-party states, I suppose.

Den Haag

After the elections in the Netherlands on November 22, 2006, ten parties were represented in the Tweede Kamer der Staten-Generaal, the Dutch lower house, which is the house that votes on legislation. I made an attempt to order the parties roughly from left to right. This isn't precise, but it gives you an idea of the composition. (For instance, the Party for the Animals is officially neutral to left-right issues. But somebody called "The Party for the Animals" has got to be at least in the left half of the spectrum, right?) Note that historically, the Labour Party and the Christian Democratic Appeal have been the main center-left and center-right parties. Consider them the Democrats and the Republicans, if you are familiar with American politics. (I know that in reality both of those parties would be on the right half of Dutch politics, but they serve congruent conceptual roles.)

Election results by municipality. Green=Christian Democratic Appeal, Red=Labour Party, Yellow=Socialist Party, Blue=People's Party for Freedom and Democracy.

However, unlike in the American Congress in which the two major parties hold all or nearly all the seats, no party in the 150-seat body had a majority. The following is a list of the parties, roughly from left to right, and the number of seats they held.

Socialist Party (25)
GreenLeft (7)
Democrats 66 (3)
Labour Party (33)
Party for the Animals (2)
ChristianUnion (6)
Christian Democratic Appeal (41)
People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (22)
Reformed Political Party (2)
Party for Freedom (9)

It is also important to note where the center-point is. The ChristianUnion considers itself a centrist party. According to Wikipedia, they have "a conservative point of view on ethical issues, with more centre left ideas on economic, migration, social and environmental issues." Seventy-five seats are needed to form a government. Consider the following diagram:

(click for larger)

If the five left-wing parties could join the ChristianUnion, the could form a government with 76 seats. However, the ChristianUnion will not join a coalition without the Christian Democratic Appeal (which, in this case, was the largest party.)

So it would seem if the Christian Union would join a right-wing coalition of the Christian Democratic Appeal, People's Party for Freedom and Democracy, Reformed Political Party, and the Party for Freedom, they would have a majority. This coalition would have 80 seats. However, the Party for Freedom is considered so far to the right that the major parties refuse to coalition with them. Without their 9 seats, a center-right coalition would have only 71 seats, not a majority.**
**Also, the Reformed Political Party is too Calvinist to join any coalition. Ask them about it.

This means that the governing coalition must be a left-right-center coalition. Remember another goal of coalition building is to not have the coalition be larger than necessary. If the Labour Party and the Christian Democratic Appeal agreed to join a coalition, they would have 74 seats.*** They would have to convince one more party to join. But this party must be acceptable to the other coalition members.
***When the main left and right parties coalition, this is sometimes called a "Grand Coalition." Germany had this from 2005-09.

In the course of negotiation, further constraints developed. The Socialist Party would not join a coalition with the Christian Democratic Appeal, who wouldn't join a coalition with them either. The GreenLeft also rejected a coalition with the Christian Democratic Appeal. Democrats 66 said they would not work with the ChristianUnion. The ChristianUnion would not work with the People's Party for Freedom and Democracy over differences regarding immigration. (In case you were wondering, the Party for the Animals did say they would be happy to form a minority government with the Labour Party, the Socialist Party, and the GreenLeft.)

This left only a few possible coalitions. Try out combinations in your head. Remember the goal is to get 75.

What you will find is that the only coalition that works is the Christian Democratic Appeal, ChristianUnion, and Labour Party. This is the coalition that ended up forming the government. The Christian Democratic Appeal got 9 ministries, the Labour Party got 6, and the ChristianUnion got 2. Unsurprisingly, this coalition collapsed in February of 2010.

The reason I wrote about this is to demonstrate how coalition building can become an interesting problem of trying to create the minimum coalition that has a majority and no unacceptable members. Almost like a Sudoku. In this case, it was a bit of a "perfect storm" where a few more seats here or there would have made it simple. The next election looks even more complicated because another right-wing party, Trots op Nederland (Proud of the Netherlands), seems to be on track to get two seats, leading to 11 parties in parliament. Distressingly, polls show the Party for Freedom may be the second largest party. Below is a diagram of what a 14 February Peil.nl poll shows the result might be.

(Gelieve te klikken beeld om het groter te maken.)

For those of you following the Dutch elections on this blog, (and honestly, who isn't?) Peil.nl came out with a new survey on 14 March. I've recorded the results into the now familiar Prestigious Internet Dutch Election Bar Graph.

It looks a lot like the last poll, with D66 and the GreenLeft taking seats from the Socialist Party and the Labor Party, although not as much as in the previous poll. The 14 February poll had the Labor Party losing 18 seats, but the current poll has them losing only 6 seats. The Party of Freedom has grown at the expense (it seems) of the Christian Democratic Appeal, but the left-right balance seems unchanged.