Thursday, 27 December 2007

Nothing new under the sun

The day was gentle and fair…. It was curiously quiet everywhere, not so much silent as hushed and muted. Although the West End pavements were packed with a vast multitude it was a subtly different crowd from any that the authorities had seen before. What had happened was that this most stately public show was being observed with an intensely private emotion…. As the coffin was carried in to the Abbey there was a sense of release…. After the funeral came the homage. In five days over a million people visited the grave and left a hundred thousand wreaths….

Ronald Blythe, The Age of Illusion: the burial of the unknown soldier in Westminster Abbey, 1920

But the worst outcry of this sort came after a talk on birth control by Julian Huxley and Cecil Lewis and was caused by a well-rehearsed voice breaking into the discussion, with a dramatic, ‘I protest… I never… It’s indecent… I protest!’ The discussion stopped, as though shocked, then continued as before. It was all a put-up job by a realistic producer, and when this came out the B.B.C. was loudly condemned for going in for such stunts. The Manchester Guardian likened it to a man who blacks himself all over to play Othello.

Ibid.: the era of Reith at the BBC

Friday, 14 December 2007

Inequality, three

Worries: can I really make this neat dividing line between unacceptable, absolute poverty that allows the people in it to be humiliated and acceptable, relative poverty? Brazil is a middle income country, after all. Our needs are socially defined. Perhaps it’s na├»ve to think that only some level of absolute poverty “forces” people to sell their dignity. If so, then the move from inequality to indecency to absolute poverty fails. Relative poverty would indeed matter. (Or I could just give up the strong feeling I have that buying people’s humiliation is evil; or I could punt this into the arena of social capital and civic culture, by saying that the problem was the video participants’ lack of self-respect.)

Worries on the other side: can I really neatly divide porn up into what’s acceptable although not my personal cup of tea – maybe even quite gross – and what’s bad and exploitative? I am uncomfortably reminded of that Chris Morris line from Brass Eye: “the amount of heroin I use is harmless.... But what about other people less stable, less educated, less middle-class than me? Builders or blacks for example.”

Inequality, two

Let's get a little more conceptual, staying with the video example.

Why should a convinced free-marketeer like me worry about inequality? Well, I believe in freedom of contract, but I cannot happily accept that one person can buy the ritual humiliation of other people before a global audience. (There is no freedom-of-speech, S&M roleplay, deconstructing-power-games context here, by the way. The context is purely commercial.) The problem, I think, is that this violates the basic respect for human dignity which, among other things, justifies human rights. These things would not exist in a decent society.

On the other hand, I do not want to say that the women who made this movie were misguided. (Basic idea behind rational choice theory: your objects of study are not stupid.) Instead I suppose that they were desperate. That leads me to think that the real problem with inequality is not the customer’s relative wealth, but the women’s absolute poverty. Most reasonably well-off people wouldn’t eat shit on video for a million dollars. (Some people probably would – humans vary – and I’m OK with that as a choice, I take my libertarianism about sex seriously. I’m not OK with extremely poor people being used as playthings.)

That in turn makes me think that the best remedy for “obscene inequality” is pro-poor growth, as fast as possible. As for the expensive cocktails, well, the vulgar new rich will be always with us, and with a bit of luck their children will found libraries.

Inequality, one

Inequality has crept back on to the agenda, witness the recent story about the £35000 cocktail.

For anybody who thinks “obscene wealth” refers to people richer than they are, here’s an anecdote. You know these artists who e.g. pay homeless Russians £25 to pose for nude photographs, thus challenging our ideas of, oh, fill in the blanks? One person, not an artist, just a guy on the internet, pushed this idea a little farther. He hired a bunch of Brazilian women and got a video made in which they spend a lot of time – there is no nice way to put this – eating their own and each others’ shit. He was not motivated by profit, he just one day decided to create an extremely degrading and humiliating video. You can read about it at, I won’t provide the link. The video is no doubt floating around the internet, and probably will be forever.
When I read this story, written in’s world-weary tone of voice, it made me viscerally angry and sad, which not many pieces of news do any more. But the important point is: the whole shoot cost about $500.

Wednesday, 12 December 2007

in memoriam Evel Knievel

... I had one of his toy motorbikes.

From the Independent obit: 'the Inland Revenue Service pursued him for many years claiming $21m in unpaid taxes. He told the IRS that if they sent anyone round to his house, "I'll blow his head right off his shoulders".'

Just took the pledge

The NO2ID Pledge - have YOU made it yet?

... what are you waiting for?

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

I could go on

Facebook. like it's 1999 and nobody's yet learned not to forward chain letters.

Facebook: the web's second childhood.


Facebook: [ ] allow this application to rape your privacy.

Facebook: make friends! discover they are vacuous!


Tuesday, 6 November 2007


The Dog and Fox at Play

Every morning, the dog and the fox pup

Played in the garden without a sound,

Damp and delighted in the knee-high grass,

Chasing each other round and round.

After the divorce, the dog and people went away,

Furniture was packed and the house was sold.

There in November, I saw the adult fox

Check bins for scraps in a moderate cold.

Joy, life and warmth are merely accidental

In a world a sere God made for reasons of His own.

Echoes sometimes reach Him of the hound and fox pup playing

Like the skipping in a wide lake of a stone.

Monday, 29 October 2007

bit o' Nietzsche for a Monday morning

O Mensch! Gib acht!
Was spricht die tiefe Mitternacht?
"Ich schlief, ich schlief -,
Aus tiefem Traum bin ich erwacht: -
Die Welt ist tief,
Und tiefer als der Tag gedacht.
Tief ist ihr Weh -,
Lust - tiefer noch als Herzeleid:
Weh spricht: Vergeh!
Doch alle Lust will Ewigkeit -,
- Will tiefe, tiefe Ewigkeit!"

Friday, 26 October 2007

Facts about jumpers

Hear me, my brothers:

Sooner or later, in every relationship, comes the key moment when your girlfriend gives you a jumper.

Brothers, we know what this jumper means. It is warm and fluffy, it is for you to wear and the message it conveys is:

"This man belongs to me. He is my boyfriend.

He is a little shorn sheep. "

And yet it is most strangely and mysteriously true, as you will undoubtedly discover, that the quality of the jumper is a very good indicator of the quality of the girlfriend.

Monday, 10 September 2007

I wonder how many people actually read this

(b) Examples of Facebook Site Information. The Facebook Site Information may include, without limitation, the following information, to the extent visible on the Facebook Site: your name, your profile picture, your gender, your birthday, your hometown location (city/state/country), your current location (city/state/country), your political view, your activities, your interests, your musical preferences, television shows in which you are interested, movies in which you are interested, books in which you are interested, your favorite quotes, the text of your "About Me" section, your relationship status, your dating interests, your relationship interests, your summer plans, your Facebook user network affiliations, your education history, your work history, your course information, copies of photos in your Facebook Site photo albums, metadata associated with your Facebook Site photo albums (e.g., time of upload, album name, comments on your photos, etc.), the total number of messages sent and/or received by you, the total number of unread messages in your Facebook in-box, the total number of "pokes" you have sent and/or received, the total number of wall posts on your Wall™, a list of user IDs mapped to your Facebook friends, your social timeline, and events associated with your Facebook profile.

Emphasis added. When you add an application to Facebook, these are examples of what the application (and its developers) can find out about you. In other words, if you don't let everybody read your Facebook profile, you certainly shouldn't let applications do the same.

Wednesday, 29 August 2007

The government has rejected calls for a referendum on the EU treaty, claiming that it is "very different... in absolute essence" from the previous constitutional treaty.

There is a work of art in the Tate Modern which looks like a glass of water. The accompanying blurb describes it as a yucca plant (or some such) and explains, in Aristotelian terms, that by decree of the artist, the object has the substance of a yucca plant with the accidents of a glass of water. Perhaps the EU treaty could be hung next to it.

(Update: not a yucca plant, an oak tree.)

There is a petition demanding a referendum on the constitution - sorry, constitutional treaty - sorry, treaty - here, and the Telegraph is running another one here.

Friday, 24 August 2007

finished a first draft of another paper....

and decided to put it up on my new website. That one is meant to be for serious academic stuff, working papers etc. This one is more for issuing fatwahs against innocent programmers of statistical software, abusing Sting, and ranting bitterly about Europe/Iraq/Blair [passim]. Potential employers, please go read the other one....

Friday, 20 July 2007


NP: Dubliners, Dirty Old Town

So I went out last night with the guys and got into an argument with Sonya. She’s nice, she’s doing a JD/PhD. Anyway she was all like how the US should subsidize the arts because, you know, the oiks are ignorant and don’t know what real music is and the best music of the past century is apparently Steve Reich. And in Europe they manage things so much better….

So the Europeans piled in, basically along the lines of “You don’t know what it’s like, we live with these f***ing 1950s institutions and the parasite unions and nothing f***ing works and….” It was funny man, you’ve never heard such freemarket vehemence as from the European cognitive elites. And this led to about a two hour long discussion about is there any hope for European political science and when are they gonna get the goddamn monkeys off our backs. And my final conclusion (as you may guess I am hungover) is that like Mar said: it’s very cool to be a European.

Friday, 6 July 2007

Great songs for expats in America

Elvis Costello - New Amsterdam
Proclaimers - Letter from America
Prefab Sprout - Hey Manhattan (or Faron Young)
Sting - Englishman in New York... no, wait, he's a c***.

Thursday, 28 June 2007

late night reading Austen-Smith and Banks

... and listening to somebody else's music on the iTunes shared thingy. A new group of people have arrived in the building: they are coming for the 16th C. Elegans conference. (Apparently it's a kind of worm.)

Tuesday, 26 June 2007

Just arrived in EITM

My brother got married yesterday, in a very nice and sweet ceremony. Now I'm arrived at UCLA. We are surrounded by high school summer campers, it's a bit like Essex Summer School with the Italian kids. Everyone is just getting to know each other (i.e. we are all showing off like mad) - no doubt it will settle down after a few days. Rebecca Morton is my "mentor" and seems very nice. As massive amounts of academic gossip seem to be de rigueur, here's my contribution: Skip Lupia owns an Apple Mac. Make of it what you will.

So, Tony Blair then.

(Warning: nothing that follows is promised to be original, clever, based on deep knowledge of the political scene, or plausible to someone who doesn’t share a certain view of recent intellectual history.)

Blair’s genius was to realized that the left wing needed to adapt to the ideas of the Thatcherite New Right, and develop new means to achieve its traditional goals. Now there is nothing special about that: by the end of the 80s, everybody knew that the ideas of the old Left were out of date; even Marxists like Stuart Hall et al. realised that Thatcherism posed a novel challenge which required new analysis and new political responses. Blair’s genius was how he took up this challenge politically: he would simply apply Thatcherite ideas about the reform of public services with more dedication and plausibility than the Right could.

That doesn’t sound particularly clever, but at the time it was. The rest of the Left thought their response must consist of their own Big New Ideas to match those of the New Right. They were waiting for a bus that never came. (As Jerry Cohen puts it somewhere, new political ideas are not arrived at just by fishing in the intellectual sea.) Blair saw the important thing and did it. Most importantly, he persuaded the rest of Labour to do it too. Although you could fault the execution, the principles have become completely dominant. We are all Blairites now. Choice and competition in public services is the widely accepted agenda.

So what went wrong? Blair’s political genius was to read the winds and build a consensus round new ideas. But as I said, this was not an act of original thought and in fact Blair is not at all a thinker. After 9/11, he again sensed the way the wind was blowing. He understood that “everything changed” and that a new set of ideas would come to prominence – neoconservatism. And again he tried and to a large degree succeeded in building a consensus around them. The problem is that the ideas of the New Right were basically good ones – at least in terms of the reform of public services (I appreciate you may be choking on your sandwich). But neoconservatism contains mostly bad ideas, partly because it lacks a sound intellectual foundation and is instead an ideology which serves the interests of military and security bureaucrats. In particular, it contained the idea that Western democracies could and should wage preemptive wars and spread democracy by force. (Which doesn’t even have the excuse of novelty; it is the domino theory that got America into Vietnam, writ larger, stupider and more aggressive.) So Blair, who is not smart enough to distinguish good from bad ideas, and who built his political career as an evangelist, evangelized us into Iraq.

Apart from that one cock up - which admittedly spoils everything - Blair makes me think Britain has been fortunate in its leaders during my lifetime. The scene now looks much less promising, but that is a story for a different day.

Monday, 18 June 2007

LA vs Chicago

It's a tough one but I think in the abstract LA wins. Because Chicago's quite like Europe, there are loads of concerts and events put on by the mayor, like a medieval lord providing pigroasts for the peasants. Cf. Ken Livingstone, though I don't think Ken ever let the police get away with torturing black people. Whereas LA is just barbaric, it's Baudrillard's America, a primitive culture of strange tribal music (soft rock) and ritual scarification (nose jobs).

And Tzvika is their monkey god.

Chatting with someone today: "So, what have you been doing?" "Not much." And I feel the joy and pain of coming home.

Sunday, 17 June 2007

British films that think they're left wing but secretly hate the oiks

V For Vendetta, 28 Days Later, Children of Men. 28 Days Later is ok, the other two are utterly shit.

Friday, 15 June 2007

deep thoughts, I don't really have those

In American English you can turn adjectives into nouns, like "my bad", or one prof told me "no worries about the late"
The squirrels and deer really look much more like Disney squirrels and deer. True!
People say "You're welcome!" when you say "Thanks".
The national conversation is less self-righteous and better informed, on the whole.
Public employees who actually know their job and want to help

Straight lines everywhere
Girls' voices that span the octaves in a single syllable
No countryside, just wilderness instead. Maybe not true everywhere.
Yay! Woo!! Let's all give ourselves a round of applause!!! This makes me want to join the Taliban
Weird-tasting butter

So to sum up, Chelsea are playing the LA Galactic and this must be the best of both worlds, I guess.


I'm done, finished, complete - today I handed in my last bit of work and tomorrow i graduate. W00t! So after doing that I sat around in the library and read H.P. Lovecraft. Things I learnt today: H.P. Lovecraft was fully a white supremacist.

Thursday, 14 June 2007

Los Angeles

Arrived here on Saturday after a big drink on Friday, saying goodbye to people. The past few day's I've been staying at Dan's and busing it into UCLA campus every day, to complete the very last bit of Northwestern work. For some reason I have never, once, managed to come to LA and have a car. So LA makes me feel like a hobo. Anyway, the campus here is cool and high on the hillside and has rather nice architecture, not 19th-century Oxford knockoff and not 20th-century modernist brutalism, just nice red brick buildings in a kind of art nouveau style.

Dan and Kate are busy preparing for the wedding - major project management - and have a sweet black cat called Booboo.

Wednesday, 6 June 2007

almost finished!

just one more exam to go. sheesh, i'm pooped.

they actually called him a fascist

so Pat and Chris came over and we headed to the Red Line Tap which is part of the Heartland megaconglomerate. For some reason the talk turned to politics, now those of you who know Chris B will appreciate that he is pretty fully leftwing, whereas Pat is slightly more to the right, by which I mean that he makes me look like a bleeding-heart communist. The conversation ranged on various topics from Islam to immigration (that was when some girl at the bar started calling Pat a fascist, which didn't go down too well) and after some wavering during which the Petty Bourgeois Napoleonist Philistine (moi) joined the Running Dog Imperialist Warmongerer (Pat) to oppress the Glorious Future of Socialist Youth (Chris), eventually PBNP and GFSY formed a Patriotic Left Front and denounced RDIW for his right deviationism - by this time things had progressed back to the flat and Giorgios' whisky and in the heat of the revolutionary moment it all became a bit blurry. So that is why I did not achieve a great deal today, except if you count staring at the porcelain and having intimations of life's absurdity as a great achievement, or maybe lying on the grass and falling asleep or reading webcomics for two hours. 'S'all good. Over and out.

Sunday, 27 May 2007

Sarkozy in the Heartland

I met up with Ivan and we sat and drank in the Heartland's bar and discussed politics. He's more rightwing than I am so the conversation was like: "God, when are they going to introduce voucher schemes for education?"

"Yeah, they tried that in Chile but the goddamn teachers' unions screwed it."

"Teachers' unions are the spawn of the devil. Hey, Sarko got in in France!"

"Great news, he's a ruthless bastard, just what they need."

They've got a picture of Che up and I swear it was crying tiny crystal tears.


The swifts are flying low over the park after the rain and Bluebell is trying to catch them. Good luck with that, hound.

Saturday, 26 May 2007

dogsitting again

... Rolito and Pili's hound Bluebell. Not as beautiful as Blaze and Cheyenne but very nice.

Term is almost over here. One more week. Then off to LA. Looks like I'll miss Gabs who is over this weekend.

The past month or so I've been getting up at 6 ish and going into work early. I prefer it to having to work the weekend and it's nice being up early in summer. But by the end of the week I do feel a bit short on sleep.

Eh, what else... lots of Eng Lit. I read Trollope for the first time - The Warden - and liked it. & got a book of Virginia Woolf's essays. Her writing is always lively.

Right now I'm wandering about the web. Have discovered (after everyone else did I guess) and am looking at Mugshot but not sure that I have enough reason to use it.

Tuesday, 22 May 2007

I finally uploaded some more pictures from my phone

The famous "bean":

and from the inside:

My flatmate Owen:

The vital work of the social sciences:

My trusty four-colour pen. Where would I be without it?

I also know many of you have been waiting for the HOT NAKED PICTURES of the beautiful blondes I lived with when I first arrived. Click here to see everything!

Monday, 21 May 2007

I took Real Analysis and Silas Marner to the Starbucks down the road (I've got tired of the Heartland. It's a Che-Guevara-t-shirt-selling kind of place, which usually makes for nice cafes, but the service is kind of bad) and spent the day alternating chapters of each, using Silas Marner as a reward for each chunk of measure theory. By the way, check out this very funny review of Baby Rudin which goes some way to explaining the devotion maths inspires. Then I headed over to Armadillo's Pillow and bought a couple more $2 books for the L train. (I'm immersing myself in English lit. There's nothing like a bit of a shell.)

I feel fond of this little chunk of Roger's Park. East and West along Morse, it's all poverty and urban blight. Criss-crossing North and South on Glenwood, there's nice cafes, charities and "social spaces".

Anyway, goodbye soon to Chicago's greys and browns, and off to the whites, blues and greens of Los Angeles.

Thursday, 17 May 2007

New book...

Evolutionary Game Theory by Joergen Weibull. We've actually been doing a few weeks on that in this quarter's game theory course. It's kind of cool - we proved the fundamental theorem of natural selection (that under certain circumstances average population fitness increases) in one of our problem sets. There's some interesting work being done on the evolution of utility functions and these tools could be good for that.

Skint as usual, because I booked my flight home (21 July). And discovered that I actually have a month more in my apartment than I thought... which actually sucks because it means a month's more rent. Doh.

Monday, 7 May 2007

More demands from the masses

Bring back Salvora's blog now!

Late night quote

Have you ever seen a rostrum from behind? All men and women - if I may make a suggestion - should be familiarized with the rear view of a rostrum before being called upon to gather in front of one. Everyone who has ever taken a good look at a rostrum from behind will be immunized ipso facto against any magic practised in any form whatsoever on rostrums. Pretty much the same applies to rear views of church altars; but that is another subject.
Guenter Grass, The Tin Drum

Late evening thought

The world has no contract with you.

Saturday, 5 May 2007

The problem with Pandora

Listening to Pandora. You hear some good things. They're playing me something by someone called K. McCarty now. You can click on a button & they'll tell you why:

"Based on what you've told us this far, we're playing this song because it features a subtle use of harmony, meandering vocals and prominent organ [fnarr fnarr] and many other similarities identified in the music genome project."

Mmm... see the problem here? I don't think I'd describe my own tastes as "well, I love a bit of vocal warbling and a prominent organ". (Well, maybe my tastes in boy bands.) I'd like to think there's something a bit more complex going on. Maybe they should stop trying to parse our music with genetic algorithms or whatever, and make a real breakthrough in music technology by cloning John Peel.

Full coverage of that debate

An American is impressed by the quality of the Sarkozy-Royal debate. A European is less sure. A bit of competitive anxiety here: how does our TV democracy measure up?

Figaro has some videos of the juiciest bits. Liberation has transcribed the whole thing here.

Oh, and this is hilarious. (Lyrics to the song here and by the way, great tune!)


If you've ever heard me talk about Left conservatism, this is what I mean.

The wall

So I'm just watching Penn & Teller's Bullshit!, an episode on immigration. Now we all have different views on this (they are pro, btw) but one thing is pretty funny. They showed the new security fence that covers 700m of the 2000m border and it's slightly less tall and scary than ... the wall around Glastonbury.

I'm sure with this fence, America will be completely secure!

Friday, 4 May 2007

Go Sarko!

In all seriousness, I don't know enough about the French candidates. It's just my instinct. I see the division as between Thatcherite and Blairite approaches to economic reform. Do you want a savage beast, or a more gentle unifier? I think France needs a savage beast at the moment: I don't think Blair could have pushed through the reforms Thatcher made, in the climate of the time. Of course, the political system is also different. France doesn't give so much untrammelled power to the person at the top. But in the 70s Britain was supposed to be "ungovernable", just as now France is "ruled by the street". These things are not immutable.

Anyway, good luck to whoever wins. It would be great to have an economically dynamic France back in Europe, and I doubt that this will require destroying the welfare state.

Monday, 30 April 2007

Another American military view of Iraq

This is slightly old news but worth a read - it's very to the point. Zeyad of Healing Iraq says:

I agree with most of his assessment, except his rosy description of the current security operation. Also, like most U.S. military officials, he is mistaking the recent infighting between tribes in the Anbar Governorate and Al-Qaeda as a turning point in the insurgency and support for the U.S. or the Iraqi government. But he recognises, correctly, that the only road to success in Iraq is through reconciliation.

Sunday, 29 April 2007

... and while we're at it, check out the hilariously bad writing. It must be deliberate. Surely noone could seriously type: "The border, slow epoxy, is setting".

God wait, there's more:
"In Dundee, where just 20 years ago the al fresco option of choice was a temazepam sandwich, there are pretty girls in rimless glasses, who write the world's computer games for a living, swapping dried apricots."

A vibrant Scottish dried-fruit-based barter economy has been growing under our noses! Who knew?
Jeez, can't I leave the country for a year without it falling apart?

Thursday, 26 April 2007

Brits might be interested in...

The mass lone demo in Parliament Square on May 16th. Don't forget to get your permission to protest from Old Bill!

Tuesday, 24 April 2007

hey you know... this Spanish pop ain't bad

I fixed my computer. The laptop screen had been going dark. When I replaced the screen, I lost the little rubber covers of the screws that hold it in place. They'd been coming a little loose... so I just tightened them up with a little Phillips screwdriver and it all went back to normal.

My Dad used to spend Saturday evenings cursing under the bonnet of his many secondhand cars (all rubbish of course). For me computer hardware fulfils the same role. I (heart) my little Toshiba.

Sunday, 22 April 2007

Watched Grindhouse

A tribute to 70s B-movies, double bill with Tarantino and Rodriguez directing. The Rodriguez one is an extremely schlocky zombie affair. I advise you to throw away the tribute-to-those-great-old-films wrapping and focus on the Tarantino flick inside, which has eight interesting female characters at its centre: four who come to no good at the hands of a rather scary Kurt Russell, and four who are a little bit older and wiser. I think Tarantino wants to be Almodovar and understand women. (But he can't, not really, because he's not Almodovar.) Worth watching.

Friday, 20 April 2007

work's getting busy...

This term has been fairly quiet so far and I've even managed to take the past two weekends off. Now it's looking hectic again - the problem sets are getting tough - but I am determined to have at least one day off every week.

The EITM summer school accepted me, so I'll be in Los Angeles for a month from late June to late July. And then, home in time for Kemal's stag do.

Monday, 16 April 2007

Sunday, 15 April 2007

Videoblogging in Baghdad.

MPSA is on and Giorgios is staying with me, which is very nice. Yesterday, me and the other Essex PhDs all went and had the world's most cholesterol-filled breakfast, then I snuck in to the conference and watched a couple of sessions - one excellent theoretical paper on media, showing that even rational consumers who want to be informed could end up purchasing media that confirms their biases.

Monday, 9 April 2007

New textbooks have arrived.

It's been a textbook kind of year. Here are some:

Microeconomic Theory by Mas-Colell, Whinston and Green aka MWG. Square, grey and green like dried sick, unprepossessing and dismally hard to struggle through at first. Gradually it's won my heart by its terseness and seriousness. Only what matters is in this book.

Rudin, Principles of Mathematical Analysis. Like all the best maths book, it looks utterly undistinguished, its lurid brown and orange cover like a pair of 1970s curtains. Inside is Proper Maths from the ground up, written in elegant and lucid mathematical prose.

The latest alluring temptress is Real Analysis: Measure Theory, Integration and Hilbert Spaces from Princeton. This hot little minx comes in a shiny blue jacket with some kind of rocket science diagram on the front. Also excellently written, with less notation and more prose than Rudin.

Just arrived: Fudenberg and Tirole Game Theory. We shall see. At least it's a good size. If thrown correctly, it could kill the biggest rat in my kitchen.

Saturday, 7 April 2007

Following that train of thought, I discovered this gem by Banfield on the web: "Policy Science as Metaphysical Madness". I don't agree with it but I do think it is very worth reading if you want to do practically oriented social science.

... and her Mum analyses economic development
... and ends up agreeing with Edward Banfield.

Sunshine posts on olive-branch-optimism

"Ok, your questions time: a question I receive a lot asks ” how do you feel about the US presence in your country ? do you want them to stay or leave?”

WELL, 4 years a go I used to feel safe when I see the soldiers in the street, I thought that I will have a free and developed country, that we will live in happiness and will achieve our ambitions. I thought I will have a brighter future and I was so happy that I even bought military clothes and wanted to be a soldier (kid’s dreams!).

Now, when I see a tank I go as far away as possible. When a tank comes the cars go aside, and after they pass we drive as fast as we can so that we don’t get hurt when some one attack the troops. I feel unsafe now. I worry about my family members, relatives and friends. I miss my aunt, I live in a destroyed country full of terrorists, explosions, shootings, and I don’t’ go out as I used to.

I see people I love leaving Iraq, I see my country bleeding and feel I can’t do anything about that, I don’t trust the governments nor the president. I try to keep my spirits high and say all of the darkness in the world can’t blow out my candle, but it is hard. I don’t have an enjoyable life, I miss picnics and fun. I miss the safety and security, I miss a lot of things, I feel like a stranger in my own country.

If the US troops leave, more carnage will happen, they should stay I think and fix my country. But as I say I am too young to talk about policy I might be wrong, that’s just my opinion .."

Katja and Dario

Miami photos

Thursday, 5 April 2007

Back from Miami

Where I had a very nice time. Thank you, Katja and Dario.

The Essex lake has ducks. The U of M lake has alligators. I wonder if we could transplant a few.

Term has started and on Friday I have to do my first teaching in formal theory: a refresher class on Nash equilibrium, dominant strategies and subgame perfection. Scary but exciting. (I'm only a TA, by the way - don't get the idea that I am actually lecturing.)

Monday, 26 March 2007

... and a great article by [copy][paste] Zbigniew Brzezinski on the War on Terror. I couldn't agree more:

Such fear-mongering, reinforced by security entrepreneurs, the mass media and the entertainment industry, generates its own momentum. The terror entrepreneurs, usually described as experts on terrorism, are necessarily engaged in competition to justify their existence. Hence their task is to convince the public that it faces new threats."
The Economist assesses Iraq as a disaster. This is, I guess, the closest we'll ever get to an admission of error. The Economist threw its weight behind the invasion, swallowing the phony "evidence" for Saddam's possession of WMD. It has its own small share of the blame for the subsequent disaster.

Saturday, 24 March 2007

Progress on the model. I've now managed to prove that if the democracy makes it more costly to immigrate... then fewer people migrate. Never let it be said that formal theory can't generate powerful counter-intuitive predictions.

(Why isn't this trivial? Well, substantively it is trivial of course. Formally, the problem is that migration is partly a collective decision. If you think lots of skilled workers are going to migrate and increase the democratic tax base, then you as an unskilled worker might want to migrate with them. Skilled workers face slightly more ambiguous incentives: if many of them are migrating, the tax base will increase but that might also give the unskilled median voter an incentive to put taxes up. So, before I can say anything about how migration costs affect the game, I have to work out the equilibrium.)

The next step is showing more interesting things. The essential idea is: if there are a lot of unskilled workers in the dictatorship, the democratic median voter will put immigration costs up to deter them from coming (while allowing some skilled workers to come). Then the dictator will take advantage of his subjects' reduced incentives to leave by increasing taxes.

I lost a day this week. I woke up today and wondered why my alarm hadn't gone off. Then my phone told me it was Saturday. Where the hell did Friday go? Apparently it was so like Thursday (and the day before that...) that I didn't even notice it. Give me my day back, dammit!

Friday, 23 March 2007

the sky is falling, grab your nuclear umbrella

It's 11:30 and I am just finishing a lemma, I'm sitting here in the kitchen thinking: "hey, this Bud Light isn't really so bad". That's how low I have sunk.

Brainless chicken-licken cliche of the moment: Europe is being overrun by muslim extremists!

Tuesday, 20 March 2007

I'm tired and working too hard and haven't been sleeping too well. Anyway, term is now finally over - I handed in a not very good paper proposal for my political economy class. Still, it helped germinate some ideas which may bear fruit sooner or later. Now, for the next week, I'm going to work on migration, which will bear fruit.

Something that comes through in the debate between Andrew Sullivan and Sam Harris (see last entry) is the difference in registers. Sam Harris is overwhelmingly focused on a scientific idea of truth, and his problem with religion is that it does not meet these standards. Andrew Sullivan embraces a broader idea of truth, and talks about the emotional resources that religion provides him with. I think this is true of atheists and religious moderates more generally. It is not a criticism of atheists: the criterion of scientific truth is arguably the clearest one we have got, and abandoning it bears heavy cognitive costs. However, I do think that a challenge for the current wave of non-religious and anti-religious thinkers is to give an account of what, in a secular world-view, can replace the ethical framework provided by religion. Atheism's dirty secret is that the extant secular answers to that are not very convincing.

(But then nor are the extant religious justifications for morality. There is a notorious problem in explaining why we ought to obey God's commands unless they are independently justifiable; and if the latter, why bring God in?)

Question for today: what would a modern and unillusioned set of reasons for ethical behaviour look like? Not, I think, very much like a watertight argument that moves from premises to conclusions. I'll stop there and get back to work.

NP: Os Mutantes Le Premier Bonheur du Jour

Monday, 19 March 2007


Went and had dinner with the Janes' which was nice as usual. This weekend I have mostly been stressing about a not (particularly important) paper proposal I have to write. (This is the cheap talk thing I've mentioned here.) I think overall I haven't found anything particularly profound from the deep economic theory point of view... but maybe I do have a straightforward formal approach to ideological categories, utilising pretty standard cheap talk games. In other words, if I can find some useful applications it might go somewhere. Meanwhile I am just going to write something up and maybe a small example.

This exchange between Sam Harris and Andrew Sullivan on religious faith is worth reading. Sam Harris is hilarious:
"Needless to say, I believe you have given the Supreme Pontiff far too much credit as a champion of reason. The man believes that he is in possession of a magic book, entirely free from error."
I also read Dawkins' The God Delusion over Christmas. I thought it was a bit disappointing: not enough intellectual meat. For example, he takes up a (to me) very interesting argument by a prominent theologian, that the law-governed nature of the universe (as discovered by science) is evidence for a divine creator, and dismisses it too quickly. And he uses probabilistic arguments about the unlikeliness of God, without really going into what probability means when taken out of its normal scientific context - a long-running philosophical question.

Saturday, 17 March 2007


Up late last night (and early this morning) studying for my last exam - analysis 321. I spent most of the evening going over Fourier analysis. Fourier analysis came up in a big way, and I learned that I still don't get it. No matter.

Now I am writing my paper proposal for cheap talk - it's due in on Friday. I can see my way to a simple demonstration game, but I suspect that it is NOT INTERESTING. Boo.

Rolando very kindly took me out for lunch to the Peruvian place in Roger's Park - to "his people" as he might put it ;-) - and we ate ceviche and discussed academic politics - he's about to start teaching a nursing degree. I'm taking care of Bluebell, Rolando and Pilar's dog, over the weekend because they're away. Bluebell is fat, friendly and wholly delightful, although she tends to get excited when she sees me, and pee herself.

It's kind of flattering, I mean, she doesn't pee herself for just anybody. She's never done it for Shyanmei.

Anyway. SPRING BREAAAK! And I will go wild with... completing the migration model. Then Miami in a couple of weeks. If I live that long without any cash to eat. The scumbags at US Bank charged me $90 because a check put me in overdraft for one day. I went to complain and got a lecture about managing my finances. I'll move accounts if I can - all banks are thieves, but at least I can reward them with disloyalty.

Thursday, 15 March 2007


Got talking to a homeless guy on the L-train. He was a very fat black man with a loud cackle and a strongly expressed dislike of Christian Republicans. Turned out to be a fairly thoughtful chap. He touched me for cash and, with queasy inner relief, I told him I was broke this month. (Of course, the definition of "broke" depends on where you are standing.)

A few days ago, while I was walking with the beautiful blondes on the golf course, I came on a little jury-rigged tent by the train track, with an American flag and someone inside. I said hello, what brings you here, to which he murmured "sleeping" so I left him to it - the theory being, by the way, that a rough sleeper probably welcomes his sleep more than he will welcome your company, no matter how well-intentioned you are.

Work with the model continues, nothing to report, though I have stripped it down a bit. Stripping down models, God, that sounds so much better than it actually is. Saw Kemal on Gmail and said hello. Exile has turned me into an internet chat addict, using a combination of Skype and Gmail. It's nice but conversations are dreadfully slow and I tend to end up browsing the web while I chat.

Tuesday, 13 March 2007

Migration: so I simplified the model a bit, on a suggestion from Guy, and it now looks more tractable. The aim is just to show that the larger the initial difference between a democracy and a dictatorship, in terms of citizens' productivity, the higher the barriers set to migration by the democracy's median voter, and the higher the resulting tax/theft rate of the dictator. I was spending too much time fiddling with the question of whether the dictator might not be better off setting up a Singapore-style tax haven for rich democrats. Sometimes that will happen, but it's not a central concern.

So I'm just going to assume that migration is one way; and I'm going to have only two types of workers (high and low productivity), with different mixes in each country. Then the democracy's median voter always has an incentive to bring in high productivity workers - up until they are just a bare minority, so that the unskilled still control the political outcome. Having only two types makes it easier to parametrize differences in productivity between countries, and that's what I need to get some comparative statics going.

Cheap talk/ideology: still no traction. I need a way for message meanings to be fixed in some sense, and that is hard in a model where players are rational.

Life: I am utterly, utterly skint. I can't even buy myself a coffee at the moment. God knows how I'll survive until hitting Miami (w00t!) at the end of the month.

Monday, 12 March 2007

Trying to post more regularly

Today I've been struggling on with the model. At the moment I am trying to get some comparative statics out of it. I seem to be spending too much time focusing on the decision problem of the dictator (who maximizes revenue with respect to a proportional tax and universal flat rate benefit) and not enough on that of the citizens. It may be time to try a different and simpler approach to getting at the intuitions I want.

Recovered enough from my flu to go swimming again for the first time in 10 days. I've been doing 20 lengths a day - the pool here is huge and free, they even give you a free fluffy towel on your way in, and you never have to share with more than one other person per lane. Came out and the spring evening light reminded me of home: even the people walking had an English look.

Now I have to do something for Marco Battaglini's class - a paper proposal. I'm interested in trying to model ideology, something that economists have had less success with than modelling institutions. (There are actually plenty of models out there but none of them have really "caught" and given us a basis to go forward with.) The basic ideas behind analysis of ideology and discourse seem to be as follows:
  1. People describe states of the world in discrete, lumpy categories.
  2. These categories influence how they perceive the world.
  3. Their categories also influence how they act.
  4. Categories are contested - fought over, manipulated for strategic purposes etc.
Most theorists of ideology back these claims up with one of two positions: (A) social reality is created by our ideological categories, and there is no truth beyond them ("social constructivism") or (B) categories inescapably limit our perceptions of reality ("conceptual schemes"). I don't find either of these very appealing. Position (A) is, frankly, mad. Position (B) is not mad, but it has severe difficulties (see Davidson, "On the very idea of a conceptual scheme" - I don't claim to have any thoughts beyond this, so if you still prefer (B) then don't let me stop you). Methodologically, I also dislike the notion that analysing linguistic categories should tie you into any non-trivial metaphysical position. (Science should be unified, of course, but as the programmers say, "think about loose coupling".)

A simpler backup, with less hostages to fortune, would be (C1) finding out about reality is costly; (C2) we find out about reality partly in order to communicate with others; (C3) we can choose what to look for in our perceptions; and (C4) our categories for communication are determined for us beforehand by a general purpose language, rather than worked out ad hoc for every speech act. (C1-4) will, I think, give us what we need to understand that discursive categories influence perception. The rest follows.

A good starting point in modelling terms is cheap talk signalling games. These have 1 and 3 of my four numbered points but not so much 2 and 4. The main problem is that in these games, equilibria are usually conceived of as unique to (and perhaps optimal for, allowing for the different interests of sender and receiver) a particular signalling situation. That's what I want to get away from: political communication is much more stereotyped than that. But it would be nice to find a way to do so simply, without e.g. having to have message categories evolve in some complicated scenario.

My current plan is to let people look at reality (a continuous variable) by specifying a set and in effect asking nature "is it in the set"? That gives you 2. Then they can tell other people what they find, take actions themselves etc. Perhaps it will be enough to find multiple equilibria, which benefit different groups differently. That gives you 4.

Of course, there's a 90% chance that there is nothing interesting to model here, as is so often the way. The key is to find a simple application and show that "categories matter" and that formal analysis can extract some insights. It would be good if, eventually, dialogue between formal theory and applied research could become as productive as it is for the study of institutions. That day is a long way off.

Monday, 5 March 2007

The people spoke

... and Laurence listened.

toxic media

Tara Wilson on Toxic Wives in the Telegraph - this is a classic of its kind. The trick is: invent a phenomenon, give it a catchy name, call your friends for quotes, pretend you've spotted a trend, and hope people pick up on it. It's all good sport and provides us with some small talk.

Then India Knight blatantly nicks the idea. (Also, not as funny.)

Seriously, this is what's wrong with Old Meeja. I read that and feel conned, and not even in a clever way. The same when they take two-day old internet things and pass them off as news. It's like the girl with last week's gossip.

(End of cliched blogger rant. Obviously, it's not like I am a trove of top quality content. By the way, the masses demand BRING BACK HORTONL NOW.)

Thursday, 1 March 2007

Our Empire Story

"I had been appointed military attache in Khartoum; it was a pleasant prospect of better pay, promotion and diplomatic privilege in a land which I liked; I was summoned to the War Office to see a staff officer who dealt with such matters. The officer in question was a friend of mine and I was in a buoyant mood; I filled in the normal form, and in the paragraph headed 'Purpose of visit' I wrote, 'To be instructed on how to bite an ostrich in the arse without getting a mouthful of feathers.' A messenger took the form away and after a long wait returned to usher me into the office of an affronted and angry looking general who rose from behind his desk; he looked from me to the piece of paper in his hand and then said sternly: 'It's actually top secret, but I think you do it like this.' Then puffing out his cheeks he blew into the air and his great front 'snappers' clanged together. 'Quite easy but you must be damn quick, what else can I do for you?'

-- Hilary Hook, Home from the Hill

Saturday, 24 February 2007

The niqab

A few months ago, a school teacher was banned from wearing a jilbab to teach. The public reaction then was over the top, but the school gave a fair reason for its decision: it made communication difficult with younger children.

Now a young girl wants to wear a full veil (apparently it's called a niqab) at school. Her older sisters did the same thing, but the new headmaster wants to ban the practice.

Some of the arguments floating around, against this girl's right to wear what she wants, are rather feeble:

  • The niqab is a sign of separateness.
If you can't deal with other people being different from you, then perhaps you are in the wrong country. The niqab is certainly no more outrageous than, say, punks' garb seemed to be in the 70s.
  • It isn't Islamic.
It's up to her to decide what her religious beliefs are. There are plenty of interpretations of Islam. This is like saying, rosary beads aren't Christian.
  • Many muslims are against the niqab.
Well, they don't have to wear it then.
  • This girl has probably been put up to it by her parents.
She may well have been influenced by her parents. We call this "bringing a child up". Richard Dawkins believes that teaching any religion to your kids is a form of abuse. Perhaps it is, but it is not the kind of abuse it would be sensible to try and ban, in the foolish and unenlightened world we live in.
  • It might stop her learning.
It didn't stop her sisters, as far as we can tell. What is your evidence for this claim?
  • The school has a right to set its own policies.
This is the best argument and it puts me in two minds. I do understand that headmasters want to create a certain kind of atmosphere. I also think that in an ideal world, there would be a choice of different kinds of school, and accepting one would be like accepting a contract: you have to abide by the rules. But in fact there is not always a choice, the market for education is imperfect. And we don't allow headmasters to set just any rules.

I was made to wear uniform at school, and how I hated it! I used to tear it off as soon as I was allowed to, and change into my proper clothes. (And ever since I've loathed suits and formal wear, which is why I want to be a down-at-heel academic.) So, you see where my instincts lie.

(NB: According to a rather good piece on the Sky News website, even Nick Cohen is sounding vaguely sensible about this.)

(NB2: Occasionally - only very occasionally - I long for the good old well-meaning multiculturalist hegemony. The purveyors of received wisdom of are often unattractive, whatever the current received wisdom is: self-righteous, self-confident, thoughtless and narrow. But some kinds of received wisdom are more toxic than others.)

just another link

turns out that among the other people being targeted by death squads in Iraq are gays and lesbians.

Wednesday, 21 February 2007

more little glimpses

Iraqi konfused kid on the US plan:

"...and also I forgot to mention the lovely incident of Ubada, another college friend of mine who is also a glorious resident in Adhamiya, and precisely at the Sifeena, home of the most glorious freedom fighters - this Ubada is a bearded guy with blue eyes who likes to frequent the mosques and distribute Sunni bloc Accordance Front fliers, and one day his pop tells him to go bring something from his auntie's empty house, as she was a smart woman and left Iraq about a few months ago, little did poor Ubada know, but the house was rigged by the beautiful Iraqi resistance in case the infidels come in to try and search it.

"The limbs that were once Ubada were collected and buried at Abu Haneefa mosque, so long, martyr, too bad you didn't have any pussy in your short 21-years-old life while you were busy doing all that mosque touring, well, maybe in heaven with your 77,000 virgins."

Meanwhile Marshmallow26 posts this Johnny Cash song.

The video's got a lot of pretentious rockers and symbolist twaddle. No doubt Johnny Cash is set to become a post-mortem industry on the Tupac Shakur scale. I prefer to think of the song as dedicated to the political leaders who created the Iraq situation. May the mills of God grind exceeding small.

Monday, 12 February 2007

7 Friends in Iraq

...Then war bells started tolling and we knew that there is an unknown future waiting for us and our friendships. We were scared we would lose one of us.

We decided to get together again and go out for the last time before the war.
We decided to have quiet lunch and just talk for it might be the last time we would do that. While we were sitting, we all were very serious for most of our talks were on the coming war and what we would do to know about each other or whether we would be staying in Baghdad or leave to a ranch or something out of Baghdad like most of us did in the Gulf War. We used to stop talking and just gaze at each other and if it wasn’t for Z who used to crack a joke every now and then even in the middle of the saddest minutes we would have had a group cry.

After lunch we didn’t want to leave each other just like that and we wished that the day would last forever to prevent this war and to prevent the separation and everything that comes with wars.

D decided to take us to the Amusement Park !!! We all laughed. “Are you crazy?” I asked him. The girls were wearing skirts and even the guys were wearing nice clothes not for that kind of trip.
D said “Since what coming is crazy; let’s spend our last day in a crazy way. We will all remember it. Let’s get this anxiety out of our system and get crazy for a couple of hours to forget”

We rode every game there which made some of us very sick but we forgot the sadness and ended up having a good time despite the dizziness and the unappropriate clothing. We were like a bunch of formals going to a business meeting.

skimming the net instead of working...

... I'll have to update my list of blocked websites.

Israel to UK: don't let your policemen arrest our generals
from Haaretz, which seems like an interesting read

E-petitions call for Tony Blair to sing in a barrel of custard
and for the National Anthem to be changed to "You Suffer" by Napalm Death

On Wikipedia: where I used to live and where I live now
Now is that progress?

George Sand, mistress of the double entendre

A conversation with Tom Segev

Paul Foot debates socialism
back in the day....

Free speech in Iran

The Linux kernel summit is coming to Cambridge
(but why should you care?)

Tuesday, 6 February 2007

It's been snowing

Beautiful big snowflakes, like the ones on Christmas cards - hexagonal and some about a quarter inch wide. Everywhere is fluffy. Meanwhile, I can hear my flatmate Owen puking spectacularly in the toilet. Hey ho for winter.

Who said...

"...If the United States continues to be bogged down in a protracted bloody involvement in Iraq, the final destination on this downhill track is likely to be a head-on conflict with Iran and with much of the world of Islam at large. A plausible scenario for a military collision with Iran involves Iraqi failure to meet the benchmarks; followed by accusations of Iranian responsibility for the failure; then by some provocation in Iraq or a terrorist act in the U.S. blamed on Iran; culminating in a “defensive” U.S. military action against Iran that plunges a lonely America into a spreading and deepening quagmire eventually ranging across Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.
"A mythical historical narrative to justify the case for such a protracted and potentially expanding war is already being articulated. Initially justified by false claims about WMD’s in Iraq, the war is now being redefined as the “decisive ideological struggle” of our time, reminiscent of the earlier collisions with Nazism and Stalinism. In that context, Islamist extremism and al Qaeda are presented as the equivalents of the threat posed by Nazi Germany and then Soviet Russia, and 9/11 as the equivalent of the Pearl Harbor attack which precipitated America’s involvement in World War II.
"This simplistic and demagogic narrative overlooks the fact that Nazism was based on the military power of the industrially most advanced European state; and that Stalinism was able to mobilize not only the resources of the victorious and militarily powerful Soviet Union but also had worldwide appeal through its Marxist doctrine. In contrast, most Muslims are not embracing Islamic fundamentalism; al Qaeda is an isolated fundamentalist Islamist aberration; most Iraqis are engaged in strife because the American occupation of Iraq destroyed the Iraqi state; while Iran—though gaining in regional influence—is itself politically divided, economically and militarily weak. To argue that America is already at war in the region with a wider Islamic threat, of which Iran is the epicenter, is to promote a self-fulfilling prophecy.
"Deplorably, the Administration’s foreign policy in the Middle East region has lately relied almost entirely on such sloganeering.....
"One should note here also that practically no country in the world shares the Manichean delusions that the Administration so passionately articulates. The result is growing political isolation of, and pervasive popular antagonism toward the U.S. global posture."

Noam Chomsky?

John Pilger?

Zbigniew Brzezinski.

and this is hilarious. .

7 taxis

Iraqi konfused kollege kid takes 7 taxi rides.

Saturday, 3 February 2007


For a while I've been a faithful user of Lyx for my mathematical word processing needs. But recently I have been seduced by TeXmacs. This is a beautiful program. It's like an antique, in the best sense of the word - a real polished work of art. It's VERY Unixish, so much so that it practically has a beard. You have to download Cygwin to run it - though they bundle a version if you're lazy. It has a very well-designed set of keyboard shortcuts: if you are typing Maths and want to use a Greek letter, you just hit the Latin letter, then tab. Hitting tab again gets you variants. If you want to type a greater than or equals sign, it's just > then = and it will automatically compose them together for you. Similarly, the empty set sign is just @, / and tab.

OK, enough said - if you're the target market, check it out.

Chicago weather

My loyal readers can now have instant-on up-to-the-minute web-2.0 access to a question that I know has been troubling them: how cold is Dave?

The sidebar on the right now features a useful image which will tell you, at a glance, just how very, very cold I am.

You can then use these facts to perform further mental calculations such as: temperature in Illinois DIVIDED BY temperature in Florida TIMES number of hot, scantily-clad models per square inch in Miami DIVIDED BY (monthly pizza acreage consumed by hearty midwestern farmers' daughters of Chicago) SQUARED EQUALS ratio of Katja's to Dave's intelligence and forethought in planning their respective years in America.

Saturday, 27 January 2007

The scythians and their grandfathers

This is unaccountably and mysteriously absent from the internet, except for one lonely corner of Project Gutenberg. I feel it deserves more prominence.
The Scythians always ate their grandfathers; they behaved very respectfully to them for a long
time, but as soon as their grandfathers became old and troublesome, and
began to tell long stories, they immediately ate them.
-- Sydney Smith

Wednesday, 24 January 2007


I put my photos up on Picasa - Flickr won't let me upload any more.

Sunday, 21 January 2007



new term

I finally decided what courses I want to take this term. The first year PhDs are slaving away at micro, macro and 'metrics, but I have just two courses with serious homework, plus a course with Marco Battaglini on political economy. Then two independent study courses. This is a lot of fun: presenting papers, trying to write down models. Next term I will be slogging again - two or three big, heavy courses and teaching as well. Teaching should be fun, it's a course on rational choice theories of politics.

Light reading: C V Wedgwood's The Thirty Years War. I read history with a social scientist's eye, spotting the kinds of explanations used. Lots of them fit rational choice and game theory - the politics, diplomacy, and military history. Others emphasize character and individual cognitive biases. The big question mark is religion. How do we explain that so many people were prepared to die for their beliefs? Answers on a postcard. (The best answer I've got comes from Dan Sperber's book Explaining Culture. It's a start, at least.)

Anyway, I tend to prefer old history books. Whig history seems a pretty reasonable world view to me, and the old ones are better written and (I can't help thinking) were written by cleverer people: some of the best minds of their time. I suspect that is less true nowadays.

Just had a nice evening playing cards with a multicultural crew. First a strange game a bit like Hearts, then something very simple called Happy King, then Cheat. Cheat is a fabulous game especially when played with inherently dishonest people. Unfortunately we academics are too upright and virtuous. You need a few really expert liars.