Wednesday, December 30, 2009

One Author to read 2010- Orhan Pamuk

Pamuk’s appeal has not been lost on politicians. Daniel Cohn-Bendit has credited Pamuk with helping him to ‘understand the importance of Turkey joining the European Union’...

One woman in The Black Book fears that, having spent half her life trying to be someone else, she is now condemned to spend the next half ‘being someone else who regretted all those years she had not spent being herself’. The hero of that novel, a lawyer called Galip (after the 18th-century mystic poet Sheikh Galip), shaken by the disappearance of his wife, Rüya (‘dream’), manages to piece himself together, but only after assuming the identity of the newspaper columnist his wife seems to have run away with; as he loses himself in the back alleys of Istanbul, he begins to suspect that the journalist, the enigmatic Celâl (after the Sufi poet Jelal ud-Din Rumi), is the secret author of his fate. Galip is one of the luckier characters in Pamuk, transported to the shores of a stable identity by a mystical journey; most are left hanging, swinging between East and West, between the mosque and the mall. To the characters in Snow, Islamism is a powerful, almost erotic temptation, since it promises to eradicate this vertiginous sense of dislocation: it’s no accident that one of the Islamist leaders in that novel is a dashing, charismatic seducer of his female followers, beguiling them with his blue eyes and his fiery vision of a cleansed and virtuous Muslim society.

-Wanting to Be Something Else

David Brooks favorite blogs

Fortunately there are a few Web sites that provide daily links to the best that is thought and said. Arts and Letters Daily is the center of high-toned linkage on the Web. The Browser is a trans-Atlantic site with a superb eye for the interesting and the profound. Book Forum has a more academic feel, but it is also worth a daily read.

-The Sidney Awards II

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Monday, December 28, 2009

When things go wrong in project managment!

I'm starting to become a big fan of Scott Berkun;

1. Calm down. Nothing makes a situation worse than basing your actions on fear, anger, or frustration. If something bad happens to you, you will have these emotions whether you’re aware of them or not. They will also influence your thinking and behavior whether you’re aware of it or not. (Rule of thumb: the less aware you are of your feelings, the more vulnerable you are to them influencing you.) Don’t flinch or overreact—be patient, keep breathing, and pay attention.

2. Evaluate the problem in relation to the project
. Just because someone else thinks the sky has fallen doesn’t mean that it has. Is this really a problem at all? Whose problem is it? How much of the project (or its goals) is at risk or may need to change because of this situation: 5%? 20%? 90%? Put things in perspective. Will anyone die because of this mistake (you’re not a brain surgeon, are you?)? Will any cities be leveled? Plagues delivered on the innocent? Help everyone frame the problem to the right emotional and intellectual scale. Ask tons of questions and get people thinking rather than reacting. Work to eliminate assumptions. Make sure you have a tangible understanding of the problem and its true impact. Then, prioritize: emergency (now!), big concern (today), minor concern (this or next week), bogus (never). Know how long your fuse is to respond and prioritize this new issue against all existing work. If it’s a bogus issue, make sure whoever cried wolf learns some new questions to ask before raising the red flag again.

3. Calm down again. Now that you know something about the problem, you might really get upset (“How could those idiots let happen!?”). Find a way to express emotions safely: scream at the sky, workout at the gym, or talk to a friend. But do express them. Know what works for you, and use it. Then return to the problem. Not only do you need to be calm to make good decisions, but you need your team to be calm. Pay attention to who is upset and help them calm down. Humor, candor, food, and drink are good places to start. Being calm and collected yourself goes a long way toward calming others. And taking responsibility for the situation (see the later section “Take responsibility”), regardless of whose fault it was, accelerates a team’s recovery from a problem.

4. Get the right people in the room Any major problem won’t impact you alone. Identify who else is most responsible, knowledgeable, and useful and get them in together straight away. Pull them out of other meetings and tasks: if it’s urgent, act with urgency, and interrupt anything that stands in your way. Sit them down, close the door, and run through what you learned in step 2. Keep this group small; the more complex the issue, the smaller the group should be. Also, consider that (often) you might not be part of this group: get the people in the room, communicate the problem, and then delegate. Offer your support, but get out of their way (seriously—leave the room if you’re not needed). Clearly identify who is in charge for driving this issue to resolution, whether it’s you or someone else.

5. Explore alternatives. After answering any questions and clarifying the situation, figure out what your options are. Sometimes this might take some research: delegate it out. Make sure it’s flagged as urgent if necessary; don’t ever assume people understand how urgent something is. Be as specific as possible in your expectation for when answers are needed.

6. Make the simplest plan
. Weigh the options, pick the best choice, and make a simple plan. The best available choice is the best available choice, no matter how much it sucks (a crisis is not the time for idealism). The more urgent the issue, the simpler your plan. The bigger the hole you’re in, the more direct your path out of it should be. Break the plan into simple steps to make sure no one gets confused. Identify two lists of people: those whose approval you need for the plan, and those who need to be informed of the plan before it is executed. Go to the first group, present the plan, consider their feedback, and get their support. Then communicate that information to the second group.

7. Execute
. Make it happen. Ensure whoever is doing the work was involved in the process and has an intimate understanding of why he’s doing it. There is no room for assumption or ambiguity. Have specific checkpoints (hourly, daily, weekly) to make sure the plan has the desired effect and to force you and others in power to consider any additional effort that needs to be spent on this issue. If new problems do arise, start over at step 1.

8. Debrief. After the fire is out, get the right people in the room and generate a list of lessons learned. (This group may be different from the right people in step 4 because you want to include people impacted by, but not involved in, the decision process.) Ask the question: “What can we do next time to avoid this?” The bigger the issue, the more answers you’ll have to this question. Prioritize the list. Consider who should be responsible for making sure each of the first few items happens.

Making Things Happen: Mastering Project Management
-Scott Berkun

Assorted Cool blogs



Confessions of a Public Speaker- recommended by Tyler Cowen

Tyler Cowen recommends:
Scott Berkun, Confessions of a Public Speaker. If you get only one good tip from this book, it's worth it.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Using Obituaries in Teaching- The Rain Man is dead!

Kim Peek possesses one of the most extraordinary memories ever recorded. Until we can explain his abilities, we cannot pretend to understand human cognition...

He can, indeed, pull a fact from his mental library as fast as a search engine can mine the Internet. He read Tom Clancy’s The Hunt for Red October in one hour and 25 minutes. Four months later, when asked, he gave the name of the Russian radio operator in the book, referring to the page describing the character and quoting several passages verbatim. Kim began memorizing books at the age of 18 months, as they were read to him. He has learned 9,000 books by heart so far. He reads a page in eight to 10 seconds and places the memorized book upside down on the shelf to signify that it is now on his mental “hard drive.”

Kim’s memory extends to at least 15 interests—among them, world and American history, sports, movies, geography, space programs, actors and actresses, the Bible, church history, literature, Shakespeare and classical music. He knows all the area codes and zip codes in the U.S., together with the television stations serving those locales. He learns the maps in the front of phone books and can provide Yahoo-like travel directions within any major U.S. city or between any pair of them. He can identify hundreds of classical compositions, tell when and where each was composed and first performed, give the name of the composer and many biographical details, and even discuss the formal and tonal components of the music. Most intriguing of all, he appears to be developing a new skill in middle life. Whereas before he could merely talk about music, for the past two years he has been learning to play it...

t is not surprising that Kim’s prodigious memory caught the attention of writer Barry Morrow at a chance meeting in 1984 and inspired him to write the screenplay for Rain Man, whose main character, Raymond Babbitt, is a savant played by Dustin Hoffman. The movie is purely fictional and does not tell Kim’s life story, even in outline. But in one remarkably prescient scene, Raymond instantly computes square roots in his head, and his brother, Charlie, remarks, “He ought to work for NASA or something.” For Kim, such a collaboration might well happen.

NASA has proposed to make a high-resolution 3-D anatomical model of Kim’s brain architecture. Richard Boyle, director of the NASA BioVIS Technology Center, describes the project as part of a larger effort to overlay and fuse image data from as wide a range of brains as possible—and that is why Kim’s unusual brain is of particular value. The data, both static and functional, should enable investigators to locate and identify changes in the brain that accompany thought and behavior. NASA hopes that this detailed model will enable physicians to improve their ability to interpret output from far less capable ultrasound imaging systems, which are the only kind that can now be carried into space and used to monitor astronauts.

-Inside the Mind of a Savant

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Invisible Hand for Energy Supply and Demand (for the body)

Dr. Edwin G. Krebs, who shared a Nobel Prize in 1992 for discovering a crucial bodily process that helps govern the movement of muscles, the shape and division of cells, and even learning and memory, died Monday in Seattle. He was 91....

The process Dr. Krebs discovered in the 1950s with Edmond H. Fischer, a colleague at the University of Washington, activates proteins that can change the entire character of cell functions, thus regulating them. Among other actions, the process can trigger the release of hormones that govern bodily functions.

When the process is carried out in successive steps, it can create a cascade that has a powerful final effect. That wave helps to explain how a tiny amount of a hormone, say, can have a vast effect on normal functions throughout the body. It also helps explain cell growth and death.

“It was an embarrassingly simple reaction that we found,” Dr. Fischer said in a telephone interview Wednesday, and “it came out as a total surprise.”

“It turned out to be absolutely crucial for the regulation of cellular processes,” he said.

Imbalances in the cascade effect are believed to be important factors in the development of cancer, heart disease, diabetes and nervous system disorders. Researchers creating novel therapies to combat these diseases have drawn on the work of Drs. Krebs and Fischer, principally by adding and removing phosphates to cell proteins in a process called reversible protein phosphorylation....

In presenting the prize, Prof. Hans Jornvall of the Nobel Assembly likened phosphorylation to ballet shoes: “Despite their small size, they have dramatic effects on their wearer! The shape of the foot is altered, and after that, work is like a dance.” The process is reversible and can be repeated many times, like taking off and putting on the shoes.

-Edwin Krebs Dies at 91; Discovered a Crucial Bodily Process

So why did he become a scientist?

Urbana High School was an excellent institution with highly dedicated teachers and a broad range of extracurricular activities that were useful in helping me make up my mind as to what I wanted to do in life. This problem was one that was occupying my mind increasingly at this time. Because these were depression years, my thinking about various professions was colored by the question of whether or not a given choice of work was one in which I could earn a livelihood. I gravitated toward a scientific career, not because of deep interest in the challenges of the unknown, but because I felt that there was security in becoming a scientist. Science courses, more than the others, provided subject matter that I felt could actually be used.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

You can’t build a country if you’re not thinking beyond your own lifetime

Mr. Ali is an institution in Pakistan. He has started some of the country’s most successful companies. But perhaps his most important contribution has been his role in creating the Lahore University of Management and Science, or L.U.M.S., begun as a business school but now evolved into the approximate equivalent of Harvard University in Pakistan.

Pakistan’s biggest problem, he believes, is one of leadership. A corrosive system of privilege and patronage has eaten away at merit, degrading the fabric of society and making it more difficult for poor people to rise. The growing tendency to see government positions as chances to profit, together with the explosion in the country’s population, has led to a sharp decline in the services that Pakistan’s government offers its people.

“Nobody is bothered about the masses,” Mr. Ali said...

“You can’t build a country if you’re not thinking beyond your own lifetime,” Mr. Ali said.

Pakistan’s education system has been one of the casualties. Good public education can create opportunity in societies, but in Pakistan it has been underfinanced and ignored, in part because the political class that runs the country does not consume its services. Fewer than 40 percent of children are enrolled in school here, far below the South Asian average of 58 percent. As a result, Pakistan’s literacy rate is a grim 54 percent...

These days the university attracts many offspring of wealthy Pakistanis, who would otherwise have gone to the United States or the United Kingdom for their undergraduate studies.

THAT was the case for Mr. Ali, who was studying at the University of Michigan in 1947, the year Pakistan became a state. He returned to Pakistan in December of that year, ultimately earning his bachelor’s degree from Punjab University in Pakistan, but he kept his ties with the United States. His brother later became Pakistan’s ambassador in Washington, and Mr. Ali’s wedding was held in the embassy there — benefits bestowed by a system he now criticizes. The ceremony was attended by Richard M. Nixon, then the vice president, and was photographed for Life magazine...

“Zia did more damage than any other leader,” Mr. Ali said. “He sowed the seeds of this fundamentalism that has raised its ugly head.”

AS early as 1973, Mr. Ali began thinking that Pakistan needed more graduates with leadership skills. He was studying at Harvard Business School at the time. Pakistan’s growing economy needed managers, and its political class needed creative thinkers. That mission became all the more urgent after the changes brought by General Haq in the 1980s, which were narrowing the worldview of Pakistan’s youth.

Pakistan’s young people, Mr. Ali said, should be “citizens of the world, not narrow-minded or intolerant.”..

One hope is that the university will help inculcate a sense of merit and fairness that has all but disappeared from Pakistani society, crippling its growth.

“Merit and fairness are gone,” he said. “The whole system is getting bogged down.”

Admission to L.U.M.S. is strictly on merit, he said, and Pakistanis who try to use connections to get in are turned away.

-One Pakistani Institution Places His Faith in Another

LUMS Launches Economic and Social Development Policy Research Center

Monday, December 21, 2009

BH Economics Blog Awards 2009

Best Overall Economics- (If you had to pick one Economics Blog what would it be?)

Best Econ Literacy
Twenty Cent Paradigms
John Taylor
Worthwhile Canadian Initiative

Best Macro

Best Statistics

Applied Stats
Log Base 2

Best South Asian
Ajay Shah

Most Interesting

Ben Casnocha
Seths' Blog
Three Toed Sloth
Scott Berkun

Best Current Affairs
FP Passport

Best Development
Aid Watch
Africa Can End Poverty
Chris Blattman

Public Management and Government
Joint winners IMF PFM blog and IBM's BizGov

Best Aussie, Kiwi and Irish

Core Economics
Harry Clarke
John Quiggin
Offsetting Behaviour
Irish Economy

Dead Blogs


Best Newcomers
Landsburg's Big Questions
John Stossel
Messy Matters
Cheap Talk

Related: BH Awards 2008

Monday, December 7, 2009

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Think about for the Day

In the United States today, democracy means that most people have essentially zero political power, and a relative handful of people have almost unimaginable power. The central point of Unchecked and Unbalanced is to call attention to the extreme political inequality that has emerged in the United States, particularly over the past fifty years.

-Arnold Kling

Ancient Wisdom and Modern Solutions

Ancient Wisdom and Modern Solutions

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Elinor Ostrum in South Asia

In the south Asian context, the key contribution by Elinor Ostrom, along with other scholars (Shivakoti and Ostrom 2002) has been to provide effective empirical understanding of the performance of different types of irrigation institutional arrangements, along with a theoretical understanding of how these systems work. She demonstrated the importance of involving farmer-users in the design and management of irrigation systems for successful local resource management policies in Nepal. Work in Asia had amply demonstrated that large, centralised and essentially top-down government management systems tended to underperform, with lower rates of return on investment than systems where incentives to engineers were aligned to those of local farmer-users with their active participation (Wade 1982; Lam 1995; Ostrom 2002). Several Indian scholars have been inspired by Ostrom’s work to study issues of collective action and governance of common property resources, and to search for alternative frameworks for understanding how best to manage such resources which are often vital to the very existence of rural livelihoods in India. A large body of literature exists in India on the contributions of common property resources or CPRs as they are commonly labelled. The National Sample Survey too devoted a special round (54th round) to the de jure and de facto existence and contributions of CPRs in India, particularly in terms of their provisioning services such as fuel-wood, fodder and non-timber forest products from forests. Her work and that following hers in south Asia and elsewhere has found that institutions for collective action can emerge in rural societies characterised by inequality, prior history and poor implementation of centrally determined legal structures. Village society was often able to accept some amount of inequality, overlook prior history and agree on common norms of behaviour to solve the problems of the commons.

Several scholars from south Asia benefited from visiting the “Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis”, which Ostrom established in 1973, along with her husband Vincent, a political scientist at the Indiana University Bloomington. Over time, the Workshop has turned out to be an extraordinary forum for productive deliberations from evolving associations of students and professors thereby producing a wealth of theory, empirical studies and experiments at the interface of political economy, social anthropology, economics, political science, and policy studies thereby further enriching the interdisciplinary discourse of collective action. Quite a few of the research students of Ostrom have visited Indian institutes (Institute of Economic Growth (IEG) in Delhi, being one of the prominent ones) and have worked with Indian scholars, thereby resulting in further exchanges. Ostrom herself has visited academic institutions in India a few times, the most recent visit being at the IEG in October 2008, providing the researchers the intellectual space to discuss and debate design issues in moving from models of governance of local to global commons.

Source: EPW


Elinor Ostrom and the Future of Economics
Vincent and Elinor Ostrom and public ownership of natural resources

Podcast: Elinor Ostrom Checks In
A Case Study for Elinor Ostrom's 2009 Nobel Speech?

The Significance of Elinor Ostrom’s Nobel

Books vs Articles: The Flaying of Elinor Ostrom;
Her important book that was key to her prize, Governing the Commons, 1990, has been riduculed because presumably unlike an article in the AER, it did not go through a "peer review" process

Elinor Ostrom on the Market, the State, and the Third Sector

The Ostrom Nobel

An institutional economics prize

Ostrom and Williamson get the Riksbank

What this Nobel prize means
Rethinking Institutional Analysis: Interviews with Vincent and Elinor Ostrom

Elinor Ostrom and the well-governed commons

Elinor Ostrom - Nobel Laureate 2009
Ostrom on institutions: complex solutions can spontaneously emerge

Reality bites
Congratulations to Elinor Ostrom and Oliver Williamson;
Congratulations go out to Elinor Ostrom, co-author of The Samaritan’s Dilemma: The Political Economy of Development Aid (OUP, 2005) and Oliver Williamson, author of The Mechanisms of Governance (OUP, 1999), Organization Theory: From Chester Barnard to the Present and Beyond, 2nd Edition (OUP, 1995), and The Nature of the Firm: Origins, Evolution, and Development (OUP, 1993).

See the world like Elinor Ostrom
To see the world more like Elinor Ostrom is to be guided less by ideology and more by the contours of the situation — to use the right institutional tool for the job. “[N]ational governments,” Ostrom tells us, “are too small to govern the global commons and too big to handle smaller scale problems.”

Skyhooks versus Cranes: The Nobel Prize for Elinor Ostrom;
To understand BOTH why we don’t need police officers in some cases AND why police officers don’t follow the rules in other cases, we have to expand models of human preferences to include a contingent taste for punishing others. In reaching this conclusion, she arrived at a point similar to that reached by Avner Greif (whom the Nobel committee correctly cites.)

Princeton’s Dixit Discusses Nobel for Ostrom, Williamson: Audio

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Lévi-Strauss is dead

A powerful thinker, Mr. Lévi-Strauss, in studying the mythologies of primitive tribes, transformed the way the 20th century came to understand civilization itself. Tribal mythologies, he argued, display remarkably subtle systems of logic, showing rational mental qualities as sophisticated as those of Western societies.

Mr. Lévi-Strauss rejected the idea that differences between societies were of no consequence, but he focused on the common aspects of humanity’s attempts to understand the world. He became the premier representative of “structuralism,” a school of thought in which universal “structures” were believed to underlie all human activity, giving shape to seemingly disparate cultures and creations.

His work was a profound influence even on his critics, of whom there were many. There has been no comparable successor to him in France. And his writing — a mixture of the pedantic and the poetic, full of daring juxtapositions, intricate argument and elaborate metaphors — resembles little that had come before in anthropology.

...With the fading of myth’s power in the modern West, he also suggested that music had taken on myth’s function. Music, he argued, had the ability to suggest, with primal narrative power, the conflicting forces and ideas that lie at the foundation of society.

But Mr. Lévi-Strauss rejected Rousseau’s idea that humankind’s problems derive from society’s distortions of nature. In his view, there is no alternative to such distortions. Each society must shape itself out of nature’s raw material, he believed, with law and reason as the essential tools. This application of reason, he argued, created universals that could be found across all cultures and times. He became known as a structuralist because of his conviction that a structural unity underlies all of humanity’s mythmaking, and he showed how those universal motifs played out in societies, even in the ways a village was laid out.

For Mr. Lévi-Strauss, every culture’s mythology was built around oppositions: hot and cold, raw and cooked, animal and human. And it is through these opposing “binary” concepts, he said, that humanity makes sense of the world.

-Claude Lévi-Strauss, 100, Dies; Altered Western Views of the ‘Primitive’

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Parenting advice for the day

the Walt Disney Company is now offering refunds for all those “Baby Einstein” videos that did not make children into geniuses...

“My impression is that parents really believe these videos are good for their children, or at the very least, not really bad for them,” Ms. Rideout said. “To me, the most important thing is reminding parents that getting down on the floor to play with children is the most educational thing they can do.”

-No Einstein in Your Crib? Get a Refund

Absolutely no TV for kids under 2, pediatricians advise

Memo to Self- Exercise gluteus maximus

“Ancient humans exploited the fact that humans are good runners in the heat,” Dr. Bramble said. “We have such a great cooling system” — many sweat glands, little body hair.

There is other evidence that evolution favored endurance running. A study in The Journal of Experimental Biology last February showed that the short toes of the human foot allowed for more efficient running, compared with longer-toed animals. Increasing toe length as little as 20 percent doubles the mechanical work of the foot. Even the fact that the big toe is straight, rather than to the side, suggests that our feet evolved for running.

“The big toe is lined up with the rest, not divergent, the way you see with apes and our closest nonrunning relatives,” Dr. Bramble said. “It’s the main push-off in running: the last thing to leave the ground is that big toe.”

Springlike ligaments and tendons in the feet and legs are crucial for running. (Our close relatives the chimpanzee and the ape don’t have them.) A narrow waist and a midsection that can turn allow us to swing our arms and prevent us from zigzagging on the trail. Humans also have a far more developed sense of balance, an advantage that keeps the head stable as we run. And most humans can store about 20 miles’ worth of glycogen in their muscles.

And the gluteus maximus, the largest muscle in the human body, is primarily engaged only during running. “Your butt is a running muscle; you barely use it when you walk,” Dr. Lieberman said. “There are so many features in our bodies from our heads to our toes that make us good at running.”

-The Human Body Is Built for Distance

The human gluteus maximus and its role in running

The Bushman's Buttocks: A Lesson to be Learned!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Weekend reading

Carl Jung and The Holy Grail of the Unconscious;
Some people feel that nobody should read the book, and some feel that everybody should read it. The truth is, nobody really knows. Most of what has been said about the book — what it is, what it means — is the product of guesswork, because from the time it was begun in 1914 in a smallish town in Switzerland, it seems that only about two dozen people have managed to read or even have much of a look at it.

What will it take in the Middle East

A settler tosses wine at a Palestinian woman on Shuhada Street in Hebron

Friday, July 10, 2009

You've the right to remain ------

The Urumqi government said Friday that families of "innocent" people killed in the unrest will receive about $29,300 in compensation, but it was unclear how officials would make that determination.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Sex in the city, Saudi version

In Saudi Arabia and other countries where the genders are rigorously separated, many men have their first sexual experiences with other men, which affects their attitudes toward sex in marriage, Ms. Lootah said.

Many men who had anal sex with men before marriage want the same thing with their wives, because they don’t know anything else,” Ms. Lootah said. “This is one reason we need sex education in our schools.”

-Challenging Sex Taboos, With Help From the Koran

Friday, May 1, 2009

Bees Fact of the Day

In effect the honeybee has a daily diary that can include as many as nine appointments — say, 10:00 a.m., lilac; 11:30 a.m., peonies; and so on. The bees’ time-keeping is accurate to about 20 minutes....

Honeybees can tell their sisters how far away the food is up to a distance of about 15 kilometers. For good measure, they can also allow for the fact that the sun moves relative to the hive by about 15 degrees an hour and correct for this when they pass on the information. In other words, they have their own built-in global positioning system and a language that enables them to refer to objects and events that are distant in space or time.

-Let’s Hear It for the Bees

Friday, April 24, 2009

Blog of the Day

Think Geek

A credit worthy face?

Women, for instance, judge men by their faces. Testosterone levels are reflected in the face, and who is seen as a one-night stand and who as a potential husband depends in part on this physical feature. Similarly, a male face betrays the owner’s underlying aggressiveness and even his business acumen. Facial beauty in either sex is also associated with higher incomes. The latest research, though, cuts to the moral quick. For Jefferson Duarte of Rice University in Houston, Texas, and his colleagues are suggesting that one of a person’s most telling moral features, his creditworthiness, can also be seen in his face.

-People's creditworthiness, it seems, can be seen in their looks

Japanese clean Paris

Japan syndrome” hits about 10 Japanese tourists to Paris a year. The victims are so disappointed at the dirty streets and rude waiters that they succumb to a nervous breakdown at the idea of having wasted a week of leave and savings on a trip to the City of Lights.

There is said to be a psychologist, Japanese of course, who treats these despondent compatriots at the embassy

-Japan expats clean up Paris

Costs and Benefits of Friends

A 10-year Australian study found that older people with a large circle of friends were 22 percent less likely to die during the study period than those with fewer friends. A large 2007 study showed an increase of nearly 60 percent in the risk for obesity among people whose friends gained weight. And last year, Harvard researchers reported that strong social ties could promote brain health as we age.

-What Are Friends For? A Longer Life

Understanding and debating Islam

One of the scholars at the Notre Dame conference whom I particularly admire is Nasr Hamid Abu Zayd, an Egyptian Muslim who argues eloquently that if the Koran is interpreted sensibly in context then it carries a strong message of social justice and women’s rights.

Dr. Abu Zayd’s own career underscores the challenges that scholars face in the Muslim world. When he declared that keeping slave girls and taxing non-Muslims were contrary to Islam, he infuriated conservative judges. An Egyptian court declared that he couldn’t be a real Muslim and thus divorced him from his wife (who, as a Muslim woman, was not eligible to be married to a non-Muslim). The couple fled to Europe, and Dr. Abu Zayd is helping the LibForAll Foundation, which promotes moderate interpretations throughout the Islamic world.

“The Islamic reformation started as early as the 19th century,” notes Dr. Abu Zayd, and, of course, it has even earlier roots as well. One important school of Koranic scholarship, Mutazilism, held 1,000 years ago that the Koran need not be interpreted literally, and even today Iranian scholars are surprisingly open to critical scholarship and interpretations.

-Islam, Virgins and Grapes

Sunday, April 12, 2009

The great career experiment

In choosing careers, young people look for signals from society, and Wall Street will no longer pull the talent that it did for so many years,” said Richard Freeman, director of the labor studies program at the National Bureau of Economic Research. “We have a great experiment before us.”

-With Finance Disgraced, Which Career Will Be King?

An Urban Love Story

As she entered the train, she noticed a man standing and reading “History of Philosophy, Volume IX.” That impressed her.

I infer that people who read philosophy are people who think about life and wonder about it and just don’t take everything at face value,” she said. “I like that in a person.”

After silently willing him to look her way (he did not), she finally gathered the courage to ask him about the book. Mr. Laite, now 48, and she began chatting about whether reading philosophy had actually changed their lives. (She said yes; he was unsure). When he noted that there was a Monty Python ditty, “The Philosophers’ Song,” she sang it aloud.

Soon her stop came, and she suddenly faced a problem: should she stay and chat, or exit the train? She chose the latter, but just as the doors snapped shut she called out her e-mail address and said, “If you have any more book recommendations, let me know.” ...

Still, he Googled her that night and found a photograph of her holding one of her birds (she lives with four parrots and two dogs in her one-bedroom apartment). “I wanted to continue the conversation,” he said, and e-mailed her the names of his favorite books, including “Mere Christianity” by C. S. Lewis and “Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind” by Shunryu Suzuki...

The depth of their feelings tickled each of them, because on the surface they are opposites. Mr. Laite lives his life largely in books and movies and has a “spartan routine that would put a Samurai to shame,” said Ms. Feldman, whose apartment is the color of Pepto-Bismol, with a pink chandelier shaped like a giant octopus, expensive art commingled with paint-by-numbers paintings and a vast array of vintage memorabilia....

They were married March 29 at Providence, a restaurant in Midtown Manhattan, which was decorated with all sorts of kitschy memorabilia, most of it culled from the bride’s private collection. The wedding had a “party like it’s 1929” theme, Ms. Feldman said. “A soulful era of contrasts: innocence and sin, optimism and cynicism, soft hearts and hard times.” The approximately 90 guests, were encouraged to dress in period costume and they posed for mug shots. Then, a 1930’s-style fedora perched on his head, Mr. Laite stood with his bride before Jen Laskey, a Universal Life minister, and recited his vows in gangster-ese: “You make me smile with my heart.”

Commenting on the bride — her tattoos winking out from her vintage-style wedding gown, her hair piled high like Lucille Ball — Lisa Beebe, a colleague of Ms. Feldman’s, said, “She has a look that’s very brash, but she’s the sweetest, gentlest person.”

“I see beyond the nerd in him, he sees beneath the gaudy in me,” the bride said. “For the first time in my life, Jeff makes me feel fully seen, fully accepted, fully loved.”

-Dixie Feldman and Jeffrey Laite

Friday, April 3, 2009


After reciting the Oath of Allegiance, 144 people became American citizens during a special naturalization ceremony in Washington. The opening sentence of the oath reads: "I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen."

Co-founder of Twitter Biz Stone

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Biz Stone
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Twitter's Business Model? Well, Ummmm...

The Obsession With Twitter’s Business Model;
Twitter’s venture capitalists say they are not worried about when the microblogging start-up will start making money. And why should they be? The techies in the blogosphere are taking care of that for them.

Twitter watchers are so obsessed with how the company will make a buck that they jump on every hint of a business plan and spread it across the Web.

G-20 and John Nash

Essential task for G20 leaders is a cinema trip to see 'A Beautiful Mind' by Mohamed A El-Erian and Mike Spence;
The US is in the grips of an accelerating process of employment destruction, with over half of the 4.4m jobs lost in the last four of the 14 consecutive months of contraction. Accordingly, its policymakers are pressing other countries to internationalise a massive fiscal stimulus effort. In doing so, they also recognise that the return to the stimulus will be much higher if the financial system and housing are stabilised, because they too are part of the negative feedback dynamics.

Eurozone countries generally agree on the importance of fiscal stimulus. Yet they are not surprisingly uncomfortable with what the US is pressing for. The recession in the region is less advanced, the tolerance for economic pain is higher, and the cross-border leakages are significant.

In these European countries, the focus instead is on long-standing concerns about abuses in the financial sector which are seen to have provided both the fuel and the spark for today's global crisis. Accordingly, policymakers stress financial regulatory reform as the key components of crisis management and crisis prevention.

At one level, emerging economies do not disagree with the US and Europe. Yet, when it comes to their central revealed preference, the onus is to stress a third element: the need to counter trade protectionism and ensure the appropriate flows of international capital. Brazil's President Lula's forcefully advocated this position when he visited President Obama in the Oval Office earlier this month.

Here is where John Nash comes in. The differing onus reflects the fact that various countries start with diverse "dominant strategies" consistent with differences in their initial conditions, be they economic, political or social. Moreover, there is merit in all three. Yet, as the concept and incentive structure of the "prisoners' dilemma" illustrates, the world will undoubtedly end up with a sub-optimal outcome if each party to the solution were to follow just its dominant strategy.

Given the accelerating nature of the crisis, a Nash equilibrium of this type would go down in history as a notable lost opportunity, if not a disastrous mistake similar to what occurred in the international conference of 1933. Accordingly, and again using Nash's framework, the world needs to find a way of "imposing" a more "cooperative solution." What is needed domestically and globally is a coordinated solution that changes the payoffs and hence the virulence of the downward dynamics.

The two traditional ways to get there are ineffective in today's global economy. The IMF needs to address long-standing representation, governance and expertise deficits before it can restore its position at the centre of the international monetary system. The alternative of single country leadership requires a weakened US to step up to the plate more forcefully and, critically, in a manner that recognises that persuasion will work better than lecturing.

So, are we doomed to end up in a sub-optimal non-cooperative Nash equilibrium? The probability is high but it is not inevitable. There is still time for more meaningful cooperation among countries based on the simultaneous, rather than sequential, pursuit of the three priorities: real economy stimulus, financial system stabilisation and openness.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Seeking your advice: Which Economics Department do you recommed?

Maryland, NYU Economics or GMU Economics?

Happy Marriage fact of the Day

a marriage is worth almost £80,000 ($110,000) a year; this reflects partly the fact that marriage makes people happy, but also the fact that we need lots of money to increase our well-being by much.

-Economics in Desperate Housewives

Is World Bank a pyramid scheme?

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Dambisa Moyo
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Lunch with the FT: Dambisa Moyo;
And, as the historian Niall Ferguson (a contributing editor to the FT), notes in a foreword to Moyo’s book, she is venturing into a debate that has to date been colonised by white men – be they rock stars such as Bono, politicians such as Tony Blair or the academics Jeffrey Sachs and Bill Easterly...

Her book contains a damning assessment of the failures of 60 years of western development programmes, but also focuses on an alternative path. This blends micro-finance and changes to property laws with a grasp of the immense opportunity and freedom that shifting global trade patterns, Chinese investment in infrastructure and bond markets could represent for Africa.

“There has been more private capital coming into Africa; more African countries have been issuing bonds. There are the Chinese ... Africa has turned a corner. Now it’s about closing the deal,” she insists with characteristic optimism and a slice of Parma ham, delivered as an amuse-gueule between courses....

And what of the World Bank, where Moyo once worked for two years, and the International Monetary Fund? Do they and other donors not deserve some credit for helping lay the foundations in some countries of recent growth? Yes, they do, she says, in terms of the reforms they have promoted but they have not been aggressive enough about phasing out aid.

This might sound high-handed from someone who lives comfortably in London. But Moyo is not arrogant. She counts herself exceptionally lucky. When she was growing up as a young girl in Zambia her aspiration was to become a flight attendant. She never dreamed she would win the scholarships that took her to Harvard and Oxford, and then to Goldman Sachs. She mostly thanks her parents, who were among the first graduates at university in the Zambian capital Lusaka. They left Africa in search of further education in the early 1970s, when communications were rudimentary and leaving was a journey into the unknown. But when they could they hurried back to help build a future for their country.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Freeman Dyson profile

Among Dyson’s gifts is interpretive clarity, a penetrating ability to grasp the method and significance of what many kinds of scientists do. His thoughts about how science works appear in a series of lucid, elegant books for nonspecialists that have made him a trusted arbiter of ideas ranging far beyond physics. Dyson has written more than a dozen books, including “Origins of Life” (1999), which synthesizes recent discoveries by biologists and geologists into an evaluation of the double-origin hypothesis, the possibility that life began twice; “Disturbing the Universe” (1979) tries among other things to reconcile science and humanity. “Weapons and Hope” (1984) is his meditation on the meaning and danger of nuclear weapons that won a National Book Critics Circle Award. Dyson’s books display such masterly control of complex matters that smart young people read him and want to be scientists; older citizens finish his books and feel smart.

Yet even while probing and sifting, Dyson is always whimsically gazing into the beyond. As a boy he sketched plans for English rocket ships that could explore the stars, and then, in midlife, he helped design an American spacecraft to be powered by exploding atomic bombs — a secret Air Force project known as Orion. Dyson remains an armchair astronaut who speculates with glee about the coming of cheap space travel, when families can leave an overcrowded earth to homestead on asteroids and comets, swooping around the universe via solar sail craft. Dyson is convinced that our current “age of computers” will soon give way to “the age of domesticated biotechnology.” Bio-tech, he writes in his book, “Infinite in All Directions” (1988), “offers us the chance to imitate nature’s speed and flexibility,” and he imagines the furniture and art that people will “grow” for themselves, the pet dinosaurs they will “grow” for their children, along with an idiosyncratic menagerie of genetically engineered cousins of the carbon-eating tree: termites to consume derelict automobiles, a potato capable of flourishing on the dry red surfaces of Mars, a collision-avoiding car.

These ideas attract derision similar to Dyson’s essays on climate change, but he is an undeterred octogenarian futurist. “I don’t think of myself predicting things,” he says. “I’m expressing possibilities. Things that could happen. To a large extent it’s a question of how badly people want them to. The purpose of thinking about the future is not to predict it but to raise people’s hopes.” Formed in a heretical and broad-thinking tradition of British public intellectuals, Dyson left behind a brooding England still stricken by two bloody world wars to become an optimistic American immigrant with tremendous faith in the creative imagination’s ability to invent technologies that would overcome any predicament. And according to the physicist and former Caltech president Marvin Goldberger, Dyson is himself the living embodiment of that kind of ingenuity. “You point Freeman at a problem and he’ll solve it,” Goldberger says. “He’s extraordinarily powerful.” Dyson seems to see the world as an interdisciplinary set of problems out there for him to evaluate. Climate change is the big scientific issue of our time, so naturally he finds it irresistible. But to Dyson this is really only one more charged conundrum attracting his interest just as nuclear weapons and rural poverty have. That is to say, he is a great problem-solver who is not convinced that climate change is a great problem.

Dyson is well aware that “most consider me wrong about global warming.” That educated Americans tend to agree with the conclusion about global warming reached earlier this month at the International Scientific Conference on Climate Change in Copenhagen (“inaction is inexcusable”) only increases Dyson’s resistance. Dyson may be an Obama-loving, Bush-loathing liberal who has spent his life opposing American wars and fighting for the protection of natural resources, but he brooks no ideology and has a withering aversion to scientific consensus. The Nobel physics laureate Steven Weinberg admires Dyson’s physics — he says he thinks the Nobel committee fleeced him by not awarding his work on quantum electrodynamics with the prize — but Weinberg parts ways with his sensibility: “I have the sense that when consensus is forming like ice hardening on a lake, Dyson will do his best to chip at the ice.”

Dyson says he doesn’t want his legacy to be defined by climate change, but his dissension from the orthodoxy of global warming is significant because of his stature and his devotion to the integrity of science. Dyson has said he believes that the truths of science are so profoundly concealed that the only thing we can really be sure of is that much of what we expect to happen won’t come to pass. In “Infinite in All Directions,” he writes that nature’s laws “make the universe as interesting as possible.” This also happens to be a fine description of Dyson’s own relationship to science. In the words of Avishai Margalit, a philosopher at the Institute for Advanced Study, “He’s a consistent reminder of another possibility.” When Dyson joins the public conversation about climate change by expressing concern about the “enormous gaps in our knowledge, the sparseness of our observations and the superficiality of our theories,” these reservations come from a place of experience. Whatever else he is, Dyson is the good scientist; he asks the hard questions. He could also be a lonely prophet. Or, as he acknowledges, he could be dead wrong.

-The Civil Heretic

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Weird Art

In Join Or Die, I paint myself having sex with the Presidents of the United States in chronological order. I am interested in humanizing and demythologizing the Presidents by addressing their public legacies and private lives. The presidency itself is a seemingly immortal and impenetrable institution; by inserting myself in its timeline, I attempt to locate something intimate and mortal. I use this intimacy to subvert authority, but it demands that I make myself vulnerable along with the Presidents. A power lies in rendering these patriarchal figures the possible object of shame, ridicule and desire, but it is a power that is constantly negotiated.

via Boing Boing

Photo of the Day

Photo by Sigit Pamungkas

via cool photography blog from Reuters

Income of an escort in Singapore

If you have youth, glamourous looks and finesse, we want you. Join us in entertaining our world wide clientele. Do not hesitate to contact us immediately. Selected applicants can expect to earn between US$10K to US$15K per month

Our Requirements: Age: 18-23 Height: 5’5" & above.

Not bad, given that 'the average monthly earnings in Singapore in the first quarter of 2008 is $4,316'

An impressive critique of UK Prime Minister

via Stumbling and Mumbling

Friday, March 27, 2009

Juan Cole's advise to Obama

The School of Athens - History podcast of the Day

The School of Athens ;
Despite commissioning the Sistine Chapel, Pope Julius II is better known as a warrior than a scholar. But when he did put down the sword and pick up a book, he would have done so under a magnificent if slightly unexpected fresco. It is called The School of Athens, it was painted by Raphael in 1509 and it sits in a room in the Vatican that housed Julius’ private library.

The School of Athens depicts an imaginary scene in which all the philosophers of antiquity are gathered together. At their centre stand Plato and Aristotle, deep in discussion. Plato is pointing at the sky and Aristotle at the ground.

In that pairing of gestures, Raphael captured something essential about the philosophies of these two men, but he also revealed much about his own time. That such a pagan pair could be found beside a Pope in private tells of the complexity of intellectual life at the time when classical learning was reborn in what we now call the Renaissance.

Nassim Taleb on the History of Medicine

What's Taleb upto now;

History of medicine, anti-academic, anti-knowledge. Medicine: whenever we use knowledge as a driver instead of tinkering, we get in trouble. Examples: Our understanding of biological processes led to a decrease in cures. When just tinkering we did better than with directed research. Directed research gives us a strong bias and blinds us to things we don't know are there. In medicine, most medicines are used to cure something completely different from what the intention was. Side-effects dominate. Try to collect positive black swans. Hubris problem, overestimating our knowledge. Difficult to think rationally about uncertainty and risk. Trust the science part, ask the doctor, but the doctor has no idea about the probabilities. Each person, disease is different. Minimize the harm coming from theories. Empirical doctors were successful until eliminated after the rise of Arabic medicine. Western medicine was rationalistic after the Arabic tradition. Improvements after that came from the barbers, not from the doctors. Thinking has not helped us a lot. Evidence in option trading. People think that quants make option formulas, therefore the market uses them. Bogus. Supply and demand. Did a lot better before the Black and Scholes formula...

Religion and probability. Most people think that religion is about belief, but it is about practice. Greek Orthodox but Arabic-speaking. The way Arabs say is not "I don't know" is "God knows." Allows you to say you don't know, transfers from yourself to another entity. Allows you to be humble. History of medicine: accounts of giving a fortune to the Temple of Apollo: You saved me when my doctors failed me. Doctors gave negative contributions, particularly by bleeding; or more recently, delivered a baby after going to the morgue. Brought in religion. Error we have in believing religion is about belief, but it's about commitment, the system, living with something. We're not yet good with ideas. Can see from this crisis. Great Moderation turned out to be not so great. What does probability have to do with religion? Idea of true/false; degree of belief. May do something against the odds because the consequences or large or even without analyzing it. Probability is not opaque; and even if it were, we wouldn't use it because of the consequences. Pascal's wager: Since God might exist, I might as well be a religious person. Payoffs from being religious are much higher than negative payoffs if God doesn't exist. Had to also assume that God doesn't exist and also not know about gaming the system. Maybe actions are more important than beliefs--in some religious systems the actions count. Greek Orthodox, Easter; Judaism, Maimonides, not every Jewish sage lists belief in God as one of the commandments because there is a debate about whether you can mandate belief. In Arabic, the name for religion, din, is the same as the word for law in Hebrew. To be a law-abiding citizen, keep the rules. Hard to keep the rules if you do not keep the faith. Motivating people without faith. Losing patience about people who are skeptics about religion, and at the same time are not skeptical about economics or VAR. Solving our own problems. Hayek, lot of instinct, contributions part of philosophical thinking.

Nandan Nilekani and Tom Friedman

Book recommendation; Imagining India: The Idea of a Renewed Nation

Parenting Advice from Gladwell's Outliers

Parents and Society matter!

Find a Toilet anywhere in the World

SitorSquat; is a site that is dedicated to telling you where the closest place to relieve yourself is and whether or not that place is worth even sitting or squatting (or standing) at. We all find ourselves needing a public restroom every once in a while, whether it's walking down a city block or driving on a highway with a few whining kids in the backseat. This application is designed to be viewed either on your computer or your mobile device.* It functions worldwide as it is based on Google Maps. The toilets on Sit or Squat are submitted by anyone The site can be personalized for each member based on their needs and preferences. A member is also able to create a list of their favorite toilets as well as share them with their friends. As time goes by and more data is recorded, the site will continue to get more accurate in ratings as well as more options in places to go. We all need to relieve ourselves everyday, so the chances of it being somewhere other than your home are pretty high. So for that reason alone, we bring you

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Mindmapping for Teaching

Top 100 sites by Country

Pakistan (includes pornhub and bollywoodhungama)

India (includes Pornhub, Indian Railways, Shaadi,)

Saudi Arabia


China (includes Craiglist,


United States (includes pornhub, Fox News Channel, and NYT)

Nigeria (includes EBay,, )

Mind is not a blind slate

Babies 'can do' maths

HOT from Singapore

THE controversial legislation which allows reimbursement of living kidney donors was passed in Parliament yesterday after a heated debate.

Even after Health Minister Khaw Boon Wan assured the House that the new law did not seek to legalise organ trading, not all were convinced.

When the final vote on the amendments to the Human Organ Transplant Act (Hota) was taken, four MPs abstained and one said 'no'.

The four were Madam Halimah Yacob (Jurong GRC), Ms Denise Phua (Jalan Besar GRC), opposition Hougang MP Low Thia Khiang and Non-Constituency MP Sylvia Lim.

The dissenter was Mr Christopher de Souza (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC), who objected on the grounds that the Bill lacked details to ensure donations would be 'not-for-profit, transparent and devoid of abuse'.

'While I agree with the principle of reimbursement...the framework in the Bill could be the subject of abuse,' he said.

All in, a dozen MPs spoke passionately on the Bill over the past two days.

They were all for three of the four changes - lifting the age limit on cadaveric donors, allowing recipients to swop donors for a better match, and increasing penalties for organ trading. But most were uncomfortable about allowing reimbursement of living kidney donors. Their main fear was that people would exploit it to induce donors to sell their kidneys, opening the back door to organ trading.

They were also worried about an uneven playing field, with the rich finding it easier than the poor to obtain kidneys.

Questions they posed: Should there be caps on payments? Should foreign donors be excluded from receiving reimbursements? What role does the Government play to safeguard against abuses?

-Kidney payment gets nod

Legal Kidney Selling in Singapore and the International Economy

Organ Selling in Singapore: The Sad Real Story

Human Organs for Sale, Legally, in … Which Country?

Kidney Exchange

Brother, can you spare a kidney?

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Political Islam 101

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Juan Cole
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Engaging the Muslim World by Juan Cole Palgrave MacMillan, 282 pages, $26.95

Sowing Crisis: The Cold War and American Dominance in the Middle East by Rashid Khalidi, Beacon Press, 308 pages, $25.95

Dreams and Shadows: The Future of the Middle East by Robin Wright, Penguin Press, 464 pages, $26.95