Saturday, 30 December 2006

Moving to Opportunity: Girls vs Boys

A US program to move poor families out of low-income neighborhoods had surprising results: while poor girls did significantly better in the new neighborhoods, poor boys did significantly worse.

I wonder why. An evol-psych based guess, and it is just a guess, would be: poor males are more likely to suffer discrimination (in some very broad sense) from rich males than poor females.

Wednesday, 27 December 2006

Christmas in Iraq

At 10 o’clock PM, the 24th of December, Santa and his reindeers were flying over Baghdad. Rather lower than usual, so that the radars will not be able to detect them. Rudolph checked that out thoroughly .
The land beneath them was completely black; no lights, no decorations, no fire works no sign of Christmas at all. Every now and then they would hear bullets sounds and explosions . Rudolph gave instructions to the others to go a little lower, when they reached the local church. The church was closed; no chanting or bells could be heard, just a well locked mute building. The next second a deafening blast ripped the sky and faster than Santa and his reindeers could realize , they plunged down into a filthy water puddle . They lay there in the dark too shocked to move for a while . The first voice was uttered by Rudolph :- Santa are you alive ? answer me .- Arghhhh, ohhhhh, I am ok I think, were we hit ?- I think so . I read that mortar missiles are in fashion now in Baghdad .

Read the whole story at the Iraqi roulette .

Wednesday, 20 December 2006

Learn SNA, join the marines

The US Army used Social Network Analysis to capture Saddam Hussein:

The capture of Saddam Hussein in December 2003 was the result of hard work
along with continuous intelligence gathering and analysis. Each day another piece of
the puzzle fell into place. Each led to coalition forces identifying and locating more of
the key players in the insurgent network—both highly visible ones like Saddam Hussein and the lesser ones who sustained and supported the insurgency. This process produced detailed diagrams that showed the structure of Hussein’s personal security apparatus and the relationships among the persons identified.
The intelligence analysts and commanders in the 4th Infantry Division spent the
summer of 2003 building link diagrams showing everyone related to Hussein by
blood or tribe. Those family diagrams led counterinsurgents to the lower level, but
nonetheless highly trusted, relatives and clan members harboring Hussein and helping him move around the countryside. The circle of bodyguards and mid-level military officers, drivers, and gardeners protecting Hussein was described as a “Mafia organization,” where access to Hussein controlled relative power within the network.
Over days and months, coalition forces tracked how the enemy operated. Analysts
traced trends and patterns, examined enemy tactics, and related enemy tendencies
to the names and groups on the tracking charts. This process involved making continual adjustments to the network template and constantly determining which critical data points were missing.
Late in the year, a series of operations produced an abundance of new intelligence
about the insurgency and Hussein’s whereabouts. Commanders then designed a series of raids to capture key individuals and leaders of the former regime who could
lead counterinsurgents to him. Each mission gained additional information, which
shaped the next raid. This cycle continued as a number of mid-level leaders of the
former regime were caught, eventually leading coalition forces into Hussein’s most
trusted inner circle and finally to Hussein’s capture.

See Appendix B.
The whole thing is quite interesting reading - it's the US army's counterinsurgency manual.

Tuesday, 19 December 2006


(I'm going to use this post to collect quotes in. The first is a juicy one via the Economist.)

“The only happiness a brave man ever troubled himself with asking much about was, happiness enough to get his work done.” - Carlyle

"It is safest to be moderately base - to be flexible in shame, and to be always ready for what is generous, good, and just, when anything is to be gained by virtue." - Sydney Smith

"They all want to be eagles, but they don't want to act like eagles, so we're going to have to do it ourselves" - Ken Kesey, quoted in Tom Wolfe, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test

"The mere knowledge of a fact is pale; but when you come to realize your fact, it takes on color." - Mark Twain, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court

"The manipulation of fervor is the germ of bondage" - Milovan Djilas

"It is, therefore, a just political maxim, that every man must be supposed a knave: Though at the same time, it appears somewhat strange, that a maxim should be true in politics, which is false in fact. But to satisfy us on this head, we may consider, that men are generally more honest in their private than in their public capacity, and will go greater lengths to serve a party, than when their own private interest is alone concerned. Honour is a great check upon mankind: But where a considerable body of men act together, this check is, in a great measure, removed; since a man is sure to be approved of by his own party, for what promotes the common interest; and he soon learns to despise the clamours of adversaries." -- Hume, On the Independence of Parliament

Monday, 18 December 2006

Saw Borat the other day

and laughed like a drain. Shyanmei was traumatized by the naked wrestling scene. One of the funniest and most shocking bits is Borat's ludicrously over-the-top anti-semitism. Here's a story of the real life equivalent:

I was like most teenagers whose main source of news was Saddam’s regime’s media outlets and school curricula. They all denounced the “Jews”. None of them clarified what the difference was. Like most of those in my age, I was brain washed. I was taught to hate the “Jews”, all of them, not only the “Zionists”....

The first thing that clarified things to me was when I worked with American journalists. I discovered that some of them were Jews. I didn’t know what to do. I was afraid and confused. I couldn’t even ask for people’s advice. How come I tell them I work with those whom they hated their entire lives? Should I keep working with them or stop? I wondered. I was torn. “These are Zionists,” I thought at the time until I found out the real difference....

It was through the internet that I first recognized that mysterious difference that was hidden and kept away from Iraqis for decades. It was time to ask more about the Iraqi Jews. Who were they? Where did they go? How do they look like? Were they like the Israeli soldiers killing the Palestinians? And more questions were that were held hostage in my mind for a long time. I let them free. I asked everyone knew an Iraqi Jew. I started with my grandmother. I sat on the brown wooden sofa in her kitchen. We talked for hours. Eventually she cried when she remembered her best Jewish friend Clair who was her neighbor as well. She was one of the thousands of Iraqi Jews who were forced to leave Iraq in the 1940s. She told me all about them. They were like us, Iraqis. She told me that they were very famous of the trade of cloths. My grandfather was a wealthy man whose main cloth merchants were Jewish. He owned several factories of sewing clothes. She narrated stories of how my mother, uncles and aunts had so many Jewish friends who used to go together to the same schools.

From Baghdad Treasure.

Friday, 15 December 2006

Fragments of my non-academic life

I’ve been drinking lots of coffee. Here, the smallest size is about a pint. I’ve got addicted to the mochas from downstairs. Oh, the food at Northwestern is great by the way – you can get fresh sushi at the student cafĂ©. Ha ha ha, Essex students eat your hearts out, deep fried at S Express. The other thing one can do is just steal food. The school of business has all these gatherings for recruitment or, I dunno, “dilemmas of leadership in the salted snack market”. And they leave their delicious buffet food out while they go and discuss these important topics. So starving PhD students come along and snaffle it. You could basically live and eat free at Kellogg. Not so much red wine as Essex though.

I decided to live in Rogers Park which is just over the border in Chicago from Evanston. My flatmate is a standup comedian. The first ten days I moved in the other guys had not yet moved out and were camped out on the sofa. They were nice people but they also invited their mate to come and stay, a chap who did not vastly impress me and who, by his own admission, had spent $10000 filming his girlfriend breaking up with him. It’ll be hitting the box office soon, folks, get queuing. Working title is The Least Heterosexual Man in Chicago and you can imagine the dialogue: “put the videocamera down or I’ll break up with you, gimpwit”. Anyway, eventually they went, taking all the furniture with them, and we ate off polystyrene boxes for the next two weeks until we were given some furniture by a kindly Progressive Catholic (apparently this is not a euphemism for lesbian).

Seems like everyone in Chicago is a playwright or an artist or something equally disgraceful. Decline of the Midwest. As you know, there is nobody as ruthlessly self-interested as an artist – corporate lawyers have nothing on them. Anyway, as I was saying my flatmate is a standup comedian and also a video editor and one of his projects is to do funeral videos for dead people. So his demo is himself. He made a video of himself, with a slow closeup of his smiling face while REM plays in the background, then slow motion pictures of him having fun with his mates. Convincing stuff.

We kitted out the living room with a funky computer-assisted stereo, you can just login remotely and play MP3s through the speakers. Very sweet.

Gosh, I just got my grades. V exciting. I now have an official Grade Point Average. Always wanted one of those.

Right, as you can probably guess we just had the departmental Christmas party so I’m going to review an article. More later.


So I promised Mar that I would write and describe how America has been. I thought I'd do it here and point people at it via email.

First of all, sorry I haven't been more talkative before... but work here is intense. The term finished last Friday with a 3 hour exam. Before that I'd had 5 other exams, plus 3 homeworks every week - most of which took at least a day to complete, often more. Not much time for anything but work; I've barely seen Chicago, for example.

The upside is that you learn a lot. I am slowly putting together a toolkit for formal theory. My scorecard so far - this is all on the mathematical side of things, ignoring the economics and political science for the moment:

unconstrained optimization [X]
constrained optimization [X]
linear programming [X]
fixed point theorems [X]
convexity [ ]
differential equations [ ]
probability [ ]
statistics [ ]

Of course there's lots more (and the last two are big gaps which I may not even begin to fill this year). But all these things should help. The next stage is really to get practice in using these things to do social science. So next term I'm taking a credit in independent study with David Austen-Smith. I'm hoping to look at how migration interacts with politics in non-democratic settings. Right now I'm getting a reading list of papers together: the idea is, I present them to him and we discuss them. I also want to try to develop a model myself.

So this is all very exciting. The people I mostly hang around with here are the first year economics PhDs. They are smart, usually straight out of school and with a variety of backgrounds - in particular, different mathematical levels, some are almost as bad as me, and some are going to graduate level algebraic topology courses in the Maths department. (I've had a fabulous course in real analysis from the same place.) Nobody is really sure what they are going to write about - all are too busy doing coursework. Thesis comes later.

I'm also getting to see economics from the inside. It's very interesting. We tend to think of economics as imperialists - well, my preferred metaphor is barbarians from the steppes. In fact they are facing a bit of an internal challenge themselves, from more empirical work in experimental economics which tends to link up with psychology. There is also, as far as I can see, a feeling in the discipline that "economic theory" (i.e. the very abstract mathematical modelling side of things) has got rather out of control and out of touch. (I'm sure the feeling's not universal.) Interesting to see what will happen from here on. Despite all this, my mental map of the discipline is still very unclear. Something like: neoclassical revival 60s-70s [?], then along come game theory and economics of information, plus experimental economics. But I don't know the exact order of events, or how all these pieces fit together, or how they fit with e.g. public choice and political economy.

So that's the academic side. Soon I'll blog about the rest. But in all honesty, the academic side is 80% of it.

(Oh, one footnote... now term has finished I'm doing some of my own work, purely empirical... and I think I have an interesting positive result! w00t.)

Thursday, 7 December 2006

Im Falschen gibt es kein rechtes Leben

24stepstoliberty's reaction to the Baker-Hamilton report (via

The title is an Adorno quote and means "there is no right living in falsehood", an allusion to an old idea of (medieval?) ethics: once you commit one sin, there may be no right course of action.

Limits of rational ignorance

The theory and evidence that voters are rationally ignorant is probably the single most important discovery in political science.

Nevertheless, it has its limits. (The link takes you to Amazon's top sellers. The Iraq Study Group's report is currently #30 on its first day of release.)

Monday, 4 December 2006

first snow in Chicago

and Owen, my flatmate and multitalented video editor/stand up comedian, has taken a picture of me enjoying it

thanks Owen