I (re)started blogging a year and a half ago, mostly as a way to force myself to write while I was on research leave, and I'm grateful and astonished at the fact that I seem to have acquired a bit of a readership. Some 200 people seem to read this blog regularly via RSS feed, and perhaps 100-200 more read it through various other means. Several of the posts on cults of personality and related phenomena have been picked up by very high traffic sites, garnering thousands of pageviews, and the unexpected attention pushed me into starting an actual research project on the topic, which will consume me probably for years :). Thanks to the people who have linked to or shared my posts, and thank you readers!
In the spirit of celebrating the holidays, I give you some links for your holiday reading (or viewing) pleasure:
- The creativity of the Syrian protestors on display in this article is amazing. The Homs International Tank Wash and Lubrication Center would not be out of place in a play by Brecht. And the prank with the amplifier broadcasting a recording of a protest (and forcing the police to run around the city looking for a non-existent protest) is just brilliant. Incidentally, it seems that the protesters are (rightly) following the playbook of the CANVAS group (previously OTPOR, this group played a role in the colour revolutions), staging "dilemma" actions that make the regime lose the respect of the population regardless of how they respond. I wonder if this is a case of independent evolution, or if there is real diffusion at work (as appears to have been the case in Tunisia and Egypt).
- I quite enjoyed this post by Timothy Burke on information as a mirror.
- Towards a general theory of noncompetitive elections in authoritarian contexts. Electoral fraud is part of a signalling game; there is often more fraud in elections that are not close than in those that are close, since the extent of fraud is used to signal regime strength.
- Flattery inflation happening right now in Venezuela.
- Jay Ulfelder's forecast of democratic transitions in 2012. He makes a good point here as well: for pure forecasting purposes, comparative perspective (and statistical analysis) is often far more useful than deep country knowledge. (See also Tetlock's "Expert Political Judgment").
- The Philosopher's Beard on why democracy cannot be seen as a "truth machine."
- The trouble with causality. This is why I don't get criticisms of social science that suggest that it is inaccessible, or criticize sophisticated methodologies. Figuring out social and biological causal relations is hard!
- Theoretical egalitarianism as primitive classification.
- Richard Sennett on cities, complexity, and becoming mature. I thought this was very wise: "Learning to interact well with strangers requires a toleration of ambiguity, the capacity to contain frustration, an ability to listen carefully to people whose speech, needs, or desires may seem alien; none of these skills falls within the domain of pleasure, if that’s what happiness is; indeed, the entry into adulthood occurs exactly when people become capable of feeling connected to, and even solidarity with, other people who give them no pleasure."
- Reihan Salam is very thought-provoking on the importance and implications of embeddedness (and its lack) for politics here and here.
Some biologically-themed links:
- All sufficiently advanced technologies are indistinguishable from nature.
- The World's Tallest Tree. The video is awesome.
- Dolphins and whales at play.
- Spider perception at the edge of the possible.
- The great wolverine: much tougher than you are.
- How to destroy the earth. "The Earth is built to last. It is a 4,550,000,000-year-old, 5,973,600,000,000,000,000,000-tonne ball of iron. It has taken more devastating asteroid hits in its lifetime than you've had hot dinners, and lo, it still orbits merrily. So my first piece of advice to you, dear would-be Earth-destroyer, is: do NOT think this will be easy."
And finally, some beautiful holiday extremophiles for you: haloarchaea turn Lake Eyre in Australia pink:
(Image from NASA Earth Observatory)