Friday, December 21, 2012


It's the summer solstice here in Wellington, which always feels like the end of the year to me. The longest day should end the year, in my view. Calendar reform now!

At any rate, it feels like as good a time as any to look back at the year. The readership of this blog has grown a bit over the last year, and some posts garnered significant attention, for which I am quite grateful; it is nice to be read, and responses have been thoughtful and useful. Thanks for reading!

The posts on cults of personality seem to be particularly popular; this year one of the old posts on the subject got picked up on Hacker News, for example, which led to thousands of new views. My own personal favorites this year (if I may say so) were my review of Daniel Leese's book on the Mao cult and the post on the triumph of universal suffrage, which also seem to have been relatively popular. I might also single out the "Complexity of Emotion in Authoritarian States" post (which sort of belongs to last year, when Kim Jong-il died), the post on Charles Tilly's poetry and models in the social sciences, the post on ancient and modern "mixed constitutionalism," and the post on reversed systems of suffrage censitaire and Rawls' difference principle, about which I'm still trying to figure out what I actually think. I didn't write as much this year as last year - it's been an exceptionally busy time at work - but I am reasonably happy with most of the things I wrote, some of which have led to papers in progress. (And, I published a book! Yay!)

But enough of that. In the spirit of celebrating the holidays, here is some cool reading material:

The world probably won't end on Friday, but it's still a good time to remind yourself that Mesoamerican eschatology is really really neat.
The Aztecs believed that the creator-god, Ometeotl, created four main gods for the four cardinal directions. These four gods tried to create the world, but it was too dark and they kept screwing up and dropping stuff into the Great Void, where it was eaten by Cipactli the Crocodile Demon With Extra Mouths Upon Every Joint And Teeth Protruding From Her Entire Body.
The gods realized they had to get their act together. They slew the Crocodile Demon and placed the world atop her body. They created mankind out of ashes. And they elected Tezcatlipoca, God of Darkness And Killing Everybody, to become the sun so they could see what they were doing a little better. 
But - and this is what happens when you don't have a God of Staffing Decisions - the God of Darkness made a predictably terrible sun. The stories say he was "only half a sun", although they don't specify whether they mean only half the desired brightness or literally semicircular. In any case, Quetzalcoatl, God Of Niceness And Maybe Not Killing Everybody All The Time, knocked Tezcatlipoca out of the sky, took over as Sun, and did by all accounts a much better job.
It gets better. (Also contains some interesting speculation about why the Aztecs might have developed such a cosmology).

Legislators depend upon their respective electoral districts for reelection. As a result, they face incentives to advance the interests of their constituencies, even when those interested are at odds with the wider interests of the country as a whole. These incentives generate logrolling, pork barrel projects, and other effects that are potentially detrimental to the national interest. Any solution to these problems would have to align the interests of legislators more closely with the national interest. This paper explores one possible proposal for accomplishing this aim. The proposal would require candidates seeking legislative election (or reelection) to run in different districts for primary and general elections. While a candidate would be at liberty to seek nomination by a particular party in any district she chooses, once nominated she would be required to face the candidates of other parties in another district selected at random. The result would be that legislators would make decisions behind what we call a veil of randomness.Our paper describes such a rule, including its philosophical and economic underpinnings, and subsequently demonstrates how the rule changes each politician’s preference function to align with a more universal interest. It concludes by reflecting upon the lessons of this proposal for the project of institutional reform.

Much tougher than you are
Bacteria having a great time in the anoxic brine of the (formerly) ice-sealed Lake Vida in Antarctica. (Living la vida loca?)

Have a good holiday season, whatever you may celebrate.

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