September 2008

Book Review: Nudge by Thaler and Sunnstein

by Limbic on September 18, 2008

Looks like we have a Tipping Point / Made to Stick / Fooled by Randomness type instant classic here:

This year has seen a glut of books on topics in that strange area occupied awkwardly by behavioural economics, cognitive psychology, and experimental philosophy. Some fail to distinguish themselves, merely rehashing the many ways in which we aren’t perfectly rational creatures. Others, however, find an original angle to tack the last 30 years of work since Daniel Kahneman first thought “but wait, real people don’t make rational choices”. Nudge (Thaler and Sunnstein, Yale University Press, 2008) is from two leading University of Chicago economists and takes a public policy angle that has been rewarded in the bestseller lists.

The authors (who refer to each other by their last names, even in the blog that accompanies the book, an awkward affectation that makes me picture two 1950s men in suits at a work cocktail party) have coined a new term: libertarian paternalism. By this they mean that policy makers can use your brain’s decision-making shortcuts to steer you towards good behaviour while still leaving you free to choose bad. It’s opt-out public policy.

Libertarian Paternalism is a brilliant phrase because it has something for everything: libertarianism for the Small Government suit, paternalism for the Smug Liberal. Nudge has been required reading in the halls of English and US power, because it promises that you can have your cake and eat it. You can make decisions for other people, but not be hated by the people who don’t like you making decisions for other people! What’s not to love?

The book has a simple structure: first the authors walk us through our cognitive biases, the flaws in our decision-making apparatus; then they take us through different real-world scenarios such as social security, healthcare, and education; and finally they deal with objections and suggest future avenues of exploration. In each subject area, the authors suggest “nudges” (the authors endow the word with the same near-religious air that accompanies “social graph” and “RoR” in Web 2.0 circles) that will gently encourage people to do the right thing. For example, we tend to fear losing things more than we anticipate gaining things, so the authors suggest we not immediately deduct money from salaries to increase retirement savings (which would be perceived as a loss) but instead reduce future raises and put the reduction towards retirement. Then backing out would require losing the retirement saving you were doing (a loss, felt more keenly than the gain of the spending money).

[From Book Review: Nudge – O’Reilly Radar]


And we wonder why the Serbs cry “foul!”

by Limbic on September 15, 2008

From Bosnian Army General Jailed at The Hague:

Former Bosniak general Rasim Delic, accused of commanding a unit of “mujahedeen” who allegedly committed atrocities in the Bosnian war, has been jailed by The Hague…

Retired General Rasim Delic, 59, was found guilty by a first instance verdict for command responsibility.

He was sentenced for cruel treatment as a violation of the laws of the customs of war in relation to events in Livade and Kamenica Camp, where Mujahadeen forces held captured Bosnian Serb troops in July and August 1995.

Delic was found guilty on one of the four-part indictment. He was indicted for murder, inhuman treatment and rape, by his command responsibility.

He was commander of the main staff of the Bosniak (also known as Bosnian Muslim)-dominated Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina from 1993.

Prosecutors allege he was in charge of a unit of foreign fighters known as the mujahadeen who poured into Bosnia to fight Serb and Croat forces during the 1992-1995 war.

Prosecutors say Delic failed to prevent mujahadeen fighters gunning down prisoners and beheading others.

[From – Bosnian Army General Jailed at The Hague]

What sentence did Mr Delic get for for these crimes? Since Serbian civilian leaders have received up to 40 years for lesser offenses, I am sure one would exct a pretty massive term in prison.

He got three years. That is T H R E E (3). Not Thirty Three (33).

Yet another example of the joke that is the Hague Show trials essentially letting off non-Serbs despite being their being guilty of gross war-crimes.

I completely agree with Milorad Dodik, the Prime Minister of Bosnia’s Serb-dominated entity of Republika Srpska when he said:

The Hague Tribunal has showed again “that justice for Serbian victims in the front of the Tribunal is unreachable.”

Talking to Republika Srpska’s official news agency, Dodik said this verdict “ruined the slightest bit of confidence in the Tribunal, which has practically lost its credibility in the front of the Serb people.”

He said that the Tribunal, instead of giving just verdicts and decisions in order to help reconciliation in the region, “obviously is throwing new seeds of hate between people in Bosnia.”

“We all saw the pictures of decapitated people. I call upon the world to ask judges of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia if three years are enough punishment as Rasim Delic got, for the horrible crimes of the mujahadeen who were subordinate to the Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina, that he was in command of,” asked Dodik.


Some recent links

by Limbic on September 15, 2008


World Names Map

by Limbic on September 15, 2008

Love this new toy – World Names Profiler – which allows you to search for a surname to view its Map and Statistics.

This is the global distribution of the surname Davis in the UK (World, Region and Country are all available):


Burn that rope

by Limbic on September 15, 2008

Brilliant and heartbreaking series of ads from Amnesty International New Zealand.

Via: Burn that rope – Osocio, Social Advertising and Non-profit Campaigns


The Radical Bloc shatters

by Limbic on September 15, 2008

Serbia watchers and locals cannot have missed the big news of the last two weeks: The breaking up of Serbia’s Radical Party.

If you have no idea what it is about, have a look at this good introduction from “A Fistful of Euros”:

Serbia’s Radical Party: strange convulsions | afoe | A Fistful of Euros | European Opinion


The considered life hits the mainstream

by Limbic on September 15, 2008

The Washington Post has picked up on the lifelogging/lifestreaming/quantified self phenomenon, albeit from somewhat lurid and mocking angle: From the WP’s article Bytes of Life:

When San Francisco couple Brynn Evans and Chris Messina heard of a new Web site called BedPost, they registered an account before the site was even out of beta. BedPost was created to map users’ sex lives online — everything from partner to duration of the encounter to descriptive words, which could later be viewed as a tag cloud.

Relationships and one-night stands alike, condensed to spare, inflexible data in a way that might make the average user uncomfortable. Or simply baffled.

But for Evans, a grad student studying cognitive science, and Messina, a Web entrepreneur, the site was just what they needed.

After all, they already use project-management site Basecamp to chart the nonsexual parts of their relationship.

They use location tracker to study where they’ve been.

They track their driving habits on, their listening habits on, and their Web-surfing habits, to the minute, on

“Brynn uses a service to track her menstruation,” says Messina helpfully. (Two of them, in fact: and Some of these trackings are visible to other people, but mostly the couple monitors the information just for themselves.

Before BedPost, they’d been using an Excel spreadsheet to track each interlude since the beginning of their six-month relationship, though they found the interface limiting. They saw BedPost and thought, “Oh, look, this guy’s doing this, too, and he’s actually making plots of it. Plotting was cool,” says Evans.

Yes, plotting was cool.

The ability to visualize trends over time.

This is one of Kevin Kelly’s big themes. I found this article via his blog

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The Long Emergency becomes the Now emergency

by Limbic on September 15, 2008

This weekend, whilst most of us were keeping an eye on developments with Hurricane Ike, there was what some descried as a “Force 10 Financial Hurricane” blasting the global financial system. One of the biggest investment banks in the world – Lehman Brothers – has collapsed (filed for bankruptcy). These are profoundly dangerous times for the world economy.

Since reading “The Long Emergency” in 2005 I have been tracking the doomsayers and quasi-survivalists like LATOC.

Their predictions and warning have been getting more and more accurate.

In the light of the collapse of Lehman brothers today and bailouts of other massive banks and mortgage companies, they are now declaring that this is it.


Editors Note: We’re at Impact

Over the last 12 months there have been a number of times when informed people thought “this is it.” Well if today and this past weekend aren’t “it”, I don’t know what is. We now have multiple large banks fighting for their lives and a 10 day disruption in gasoline supplies coming out of the Gulf Coast, both on the heels of the government nationalizing $5 trillion in mortgages and the Big three about to let it known that they’re going to need government bailouts as well. And that’s before we even get to the crisis in Georgia over the BTC pipeline, the war in Nigeria MEND declared, or the rapidly collapsing climate

This could be a very interesting week.


The Georgia Debacle

by Limbic on September 14, 2008

Surprisingly good analysis of the Georgia situation and its ramifications from Radio Free Europe, the cold war era Western propaganda vector that be sure its hour has come around again at last.

From “U.S., Georgia Face ‘Grim Realities’ Going Forward”:

Billions of U.S. dollars flowed into Georgia, despite rampant corruption and government inefficiency. Initially, only a small portion was in defense and military programs (in which the author participated while working in the Office of the Secretary of Defense). A core Pentagon policy for aid to Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan at that time was that it not be combat-related in order to avoid contributing to the potential resumption of ethnic armed conflicts.

For Georgia, that policy changed after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States with the appearance of radical Islamist groups in the Pankisi Gorge near the northeastern border with the Russian republic of Chechnya. A modest train-and-equip program was designed to enable Georgia to deal with that problem. Shevardnadze promised that none of this combat-related U.S. aid would be used against South Ossetia or Abkhazia.

When Shevardnadze was replaced by Mikheil Saakashvili, the program expanded greatly, with the goal of a multibrigade army operating at NATO standards. In theory, Tbilisi would not use this assistance to regain its lost territories by force, but Saakashvili routinely assured his people that his new military could serve precisely that purpose if peaceful means did not succeed within a few years.

Whether the Georgian president fell into a waiting Russian trap or rashly threw a wholly inadequate force into South Ossetia believing Moscow would not respond, the consequences were disastrous for Georgia, but very negative also for the United States.


10 Skills You Need to Succeed at Almost Anything

by Limbic on September 13, 2008

Stepcase Lifehack has a great list of skills one needs to succeed at almost anything:. Here is the short version, they go into detail at the post:

1. Public Speaking
2. Writing
3. Self-Management
4. Networking
5. Critical Thinking
6. Decision-Making
7. Math
8. Research
9. Relaxation
10. Basic Accounting

[From 10 Skills You Need to Succeed at Almost Anything – Stepcase Lifehack]

Notice how many of these map to this blog’s categories?