Category: Humor

Honest Advice for Your Semester Abroad in Africa

You see, not only have I personally spent a semester in Africa, but I also refuse to deceive myself or others about the nature of that experience. I went to Cameroon seeking adventure and a reprieve from the banal hedonism that had defined my college experience in the spring of my junior year. Also, I didn’t have enough French credits to go to Paris. During my program orientation (held in a small African village where we were instructed to always wear shoes lest parasitic insects lay eggs in the soles of our feet) we were told that while many students are nervous during their first few weeks in Africa, all of the several hundred students who previously participated in the program ultimately reported a highly positive experience. Not me. When my harrowing, disagreeable, grisly African sojourn reached it’s (sic) sweet, sweet conclusion, I felt so positively celebratory about finally leaving that the airline stewardess had to cut me off before we even hit the Atlantic. Continue reading

The Five Basic Laws of Human Stupidity


When I left Rome to go to graduate school in 2001, one of the farewell gifts I received from an Italian friend was a copy of Carlo Cipolla’s Allegro ma non troppo.

Cipolla was an economist at Berkeley until his death in 2000; Allegro ma non troppo is a collection of his tongue-in-cheek essays.

The title can be interpreted in a few ways. The whole expression is often found in music, where it means “Fast but not too much.” “Allegro” can mean happy or cheerful, but it can also mean superficial or thoughtless, and I think Cipolla meant it in the latter sense, i.e., “Superficial, but not too much” given that the essays in the book are, for the most part, satirical. Continue reading

I Think I Work at Hogwarts

I am seriously beginning to think that I work at Hogwarts. Yesterday night was the first of several salons to be organized by the Duke Africa Initiative (DAI).

As per the Chronicle article I linked to, the DAI “serves to consolidate the efforts of Duke professors who have research interests on the African continent.” The DAI was generous enough to give me a small grant to organize a conference on African political economy African political economy on campus in a few weeks.

Last night’s salon was held in the Gothic reading room, at room in Duke’s Perkins library which is exhibit A in support of my claim that I work at Hogwarts:

Duke’s Gothic Reading Room (Source: Duke Libraries.)

And here is exhibit B: Duke researchers are working on an invisibility cloak.

I rest my case.

“Americans Don’t Understand Self-Respect”

Americans don’t understand self respect. Professors at American universities have no presence (架子); they don’t have the air of distinguished scholars at all. It’s said that Professor D___ is a famous professor of psychology, but during class breaks he eats cookies in his office with his students, talks about the movie “21″ and [Chinese actress] Ziyi Zhang. He doesn’t have any of the majesty of scholarship, I was really disappointed. Also, post doctoral students never put “Ph.D” on their name cards. They don’t even understand how to show off their status. People taught by professors like this won’t even understand how to posture if they become government officials. … It seems Chinese public servants really know how to get peoples’ respect; even the boss in a minor office in my motherland is more imposing than the American President.

From a wonderfully satirical criticism of China’s establishment thinly disguised as an anti-American rant. More (and more background) here.

(HT: Kids Prefer Cheese.)

Which Came First? Chicken, Eggs, and Causality

This is your brain on causality.

From an old albeit still relevant (and funny) American Journal of Agricultural Economics article (link opens a .pdf) by Wally Thurman and Mark Fisher:

The notion of Granger causality is simple: If lagged values of X help predict current values of both X and Y, then X is said to Granger cause Y. We implement this notion by regressing eggs on lagged eggs and lagged chickens; if the coefficients on lagged chickens are significant as a group, then chickens cause eggs. A symmetric regression tests the reverse causality. We perform the Granger causality tests using one to four lags. The number of lags in each equation is the same for eggs and chickens.

To conclude that one of the two “came first,” we must find unidirectional causality from one to the other. The test results indicate a clear rejection of the hypothesis that eggs do not Granger cause chickens. They provide no such rejection of the hypothesis that chickens do not Granger cause eggs. Therefore, we conclude that the egg came first.

What I like about Thurman and Fisher’s paper is that it neatly illustrates the point that for all the media talk of causality surrounding Christopher Sims’ work on Granger causation when he and Thomas Sargent won the Nobel prize for economics last year, Granger causation is not the same as actual causation.

(HT: Jeremy Petranka.)