Economic ideology as backseat driving

I try to think of debates over governmental policy as being sort of like arguments over how to drive.

When driving, there are lots of complaints you can make as a backseat driver: e.g., depending on the conditions of the road, the obstacles ahead, and the needs of people in the car, and so on. If someone in the car is bleeding to death, then it may be reasonable to complaint that the car is going too slow; if, on the other hand, the driver is not very skillful or attentive, then it might be reasonable to advise against speeding. On this analogy, reasonable criticism has to be contextual. For instance, only a total weirdo would categorically say, “Hit the brakes!” in every context, unless they’re not in a hurry to go anywhere.

On this analogy, deficit spending is like hitting the gas, and balancing the budget is hitting the brakes. Saying “I’m a fiscal conservative” in politics is like saying you’re a Brakeist in cars. It isn’t a minimally intelligible policy position until you give a little rundown of things going on around you — the places you think we want to go, the needs of the people in the car, and the obstacles ahead, and so on.

‘Newroz’ Venn diagram: pancake edition

Some of our colleagues in BC — Khalegh Mamakani andFrank Ruskey at the University of Victoria — have discovered the first symmetrical 11-dimensional Venn diagram (Newroz). It is pretty.

It is quite a busy diagram, though. I thought it would be fun to see  how it looked if it were represented in 3D.

As New Scientist shows in the above diagram, here is what an individual set  — one of the “rose’s” “petals”, if you will — looks like:

Here’s what I came up with by fiddling with GIMP:

Looks like pancakes. Delicious, semi-transparent blue pancakes.

Using Gephi to model philosophical networks in medieval Christendom

I was playing around with the Gephi beta graph designer, and thought it would be interesting to map out the network of Christian philosophers during the period 1000-1200.

Emphasis on betweenness centrality. Betweenness centrality is a measure of a node’s centrality in a network, equal to the number of shortest paths from all vertices to all others that pass through that node. Lanfranc is hardly a well-known figure in philosophy, but he looms conspicuously large here.


Emphasis on degree of linkage. Nodes are emphasized depending on the number of immediate neighbors they have.

Adapted from Randall Collins’s “Sociology of Philosophies” (p.464).