The Ulam spiral as a Game of Life automaton

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The Ulam Spiral is a rectangular grid created by Stanislaw Ulam in 1963 to help visualize prime numbers. It demonstrates the tendency of some polynomials to generate unusually large number of primes and the tendency for prime numbers to line up along diagonal lines.

The Game of Life is a zero-player game created by John Conway in 1970. It is a simplified cellular automaton whose outcome is entirely dependent on the initial state.

In this paper, I used a distribution of prime numbers within the Ulam Spiral as the starting point for an instance of Conway’s Game of Life cellular automaton. The results are fascinating.

Attached are the results: The Ulam spiral as a Game of Life automaton

India’s Budget: The Powerless Chidambaram

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Palaniappan Chidambara, Finance Minister of India

“Of course, the idea that one man armed with a budget speech can alter the path of a $2 trillion economy is ridiculous.”
“India’s Budget: Once in a Lifetime”, The Economist.

Growing up, I would always know when it was budget time because I would see my father crouched in front of the TV (watching it live, no less) with a notebook and a calculator in hand. As a banker, he had a keen interest on what the budget meant, both for his profession and for his own personal finances. More importantly, he belonged to a generation of people who actually cared about the country and looked at the substance of politics, not the rhetoric. And you knew it was important because there would be utter silence in the house for the entire duration, and even the electricity board knew better than to interrupt the budget broadcast with power-cuts.

So, compared to the consensus-esque decision making process that exists in the U.S., I’ve always wondered about the effectiveness of a one-man army to set the economy right.

But that is not to say it hasn’t happened — the current Prime Minister of India, Manmohan Singh, is a living cliche of the fact that power corrupts and that absolute power corrupts absolutely. But in a past life, Singh was the Governor of the Reserve Bank of India who went on to become the Finance Minister of India. Armed with a Ph.D. in Economics from Oxford, Singh was single-handedly responsible for liberalizing the Indian economy, despite opposition to his policies from a very socialist India of that time. He opened up the markets, and that brought in a glut of foreign investment that brought India to limelight on the global stage.

However, Singh is an exception, not the rule. He had the blessing of the then-Prime Minister, P.V. Narasimha Rao, who for all his faults, was a patriot. In contrast, Palaniappan Chidambaram, is stuck between a rock and a hard place. While I would question Chidambaram’s own willingness to do the hard thing, this is exacerbated by the fact that the ruling coalition is more interested in splurging for the vote banks than in true fiscal discipline. And taxes? Forget about it. Only 2.5% of Indians pay taxes, given the arcane tax structure and a culture that is used to dealing in cash (makes bribes easier, you see).

The controversial Indian politician and former Harvard Professor Subramanian Swamy stated that Chidambaram, with his MBA from Harvard Business School, is essentially a businessman and not an economist. This distinction is important because businessmen understand and deal in transactions with an eye on the bottom line while economists are more interested in statistics and long-term planning. Chidambaram’s actions in dealing with the Indian economy make this evident: he’s more interested in political compromise and equivocality than in true action. His actions signify a level of myopia that is at-once appalling and mind-boggling, given what’s at stake. I only hope that come budget time, that changes.

Presidential Inauguration Seminar at The Washington Center

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57th Presidential Inauguration

A team of Harvard students led by Professor Shawn Ramirez and Sergio Imparato participated in the Presidential Inauguration Seminar at The Washington Center in Washington, D.C. from January 12-22.

The HES blog has more details and pictures: Students Bear Witness to Presidential Inauguration

BRIC Economies & American Foreign Policy

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For my American Foreign Policy class taught by Professor Shawn Ramirez, I decided to write my final paper on BRIC Economies and how they relate to American Foreign Policy.

Often, political and economic factors are analyzed comparatively, but not analyzed jointly. In this paper, I examine the historic origins of BRIC and how certain economic factors (trade, debt etc) could affect political and military stance (e.g. military tilt).

BRIC Economies & AFP: Sample Baseball Card

You can find a copy of the paper here: BRIC Economies & Foreign Policy: An Analytical Study.

Analysis of Nazi Propaganda: A Behavioral Study

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For my Holocaust in History, Literature, and Film class taught by Professor Kevin Madigan, I decided to write my final paper on the behavioral analysis of Nazi propaganda.

Nazi Propaganda

As someone who is deeply interested in Behavioral Economics on a professional level, Nazi propaganda is a dark and fascinating topic. To understand the origins of Nazi propaganda, it is important to know Germany after World War I, hit by economic recession and paying for reparations from war.

Given the political and economic climate in Germany at the time, combined with the humiliation and unfairness of the Treaty of Versailles, the nation state was ripe for deception. Given this, Nazi propaganda machine focused on hyperboles of a few favorite themes that they knew would win them favors:

  • Humiliation of Germany and the unfairness of the Versailles Treaty
  • The weakness of Weimar parliamentary republic
  • The evil of world Jewry, Bolshevism, and Capitalism, contrasted against the patriotic Nazi German

And while these were the dominant themes, the propaganda itself evolved to have a 3-fold focus:

  • Deification of Hitler (e.g. as a messianic figure to be followed)
  • Defining the enemy and justifying their treatment (e.g. Jews and Bolsheviks)
  • Rallying the masses (e.g. for war and eugenics)

So, I focused my paper on studying the these themes through a behavioral lens to understand and identify key cognitive and psychological drivers that went into creating them, and the role that they played in instigating social and other cognitive biases in the German population. And while there are several types of cognitive biases, I focused on 3 major categories of biases:

  • Social & Attributional Biases: These are biases that affect our social perception and the means through which we determine who or what was responsible for a particular action or situation.
  • Memory Biases: These are biases that can either enhance or impair the recollection of a memory, either near-term or long-term.
  • Decision-Making Biases: These are biases that impair our ability to make rational decisions despite evidence to the contrary. This includes biases in probability and belief that impact decision-making.

Given this, I came up with the key set of biases that they Nazis chose to trigger in the population, and came up with a framework to identify such propaganda should the public encounter it.

You can find a copy of the paper here: Analysis of Nazi Propaganda: A Behavioral Study.

International Politics & Zombies

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Daniel W. Drezner, professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, has a come out with a new book — “Theories of International Politics and Zombies“.

Of all the books that I’ve read on IR, I must say that this has been the most unique — and the most fun.

International Politics & Zombies by Daniel W. Drezner

While the title may seem light-hearted and quite deadbeat, Drezner addresses the basics of IR theory in a fun and engaging manner.

One of the many reasons I am a fan of this book is because it uses a hitherto unknown/impossible scenario (i.e. the ghouls coming back alive) to address contemporary IR scenarios. As a proponent of Talebian philosophy who believes in the need to be prepared for the unlikely and extraordinary (such as the realpolitik of a ghoulish uprising), I find this book to be delightfully interesting.

This topic is more serious than one would realize. For instance, would Hillary’s liberal policies mean that she would demand equal treatment of the dead and the undead-alike, or would she want the dead to, err, stay dead? How would that work? Would pacifists and animal rights activists consider zombies to be dead or alive? And what if Hillary turned zombie? Would that change her opinion? And in fact, what if the President turned into a zombie? I bet that would work great with the conservatives! And what about other countries? How would they react? What could this mean to our food supply? What would this mean to immigration? Ahh, questions, questions.

Hillary Clinton as a Zombie

Hydraulic Despotism

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Hydraulic Despotism: A Literal Interpretation & Analysis — published on the World Poverty & Human Rights Online website as part of a WPHR class I’d taken last Spring.

The published HTML version can be found on the site.

Behavioral Economics & Human Rights

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A Behavioral Economic Framework for Fighting Poverty and Promoting Freedom & Development — published on the World Poverty & Human Rights Online website as part of a WPHR class I’d taken this past Spring.

The published HTML version can be found on the site.

Harvard African Law & Development Conference

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I’m hoping to be there at the 2010 Harvard African Law & Development Conference from April 16-18 2010. Lots of great folks and some very interesting (and hard) topics.

If anyone else is planning on being there, holler (especially if you are from the WPHR class).

Free Markets, Freedom, and Development

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A Capitalist’s Apology: Free Markets, Freedom, and Development — published on the World Poverty & Human Rights Online website as part of my WPHR class this Spring.

The published HTML version can be found on the site and a PDF version is also available for those interested.

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