New York

Kottke: https://kottke.org/15/08/how-to-spend-time-alone-in-nyc

New York is the classic metropolis.

Most great cities have a similar aspect – the river upon which it originates provides a bearing and context. I love Liverpool in part because the two Mersey tunnels preserve the skyline. New York – and when I say New York I obviously mean Manhattan – is special because there is no dominant waterfront. The fact that it’s an island makes it inward looking, and instead of being in a city to judge by itself, you feel that you are at the centre of all cities, and therefore all modern civilization.

My first trip to New York was via bus from Washington DC. We were offloaded in Chinatown and it was freezing cold, so we went straight into the nearest diner for coffee and doughnuts.

Each trip to New York is a combination of revisiting favourite eateries and seeking new ones.

I recommend:

Ivan Ramen – (New York Times, one of my favourite episodes of Chef’s Table). I’ve only been the spin off, Slurp Shop, but enjoyed it immensely.

Sombrero – ok, this isn’t particularly impressive cuisine but when you come from the UK, and the alternative is a chain such as Tortilla or Chiquitos, it’s nice to sit in a Mexican restaurant, with a wide range of tequilas, and full plates of decent fare. My main motivation for my first visit was the proximity to my hotel, but I went back a second time for familiarity. Not a strong recommend, but a place close to my heart.

Xi’an famous noodles – I vouch for the Spicy Cumin Lamb burger, but there’s a lovely depth of heat and lip tingling joy across the menu.

To try:

Recommended bars:

  • The Turnmill – this is the official bar of the Everton FC NYC supporters club. What’s better than a packed pub in a foreign city, on a matchday, covered in TVs, full of fellow fans. The crisp walk of anticipation from the subway ready to sink a cold pint at 10am. Bizarre, but worth doing.
  • The Garret
  • Employees Only

Poker

I don’t play poker but I have a couple of friends that do. I recently asked them what resources they’d recommend for people wanting to get into it, and thought I’d share their advice.

How to…

My websites

About this website


Blogs I edit(ed)

“Strategies emerge for coping. There are many, but in essence they all boil down to two: filter and search”  Gleick, 2011, p.409

The Filter^ was created in a Birkenhead chippy, in January 2004. Stephen Lai and Anthony Evans were both recent graduates from the University of Liverpool, and wanted to present interesting and accessible academic ideas to a wider audience.


Created in July 2004, The Filter^ REVIEW is an online assembly of cultural essays. Encompassing opera, music, theatre, and architecture our range of reviewers provide honest and independent assessments of live events. Our motivation is enthusiasm, and providing our part of the social contract between audience and stage.

My theatre reviews are available here.

 

Brexit – who’s to blame?

An interesting counterfactual is the Brexit is due to Eric Joyce headbutting a Tory MP in a House of Commons bar, in 2012. As a result of that fracas:

  • His Falkirk seat became available
  • Labour leader Ed Miliband changed the rules to allow Labour members to vote in leadership elections
  • Trolls took advantage of this to nominate Jeremy Corbyn
  • Corbyn refused to campaign for Remain

But Joyce himself points out that these changes in the Labour party would have happened regardless.

Rather…

(i) Background

1957: Rome Treaty – establishment of 3 “communities”:

Creation of: Customs Union, CAP and a European Social Fund

1973: UK joins the European Community

1975: 67% of British people vote to stay in the European Community (common market) in a referendum

1992: Maastricht Treaty – creation of the EU and the Euro UK avoids monetary integration

1993: Single European Act: The common market (freedom of goods, capital, services and labour) UK avoids Schengen area

2007: Lisbon Treaty (to replace and supersede Rome and Maastricht) – centralisation of political institutions

2016: 52% of British people vote to leave the EU

Interpretation: broad support amongst the British people for the single market and close economic and social ties to a European institution. Less support for membership of a federal “state” and the referendum result reflects the fact that (a) people are concerned of the direction of future travel towards a greater political union (and implied loss of sovereignty); (b) evidence that the EU is becoming an increasingly centralised political enterprise. Issues such as an EU “army”, further expansion, and loss of sovereignty are genuine ones because there is a reasonable concern that this is the direction of travel.

(ii) The decisions

  1. David Cameron makes a referendum on membership of the EU a central part of his 2015 election manifesto – it wasn’t a blunder because it’s an important issue to the Tory party and helped him to win the election
  2. February 2016 Cameron announces a EU reform deal, following negotiations with Donald Tusk (EU Council President) – it wasn’t a blunder because the EU would have had to have granted concessions for other member states
  3. Jeremy Corbyn declines to campaign for Remain during the 2016 referendum – it wasn’t a blunder because he was sticking to his principles
  4. On announcement of the referendum result, David Cameron resigns
  5. June 20th 2016: Boris Johnson withdraws from leadership race – it wasn’t a blunder because he didn’t have the support
  6. New (and unchallenged) PM, Theresa May outlines her vision for Brexit in January 2017 – it wasn’t a blunder because the red lines were reasonable
  7. March 29th 2017: Theresa May triggers Article 50, giving the UK 2 years to leave the EU – it wasn’t a blunder because she had to signal a commitment to delivering Brexit
  8. April 18th 2017: May calls a snap election, allows Nick Timothy to devise the campaign and loses her majority – the election wasn’t a blunder because the polls were in her favour and she needed a mandate. The decision to hire Timothy wasn’t a blunder because he was the best candidate for the job 
  9. June 19th 2017: Negotiations with the EU begin
  10. November 14th 2018: May published the Withdrawal Agreement which has little support among her cabinet but is agreed by the EU – it wasn’t a blunder because it was a deliverable means of ensuring Brexit
  11. January 15th 2019: Parliament rejects May’s deal (and again on March 12th, and March 29th)
  12. May decides to step down, and is replaced by Boris Johnson on 24th July following

Christmas Reading

Christmas is a great hook to think about economic concepts. For students, the urgency of course requirements lessons and it’s permissible to deepen your interests. For interested laypeople, time to read allows you to broaden your horizons. Perhaps you received a “pop economics” book as a present, or – like me – you look forward every year to The Economist’s Christmas Special. I wanted to share some of my favourite resources.

  • Firstly, Tyler Cowen and Alex Tabarrok have this lovely video:

  • The classic application of economics analysis to Christmas is The Deadweight Loss of Christmas
  • For a fascinating account of what frankincense and myrrh are, and their role in the evolution of global trade, see Bernstein, W. (2008) “A Splendid Exchange” – pp. 58-67
  • Finally, don’t forget to do some charity work:
    • Christians should not celebrate festivals in a state of drunkenness and gluttony, or by dancing or merrymaking, but by tending to orphans and paupers, and by helping and giving to the poor and infirm… Woe betide those who have not observed the wisdom of the scriptures and who have idled, danced and indulged in wine”
    • Cyril of Turov (see Bazan, L., 2014, A History of Belarus, Glagoslav Publications, p.64)

Media engagements

The chief goal of any academic is to have scholarly impact – to be published in elite journals and for your work to be read, shared, and cited. But it’s also common to seek wider impact, and publicise those findings and implications with society at large.

One problem is that our research topics are often driven by the existing literature. Therefore pursuing an academic career can easily become a slide towards wider irrelevance. As we focus on scaling the ivory tower, we lose track of what anyone else cares about. Before we realise it, the landscape looks like this:

Perhaps, if we’re lucky, we can identify the areas where media interest overlaps with our research interests. Therefore we can create a list of topics we feel qualified to talk about, and seek media engagements. We can be available for comment and publish op-eds on newsworthy issues. But be careful. We might have made scholarly contributions to the field, and we may well be experts, but those topics won’t map perfectly onto “my research”.

Once we abandon the solid grounding of our published competence, we’ve started a dangerous journey. There is a risk that we end up like this:

By being receptive to media engagements we are opening ourselves to the pull of opportunity. But what your PR company deem to be a “hit” (i.e. being quoted in an article in a magazine no one cares about) is not really a “hit”, and a desire to do this tempts us to stray outside our areas of expertise. If someone wants a comment we provide it – it builds the brand and it’s fun. The ego is nourished, we feel that we’re representing our institution, we’re being productive. However our titles and status carry authority, and the wider public are likely to confuse the light blue dot for a dark blue dot. I believe that it is unethical to utilise our credentials for matters outside of one’s expertise. (I could add links here, but I won’t…).

The holy grail, therefore, is to end up like this:

I think fame seeking academics have two potential strategies. However both of them carry risks.

  1. If you can’t beat them, join them. The first option is to move our research towards wherever the media interest lies (either by tweaking our current research projects in that direction; or by starting new research projects from scratch). However using current media interest as the guiding principle of your academic strategy has the potential to backfire. It takes time to gain academic legitimacy and what’s to say interest won’t move on? In addition, the media interest will draw in other academics to create a contested and competitive environment that is attracting opportunists. As I see more and more people jumping on the blockchain bandwagon I assume that they’re following this strategy (although this is a charitable interpretation because in many cases it’s probably a light blue dot rather than a dark blue one…). I’m wary.
  2. Hope the mountain comes to Mohammed. The second way to occupy the overlap is to get your head down, do quality work, rise to the top of your field, get widespread recognition, and become the go to person for that topic. That, in itself, can be newsworthy. Win prizes, break records, give talks at elite institutions.

Personally, I am not sure what to do. I’ve tried to be entrepreneurial by choosing a few topics that I think have the potential to become important, and I am working hard to improve the quality of my scholarly work. But I’m largely abandoning the aim of creating a media profile for my research.

Let’s be honest, the media generally do not care about academic research. When we issue press releases for a new publication it’s because we want to share it. However even if it’s published in an open access journal newspapers will rarely link to the actual paper anyway. Even PR companies have a tendency to act as gatekeepers for the actual paper, and promote the top line findings without allowing third parties to actually verify them. We have a crisis of scientific replication and yet there’s a complete disjoint between how research is presented and our ability to engage with it.

Journalists don’t care about your research, they care about their article. They are writing articles to a deadline and need to fill them. They need contacts who will be available and tell them what they expect to hear. Editors don’t care about your research. They care about copy. They need people who supply well written content on a theme they want to publish.

I am aware that my profession and institution are underrepresented by people who aren’t white males. And as a white male I should reflect on my role in that. As I lose the novelty of youth I question whether the best use of my time is supplying free content to unremarkable publications by crowding out other voices.

***

Pivoting away from attempts to promote our research profile, however, doesn’t mean wallowing in academic irrelevance, and it doesn’t mean giving up on communicating economic ideas. It just means a recognition that our biggest value to the media is almost certainly a result of our teaching knowledge rather than our research findings. This is because the pool of media interest in which we’re able to play in is much wider when we act as teachers rather than researchers.

This may seems as though I’m risking becoming a light blue dot. But wearing our teaching hats massively expands our scope of “expertise”, provided we recognise the topics will be broader. As the awesome Steve Horwitz recently said on Facebook,

Advice for young economists who wonder whether they have enough expertise on a topic to do media requests on it:

If you think you can explain your views to an Intro class, you can do media on that topic.

My caveat to that was:

you need to be able to explain it to an Intro class and it needs to be an issue that you would indeed explain to an Intro class

So rather than send our new PR agency a list of my research topics, I’ve sent the following:

  • Price gouging – if a firm raises prices during a natural disaster I’m happy to defend their choice to do so and explain why it actually benefits consumers
  • Creative destruction – if a firm goes bankrupt I’m happy to explain why this is crucial to a competitive market
  • Free trade – if there’s a story about tariffs I’m happy to explain how they harm consumers and make us collectively worse off
  • Offshoring – if a firm offshores production I’m happy to defend their decision and explain how this benefits workers in (typically) poorer countries
  • Corporation tax – I’m happy to defend cuts to corporation tax on the grounds that they boost wages of that companies employees
  • Tax avoidance – I’m happy to defend the use of “aggressive” tax avoidance schemes and explain why the problem is complexity in the tax code
  • Efficient Market Hypothesis – if an investment firm claims to be able to outperform a market index I’m happy to argue that this is bad investment advice

I also think it’s potentially legitimate to comment on hot topics such as:

  • The gender pay gap
  • Brexit
  • A specific companies strategy
  • Executive pay
  • Congestion charging

Provided you limit your comments to the simple application of the economic way of thinking. However I fear that this won’t be providing journalists with what they want (which is a hook, or something controversial), and there’s a very real danger that you do turn into a light blue dot. So I personally avoid these topics. Leave them for commentators and opinion leaders and academic experts in the field. Don’t wade in as one masquerading as the other.

Finally, Steve’s also right to point out that such media engagements are also advantageous for the institution. Indeed I’ve stopped seeing media work as part of my research profile. It’s actually organisational (and civic) citizenship.

Travel Guide to Minsk

I visited Minsk expecting a Soviet time machine.

I thought it would be like Moscow was in 1992.

But I was wrong.

Yes, it’s architecture and visible insignia reflect the fact that most of the city was completely rebuilt straight after the second world war. Military uniform is everywhere, tractors roam the streets, school children look immaculate. And the absence of a democratic transition casts an intriguing shadow of communist rule. But the city is vibrant, affluent, and spotlessly clean. It feels more like a Baltic city break than an Eastern European industrial wasteland.

Outside of Minsk there’s an efficient train network and the surrounding countryside is beautiful and famously peaceful. I strongly recommend a visit to Belarus, and hope these notes are useful.

Flights

Belarus has connections to most major European cities. The national airline, BELAVIA, do a direct flight from London Gatwick to Minsk several times per week. If you want to travel by train, there’s only one man to ask.

Arrival at Minsk airport

  • Customs officials will ask to see proof of Travel Insurance (and they may also request to see an associated membership card).

Accommodation

    • Using a travel agent used to be a necessity because they could provide a letter of invitation (which was mandatory to obtain a visa). I used MinskLuxx who have an array of city-centre apartments and helpful services.

Getting around

    • Taxis to/from the airport cost ~ €20. Licensed taxis have yellow plates and can be trusted, and Uber is also available. There’s also a bus service to the train station.
    • Trains are cheap and easy to use.
  • The Metro is simple to use and has a regular service. Each journey requires 1 token (60 Kopeks) which can be bought at the ticket office.

Things to see

Minsk itself is easy to explore on foot. I recommend the following:

Day 1:

    • City gates (outside the train station)
    • Independence square (and the shopping centre underneath)
    • GUM shopping centre
    • Victory Square
  • Gorky Park

Day 2:

    • Great Patriotic War Museum
    • Botanic Gardens
  • National Library

For more: http://www.belarus.by/en/travel/belarus-life/minsk-attractions and https://34travel.me/gotobelarus/en/post/minsk-english-guide.

Restaurants

There are clusters of cafes and restaurants in the following places:

  • The upper town (vulica Zybickaja) – this is the main tourist area and contains several bars and restaurants on the banks of the river. 442 is the best place to watch soccer and sample interesting beer. Cherdok do great burgers in a laid back setting. Malt & Hops have a long and classy bar serving beer and many malts. El Pushka is a fun and intimate tequila bar. Beer Cap is a classic Eastern European-style bar – an outdoor labyrinth with interesting beers and a range of customers.
  • Trajeckaja nabiarežnaja (the old town) – the only real area of pre-WW2 buildings, it has a nostalgic feel compared to the rest of the city.
  • Karl Marx street – a number of classy bistros and restaurants with sincere cooking.
  • Kastrycnickaja Street – former industrial units now famous for bright murals and hipster coffee.

For a distinctly Belarusian experience, Rakovsky Brovar is a large, popular brewery serving traditional food in a friendly atmosphere. And watching the world pass by at the bar at Centralny is one of Minks’s cultural highlights.

Typical prices (as of 2017)

Minsk provides a fascinating mixture of standard European ambience and a gripping historical context. Belarus is not quite Poland and not quite Russia – it is something else. Something tangible and settled. But forward looking and optimistic. It’s truly unique.

Also check out Joe Jenkins’ “Postcard from . . . Minsk” Financial Times, April 21 2017

Podcasts

I use Overcast to listen to podcasts. The smart speed setting quickens the pace without you even noticing and I usually listen to 1.2x normal speed. If you want to get into podcasts I highly recommend tweaking these settings to get through them faster. An added bonus is that if you’re listening to a proper series or radio play at normal speed, you “feel the benefit” and get super engrossed. 

Economics

  • EconTalk – the original economics podcast featuring an array of fascinating guests. Each episode is typically over an hour long which can be daunting, but permits a relaxed and casual conversation. As a former student of Russ Roberts, I thoroughly enjoy recapturing some of the intellectual curiosity and excitement of grad school through EconTalk.
  • Macro Musings – David Beckworth is a wonderful economist, and by focusing on monetary macro he provides a consistently high quality conversation on a topic I know I will want to listen to. I think it’s pitched at the perfect level to walk listeners through the career trajectory and major insights of an impressive guestlist.

Business and management

  • Planet Money – Short (20 minute) episodes that illuminate important economic concepts through interviews. Can’t get enough of them.
  • Stuff You Should Know – Well produced, entertainingly presented, always interesting.
  • Waking Up with Sam Harris – Lengthy and deep conversations with fascinating thinkers on topics such as the multiverse, AI, identity politics, and meditation.
  • The Investors Field Guide – I don’t listen to it (yet) but it’s been highly recommended to me.
  • Adam Buxton – on the surface this is a comedy show, where likeable comic Adam Buxton (from Adam & Joe semi-fame) chats with his “showbusiness” friends. I enjoy it because it provides an honest and sincere look at the thought process behind public speaking, professional success, and the art of humour.
  • The Edge with Joey Barton – I have sympathy for Barton and find him a highly engaging character. In this series of interviews he demonstrates his curiosity for what drives peak performance with applications for sport, politics, and all forms of management.

True Crime

  • Generation Why – two American friends present and dissect famous cases in an informal, engaging manner.
  • Casefile True Crime – the Australian narrator, following a well crafted script, provides an engrossing experience.
  • Criminal – somewhat hit and miss collection of interesting cases, but the good ones stay with you.

History

  • Slow Burn (Season 2 Clinton) – I loved this. Very well presented featuring interviews with key players in the Monica Lewinsky scandal. I particularly liked the broader focus on the controversy surrounding Clinton prior to him becoming President, and how that laid the ground for his impeachment. This was a historic event that I remember experiencing, but it was enlightening to do deeper. Especially relevant given the #metoo movement. B.

Self contained series

  • Caliphate – an exquisite series that reports on the rise of Islamic State and documents the fall of Mosul. It’s a deeply absorbing production centred around an interview with someone claiming to have joined IS, and provides a perfect balance of background information. A.
  • Atlanta Monster – all the ingredients for a fascinating sequence of plot twists and information about a case I wasn’t familiar with. But I felt it dragged on and I gradually lost interest. B.
  • This Sounds Serious – a well conceived and executed spoof of the true crime genre. Some daft comedic moments and surprisingly subtle nods to The Day Today. A.
  • The Butterfly Effect – very touching business history emphasising creative destruction and unintended consequences. High recommend. A.
  • Missing Richard Simmons – originally presents itself as having the ingredients of a unique and enjoyable mystery, but sadly turns into a slightly disturbing hounding. C.
  • S Town – a fascinating and gripping story, but I was somewhat annoyed by the presenter’s self-serving presence. B.
  • Tracks – a radio play that delves into a reasonably interesting conspiracy theory, but ultimately fails to replicate the engagement that comes from a discovery. C.
  • Homecoming – more of a play than a podcast, but one that utilises the medium very nicely. Season 2 was meh. B.
  • Serial Season 1 – a documentary about the death of Hae Min Lee featuring interviews with Adnan Syed, who is in prison for the murder. But did he do it? This helped build the genre of the developing real time podcast, and bingelistening to this with noise cancelling headphones, on a transatlantic red eye, was super sweet. The theme music still gives me shivers. A.

And finally:

Brand loyalty

Brands matter, and AJE is brought to you by:

Past members

Apple – design brief moved into sleek and fragile rather than tactile and durable, no longer intuitive interface (e.g. access to Podcasts through iTunes)

Joseph Joseph – now skimming from existing customers and diluting the brand with gimmicks instead of novel solutions