Saturday, March 02, 2002

SILENT RUNNING. I'm going to pretend to have a life and go do junk, and stuff, or whatever, this weekend. I'll check back in early Sunday morning or late Sunday night.
IPOD. Have iPod, Will Secretly Bootleg:
The teenager stopped at a nearby display Macintosh, pulled the iPod from his pocket and plugged it into the machine with a FireWire cable. Intrigued, Webb peeped over the kid's shoulder to see him copying Microsoft's new Office for OS X suite, which retails for $500.

When the iPod is plugged into a Macintosh, its icon automatically pops up on the desktop. To copy software, all the kid had to do was drag and drop files onto the iPod's icon. Office for MacOS X is about 200 MB; it copies to the iPod's hard drive in less than a minute.
(via Andrew Sullivan)
Leonid whatsisname/ Herman Munster Motorcade/ Birthday party Cheetos/ Pogo sticks and Lemonade.
MY BROTHER AND I had a running gag where every time someone came up with a lame idea, the other would insert "and they solve crimes!" at the end of the sentence to make it into a plausible Hollywood pitch. This web site has the same idea.
JOE BAY on Mongolian restaurants:
This is something about Mongolian places -- they tend to have some kind of reference to Genghis Khan in there somewhere. German restaurants don't say "This was Hitler's FAVORITE sausage!".

But yeah, those Mongolian places. Some are very good. But it takes Mongolian genes to be able to FRY THINGS SOMEONE HANDS YOU.
LIFE IMITATES "CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM." Stolen silverware and other souvenirs eats up 2-3% of a restaurant's "service ware" over the course of a year, sez the New York Times.
BILL CARTER, WHO wrote "The Late Show" oh-so-many years ago, is angling for a sequel with his reporting. Here's the latest piece of the Letterman - ABC soap opera. It's a mistake to credit a $1 rise in the Disney stock price (on a day when many media companies were up 5-10%) to the possibility of replacing Koppel with Letterman, however.

Friday, March 01, 2002

DANNY PEARL'S KILLERS. Mark Steyn writes the best piece yet on Danny Pearl.
Islam is not "the victim of the world," but the victim of itself. Omar Sheikh is a British public schoolboy, a graduate of the London School of Economics, and, like Osama and Mohammed Atta, a monument to the peculiar burdens of a non-deprived childhood in the Muslim world. Give 'em an e-mail address and they use it for kidnap notes. Give 'em a camcorder and they make a snuff video.

Let's assume that all the chips fell the jihadis' way, that they recruited enough volunteers to be able to kidnap and decapitate every single Jew in Palestine. Then what? Muslims would still be, as General Musharraf told a conference the other day, "the poorest, the most illiterate, the most backward, the most unhealthy, the most unenlightened, the most deprived, and the weakest of all the human race." Who would "the victim of the world" blame next? The evidence of the Sudan, Nigeria, and other parts of Africa suggests that, when there are no Jews to hand, the Islamofascists happily make do with killing Christians. In Kashmir, it's the Hindus' fault. There's always someone.

GARY FARBER WAS NICE enough to call me "amusing and wide-ranging," so I'll pass along his equally amusing and wide-ranging link to this Colombian inflatable soldier. The Reuters photos are simply marvelous.
ARE BROADCASTERS DIFFERENT? Gary Farber takes issue with my criticism of Torricelli's failed initiative to require broadcasters to subsidize political advertising:
The difference, of course, is that a radio frequency is not "private property." The public airwaves are just that, owned jointly by the people, administered by the government, and leased in return for considerations which include public service. They are entirely different in this regard from the other cases in this simple manner.
I suggest that this begs the original question: "Why not newspapers, and billboards, and printing presses, and sides of buildings, and Internet banner ads?"

The original rationale for regulation of the airwaves is the scarcity of the airwaves. Without regulation, there would be cacophony if everyone broadcast at whatever frequency they wanted. But that's true of numerous property regimes: if I try to grow corn on the land that you want to use for grazing cattle, neither of us is going to get much agriculture done, and we're past the days when there was land for the taking in the US. There's no inherent reason to treat FM or UHF frequency space differently than land: the role of the government could easily be demarcation, record-keeping, and the provision of a court system to protect property rights rather than top-down distribution of the frequency. That there are only so many channels on the dial doesn't cut it in an age of digital television; satellite radio may well make the limits on the radio dial obsolete as well.

But even if the rationale "there are only a few television and radio stations per market" were sufficient to justify government interference with the speech of those stations, it doesn't explain why they should be treated differently than newspapers. The vast majority of urban areas can support four or five television stations, but it's a rare city that can support more than one newspaper.

We're rightfully repulsed by the idea of the government dictating to a newspaper what it must and mustn't print. It shouldn't be any different for broadcasters.

And please do consider what the eventual effect of campaign finance regulation will be on the Internet. Every single political web site with any real level of traffic is arguably in violation of existing campaign law. It's only going to get worse as the "reformers" try to tighten campaign finance law and, coincidentally, make it harder to run against incumbents.
I GOT AN e-mail from Jim Treacher implicitly asking me to plug more of his stuff. Here's a too-accurate Rall/Groening parody.

Max Power! More responsive to reader requests than Instapundit!
NUMEROUS DANNY PEARL stories, including an interview with his parents. While he was held hostage, the parents were forced to remain underground for fear that publicity of Pearl's Jewish and Israeli heritage would result in harm to him. Strikingly, the press cooperated and did not report on it, though one hopes that was a humanitarian thing, rather than because Pearl was a journalist.

Another site has additional tributes to Pearl.
THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE quietly reports on a 19-year-old American, Shayna Gould, who lost a lung in a recent Palestinian terrorist attack.
WAL-MART AND THE ECONOMY. Virginia Postrel summarizes the recent McKinsey report on Wal-Mart's salutory effect on retail productivity.
WHEN HALLMARK WON'T DO: via LJC, Mr. Clean greeting e-cards. I sent one in honor of Jennifer Mendelsohn's engagement.
WHY IS ASTROLOGY so successful? Take a gander at a similarly quacky site, Colorgenics, that purports to determine your personality from your choice of the 8! possible rankings of eight different colors. Take the test. Marvel at the accuracy of the results. Then take the test again by randomly picking colors. Marvel at the accuracy of the results.

Max Power's pledge to his readers: you're not going to see any of those silly Scientologistesque personality quizzes that ask "Which philosopher are you?" while I'm editing this site. Except for that one, purely for example's sake.
THE SMOKING GUN has reprinted that Enron Ethics Manual that you keep seeing pop up on Ebay.
INVASION OF DAVE EGGERS's personal life update: Once upon a time, Harper's reprinted a letter Beth Eggers wrote to Gary Baum complaining about inaccuracies in her brother's best-selling book. Baum was a high-schooler who ran a Dave Eggers fan-site that made an exhaustive accounting of every trivial detail in Mr. Eggers's life from late 1999 to mid-2001. In response to the Harper's piece, Beth Eggers wrote a piece on the McSweeney's site that apologized in the best Maoist Cultural Revolutionary tones of forced submission. Now, the New York Post claims that Beth has committed suicide, though it made no effort to confirm whether the story was true or an Eggers prank. Ms. Eggers was an attorney, and the California bar's website merely gives the cryptic notation that "Elizabeth A. Eggers is NOT ENTITLED to practice law in California"--something that may merely reflect that no one paid Ms. Eggers's bar dues for 2002.
BUGS BUNNY A VICTIM OF PC? So argues Daniel Henninger, unconvincingly. Refutation the first: bowdlerized Bugs Bunny cartoons that omit a great deal of the violence and all of the racial stereotypes continue today. Refutation the second comes from the clearly wrongheaded claim that PC has shackled today's humor. Whatever the merits and demerits of the Farrelly brothers (I find them inconsistent), political correctness is not one of them. For every "Seinfeld" forced into an unneeded apology over an episode where Kramer provokes a riot at the Puerto Rican Day Parade, there's a "Simpsons," a "Family Guy," a "TV Funhouse," and, most obviously, a "South Park" that has no problem traversing the politically correct minefield. (See also Curb Your Enthusiasm.) It hasn't been the left wing trying to shout down these shows (complaints forced "TV Funhouse" to squelch a hilarious and harmless "Pornography For Kids" segment), even long after "South Park" outed itself as one of the few television shows with Republican sensibilities. And as repetitive as he is, I wouldn't trade Dave Barry for Art Buchwald. There's comedy in literature today, too: Saunders, Lethem, Buckley, and even Douglas Adams for sufficiently broad definitions of "today."

Instapundit has apparently linked to the same article, but it's not clear he read more than the title of the article.
THE FOX NETWORK resorts to self-parody:
Amy Fisher and Tonya Harding will box on Fox in a one-hour March 13 special (9 p.m. ET/PT). The three-fight card also features a battle of the former network stars, as The Partridge Family's Danny Bonaduce dukes it out with The Brady Bunch's Barry Williams for three two-minute rounds.
AN AMAZON.COM FOR board games.
KEN LAYNE POINTS to this horrid site of Halloween costumes of the past. Brrr.
TURNING JAPANESE: "Robert Musil" explores the effect of low interest rates on the Japanese economy and why the juggernaut turned sour. I like his site. One or two posts a day, the essays are thoughtful (if sometimes incorrect in the details), and often side-splittingly sharp. I'm looking forward to the day Donald Foster uncovers which pundit he really is. I have my suspicions, which I'll explore in a future post.
ADVERTISING UPDATE: Were new ads better than the old ones at attracting readers?
0.136% Jewish DC Lawyer Newsblog. Would it kill you?
0.112% Jewish DC Lawyer Weblog. Such a catch!
0.112% Who doesn't like Max Power's newsblog? Commies!
0.090% Shakespearean title. Wal-Mart prose. A newsblog.
0.087% A newsblog. Max Power -- he'd read your weblog.
0.062% Shakespearean title. Wal-Mart prose. A weblog.
0.050% Studiously ignored by Instapundit since 2002.
0.049% "It's weblogrific!" -- David Manning
0.033% Offbeat legal&political commentary. Plus baseball.
Bolded language was suggested by my brother, who's clearly better at one-liners than I am, though not enough to make pyrad advertising (with an effective rate of 30 cents for a clickthrough for an effective ad to $1.25 for an ineffective one) worth it. Rejected ads:
"There's a new lurker on the Max Power weblog. Oscar!" [more than 50 characters]
"Like you have something better to do."
"Click here. It's what Jesus would do."
I'm getting traffic now from google though (including a hit for a search for "Britney Spears topless"), so perhaps I don't need advertising, and can rely upon the slow build of word-of-mouth from random people mistakenly searching for free sex and nude photos of Jennifer Lopez and Anna Kournikova.
ABC IS GOING to cancel Nightline, and hopes to replace it with Letterman.

Thursday, February 28, 2002

I KNOW YOU'VE been asking yourself: What does "Cosmopolitan" look like in Lithuania?
OUR INDIANA READER is upset that we haven't done more about the local sparrow-eating wrestling coach. Consider it linked, though it doesn't quite compare to the Southwest Texas State woman who was upset to find her wet t-shirt contest entry broadcast on late-night E! or the fellow who kept suing Sony when their televisions couldn't quite stand up to the beach air of his apartment. All this and more, at Romenesko's Obscure Store.
SENATOR TORRICELLI, of all people, comes out with the right idea on campaign finance reform, and the Congress demonstrates itself in the pockets of special interests by striking down his amendment to require lower rates for political advertising.

Okay, that's not fair; Torricelli's idea is just as bad as the others. If you're going to hijack the airwaves to require cheap political advertising, why stop with television? Why not newspapers, and billboards, and printing presses, and sides of buildings, and Internet banner ads? Of course, I doubt that the Congress had anything so noble as property rights in mind when they voted against the Torricelli amendment -- you just know they were worried about offending their broadcaster constituency.
SLATE EXPLORES WHETHER strep throat causes neurological disorders.
But there is growing evidence that a range of neurological disorders from temporary tics, such as eye-blinking and head-scratching, to full-blown OCD and Tourette's syndrome are linked to the bacteria. The scientists who connected these neurological maladies to strep throat named the condition pediatric autoimmune neuropsychiatric disorders associated with streptococcal infections, or PANDAS. Some scientists even believe that strep throat might be a factor in some cases of anorexia nervosa.
POST-ENRON MARKETS SELF-CORRECTING. A company called Hanover Compressor suffered post-Enron rumors of aggressive accounting. The stock promptly dropped by half. In response, the company made a mild restatement, and demonstrated transparent and sound books. The stock promptly rebounded.
FEBRUARY 2002 PORTFOLIO UPDATE: For the month, up 0.8%. Last twelve months, up 43.9%. And it would've been even better if my broker had let me short Paypal at 20.

And, yes, I am available to manage your multi-billion dollar hedge fund. Just e-mail me.
THE WASHINGTON TIMES pulls together a half-dozen anecdotes about cell phones and calls it a story.
Danish, Australian and New York ornithologists have reported that city birds are now imitating the sounds of cell phone rings. Starlings, mockingbirds, brown thrashers, lyrebirds and catbirds are among our feathered friends who have taken to mewling like a Motorola on occasion.
The story uncritically quotes the Audubon Society as saying that there are 71,000,000 bird-watchers in the US, which strikes me as implausibly high. I'm used to seeing interest groups exaggerate their membership by factors of two or more to scare politicians and to make themselves feel more important (e.g., "50 million" Americans are disabled, ten percent are gay, seven million are Muslim), but it would be nice if newspapers didn't parrot the line unthinkingly.
Docs on TV is a weblog exclusively devoted to documentaries.
THE WEB HAS EVERYTHING, Part 647: O. J. Simpson for Dingo Boots.
WINE SPECTATOR COMMENTS on the $67K investment banker dinner, and points out that they were severely overcharged, given that the same wines were available at auction at a fraction of the price. (link via Punditwatch)

Wednesday, February 27, 2002

"MAX!" MY READERS complain, "It's been days since you ran a story bashing fraternities!" Oh, alright. The institution that produced the Bush presidents has also produced three Stanford and Berkeley brothers arrested for trying to steal a "heavily pregnant" goat.
GOOD PIECE ABOUT a show in the Fuller Building.
THE GOOD NEWS IS that the bin Ladenites were swindled when they tried to purchase radioactive materials.
DETAILS ON THE Pearl kidnapping videotape.
REALLOCATION OF POLICE resources to wild-goose chases for terrorists has caused an increase in the crime rate.
ONLY 18 PERCENT OF Muslims in predominantly Muslim countries believe that the September 11 hijackers were Arab, says a Gallup poll. One reason why we should not be excessively concerned about Islamic support for American self-defense.

I simply can't fathom the Arab mind that cheers the September 11 attack, but thinks that the Mossad was behind it.
JONAH GOLDBERG CATCHES Al Sharpton in a lie on Crossfire. Goldberg asked Sharpton about a New York Times report where he claimed not to own any of his own suits. Goldberg cites to the New York Times piece where Sharpton's quoted, and mentions that the New Yorker mentioned the same thing. But the New Yorker mentioned more than that: it noted that Sharpton made this claim in a deposition, presumably under oath. (Sharpton had been adjudged liable to Steven Pagones for falsely accusing the latter of raping Tawana Brawley, something Sharpton still hasn't apologized for. Sharpton was trying to avoid collection at the time.) I vaguely recall another politician getting in trouble for lying in a deposition, but woe will befall the New York state prosecutor who dares to call Sharpton out on this.
SAUDI ARABIA BACKTRACKS. Big surprise: Israel expresses interest in the Saudi proposal, offers to meet with the Saudis about it, and Saudi Arabia responds that Israel has to make the concessions before they'll meet with Israel. Land for peace is one thing, but post-Oslo, it's consistently been land-for-half-hearted-participation-in-peace-negotiations. And judging from the chill coming from the state-controlled Egyptian media, "normalized" relations aren't exactly promising.
CRIME SCENE CLEANERS. No, I'm not kidding. Wasn't this supposed to be a Tarantino movie?
ONE OF THE THINGS that most surprises me about litigation is how few people (including judges) understand the concept of notice pleading, Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8. Time after time I've had a partner express surprise at my skepticism regarding a motion to dismiss:
"But they didn't plead any facts!"

"They don't need to plead facts. They just need to make a short and plain statement of their claim, unless it's a fraud claim."

"But they need to prove [X] to proceed, and they don't have any evidence of [X]!"

"Yes, and on summary judgment, when they fail to prove [X], we can win the case. But they don't need to prove it in the complaint. Besides, they allege it right here in paragraph 24."

"But that's just a conclusion! They didn't plead any facts!"

The problem is that so many judges are similarly unaware of notice pleading requirements that one can never say definitively that one shouldn't even bother with a motion to dismiss, especially since the existence of such a motion effectively stays the case. But, oy, they're a waste of time. The issue just came up in the Supreme Court again, and again, the Supreme Court affirmed the concept of notice pleading, 9-0.

Tuesday, February 26, 2002

ADVERTISING. The site was offering cheap ads. They wildly undercharge for the blogging software, so I was happy to send some more money Pyra's way by purchasing some exposure in the form of postage-stamp-sized banner ads. It was an interesting experiment: what would create a click-through in 50 characters or less? I didn't dare try "Topless Britney Spears." I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised at the low click-through rates, but it was still pretty astonishing, and does a lot to explain why the advertising model for the Web has been so lackluster. It was also impressive that a mildly witty turn of phrase could get four times the response rate of a purely informative description. (And an obscurely witty turn of phrase only got click-throughs from the really bored.) But at the end of the day, I got several times more traffic (welcome Portland State readers!) because I got mentioned by Matt Welch's warblog than because several thousand people saw an advertisement on

0.226% Shakespearean title. Wal-Mart prose. A newsblog.
0.117% Jewish DC Lawyer Weblog. Such a catch!
0.116% Studiously ignored by Instapundit since 2002.
0.053% "It's weblogrific!" -- David Manning
0.048% Shakespearean title. Wal-Mart prose. A weblog.
0.043% Offbeat legal&political commentary. Plus baseball.

1. "Who's David Manning?" asks the 99.947% of the Internet that has a life.
2. Newsblogs are almost five times as popular as weblogs.
2a. I should've described this as a "Jewish DC Lawyer Newsblog."
3. These stats don't show it, but my logs indicate that people are much more likely to click through a pyrad in the middle of the night than during work hours -- my guess is the former are wandering and looking for something to read, while the latter are trying to navigate somewhere and aren't looking at the advertising.
4. I hereby challenge my brother to come up with something that tops a 0.3% click-through rate.
CROSS-CULTURAL GAME THEORY: Reason summarizes this fascinating study of how different cultures play the Ultimatum game. In the Ultimatum game, if two players agree on a split of a pie (prize, monetary amount, etc.), they receive the according shares; if they don't agree, they each get nothing. The catch is that one player offers, and the second only gets to vote aye or nay.

If there are two rational players, the first player would offer only a sliver of the pie to the second player, who would accept knowing that a little is better than nothing. (If the game was to be repeated, a rational player might decline a small offer in the hopes of encouraging more "fair" offers in the future.) Surprisingly, no one plays like this.
JIM TREACHER demonstrates that "Get Your War On" is as easy as it looks with this send-up of both that and Elizabeth Wurtzel's comments on 9/11.
WORST FANBOY CULTURE EVER: Don't dress up like a hobbit in Kazakhstan.
INSTAPUNDIT LINKS TO New York Times stories on a Red Crescent prison much worse than the Gitmo facilities and on anti-Semitic attacks in France.
OUR TWELFTH-CENTURY FRIENDS the Taliban apparently had trouble destroying those Bamian Buddha statutes:
After point-blank artillery and tank fire gouged holes in the statues but left them essentially intact, the Taliban planted a row of explosives at the feet of the taller Buddha, the 175-foot statue known as Solsol, which means "year after year." The 20 timed explosions merely blew off part of the statue's feet, residents said, but they destroyed the adobe-and-wood Fatha mosque at the base of the sandstone cliff from which the Buddha was hewn.
MEANWHILE, Heather Havrilesky, aka Polly Esther, aka rabbit, explains why "Crossroads" is one of the best movies of the season.
LILEKS HAS good commentary on "Fly Away Home".
Hesitant Lieberman Encouraged to Mutiny Against Gore in 2004 says the LA Times.
"WHAT DO YOU mean, split the check? I had a glass of juice, and you had a bottle of 1947 Château Pétrus!"

In my limited culinary experience, I will concede that a $50/head sushi dinner tends to be twice as good as a $25/head sushi dinner, at least in Los Angeles; on the wine list, the $40 bottles are usually about twice as good as the $20 bottles, and there's a world of difference between the $15/shot scotch and the $5/shot stuff. But I can't envision a $17,500 bottle of wine. Indeed, R.W. Apple snippily informs the investment bankers that the 1985 Pétrus is almost as good at a tenth of the price.
ROB NEYER, in a throwaway remark, says the Mets-Braves pennant race is the most interesting one out there. I can't say I agree. In the West, Arizona v. San Francisco has the potential to be complicated by improvements from San Diego and/or Colorado. The AL West features two of the three best teams in the AL, plus the possibility that several Angels will rebound from disappointing 2001 seasons, and the Rangers aren't a terrible team. (Unfortunately, the fact that the second-place team will likely win the wildcard kind of ruins this race.) In the AL Central, you have an Indians team in its last gasps, a White Sox team struggling to win before more management errors kill their chances, and the Minnesota Twins in the life-imitating-art role of the "Major League" early 90s Cleveland team. Finally, the NL Central features last year's two best NL teams plus a Chicago Cubs that added Moises Alou. The Braves were better than the Mets at the end of last year, and have arguably improved more over the offseason than the Mets have.

UPDATE: Joe Sheehan writes on the AL West in Baseball Prospectus.

Monday, February 25, 2002

ISRAEL THREATENS TO call Saudi Arabia's bluff. Stay tuned.
AS YOU'RE STANDING in a three-hour line to get on an airplane, you'll be comforted to know that fugitive Christian Longo (suspected of killing his family, and one of the most wanted men in America) was able to hop a flight from San Francisco to Cancun with a fake ID and stolen credit card. (third item)
MICHAEL MOORE IS A big fat idiot. Ok, "Roger and Me" was funny, if wildly unfair. Ok, TV Nation had its moments, if wildly unfair ones. Somewhere along the way, though, Moore lost his bearings. Or perhaps they were never there.

In his first book, Moore took one chapter to criticize the rapacious American corporate interests who, through their promotion of free trade, caused cheap steel imports to be brought into the country, driving more expensive American steel producers out of business. A few chapters later, he's criticizing the rapacious American corporate interests who insist on high tariffs on imported sugar, costing consumers billions of dollars by raising the price of sugar and restricting the markets for foreign sugar farmers. If there's a coherent policy position there other than knee-jerk anti-American business sentiment, let me know. I won't even get into Moore's cheering on of the Los Angeles riots.

Meanwhile, in a chat/lovefest, Moore responded to a question about the GAO inquiry into Cheney's meetings:
Seriously, I think what Cheney really has to hide is what he knows about meetings between Haliburton and the Taliban in recent years to build the Unocal pipeline across Afghanistan.
"Seriously"? Sure, Michael, the corporate leaders of America met Dick Cheney in discussions labelled "energy policy," while there were huge controversies raging over energy deregulation and the failure of the California regulatory scheme, but it was really to cackle and laugh and smoke cigars and tent their fingers and purr "Excellent" as they contemplated an unsuccessful initiative to build a minor pipeline. I can see it now. Insert dream sequence music...
"Why," Ken Lay said, leaning back in an easy chair made from the leather of baby seals as he lit another cigar with a $100 bill, "I bet the Taliban some Houston executives met with in 1995 used the savings from the dinner they had bought for them during those negotiations to fund an international terrorism initiative that will make George Bush popular and create a wave of patriotism that will really cheese that Michael Moore guy." He exhaled second-hand smoke into the face of a nearby undocumented alien domestic servant paid below the minimum wage.

Dick Cheney burst into a deep, hearty laugh, then a coughing fit, then another deep, hearty laugh. "What a wonderfully evil thought! I must remember to write that in my notes. Though these notes will eventually be released to historians in a quarter century, I sure do hope they're not subpoenaed now. The popular outrage from the release of these notes could get Ralph Nader elected president in 2004."

Another businessman snorted. "Well, we'll just have to get the Supreme Court to overturn that election, too!" Everyone laughed again, punctuated by another coughing fit by the vice president, who then grew pensive.

"Hmmm," Cheney said, "I guess we're going to need some more campaign contributions to certain elected officials. That will surely silence any inquiries, as everyone knows that a $1,000/cycle contribution to a member of the House of Representatives will ensure that he or she will never ask embarrassing questions at a Congressional hearing."
Hey, that's pretty good, and probably has the Naderites nodding their heads, saying "Yes, that's precisely how it must have happened." I should go into this counter-cultural quasi-humor thing that Moore seems to have locked up.

Best part of the chat, where either only a single anti-Moore person logged in with a question (which got ignored), or the others were all squelched: Moore admitted that he drove a German car. No one followed up on that, but I'm sure the workers of Flint thank him.

Moore's at Olssen's tomorrow. I have half a mind to show up with a video camera and ask him why he refuses to talk to Willard Morgan.
ENRON: "Robert Musil" brings a skeptical eye to the Enron foofarah, even if he misspells "Vinson & Elkins" most of the time.
FOR ERIC MULKOWSKY only: Enron's most recent voice mail menu. Requires Flash. (via Dan Pink)
I SOMEHOW HAD missed this on-line discussion by Richard Epstein on intellectual property.
SPELLING BEE. Google search results:
"Lou Gehrig" 70,300
"Lou Gerhig" 1,080
Gandhi 711,000
Ghandi 75,300
"Rudy Giuliani" 48,500
"Rudy Guiliani" 3,370
"Rudy Guliani" 810
Cincinnati 3,470,000
Cinncinnati 5,000
The world did better than I thought.

Sunday, February 24, 2002

BLAST FROM THE PAST: A Java version of the old Infocom text adventure Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by the late Douglas Adams.
EVERYTHING YOU LOOK AT: The web site of the woman who designed the icons you instinctually have known since the mid 1980s. (via The Daily Dose)
JUDGE MATZ tears Ramsey Clark to pieces in this entertaining opinion dismissing Clark's frivolous lawsuit on behalf of the Guantanamo terrorists.
MY GOOD FRIENDS the Snopeses seem to have a deal to do a television series. Here's wishing the best Nielsens to David and Barbara.
SIMPSONS AHEAD OF THEIR time again: Remember the "Larry the Looter" arcade game Bart played in an early episode? It's essentially here in a Playstation 2 game:
As you play, various bonuses switch on and off. For instance, on occasion, you'll earn 10 times as many points for destroying objects as you normally would, or there will be a five-times multiplier on window breaking.
GRIDLOCK: Britain is considering handling its traffic problems through satellite-tracked road charges. The privacy implications alone are huge. Can you imagine any US state adopting a similar measure?

Here in the US, there's nothing wrong with our traffic system that a $4/gallon gas tax couldn't solve. Unfortunately, rather than raise gas taxes that might encourage car-pooling and lower-polluting cars, Virginia is seeking to build more roads through a sales tax. I have nothing against road-building. But one shouldn't be taxing the users of public transportation to obtain those roads.

I also have a general aversion to "earmarked" taxes. The earmarking is almost always a fantasy, as there are other portions of the budget that are not earmarked and can be deducted from the total to turn the earmarked increase into an increase in general revenues. I snort when people tell me that lotteries fund education.
GAME THEORY: David Janes' blog expresses confusion over game theory in the international context. He correctly notes that, in a finite game, there's an advantage to the player who defects in the final move (which devolves into a risk of defection earlier to get the advantage of defecting first). Thus, in a different context, a local family-owned business has an incentive to expend effort to offer good service, because it expects the consumer-transaction "game" to be a repeat game. But a furniture store in an area with a lot of transients (such as Washington, DC!) cares much less about the risk of losing repeat business: there exists an equilibrium strategy for, say, the Rhymes-With-Barlo Furniture Store to screw over the first-time customers on the grounds that most customers aren't going to be repeat customers anyway.

Back to the international context: Tiananmen Square was not a "final move" in the United States-China game. There was tit-for-tat in the form of minor sanctions and delayed MFN status. The tit-for-tat game continued, and one side eventually played nice with the other responding.

"Being a saint" or "being a sinner" are not the only two strategies in a repeat game. Pure tit-for-tat (where one's strategy is identical to the opponent's strategy in the previous move in the hopes of educating the opponent into cooperating) is another strategy. If both players adopt pure tit-for-tat after repeat plays, the world will devolve into one of two states: everybody cooperates or everybody sins. If the game is in a state where everybody sins, at least one player needs to deviate from the tit-for-tat strategy to return to the state where everybody cooperates by either (1) one player offering an olive branch consecutively twice or (2) one player offering an olive branch, followed by the other player offering an olive branch as the first player returns to tit-for-tat. (I.e., a sequence of {(Peace, War), (War, Peace), (Peace, Peace)}).

There's always an incentive in the short-run to defect from the Peace, Peace strategy. The question then becomes whether the long-run costs of defection outweigh the short-term costs. If one believes that one's opponent will quickly offer an olive branch, or if the opponent will not defect while you move to repair relations, and the costs of that time of dislocation do not outweigh the benefits of defecting, you will see occasional defections.

Another complicating factor comes when there are different values of the cells for different turns for different players, as happens in real life. Then, as variance increases, there will come times in the game where defections from the peace strategy are optimal to play. But these are not "final moves." The game remains a repeat game, just one with many possible Nash equilbria. (I think:the math at this level is beyond me, and I haven't looked at this academically in eight years). The Tianenman "defection" makes more "sense" in this more nuanced game: The Chinese leadership merely judged (correctly) that the short-term threat of the pro-democracy movement would
be more damaging to the corruptocracy there than the likely retaliation from the US.

Tit-for-tat with occasional defections then becomes the optimal strategy in a non-zero-sum game with random values for individual moves. A strategy of "sort of tit-for-tat leaning toward sainthood" will create incentives for other players to play a "sort of tit-for-tat leaning toward sinner" strategy, but it's incorrect to characterize the defections in
that repeat game as a "final move."

Another factor that comes into play is that the more developed the nation is, the less incentive it has to defect, because the more painful a prolonged dislocation from the peaceful equilibrium is. Thus, the US is willing to move to warm relations with China first; Israel repeatedly hopes that the PLO is playing tit-for-tat instead of a pure-defection strategy and offers olive branches that get slapped down.

Other times, there are internal political reasons (to some extent a principal-agent problem) why offering an olive branch is not acceptable; thus, we have the US-Cuba game where both sides are intransigently non-cooperative, and, perhaps (and tragically if so), the situation in the Middle East, where corrupt Islamic governments need the existence of an Israeli scapegoat to deflect their people's anger, don't care about the small consequences of not being at peace with Israel (thanks to Western nations unwilling to condemn the anti-Semitism involved), and thus can't risk responding to Israeli peace initiatives. Peace won't happen in the Middle East until there are substantial consequences for the Arab nations' leadership that won't agree to peace.