Saturday, October 29, 2005
Steven Colbert Does His Homework
Wednesday, October 26, 2005
New Criterion Contraption
Worst Ever Challenge!
For lyrics and a MIDI version that's actually less painful to listen to than the original recording, click here.
Executive Power Grab Round-Up!
Scott McClellan has implied that Rove and Libby lied to him. Which is interesting, given all the other spurious bullshit he spews at press conferences. Could it be that he's just been misled, all this time? And that's a serious question: Ari Fleischer obviously took real relish in lying to the press, but McClellan might have actually believed what he's been saying. Perhaps the cognitive dissonance is finally getting to be too much.
Finally, the Claremont Institute has an interesting essay about Bush and Federalism (if you haven't noticed, he's mostly agin it). This may have interesting long-term consequences for the small-government wing of the party (or what's left of it, anyway). I personally think that both Nixon's Southern Strategy and Regean's courting of evangelicals are going to be seen as Frankenstein stories by intellectual conservatives within, say, fifty years. Evangelicals especially tend to be authoritarian; once awakened, it didn't take long for them to notice how much good they could do with the federal government under their control. Here's John Eastman's summary from the article:
The big business component of the Marketeer part of the triad began to realize that a broad and preemptive federal regulatory power was better for them than having to deal with less sophisticated regulatory agencies in 50 different states, placing them squarely at odds with the limited government and federalism ideology. And the Doves, for their part, began to see a national government in their hands as a solution for the ills of society, a view equally at odds with limited government and federalism.I don't want to hail any of the commentators on the right as heroes for finally stating the obvious. With Katrina and Meiers in short succession, Bush's incompetence and cronyism hit a tipping point. It's as fashionable to be a "dissenting conservative abiding by principles" as it was fashionable to be a "hard-hitting reporter speaking truth to power" during the destruction of New Orleans. But both spectacles were great fun to watch. Get your popcorn ready.
(Of course, with the notable exception of Obama, the Democratic Party is still unable to articulate what they'd do better, except that they'd make things better. Not good enough).
When Morons Write The Laws, Part II
Sec. 32. (a) Marriage in this state shall consist only of the union of one man and one woman.Hmmmmm. I wonder what legal status is the most identical to marriage? Could it be...marriage itself? Talk about a threat to traditional marriage. I thought Gerald Allen was the dumbest legislator around, but whoever drafted this piece of shit takes the cake. Democracies get the governments they deserve, so here's to you, Texas! Hope Prop 2 wins by a mile, and California chooses not to recognize any Texas marriages, since they're violations of your state constitution.
(b) This state or a political subdivision of this state may not create or recognize any legal status identical or similar to marriage.
H/T The Volokh Conspiracy.
Sunday, October 23, 2005
Attribution Error Bonanza!
What's the matter with Kansas?
The Kansas Supreme Court on Friday unanimously struck down a state law that punished underage sex more severely if it involved homosexual acts, saying "moral disapproval" of such conduct is not enough to justify the different treatment.While I would prefer a law that treated sex as sex, it appears to me that the KSC is effectively saying that morals cannot be considered a basis for law. This would represent a serious challenge to my legal philosophy and I dare say Kansans' legal philosophies as well as most of our readership's legal philosophies.
For instance, while I think prostitution should be legal, I recognize that it it is entirely within the power of the state to outlaw it. Staying with the example of prostitution for a moment, I don't see how a state could punish prostitution without invoking a moral basis (barring significant legal gymnastics) as it's effectively punishing consensual sex of one kind (prostitution) but not another kind (consensual sex without money transfer of cash).
Or perhaps an example that the readership has given some thought to, consider laws that outlaw "consenting adults be allowed to challenge each other to a duel and fight a death match." I recognized that morals can be a basis of the state saying outlawing the activity. While I was comfortable with it (as well as pay-per-viewing the match) , I believe that most our readers wanted it outlawed (partly for the ick factor, but that's the reason for a lot of morals), and I thought that such moral reasoning was ok as the basis for a state law.
[I assume the casual reader of this blog must now be thinking, "WTF kind of blog is this? Less familiar with legal arguments over prostitution and more familiar with death matches?" To which I respond, "That's not the half of it, we've got animal porn too!"]
So in pursuit of a desirable result, the KSC kicked out a major pillar of our legal system by denying morality as a basis for state law. You can view this as akin to one of my reasons for opposing Miers - while I thought that she would vote against Roe (a good thing in my eyes), I feared that she would do it for the wrong reasons and cause significant problems.
As Matt points out above, my beef should be with the US Supreme Court, in particular Lawerence v Texas. It was Lawerence that "kicked out a major pillar of our legal system". As written in the KSC decision:
"A law branding one class of persons as criminal based solely on the State's moral disapproval of that class and the conduct associated with that class runs contrary to the values of the Constitution and the Equal Protection Clause, under any standard of review." 539 U.S. at 585 (O'Connor, concurring).The KSC follows up that paragraph with this citation of Scalia's dissension:
Justice Scalia wrote a dissenting opinion which Chief Justice Rehnquist and Justice Thomas joined. For our purposes, the dissent is instructive because of its discussion of what the majority opinion does or does not do. Especially significant to our review is Justice Scalia's conclusion that the majority opinion means that "the promotion of majoritarian sexual morality is not even a legitimate state interest" and that criminal legislation on matters such as "fornication, bigamy, adultery, adult incest, bestiality, and obscenity" cannot "survive rational-basis review."Thus confirming my inference that the Court system (US Supremes but not Kansas which was bound) has decided that morality can no longer be the basis for any law (it's specifically for sex, but it's a readily extended precedent).
Friday, October 21, 2005
“I’m just sensitive,” she says onstage. “My skin is paper thin. People don’t realize it, because I’m sassy and I’m brassy, but I just— I see these care commercials with these little kids with the giant bellies and the flies, and these are one- and two-year-old babies, nine months pregnant, and it breaks my heart in two.”
As the audience reacts, she presses on. “It breaks my heart in half. And I don’t give money, because”—out of the side of her mouth—“I don’t want them to spend it on drugs, but I give. You know I give. I, this past summer, sent fifteen really fun cowl-neck sweaters to this village in Africa, in really fun colors—expecting nothing, by the way—and they culled their money together, whatever they call it, and bought a stamp and sent me a postcard thanking me, and it said thank you and that they had enough sweaters for every single member of the village to get one and that they were delicious.”
"I got in trouble for saying the word “Chink” on a talk show, a network talk show. It was in the context of a joke. Obviously. That’d be weird. That’d be a really bad career choice if it wasn’t. But, nevertheless, the president of an Asian-American watchdog group out here in Los Angeles, his name is Guy Aoki, and he was up in arms about it and he put my name in the papers calling me a racist, and it hurt. As a Jew—as a member of the Jewish community—I was really concerned that we were losing control of the media. Right? What kind of a world do we live in where a totally cute white girl can’t say “Chink” on network television? It’s like the fifties. It’s scary.
There are only two Asian people that I know that I have any problem with, at all. One is, uh, Guy Aoki. The other is my friend Steve, who actually went pee-pee in my Coke. He’s all, ‘Me Chinese, me play joke.’ Uh, if you have to explain it, Steve, it’s not funny."
Thursday, October 20, 2005
Of course, when Cutcliffe was the offensive coordinator, Tennessee was consistently a top 10 offense. Of course when you have good play calling/design and good athletes that's what happens. Fortunately for Tennessee, they do have an excellent defensive coordinator, so the defense has been keeping Tennessee in games for several years now.
Based on the success of FireRonZook.com, some enterprising fans have started FireRandySanders.com (Randy Sanders is UT's offensive coordinator) which features an amusing rewrite of Rocky Top that concludes with:
3rd and long and let's call a shovel pass,PostScript
'Cause Sanders has doo-doo for brains.
That's why Rocky Top is ranked near last,
In scoring and offensive gains.
Rocky Top, you'll always be,
Home Sweet Home to me.
Good ol' Rocky Top,
The SEC's number three.
Of course this is not to overlook UT's lousy special teams play which has resulted in several botched punts and field goals, muffed catches and amazingly low return yardage. However, the special teams coach (Caldwell) also coaches Tennessee's defensive ends which have been pretty good. So rather than firing Caldwell, maybe someone new should be brought in for special teams like this former graduate assistant who has an outstanding special teams pedigree.
Random economics related links
Don Lloyd has a two word solution to the obesity crisis: Univeral Foodcare. He also has an interesting thought experiment: gas cards.
I just found out that Jimmy Duncan (my Congressman when I lived in Knoxville who, among other interactions, attended my Eagle Scout ceremony) is a co-sponsor of the Fair Tax bill. I wonder if my other former Congressman (Boucher) and current Congressman (Goode) will join in.
This is quasi economics related (and definitely regulatory) but is bad news . The Coburn amendment to move pork to Katrina failed.
Wednesday, October 19, 2005
Another Tech site
What makes for a legitimate election?
Do you believe that the more legitimate (net non-fraudulent) votes that are cast, the more legitimate the results of an election are? It's a yes or no. [net non-fraudulent added to reflect Matt's clarifier comment]No.
While I believe this metric is absurd, I think a full answer to this question requires answering the more philosophical (and less Hannitized) question of "What makes for a legitimate election?"
The 3 F's
In short, I believe any election which satisfies the "3 Fs" is a legitimate election - Fair, Free, and Fraud-free. Towards that end, the more effort that is made to minimize fraud, the more confident I am in the legitimacy of the election.
Clearly, by my definition increasing the number of net non-fraudulent votes (calculated as total number of non-fraudulent votes minus the number of fraudulent votes) permits the possibility of actually decreasing the legitimacy of an election. In fact, net non-fraudulent votes should be a non-starter for everyone just by considering elections where significant fraud occurs.
A problem with net non-fraudulent votes
For example, suppose we have a voting population of 100 people and the population is divided 55-45. Suppose that nine people typically vote but are generally representative of the population so we get a 5-4 result. (Republics are premised on using representative voters who we call representatives, natch.) The will of the people was clearly captured by this election (this is the criterion that I think Matt was really aiming for). Now suppose we held an election where there were 100 non-fraudulent votes and 20 fraudulent votes and all 20 fraudulent votes side with the 45. The outcome of this election is 55-65, and the will of the people has clearly not been captured by this election. However, the net non-fraudulent votes metric has gone from 9 to 80! (It is equally easy to construct an example where it doesn't go above 100 but fraudulent impostor votes result in an election I think we would all deem "illegitimate".)
As I stated above, the net non-fraudulent metric is an absurd metric to use to measure the legitimacy of an election. So I'm assuming I am either misinterpreting this comment, or Matt brain-farted.
Democratization as a metric and alternate election processes
A more plausible metric (which is in line with the way I first interpreted Matt's question before reading his clarifier) is the following:
Assuming no fraud or fraud is held constant, increasing the number of voters results in a more legitimate election.Formally, we'll call this metric the democratization metric. I also don't think increases in the democratization metric increases the legitimacy of an election.
Further, I am not in favor of designing elections in an attempt to maximize the democratization metric particularly as an attempt to legitimize the election (which I measure by the 3 F's). In fact, I would be perfectly happy with many restrictions on voting. These restrictions range from limiting enfranchisement to only those who own property (I also held this position during the period when I didn't own any property) to limiting the election to only informed citizen voters (perhaps using the Heinlein test as Richard suggested). For that matter, I've even considered as a thought-experiment weighting votes by net taxes (if you like a progressive tax code, this one has interesting ramifications).
Assuming these elections were equally free, fair, and fraud-free, I would view each of these elections as equally legitimate. The reason why I prefer the first two alternate scenarios to current election approaches is because I believe they would lead to better and more responsible government. (Recall that I believe improving society is a time-varying multiobjective multidimensional nonlinear optimization problem so I am comfortable using criteria in addition to legitimacy when determining which is the best election style.)
Problems with the democratization metric
After making the shocking claim that I don't believe that increasing the number of non-fraudulent voters makes for a more legitimate election, let me make the even more shocking claim that you, dear reader, don't believe that increasing the number of non-fraudulent voters makes for a more legitimate election either. Further, we all consider objectives other than legitimacy in our preferences of different election styles.
I suspect that the vast majority (if not all) of polyscifi's readers agree with Matt (and me) that felons should not vote. So the vast majority of our readers believe that disenfranchising at least one class of people still results in a legitimate election. In fact, ya'll probably prefer an outcome where felons don't vote as it keeps people who have demonstrated a willingness to act against the interests of society from voting.
Considering an absurd example, I am certain that all of polyscifi's readers would agree that if we allowed all people in the world but US citizens to vote in the election that would not increase the legitimacy of the election (and in fact would dramatically decrease the legitimacy of the election because of its unfairness). Somewhat less absurdly, I figure that many of our readers feel that not enfranchising resident aliens (both the legal and illegal versions) does not negatively impact the legitimacy of an election.
So clearly increasing the number of votes, even assuming no fraud, does not increase the legitimacy of an election. It does, however, increase the democratic nature of the election, but now we're not discussing how an election should be held and are really discussing what kind of government we would like.
The participation metric
Just as my desire for elections participated in only by informed citizens is motivated by a desire to have a particular kind for government (intelligent, responsible government), a desire for increasing the democratization metric is similar to a desire for a particular kind of government (government with maximized participation) . This can then be formed into the following election metric which I sometimes see bandied about:
Maximizing the participation of those who are governedAn election that maximizes this metric can be said to maximize the legitimacy of the resulting government (everyone impacted by the government has a chance to influence the impact and is to some extent consenting to the government). This metric has the advantage of excluding voting by people who don't live in the US. However, only very few would argue that enfranchising resident aliens would lead to a more legitimate election and very few would view the outcome as desirable. Why is this outcome undesirable? Because the aliens do not have sufficient stake in the government (the same logic is the basis of my property ownership preference). Similarly, felons (who are governed perhaps more than most) remains problematic when using this metric for legitimacy. Likewise, I doubt that any of our readers would view an election that enfranchised children as more legitimate. Again we also wouldn't prefer this result because we believe that children cannot make an intelligent vote (using similar logic, you can see why I prefer that only the informed vote) .
So while it might be useful for furthering some other goal, increasing the number of voters (as evaluated by these three metrics) does not determine the legitimacy of an election.
Of course this discussion only disproves the contention that the number of voters is the sole arbiter of legitimacy and doesn't prove my belief that election legitimacy is determined by how fair (the election of Hussein where he was the only candidate is an example of an illegitimate election because it was unfair), how free (see situations where the "wrong" vote costs you your life), and how little fraud is committed (see Washington State 2004, or if you prefer, i.e., I don't buy it, Florida 2000).
But before I could proceed with any positive proof that the legitimacy of an election is increased by increasing the freedom and fairness of the election and minimizing the fraud, I would insist on us settling on a common definition of a "legitimate election". Because as it stands, any proof would be tautological as my 3F's definition (free, fair, and fraud-free) supplies the metric.
In my original draft formulated over dinner at BW3, I had left "free" off my list of criteria for a legitimate election. Thason helpfully saved me from this embarrassing omission.
Tuesday, October 18, 2005
In the comments to my post below, Jody points out some potential bad reporting in the New York Times editorial about Georgia's new voting law. I accept his point--the state of Georgia may, in fact, be making efforts to make it possible for the indigent to vote even with House Bill 244 as law. I have a lot to say about this, but I'll stick to one point and one point only:
This bill is not necessary. It doesn't address an actual problem. Whether or not the additional burden it opposes on Georgia's poor is big or small doesn't matter. It makes the voting process more onerous and there's no upside. So the motives don't really matter to me, nor does the implimentation. If you can convince me that I'm wrong about that, then we can argue about the technicalities. To convince me, you'd need documented cases of voter fraud in the state of Georgia that would have been solved by requiring a State ID at the polling station.
Update: I'd like to respond to some of the comments here. Jody points out numerous examples of double voting. The way that works in most cases is this: a voter registers in more than one precinct, and votes by absentee ballot in one precinct and normally in the other (variations include casting provisional ballots in a precinct where you're not registered to vote, and going to both precincts and voting normally). Requiring a state ID does nothing to combat this; I can go with my valid ID anywhere I'm registered. So this isn't fraud "that would have been solved by requiring a State ID at the polling station." In addition, in these cases you're always looking at always less than two hundred votes (and in some of the linked cases, less than ten); unless Georgia is way out of the national norm, this bill would have to disenfranchise fewer than two hundred people for it to produce a fairer election result. And guess what: under the voting rights act of 1965, the burden is on the state to demonstrate that the law wouldn't disproportionately disenfranchise minorities. They haven't even tried to do that.
Richard lays out a different hypothetical: "If I knew where you lived, and showed up at your precinct early in the morning and told the pollworker I was Matthew Dessem and voted the opposite way from the way I figured you would vote, what would you do when you showed up at the polls a few hours later? " What I would do is raise hell about it, and if this were done on any kind of large scale, it would attract media attention. I don't think this has happened to anyone recently, here or elsewhere. More broadly, you suggest that preventing this hypothetical fraud is worth doing (prevention v. cure, and so on). But it's only worth doing in an "all other things being equal" world, which isn't the one we're living in. Solving a phantom problem while creating a very real one is a bad security tradeoff. (It's also, in this case, a bad privacy-rights tradeoff, and a bad democratic process tradeoff). I suspect, however, that the Georgia State Legislature doesn't see making it harder to vote as a problem.
Did the Air Force enlist Wonder Woman?
Monday, October 17, 2005
Georgia Embarasses America Again!
Georgia's law isn't about making voter fraud more difficult. It's about making voting more difficult, the poorer and blacker you are. Georgia should have given up on this kind of bullshit in the sixties.
Open Investigative Methods
Saturday, October 15, 2005
Pinter is not our kind of guy; his site headlines this quote:Well, let's leave the implicit assumption that the Nobel Prize should be awarded to "our kind of guy" alone for now. Let's just look at Pinter's endorsement of a relativistic worldview in context. Here's what he actually wrote:There are no hard distinctions between what is real and what is unreal, nor between what is true and what is false. A thing is not necessarily either true or false; it can be both true and false.A lot of leftists subscribe to this theory of epistemology. As a trial lawyer, I wouldn't try to sell Pinter's theory to a jury.
In 1958 I wrote the following:Wow—it looks almost like Pinter is repudiating relativism in politics! Saying almost exactly the opposite of what Hinderaker wants you to believe! That doesn't make much sense to me, because if Pinter were really concerned with hard facts about politics, he would certainly have come to the same conclusions as the honest people at Power Line—only a soft, fuzzy understanding of reality could lead someone to abhor Bush, right? Right?
"There are no hard distinctions between what is real and what is unreal, nor between what is true and what is false. A thing is not necessarily either true or false; it can be both true and false."
I believe that these assertions still make sense and do still apply to the exploration of reality through art. So as a writer I stand by them but as a citizen I cannot. As a citizen I must ask: What is true? What is false?
Hinderaker's post is deliberately misleading, but PowerLine at least acknowledges that politics shouldn't be a disqualification for artistic achievement. Michelle Malkin and LGF get it wrong when they sum Pinter up as an "anti-war" playwright. I haven't read anything Pinter has written since 1993's Moonlight, but I read all but a few of his pre-1993 plays. None of them are about war. All of them show the same genius for language. Deciding an author is no good because of his politics is pernicious bullshit. And I'm not really sure where the idea that Pinter has produced nothing good in 40 years came from, but it's nonsense. Betrayal, which is where I'd recommend anyone who wants to read him start, is from 1978. And Moonlight, from 1993, is astonishingly beautiful. Here, for example, is one of Bridget's monologues; she's a ghost, talking about the afterlife:
I am walking slowly in a dense jungle. But I'm not suffocating. I can breathe. That is because I can see the sky through the leaves.Read that aloud. It's strange and wonderful (and for all that, it's minor Pinter--read Old Times once you've got a taste for him). Whether or not the Nobel committee had political motives for recognizing Pinter this year in particular doesn't matter; he deserves the award. And twisting someone else's words to fit some grand stereotype of leftist epistemology, the way Hinderaker does, is contemptible.
I'm surrounded by flowers. Hibiscus, oleander, bougainvillea, jacaranda. The turf under my feet is soft.
I crossed so many fierce landscapes to get here. Thorns, stones, stinging nettles, barbed wire, skeletons of men and women in ditches. There was no hiding there. There was no yielding. There was no solace, no shelter.
But here there is shelter. I can hide. I am hidden. The flowers surround me but they don't imprison me. I am free. Hidden but free. I'm a captive no longer. I'm lost no longer. No one can find me or see me. I can be seen only by eyes of the jungle, eyes in the leaves. But they don't want to harm me.
There is a smell of burning. A velvet odour, very deep, an echo like a bell.
No one in the world can find me.
Friday, October 14, 2005
Via Dean, this somehow seems related. I wonder how many adult entertainers will go for the musical upgrade package?
Thursday, October 13, 2005
The Accuracy of the Folk Theorems
In this comment, P presents a common criticism of game theory, there's too darn many equilibria (like steady-states for a system). Now sometimes, that's a failure of the theory, but sometimes that reflects real life.
As an example of a failure of the theory, consider the concept of link deletion proofness in network formation (the study of the the process of vertices adding/deleting edges in a network. For example in social network formation, the vertices are people and the edges are friendships.) A network is said to be link deletion proof if no vertex in the network wishes to remove a single edge connected to that vertex. While somewhat useful, it provides the great insight that the empty network (in which there are no edges) is link deletion proof and fails to account for the deletion of multiple edges and the occasions where vertices may wish to simultaneiously add and delete multiple edges (like if a vertex is a playa, by which I obviously mean a Spanish beach ;) ).
For the concept of link deletion proofness, it is indeed true that game theory permits way too many equilibria as many networks which we empirically know are not equilibria are nonetheless predicted to be in equilibrium. (There also exist many other network formation equilibrium concepts, some of which are more useful, many of which are just as useless. I'll not cover those today as they're only tangential to my argument.)
P's specific criticism of game theory is the Folk theorems permit too many equilibria, and if I may expand, in many cases permit an infinite number of equilibria over quite a wide range of outcomes. In this case, however, I assert that this is not a failing of the theory as it accurately captures the way that such systems actually behave.
Before continuing, let me give a brief explanation of Folk theorems and the context in which they are used. Because a folk theorem refers to any mathematical theorem that is common knowledge, agreed to be correct, but hasn't proven in a traditional complete publication, there are many different contexts in which Folk theorems could be used to mean different things. In this case, the implied context of P's point was repeated games.
A repeated game is game which repeats for many stages where at each stage all players choose an action and receive a payoff based on every player's choice of actions. If the game repeats forever, the game is said to have an infinite horizon; if it terminates after a fixed number of stages, it is said to have a finite horizon. Generally, it is assumed that when choosing their actions, the players consider their payoffs on the current stages and some weighting of expected payoffs in all future stages with diminishing weight given to payoffs that might be received from stages further in the future. The fraction that a player diminishes its weighting from stage to stage is called its discounting factor.
Now the repeated game Folk theorems (also known as the Nash folk theorems) state that if players and groups of players are willing to coordinate together to "punish" other players, then almost any strategy tuple (a choice of actions by each player for each stage of the game) can be force to be an agreed upon equilibrium. (By punishment, I am referring to a choice of actions by a group of players designed to decrease the payoff of a player that is not acting in accordance to the wishes of the group. Typically, it is assumed that punishment also decreases the payoff of the group as well as the individual.)
The theoretical exceptions to this theorem being, a) you can't force a player to accept a lower payoff than one it could guarantee itself even in light of the punishment, b) a player with a finite horizon can greatly limit the effectiveness of the punishment (e.g., if you're going to die tomorrow anyways, of what value is the threat of being fined for speeding?). and c) players may hold the expectation that they'll be able to violate the agreement without being punished either because the threat is not credible or that they don't think they'll be identified as the one breaking the agreement.
The most popular example application of threatened punishment encouraging desired behavior was the concept of mutually assured destruction. For a while during the Cold War, the Soviets could've eaten our lunch in a conventional war in Europe. However, we told the Soviets that if they invaded Western Europe, we would immediately go nuclear and the whole world would be destroyed which neither of us wanted. Because the accumulated payoff from all future stages where we're all alive, but the Soviets aren't in Western Europe greatly outweighed the short term benefit of occupying Western Europe, this threat of punishment changed the equilibrium from one where the Soviets occupied Western Europe while we sucked a lemon to one where we fought proxy wars for a few decades.
To summarize, the game theoretic insight of this Folk theorem is the following. If a) enough people get together and agree to punish "deviant" behavior (by deviant behavior I mean actions other than the agreed upon equilibrium), b) the game effectively has an infinite horizon, and c) threats of punishments are credible, then there exists a punishment regime that will result in an equilibrium of the "system designer's" choosing (for cognitive radios, the system designer is the engineer that designed the system; for a society, it's the lawmakers.)
Now I assert that there are indeed an infinite number of equilibria in repeated games of human interaction with punishment regimes and thus there is empirical support for this game theoretic implication. To back up this assertion, consider the form of behavior shaping punishment in a repeated game that we encounter every day - the law.
Consider traffic flowing on an interstate. The vast majority of traffic travels at less than 75-80 miles per hour speeds for which the interstates were designed. Why? Congress and the various states set lower speed limits and assigned fines to drivers that exceeded the speed limit, thus an example of an enforced punishment (which implicitly all drivers are enforcing by voting the same speed limiting bozos back into office) shifting an equilibrium to almost arbitrary point.
It is also interesting to note that the speed limit has been as low as 55, is now as high as 70 in some places, but throughout people have been driving 5-9 miles per hour faster than the speed limit. Why? Because we all "know" that we won't be punished for driving less than 10 mph over the speed limit and thus the threat of punishment is not credible. There are also others who drive way over the speed limit nonetheless. For some, this is because the threatened punishment is outweighed by the utilty they perceive from driving really fast. Others don't find the threat of punishment credible because they have radar detectors, have cars fast enough that they think they can outrun the cops or have a lawyer that can get them off the hook. Still other "super-speeders" are "living in the moment" and assigning no weight to payoffs from future stages (i.e., they completely discount future payoffs).
To further expand upon my point that there are an infinite number of equilibria in a punishing society, consider the fact that every day in America thousands of laws and regulations are passed (combined federal, state, and local levels) and repealed. Each of these laws and regulations induces a different societal equilibrium which changes daily with the changing laws. Practically any set of behaviors in society can be forced to be an equilibrium as long as the punishment regime is designed correctly and enough people (or the right people) go along with it.
Bottom line: That game theory predicts an infinite number of equilibria for repeated games with punishment is not a bug - it's a feature. But I mean feature in the nonsarcastic sense as a cursory examination of our legal system reveals an infinite number of widely varying equilibria and thus the prediction of infinite equilibria is accurate. Or as Tyler said:
"The indeterminacy and multiple equilibria of game theory are not a problem, but rather reflect how closely the theory mirrors reality. Yes you might prefer sharp, clear predictions, but tough tiddlywinks, you're not going to get them.
Really Open Immigration
Wednesday, October 12, 2005
Will Bush tick me off again? (Or the many moods of Jody Neel)
Today, via Boortz, but then at Marginal Revolution and lots of other places, I read this:
President Bush's tax advisory commission indicated on Tuesday that it would not propose replacing the income tax with a national sales tax or a value-added tax, but would recommend limits in the popular tax deductions for mortgage interest and employer-provided health insurance.So my preferred tax reform appears to be ruled out (as well as my third in order of preference - the VAT, my second - a flat tax - may still be on the table), so I'm disappointed.
Expanding on the mortage interest aspect of the proposal (I would prefer that employers not provide health insurance - it limits labor mobility and implicitly is a suboptimal allocation of resources for just about everyone involved - so I'm not that concerned about making it a less attractive option):
The average new house price in the US as of February of this year was: $282,100. In places like California, DC and NYC, it's much much higher. So this will affect a large percentage of the housing market.
For mortgage loans up to $1 million, taxpayers can now deduct all the interest. One proposal discussed on Tuesday would cap the deduction at the maximum mortgage the Federal Housing Administration will insure.
That level changes each year and varies depending on housing costs in each county, with a maximum loan limit now of $312,895 in communities where housing is most expensive and a national average of $244,000, according to the housing administration.
Now up to this point, I had been of the opinion that even if we were in a housing bubble, it would deflate slowly so there wouldn't be any negative macroeconomic effects of a dramatic scale. Of course, my logic assumed that I wasn't overlooking some significant external factor, like a new continent surfacing or a demand shock caused by the sudden elimination of all interest deductions. So even assuming the reform manages to be nominally revenue neutral, unless this is phased in very carefully, I think this could be a significant problem.
So the proposal presents the possibility of popping a bubble that I'm not certain exists (or more accurately, that I'm fairly certain is not a nationwide problem). But if the bubble does exist, this could have catastrophic effects for the economy which puts me in an anxious mood.
Then Dale notices this little gem:
If you think it's bad enough that the Internal Revenue Service collects your hard-earned tax dollars, imagine if an IRS agent prepared your income-tax returns, too.And this would really piss me off. (That's mood #3 for those of you keeping score at home.)
No, we're not joking.
The concept, called "Return-Free" - where the IRS automatically prepares income-tax returns of those taxpayers with the simplest returns and then sends taxpayers the bill - is being considered by the President's Advisory Panel on Federal Tax Reform.
One of several Republicans who opposes the concept calls it "flawed" and "dangerous to taxpayers."
It "creates a conflict of interest by making the tax collector the tax preparer," Republican Study Committee Chairman Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana warns in a letter sent to the chairman of the tax reform panel, Rep. Connie Mack, Florida Republican.
In addition, what are the chances that taxpayers will trust the IRS to find them the most deductions and biggest refund? (Whatever you do, don't try claiming your new sailboat as a business expense.)
"(M)any taxpayers will still have to take the time to prepare their taxes in order to verify (what) the IRS sent them," Pence predicts.
And believe it or not, under the proposal, the individual taxpayer - not the IRS - still will be personally liable for mistakes.
However, Bush has not yet commented on these tax reform proposals and he may yet repudiate them so I may remain a happy camper.
Then on the plus side of the ledger (well at least my ledger, I imagine some readers might score this one differently), there's currently a news flash on Drudge (i.e., I can't link it) saying that the Amtrak board of directors has approved a privatization plan put forward by Bush. Of course, this would have nowhere near as big of an impact as the proposed tax reforms, but it is something I thought should be done for some time now.
So in the event that all of this comes to pass, maybe I'll just end up with a smrown or a frile on my face, but definitely more frown than smile.
On game theory, magic gnomes, and cognitive radios
Game theory is no doubt wonderful for telling stories. However, it flunks the main test of any scientific theory: The ability to make empirically testable predictions. In most real-life situations, many different outcomes -- from full cooperation to near-disastrous conflict -- are consistent with the game-theory version of rationality.To present the criticism in a more direct manner, game theory actually makes many predictions on the outcomes of human interactions. However these predictions are not really testable with respect to the usefulness of game theory because any failed prediction can just be explained away as an improper modeling of the situation.
To put it a different way: If the world had been blown up during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, game theorists could have explained that as an unfortunate outcome -- but one that was just as rational as what actually happened. Similarly, an industry that collapses into run-amok competition, like the airlines, can be explained rationally by game theorists as easily as one where cooperation is the norm.
Which sounds just as useful as a "magic gnome" theory. Why did X happen? The magic gnomes caused it to happen. Why did Y happen when X was predicted? Because you failed to account for this previously undiscovered aspect of magic gnomes. Since we don't find magic gnomes to be a credible explanation of the real world, why should game theory be considered a credible explanation?
This failing of game theory is entirely due to our imperfect modeling of humans, something no field or theory has done well (unless you live in Hari Selden's universe). Tyler proceeds to list five ways in which game theory could become useful in the future - all of which revolve around science overcoming the imperfect modeling of humans.
However, I would point out that game theory is a very useful tool when the model correctly captures the actors' utility functions and decision rules. (Here "actors" is not used in the Hollywood sense, but in the sense of a thing under study that is performing some action.)
Daily, I use game theory to make accurate predictions about the adaptations of cognitive radios without any after-the-fact magic gnome theorizing. To fill everyone else in, according to VT's cognitive radio study group, a cognitive radio is
"an adaptive radio that is capable of the following:The key for my work is that I am not concerned if science is up to the job of correctly modeling the "goal" or utility functions of cognitive radios because I probably programmed the goal into the radio. For my work, I can perfectly predict the steady-state power levels (which correspond to a Nash equilibrium in economics-speak) of a distributed power control algorithm. Or the set of operating frequencies for a distributed frequency selection algorithm. Or the countless other applications that we're developing every day.
- awareness of its environment and its own capabilities,
- goal driven autonomous operation,
- understanding or learning how its actions impact its goal,
- recalling and correlating past actions, environments, and performance."
So for engineers, game theory is clearly not a dead end, but that's because the abstract equations of game theory correctly model our real world problems.
To the extent that machines and deterministic algorithms are being incorporated into activities typically studied by economics - e.g., bots buying/selling stocks, automatic sell/buy provisions, automatic restocking - game theory should be able to perfectly model those situations as well. So this a sixth response that Tyler could use to justify continuing down the game theory path a little longer is
"6. Technological approaches will result in programmable and precisely modelable machines that make economic decisions. Game theory will have clear predictions for these scenarios, just give technology time."
Tuesday, October 11, 2005
Surely this is a sign of the impending apocolypse
Forty years of darkness. Earthquakes, volcanoes..
The dead rising from the grave!
Human sacrifice, dogs and cats, living together...
Bono holding a fundraiser for Santorum!
Update - Apocolypse Averted?
This article implies that Santorum supporters were auctioning off Bono tickets as a fundraiser for Santorum, a tactic that Hillary Clinton supporters have also adopted.
HEY! YOU LOOK LIKE A REAL JERK!
Monday, October 10, 2005
Hitch is Back
Of the nomination of Harriet Miers, by contrast [with Roberts], it can be said that only her religion has been considered by her conservative fans to be worth mentioning. What else is there to say, in any case, about a middling bureaucrat and yes-woman than that she attends some mediocre place of worship? One could happily make a case that more random civilians, and fewer fucking lawyers, should be on the court. But the only other thing to say about Miers is that she is a fucking lawyer. Her own opinion of herself is somewhat higher: She does not attribute her presence among us to the laws of biology but chooses to regard herself as having a personal and unmediated relationship with the alleged Jesus of Nazareth, who is further alleged to be the son of God. Such modesty! On this basis, the president and his people have felt able to issue assurances of her OK-ness. So, as far as I can determine, she was set, and has passed, a religious test: that of being an "Evangelical" Christian.Read the whole thing.
The cowardice of the Democrats in this respect is absolutely breathtaking. Having determined that they, too, must move to faith-based high ground (and having chosen a Mormon as their Senate leader), they have refused to make the smallest squeak about this overt theocratic blackmail. Having swallowed Roberts by agreeing that religion should have nothing to do with it, they will swallow Miers even though it now seems that religion has everything to do with it.
So, I asked for a website (even before he got into his spiel) so I could check up on them. He gave me a song and dance about not being able to afford a website (I'm assuming they'ves never heard of blogger) because of the overhead associated with last year's donation drive (not a good sign).
His spiel continued into saying that they'll mail me stuff (decals and whatnot) if I would promise to make a donation now. I told him I generally am not interested in the decals (other than when I make them myself, like this one - which I thought I had posted previously and is well worth a click), so I could save his organization some money if he would give me a mailing address so I could mail in a donation. At which point, he hung up.
So I'm currently of the strong suspicion that there's a phone scam going on. Or am I wrong? Does such a legitimate organization exist and are they currently making a funding drive?
Sunday, October 09, 2005
Can't dance? Maybe it's genetic.
I don't dance that well, but I do have pretty decent rhythm and I don't get constipated (rather, I get the opposite problem).
University of Utah biologists found a gene that controls rhythmic events in a worm's life: swallowing food, laying eggs and pooping.
If the gene is disabled, the worms can't swallow, so they die. If the gene is partly restored so the worms can swallow, they have trouble reproducing and get constipated.
While it could be the result of a weakly expressed rhythm gene, another obvious explanation is that I'm not a worm.
So questions for polyscifi's vermian readers: a) Do you have rhythm? b) How's reproduction working out? c) How are your bowel movements? d) Or is this post just too much for you to swallow?
Thursday, October 06, 2005
He Man, aka Adam, Prince of Eternia, sings "What's Up" (I think I saw this on boingboing once, but I haven't suddenly become less lazy since the previous link)
Speaking of He Man, here's a video of a body builder whose routine is the robot. (h/t a guy in VTACO who I don't know if I have permission to name in the blogosphere)
Real Life Imitates Discovery Channel
After this matchup, I'm looking forward to the crocodile-great white shark faceoff.
Following up on the OU bombing
What is now known about the bomber:
He attempted to buy a large quantity of fertilizer explicitly for the amonium nitrate a few days before the bombing.
The bomb contained TATP, which is rarely encountered in the US.
His roommate was Pakistani.
He frequented the same mosque as once attended by Zaccarias Moussaoui. (video)
Wednesday, October 05, 2005
I'm a free market shill
You can take the test if you like at this site.
| You are a |
You are best described as a:
Explaining my answer, I don't think anyone should actually duel, death match style or otherwise. However, outlawing duels would enshrine my morals in law which I would rather not do (this is not to say that moralistic laws are not Constitutional, rather, they generally are, particularly at the state/local level). If the question had instead been worded as "consenting adults should challenge...", my answer would've been a resounding no.
Particularly when no one else is directly impacted, I would prefer that most societal questions be addressed by the community (for instance, I actually think gossip is a useful tool) which typically has greater local knowledge (I'm such a free marketer, that my inner Hayek couldn't be contained for even this short discussion) and greater flexibility for minor incidences than a system of one size fits all anonymously structured laws. Of course, my community-oriented approach only works as long as morals are maintained, hence my occasional railing against the declines in America's moral fiber.
And that's my complicated little moral/legal/Constitutional philosophy of death matches.
More Roy Moore!
Tuesday, October 04, 2005
Your Next President
According to the storyline that drives many advocacy groups and Democratic activists - a storyline often reflected in comments on this blog - we are up against a sharply partisan, radically conservative, take-no-prisoners Republican party. They have beaten us twice by energizing their base with red meat rhetoric and single-minded devotion and discipline to their agenda. In order to beat them, it is necessary for Democrats to get some backbone, give as good as they get, brook no compromise, drive out Democrats who are interested in "appeasing" the right wing, and enforce a more clearly progressive agenda. The country, finally knowing what we stand for and seeing a sharp contrast, will rally to our side and thereby usher in a new progressive era.
I think this perspective misreads the American people. From traveling throughout Illinois and more recently around the country, I can tell you that Americans are suspicious of labels and suspicious of jargon. They don't think George Bush is mean-spirited or prejudiced, but have become aware that his administration is irresponsible and often incompetent. They don't think that corporations are inherently evil (a lot of them work in corporations), but they recognize that big business, unchecked, can fix the game to the detriment of working people and small entrepreneurs. They don't think America is an imperialist brute, but are angry that the case to invade Iraq was exaggerated, are worried that we have unnecessarily alienated existing and potential allies around the world, and are ashamed by events like those at Abu Ghraib which violate our ideals as a country.
The bottom line is that our job is harder than the conservatives' job. After all, it's easy to articulate a belligerent foreign policy based solely on unilateral military action, a policy that sounds tough and acts dumb; it's harder to craft a foreign policy that's tough and smart. It's easy to dismantle government safety nets; it's harder to transform those safety nets so that they work for people and can be paid for. It's easy to embrace a theological absolutism; it's harder to find the right balance between the legitimate role of faith in our lives and the demands of our civic religion. But that's our job. And I firmly believe that whenever we exaggerate or demonize, or oversimplify or overstate our case, we lose. Whenever we dumb down the political debate, we lose. A polarized electorate that is turned off of politics, and easily dismisses both parties because of the nasty, dishonest tone of the debate, works perfectly well for those who seek to chip away at the very idea of government because, in the end, a cynical electorate is a selfish electorate.
Read the whole thing.
Monday, October 03, 2005
Yet another reason to dislike the French
[Yes, I realize that most French people aren't going shark fishing with dogs for bait, and yes, I realize this occurred on a far-flung French posession and not in the Ile-de-France. But someone is shark fishing with dogs and that someone is French. Plus it feeds into a continuing theme of mine.]
My hope for the Miers vote
However, Miers does not appear to be qualified for Court; in fact, I expect the ABA to not give her a "Well Qualified" rating. It's not just the fact that she's never been a judge; she's also never argued a case before the Supreme Court either.
Nominate a good originalist of any political persuasion and I'll go to bat for them; but nominate someone lacking judicial and Constitutional experience and it hacks me off.
So my sincere hope is that most of the Republicans vote against her so Bush can try again.
While that was my hope on the Miers vote, my fear is that she'll be a conservative Living Constitutionist. While this means that she'll probably be a vote to overturn Roe (a penumbra of privacy is a lousy rationale; if we want a right to privacy, let's amend the Constitution) it'll be for the wrong reasons and likely vote for a) criminizaling abortion nationwide (it's not the domain of the feds, i.e., interstate commerce, and should be a state decision) and b) upholding Kelo.
Jonah makes me feel much better: "I have it on good authority Harriet Miers stayed at a Holiday Inn Express last night. So she's good to go."
Sunday, October 02, 2005
New Criterion Contraption
Contempt for Reality
The Clinton administration was also unwilling to support needle exchanges as a practical way to slow HIV transmission, for pretty much the same reason as Bush and Co.: fear of backlash from social conservatives. I am not sure I support needle exchanges in the United States, myself. But I don't question empirical evidence suggesting that they lower HIV transmission, and I certainly wouldn't misrepresent other people's research in an attempt to claim the mantle of scientific legitimacy. Neither did Clinton (their response was more along the lines of "yeah, but what're you gonna do?")
For more examples of Bush's deliberate misinterpretation of scientific evidence, see "Intelligent Design" and "Global Warming." Money quote from the editorial: "incomplete scientific evidence does not confer the freedom to ignore the knowledge we do have." That about sums it up.
More Trailer Adventures
Suicide Bombing at OU game
There's some details on the bomber now.
The bomber was named Joel Henry Hinrichs III. That leaves the question of why Joel blew himself up. Well, it appears to have been an accident. This OU student claims that the bomber was attempting to plant the bomb on a K-State team bus.
Apparently some people take their college football WAAAAY too seriously. I mean, at least the LSU fans only busted out the windows...
Saturday, October 01, 2005
GAO Rules Karen Ryan's Reporting Illegal
In other news, rumor has it that David Manning is being considered for Sandra Day O'Connor's seat on the Supreme Court. From Washington, this is Karen Ryan reporting.