Friday, April 29, 2005
Rock, paper... Christie's
When it comes to changing diapers, Erika and I try to alternate when we are both home. Occasionally, however, we lose track of whose turn it is, in which case we resort to the time-honored tradition of rock, paper, scissors.
That was flashing through my head when I read this Caroline Vogel article in the New York Times (thanks to J.H. for the link):
After re-reading the article, however, what I found particularly interesting about this story is the contrast between these two paragraphs. There's this one:
This actually makes sense -- when the decision-making costs exceed the payoff differential between the two choices, this is a rational decision.
However, this leads to an interesting question -- is rock, paper, scissors a game of chance? While Hashiyama faced a minimal difference in payoffs between his choices, both Sotheby's and Christie's saw a whopping difference between getting nothing or getting some sizeable commissions from Hashiyama's business. Given this gap in payoffs between winning and losing, Christie's thought it was worth doing some strategic research:
Sotheby's thought of the game as a strict game of chance, and did no research.
Given that there are apparently rock paper scissors championships and rock-paper-scissors strategy guides (and please, someone tell me if these are hoax sites), who was right -- Christie's or Sotheby's?
[Christie's won, so isn't the answer obvious?--ed. In a one-shot game, it's not clear that Christie's won because of research; they might have won because of chance. A normal-form version of this game reveals that the only equilibrium strategy is to randomize equally among the three options. However, this might be a game where the designations of "rock, paper, scissors" alters how human beings feel about the choices, which subtly alters their expectations of what other players will do, which then alters their own strategies. In other words, a formal model of rock, paper, scissors might not carry the crucial piece of information to optimize on strategy. Now you're making my head hurt--ed. Aha! This is evidence to support the original claim; even if there might be a strategic element to this game, that element is so small that it's outweighed by the computational costs of figuring out the optimal strategy against a specified opponent!!]
"Good ol' rock. Nothing beats that. D'Oh!!" Bart Simpson.
Some changes are coming on Internet ads
The Economist has an interesting story on how the evolution of Internet advertising. Here's how it opens:
Read the whole thing to see how Google is revamping its AdSense feature.
This segues nicely into a Mickey Kaus report on a potential change in how ads will be gathered on the blogosphere:
As someone with more than a passing interest in this proposal, I'm curious to hear from readers whether they think either or both aspects of the Pajamas Media proposal will fly.
FULL DISLOSURE: I've been contacted about participating in the proposed syndicate.
UPDATE: Roger L. Simon has a post providing some more explanation -- and an open invitation for other bloggers to join in.
Meanwhile, Marc Danziger provides a lot more explanation in this post -- including his take on the future of newspapers and blogs:
Wednesday, April 27, 2005
Andrew Sullivan has a long essay in The New Republic that tries to explain modern-day conservatism's policy schizophrenia over the past four years. Some highlights:
As always, Andrew's stuff makes for compelling reading -- but I'm unpersuaded by his proposed typology, for several reasons:
In the end, Sullivan is dressing up a very simple argument -- "keeping religion in its safest place--away from the trappings of power.... keeping politics in its safest place--as the proper arrangement of our common obligations, and not as a means to save or transform our lives and souls" -- in clothes that don't fit. The divide between those who put their faith first in their politics and those who prefer to keep it out of government is not responsible for all of the hypocrisies that Andrew listed in his first paragraph -- they're just responsible for many of the obvious ones.
The question of whether religious fundamentalists have too much power in the Republican Part and in the Bush administration is a good one to have -- currently Sullivan and Glenn Reynolds are going a couple of rounds on the question. However, I'm not sure that Sullivan's TNR essay provides anything new in answering that question.
Open Chinese nationalism thread
I've been remiss in not posting about the surge of anti-Japan protests in China over the past ten days or so, and the official Chinese reaction, which ranged from tacit support at the outset to a hasty, clumsy effort to assuage the Japanese and characterize the protests as part of an evil plot to undermine the Communist Party.
Comment away on the implications. I will only make one observation -- the Chinese government has been extraordinarily maladroit over the past six months. Until recently, the government was keenly aware about the geopolitical anxiety caused in the Asia-Pacific region by its growing economic and military strength. Being a rising, somewhat opaque power is tricky terrain for any state to navigate. Post-9/11, the Chinese had been pretty deft, tolerating the U.S. focus on the Middle East while pointing out to its neighbors, Europe, and even Africa the value of close economic relations with Beijing. Chinese academics have labeled this the "peaceful rising" strategy.
However, in the past six months, the Chinese government has:
I'm curious to see how both the Chinese and the other countries in the region will respond.
Tuesday, April 26, 2005
I definitely feel better about investing in
In the wake of the Russian government's prosecution of Yukos oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, president Vladimir Putin tried to assuage domestic and foreign investors in his state-of-the-nation address.
If this AP account by Alex Nicholson is accurate, I'm not sure he succeeded:
[What the hell is Khakamada talking about?--ed. Well, if you read Jeremy Page's account of the speech in the London Times, "Putin tried to make peace with Russiaâ€™s increasingly critical clique of influential businessmen yesterday by ordering his tax police to stop 'terrorising' companies." So Putin wasn't only scaring the bejeesus out of the near abroad, Eastern and Central Europe, and the West. Well, I certainly want to invest all of danieldrezner.com's financial resources into Russia right now!!--ed. And that's about all I'm expecting Putin to reap from this speech.]
Monday, April 25, 2005
What happens if the French say "non"?
When we last left the French referendum on the EU constitution, President Jacques Chirac had bungled a TV appearance designed to bolster support for a "oui" vote.
In today's Financial Times, John Thornhill reports that France's neighbors are warning of the apocalypse if France says non.
The fact that articles like this one and this Charlemagne column in the Economist are being printed suggests that experts are taking the likelihood of a non vote very seriously.
Of course, this begs the question -- would a rejection of the EU constitution really mean the end of the EU project? I'd like to hear from the Europeanists in the audience, but this strikes me as a gross exaggeration. The European project has managed to generate a common market, a common Court of Justice, the euro, Schengenland, an increasingly assertive European parliament, and even the faint stirrings of a common foreign and defense policy -- all using the current set of legal and political arrangements. None of these will disappear if the French say non (a good indicator of its significance will be to see what happens to the value of the euro as the probability of a non vote approaches one. If it actually starts to fall in value, then I'm wrong).
The "end of Europe" claim by Prodi is an extreme version of the "bicycle theory" of international integration, which says that if there is any slowdown in integration, the process starts to wobble like a slow bicycle, eventually toppling under its own weight. This line was also used after the Maastricht accord was signed in the early nineties. I suspect that warnings like Prodi's will, if anything, further turn off people against what elites tell them about the European Union.
Does this mean the EU would just sail along after a French rejection? Non, it would not, but I'm not sure that the ensuing difficulties would be any more severe than, say, what the World Trade Organization experienced after the 1999 Battle in Seattle. The EU will live on.
What will be interesting to see is whether the rest of Europe would interpret a negative vote as an actual rejection of the planned future of the EU or explain it away as a rejection of Jacques Chirac and nothing more.
Sunday, April 24, 2005
In praise of the average Americans
If there is one thing that too many modern-day Democrat and Republican party elites share, it's a mild contempt for the average American. For Democrats, Americans are obese spendthrifts susceptible to faith-based argumentation at the expeense of logic and evidence. For Republicans, Americans are obese spendthrifts susceptible to the temptations of a debased popular culture at the expense of moral probity.
Well, a bunch of stories this week suggest that the average American is a hell of a lot smarter than the donkey and elephant elites.
Over at Slate, Daniel Gross observes that Americans are responding to interest rate increases by.... reducing their spending and paying off their debts:
And while we're on the subject of consumer behavior, could commentators please stop bashing Americans for not saving enough when they are acting rationally? If the assets that Americans hold -- like equities or their houses, for example -- are dramatically increasing in value, then it makes sense that their stream of additional savings will taper off.
Meanwhile, earlier this week Jonathan Bor and Frank Roylance reported in the Baltimore Sun that just a smidgen of obesity might be good for you:
The legal team here at danieldrezner.com would like to remind everyone that this report does not recommend obesity and that anyone now tempted to go order several Hardee's Monster Thickburgers are doing so at their own discretion and not with the blessing of danieldrezner.com. More seriously, check out food economist Parke Wilde for an informed appraisal of the ramifications of the CDCP study.
Finally, that allegedly brain-dead American boob tube may acually provide more cognitive stimulation than previously thought. Steven Johnson explains why this might be true in the New York Times Magazine:
Read the whole thing. The only troubling note I found in the piece was the admission that, "The only prominent holdouts [to more cognitively sophisticated plots] in drama are shows like ''Law and Order'' that have essentially updated the venerable ''Dragnet'' format and thus remained anchored to a single narrative line." Which is true, except that when you tally up all the "Law and Order" and "CSI" shows & spinoffs, that's an awful lot of the prime time schedule.
Johnson earns my goodwill, however, by labeling his phenomenon the Sleeper Curve after this classic exchange from the Woody Allen movie Sleeper: