Archive for November, 2008


November 22, 2008

From the NYT, claims that Angelina Jolie “dictates terms to celebrity magazines” on their journalism.

When Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt negotiated with People and other celebrity magazines this summer for photos of their newborn twins and an interview, the stars were seeking more than the estimated $14 million they received from the deal. They also wanted a hefty slice of journalistic input — a promise that the winning magazine’s coverage would be positive, not merely in that instance but into the future. …

The winner was People. […] In the People interview, there were questions about her and Mr. Pitt’s charity work and no use of the word “Brangelina,” the tabloid amalgamation of their names, which irks the couple.

Why do I bring this up?  Is it to decry our fascination with celebrity?  To carp about how the media dances to the tune of financial interests?  To wonder – if print media are dead, how come nobody told People, Angelina or Brad?

None of those.  It’s because a reader of this blog is fascinated by Brangelina, and can’t hear enough about them.  Or perhaps he finds them exceptionally annoying, and never wants to hear about them again.  It’s been a while since we discussed it, so I forget.

Is there a topic you or a friend find intensely annoying or fascinating?  Let me know, and I’ll be sure to discuss or avoid it.

Dolchstoss: Is Baghdad the new Bangkok?

November 21, 2008

November 22nd has been designated as Victory in Iraq Day, since the Iraq war is over and we won.  The author notes:

Many other countries have ongoing issues with rebels, insurgents, guerrillas, or whatever you want to call them; simmering civil unrest. But we do not consider those countries to be at war, even though their situations are not really any different than, and are in some cases even worse than, the situation now in Iraq. Tell me: Do you consider Mexico to be at war? Yet they have an ongoing insurgency by Zapatistas in the state of Chiapas. […] Is Thailand at war? Millions of tourists don’t seem to think so, but a violent rebellion by Muslim separatists in the southern provinces sometimes produces more casualties than there are in Iraq. […] If these countries are not considered by anyone to be “at war” — which they are not — then neither is Iraq.

Since Iraq is now at peace and we won the war, if things get worse, that can clearly only be because of cowardice or outright treason on the part of our President-Elect.  The Germans, as usual, had a word for this – Dolchstoss – the stab in the back (literally, “dagger-stab”).  The DolchstossLegende was the myth that Germany only lost the Great War because of lack of patriotism and sabotage on the home front.  We’ve visited this idea ourselves, with Vietnam and “Who lost China”?

Dolchstoss is hard to say, and harder to spell, so don’t expect to see it as a loanword in English any time soon.  But look out for the concept in 2011 or so.

The auto industry bailout

November 20, 2008

A loyal reader asks me what my position is on bailing out the auto industry.  Since everyone else is weighing in, why not?

First, I’ll note that I’m uniquely qualified to address the question, having been a member of the United Auto Workers and done some consulting for Ford.  How many other bloggers can say the same, even if the first point is technically true but somewhat misleading?  Take that, Paul Krugman!

On Jan 2nd, 1962, GM stock was trading at $28.00  Today it’s at $2.88.  OK, you would have got some dividends along the way, but still, I don’t think you could be too happy with those returns.

It seems wrong to reward the company’s owners and save their company, but also unsatisfying to throw a bunch of people out of work by letting the company fall into bankruptcy, which would kill sales.  Management has clearly failed, and there’s no reason to think the government could do much better.  Why not let the workers run it in a cooperative?  Everyone gets one vote, just like the Green Bay Packers.  Of course, they’d probably have to take big salary and benefit cuts to stay afloat, but that’s life in the city.  If nothing else, it would be an interesting experiment.

Conditional donating

November 15, 2008

Voters on the left of the Democratic party or the right of the Republican party have a problem. Presidents have an incentive to move to the centre and neglect them. So how can they get some leverage?

Well, they could always threaten not to vote for them in the election. The problem is that most of the time this is an empty threat – no matter how much they grumble about the lesser of two evils, they end up falling into line in November. Sometimes it is not, as in 2000. That strategy worked so poorly that we won’t see it again for the next thirty years.

Take a look at this post below, via I’ll be back at the end to discuss it.


Has anyone been discussing starting to put donations for Obama’s 2012 run in escrow, to be released upon the accomplishment of certain goals—eg, on Iraq, health care, energy, etc.?

It would take a ton of effort and wrangling to set up. And I haven’t thought it through at all, particularly the various legalities involved. Just off the top of my head, I think you’d have to set up a vote on whether he’d succeeded and the money could be released. I’d also guess you’d might have to require each person to specify a second choice organization for the money to go if Obama fails, so they wouldn’t just get it back and be able send it to the campaign anyway.


What’s interesting here is the recognition that reducing your flexibility can help you, in that it lets you make a binding commitment that other people have to take into consideration, strengthening your negotiating position.  This is perhaps an advantage to PACs like the conservative Club for Growth.  I don’t know about the legalities, but I would go further than the poster – don’t have a vote, but only allow payout on something that’s unarguably verifiable.

Lots of parking spaces today

November 12, 2008

Maybe it’s the Rapture … for cars!

Available on Kindle for only $6,232

November 12, 2008

A tip o’ the blog to a loyal reader who points me to this book currently selling for $7,790 on amazon.  But this is a bargain compared to this book on elementary particles for approx [!] $10,489, both from Springer-Verlag.  This brings up two questions:

1) Are these prices computer or human-generated?

2) Are these prices optimal?

(1) is a bit of a red herring.  Even if they were computer-generated, they are surely reviewed by a human at some point in the process.  I’m guessing that Springer-Verlag does not have a price optimization system, anyway.

As for (2), it seems unlikely that these could be the best prices from SV’s viewpoint – who would buy at this level?  Maybe your purchasing review committee is asleep, or consists of your Aunt Millie, or maybe when you need a book on nuclear energy, you really need a book on nuclear energy.  Or perhaps they are sold out, and there’s some big start-up cost to printing another one?  Even so, it seems like everyone would be better served by SV just going to the photocopier and producing a “student edition”, for $1000, say.

Perhaps this is just a mystery.  But look, I managed to get through a whole post without mentioning politics.  (Doh!)

Mechanism Design in Economic Theory

November 10, 2008

Nobel laureate Myerson gave this lecture at Stockholm, and also at the latest INFORMS conference in D.C. I went to.  I found it fascinating, and well worth a listen if you’re interested in economics, mechanism design, or why Communism failed.  I should check out the other lectures sometime.

There’s no one as Irish as Barack Obama

November 10, 2008

Constitutional fractions

November 7, 2008

In a comment, Jake points out that it’s silly that we can amend the CA constitution with just a simple majority.  A simple majority is the weakest possible condition, but seems too weak.  What’s an appropriate fraction?

The U.S. constitution can be amended by a 2/3 vote in both the House and Senate, together with 3/4 of the states.  2/3 is quite a popular fraction for constitutional amendments or other things you want to make hard to do, but it’s not clear what it has to recommend it besides being a nice round rational number.  I would guess (e – 1) / e would be more likely to be the “right” answer, because e always comes up in these sorts of things.

The most infamous fraction in the U.S. constitution is 3/5 – specifying that each slave counts as 3/5 of a person from the point of view of determining the House of Representatives. 3/5 has even less to recommend it than 2/3, suggesting something fishy.  In fact it was a compromise to balance out the political power of the free and slave states.  Ironically, the South would have preferred for slaves to be on an equal footing in this regard, so the slave states could get more votes in Congress.  Funnily enough, they kept the 3/5 kludge for their own constitution, perhaps, as suggests, to even out representatives among their slave-heavy and slave-light states.

Palin-Jindal 2012!

November 6, 2008

Moose masala, Cajun-style!