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Wednesday, October 31, 2001
hey rock. the nubbin's archives are back. word. sort of. ftrain also has a best of up. my favorite is older man, tho. btw, looking through synthetic zero's archives recently, i remembered thinking nov. 23, dec. 24 and mar. 6 were really awesome. happy halloween y'all! oh, and ed still finds the best links, natch :)

Tuesday, October 30, 2001
on the impossibility of predicting the behavior of rational agents

A foundational assumption in economics is that people are rational -- they choose optimal plans of action given their predictions about future states of the world. In games of strategy this means that each players' strategy should be optimal given his or her prediction of the opponents' strategies. We demonstrate that there is an inherent tension between rationality and prediction when players are uncertain about their opponents' payoff functions. Specifically, there are games in which it is impossible for perfectly rational players to learn to predict the future behavior of their opponents (even approximately) no matter what learning rule they use. The reason is that, in trying to predict the next-period behavior of an opponent, a rational player must take an action this period that the opponent can observe. This observation may cause the opponent to alter his next-period behavior, thus invalidating the first player's prediction. The resulting feedback loop has the property that, in almost every time period, someone predicts that his opponent has a non-negligible probability of choosing one action, when in fact the opponent is certain to choose a different action. We conclude that there are strategic situations where it is impossible in principle for perfectly rational agents to learn to predict the future behavior of other perfectly rational agents, based solely on their observed actions.

social capital and community governance

Social capital generally refers to trust, concern for one's associates, a willingness to live by the norms of one's community and to punish those who do not. While essential to good governance, these behaviors and dispositions appear to conflict with the fundamental behavioral assumptions of economics whose archetypal individual -- Homo economicus -- is entirely self-regarding. We regard these behaviors and dispositions as aspects of what we term community governance. We suggest that (i) community governance addresses some common market and state failures but typically relies on insider-outsider distinctions that may be morally repugnant; (ii) the individual motivations supporting community governance are not captured by either the conventional self-interested preferences of Homo economicus or by unconditional altruism towards one's fellow community members; (iii) well-designed institutions make communities, markets and states complements, not substitutes; (iv) with poorly designed institutions, markets and states can crowd out community governance; (v) some distributions of property rights are better than others at fostering community governance and assuring complementarity among communities, states and markets; and (vi) far from representing holdovers from a premodern era, the small scale local interactions that characterize communities are likely to increase in importance as the economic problems that community governance handles relatively well become more important.

Monday, October 29, 2001

tron costume :) (via blogdex)
[and another one via metafilter]
breakdown! (via random drivel)

Friday, October 26, 2001
shadow economies! an electronic fair currency project :)

A shadow economy is not a radically different, overarching economic theory, it is merely a method to introduce alternative production-distribution modes without having to first destroy the existing ones (as opposed to the Communist method of all-or-nothing). The reasons why anyone would want to introduce alternative economic systems are varied: to combat unfair labor practices, to open up new avenues of creativity, environmentalism, to combat income stratification, et cetera.

In order to be truly different, these alternative systems must base their method of exchange on something other than arbitrary, subjective value that I discussed before. Of course, the basis for any new kind of currency will also be based on some subjective value, but they would be values that agree with whatever ideology that they are crafted for. By utilizing the Shadow Economy approach, these ideologies do not need to resort to authoritarian or violent measures; their memberships (I prefer the term "subscribers") are based on free choices that people make.

Thursday, October 25, 2001
scaling and distribution networks

Johnson's hypothesis suggests an explanation based on work by Brown and West. The idea is to connect the body of theory and the data on settlements to their work on allometric scaling and its central hypothesis---the need to distribute resources efficiently to each member of a population spread into settlements. It is interesting to note that in settlement systems the hierarchical networks that distribute resources are of three different kinds: those that transport matter, those that transport energy, and those that are administrative (and effectively transport information). The basic idea is that it is the differences between the spatial configurations and the hierarchical structures of these three networks that determine the precise forms of scaling observed, as well as the aberrations and the dynamics of settlement systems.

Were we able to demonstrate this, we would have a better theoretical grip on such phenomena as metropolisation. And that is an issue which is threatening to change the geography of entire continents in the next century or so. People predict that most towns of 10 000 inhabitants or less will disappear, and that the inhabitants will move towards the megalopoles. Can we find another, equally efficient, way of distributing resources to everyone?

Wednesday, October 24, 2001
interview with alan moore! be sure to read the overflow (and another one via linkmachinego :)

also an interview with peter bagge (ditto) plus a christopher hitchens interview (via robotwisdom)

Tuesday, October 23, 2001
red onion peelings

saw mulholland drive. david lynch weirded out hollywood. persona meets clive barker. also saw ghostworld the other day. it reminded me of a hal hartley movie. i didn't know steve buscemi was a fireman.

jack straw is on

nepalese village connects to internet (via slashdot)

uneasy listening (via killoggs)

Monday, October 22, 2001

Through the course of human events, there has always been a desire to place meaning behind them. Underlying motivations are given context and assigned theories that unify actions into coherent wholes. In ancient times we mythologized events beyond our understanding, personifying natural forces of which we had little control. In modern times, where the natural world is under the semblance of tameness, we like to ascribe arrows to historical progression—categorized in the natural, cultural, economic and technological, from which arises the political and human—to round out our world-view.

Cultural determinism, long placed on the backburner of the 20th Century, renewed its legitimacy in Samuel Huntington's seminal Clash of Civilizations. Whereas earlier Francis Fukuyama prematurely foretold "The End of History" with the final ascension of liberal democracy that had seemingly closed out the last century, Huntington presciently saw that the West would be under assault from a wholly different quarter following the ideological demise of communism.

History has always been to some extent determined by a scramble to lock-up the world's economic resources. From the great empires of the past through colonial history, to 20th century Japanese imperialism and German desire for lebensraum, and finally up to Cold War "spheres of influence," the flipside of conquest was the loot. Presently, however, the threat is not so much to economic self-sufficiency, but the way of life that makes it possible. In this case, it hits deeper and goes back further into the mists of time to the very foundations of our identity.

The so-called culture wars, the assault on our way of life, has been characterized as an attack on freedom, democracy and capitalism from the forces of fundamentalism and tribalism, perhaps even fanaticism by those who would preserve a traditional way of life that never even was. Similar to the ideological battles of the Cold War, our hearts and minds are being fought over, just as much as a scrap of land, an oil field or a water reservoir.

The Clash of Civilizations, while presenting a great image and a tidy theory, is ultimately an unfair characterization though. Whether it’s the first world versus the third or the West versus Islamic fundamentalism, the calculus of Us versus Them breaks down in the final analysis. There just aren't that many of Them, if by Them we mean people who want to live in a static society through force of will and threat of violence, which bring us to our last arrow of history—that of technological determinism.

Freedom and democracy it turns out are not merely pretext or political cover as our more vocal policy critics would have us believe. Rather they run at the heart of scientific methodology that requires open inquiry and free exchange of information—the means to the end—that lies at the heart of progress. If there was one thing at the base of the American Century, it was scientific progress. It might be said, arguably of course, that US strength is sustained by its academic institutions.

Know-how and ingenuity, cultivated by its ideals and culture, have gained America its world renown stature and reputation. While envy might be a response towards American exclusiveness, it is her inclusiveness that garners the world's respect and admiration and makes her a viable leader. Not to say this is what always guides foreign and domestic policy in the US, nor that it is even well understood by those in power, but i would venture (presumptuously perhaps :) to guess it's part and parcel of what may be described as the American spirit!

Friday, October 19, 2001
making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (some with honey instead). about a third of a loaf of bread i got was covered in black mold (which is the bad kind? white and green are okay??) so i'm toasting them to make them safe.

Thursday, October 18, 2001
hey, erik davis' LOTR article is out! and the langley schools music project is now available :)

also cosma shalizi's review of thought contagion is really good, as is zompist on psychohistory.

Wednesday, October 17, 2001
summary of walter lippmann's the good society by scott spinola

If a society is to be directed and planned by authorities, the members of the society must conform to the plan and dissenters must be eliminated either by violence or conversion (56). This demands an absolute state and it is thus incompatible with democracy (51). Since violence and terrorism cannot generally be maintained indefinitely, other means must be found to rid the society of dissension (57). Fascist states seek to eliminate this dissent by controlling all forms of communication and education-the media, churches, and schools-and by outlawing dissent in order to mold the minds of the masses to an acceptance of the authoritarian plan (59). The paradox of fascism is that intelligent, adventurous, and ambitious leaders must be culled from the docile masses (60). Any opportunities created to determine who will be leaders will inevitably produce dissenters also (62). Another option is a governing caste, but this requires a biological presumption of leadership qualities that grants a diversity to society that fascist doctrine promises to eliminate (63). In practice, fascist regimes operate on the assumption that conquest of foreign land is essential to gain the resources needed for the very survival of the society and so they use a perpetual martial law state and constant preparation for war to organize uniformity (64).

Tuesday, October 16, 2001
the afghan crisis and the case for [humanitarian] american action [FAQ]

Be careful what you pretend to be, because you are what you pretend to be.

"I think it is very important that India and Pakistan stand down during our activities in Afghanistan, for that matter forever," Bush said.

Monday, October 15, 2001
was watching tv over the weekend. broke into this house to watch the a-league final :) watched art in the 21st century after slaphappy. all the artists were really interesting. and the stuff they did, too! end of critters II and wing commander simultaneously. a nature/national geographic tour of africa. the soundtrack, narration and editing could get pretty ridiculous sometimes, but the shots were amazing. um, and band of brothers (sort of), curb your enthusiasm and mind of the married man. started watching reverb, but then thought better of it and taped it.

let me also just say c-span camera-operators rock. like they'll always single out people that look extremely bored in the audience when they're on location somewhere. anyway, on washington journal the other day they pulled out to show a guy in the window adjusting some blinds.

Friday, October 12, 2001
sound sampler from anewnoise. definitely check out brittle stars!

btw, site redesign brought to you by fleshtones... and matmos :)

Thursday, October 11, 2001
the economic outlook for africa in the 21st century by david hale

It is with some trepidation that one accepts the challenge of addressing Africa's economic future. The continent has been characterized by poor economic performance as a result of political mismanagement extending over a period of nearly four decades. Most of the countries in Africa were not well prepared for independence. They had limited human capital, weak civil societies and no real tradition of self-government upon which to build the institutions of a modern democracy. As a result, the performance of African economies in the 1960's and 1970's depended overwhelmingly upon a single factor: the personality of the man who was president at the time of independence. In countries such as Kenya, Ivory Coast and Botswana, there were leaders who adopted a pragmatic approach to national development and emphasized economic performance over themes such as nationalism. All three countries thus enjoyed high rates of growth and significantly out-performed countries where the political leadership was obsessed with nationalism (Ghana) or the introduction of socialist economic doctrine (Tanzania, Zambia, Guinea). Other countries, such as Nigeria, experienced civil wars because of tribal conflicts resulting from the way the continent's boundaries were shaped in the 19th century. One major country, the Belgian Congo, evolved from anarchy to a corrupt military dictatorship because its ruling elite at the time of independence included only 22 secondary school graduates. In retrospect, African Independence was liberation for European taxpayers, not the people of Africa.

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