Monthly Archives: April 2004

Censorship American Style

David Farber writes to the Interesting People list,

I gather that there is a report that Sinclair Broadcast ordered its ABC affiliates to preempt tomorrow's broadcast of Nightline which will air the names and photos of U.S. military personnel who have died in combat in Iraq, saying the move is politically motivated designed to undermine the efforts of the US in Iraq.

Sinclair owns 62 US TV stations.

And so there is.

Is it legal? Probably — we impose only the loosest public interest requirements on the beneficiaries of the publicly created broadcast oligopoly, and what little I know of broadcast law this doesn't come close to violating it.

Is it in good taste? I think reasonable people might differ about the good taste involved in refusing to broadcast the show, especially if those people didn't see it as honoring the dead. (Not my view at all, but people differ.) I do think that accusing ABC (of all bodies!) of what amounts to treason (in effect the old accusing them of giving aid and comfort to the enemy) is not only not in good taste, but contemptible.

Are we not allowed to talk about the costs of this war project? Especially as the goals diminish from a free and democratic Middle East, to a free Iraq, to less violence, to getting out without humiliation?

Apparently not on Sinclair stations.

Posted in Politics: US | Leave a comment

Florida Is a Bloghaven?

This is surprising:

=< Halavais: News>=: Where have all the bloggers gone? Well, basically the places you would expect. Lots in Boston, lots in Austin, lots on the coast, and a surprising dispersal in Florida (?)

See the cool map too (albeit only for blogs hosted by Livejournal and Diaryland).

Posted in Blogs, Florida | 2 Comments

When Judicial Nominees Tell Porky Pies

If he said what is reported at Bush Aide on Court Nominees Faces Fire as Nominee Himself, Brett Kavanaugh as much as perjured himself yesterday in front of a Senate committee when he stated that the White House had no ideological considerations in choosing judicial nominees. That obviously isn't true of this administration, just as it hasn't been true of many in my adult life (the exception that comes to mind is Jerry Ford, who seemed to care more about party affiliation than ideology per se).

I look forward to the same forces who explained, with some justice, that a person who lied to a grand jury was a poor choice to be President, now coming forward and explaining that a person who tells transparent porky pies to the Senate is unfit to be a DC circuit judge. (He's sorta young too. Judicial temperment, especially for federal appellate judges, does seem to tend to be a function of a certain age and experience much more often than not.) But I'm not holding my breath. Well worth a fillibuster. And I don't care how nice he is, how smart he is, or that he went to the right law school.

Posted in Law: Ethics | Leave a comment

I Always Suspected There Were Too Many Kinds of Toothpaste

I always sort of suspected that the world might be better off with fewer kinds of toothpaste — an intuition that flies directly in the face of all the free-market stuff I usually believe. Now comes Ben Hyde, summarizing Barry Schwartz's book Paradox of Choice, to explain why this intuition might actually be right:

The punch line of Paradox of Choice is made in a simple cartoon. Partition the world into two kinds of people. The maximizers and the satisfiers. Maximizers spend more resources on getting the best possible outcome while satisfiers don't.

The joke? Maximizers do tend to achieve their goals. They do accumulate more than the satisficers. The ironic revenge of the Gods? They are never satisfied.

He reports that depression is highly correlated with maximizing behavior. Then he lays down the cornerstone of the entire book.

Can you conspire to change a person's behavior? Convert them into a maximizer? How? Yes – you just present them with more choices. That increases the chances their behavior will switch from happy satisfier to depressed maximizer. It's a denial of service attack on the problem solver. It's restructuring the game so that the search algorithms are no longer effective. It's the old chestnut that marketing is war. It's the cliche that planning is what you do to avoid action.

In other words, marketers make more choices to turn rational people into shoppers. But these choices make people less happy than they would otherwise be (the paradox).

But wait. This (as opposed to, say, the quest for shelf space) doesn't alone explain why firms make so many different varieties of what's more or less the same product. What's in it for the firm, which presumably forgoes some small economy of scale? Do unhappy consumers spend more money in a quest for more happiness (either in product quantity or quality or price), or do they just spend more time searching? Do they buy eight kinds of toothpaste to try them out? Does the increased search time expose them to more goods that would have chosen to buy had they but known of them, in which case search makes you happier but poorer? Or do the consumers spend so much time searching they buy less? Or is the depressed consumer an impulse buyer? There has to be some mechanism by which the 'more search, less joy' mentality gets translated into goods or this fails to explain the marketers' incentives. And even if a greater variety of toothpaste on offer makes you generally unhappier it's not at all obvious to me how this translates into toothpaste sales given the fixed quantity of mouths per person.

On a related note, the suggestion that there may be an economic grounding for my suspicions about toothpaste makes me hope that someone will be able to confirm my claim of an economic justification for another of my other potentially irrational beliefs. I have a tendency towards comparison shopping for the lowest price, a maximization behavior that my wife likes to laugh at as obsessive (while no doubt enjoying the savings). I like to rationalize this tendency as a public-spirited behavior with positive externalities: by doing my best to embody Rational Economic Man, and finding the low-cost supplier I am rewarding the low-price supplier (and, especially, failing to reward the price gougers) and thus helping the market be efficient, which contributes to lower prices for everyone. Any truth to that in a world of sensible satisficers?

Posted in Econ & Money | 1 Comment

Chernobyl Images

This is one of the strangest and most disturbing things I've seen on the Internet: KIDDofSPEED – GHOST TOWN – Chernobyl Images. The daughter of a scientist who does testing in the devastated Chernobyl area has wangled a permit that allows her to ride her motorcycle through dangerous radioactive areas. Despite the attention she pays to her geiger counter, I can't help but think this is a really stupid thing to be doing.

The pictures she publishes of what the land and buildings and remains look like in the contaminated area are simply horrific.

Posted in Science/Medicine | 2 Comments

More on Digital Public Goods

In a comment to an item below, John Quiggen gently and correctly points out that the insight for which I credited Brad is at least as much his:

If the Internet continues to grow in economic importance, the central role of public goods in its formation will pose big problems for capitalism, though not necessarily to the benefit of traditional forms of socialism.

What's more, he's already working on an article about it. So that's one less project I have to worry about — I can wait for him. The provision of public goods is already one of the major challenges for modern society, one that the US at least responds to fairly badly (see, e.g. the lack public transport in Miami and the really clogged roads) and it's really interesting to speculate about what we should do if the increase in importance of digitized information and tools to play with it makes this problem worse.

Brad and I have written one article which cataloged some of the issues, but it doesn't offer very much in the way of solutions. Much remains to be done here.

Posted in Econ & Money | 1 Comment

Apache Was Resting

The site was down for several hours this evening as the apache server decided to go on strike. Dreamhost Support reports it “had a bad user” and fixed it. I hope that's not a moral judgement.

Meanwhile I had a tour through my http logs, always a fun way to spend time, and noticed many entries of the form

junk after document element at line 2, column 0

I have no idea what that means.

Plus I found substantial evidence that a machine hosted at Brown has been trying to hack in here. And failing. But I sent a note with a log extract to the tech contact for the IP number on the off chance it might do some good.

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