No, I don’t approve of the second Putin-Trump meeting, but I’d like to consider this as a game theory problem without its current political connotations.

Why is it bad to attend such a meeting without your own translator?

Let’s say I meet with a Greek, to talk about debt renegotiation, and don’t bring my own translator.  You might think I am at the mercy of the other translator, the one hired by my Greek peer.

But how so?  If the Greek speaker wishes to mislead me, he doesn’t need a biased translator to do so.  He can just lie to me or otherwise mislead me in the original Greek.  Either translation, from an American or Greek translator, will communicate the same lie or deception.

Alternatively, assume I believe there is some “noise” between the Greek statement and its translation into English.  Some of this may stem from the imperfections of the translation process itself, or perhaps the translator has her own agenda.

If I bring my own translator, that removes the influence of the agenda of the Greek translator, but probably keeps the noise and imperfections.  But is that good or bad on net?

1. I now face risk from the agenda of my own translator.  That may be more biased or skewing than the agenda of the Greek translator, especially since it may relate to splits within American rather than Greek politics.

2. It might be better if I am fooled by a Greek translator who to some extent wishes to subvert the interests of her own government.  For instance, the Greek translator might wish to keep smooth relations by not communicating all of the cuss words behind a threat.

3. The Greek speaker might in fact know he is regularly subverted by his own translator, and adjust his words accordingly.  The “subverted” communication, as conveyed by the Greek translator, may in fact be the intended message, and thus there is little harm from the subversion.

4. By not having your own translator present, you are keeping as private information what and when you will reveal to your own countrymen.  That may put you in a stronger bluffing or bargaining position.

4b. In the other direction, note you may wish to have your own translator so that your negotiating partner can do without his!  That may put him in a stronger position with respect to his home interest groups and thus facilitate a deal.

Overall, it is not obvious that I am so much better off having my own translator.  In fact, it seems your own translator is there, to some extent, to constrain you, as is evident from some of the discussion of the Putin-Trump meeting.  For instance, it is being claimed Trump might have wanted to say things to Putin that no American functionary could be allowed to hear.  If that is true, it might be bad for America, but it need not be bad for Trump’s self-interest.

On this question, the economics of having your own note-taker, or your own taping mechanism, might be very different from that of translator, but that would be another post.

“The message from the leadership last weekend was very clear — financial stability is now regarded as an important element of national security,” said Raymond Yeung, the Hong Kong-based chief economist at Australia & New Zealand Banking Group Ltd.

An editorial in the Communist Party’s People Daily newspaper on Monday pointed to the seriousness of the campaign, warning of potential “gray rhinos” — a variation on the black swan events popularized during the global financial crisis, with the difference that the danger from a charging rhino is more immediate and the animals are less rare.

Here is the Bloomberg story, via Bill Bishop’s excellent China newsletter.

A coffin-making community group has popped up in Tasmania’s north-west, allowing people to make their caskets dirt cheap.

The Community Coffin Club meets once a week at the Ulverstone Community Shed, where mentors help people make coffins for themselves and their family.

Sheree Whittington has been working on her coffin for the past month.

“I’ve always had a bit of a morbid side to me and loved the Addams family and that sort of thing,” Ms Whittington said.

“When I found out about the Coffin Club I thought what better way: make my own coffin.”

Ms Whittington said she planned to put her coffin to good use before she needed it.

“It is going to be a coffin for when my time eventually comes, but in the meantime I’m going to have shelves put in it so I can use it as a CD and DVD rack.”

“It’s an actual, functional piece of furniture.”

Is this true?:

Facing death ‘easier if you’ve got coffin ready’

Maybe so:

“I don’t know what the funeral directors think about it, but we can make them for probably a tenth of the cost.”

When Mr Game’s is finished, his casket will have cost less than $200 to make.

Here is the full story, via NinjaEconomics.

Tuesday assorted links

by on July 18, 2017 at 10:00 am in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. CASSIDY says he agrees w/ McConnell that the Medicaid CPI-U caps won’t actually take effect: “I mean, it’s eight years. That’s a long ways.” Link here.  That’s now old news, but it’s still worth repeating.

2. David Brooks on Bourdieu (NYT):

People at the top, he observed, tend to adopt a reserved and understated personal style that shows they are far above the “assertive, attention-seeking strategies which expose the pretensions of the young pretenders.” People at the bottom of any field, on the other hand, don’t have a lot of accomplishment to wave about, but they can use snark and sarcasm to demonstrate the superior sensibilities.

3. E-Z Pass fees finally match public choice theory: “And if you want to hit the beach in Middletown, R.I., crossing the Newport Bridge will cost you $4, while Rhode Island residents pay 83 cents on their E-ZPass transponders.”

4. “In one sample that we looked at in the Boston area, we find that upwards of 20% of kids who at the time of high school graduation say that they’re continuing on to college — about 20% of those kids don’t actually show up in the fall.” Link here.

5. Laotian high speed rail will cost half of their gdp, Sweet fancy Moses edition.

Are the aliens merely sleeping?

by on July 18, 2017 at 2:28 am in Science | Permalink

Here is another attempt to crack the Fermi paradox, relying on low time preference and Knut Wicksell’s wine parable:

“While it is possible for a civilization to cool down parts of itself to any low temperature,” the authors write, that, too, requires work. So it wouldn’t make sense for a civilization looking to maximize its computational capacity to waste energy on the process. As Sandberg and Cirkovic elaborate in a blog post, it’s more likely that such artificial life would be in a protected sleep mode today, ready to wake up in colder futures.

If such aliens exist, they’re in luck. The universe appears to be cooling down on its own. Over the next trillions of years, as it continues to expand and the formation of new stars slows, the background radiation will reduce to practically zero. Under those conditions, Sandberg and Cirkovic explain, this kind of artificial life would get “tremendously more done.” Tremendous isn’t an understatement, either. The researchers calculate that by employing such a strategy, they could achieve up to 1030 times more than if done today.

In other words, now is an inefficient time for getting things done.  That is from Robert Hart at Slate.

That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column, here is one bit from it:

In a recent Financial Times interview, Sherry Turkle, a professor of social psychology at MIT, and a leading expert on cyber interactions, criticized robot education. “The robot can never be in an authentic relationship,” she said. “Why should we normalize what is false and in the realm of [a] pretend relationship from the start?” She’s opposed to robot companions more generally, again for their artificiality.

Yet K-12 education itself is a highly artificial creation, from the chalk to the schoolhouses to the standardized achievement tests, not to mention the internet learning and the classroom TV. Thinking back on my own experience, I didn’t especially care if my teachers were “authentic” (in fact, I suspected quite a few were running a kind of personality con), provided they communicated their knowledge and radiated some charisma.

And:

My biggest concern about robot education, by the way, involves humans. Children sometimes trust robots too much. Teachers and administrators could use robots to gather confidential information about children and their families, as the children may think they are talking to a robot only, rather than creating a database for future scrutiny. This could be addressed by comprehensive privacy standards, probably a good idea in any case.

Do read the whole thing.

According to PFC Energy, a Washington DC consultancy, Venezuela requires an oil price of $95 a barrel to ensure macroeconomic security, Saudi Arabia $55.  Qatar, however, could still remain financially stable even with oil below $10 a barrel…It is the only significant oil exporter that was less dependent on higher oil prices in 2008 than in 2000.

That is from the new and useful book by Allen J. Fromherz, Qatar: A Modern History, updated edition, recently published by Georgetown University Press.

Monday assorted links

by on July 17, 2017 at 11:21 am in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. Which is the greatest Jane Austen novel?

2. The most joyless magazine Laura Barton has ever seen.

3. Summer reading lists, by politicians and professors.

4. Review of Beach Boys 1967 – Sunshine Tomorrow.  I recommend the release.

5. The Manitoba Guaranteed Income Experiment: “Using hitherto unanalyzed data we find an 11.3 percentage point reduction in labor market participation, and nearly 30 percent of that fall can be attributed to “community context” effects.”  And this: “Never before or since the Dauphin experiment has a rich country tested a guaranteed annual income at the level of an entire town. A community-level experiment accounts for the fact that people make decisions in a social context, not in isolation.”

6. In urban China, cash has become obsolete (NYT).

I will be having a Conversation with him on Sept.6, locale and time to be announced.  In the meantime, what should I ask him?

I thank you all in advance for your sage and balanced judgments.

The coming of WalMarts took away or weakened various downtown communities, but it turns out that when Walmart leaves a region there are some similar kinds of effects:

Economic losses are only one aspect of the hurt felt locally as a result of Walmart’s passing. There is something intangible, less material – and more chilling – about the fallout, something that seems to flow from the dependency the people of McDowell County developed on the retail magic conjured up inside that big box…For Dan Phillips, Walmart was a way of coping with bereavement after his wife died a few years ago. ‘If you were lonely and had nothing to do, you’d go to Walmart to talk to folk. It was a great social network.’ Being a schoolteacher, Phillips has a theory for what happened when the store closed. ‘Socialization. We lost our socialization factor. Now it’s hard to keep track of people, there’s no other place like it where you can stand and chat.’

Here is the full story, via the excellent Kevin Lewis.

A Chinese mall has introduced “husband storage” facilities for wives to leave their spouse while they shop, it’s reported.

According to The Paper, the Global Harbour mall in Shanghai has erected a number of glass pods for wives to leave any disgruntled husbands that don’t want to be dragged around the shops.

Inside each individual pod is a chair, monitor, computer and gamepad, and men can sit and play retro 1990s games. Currently, the service is free, but staff told the newspaper that in future months, users will be able to scan a QR code and pay a small sum for the service using their mobile phones.

A few men that tried out the pods told The Paper that they thought they were a novel idea.

Mr Yang said he thinks the pods are “Really great. I’ve just played Tekken 3 and felt like I was back at school!”

Another man, Mr Wu, agreed, but said that that he thought there were areas for improvement. “There’s no ventilation or air conditioning, I sat playing for five minutes and was drenched in sweat.”

Here is the full account, via Michelle Dawson.

Sunday assorted links

by on July 16, 2017 at 12:26 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

As their budgets strain, communities have begun questioning how much money and effort they should be spending to deal with overdoses, especially in cases involving people who have taken near-fatal overdoses multiple times. State and local officials say it might be time for “tough love”: pushing soaring medical costs onto drug abusers or even limiting how many times first responders can save an individual’s life.

“It’s not that I don’t want to treat overdose victims, it’s that the city cannot afford to treat overdose victims,” said Middletown Council Member Daniel Picard, noting this industrial town in northern Butler County might have to raise taxes in response to the crisis.

Often, the only thing separating whether an overdose victim goes to the hospital instead of the morgue is a dose of naloxone, also known by the brand name Narcan, a medication that can reverse the effects of opioid overdoses.

Two doses of an injectable form of naloxone, Evzio, cost $4,500, up from $690 in 2014. The price of other forms of the drug, including the nasally administered Narcan, typically range from $70 to $150 per dose, officials say.

…Here in Ohio, first responders say it’s not uncommon for overdose victims to have previously been revived with naloxone at least a half-dozen times.

…Picard, the council member, has proposed a controversial three-strikes policy in which first responders wouldn’t administer Narcan to repeated overdose victims.

Here is the Tim Craig at WaPo story.  I do not know what is the proper response to such opioid cases, or how much money should be spent.  I do know that somewhere, somehow a line has to be drawn.  And if you are reading a discussion of health care policy that does not acknowledge such a line, and set out possible standards for it, beware of sophistry and illusion.

1. Especially outside the immediate center of town, it feels as if something wacky is always happening.  Someone is screaming, backslapping, bumping fists, or screaming while backslapping and bumping fists.  Interactions appear to be random, highly intense, and short in duration.  The following interaction is more intense yet.  It reminds me of that old Humphrey Bogart movie “Beat the Devil.”

2. Every cabbie seems to know a random person standing on a street corner, who somehow mysteriously signals to that cab to be picked up, even if said cab already is delivering a Western passenger to some other location.  Shouting ensues, the random person is moved along in the cab only a short distance, always along the Westerner’s route, and then the person is let off again.  With a shout.  Rinse and repeat.

3. It is a better city for street food and stall food than is Chengdu.  The tastes are stronger and spicier, though I believe the peaks of Chengdu are higher and more subtle.

4. Don’t just stick to “the peninsula,” also travel to the alternate sides of the city’s two rivers, the Jialing and the Yangtze.

5. Haagen-Dazs is much more popular in China than in the United States, at least at the retail level.

6. “Sun Zhengcai, the former Communist Party chief of the Chinese city of Chongqing, is under investigation by authorities, the Wall Street Journal reported Saturday, citing people it didn’t identify.”  He had been considered a possible successor to Uncle Xi.

7. On my flight from Kunming to Chongqing, I witnessed my first “facial surveillance” arrest.  Just as they were about to let us off the plane, two policemen appeared at the entrance, with a copy of a facial surveillance photograph.  (Before you board any plane in China, they photograph your face plenty, and match it to various databases.)  They walked down the aisle, turning left and right, looking for the passenger who matched the photo.  They found him and escorted him off the plane, with the crowd watching nervously.  He showed neither surprise nor did he protest his innocence.

8. An excellent room in a five-star luxury Chongqing hotel, with view and upgrade to a larger suite, costs $70 a night.

9. Nearby is “the world’s longest cantilevered glass skywalk.

The city’s “mind-blowing overpass has five layers, 20 ramps and eight directions,” good photos at that link.

Here is Wikipedia on Chongqing, by one measure it is China’s most populous metropolitan area.  “Its population is already bigger than that of Peru or Iraq, with half a million more arriving every year in search of a better life,” and that was written eleven years ago.

“A male artist in the room is — for women and men — cultural Viagra,” she says. “As for a woman, there may be one or two who are glad you are there but you don’t make the same impact.” None of this is said with bitterness. If anything, she values being left alone to concentrate on her writing. “For all my affability, I am also cold.”

That is from her Lunch with the FT, by Janan Ganesh, interesting throughout.