Month: October 2010

The Charter 08 document

It helped Liu Xiaobo win a Nobel Peace Prize.  Here is one good paragraph of many:

Protection of Private Property. We should establish and protect the right to private property and promote an economic system of free and fair markets. We should do away with government monopolies in commerce and industry and guarantee the freedom to start new enterprises. We should establish a Committee on State-Owned Property, reporting to the national legislature, that will monitor the transfer of state-owned enterprises to private ownership in a fair, competitive, and orderly manner. We should institute a land reform that promotes private ownership of land, guarantees the right to buy and sell land, and allows the true value of private property to be adequately reflected in the market.

Hat tip goes to Matt Yglesias.

How recognizable will humans be in five hundred years?

Alex reports:

Tyler and I argued recently about whether or not humans will be recognizably human in 500 years.

Let us assume that scientific progress continues.  My view is that parents don't so much like "difference," unless it is very directly in their favor.  Using technology, parents will select for children who are taller, smarter in the way that parents value, better looking, and perhaps also more loyal to their families.  The people in the wealthy parts of the world will look more like models and movie stars, but they will be quite recognizable.  These children may also be less creative and some of them will be less driven.  It's a bit like the real estate market, where everyone wants their house to be special, but not too special, for purposes of resale or in this case mating and career prospects.

Assortative mating can increase the variance of appearance (and other characteristics), but a) assortative mating is not obviously a dominant effect, b) not necessarily doing much over the course of five hundred years, and c) future science is more likely to reverse the boost in variance than to support it.  One short person could marry another short person, without having such short children because of genetic engineering.

People will in various ways be cyborgs, but more or less invisibly from the outside at least.

Dogs look different than they did five thousand years ago, but that is because humans controlled their breeding and opted for some extremes.  How would they look today if the dogs themselves had been in charge of the process?

Potential markets in everything business plans to bet against

The Lithuanian company Olialia, pronounced "ooh-la-la", is planning a holiday resort in the Maldive islands.

The firm hopes to pull in the tourists by employing only blonde staff, and offering direct flights to the island crewed entirely by blondes, including the pilots.

The article is here and for the pointer I thank Leonard Monasterio.

The culture that is Japan

…a new breed of automated seller has smarts, too–these machines can detect your age and gender and offer drink suggestions accordingly.

The new machines under the Acure brand were recently installed in Tokyo's Shinagawa Station and they're about the size of two refrigerators.

Run by a company under the JR East railway group, the "next-generation drink machines" are imposing enough, but fortunately they don't talk to you. They have cameras that use facial-recognition algorithms to match customers' faces to a database of people types.

When you stand in front of the machine, it takes a second to process your image. It will then recommend some of the roughly 35 drinks displayed on its large touch-screen panel by showing little cartoonish speech bubbles next to them…

At one machine on the main concourse of Shinagawa, I saw a Japanese businessman being offered Coke as a suggested beverage, while a Japanese woman was offered a water-like vitamin drink.

The full story is here and for the pointer I thank Steve Silberman.

Catch a thief from your armchair and win cash

Here is the latest from the UK:

Anyone who owns a laptop computer can now fight crime from the safety of their home and win cash prizes for catching thieves red-handed, under a new British monitoring scheme that went live this week.

The service works by employing an army of registered armchair snoopers who watch hours of CCTV footage from cameras in stores and high street venues across the country.

Viewers can win up to 1,000 pounds ($1,600) in cash a month from Devon-based firm Internet Eyes, which distributes the streaming footage, when offenders are caught in the act.

For the pointer I thank Michael Rosenwald, who has just published a new book on the sports writing of Gay Talese

From another front, S.S. sends me this link for "the culture that is Britain."

Why don’t people rock the boat in early on-line dating encounters?

Well, some of them do.  But many don't.  Dan Ariely writes:

We picked apart emails sent between online daters, prepared to dissect the juicy details of first introductions. And we found a general trend supporting the idea that people like to maintain boring equilibrium at all costs: we found a lot of people who may, in actuality, have interesting things to say, but presented themselves as utterly insipid in their written conversations. The dialogue was boring, consisting mainly of questions like, “Where did you go to college?” or “What are your hobbies?” “What is your line of work?” etc.

…What we learned from this little experiment is that when people are free to choose what type of discussions they want to have, they often gravitate toward an equilibrium that is easy to maintain but one that no one really enjoys or benefits from. 

First, email is a bad medium for making and negotiating outrageous claims.  You can't communicate subtleties of tone and teasing and you can't easily do "repair work" if you offend the audience, even assuming you can notice the offense or keep the dialog going after an offense. 

More generally, when I see cautious behavior I ask if some kind of threshold incentive is in place.  Imagine a process where both the writing man and the writing woman have inferred they are above the other's minimum standard for a personal meeting, perhaps for having demonstrated looks, money, status, etc.  Given that a relatively impressive credential already puts each person in the running, on the written exchange each is simply hoping to "break even" for the time being and avoid dismissal.  Draw your own implications as to what attracts people in the on-line dating world. 

Addendum: Robin Hanson offers related comment.

CA Organ Donor Law

California has a new law creating a live donor registry for kidney transplants and requiring California drivers to say yay or nay on whether they want to be organ donors when they renew their drivers' licenses.  The law was passed with the prodding of Steve Jobs who last year had a liver transplant.

The live donor registry is very good. The required declaration is mixed but I hope it works.  I see it as follows.  The benefit is that if a potential donor has said yes to organ donation then next of kin almost always agree to their wishes so if more people positively affirm that is good.  The cost, however, is that now "no" really means "no" and next of kin will presumably agree to that as well.  Previously, next of kin might have said yes to non-signatories.  Let's use some back of the envelope figures:

100 potential donors
20 signed organ donor cards
80 do not sign but, among these, half the families say yes so 40.

Total: 60 donors.

So with declaration you need more than 60 to agree to be organ donors, i.e. a huge increase in those saying yes.  It could happen if what people say on surveys about supporting organ donation is true but I would have been much happier with even a small incentive to sign.  How about a free iPhone for signatories?  Or at least some more minutes!

See here for more on incentives and organ donation.

Addendum: Nudge blog has some helpful comment–the law appears to be closer to mandated ask than mandated choice.

*Little Did I Know: Excerpts from Memory* the new Stanley Cavell memoir

To recognize the end of the day and get to bed, I developed the ritual of eating a box of Oreo cookies together with a can of applesauce.  But really the ritual is equally describable as an effort to stop myself from eating the entire box of cookies, a sequence of five (was it?) pairs, each pair stacked in a pleated pliable plastic cup, and from finishing the accompanying applesauce, having conceived the idea that this was not a sensible diet.  I slowed the eating by inventing new ways of going through the cookies.  One way was to nibble around the circumference of a cookie before finishing off the remaining rough-edged center; another was to twist apart the two wafers of each Oreo, eat off the sugary middle spread from whichever of the wafers it largely adhered to, intending to eat only that one of that double cookie.  But each night I lost the battle to stop eating before the package and the can were emptied.  I recognize that to this day I unfailingly at the end of a meal leave some portion of food, if sometimes quite small, on my dish — as if to reassure myself that I am free.

I do the same, I should add.  That passage is from Stanley Cavell, one of America's leading philosophers.  If you're looking for a book which steps outside the usual mode of strict narrative, I recommend this highly, but it will leave many people frustrated.  You can buy it here.

For the pointer I thank David Gordon.

Rejection Therapy

Jason Comely writes to me:

Rejection Therapy is a real life game with one rule: to be rejected by someone every single day, for 30 days consecutive. There are even suggestion cards available for "rejection attempts" (although they are not essential to the game).

I designed the game for myself about a year ago because I wasn't getting out of my comfort zone anymore. I was afraid of rejection. Rejection Therapy was a way I "incentivized" getting out of my comfort zone, and being rejected became a desired end result.

Are you comforted to learn that?:

Rejection then must be the sister of death.

And yet…you are not supposed to reject others.  Every blogger should ponder the implications of Rejection Therapy.

Rereading *The Road to Serfdom*

Given all the recent fuss, I picked it up again and found:

1. It was more boring and less analytic on matters of public choice than I had been expecting.

2. Although some of Hayek's major predictions have been proven wrong, they are more defensible than I had been expecting.

3. The most important sentence in the book is "This book, written in my spare time from 1940 to 1943…"  In those years, how many decent democracies were in the world?  How clear was it that the Western powers, even if they won the war, would dismantle wartime economic planning?  How many other peoples' predictions from those years have panned out?  At that time, Hayek's worries were perfectly justified.

4. If current trends do turn out very badly, this is not the best guide for understanding exactly why.

It's fine to downgrade the book, relative to some of the claims made on its behalf, but the book doesn't give us reason to downgrade Hayek.