August 29, 2003

Ponte Nuovo   {Comments: 0}

David Sucher at City Comforts (by way of the excellent Beyond Brilliance, Beyond Stupidity) writes about the compromise that led ODOT to line a bridge over a Columbus overpass with shops. It's a pretty exciting possibility, and one that might have some traction here in Oak Park, where there's constant grumbling about expanding the Eisenhower Expressway. One potential problem is traffic - lining a bridge with shops makes it much harder to expand in the future, and probably generates some traffic of its own. But the idea could do wonders in terms of reuniting communities shredded by the highway system.

August 28, 2003

The other referendum   {Comments: 0}

Now that the ten commandments are gone, maybe this plan can help Alabama resuscitate its image. Gov Bob Riley is pushing for a massive tax hike that targets the wealthy, actually includes tax cuts for the poor, increases spending on social services and education, and balances the ailing Alabama budget. Not bad, for a Republican...

To advance knowledge and education   {Comments: 0}

From Wired:

When MIT announced to the world in April 2001 that it would be posting the content of some 2,000 classes on the Web, it hoped the program - dubbed OpenCourseWare - would spur a worldwide movement among educators to share knowledge and improve teaching methods. No institution of higher learning had ever proposed anything as revolutionary, or as daunting. MIT would make everything, from video lectures and class notes to tests and course outlines, available to any joker with a browser. The academic world was shocked by MIT's audacity - and skeptical of the experiment. At a time when most enterprises were racing to profit from the Internet and universities were peddling every conceivable variant of distance learning, here was the pinnacle of technology and science education ready to give it away. Not the degrees, which now cost about $41,000 a year, but the content. No registration required.
Many of the courses are already online here, including several from their vaunted economics department. I think this is a tremendous development, and not just because it will benefit me! It has the potential to really rearrange the way we think about intellectual property and knowledge - the problems MIT faces are the big ones facing any information revolution in a capitalist world. So far they seem to be handling the rollout with great vision and generosity.

MORE: A reader at MIT points out that there isn't much you couldn't have found on faculty websites before, if you'd looked hard enough. I don't doubt this is true, but at the same time, grouping them under the same umbrella and making them official really adds to their value. I don't know how many times I've gone fishing for academic content and stumbled across half a dozen dubious syllabi from universities I've never even heard of. For me, an MIT syllabus (and course notes, even!) specifically authorized by MIT scares away a lot of those doubts...

August 26, 2003

Bordeaux's future   {Comments: 262}

Here's an interesting piece about what the European heat wave means for French winemakers. I've actually heard this before, referenced at the end of an NPR radio piece as an ironic twist to the catastrophe.

One thing that makes French wines so special is the uniqueness of different vintages - the weather of a particular year makes a dramatic contribution to the character of a wine. While this is also true in other wine-growing regions like California or Chile, the French government has regulated the French wine industry so that it's impossible to use, for instance, modern irrigation techniques. Contrast this with California wine producers, who while beholden to the weather to some extent can also use technology to get to a more consistent product. Does the French regulation seem like a ridiculous role for government to American readers? I think it says something interesting about the taste of French consumers vis-à-vis their American counterparts.

MORE: California blogger Phillip Carter points out this concurrent development.

August 22, 2003

Stepping out   {Comments: 0}

I'm headed to DC this afternoon, and I won't be back to Chicago for about a week. I haven't figured out what my status will be in terms of blogging, but I doubt I'll be updating as frequently, so be forewarned! Jikisinkama...

Taking the heat   {Comments: 1}

The IHT has an interesting article on the French reaction to the heat wave by Eric Klinenberg, the author of Heat Wave: A Social Autopsy of Disaster in Chicago. Klinenberg draws some parallels between the two catastrophes in terms of public policy breakdowns, but uses the political fallout to illustrate an important difference between French and American politics - or at least, Chicago politics:

Yet the French and American responses to the heat crises have not been identical. Dr. Abenhaïm resigned because French political culture demands governmental accountability for failed policy programs, and because French journalists aggressively documented the ways that the state neglected to protect the vulnerable. In the United States, however, no federal officials faced criticism after the deadly American heat wave of 1995. Chicago leaders made it through the crisis unscathed, too. One group of activists and advocates for the elderly demanded that the mayor's office accept responsibility for the crisis. Yet a leading newspaper columnist trivialized their claims, writing that "trying to blame the mayor for an act of God is not only unfair, it also does an injustice by wrongfully framing the debate."
Thanks to Chris Bertram at Crooked Timber for the link.
August 21, 2003

Gran exito   {Comments: 1}

Tomorrow morning I'm going to be on the radio - in Bolivia. The last project for my Aymara class is for each of us (all 5 students) to call in and say a quick hello to the folks in the altiplano. So, if you're going to be in Bolivia tomorrow around 9:45 AM local time, make sure you tune in to Radio San Gabriel. You'll know me by my alias, Pablo - or, as the Aymara spell it, Pawlu.

The future of opera   {Comments: 2430}

Apparently a British opera company will stage 8 one-act operas in double bills during the upcoming season (link via ArtsJournal). I haven't blogged much about opera since May, but this is a heartening development for me and my collaborator, since we've conceived a series of one-acts. Initially, we'd planned to do another children's opera after The Trio of Minuet, but somehow we're working on a more adult production now. The stories will be linked thematically - the first one is actually based on a short story I wrote some time ago. Won't reveal any more now, but maybe at some point I'll post the short story? Not sure though if I want to turn this site into a fiction showcase....

New directions in capitalist greed   {Comments: 0}

Not only can I symapthize with the sentiments in this article, but I have to admit I've actually bought some of the products listed. It's both phenomenal and pathological the range of specialty items there are to be accumulated these days - my latest obessions are with certain collectable first editions at abebooks and the santoku knife, which I'm not even sure I know how I would use... I do, however, know that this is the one I want.

Gaming the democratic process   {Comments: 2}

MoveOn is working hard to publicize the 22-day walkout by Texas Senate Democrats - and rightfully so, since the story's been buried by events in California. But at stake in Texas is basically the same thing - respect for a democratic (small d) institution, one that helps provide the political stability needed for a government to effectively govern. If Texas Republicans and their puppetmaster are allowed to redistrict the state between elections, this sort of initiative will become commonplace in state legislatures, which will fundamentally change the face of American politics.

Changing the rules of the game isn't necessarily a bad thing. But there are two problems in this particular case. First of all, it puts us in a less stable political environment - redistricting battles will pop up everywhere, which means less real work will be done. Maybe more importantly, it will create a strong bias toward parties in power - ie they'll be more able to ensure that they stay in power. This is bad for anyone who's concerned about the people's ability to hold the government to account. Think about it this way: more redistricting means more power for politicians to control the way we vote.

MORE: skimble points out more Texas shenaningans. And also there's this excellent article by Timothy Noah.

August 20, 2003

Foreign novelties   {Comments: 1}

This article (thanks, Enigmatic Mermaid) gets to the heart of my problems with the publishing industry's failure to translate foreign literature. The central idea:

The loss of the most distinguished, characteristic and classic books from other languages will finally make itself felt, however richly English is able to compensate itself from its multitudinous sources. There is really nothing like the strange bi-authorship of translation; the hapless, resourceful or wooden sense of words not deployed by a single hand according to instructions from a single mind; the demands on vocabulary and, less predictably, on syntax, that made the reading, for example, of Gregory Rabassa’s translation of One Hundred Years of Solitude such an enlarging experience.

Translation is the other, it upsets expectation, it extends the field of comparison, it forces even the sluggardly to re-evaluate and to re-contextualise. A period of good writing has to be a period of good and abundant translating also. The fact that we’re not presently living in one should qualify the large claims currently being made for British poetry and fiction. Surely a healthy – never mind an exceptional or wonderful – condition wouldn’t be this sequestered or this drip-fed on parochial fashions and moods and reputations. It’s undeniable that it’s written in a world language, but how much of it is world literature? It’s the present low level of interest in translation that prompts the question.

I think it's probably this question of difference, of mapping the space between cultures really, that led me to do comparative literature in college, and that has me studying Aymara now. An exploration of other cultures is so important to how we understand our own, and for me at least reading foreign literature focuses that exploration on the world of ideas.

Maybe this would be a good time to take up literary translation?

August 19, 2003

Hot bod   {Comments: 1}

Scientists have discovered a microbe that can grow at temperatures as high as 121C - they're calling it Strain 121.

But what fascinates me most about this isn't that it can live at such a high temperature (in any case, microbes living at temperatures in excess of 100C were already known), but that it seems to use iron rather than oxygen for respiration. The Science article speculates on the possible implications:

A combination of geological and microbiological evidence suggests that electron transport to Fe(III) may have been the first form of microbial respiration as life evolved. Geological evidence suggests that microorganisms that use Fe(III) as an electron acceptor are key components of the deep, hot biosphere. Furthermore, the accumulation of Fe(III) in hot sediments around marine hydrothermal vents might have led to Fe(III) reduction being an important process in modern hydrothermal environments.
In other words, it sounds like science fiction - which is precisely the point!
A worm of a different color   {Comments: 1}

Another internet worm has emerged, apparently to smite the MSBlaster worm that's victimized so many home users (including yours truly):

The new worm scours the Internet for computers already infected with Blaster and deletes the "bad" worm, according to two anti-virus software vendors. The worm then fixes the computers with one of eight software patches developed by Microsoft Corp, and it uses infected computers as a base for searching the Internet for other vulnerable systems.
Sounds good, although apparently some people are concerned because the new worm can sap processing power just as much as its archnemesis. Meanwhile Microsoft has declined to comment.

UPDATE: According to this article (link via Slashdot), BigOldGeek isn't the only one whose network was slowed by the clash of the worms....

FUBAR   {Comments: 392}

There has been a large explosion at the UN headquarters in Baghdad. No word yet on casualties, but hundreds of civilians work in the building, part of which was torn away by the blast.

UPDATE: UN Special Representative Sérgio Vieira de Mello is among the at least 14 dead in the explosion.

Along with the sabotage over the weekend, this would seem to mark a shift away from attacks against hardened military targets. Softer civilian targets such as humanitarian aid workers or the water system are literally impossible to protect from a determined foe, especially when suicide attacks are on the table. And yet, President Bush and the American military bear the full moral responsbility for protecting these targets.

MORE: Haggai Elitzur notes the hypocrisy of some right wing bloggers:

Those who condemned the 9/11 attacks while saying "US policies are to blame, get your own house in order if you don't want it to happen again" were also justifiably condemned by many for shifting the blame onto the US and away from the terrorists and their supporters. Now we see that there are at least a couple of right-wing bloggers, here and here, who are the mirror images of such moral pygmies, using the deaths of innocents to score cheap political points, and shifting blame from the terrorists onto the UN.
I resisted the temptation to respond yesterday to Instapundit's similarly gleeful post, but it's still bothering me today. It's as if there's a hope that others will be attacked, simply because it will advance the war on terror.
August 18, 2003

Deal with the devil   {Comments: 0}

I knew the Atkins diet was popular, but I didn't really imagine it changing our collective eating habits to this extent:

When the Atkins diet began to take off rapidly in America last year it moved markets, especially for beef, says Charles Levitt, a senior livestock analyst with Alaron Futures and Options, a Chicago trading company. Further afield, as the diet has suddenly become all the rage with blubbery Brits, in recent weeks egg sales in Britain have grown by an unexpected 3%. “If not Atkins, then we are not sure what else has caused it,” says Peter Challands, marketing director of Deans Foods, the country's biggest egg-producer.
I have to admit to having used the whole Atkins diet logic to rationalize my consumption of certain foods. But isn't it just a kind of Faustian bargain? It's like you're trading thinner now for quadruple bypass surgery later.
Paying dividends?   {Comments: 2}

Daniel Gross looks at the data on the early effects of the dividend tax cut and sees they're not quite what was advertised.

In the weeks since Congress slashed the tax on dividends to 15 percent, stocks that pay dividends have fared worse than their brethren who stubbornly refuse to share their earnings with shareholders. According to Standard & Poor's, between the beginning of June and mid-August shares of dividend-paying members of the S&P 500 rose 2.5 percent, while shares of nonpayers rose 3.9 percent. And the goose provided by dividends - 2.174 percent annually for payers - doesn't come close to making up the difference.
This is pretty disappointing. The dividend tax cut (or at least, the revenue neutral version) wasn't really about cutting taxes to investors at all - it was about changing the investment culture that led to Enron and other scandals. The idea is that by encouraging investors to seek profits with profitable dividend-paying companies, a tax cut should de-emphasize stock price, making fraudulent attemps to inflate stock prices less tenable.

Why isn't it working? For one thing, it should have been revenue neutral - ie any cut in dividend taxes should have been accompanied by a corresponding increase on non-dividend capital gains tax. But in practice, the cut was part of a massive tax cut package that changed the whole tax environment for investors. This makes it difficult to sort out one effect from another, effectively blurring the line between a targeted securities policy and a general ideological bias toward lower taxes.

New approaches in advertising   {Comments: 4}

Jeff Cooper complains that he's getting comment-spam, and a quick search at Daypop suggests he's not alone. Why would advertisers think spamming blogs would gain them customers? Sounds like culture shock to me.

On a related note, I've been wondering about the etiquette of linking to photos. Is it acceptable to load a picture directly from another site without express permission? This would hardly matter for the amount of traffic I have, but hypothetically couldn't it become a serious drag on bandwidth for that other site? Just curious what people think about this.

August 16, 2003

Get out of the kitchen?   {Comments: 4}

I was shocked to read this smug Washington Post editorial mocking the Europeans and their heat wave. Also surprising is that very few people seem to have jumped on this embarassing bit of transatlantic schadenfreude from a major daily - although to be fair, it was probably published Thursday morning, ie before the French government's announcement that as many as 3000 deaths in that country may have been caused by the heat (previous estimates were somewhere in the neighborhood of 150 heat-related deaths).

August 15, 2003

Interconnectedness   {Comments: 1}

Was anyone else amazed that with all the power outages out east, the internet didn't skip a beat? In my case I actually learned the news from the New York Times website! It's even more impressive (and ironic) when you consider that this is a network problem. It's the very fact that we're all so interconnected - in this case for electricity - that made this "day of colossal disruption" possible. And yet the internet, seemingly the broadest (and newest) network around, was unfazed.

By the way, my first reaction to the story was that it was probably caused by the internet - in partcular, by the MSBlast worm. Luckily for Microsoft, that doesn't seem to be the case...

MORE: Via Metafilter I came across this interesting historical experiment related to previous New York blackouts. It's worth a look if you want to know more about those incidents, but it's also a pretty interesting way to deal with history, and one that I imagine will get a huge boost when New Yorkers' internet connections are back up.

August 14, 2003

Required reading   {Comments: 0}

Bookslut links to this description of how the Booker Prize submissions get read (the longlist is coming out tomorrow). Obviously these things are going to be grueling, but this policy probably doesn't help:

Anyone can enter a novel for the Booker - even the gentleman who hoped that his self-published work would raise "a smile and a tear" among the judges - and, should it have any merits, notice will have to be taken. Without giving anything away, one of my sincerest wishes is that we can give the prize to someone - and some publishing firm - outside the London glamour circuit.
Self-published novels? Somehow I doubt the National Book Award is so inclusive in its consideration. It's nice to see that authors in the rest of the English speaking world have some recourse if the publishing industry fails them. But then, we do have some resourceful self-published types over here - I actually went and bought a copy of this book after reading the review. Of course, I didn't actually read much of it...
August 13, 2003

Behind the times   {Comments: 2}

The whole Chicago flashmob thing has been hugely disappointing - first of all, there hasn't been a flashmob yet, even though over 400 people have apparently signed up to be on the email list. The first mob is being carefully planned for August 29th - over three weeks from now! - by which late date the whole phenomenon will surely be as passé as my shiny new blog.

Then yesterday the moderators of the discussion list changed the settings so that only moderators can post to the whole group. Talk about a power grab! In one fell swoop they squelched the debate, cut the lines of communication, and consolidated control within the hands of the nameless/shameless moderators. One thing they haven't consolidated: my participation. (If you like, though, you can be herded by clicking here.)

I wonder if mobs elsewhere have been organized in the same way, a couple of individuals directing large groups with the help of network technologies. Not exactly the display of technology-induced hive behavior that's been advertised. And as I've said before, not exactly a mob either...

Monkey in the middle   {Comments: 201}

The press has evidently swallowed the British arms dealer sting story whole, but I still have my questions about it. Clearly the guy is a bit of a villain. But did he really have access to any terrorists? And also: did he really have access to any weapons? People on both ends of the deal were part of the sting, so isn't it possible that intelligence sought out the contacts on both ends - connections he never could have made with real terrorists or arms dealers?

I guess what I'm wondering is not whether or not this guy should be locked up - he's not the kind of guy we want hanging around in New Jersey - but whether this has any broader implications for the presence of terrorists in the US. As best as I can tell, it doesn't. Suppose they did have evidence this guy had contacts with terrorists or arms dealers abroad - wouldn't they have arrested him straightaway on those charges? Instead, they executed an elaborate sting operation, approaching him with a deal he either wouldn't or couldn't have participated in otherwise.

I'm not a real doctor (but I am a real worm)   {Comments: 0}

The launch of this site was seriously hindered by the MSBlaster worm, a truly hideous invention which just about had me tearing my hair out. What disturbs me most about the whole experience is that I tried to download the XP patch from Microsoft a couple weeks ago when the Homeland Security Department put out its unprecedented warnings. But when I got there, Microsoft's automated system evaluation concluded that I needed some 56MB worth of patches and updates, and there was no way for me determine which were related to this latest, most urgent problem. Meanwhile I'm still living in the age of the 56K modem, and there was no way I could tie up my phone line long enough to download all that stuff. Thankfully Microsoft has now made the patch more accessible, but they sure failed me in this case - twice.

Mantaniskakim! Jan axsaramti!   {Comments: 754}

Welcome to locussolus, Paul Goyette's latest weblog (the previous iteration can be found here). To some extent it will be a continuation of work started elsewhere, but the flavors may change a little. Besides all the technical enhancements (much of the gadgetry has yet to be installed), some interesting projects are in the works, including sections devoted to OuLiPo and the South American language Aymara, occasional travel writing, unguaranteed recipes, quips, barbs, streams of semi-consciousness, and of course the requisite political commentary/pseudo-activism. (Also: whatever should strike my fancy.)

August 12, 2003

Kellogg's paella   {Comments: 0}

The New York Times had this wonderful piece by Arthur Lubow about the burst of culinary creativity in Spain (and especially Catalunya and Pais Basco). Lots of superlative endorsements from famous Chicago chefs, too. The key passage, for me:

Castro brought over a handful of fresh almonds. "Four almonds, very simple: sugared, salted, acid, bitter," Adria explained. "The four basic tastes. For me, it is very sensual, this dish."

Castro said: "It is very simple, and it is also very complex." He dipped an almond in a coating of sugar and handed it to Adria. One bite, and Adria shook his head. He wanted more sugar. "I don't like light tastes," he said to me. "I like tastes...." He snapped his fingers. Then he bit into a newly doctored almond that Castro gave him. "No," he said. "More, more." The third rendition satisfied him. We cleared our palates with a little glass of clear tomato extract, and Castro began salting almonds. "It is either magic or it isn't," Adria said. He added some salt to his almond. ''It makes you reflect, and cuisine should do that. The most important thing is to make people happy, but the second sometimes is to give them something to think about." He drank a little juice and tasted a very sour almond. He nodded vehemently. "That is the limit," he said. "We are seeking the limit." He suggested to Castro that they serve the dish with ice water, rather than tomato extract, so that people will not be distracted from the concept. The four almonds will be presented on a black block. ''White and black, very minimal," Adria said. "Four little things - four basic tastes - and just cold water. People will remember this all their lives."

Looks like roundtrip to BCN is running about $700, direct from O'Hare.
August 7, 2003

Judicious intervention   {Comments: 0}

With Arnold Schwartzenegger, Arianna Huffington, and now Cruz Bustamante putting their names in the recall hat, not much attention has been paid to the California Supreme Court:

Invoking the specter of a Florida-style polling debacle, the governor's lawyers claimed voters will be disenfranchised because counties do not have enough money or time to properly prepare for the October 7 election. They also want the court to allow Davis to add his own name to the list of replacements on the recall ballot - a list that appears to be growing daily. About 300 gubernatorial wannabes have taken out papers in advance of Saturday's official filing deadline.
It's quite possible the court will end this before it gets started - for one thing, it could decide that if Davis is recalled, Bustamante (as Lt Governor) must replace him. But this question of whether Davis's name can appear on the list of candidates to replace him may be the most bizarre development - it would mean that he could be recalled only with a 50%+1 vote against him, but he could be chosen to replace himself with only a plurality, potentially as few as (1/n)%+1 votes in a race with n candidates. Surely he could meet the second standard, even with plummetting numbers. He is, after all, a consummate political actor (if you've written him off already, read this).

MORE: A reader emails the following question:

if you vote no on the recall, are you prohibited from casting a vote for the replacement? if so, that's going to dramatically alter the vote. because, for example, i would vote against the recall, but if i thought that the recall was going to succeed, i would definitely want to vote on the successor, which could cause me to vote for the recall and for my replacement candidate.
As I understand it (and I can't find an article to back this up, unfortunately - the press deluge on this makes searching pretty hard) originally if you voted "no" to the recall, you couldn't vote for a replacement, but apparently that's since been changed. So, now it will ask whether you want Davis recalled, and then it will ask, regardless of what you voted on the first question, who should replace him in the event that he needs replacing. This is one reason Davis is pushing so hard to get his name on that second question - although I suppose it's not a foregone conclusion that folks who voted "no" on the first question would vote for him on the second.

And Haggai Elitzur takes issue with my math:

I'm sure you must be shocked - shocked! - to be hearing it from me (Casablanca reference, re my latest post), but as it is, the math in your latest post about the CA recall is a bit off. You say that the minimum needed to win in a race with n candidates is (1/n)% + 1 votes, but that's incorrect. There are a couple of ways to say it:

(100/n)% + 1

(1/n)V + 1 where V is the total number of votes cast

For instance, if there are only two candidates, and V total votes cast, he doesn't need (1/2)% + 1 votes, he needs (100/2)% + 1, or (1/2)V + 1.

Glad my political economy prof can't see me now...
August 6, 2003

Flashmobs in Chicago   {Comments: 0}

Well, since most of my traffic these days seems to be coming from "chicago+flashmob" searches (you can get the latest by joining the email list here), I guess I should write something more about the whole situation. I don't know how this sort of thing is taking place in other cities, what the organizational backend looks like, etc, but here in Chicago it's marked by unrestrained bickering and grave attention to detail. Both of these things seem to me to be a little outside the spirit of the whole phenomenon, they're the kinds of things one might expect from some kind of politically motivated (or at least x-motivated!) protest, but not so much from a flashmob.

Then again, I'm not entirely sure how to read the phenomenon yet - there seem to be a couple different motivations here for participants, at least among the Chicago incubators. Some would turn flashmobbing into a political statement or tool; others seem to be aiming for a (usually humorous) performance, a kind of public entertainment. The tendency of the most vocal exponents seems to be toward a purely aesthetic experience, almost evangelically absurdist and obsessed with the notion that networking technologies bring about some kind of hive consciousness.

This last idea is the most insupportable - these mobs aren't really mobs at all, because everything has been carefully planned in advance, and someone's in charge. Without some kind of planning or coherent and enforced intelligence behind it, the whole project would fall into chaos, which would not be a flashmob. It makes more sense as some kind of performance art - but who gets to be the aritst?

August 5, 2003

Things which were cast down   {Comments: 0}

Yesterday was shaping up to be a big day for the Episcopal Church, but now the approval process for the first openly gay bishop is mired in allegations of "inappropriate touching" etc. Pretty disappointing, and a disaster for the chuch's progressive image - in a few short hours it went from an institution on the cutting edge of social reform to one approximating the massive problems the Catholic Church has with its clergy. I obviously have no insight into the veracity of the allegations, but they certainly have the whiff of character assassination. It will be interesting to see whether the vote takes place before the end of the convention, or if it is postponed indefinitely.

MORE: I spoke too soon - it turns out the vote will take place later today.

August 4, 2003

Unspeakable   {Comments: 0}

It looks like the comments are no more - apparently what seemed free wasn't, or at least wasn't for very long. I feel especially bad because I know some people began using this service after my referral. In any case, I'm a little too cheap to upgrade right now, but I am working on a solution that should be in play within the week. Unfortunately, it looks like all the old comments will be lost...

In the meantime, feel free to email me if you have comments, I will post them as appropriate.

August 1, 2003

Markets and information   {Comments: 0}

There's more on the terrorism futures market here, from the guy who wrote my intro econ text. Also Haggai links to this article by Joseph Stiglitz in comments.

I find it interesting that everyone has such a negative reaction to the idea of markets as information aggregators. OK, I can understand the revulsion at the possibility that someone would profit from an attack, but as far as making accurate predictions based on the available information, markets are the best tool we have, especially when they're abstracted so that for instance the flow of information (about what's being bought and what's being paid for it) is widely known.

Yes, in the case of some markets, there are equity problems - when you're talking about the markets for housing or grain or Enron stock, there might be information flow impediments or resource distribution problems that lead to an unfair outcome, in some cases to an inefficient outcome. But when you're using a market as an information aggregator, these equity problems (and I do think they can be profound problems) simply aren't relevant.

Americans' attitudes toward markets are bizarre - for instance we don't use them to allocate pollution rights like the Europeans do. This essentially means we have a very inefficient environmental bureaucracy, but everybody has the right to pollute the same amount. Europeans impose taxes, which create a market for pollution, and the rights to pollute are allocated to the people who need them most. This may sound funny, but it means that the companies that can afford it given their cost structure get to do their polluting, while others don't. And since the cost structure depends on demand within the market, the system ends up aggregating the priorities of the citizenry. Setting the tax higher or lower will change the level of extant pollution, so that any acceptable level can be reached. For some reason Americans are caught up on the fairness of allowing one company to pollute more than another based on cost structure - but why are we talking about a "right" to pollute at all? I find this totally baffling.

MORE: PG emails this response (also more here):

Regarding markets and information, I think it's useful to have markets if they create incentive for people to analyze information. But I don't know how we possibly could have a greater incentive to analyze information about terrorist attacks than our fear of death and destruction on American soil. If somebody who wants to make a buck is more incentivized to think hard about available information than the CIA et al are, we need to light a fire (perhaps literally) under the asses of our intelligent people.
I'm not sure death and destruction are th biggest incentive around - the whole idea here is that we're working with the probable and the possible, not the certain. So other certainties, things like the CIA's internal budgeting or personnel peculiarities, may create conflicting incentives. Maybe the fire (perhaps literally) solution is what we need.
Flashmob update   {Comments: 0}

There's some controversy brewing this morning over today's planned first Chicago flashmob. Here are the details (go here to be added to the list):

Time: Fri, Aug 01, 2003 05:30:00 PM
Location: Federal Plaza, Chicago
Assemble at the Calder sculpture (flamingo) by the Post Office. Bring a YELLOW sticky note with you, with the words: Alexander Calder written on it. Place the note somewhere on the sculpture. Leave at exactly 5:35.
I myself can't be there for reasons unrelated, but some are arguing that this isn't "in the spirit" of flash mobs past. For one thing, there is the concern that defacing a statue, especially on federal property, might not be such a good idea. I have to agree - the Federal Plaza is a high security area with makeshift concrete barricades everywhere, not the kind of building I'm going to fuck with...