March 31, 2005

That crystal land   {Comments: 2}

1. Sorry for the lack of content this past week. I've been preoccupied with a number of things, from work to Nabokov to college basketball. Hopefully things will be back to normal next week.

2. I can't find this anywhere online, but at the Hyde Park McDonald's this week a 17-year-old student was arrested by the Chicago police for sitting outside of the designated (segregated?) student area. I'm told there will be a sit-in at the relevant McDonald's (the address is 5220 S. Lake Park) tomorrow at noon.

3. Matt Mullenweg, the founder and developer of WordPress, is apparently gaming Google Adwords by placing content on pages within the site. There's not much difference, to my mind, between this and the Asbestos Blog, but obviously it raises some questions about how power (and revenue) sharing should work at the top of the open source model. The link comes from Jason Kottke, about whose new business model, incidentally, there's an interesting analysis here.

4. And let me just express my disbelief and dismay at the Europeans' failure to fight back on the Wolfowitz nomination. Until a line is drawn, the Bush administration is going to walk all over international institutions and international cooperation; this nomination, thanks to Mr. Wolfowitz's credentials, was the perect place to draw that line. Is it possible opponents were convinced by the rumors that this was a reprieve for Wolfowitz -- that it was a less prestigious position than he wanted?

March 29, 2005

La folie circulaire   {Comments: 0}

This review of the new biography of the late French chef Bernard Loiseau (among other books) makes some interesting generalizations about food writing that would seem to apply equally well elsewhere -- to travel writing, perhaps? and surely to certain forms of blogging. Also, I did not know that the French refer to bipolar disorder as la folie circulaire, but then I've never tried to caramelize a cauliflower either. More here on Loiseau from one of his friends, and my previous note of sympathy.

March 24, 2005

Where Babies Come From   {Comments: 0}

Many are from the Maldives,
southwest of India, and must begin
collecting shells almost immediately.
The larger ones may prefer coconuts.
Survivors move from island to island
hopping over one another and never
looking back. After the typhoons
have had their pick, and the birds of prey
have finished with theirs, the remaining few
must build boats, and in this, of course,
they can have no experience, they build
their boats of plam leaves and vines.
Once the work is completed, they lie down,
thoroughly exhausted and confused,
and a huge wave washes them out to sea.
And that is the last they see of one another.
In their dreams Mama and Papa
are standing on the shore
for what seems like an eternity,
and it is almost always the wrong shore.

--James Tate, 1997

March 23, 2005

Exploited to maximum yield   {Comments: 0}

1. Shanna Compton has some great suggestions for how you can save poetry. This listing of online poetry resources might also help.

2. Here's a piece on Yahoo's recent acquisition of flickr and what some of the grand strategic implications might be. [via]

3. Mithras still has the best reaction I've seen to the whole Terri Schiavo controversy.

4. And finally, Tyler Cowen's forthcoming paper on the allocation of dogs (among other things) might (?) say something about this discussion.

March 22, 2005

Black box   {Comments: 2}

Via apostropher I see this article on neuroeconomics, apparently the latest paradigm for thinking about where basic economic assumptions about rational actors might be going wrong:

Neuroeconomics, while still regarded skeptically by mainstream economists, could be the next big thing in the field. It promises to put economics on a firmer footing by describing people as they really are, not as some oversimplified mathematical model would have them be. Eventually it could help economists design incentives that gently guide people toward making decisions that are in their long-term best interests in everything from labor negotiations to diets to 401(k) plans. Says Harvard University economist David I. Laibson, another leading researcher: "To understand the real foundations of our behavior and our choices, we need to get inside the black box."
I'm not against finding new ways to approach problems, but something bothers me about this. Maybe it's the implicit judgment in this idea that we could help people make "decisions that are in their long term best interests." One of the refreshing things about economics (when it's properly applied) is the assumption that if an individual chooses something, it's because that's what has the most value to her. It's called revealed preference, and it's value neutral (because the individual decides for herself what to value). This isn't to say that traditional economists don't make value judgments (!) -- but it removes a lot of the analytical distance between what we choose and what we should choose.

By the way, neuroeconomics isn't the first stab at these problems with rationality. Richad Thaler, who's briefly mentioned in the article, has done some interesting work on this, albeit with a more traditional economic approach.

MORE: A reader/economist writes in: "Perhaps you don't find it that interesting because it's obvious to you that we use different parts of the brain to make different economic decisions. But to 99% of economists, it's like a revelation. We're conditioned to believe that people make decisions that roughly correspond to maximizing payoffs. But when it's so obviously not the case, like the NHL debacle, we don't know what to say."

Contrived   {Comments: 1}

A reader sends this elegant -- if not very difficult -- chess problem (he calls it Nabokovian). White to move and mate in four:


I'll post a comment with the solution later. Bonus points, of course, for explaining why it's Nabokovian...

Categorical   {Comments: 1}

Congratulations to all those writing at my sister Jackie's TravelBlog, which was mentioned in the Guardian last week as one of the six best travel blogs on the web. It's interesting that travel blogs haven't really taken off the way food blogs have -- is that because we eat more often than we travel?

March 21, 2005

Game theory clinic   {Comments: 1}

This angry piece by Georg Mascolo suggests that the mechanism for naming the head of the World Bank (as well as the IMF, apparently) may be changed as a result of the Bush administration's recent selection. I don't know if the threat has any teeth, but it certainly portends a move away from international institutions by the Europeans. Unilateral action is getting to be the order of the day, and that's not a good thing for the United States, no matter how much you hate the idea of international cooperation.

Meanwhile, here are some striking thoughts about nuclear proliferation in a unipolar world.

MORE: Just to clarify in response to a comment below: I wouldn't say that I agree with Waltz's ideas. But I do like the insight that the dynamic between a single superpower and the rest of the world may have implications for the way we look at questions like nuclear proliferation. From the DPRK's point of view, nukes have brought more stability (security-wise) than anything else they could have done. A serious model has to take that kind of motivation into account and try to address it (rather than just label all proliferators evil).

More and more I'm thinking about nuclear proliferation in the same way I think about the drug war. The unlimited financial resources of the drug war (ie due to addiction-powered demand) aren't there, but the incentives to proliferate nukes are nevertheless enormous, especially in a world where the single superpower has demonstrated its predilection for invasion. The harder we push on proliferators, the bigger the incentives to find some nukes to hold us at bay.

The path of least resistance   {Comments: 2}

It looks like IU basketball coach Mike Davis is back for another season. I've gone back and forth on this through the season, what with the lousy start and then the strong showing for much of the regular season, but in the end I would have been happy starting over. All that politicking for that NCAA bid even after losing the must-win game against Minnesota was pretty disatseful, and typical of what his approach has been both in and out of the locker room. This is a guy who in some ways is actually less mature than Bob Knight -- how else to explain the excuse-making, the blame-laying, and the bizarre way he's handled the press? Sure he's taken IU to the brink of a championship and brought in some great recruits, but it just hasn't been a consistent effort. The one-and-out letdown loss in the NIT this year is a perfect example.

One interesting aside about the announcement coming today is that Knight was slamming Davis earlier in the news cycle: could all the nasty press from the General have somehow contributed to the decision to keep Davis around?

March 19, 2005

Garden Abstract   {Comments: 0}

The apple on its bough is her desire,--
Shining suspension, mimic of the sun.
The bough has caught her breath up, and her voice,
Dumbly articulate in the slant and rise
Of branch above her, blurs her eyes.
She is prisoner of the tree and its green fingers.

And so she comes to dream herself the tree,
The wind possessing her, weaving her young veins,
Holding her to the sky and its quick blue,
Drowning the fever of her hands in sunlight.
She has no memory, nor fear, nor hope
Beyond the grass and shadows at her feet.

--Hart Crane, 1926

March 17, 2005

Intimacy   {Comments: 2}

1. I've just started a flickr account, which you can view here. For now there are a few pictures from my recent trip to Italy, but I expect I'll be putting up some different sorts of things soon. Thanks to Paul McAleer for suggesting I give it a try (and also for pointing out the value of the new customization features on GoogleNews, which I'd just dismissed as fluff).

2. My new copy of the Verse compilation has finally arrived, and so far it looks like a fantastic selection. The book contains a number of poems by folks I've mentioned or quoted here, including bloggers Shanna Compton and Joshua Corey.

3. I've been to this McDonald's on Pushkinskaya Ploshad' a couple times, and it certainly is busy... but what I remember most was the its free, public restroom facilities -- something all too rare in downtown Moscow.

4. And I mentioned this in a comment somewhere, but I wanted to make a public plea: I've been trying to convert my ailing Berkeley DB to MySQL as part of a redesign I'm working on (also possibly an upgrade to MT 3.15) but for some reason about half the comments are getting lost; I've explained the problem more fully here, but it doesn't seem to be a popular topic for discussion. Does anybody have experience with this, or thoughts?

March 16, 2005

Institutional lies   {Comments: 1}

Agreeing entirely with Matthew Yglesias about the nature of international institutions, let me just add one more clarifying wrinkle. The reason there aren't many examples of international institutions constraining "the action of a state in contravention of its vital interests and outside the bounds of power considerations" is that the institutions actually create an environment where those vital interests are in line with the collective interest. That's exactly what international institutions are supposed to do!

One might also think of this in terms of the very "power considerations" Justin Logan implies somehow aren't successful constraints on state action: international institutions are designed specifically to place those power considerations within a transparent structure, so that the rules (and the moves) are plain for all to see. If this means that we're still thinking about power considerations when we decide whether or not to act in an international context, so be it -- but that shouldn't disqualify that influence from being considered a success on the part of the relevant international institution.

March 15, 2005

Now he's more concise   {Comments: 0}

1. Via Nathan Newman, Justice Ginsburg: "Women were lobbying around that issue. The Supreme Court stopped all that by deeming every law -- even the most liberal -- as unconstitutional. That seemed to me not the way courts generally work."

2. Mayor Daley wants to use $700 million worth of traffic cameras to improve the flow of traffic, among other things. I wonder though if the money mightn't be better applied to Craig Berman's vision.

3. And Mark Bittman's column this week, on braising, has me rethinking again my approach to adobo.

March 14, 2005

The market for free news   {Comments: 4}

This New York Times article (which contais an ominous hint that the Times may start charging for its content soon!) stands in stark contrast to this Wired piece by Adam L. Penenberg I linked to last week. The Times article recounts with some dismay the difficulties involved in offering news content for free on the internet, and casts a jealous glance at the Wall Street Journal's online strategy:

Perhaps the biggest obstacle for newspapers is that online readers have been conditioned to expect free news. "Most newspapers believe that if they charged for the Web, the number of users would decline to such an extent that their advertising revenues would decline more than they get from charging users," said Gary B. Pruitt, chairman and chief executive of the McClatchy Company, which publishes The Sacramento Bee, The Star Tribune in Minneapolis and other papers, which do not charge for their Web sites.

The Wall Street Journal experiment suggests the contrary. About 700,000 people subscribe to its online edition, with 300,000 of them subscribing to the Web edition only and 400,000 subscribing to both the online and print editions. The print edition has 1.8 million subscribers.

"If you have strong value, people will pay for it," said Todd H. Larsen, president of consumer electronic publishing for Dow Jones, which owns The Journal. "There is nothing so magical about the Internet that everything has to be free."

Penenberg has a different take on the Journal's long term strategy:
Nevertheless, the Journal faces an intractable problem. Because you have to subscribe to access both current news articles and the archive, the Journal is leaving only a faint footprint in cyberspace. As with The New York Times, which insists that readers register to view news and pay $3 per article in the archive, the Journal barely shows up on Google or any other search engine. I googled "Enron" -- an issue the Journal covered exhaustively, and which two of its reporters even wrote a book about -- and not one article appeared within the first 25 pages (250 results.)


Since most people refuse to pay for WSJ stories, most bloggers are reluctant to link to them. It also has an impact on anyone who uses the web for research -- and there are a lot of us. As importantly, the next generation of readers is growing up by accessing news over the internet, and one place they are not surfing to is With their habits being formed now, there is little chance the Journal will become part of their lives, either now or in the future.

It might not be a surprise, but I'm inclined to agree with Penenberg. For one thing, the Times piece reads a lot like a preemptive justifictaion for a policy change they're about to implement. Obviously I don't know their plans, but if they're going to make a change, it's hard to see where else they're going but a paid subscription model, even if it is a little dissonant with their recent move to acquire

The main problem with the paid subscription model is that it's betting against the growth of the internet as a news source. In light of everything we're seeing these days, isn't it obvious that that's a bad bet? While this approach may pay the bills in the present, it doesn't expand the brand or seize online market share; instead it's a failure of vision that just settles.

An ethical vegetarianism   {Comments: 5}

Caleb McDaniel has a fascinating discussion of a framework ethics for vegetarianism. He's primarily working from Robert Nozick's Anarchy, State, and Utopia, which I unfortunately haven't read, but he works in some interesting insights and questions of his own. Among them:

My question, though, is this: If someone follows Nozick's arguments and examples to the conclusion that Kantianism should apply equally to human beings and animals, would one then need to accept that Nozick's ultraminimalist state should protect animals from animals? If a pack of wolves kills a cow, aren't they using that cow as a means? And, on the putative view that "utilitarianism for animals" is wrong, wouldn't that mean that the wolves are violating the cow's rights?
In this case some of the actors (all the animals) seem to be incapable of acting within any kind of ethical framework. Should that excuse other actors within the system from having to treat them ethically? Caleb goes on to dismiss this line of argument, which acknowledges differences between humans and animals, as undermining the original claim that human and animal rights should equally constrain us.

But don't we treat mentally disabled individuals differently under the law? The fact that they are incapable of acting within the same ethical framework doesn't mean the rest of us are excused from treating them ethcally. I'm certainly not trying to compare the mentally disabled to animals (!) but couldn't the same approach to an impaired ethical faculty apply to animals as well?

No, the real breakdown in this line of argument is that it exposes us to some responsibility to protect those who can't help themselves; in this system that means the animals who are killed by other animals. Unless we're willing to take on this responsibility, the whole idea of Kantianism (ie full constraining rights) for animals falls apart. This is why it seems to me there has to be some separation between human and natural ethics; animals (not the domesticated ones) exist within a natural order that is far from human notions of ethics, and trying to endow them with our own rights can't take that into account. This doesn't mean that we can't find ways to treat them ethically, just that the ethics will have to be more complex and nuanced than simply bestowing inalienable human rights.

March 12, 2005

An Old Song   {Comments: 0}

What she and I had between us once, America
And its hope had; and just as I grieve alternately
For what I know myself to have lost of what had been,
And for all that loss I was suffering all that while
I was doing, I thought, so well, so goes the nation,
Grieving for her hope, either lost, or from the very
Start, a lost cause. All our states and I are one in this.
O my America, my long-lost land lady of
The hardening ground, the house neither ancient nor in
Good repair, the brackish stream, the half-abandoned mill;
The red plastic bucket that hung in the place we kept
By the beach where, I remember, August evenings
Rang with hilarity until we trembled with cold.

--John Hollander, from Powers of Thirteen (see also here)

March 11, 2005

Kasparov resigns   {Comments: 3}

Chess luminary Garry Kasparov announced today that he has retired from professional chess. The news has some personal significance to me not just because I've always considered Kasparov something of a hero (I remember clipping his games with Karpov from the New York Times and playing through them as a child), but also because several of my first posts here were about Kasparov's match with Deep Junior. I remember getting a lot of pleasure out of writing those posts, and also the important (and portentous) realization that I could write about pretty much anything I wanted in a blog context.

Perhaps I'll update this post later with more links; for now the AP article is excellent, although it very diplomatically sidesteps the contoversy surrounding Kasparov's loss to Kramnik in 2000 and his subsequent (and frustrating) attempts to get a rematch.

March 10, 2005

True to form   {Comments: 55}

1. Jordan Ellenberg explains why Kurt Godel and his theorem are overhyped. It's OK, though -- Heidi Bond has found other uses for him.

2. According to Political Wire, the Illinois Democrats have decided not to convert their overwhelming majority status in Illinois by redistricting. Say what you want about the evil Tom Delay, he gets the job done.

3. There's more on the HBS "hack" from Orin Kerr and poweryogi. If this is what it means to hack, then I too am a witch hacker.

4. And via Nathan Newman, here's the United Church of Christ ad that was rejected by CBS and NBC as too controversial.

March 9, 2005

Redacting the agora   {Comments: 82}

I had an interesting experience this morning in the comments to this post over at In the Agora. Basically Josh Claybourn made a couple of snide remarks accusing me of not having read the materials he had posted (including his post), and I ended up accusing him of making ad hominem attacks and said he'd lost a reader.

I probably overreacted, but his response was even more disturbing: he went back and 1) edited both of his remarks to make them sound more reasonable and 2) deleted the part of my comment where I said he'd lost a reader (there was, by the way, no profanity in the comment). Then, he responded to me again based on the revised correspondance. Note that the changes he made weren't noted in any way, despite the fact that my comments were largely responses to the portions he had deleted and/or massaged!

This is, needless to say, not the kind of openness one expects from a blog that fancies itself an agora. I find it discouraging, because I've always had a lot of respect for Josh and the kind of intelligent discussion he seemed to be promoting on his sites. But I sure as hell won't be reading or commenting at ITA anymore after this experience.

March 8, 2005

Lonely information   {Comments: 6}

Harvard Business School has denied admittance to 119 applicants who hacked into the computer system to find out whether they had been admitted or not. Greg at Begging to Differ is concerned that the evidence implicating the hackers might be inconclusive, and he wonders why the server was so insecure. Along the same lines, it would be interesting to know whether each of the applicants hacked in separately, or whether one person was responsible and then told others about the exploit.

Regardless, I'm not entirely convinced that breaking into Harvard's server was unethical in the first place. Nobody was harmed here, and the data must have been pretty easily accessible if 119 people really found it. What about the ethics of storing personal information about students on an insecure server?

UPDATE: Greg has more detail about the nefarious plot, and Don Singleton explains what hacking is for the ignorant Harvard elites. AND: Heidi Bond relates a "hacking" experience of her own.

To entertain and enlighten   {Comments: 0}

1. Jean Veronis compiles some interesting statistical evidence about the number of pages Google indexes in French vis-a-vis some of the other search engines. The provocative conclusion is that Google's strategy seems to be to focus on the English speaking web, while Yahoo and Microsoft are taking a longer view.

2. Thanks to Mithras for pointing out the invaluable MyBlogLog, a simple javascript tool that allows you to see which links on your site get clicked, and how many times. It's simple and free, as long as you don't get too much traffic.

3. Jessa Crispin of Bookslut fame has started a new online food magazine that looks very promising. One of the first articles warns against putting your booze in the freezer on the grounds that getting ice and liquor to an equilibrium temperature is central to cocktail-making. I say OK, but what if you want to do vodka shots?

4. In light of this post, here's an article about a fourth grader who recently began identifying as a male rather than as a female, with his parents' blessing. Said the school superintendent: "There is a medical condition that exists here, and this is not something irresponsible on the part of the parents. These are wonderful parents who care very, very deeply about their child."

5. And congratulations to Barrett over at Too Many Chefs -- his Mexican black bean tart recipe (which I'm lucky enough to have tasted, and it's delicious) made it into this article on food blogs in the Tennessean.

March 7, 2005

Absolute lyricism   {Comments: 0}

I learned this weekend that one of my comparative literature advisors at IU had her last moments in January. Mostly I remember her for some wounding (but accurate) insights into my lack of direction as a student. But after leaving school I encountered Ilinca Zarifopol Johnston again, this time as the translator of a couple works by E. M. Cioran, whose absolute lyricism I came to love. Here's an excerpt from one of her translations:

I would like to explode, flow, crumble into dust, and my disintegration would be my masterpiece. I would like to melt in the world and for the world to melt orgasmically in me and thus in our delirium to engender an apocalyptic dream, strange and grandiose like all crepuscular visions. Let our dream bring forth mysterious splendors and triumphant shadows, let a general conflagration swallow the world, and let its flames generate crepuscular pleasures as intricate as death and as fascinating as nothingness. Lyricism reaches its ultimate form of expression only through delirium. Absolute lyricism is the lyricism of last moments.
--E. M. Cioran, from On the Heights of Despair
Loopholes and exemptions   {Comments: 1}

Josh Claybourn has a post defending the Clear Skies Act, but he doesn't say anything about New Source Review (NSR). This might be because the bulk of the changes to NSR have happened over the past couple years, so that the provisions in Clear Skies that create loopholes for power plants don't make all that much difference -- the plants can pretty much do what they want already.

Basically under NSR there are strict limits on how much pollution a given plant can produce; these limits, however, only apply to new plants -- plants that were running long before the existence legislation was enacted don't have to comply with the limits. The idea is that older plants are too expensive to upgrade, so they can be exempt until they are retired, which should be relatively soon anyway, since they're old. But many of these old plants are being kept running much longer than their intended lifespans, because the companies running them have found that it's cheaper to maintain the plants even in their sorry, dilapidated shape than it would be to build new plants that comply with the regulations or initiate massive retrofittings.

The Bush administration's rule changes have increased these limits, strengthening incentives to maintain old plants rather than build new ones; the Clear Skies Act virtually eliminates them. Taken together, these moves are a huge backwards step, custom tailored to protect the interests of big industry, but by encouraging the use of old technology. By any standard, it's a policy disaster.

March 6, 2005

The glory of old IU   {Comments: 2}

For most of this season, I've been tuning in to root against the Illinois men's basketball team, despite the fact that they're practically the home town team here in Chicago, and despite the fact that I have a lot of friends and family (mostly the inlaws) who went to U of I. There's a simple reason for this. It just so happens that the last team to go undefeated for an entire season (including the playoffs) was from Indiana University, way back in 1976 (which was also the year of my birth, incidentally). This evening I'm happy to report that the record will remain intact, thanks to the OSU team that beat the Illini this afternoon. It means I can finally start rooting for Illinois, now that they're no longer playing against (historically speaking) my Hoosiers.

Buyer's remorse   {Comments: 0}

In October I wrote about Daley's deal with Cintra-Macquarie to privatize the Chicago Skyway. Since then I've had the chance to travel the Skyway a couple times since the changes -- most recently this evening -- and I'm not at all happy with them. As expected, the prices have increased; but at the same time the number of toll stations open at any given time seems to have decreased -- the result being that there are lines much longer than any I've encountered there before absent an accident or other aggravating traffic disruption.

Of course, there may be good reasons for elminating some of the toll collectors; Cintra-Macquarie probably ran an analysis of toll collectors' salaries and the elasticity of Skyway demand and found that the current configuration was more efficient. The problem is that this misses the value to drivers of not having to wait at toll booths -- a value that a government analysis might actually take into account. As things are, Cintra-Macquarie more or less owns the difference in time/efficiency between taking the Skyway and taking another route, a difference that can now be extracted from the driving public in longer lines and higher tolls.

Beyond good and evil   {Comments: 2}

For whatever reason, Google seems to be back to normal, at least for queries on topics covered on this site. Were they just experimenting? If you missed the anomalies, you can read my post here, and there's been more on this since from Mark Liberman and Jean Veronis.

March 4, 2005

kitchenette building   {Comments: 1}

We are things of dry hours and involuntary plan,
Grayed in, and gray. "Dream" makes a giddy sound, not strong
Like "rent," "feeding a wife," "satisfying a man."

But could a dream send up through onion fumes
Its white and violet, fight with fried potatoes
And yesterday's garbage ripening in the hall,
Flutter, or sing an aria down these rooms

Even if we were willing to let it in,
Had time to warm it, keep it very clean,
Anticipate a message, let it begin?

We wonder. But not well! not for a minute!
Since Number Five is out of the bathroom now,
We think of lukewarm water, hope to get in it.

--Gwendolyn Brooks, from A Street in Bronzeville

March 3, 2005

The essence of bullshit   {Comments: 2}

Slate has been great this week. Here's Timothy Noah on the nature of bullshit, taking Harry Frankfurt's (!) ideas for a little bit of a political spin. Frankfurt's insight is basically that bullshit is a process, a sort of mode of discourse that just doesn't have any regard for the truth. As such, some bullshitting can even be true -- it's just that the bullshitter doesn't really care.

I haven't read Frankfurt, but in this presentation he seems to be a little bit lacking -- where, for instance, does he account for fiction? I suppose he could group fiction in with lies if he thinks fiction writers are deliberate, or with truth if he thinks they're trying to transcend; but all this seems a little naive to me, and fiction sounds an awful lot like bullshit. And of course, not too many years ago, I argued vehemently against any notion of truth at all (these days the fight's gone out of me some), which would seem to be a requirement under Frankfurt's rubric. Does this mean I was bullshitting? Or maybe my starting point, paired with Frankfurt, just leads to the inevitable conclusion that everything is bullshit... which, of course, it is!

One other bullshit definition of mine from college: that it's not bullshit if you can pull it off. It's rather like Frankfurt, except that the relevant attitude is found in the reader/recipient rather than the originator. This pith always seemed to me to be the key operator in the humanities -- but please note that this never bothered me at all (about which please see the previous paragraph).

Advertising strategies   {Comments: 0}

Here's an instance of eBay being used to sell ad space on the back of a telephone book. Not particularly noteworthy, maybe, but it does remind me of Michael Bassik's great post on Blogads (my post here) in which he suggested letting the market set prices. In the case above (telephone book) the seller went with eBay precisely because he was having trouble determining an appropriate price -- a frustrating circumstance which happens to apply to just about every blogger selling ad space.

Someone recently suggested to me that selling ads on eBay would yield a bunch of pharmaceutical or porn ads. This is possible, but my guess is that auctions would actually bring in ads that were more content-relevant, since these would be likely to have more value to the relevant advertiser, who could therefore bid higher. Also, eBay is the perfect platform for dealing with small-scale and local advertising, since the transaction costs are so tiny.

I'm not going to start advertising on locussolus. But if I had a blog with more focused content (and I've been thinking seriously about getting a group blog about Oak Park started -- let me know if you're interested), I'd put a separate page up detailing the advertising slots available and link from there to an eBay auction for each slot. And if I were the first to do it, I'd probably generate a lot of attention...

March 2, 2005

Nothing but the rain   {Comments: 2}

Baude mentions the Moscow mayor's penchant for weather modification, reminding me of this old post. As you can see, the practice isn't limited to local government; and Russia seems to be the world leader in cloud seeding, whether it's for fixing the weather or clearing the air. Of course, American scientists played with this stuff too, but they gave up after coming to this brilliant conclusion:

The United States and Russia began seeding clouds with silver iodide 50 years ago to increase local rainfall. The U.S. even used cloud seeding to flood the Ho Chi Minh trail during the Vietnam war. But the U.S. government quit trying to change the weather in the 1970s after scientists decided it couldn’t be done. "The problem is the weather changes you try and achieve by cloud seeding or other methods happen naturally all the time," says NOAA’s Hugh Willoughby, "And you can't know the difference."
Yeah, I'm pretty sure I could tell you the difference with some accurate experimental data and a copy of SPSS -- and clearly, the Russians have already done this. I'm not sure if it's good public policy or not, but the Russians seem to have come up with some useful applications... there's something so romantic (utopian?) about the magnificent scale and audacity of the totalitarian attitude toward science and technology.
March 1, 2005

The market for higher education   {Comments: 0}

Clancy at Culture Cat mentions a proposal they're looking at in Minnesota that would tie a big chunk of the funding of state universities to the number of students enrolled there. There's more about the proposal here and here -- it looks like it's modeled after a new program in Colorado. And of course there are strong overtones of Bush's ownership society.

It reminds me a lot of a program they implemented within the university itself when I was an undergrad at Indiana University: funding for departments and schools was allocated based on how many studenst were enrolled in a particular department or school's classes. The program was called responsibility centered management, and it had a couple of interesting results: first, funding quickly moved away from arts and sciences toward the business and policy schools; and second, many different departments began to offer and advertise their own version of key classes like statistics or introductory writing. (I also expect there were changes in major requirements to reduce the number of electives allowed.) As funding shifted, many of IU's highly regarded humanities departments have declined or even (in the case of my beloved comparative literature department, which has always had trouble differentiating itself from English) closed up shop.

Are the two situations analogous? It seems likely money will be drawn away from major research institutions in favor of trade schools or schools that focus on teaching -- not a good thing, since having a respected research institution in Minnesota is important for (among other things) economic growth. And as above, I'd expect to see funds flowing away from arts and sciences toward trade schools, since schools will have an incentive to promote programs that are going to bring in students; the results will be similar.

One interesting and perhaps unintended consequence of the change will be a new constituency -- students:

"In the future, if the Legislature wants to cut higher education funding, they're actually going to have to take 300,000 students' stipend and reduce the amount," O'Donnell said. "And those 300,000 students are going to see very clearly what's happening and the consequences of that. And I think it's going to make them a very vocal constituency for the state to keep investing in higher ed."
This is just what the engineers of the Social Security program did when they institutionalized that entitlement -- once you do implement a program like this, it's political suicide to go back. If the goal is to make the system more accountable and responsive to students, there's little doubt it will be achieved.

UPDATED to correct the spelling of Minnesota -- it completely blows my mind that I managed to publish that with "Minisota" in the first graf...

Quick hits   {Comments: 5}

1. Is the Wall Street Journal really in danger of becoming irrelevant? [via]

2. Lenka Reznicek on Taylor Ham: "There is no substitute for real pork roll, and outside of its geographic home one must sagaciously seek out proper channels to obtain a taste."

3. In case you haven't seen it, here's Christopher Hitchens asking about voting irregularities in Ohio. A friend (in an email) describes the irony of our passive acceptance of election results: "It's a curious thing that this country's democratic values are ingrained so deeply that it actually has the effect of subverting democracy in this case."

4. And here's a nice profile of Susan Polgar, the top ranked woman chess player in the world. The teaser at the top suggests the piece will have some insight into why so few women compete at the very top levels of chess, but I didn't learn anything new on that front. Perhaps this is the deterrent? More about Susan Polgar and her sister Judit here.