Monday, March 31, 2008

Similarities between bookstores and restaurants?

Tyler Cowen writes

It's related to why most trendy restaurants peak in the first year and a half of their operation, followed by decline and then stagnation. Once they have a high enough (and sticky enough) reputation, it is time to cash in and lower the quality of the product to the informed and more sophisticated buyers.
Maybe that's why I'm less than impressed by many of the "nice" restaurants we go to, and why the surprises we unearth are always far less appealing after a few visits. Basically, by the time you've heard of this place on a few blogs, it's not that good anymore. :<

Why home prices may not fall

I've mentioned a couple of times to friends that I'm waiting for home prices to fall with bust(/boom) cycle of the stock market and the economy. I've been told, it could take as many as 3 years. David Leonhardt suggests that it may take a while. Basically, when housing prices begin to fall, the fall in value is hidden by a decrease in volumes instead. Why? Because

"dropping the asking price below their purchase price — is especially difficult. It’s tantamount to admitting defeat."

So, I'll just have to keep waiting then...

Read: Gang Leader for a Day

A bit of a tease - It's an easy read for people who don't know much about race politics and drug crime in the US (but are interested), but ultimately I'm disappointed in the ending. It reads like a teen story, including the rushed ending that doesn't give closure. But then again, that's probably what real-life gets you.

One Eye Click

We picked our photographer! Our helpful venue executive from the Arts House, Lynne, mentioned that there was a photographer couple also planning their wedding and that was it. Their photography is beautiful, and we later found out more about their concept of personalized wedding photography shots, but that wasn't what really set them apart from everyone else.

What really impressed me was that I didn't feel like they were out to ding us to death with additional charges. What Terry was giving us in the package was almost everything we needed - compared with other photographers who had cheap basic packages that almost required us to top-up. More importantly, for the couple of things we wanted extra, he was very clear about how he would charge us, and what the components of those costs were.

Good stuff... can't wait!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Blame Game

A rather long post arising from a very fruitful Philosophy on Tap session today at LogicMills, with Professor Kyle Swan from NUS. (Apparently he blogs here.)


An extract from the Onion.

Won't you join me in this ongoing effort to foster an imperceptible improvement to this doomed and dying planet? You'll be rewarded with the knowledge that, despite the irreversible effects of centuries of sustained environmental abuse by the human race, individuals, working together, can fight this inevitability in a real, concrete, tiny, and totally ineffective show of unity.

Together, we can make an unbelievably negligible difference.

So who's to blame for global warming? Dr Swan took us through several examples of the difficulties in assigning blame in large groups.

Example 1: Overdetermination

John and Alice are beating up Henry. If John stops beating Henry, Alice will beat him up twice as hard so that the net effect is the same as both of them are beating up Henry - therefore, John's actions do not harm Henry and are not bad.

Example 2: Beans
10,000 villagers each have 10,000 beans. 10,000 bandits want to rob them. If each bandit stole all the beans from a different villager, we'd have 10,000 starving villagers and for each villager we could blame 1 bandit. If each bandit stole 1 bean from each villager, we'd have 10,000 starving villagers. But since 1 bean would have only a negligible effect on each villager's welfare, no villager could point to any bandit and say that he was the cause of their misery.

Example 3: Threshold
If each test of nukes put 2 units of strontium into the atmosphere, and the atmosphere could only sustain 3.99 units per month - after country A has tested a nuke, if country B tests a nuke and the environment went into meltdown, who do we blame, A or B. And if afterwards, C came forward and tested another nuke, and the environment is no worse, do we not blame C?

Internal Thoughts
Well, there were more examples than that. Nevertheless, moving into internal thoughts on the discussions, I conclude that:

  1. To me, evaluating the blameworthiness of an act cannot be divorced clearly from the intention. Prof Swan gave an interesting counter-example to this - if he intended to kill Mark (our gracious host), and proceeded to use an ineffectual (to our own knowledge) voodoo curse to make his attempt, we can blame his bad character and laugh at his superstition, but cannot "blame" (as in punish?) him for the attempt. On the other hand, a more controversial example - if I was shown a masked man, told he was a good man, and ordered to shoot him, and I complied. And the masked man turned out to be a sack of potatoes, Prof Swan thought that was not a bad act, whereas most of the people did... Anyway, I'm thinking that normatively, intention should be our guide.
  2. That doesn't quite mean that unintentioned harm should go unblamed. For instance, I may throw rocks at a window without expecting to break it. Nonetheless, there is a chance I may break it due to my negligence. So in a sense omission or negligence needs to be factored in in weighing intentions of actions with bad consequences. We discussed the case of Summers vs Tice in this area. I thought that they were both blameworthy, but normatively you should have jointly punished them along with every other person who had every fired shotguns negligently and not hurt anyone - which in retrospect is quite close to what happened with the asbestos cases mentioned in the wiki.
  3. This also means that to me, in the nukes case, all the nations are blameworthy, simply because they had the responsibility to negotiate and work out a testing schedule. I'm not sure yet if this blame extends to non-nuclear countries sharing the space. I tend to favour a proactive stance so I would think it does.
As an interesting aside - if you think that consequences are the most important thing, then here's a strange problem.

  1. Premise: Killing is wrong. Damaging a corpse is not wrong.
  2. Therefore: if a person has been killed already, then if I stab his corpse, whether or not I know he is already dead, I am not blameworthy.
  3. Situation 1: Soldiers A and B in a firing squad shoot a man (who doesn't deserve to die). A fires just a nanosecond earlier and his bullet instantly kills the man so that B's bullet hits a corpse. B is not wrong.
  4. Situation 2: Same as above, but B's weapon is more powerful and his bullet arrives first and instantly kills the man. A's bullet hits a corpse, he is not wrong.

Intuitively this seems wrong to me - doesn't it seem wrong to you?

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Now reading: Gang Leader for a Day

Sudhir Venkatesh - if the name's not familiar, cast your mind back to the curious chapter in Freakonomics about a sociologist studying crack cocaine gangs in Chicago... So yes, I saw this in Kino and bought in on an impulse last week Tuesday - without realising there was a sale this weekend.

Books read: New Ideas from Dead Economists

New Ideas from Dead Economists, by Todd G. Buchholz.

An interesting introduction to key economic ideas for non-economists like me. It's not very deep on insight, but Buchholz spices it up with a lot of weird, weird analogies and strange puns, and cute anecdotes about the various dead economists he draws from.

Not a book I'd read a second time, but decent, yes.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Happy Ever After

We think we've met the right gown designer..