Elsewhere on the Interweb (8/27/08)

I have been meaning to update about this, but Presh at Mind Your Decisions blog discusses another example of Game Theory in the movie the Dark Knight. He talks about the first scene where the robbers are let us say vigorously arguing about the division of the spoils from a bank heist:

The robbers don't like that the Joker gets an equal share for doing unequal work. Their complaint raises the issue of fair division, which is central to game theory. In fact, fair division is the first problem that game theory addressed historically. The problem appears in the Babylonian Talmud about how creditors should divide an estate. The text offers a mysterious solution that had baffled scholars for over 2,000 years. It was only very recently that a Nobel Laureate economist deciphered the answer using the tools of coalitional game theory. Let me tell you, the answer is fascinating.

Fair division is about understanding incentives and strategic thought. How can you trust self-interested people? How can you achieve cooperative outcomes with diametrically opposed motives? Such ideas have been applied to important areas such as nuclear disarmament and labor negotiations. But they are even applicable to mundane situations, like dividing up restaurant bills fairly.

The robbers accept an equal division for unequal work, but should they believe things will go as planned? Perhaps they should not, if they really considered the incentives and the possible ways others could tamper with the plan. In game theory you do not trust someone because they are your friend. You trust them because it is in their self-interest to help you. We can learn from a natural example: children should trust their parents on safety rules because parents have a vested interest in seeing their children are safe. They should not, however, trust strangers.

Had the robbers considered these issues, perhaps their fate would have been different. A little bit of thinking ahead and reasoning backwards would have demonstrated flaws in the plan.

In the spirit of cynicism, Andrew J. Bacevich -- a historian at Boston University -- argues in the LA Times that whoever is elected president, we shouldn't expect huge changes in how domestic or foreign policy is conducted:

Above all, there is this: The rest of the world doesn't take its marching orders from Washington and won't, no matter who happens to be president next year. Governments will respond to American advice, threats or blandishments precisely to the extent that doing so serves their interests, and no further. This alone sharply restricts what Bush's successor will be able to accomplish, whether dealing with allies such as Israel and Pakistan or with adversaries such as Iran and North Korea.

Will the tone and tenor of American diplomacy under either a President Obama or a President McCain differ from what we have seen over the last seven years? Yes, and probably in ways that most nations -- and many Americans -- will welcome. But no matter how much charisma or straight talk emanates from the White House, the world will remain stubbornly intractable.

One more reason to run. A comparison of participants in a runner's club with their non-running peers -- all over the age of 50 -- showed at the end of a 19 year period "15% of runners had died compared with 34% of controls." The story is covered here. The actual article is here.

Finally, someone bothered to break down what body parts were most mentioned in songs in different genres. The verdict: the eyes. Except in hip-hop. For hip-hop, it's the booty:

As for the genre that talks about body parts the most, hip hop takes the honors with more references than any other genre. Meanwhile, gospel refers to the body the least. There are plenty of other data points to peruse. It's nice to know that 23.64 percent of hip hop songs refer to the behind, while 11.83 percent of rock songs talk about eyes.

The DNC platform includes a provision for doubling science funding (again). Let's hope that this time someone bothers to consider the negative consequences of funding instability.

History lesson: RealClearPolitics lists the top ten political convention moments.

Read the whole thing.


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