Classroom Games as Experiments

by Brian on July 15, 2004

I’ve been spending the afternoon alternating between writing a syllabus for a decision theory course and websurfing. So naturally I’ve been drawn to web sites about decision theory and game theory. And I was struck by this question “David Shoemaker”: raises – are games played in the classroom covered by rules on human experimentation?

[click to continue…]

State power and torture

by Henry Farrell on July 15, 2004

From an editorial in the “Washington Post”: today.

bq. According to the International Red Cross, a number of people apparently in U.S. custody are unaccounted for. Most are believed to be held by the CIA in secret facilities outside the United States. Contrary to the Geneva Conventions, the detainees have never been visited by the Red Cross; contrary to U.S. and international law, some reportedly have been subjected to interrogation techniques that most legal authorities regard as torture.

bq. What is known, mostly through leaks to the media, is that several of the CIA’s detainees probably have been tortured — and that a controversial Justice Department opinion defending such abuse was written after the fact to justify the activity. According to reports in The Post, pain medication for Abu Zubaida, who suffered from a gunshot wound in the groin, was manipulated to obtain his cooperation, while Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was subjected to “water boarding,” which causes the sensation of drowning. Notwithstanding the Justice Department opinion, parts of which recently were repudiated by the White House, U.S. personnel responsible for such treatment may be guilty of violating the international Convention Against Torture and U.S. laws related to it.

bq. Nor has the CIA’s illegal behavior been limited to senior al Qaeda militants. The agency has been responsible for interrogating suspects in both Afghanistan and Iraq, and it is believed to have held a number in secret detention facilities. According to official reports, the identities of several in Iraq were deliberately concealed from the Red Cross, a violation of the Geneva Conventions. At least two detainees have died while being interrogated by CIA personnel. One CIA contractor has been charged with assault by the Justice Department in the case of one of the deaths, and at least two other cases are reportedly under investigation. But no higher-ranking CIA officials have been held accountable for the abuses or the decisions that led to them, even though it is now known that former CIA director George J. Tenet was directly involved in the “ghost detainee” cases in Iraq.

bq. The Pentagon and Congress are investigating the Army’s handling of foreign detainees; though they are slow and inadequate, these probes contrast with the almost complete absence of scrutiny of the CIA’s activity.

I’m not especially keen on self-righteous denunciations of the “people of political position _x_ are lying hypocrites unless they immediately denounce _y_” variety. Still, like “Kieran”:, I have enormous difficulty in understanding why sincere, committed US libertarians (with some “exceptions”: ) aren’t up in arms about this sort of thing. It seems to me to be an open-and-shut case of the kinds of state tyranny that libertarians should rightly be concerned about. Why is state-organized torture a less topical issue than state-imposed limits on political free speech, or individual ownership of firearms? If someone has a consistently argued libertarian argument for why the state should be allowed to torture individuals, I’d like to hear it. If someone has a libertarian argument, or indeed any argument at all, for why the state should be allowed to do this with no public scrutiny or accountability, I’d like to hear that even more.

Quickly Around the Blogs

by Brian on July 15, 2004

* It wasn’t intended as a follow-up to our earlier discussion on private vs public health-care performance, but nevertheless in that context it was very helpful for “Chris Shiel”: to link to “this paper”: (PDF) on how well, or as it turns out badly, the US does on health-care outcomes.
* I missed this when it was posted a week ago, but if you’re still interested in this stuff “Geoff Nunberg”: has a very good dissection of that study by Groseclose and Milyo purporting to show liberal media bias.
* And “Ben Bradley”: wants reader input to help choose a murder victim. Purely for academic purposes.

Children’s Literature Literature

by Henry Farrell on July 15, 2004

“John Holbo”: has an interesting post in his ‘John and Belle’ incarnation on superhero comics and nostalgia. His argument, as I understand it is that the classical superhero story is dead – that the ‘straight’ efforts to resurrect it (Michael Chabon’s ‘Escapist’) and the revisionist (Daniel Clowe, Chris Ware) are more closely related than they seem at first sight. They’re exercises in nostalgia, driven by how the “pain of unachieved adulthood contend[s] with hope for redeemed childish innocence.” If we look through the images around which we construct our identities when we are growing up, they provide luminous refractions of our adult complexities.

[click to continue…]


by Chris Bertram on July 15, 2004

I’m just back from a brief holiday in Pembrokeshire where, among other things, I managed to finish Hari Kunzru’s new novel “Transmission”: “Transmission”: is a fairly frothy but sharply observed tale of globalized internet folk which centres around the intertwined lives of Arjun Mehta, a microserf swept from his native India to code in the United States, Guy Swift, a London-based postmodern marketing executive and Leela Zahir, a Bollywood icon. I won’t say more, so as not to spoil it. But if you’ve read his earlier “The Impressionist”: , then I’d say that this one is lighter but, on the whole, more satisfactory. Definitely worth taking to the beach.

Justice in health care

by Chris Bertram on July 15, 2004

Recent postings here on health care expenditure made me think of Ronald Dworkin’s essay “Justice in the Distribution of Health Care” (McGill Law Journal 1993, but also in Clayton and Williams eds, The Ideal of Equality. Dworkin is concerned to ask (a) how much society should spend on health care and (b) how that spending should be distributed. To answer this question he uses an ideal market (as a model, as a thought experiment, mind, he’s not advocating a market-based health care system). Dworkin argues that we should

bq. aim to make collective, social decisions about the quantity and distribution of health care so as to match, as closely as possible, the decisions that people in the community would make for themselves, one by one, in the appropriate circumstances, if they were looking from youth down the course of their lives and trying to decide what risks were worth running in return for not running other kinds of risks.

Dworkin enters three counterfactual modifications to his hypothethical choice situtation.

1. The decisions would be taken against a fair background distribution of resources. [See Dworkin, _Sovereign Virtue_ for his view on this.]

2. The choosers would know everything about risks, costs, procedures etc that very good doctors actually know.

3. Except that the choosers are to be deprived of the knowledge of the antecedent probability of any _particular_ person going down with any particular disease or infirmity. I think Dworkin’s idea here is that they would know about the incidence of a disease such a sickle-cell in the general population, but not, crucially, that blacks are more likely to suffer from it than whites.

Dworkin argues that choosers in that position and subject to those constraints would _not_ think it a good bargain to spend money that they could otherwise spend in their fit and healthy youth on insurance to cover them against some eventualities. In particular:

* Almost no one would injure to provide themselves with equipment to keep them alive if they had lapsed into a persistent vegetative state.

* Almost no one would insure to provide themselves with expensive medical treatment (even life-saving treatment) if they had lapsed into some form of irreversible dementia.

* Almost no one would by cover to extend their lives by a few months when doing so would be very costly and they would enjoy a low quality of life.

In all those cases, and others we can imagine, the cost of the treatment is so high and the expected benefit so low that it would be a poor bargain to buy the insurance rather than spending the money on education, training, travel, fun, whatever, today.

My Irresistible Rise

by Kieran Healy on July 15, 2004

Speaking of “accepting responsibility”:, I am planning to take the credit for “this trend”: (also “pdf”:, to print out and hang on your wall). Go to the “Social Security Administration Website”: and investigate some trends for yourself. See the decline of the Heathers, the sudden, spectactular rise of the Ellas, and the terrible Hillary crash of 1993. Then read Stanley Lieberson’s “A Matter of Taste”: for the sociology.

Burke is back!

by John Holbo on July 15, 2004

Oh, happy day! Timothy Burke is back and blogging after his long hiatus! He’s got a nice post up about alleged third-party infantilism, responding to Henry and others; and a long outline proposal for a new model ’21st Century college’. Now all he needs is a PayPal button to help him raise $500 million; and a comments box for all the feedback he’ll needs to help hone these revolutionary ideas. Allow me to solve half these problems by providing the comments box. (No need to thank me, Tim. It’s the least I could do.)