by Henry on November 22, 2004

Another new blog that deserves some attention – “IP-Watch”:http://www.ip-watch.org/, monitoring “the behind the scenes dynamics” of intellectual property. The politics of intellectual property is exceptionally murky and non-transparent – dubious deals done at the international level which are then presented as _faits accomplis_ to national publics. IP-Watch starts with a “particularly good account”:http://www.ip-watch.org/weblog/index.php?p=10&res=1280&print=0 of the shenanigans over the recent broadcasting negotiations. One worth visiting regularly.

Update: via “BoingBoing”:http://www.boingboing.net/2004/11/22/copyrights_are_award.html, Jamie Boyle has written a nice “polemic”:http://news.ft.com/cms/s/4cd4941e-3cab-11d9-bb7b-00000e2511c8.html for the FT on how intellectual property policy is made.

Lojack as a collective good

by Henry on November 22, 2004

My wife and I just bought our first jointly owned car – when we were negotiating the final details at the car dealership, they tried to use the hard sell to get us to buy “Lojack”:http://www.lojack.com, a vehicle recovery system. We didn’t bite (I don’t like hard sells), but I got to thinking afterwards that buying Lojack would have been an economically irrational contribution to a collective good (which is not to say, of course, that it would have been the wrong thing to do).

The system involves a difficult-to-detect tracer that’s put somewhere in your car – then, if the car is stolen, the police will have a much greater chance of recovering it and catching the thieves. The catch is, of course, that it doesn’t offer any visible deterrent to stealing your car – your only individual benefit is the somewhat dubious reward of getting your vehicle back, perhaps in several pieces after it’s been to the chopshop. However, Lojack offers real collective benefits if it works as the manufacturers claim. If you live in an area where there are lots of Lojack users, then car thieves are likely to be collectively deterred (or caught if they aren’t deterred).

The problem is, of course, that there will be a strong likelihood of underprovision of the collective good. If you live in a neighbourhood where there are lots of other Lojack users, then you have little incentive to buy it yourself – you can free ride on your neighbours. If you live in a neighborhood with few or no Lojack users, you still have little incentive to buy it – the marginal improvement that you make to general neighborhood security is of little value to you, compared to the substantial dollop of cash that you would have to pay to install Lojack. My musings came to an abrupt halt, however, when a Google search revealed that my clever idea had already been “written up”:http://www.nber.org/papers/w5928 several years ago by Ian Ayres and Steven Levitt, who suggest that individual Lojack users get less than 10% of its total social benefits (I note for the record that Levitt not only comes up with fun ideas, which is no more than any decent blogger or punter can do; he really excels in finding unusual data sources to test those ideas). As Ayres and Levitt suggest, if you’re an economically rational actor, you should go instead for the Club, which shifts the risk from your car to your neighbour’s.

Welcome back, Bill G.

by Ted on November 22, 2004

Regular Crooked Timber readers will remember Bill Gardner, who joined us as a guest blogger immediately before and during the election to describe the scene on the ground in Ohio.

The bug has bitten him, and he’s started a blog called Maternal & Child Health, about the health of children and their parents. Says Bill:

I want to spur discussion on a broad range of topics in this area. The struggle to improve the health of children and families involves the disciplines of medicine, public health, the social and behavior sciences, economics, the information sciences, and the law.

I hope to provide a forum for discussion among both specialists and laypersons about what determines parental and child health, and how we can improve it. I hope to see discussion of how the health system works at every level, from international public health to the interaction of clinicians and families in an office visit. I would love it if any of the Crooked Timber readership would visit and comment.

These sort of blogs, like the Public Health Press, are rare in that they generate a lot more light than heat. I hope that Bill enjoys himself.

Club Du Livre D’Anticipation

by John Holbo on November 22, 2004

What can we do to get our BoingBoing on (since the kids all love that BoingBoing feeling)?

Here’s a link to a French SF site, Noosphere; but I’ll hustle you through the front door straight to the very best stuff: scans – covers and insides – from a series entitled Club Du Livre D’Anticipation. If you can’t read French (which is really just a mixed-up form of English, so give it a try) this page explains that this was a series of translations of classic English language SF, which you would have figured out anyway. It’s all here: Asimov, Van Vogt, C. S. Lewis, Heinlein, Hamilton, Dick, Moorcock, Smith, Farmer, Sturgeon, Brunner, Butler, Niven, on and on. Pages and pages of mostly charming, Gallic-style illustrations to accompany old familiar titles. Much Metal Hurlant-style goodness. The titles are fun, too. A la Poursuite des Slan. (Not sure what was wrong with plain Slan.) En Attendant l’Année Dernière. (That’s Now Wait For Last Year, but the other way sounds more Proustian than paranoid, no?)

Which is your favorite of the lot?

I’ll just presume to point out a few choice bits from elsewhere in the site. The 17 pages of Ace SF doubles are worth checking. In other news, George Clooney is The Demolished Man. These funny little guns are funny. Conan as you’ve never imagined him. A couple of the Italian covers give you that Gina Lollobrigida in space feeling. Nice horizon on that one.

My top pick is Salome, My First 2,000 Years of Love, by Viereck and Eldridge. The cover is so-so, but I delight in lavish blurbs by famous authors on cheesy editions from unknown authors. Here Thomas Mann does not disappoint: "A great book … a monumental conception … amazingly rich in world vision and in sensuous pictures." That Thomas Mann? Off to Amazon we go. All is explained, more or less. A repackaging of sorts. Sounds strangely fascinating. Does anyone know anything more about it?

Child malnutrition in Iraq

by Chris Bertram on November 22, 2004

One of the points made most insistently by critics of the Lancet study was that they disbelieved the claim that infant mortality had increased since the war. Heiko, a contributor to “one of Dsquared’s threads”:https://www.crookedtimber.org/archives/002780.html , wrote: “I do believe infant mortality may have dropped (though maybe not halved as yet), because a lot of things are available now that weren’t before the war.” The Washington Post “has now published an article”:http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A809-2004Nov20.html suggesting that there has been a dramatic rise in child malnutrition since the war:

bq. Acute malnutrition among young children in Iraq has nearly doubled since the United States led an invasion of the country 20 months ago, according to surveys by the United Nations, aid agencies and the interim Iraqi government.

bq. After the rate of acute malnutrition among children younger than 5 steadily declined to 4 percent two years ago, it shot up to 7.7 percent this year, according to a study conducted by Iraq’s Health Ministry in cooperation with Norway’s Institute for Applied International Studies and the U.N. Development Program. The new figure translates to roughly 400,000 Iraqi children suffering from “wasting,” a condition characterized by chronic diarrhea and dangerous deficiencies of protein.

The article makes grim reading for anyone concerned about winning the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people:

bq. “Believe me, we thought a magic thing would happen” with the fall of Hussein and the start of the U.S.-led occupation, said an administrator at Baghdad’s Central Teaching Hospital for Pediatrics. “So we’re surprised that nothing has been done. And people talk now about how the days of Saddam were very nice,” the official said.

Paper tigers ?

by John Quiggin on November 22, 2004

The other day, I went to see Cry of the Snow Lion, about the Tibetan independence struggle. The film was interesting and well worth seeing, and jogged me to start on a post I’ve been meaning to write for some time on the question: How long can the current Chinese government survive?

It struck me, after watching the film, that the closest parallel is with the last days of the Suharto period in Indonesia. Among the themes suggested to me were

* the decay of Communist ideology, and its replacement by a vague (ethnic Han) nationalism, bolstered by, and dependent on, rapid economic growth

* the rise of faceless nonentities like Hu Jintao to replace monstrous giants like Mao

* the role of the People’s Liberation Army in a range of business ventures

* transmigration programs of Han Chinese into Tibet and other minority areas

Just like Golkar in its latter days, the Communist Party has no real class base, no compelling ideological claim to power, and a rapidly depreciating “mandate of heaven” derived from the revolutionary period. Its 60 million members are now, for the most part, mere card-carriers. And although the party and army leaders have their fingers in plenty of business pies, they don’t constitute an effective management committee of the ruling class. Rather they are a backward and parasitic component of that class.

All of this, it seems to me, is symptomatic of a regime that appears immovable, but may collapse like a house of cards given the appropriate push, which may come either from an economic crisis or from a succession crisis, if Hu runs into some trouble or other. The results of this may not be pretty, and could be extremely dangerous for world peace, but I conjecture that they will eventually include Tibetan independence.

I’d be interested if anyone can point me to an analysis that would tend either to confirm or refute the one I’ve proposed above.

My Semi-Conscious Mind

by Kieran Healy on November 22, 2004

Following on from “last week’s case”:https://www.crookedtimber.org/archives/002867.html, which was concerned with the ontological argument, this week’s nutter in “Laurie’s”:http://www.u.arizona.edu/~lapaul Inbox gives us the complete and comprehensive solution to consciousness and morality, two perennial favorites.

*The Essay       (Forward this to all!)*
[Name Redacted to Protect the Innocent]
This universe is filled with atoms, unified into clusters or systems. They make up all things of matter from rocks to humans. All things of matter are either unconscious (a.k.a dead/ non living), semi- conscious (partially conscious), or fully conscious. Intelligence is the ability to be conscious. If one conceives, then one also sees an amount of right and wrong. One always does what one truly conceives is right.  When one does not conceive what is right, then one is blind and may do wrong. Right and wrong will always exist as long as life exists. …

Emphasis in the original, naturally. Onward:

The condition of being unconscious is having no consciousness of all the worlds components, including right and wrong, at any given point in time (not being aware of anything) … The condition of semi-consciousness is defined as not fully conceiving the world at any point in time. … The condition of being fully conscious is being conscious of everything in existence at any point in time, past, present, and future (a.k.a all knowing). … *The more conscious one is, the more likely one would be to make righteous decisions. The less conscious one is, the more likely one would be to make wrongful decisions.* The humans living on Earth, and all other living beings on Earth are not fully conscious.

The following are not rules. They are statements that are *facts* (not mere philosophies) that my semi-conscious mind has conceived. …

You can’t make this stuff up. Apart from the semi-consciousness, I like the insistence on facts. Reminds me of the work of “another philosopher”:http://hitch14.tripod.com/chapter_25.htm: “I am Vroomfondel, and that is not a demand, that is a solid fact! What we demand is solid facts!”