Life Imitates Danny the Dealer

by Henry on December 22, 2008

The “Washington Post”:

This season’s animatronic Baby Alive — which retails for $59.99 — comes with special “green beans” and “bananas” that, once fed to the doll, actually, well, come out the other end. “Be careful,” reads the doll’s promotional literature, “just like real life, sometimes she can hold it until she gets to the ‘potty’ and sometimes she can’t!” (A warning on the back of the box reads: “May stain some surfaces.”) …

_Withnail and I_ some twenty-two years ago (or forty, depending on how you want to measure time):

I missed this bit of DC think-tank inside-baseball yesterday. Matt Yglesias wrote something critical about Third Way:

Third Way is a neat organization — I used to work across the hall from them. And they do a lot of clever messaging stuff that a lot of candidates find very useful. But their domestic policy agenda is hyper-timid incrementalist bullshit.

Shortly thereafter, GlaDOS Jennifer Palmieri of the Center for American progress appeared from behind the scenes and posted to Matt’s blog:

This is Jennifer Palmieri, acting CEO of the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

Most readers know that the views expressed on Matt’s blog are his own and don’t always reflect the views of the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Such is the case with regard to Matt’s comments about Third Way. Our institution has partnered with Third Way on a number of important projects … and have a great deal of respect for their critical thinking and excellent work product. They are key leaders in the progressive movement and we look forward to working with them in the future.

Whoops. We are throwing a party in honor of your tremendous success. Please place the device on the ground, then lie on your stomach with your arms at your sides. A party associate will arrive shortly to collect you for your party.

Things now seem to have returned to normal, with “weak tea” metaphors substituting for that stuff about “timid incrementalist bullshit.”

Where is the love?

by Maria on December 22, 2008

Ugh, I feel ill. I had been mellowing on Pope Benedict. It’s hard (not to mention wrong) to keep hating on someone you pray out loud for every Sunday. But now he comes out with this: ‘saving humanity from homosexual or transsexual behaviour is just as important as saving the rain forest from destruction’.

“(The Church) should also protect man from the destruction of himself. A sort of ecology of man is needed,” the pontiff said in a holiday address to the Curia, the Vatican’s central administration. “The tropical forests do deserve our protection. But man, as a creature, does not deserve any less.” The Catholic Church teaches that while homosexuality is not sinful, homosexual acts are. It opposes gay marriage and, in October, a leading Vatican official called homosexuality “a deviation, an irregularity, a wound”. The pope said humanity needed to “listen to the language of creation” to understand the intended roles of man and woman. He compared behaviour beyond traditional heterosexual relations as “a destruction of God’s work”. [click to continue…]

Applying Philosophy

by Harry on December 22, 2008

Anyone who’s going to be at the Eastern Division APA meetings this year shouldn’t miss the Society for Applied Philosophy session “Applying Philosophy” with Virginia Held and Adam Swift. It’s on the Monday morning at 11.15 am. Any session at the APA faces a lot of competition (as you can see from the full program here). But questions about what it means to apply philosophy, especially normative philosophy often arise around here, and I think there is still enough uncertainty about, for example, what non-ideal theorising amounts to and how it relates to ideal theorising, that the session should be excellent, not just for the presentations, but for the ensuing discussion, if enough people attend.

Amazon’s price discrimination

by Eszter Hargittai on December 22, 2008

[UPDATE: An email from Director of Strategic Communication at Amazon, Craig Berman states the following (quoted with permission), which I thought was important to note here: “Amazon is a marketplace of many sellers, and while sellers are free to set their own prices for items they list, every customer pays the same for every individual offer.” I’m happy to hear that there is no price discrimination per se. Prime Shipping is a shady product though and I don’t recommend enrolling in it.]

Amazon's price: $17.13Amazon is quoting me a higher price than it’s quoting my friend, on the same product. I knew this was theoretically possible, of course, but I didn’t realize online stores engaged in these practices much these days. After all, is it really worth annoying customers when they find out? After a bit of experimentation, it seems to me that what’s going on here is that those with a Prime membership are being quoted a higher price. Ouch. So the thanks I get for paying for the Prime membership and shopping at Amazon a lot is higher prices. No thank you. [click to continue…]

A dramatic turn in the Belgian political crisis

by Ingrid Robeyns on December 22, 2008

Ever since the last elections in Belgium, in June 2007, there have been events and background conditions, which have led to a political crisis. We’ve discussed that ongoing crisis here at CT at length (“one”: “two”: “three”: “four”: “five”: “six”: So it is super-ironic that the Belgian government fell last Friday, not because of the communautarian tensions, but because of a chain of events that is linked to the global financial crisis.
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Black Swans and Dark Matter

by John Quiggin on December 22, 2008

There’s been a lot of talk about the idea that the GFC (the in-group shorthand for ‘global financial crisis’) is an example of a ‘black swan’, that is, an event that would be treated as impossible on the basis of induction from past experience, and hence that could not be encompassed by formal models of the kind used by risk managers. All this talk has of course been great for Nicholas Taleb who has a book with this title. It’s good in a lot of ways, but I found it ultimately insufferable in the continuous repetition of the message that only Taleb was smart enough to see all this. ( To be fair, Taleb predicted a global financial crisis, and didn’t simply claim it in retrospect as an unpredictable Black Swan).

I spend a lot of my time working on how to think about unforeseen contingencies and I’m not at all convinced that the GFC should be described in this way. Of course, the models used by the risk managers in investment banks didn’t include this as a possibility; if they had, the implication would have been that all sorts of much-desired deals should not go ahead. But as I pointed out a while ago, very simple models based on well-established principles predicted that the bubble economy would end badly.

The crisis then, involved something more like dark matter, the ‘missing’ matter in the universe that must exist if it is to work as it does, but can’t at presented be detected. Given that risk can’t easily be made to disappear*, it was obvious that the risk associated with lending of all kinds (most obviously, mortages offered to people with no capacity to repay) was being borne by someone, and probably someone who was unaware of it.

The big problem for the Cassandras (and we were certainly both correct and disregarded) was that it was easy to see that the bubble could not continue and much harder to foresee how it would end – it’s one thing to say that dark matter must exist and another to work out what it is really like. Like Brad and Brad, I expected that the problems would emerge first in the form of a run on the US dollar, given that holders of US dollar assets were receiving very little compensation for the obvious risk of large capital losses. In fact, the US dollar actually rose in the early stages of the meltdown, though it has been falling more recently.

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