Category Archives: General

Happy Birthday Mr. Blog

The Blog was apparently the eight years old on the 22nd.  He has been pestering me for a content distribution network but I’m afraid that will have to wait for another year.

Happy Birthday kid!

I’ve enjoyed having your around more than I ever expected I would.

FYI – I will be in paris tomorrow for a long week.  It looks like it will be over busy, but if anybody would like to hook up maybe we can make that happen.

me sue me

So I was inordinately fascinated by a paragraph in Schelling’s paper “Enforcing Rules on Oneself”.  This is a paper about personal rules, i.e. the rules we all adopt to reign in our behavior against the pest that is  hyperbolic discounting.  Since  Schelling’s wrote the  paper for a law journal he needed to outline why the usual tools of lawyering aren’t applicable.  Why won’t the courts help you enforce your personal rules?  Why can’t you make a contract with your self to say, go to bed at 10pm everyday?    Why can’t get the courts to enforce a contact you made with your self?  He writes:

“Legal means are not easy to come by. On another occasion (1984a) I looked  at the question, Why can we not make legally enforceable vows – promises oriented toward no one in particular, intended to commit ourselves to the behavior we now wish to demand of ourselves?  Why is it that certain constitutional rights are inalienable and we cannot contract to be held against our will until we have killed a drug habit, lost thirty pounds, or survived the full moon during which we acquire an urge to commit heinous crimes?  Contracts are enforceable, subject to certain safeguards – not under duress, not between minors, not for involuntary servitude; promises are tantalizingly unenforceable unless they can be construed as part of an exchange.  I cannot make a will that I cannot change; and it requires extraordinary ingenuity – is usually  impossible – to get the state to tell me to do what I wish to be compelled to do, to intercede physically or to sanction with penalties the behavior that I now wish to avoid in the future.”

My first guess:  it would be silly if the  courts got into the business of adjudicating contracts we made with ourselves.  They probably tried it and it did serious  damage to the court’s gravitas.  The litigant would be running from one side of the bench to the other like a child playing chess with himself.  Would he change hats each time?  I became less certain of that guess upon recalling the aphorism “The man who represents himself has a fool for a client.”  The court could force these disputes into the usual form and require that both sides be represented by council.  More work for lawyers!

But hold on.  There are cases where society has created mechanisms for enforcing vows outside of an exchange, aka vows directed at no one in particular.  Don’t want to drink – move to the dry town.  Want to repress your urges to paint the house bright colors?  Live on Nantucket.  If you don’t know Nantucket’s is a wealthy vacation enclave where zoning rules that limited the color you can paint your house.  Recognizing that zoning and condo agreement is a means to enforce personal rules was new to me.  The  literature  on zoning complains, actually, that there isn’t as much zoning diversity as buyers would probably like.

Further there are many cases down through time and space of much more exacting attempts to enforce personal vows.    For example: in Arizona you can sign away your right to enter a gambling den.  In France there was a time when a family could petition the courts to punish family members who are doing damage to the household’s reputation. 

The line between what the courts will get entangled in and what they stay out of, the inalienable rights, isn’t as bright as we often suspect.  Subordinate groups (non-citizens, children, fools, the convicted, etc.) often find the court drawn into enforcing their vows.  There is currently a fad for having students and parents sign pledges of various kinds.  I assume there must be examples where these are enforced by 3rd parties.

Notice that inalienable rights are not entirely about the individual.  They are also about what the disputes the courts are willing to entertain.  I.e. freedom of speech is a class of disputes that the courts/society may well have just decided to throw up their hands and walk away from.  Further there are inalienable rights, such as freedom to travel, which as technology shifts, the courts may revisit and decide “sure we can adjudicate that at reasonable cost; bring ’em on.”

The Misery of Opportunity

Fun video by Barry Swartz author of “The Paradox of Choice – Why More is Less”.

Why choice makes people miserable:

  1. regret over the choice not taken, and fear of that future regret,
  2. the cost of managing a portfolio of options,
  3. the benchmark for success is raised higher, i.e. expectations escalate
  4. self blame, when the choices made later appear to have been the wrong ones

He reports a study they did: those who maximize a job choice did in fact capture significantly more income, but at a cost.  They are more: pessimistic, anxious, stressed, worried, tired, overwhelmed, depressed, regretful, and disappointed.  They are less: content, optimistic, elated, excited, and happy.

Adds something to my thinking about option spaces, but still I regret not having the option of seeing the copyrighted cartoons.

And, GUIDs are the mark of the devil

“… It’s long been our belief that REST and Roy Fielding has been palling around with Hypermedia. He barely denies it. But, my friends, let me tell you that no washed up PhD dissertation will dictate our request/response. He says it, in his own words – he talks about ‘constraints’, he toys with the idea of a transfer of ‘state’. My friends, in these times of economic crisis we need less State involvement, not more. REST doesn’t understand. Let’s give state transition back to the hard working people of the USA. Enough with this hypermedia socialism. … ‘For the bureaucrat, the world is a mere object to be manipulated by him.’ – Karl Marx …” – more

Restructuring an Industry

Thomson-Reuters raises the stakes and then calls the bluff of the Academy.

“For my part, I’m going to refuse to use Reuters’ software in future, strongly discourage graduate students from buying EndNote, and try to get this message out to my colleagues too (at least those of them who aren’t using Zotero or some BibTex client already). If I taught any classes where Thomson printed relevant textbooks, I would be strongly inclined not to use these texts either. I encourage you to do the same”

It will be interesting to see if they can organize an sufficently vigorous response.  The Academy has quite a number of extremely expensive suppliers.  Somebody once said in my hearing “… for whom we act as tax collectors.”

What to do!

Finally actionable advise on how individuals can address the current market turmoil:

If you had purchased £1000 of Northern Rock shares one year ago it  would now be worth £4.95, with HBOS, earlier this week your £1000  would have been worth £16.50, £1000 invested in XL Leisure would now  be worth less than £5, but if you bought £1000 worth of Tennents Lager  one year ago, drank it all, then took the empty cans to an aluminium  re-cycling plant, you would get £214. So based on the above statistics  the best current investment advice is to drink heavily and re-cycle. — here

Gas Shortage

Sometimes there is too much news.  The southeastern US is suffering from serious shortages of petrol.  I wonder what it would take to get them to lower the speed limit; organize some ride sharing; provide some discounts on public transportation. I’m reminded of how in the depths of the recent and horiffic drought in that same region they were unable to organize a collective response to lower thier consumption.  Small government at work.