You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘vapor mill’ category.

Henry VIII (the right-wing of the Tory party) wanted to divorce his first wife (the EU) and marry Anne Boleyn (stop immigration and transfer payments to the EU ) but the Catholic Church (Angela Merkel) would not let him. So, he renounced Catholicism and became a Protestant, a new form of Christianity conceived by Martin Luther (Nigel Farage). But then Mary Queen of Scots (Nicola Sturgeon), a Catholic, married a French Prince when Elizabeth I (Boris Johnson) eventually came to the throne. Mary got beheaded and the Elizabeth’s reign turned out pretty well.

But here Boris’s and Elizabeth’s paths diverge. The Protestant Reformation was forward looking and emphasized the work ethic. Faragism – to the extent it is a philosophy – is backward-looking and is about denying globalization. Not clear then who gets beheaded, Boris or Nicola.

Trump is the Principal and a Republican Congress member is the Agent. Trump wants their support and wants to compel them to support him. There is no money to align incentives and all Trump can do is shower with praise (e.g. people who cave in to him are “brave” like Megyn Kelly who went to visit him in Trump Tower after their dustup) or rain down abuse (e.g. the Republican Governor Martinez of New Mexico who dared to text during one of his speeches).

From the Agent perspective, since there is no money, there is only re-election probability. This leads to two cases. In one case, the Agents reelection probability is increasing in being seen as pro-Trump. Then, Trump should allocate praise and abuse in the natural way. In the other case, the Agent’s re-election probability is decreasing in being seen as pro-Trump but Trump would still like Republican support to increases his election chances. Then, Trump should visit the Agent’s district if the Agent does not support Trump. He should say the Agent is brave and lie and say the Agent does support him. This threat maximizes compellence.


Marco Rubio provides the most interesting example. He has lumped in with Trump as he decides whether to run for re-election. If he throws his hat into the ring and Trump’s polls tank in Florida, Donald should threaten to campaign there heavily if Rubio shows signs of weakening in his support of Trump.

I got this off Tim Hartford’s Twitter feed and he describes it as Prisoners’ Dilemma. I’m not so sure:

First of all, you are not allowed to give any online hints that you are playing. If you do, you cause unending shame to be heaped upon yourself. This defeats the entire purpose.

On each turn, you give your phone (which must have a Twitter client, signed in to your main Twitter account) to another player. For the first turn, you pass your phone to the person at your left, and in exchange you receive a phone from the person to your right. On the second turn, your phone is given the the person two people to your left, etc. When you’ve passed your phone to everyone around the table, the round is over.

When you receive a phone from someone else, it should have the phone’s Twitter client active, with whatever UI there is to make a new tweet. Then you enter in anything you want. Anything. There are no rules to this part. However, and this is very important: DO NOT POST yet. You may get to do that later. Instead, hand the phone back to the owner.

When you receive your phone back, look at the proposed tweet. Then hand it back to the same person who composed it.

If you don’t want them to post it, conceal a $20 bill in your hand. If you want to allow them to post it, put nothing in your hand. Making sure to hide anything that may be in your hand, put it forward onto the table. Wait until everyone has put their hand in, and then all of you must open your hands simultaneously.

If everyone has $20 in their hands, the money goes into the pot for the next round and nothing is posted.

If nobody has $20 in their hands, nothing gets posted.

If some people have $20 and some people are empty-handed, posts happen for those people who didn’t pay up, and the money (including anything already in the pot) is distributed evenly to those people who didn’t pay.

Finally, any tweets made during this game may not be erased at least until the NEXT occasion that the person plays the game.

I guess if you want people to suffer embarassment then no-one giving $20 is not an equilibrium.

Still not the complete account of the batlle – middle segment is missing

(HT: Chris Blattman’s twitter feed.)

In a frightening new paper, Philip Munz, Ioan Hudea, Joe Imad, and Robert J. Smith say NO!   It’s such scary news that the BBC covered it.

In their model, Susceptible (S) humans can turn into Zombies (Z) with probability β if they meet each other.  But Zombies can also rise from dead susceptibles or the so-called Removed R at rate ς.  In a mixed population with no birth, S will definitely shrink.  Even if S kill Z at rate α,  Z can always re-appear from R and never die off.  Hence, we end up in a pure Zombie equilibrium.  There is no channel for S to grow and there is a channel for Z to grow and there you have it.

Of course, if there is birth then things change.  In their model, the authors look at the case where the (exogenous) birth rate Π is zero.  But the birth rate should also depend on the fractions of S and Z in the population.  If S is large then there should be frequent S-S encounters.  Assume away gender issues for simplicity and these S-S encounters should lead to progeny.  Even if the birth rate is low, it is multiplies by S-squared the chance of an S-S meeting while the zombie production rate βSZ + ςR is close to ςR if Z is close to zero.  If S is large, so ΠS > ςR, this stabilizes a good S equilibrium where a small fraction of zombies does not eventually take over.

This is a small trivial extension but with a  good title (“Make Love to win the Zombie War”), it would be an interesting sequel.

There is another solution: cremation is better than burial.  I’m not an expert on zombies but I strongly suspect a cremated body cannot reappear in zombie form.  Then, if we can kill of zombies fast enough (high α), we should be fine.  Phew.  But while the human race is safe, all individuals are in danger.  I will not sleep well tonight.

(Hat Tip: PLL)

Chopped is a show on the Food Network where four chefs compete to win $10K.  There are three knockout rounds/courses.  In each round, the remaining chefs get some mystery ingredients and have 30 minutes to cook four portions of a dish.  One chef is chopped each course by a panel of judges till one remains standing at the end of the dessert round.

In the show I watched tonight, the mystery ingredients in the first round were merguez sausage, broccoli and chives.  Chef Ming from Le Cirque tried to make chive crepes with a sausage and broccoli stuffing and a milk-broccoli stem sauce.  He used a fancy technique where he turned a frying pan upside down and cooked the crepe on the bottom of the pan.  He ran out of time and did not make the sauce.  Crepes turned out crap.  Basically things did not go too well and he was “chopped”.   Far weaker chefs made it to the next round.  But Ming’s strategy was wrong: he was one of the best chefs.  If he had not cooked a hard dish but a safe dish he would have made it into the next round.   This got me thinking about the optimal strategy for the game.  Here is my conjecture.

To win you have to cook at least one “home run” dish and two good dishes.  The third and final final dessert round seems to be the hardest.  This time the mystery ingredients were grape leaves, sesame seeds, pickled ginger and melon!  It was very challenging to make something edible with that, let alone creative and delicious.  If you are lagging (i.e. your opponent has had a home run in previous round and you have not), you have to go for a home run in the dessert round.  Otherwise, just do the best you can: the random choice of ingredients will play a  bigger rle in your success than your own effort.  Reasoning backwards, this implies that you have to go for a home run in one of the first two rounds.

In the second round is where I would try for one.  If the other two are going for home runs, I could still play safety and land in the middle.  I might do this if I already had a home run in the first round.  But if I played safety in the first round, I have to go for it now.  And it is likely that I’m in the latter scenario because in the first round you (at least if you are one of the better chefs) should not go for a home run as the only way you’re going to lose is if you come last out of four people.  Only the most mediocre chef should play a risky strategy in the first round as this is the only way to win (think of the John McCain picking Sarah Palin “Hail Mary Pass” strategy when he was lagging behind).  The other three should produce a nice, safe appetizer.  If they are truly the best three chefs they are likely to make it to the second round in equilibrium anyway.  And all three will have safety dishes.  And all three should go for home runs as the desert round is not a good time to attempt a great dish.

So, Ming did not get the game strategy right and he got knocked out earlier than he should have.   So future contestants take note of this blog entry.  I am also willing to provide consulting for chefs if they cook a free dinner for me.

I recently re-read Animal Farm.  I think I last read it in secondary school in English class thirty (!) years ago.  I still remember it (unlike Thomas Hardy’s The Woodlanders) because of the donkey character, Benjamin.   The animals on the farm revolt and get rid of the farmer.  They are led by the pigs.  But the pigs are up to no good and are simply replacing the farmer with their own exploitative regime.  They are very, very clever and can read and write.  Benjamin is also clever and knows what the pigs are doing but he keeps quiet about it.  The pigs succeed at huge cost to the other animals.

This is the thing I found mysterious and incomprehensible when I was twelve – why doesn’t the donkey reveal what the pigs are doing and save the other animals and the farm?  This is the naivete of youth, believing if truth is simply spoken, it will be understood, appreciated and acted upon.  Well, I was twelve.  But I suppose (hope?) that many of us have these sorts of beliefs initially.  As time passes, we act of these beliefs.  Sometimes we succeed and sometimes we fail.

When we fail, we learn from our mistakes realizing what strategies do not work.  Anyone who wants to influence collective decisions has to be subtle and know when to keep their mouth shut.  This seems obvious now but presumably we learn it in school or in our family sometime when we see power trump reason.  This learning process creates wisdom – you know more than before about strategies that fail.  It also creates cynicism as you realize strategies with moral force have no political force.  This is a sense in which cynicism is a form of wisdom.  I didn’t understand Benjamin at all when I was twelve but now I see exactly why he was quiet.  Orwell makes sure we understand the dilemma – Benjamin is alive at the end of the book unlike some animals who spoke out.  I’m older and wiser.

What about successful strategies?  The reverse logic applies to them.  Success leads to optimism.  A sophisticated learner should have contingent beliefs: some strategies he is optimistic about and some pessimistic.  Someone more naive will have an average worldview.  Whether it is cynical or not depends on the same issue that Jeff raised in his entry: are you overoptimistic at the beginning?  If so, the failures will be more striking than the successes.  This will tend to make you cynical.