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Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Now I think that paul was right. How is it that when Paul writes on one thing what he says is true of lots of things ? Does God talk to Paul. If so, Paul sure talks back.

My old thought was if Blaise was wrong then when you lose you can not lose real big. Does this mean that the one strange rule guys were right ? No. If Blaise was wrong then when you win with one strange rule you do not care, so when you win you win real small. Thus while when you lose, you don't lose real big the one strange rule is close to right for you aim is close to log wealth. This is just what Paul said.

To show this you need to have that the risk is just the same sort of risk each time.

OK so what is that in bigger words ? Paul is Paul Samuelson, who once argued that it is not necessarily a good idea to buy the portfolio with the highest geometric mean return even if you have a very long time horizon. He chose to argue this in a paper which contained no words of more than one syllable (except for the last word which was syllable). He called geometric mean portfolio approach proposed by Latane and (independently) Haakonsen "one strange rule". Their argument was that, by the law of large numbers, one would almost surely have higher end of period wealth if, each period, one maximized geometric mean return than if one always bought a different portfolio. this is true, but, as Samuelson pointed out, "if you lose you could lose real big".

In an earlier post, I wondered if the right (possibly changing) portfolio would have to be close to geometric mean maximizing almost all of the time if the utility function were bounded above and below. This means that, although you can lose real big in Euros or dollars, you can't lose real big in utils. With one syllable words "if the utility function is bounded above and below becomes "if Blaise [Pascal] was wrong".

Recently I thought again. The formal problem is time is discrete, each period there are risky assets with iid returns. The player aims to maximize a concave function of time T wealth which is bounded above and below. Does the geometric mean argument make sense in this case ? That is, is the time varying optimal portfollio chosen in t close to geometric mean maximizing for almost all t ? In the old post, I concluded that either it was or the derivative of the utility function with respect to wealth at T was almost certainly very close to zero.

So assume that the utility function is bounded below (wlog by zero) and above by Umax

To make the question simple, assume that one must distribute wealth across assets the same way each period so an iid random variable is added to log wealth each period. Is the right portfollio geometric mean maximizing ? Well , for any other portfollio P, by the law of large numbers as T goes to infinity, the chance that the geometric mean maximizing portfolio will give higher end of period wealth than P goes to 1. Chose T so this chance is 1-epsilon/umax for some small epsilon. If the utility function is bounded above and below, what happens in the other cases can give P utility minus expected geometric mean maximizing utility of no more than epsilon.

with probability 1-epsilon/umax the geometric mean maximizing approach gives higher wealth. This means that, on average, this can matter only
epsilon/(1-epsilon/umax) utils. does this mean that the optimal portfollio P must be very close to geometric mean maximizing ?

Already in the old post, I realised that if the marginal utility of wealth was very low, then the difference in wealth might be very large but matter very little.

Now I realise that bounded utility, iid returns and constant portfolios,means that the marginal utility of Log wealth is almost certainly tiny that is (Wealth)(dU/dWealth)must be tiny. For utility to be monotonic in wealth and bounded above and below (Wealth)(dU/dWealth) must go to zero as Wealth goes to zero and infinity.

With iid returns (with finite variance) (log Wealth - log initial wealth)/root(T) will have a normal distribution so |log(Wealth)| will almost certainly go to infinity so (Wealth)(dU/dWealth) will almost certainly go to zero. This means that there is no implication for optimal P must be close to geometric mean maximizing.

The assumption that "if you lose you can lose real big" is sufficient but not necessary for Samuelson's conclusion.

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

There were no 0 zero proposed answers to the Monty Redux problem.

I give my answer below. New bits are in ** old bits are in "".


"Monty Redux

Recall, the Monty Hall paradox from “Let’s Make a Deal” an old game show. The last step in the game show was guess which of 3 boxes contains a big prize. There are three large boxes, box 1, box 2 and box 3, one contains a very valuable prize, the other two contain prizes of small value. The contestant guessed a box. The assistant (Carol Marol or was she on truth and consequences) opened one of the other two boxes showing that it didn’t contain the big prize. Monte Hall offered the contestant the chance to switch to pick the remaining unopened unselected box.

Now all contestants must have noticed the pattern that the assistant always opened one of the boxes which had not been chosen and that box always contained a small prize. "

*This, I think is the, often unstated, assumption that makes the problem such a dread dinner party troll. If there is no information that a box with a small prize is always opened, there is no way to solve the problem. It might be that a box is opened only if the contestant guessed right the first time (so better to not switch and win for sure ) or only if the contestant guessed wrong the first time (so better to switch and win for sure) or anything in between. It was clear on the show that a box was always always opened.*

"I am going to add another assumption to make the assistant follow a well defined rule. I assume that the assistant opens the box which 1) has not been chosen by the contestant 2) does not contain the big prize and 3) has the lowest number of boxes satisfying 1 and 2.

Now consider a case of the game. Contestant guesses box 2. The assistant opens box 1 showing that it contains a small prize ? The contestant is allowed to switch and guess that the prize is in box 3. Should the contestant switch ? Does it make any difference for the probability of winning ?"

*In this the chance of winning is the same (1/2) whether the contestant switches or not. Given rule 3 stated above, box 1 is opened whether the big prize is in 2 or in 3 so no information is revealed.*

"How about another case of the game. Contestant guesses box 2. The assistant opens box 3 showing that it contains a small prize ? The contestant is allowed to switch and guess that the prize is in box 1. Should the contestant switch ? Does it make any difference for the probability of winning ? "

*here given rule 3, opening box 3 means the big prize must be in box one so the contestant should switch. The point (if any) of the new puzzle is that it the other case which shows that it can sometimes be costless to switch (a knife edge result).*

Friday, December 12, 2003

Finally someone commented on this blog by writing to

OK OK so it was my mom commenting on "right plan wrong pills". My mom
Katharine Waldmann MD used to take care of people with HIV as her job. Now that she has retired she does it as a volunteer. She explains to me that the WHO proposes 3 drugs not including protease inhibitors for medical reasons not because they respect patent law (which they appear willing to ignore)

Katharine Waldmann writes

"I was told by a drug rep from the company that makes Viramune that the talk of a three drug pill(zerit, Epivir (lamivudine) and viramune) is based on the plan to buy from India where this is made--patent violation of course.

Protease inhibitors are very potent but besides expense they have problematic side effects--diabetes, lipodystrophy, high blood lipids. They are big capsules to take (not hydrophilic so large doses needed to get enough absorbed)and usually need to take many a day: Viracept ten a day (just started making tabs where one neede to take only two twice a day), Fortovase six or eight twice a day.
What helps is that ritonavir (Norvir) interferes with the metablism of most of the others, so 100 mg of ritonavir makes it possible to reduce the number of other capsules and has enabled shifting from three times a day dosing and meal restrictions. Kaletra is a capsule with ritonavir plus lopinavir in one capsule.

There has been a big push to avoid protease inhibitors as first line treatment. Trizivir has three NRT's but usually a fourth has to be added. Efavirenz (Sustiva) is very effective and a once a day program is possible--Sustiva 600 mg, Epivir 300 mg, and Viread 300 mg.

Capsules don't keep well in heat and humidity. So I don't think it is only or even mainly the cost of PI's, but some of these other issues.

Your Blog is very interesting!! keep it up MOM "

Well, at leas my mom likes my blog.

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

Another locally realistic violation of Bell’s inequality ?

I am thinking about the EPR experiment. I am actually thinking about the experiment as proposed by E P and R, not the experiment as performed. There are four basic but very weird points to remember in order to understand the proposed experiment. One is that electrons spin around sort of like little globes but that the absolute value of the angular momentum is always hbar/2 no matter from which direction you look at them. This is not like, say, the earth which spins around the North-South axis so the angular momentum is less if you look down another axis. The second strange fact is that you can’t measure the angular momentum of one single electron around two different axis (one version of the Heisenberg principal). This can be understood as measuring around one axis changes the spin around another axis. This makes sense in terms of comprehensible things like macroscopic magnets because the way to measure spin is with a magnet and a magnet does change spin. The third strange fact is that sometimes you know that the spin of two electrons around any axis is opposite. This is true if the two electrons are in what is called a singlet state. This means that even if you can’t know which way (clockwise or counterclockwise) each electron is spinning around both the North South axis and the East West axis you can know that the two are spinning in opposite directions around each axis. The fourth strange fact is that, according to quantum mechanics the correlation between “spin is clockwise around the North South axis” and “Spin is clockwise around the North-East South-West axis” is greater than one !!! that is the probability both are clockwise is greater than the probability that the spin around the North South axis is clockwise and the spin around the other axis is whatever and unmeasured. I won’t be able to explain this so that it makes sense. It is clearly crazy. It is also an experimental result not just a theory. I am sure I will never understand this, so I can’t explain it. Trying to grasp this fact, and it appears to be a fact (see below) is like trying to pound a square peg into a round hole.

Now the point of EPR is that Heisenberg shmeizenberg you can use the singlet state fact to test the quantum mechanical correlation greater than one by measuring the spin around N-S of one of the electrons and the Spin NE-SW of the other. They were very sure that the experimental result would disprove quantum mechanics. After some decades the experiment was finally performed (with light not electrons) and quantum mechanics was confirmed. I gave up.

Then I heard about the work of Luigi Accardi and Massimo Regoli. They have an argument that you can reconcile the experimental result with a locally realistic theory (one that makes sense as correlations are less than or equal to one) if the singlet state is a statement about measuring spin around one magic axis (NS say). The quantum craziness comes from treating electron 2 is counterclockwise around NS as equivalent to electron 1 is clockwise around NS AND electron 2 is counterclockwise around NE-SW as equivalent to electron 1 is clockwise around NE-SW. What if the singlet state had to do only with the N-S axis ?

An objection is that the singlet state fact has been tested for many directions and always works.

I have a slightly modified version of the Accardi Regoli story (which is probably in one of their working papers which I haven’t read). Here the experiment is we have electrons that were in the signlet state flying out of a source each one through an electromagnet which can be oriented NS or NE-SW. If both electromagnets are oriented the same way, the spins are opposite. If the experimenter moves the electromagnets so they are not oriented the same way, the electrons see this and don’t act like singlet state electrons at all anymore. This means that the EPR experiment result is not equivalent to a correlation greater than one.

OK so the little electrons are spying on the experimenter. There are two things. Which way does he point the electromagnets and are both turned on (measuring) or not. If they are oriented on the same axis then the measurement of electrons going through magnet 1 does not depend on whether magnet two is turned on and the measurement of electrons going through magnet 2 is always opposite. If they are oriented in different directions, then the measurement of electrons going through magnet 1 depends on whether magnet two is turned on. This is an effect of an event which took place a long time ago (by flying electron terms) so there is nothing impossible about it.

Monday, December 08, 2003

Did the Republicans manage to overestimate what they could get away with ?

I was amazed to read in a Fox news poll (yes a Fox news poll) that slightly more polled registered voters (31%) think the Medicare bill will be bad for senior citizens than think it will be good for senior citizens (30%).

Now the general view in the blogosphere is that this was a bad bill compared, at least, to equally cheap bills with fewer favors for insurance companies. I assumed that it would be politically popular. So it seems did Paul Krugman and the Republicans on speaking terms with him.

"The prevailing theory among grown-up Republicans — yes, they still exist — seems to be that Mr. Bush is simply doing whatever it takes to win the next election."

If the medicare bill is unpopular, it would be part of whatever it takes to win the next election.

Tuesday, December 02, 2003

The Washington Post reports that Washington DC is going to distribute free condoms in public buildings. This seems to me to be an excellent idea. One of the explicit aims is to fight embarassment about condoms.

Of course the post has to follow the standard of balanced coverage. The HIV virus refused to comment, so the con position was taken by monomaniacal advocates of monogamy. I think the work monomaniacal is fair, since even the advocate did not claim that any marginal effect of condom distribution on promiscuity was relevant. Instead the argument was two false statements combined with a blatant fallacy.

"I'm not aware of any evidence that that sort of activity has a positive effect," said Robert E. Rector, a family-issues researcher at the conservative Heritage Foundation. "The number-one determinant of whether a person will catch a sexually transmitted disease is the number of lifetime sexual partners. We seem to go out of our way as a government and a nation to avoid telling people that, but we hand out a lot of free condoms."

Well I guess that Rector might not be aware of it, but their is strong evidence that AIDS prevention efforts stressing condoms have been succesful in Uganda and among gay men in the USA. I suppose it defendes on how you define "that sort of activity". It is hard to prove that condoms are the key to success because Rector's second claim is absurdly grossly false as he must know. He boldly asserts that the Bush administration goes out of his way to avoid telling people that abstinence or monogamy would reduce HIV transmission. Where do they find people like that ? The man is clearly out of touch with reality. Why didn't he criticize the DC government by contrasting it with the Bush administration which follows a policy closer to the views of people like him ?

The logical fallacy is the claim that the number one determinant of .... This is like saying the number one reason that people catch AIDS is the AIDS virus and it would be better to have no aids virus than to hand out condoms. The issue is what is the best public policy. Not what would be nice if you could magically convince all people (or HIV particles) to do what you think best. Saying number one, then acting as if you said only is a logical error so extreme as to be extremely rare.

Then we hear from the Bush administration

"Tom Coburn, a physician, co-chairman of a presidential AIDS panel and former Oklahoma congressman, called condom distribution misguided because, he said, condoms fail 20% of the time
"We used to think condoms were fairly effective," he said. "If used perfectly, they are probably 94 or 95 percent effective, but we're human, and we don't use them perfectly. . . . The city would be much better off spending its money getting people tested, treated and counseled not to give the virus to others."

Coburn deliberately confounds two issues. One is do condoms fail, the other is do couples who plan to rely on condoms actually use them. It is homicidally misleading to tell people that condoms are no good, because other people didn't put them on.

94 or 95% success seems to me shockingly low. I personally have never experienced a condom failure .In fact, itis indeed the low end of results from studies which show 1 to 5% failure.

Such true condom failure does not correspond, as asserted by Coburn, to using "them perfectly". In fact it is clear that some people have much more trouble with true condom failure than others which implies

"Most condom failure occurs as a result of the behaviors of the user, not due to a faulty device. Some user characteristics are also related to condom failure. Hence, understanding which behaviors and characteristics are most strongly associated with condom failure is critical to improving the effectiveness of condoms through public health messages and counseling."

This is clear because failure rates are significantly different for different couples. To avoid blaming the victims I should notel that this could be due to anatomy not behavior. It seems that a large penis could be a risk factor which might explain my 100% condom success rate reported above.


"Research is less clear about which behaviors lead to condom failure. Behaviors that may be related to failure include opening condom packages with sharp objects, unrolling condoms before putting them on, using oil-based lubricants, having lengthy or intense intercourse, and practicing anal intercourse or vaginal drying"

I think that, to be true to his Hypocratic oath, Dr Coburn should not be reporting misleading statistics on condom failure but rather should explain to people not to open condom packages with sharp objects, unroll them before putting them on or use oil based lubricants. In fact, I think that men who really care about fighting AIDS should be willing to be videotaped while putting on a condom according to proper procedure.

Finally, the true condom failure rate due to breaking or slipping overstates the AIDS blocking failure rate. The reason is that spermacide kills HIV. Thus in an actual experiment (ugh) it was shown that there was no then measurable HIV released from spermacide treated condoms filled with infected semen and pressed with e plunger even though the experimenters had pricked a hole in the condom with a pin. I forget the cite and this was detectable a long time ago before PCR was used.

Well it's decided. The US is willing to compromise with Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani on little issues like separation of church and state so long as we get our way on one man one vote electoral democracy (which we oppose).

The alleged issues are the absence of a census of subjects of a totalitarian dictatorship where everyone had ration cards and the risk of tyranny of the majority. To me the first claim is patently absurd. It's not like the Ba'athist regime didn't keep track of people. It is true that separate lists are needed in the Kurdish mini states, but I would be surprised if they didn't keep track at all.

If one is planning on introducing democracy eventually (as the Bush administration still claims) one has to confront the risk of tyranny of the majority eventually. I have already written that this can be done with a not democratically written constitution to be approved or rejected by referendum.

Now I wonder about how to avoid tyranny of the Shi'ite Arab majority. This should not be hard as they are 60% of the population. I think that in a first past the post system electoral districts can be designed so a Shi'ite Arab sectarian nationalist party could not obtain a majority. I mean Bremer works for a Texan Republican, he should have access to good advice on gerrymandering.

I agree with the Bush administration on a controversial issue. The supreme court is deciding if Washington State can deny a scolarship to a student because he declared theology as his major.

The high court seemed deeply divided over the case of Joshua Davey, who lost a state merit scholarship when he declared theology as his major. The Bush administration backs Davey, arguing that states cannot discriminate against religious education.

This seems to me a blatent case of discriminating on the basis of religion. I am not at all thrilled that a ruling in Davey's favor will inevitably lead to law suits demanding equal funding for creation science and genuine evolutionary biology etc. However, the case seems clear to me.

I hasten to add that I am not moved by religious sentiment. I am an atheist and always have been one.

Right Program Wrong Pills

Still at the Washington Post. The WHO is trying to get 3000000 HIV infected people under anti-retroviral therapy by 2005. I guess this is partly a response to more money from Bush (first praise of Bush in this blog) and partly because it is clear that you can't get people to get tested for AIDS if diagnosis is just a death sentence. The thing that bothers me is

"An expert panel assembled by WHO recommends four drug combinations, out of about 35 available. The one likely to be most popular contains stavudine (d4T), lamivudine (3TC) and nevirapine in a single pill. None of the four combinations includes a protease inhibitor. Drugs in that class are generally more expensive. In many places, including rich countries, they are often held back and used only if first-line treatment fails. "

My impression was that protease inhibitors were necessary for multidrug therapy to work. Now why are they expensive ? Not, I think, because they cost that much to make, but because they are under patent. Now with some billions to work with couldn't the Bush administration buy in bulk at a huge discount. I don't mean a normal volume discount. I mean a discount negotiated by any means necessary. As in
"gee you like the medicare benefit plan but you know some people think we should have medicare bargain tough with you. However, I will veto that if you sell us protease inhibitors for 3 million people a year at cost. Oh they are under patent ? Hmm we haven't looked at patent law reform in years."

Not like Bush but I doubt anything like that would be necessary. It's not like pharamceutical companies are making money out of treating AIDS in the third world now anyway. The only risk is re-importation. I don't see why they can't make the pills a different color size and shape to hamper smuggling them back.

I really don't see why that hasn't been done some how.

Right decision for wrong wrong reason

The Washington Post reports
"The Bush administration has decided to repeal most of its 20-month-old tariffs on imported steel to head off a trade war that would have included foreign retaliation against products exported from politically crucial states,"

I thought they were at least supposed to pretend they cared about the public interest not just winning elections. The whole article with many quotes from administration sources contains no hint that they care about foreigners (no big surprise) or people who live in non-swing states. Now if the people in solidly pro Bush states were a bit more alert they would become swing states now that that is clear.

I'm not surprised, of course, but I am dismayed by the brazenness

hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue - (I forget who said that).

Update: I learn from Patrick Nielson Hayden that I was quoting La Rochefoucauld )

Millions for defence but not one cent of tribute (to Virtue)

T. Jefferson modernized
No answers to Monty Redux below (also because few people have been here)

Sunday, November 30, 2003

More on the Monty Hall paradox. This written on April 7 2003.

Monty Redux

Recall, the Monty Hall paradox from “Let’s Make a Deal” an old game show. The last step in the game show was guess which of 3 boxes contains a big prize. There are three large boxes, box 1, box 2 and box 3, one contains a very valuable prize, the other two contain prizes of small value. The contestant guessed a box. The assistant (Carol Marol or was she on truth and consequences) opened one of the other two boxes showing that it didn’t contain the big prize. Monte Hall offered the contestant the chance to switch to pick the remaining unopened unselected box.

Now all contestants must have noticed the pattern that the assistant always opened one of the boxes which had not been chosen and that box always contained a small prize. I am going to add another assumption to make the assistant follow a well defined rule. I assume that the assistant opens the box which 1) has not been chosen by the contestant 2) does not contain the big prize and 3) has the lowest number of boxes satisfying 1 and 2.

Now consider a case of the game. Contestant guesses box 2. The assistant opens box 1 showing that it contains a small prize ? The contestant is allowed to switch and guess that the prize is in box 3. Should the contestant switch ? Does it make any difference for the probability of winning ?

How about another case of the game. Contestant guesses box 2. The assistant opens box 3 showing that it contains a small prize ? The contestant is allowed to switch and guess that the prize is in box 1. Should the contestant switch ? Does it make any difference for the probability of winning ?

Now I stress, I think this is a change from the standard problem. Please send proposed answers to If someone convinces me they got the right answer (whether or not it is the same as what I think now) they get applause here in front of an audience of 5 or 6 visits a day.
Blinkered perspectives

On April fools day 2003
(the day before I originally posted this which was in a Blogspot archive which died) I saw attending a very interesting seminar by Alberto Bisin presenting joint work with Jess Benhabib. Roughly he presented a model of impulse buying with the idea that to avoid the temptation to buy people have to devote some of their limited attention to saying “be thrifty be thrifty” to themselves. I am pleased that economists are talking to psychologists and neuro-biologists (and listening to what they say). I’m not the only one. The seminar was one of the biggest hits I ever saw (ended with applause !). I have some thoughts

“say to themselves” is meant almost literally. In particular, I was taught in a freshman introductory psychology course 25 years ago that short term memory is very limited and verbal. Very limited in that we seem to have only 7 file handles (files = 7 in config.sys for people old enough to remember an operating system which was comprehensible). Verbal in that people make errors confusing things named by words that sound the same even if the information is presented with pictures and recollection is illustrated by pushing buttons.

It is true that to over-ride an impulse (well to try to over-ride an impulse) I talk to myself. One of the great bits of evidence from the psych literature is that overweight people can resist nibbling if they are remembering a 3 digit number but not if they are remembering a 7 digit number (see the magic number 7). They had to remember for 5 minutes or so. They weren’t warned that they would be tempted with food.

The guess is in the heads of the 3 digit non-nibblers is “’6’’4’’7’ don’t eat ’6’’4’’7’ don’t eat ’6’’4’’7’ don’t eat ’6’’4’’7’ don’t eat“’6’’4’’7’ don’t eat …” while in the heads of the the 7 digit nibblers was “6 4 7 3 5 2 4 ; 6 4 7 3 5 2 4, 6 4 7 3 5 2 4 , hey why is my stomach full ???”.

Another interesting analogy was between dynamically inconsistent time preference and perspective. That is things seem much more important if they are in the very near future just as things seem larger if they are close to us. The idea is that, as we evolved (and as we grow up) we learn to correct for this. Bisin had an interesting example of how his young son didn’t believe in perspective.

This reminded me of Inevitable Illusions : How Mistakes of Reason Rule Our Minds by Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini. Piattelli Palmarini likes to describe the systematic biases which influence people’s reasoning about probability as cognitive illusions. That is, these biases are similar to optical illusions in that they are virtually universal, systematic, persist even among those who consider them to be errors and can be fought only with concentration.

Now a typical optical illusion is not the fact that far away things seem smaller. This does not confuse adults anyway. They are the opposite -- Automatic over corrections for perspective. A simple experiment is to stare at a bright light. This temporarily exhausts the rod cells in a spot on the retina. This creates a blurred image which for me switches from green to purple as I blink. Now look at something close and at something far away (it helps to rapidly blink to see the spot). The spot seems bigger if it is superimposed on something far away. This is an image which corresponds to a constant area on the retina, because it is a constant area of the retina. The correction between geometric perspective and subjective distance is instant, effortless and automatic. It does not involve a voice in our head saying “that’s not small it’s far away”. In contrast, to avoid falling for optical illusions based on this feature of our non-verbal brain, we (or at least I) think “watch out it’s a trick” and force ourselves to measure.

This brings us up to 3 struggling mechanisms
1. something very automatic, for vision our eye and light following the rules of optics.
2. Something almost as automatic involving our brain but not requiring attention which corrects for the bias do to 1.
3. Sometimes something learned which involves a voice in our head and requires concentration to correct for 2 when it leads us astray.

Now back to time preference. I suggest that the very automatic process is that future rewards seem less important than immediate rewards. This is not as simple as light in an eye but it is clearly ancient and automatic. I suggest that the second automatic correction mechanism is the set of biases noted by Kahneman Twersky and followers. I think we are not up to 3 yet.

But how do I get from time to probability and back ? Piattelli Palmarini’s star example is “the Monte Hall paradox” from “Let’s Make a Deal” an old game show. The last step in the game show was guess which of these 3 boxes contains the big prize. The contestant guessed one. The assistant (Carol Marol or was she on truth and consequences) opened one of the other two boxes showing that it didn’t contain the big prize. Monte Hall offered the contestant the chance to switch to pick the remaining unopened unselected box. No one ever did. I admit I watched this show and agreed with the contestants. We all made a mistake.

The chance of winning guessing and sticking is, of course, one in 3. The chance of winning guessing and switching must be 2 in 3. This follows from Bayes formula. Say the contenstant picks 1 and they open 2. The prize is in 1 or 3. If the big prize is in 3, the chance they open 2 is 1 since they don’t open the box with the big prize. If the prize is in 1, the chance they open 2 is ½ as they chose which unguessed box to open at random. Bayes formula says chance of winning by staying is 1/3 by switching is 2/3. For some silly reason Bayes formula is not taught in elementary school, but it is simpler to see they should switch, since it is clear that one can always win either by staying or switching and the probability of winning by staying must be 1/3. So why didn’t anyone switch ?

A pseudo explanation is that we fear regret – to have had it and given it away. To me this is like saying morphine causes sleep because it has a dormative virtue.

Maybe we make the Monte Hall blunder because there is an automatic don’t change horses in midstream, stick to your guns, many other clich├ęs mechanism which has evolved or been learned to help us fight dynamic inconsistency. That is, we have all decided to do something involving effort or abstinence in the future, all noticed that it seems a bad plan when the time for effort comes, all learned to be firm in our purpose. Perhaps even without learning we have evolved a no backsliding reflex. Now on “let’s make a deal,” the temptation to switch is not based on dynamic inconsistency. The (evidently weak) temptation is based on new evidence. Still there is the reflex don’t switch as if there were a voice saying “don’t give in to temptation to stray from the path you have chosen “ but which evidently require neither such a voice in our head nor conscious self control.
Some of my archives appear to be missing. I think Pyra labs has solved the problem (based on an announcement) but the content seems to be lost. Thanks to Michael Froomkin who pointed this out to me. I am trying to figure out which posts are unavailable and repost them.

Saturday, November 29, 2003

Well looks like the Bush administration has finally met an authority it can't push around or ignore -- Ayatolla Ali Sistani. It seems that the plan for the future of Iraq lasted two whole weeks. I didn't like it to begin with.

Very odd the link to the plan in the CPA web site is no longer working. Has the plan gone down the memory hole ?

The Bush approach is to decide what to do then make other people agree. Works fine with the IGC but does not work with Sistani. The reaction to his pronouncements makes it very clear that he has the power of veto. It is reasonable to respect his veto given his presumably high standing and relative reasonableness (I mean you democracy does have something to do with elections you know). However, two public about faces in two weeks mean that his great power is now enormous.

I still think that it would have been better to try to discuss things relatively quietly with, among other people, Sistani. Then to publically announce things acceptable to Sistani. I don't mind at all saying I told them so two weeks ago.

I don't see why it should be impossible to agree with someone who thinks elections are an essential part of democracy. The problems are

1) Some Iraqis will vote for Ba'athists and moslem fundamentalists.

Certainly true but only a reason to delay elections if you are confident that the vote will be better later. I think it's past time to temper optimism a bit.

2) There is a risk of tyranny of the Shi'ite majority.

Certainly true if a constitutional convention is elected and a simple majority can pass a constitution. As I said before this can be handled two ways. Requiring a big majority for approval or writing the consitution undemocratically and having a referendum.

3) Sistani wants the constitution to say that the State can't do anything inconsistent with Islam (which means that he will have a permanent veto and his successor after him). Well that is a problem. He does seem to have a veto already so not such a huge loss. I'm afraid that some vague declaration of respect for Islam will be necessary. Anyway, if Iraq is democratic, it will respect Islam. I mean the risk that something might be interpreted as giving Sistani a veto, isn't that horrible since he clearly has one already.

Now More on writing a democratic constitution in an undemocratic way then having a referendum.

I saw a headline I really liked (but didn't save)
"Tribe reflecting on Iraqi constitution" then I read the article and found out that "Tribe" was not Lawrence Tribe but, well, a tribe. I think they should just call in Lawrence Tribe, Have Bremer act as a go between between him and the president of the ICG (won't be Talibani for long) and have the president consult with Sistani (and others) but really listen to Sistani. Then a referendum.

We have some experience with constitutions which prevent tyranny of the majority. I think a bill of rights, a federal constitution considerable regional autonomy, a bicameral legislature and proportional representation would prevent tyranny of the majority. Of course that might leave the prime minister (or president) so weak that everything would collapse.

Anyway, I don't think any democratic or semi democratic process would do as good a job as Tribe. Not to mention I don't recall the constitutional conventions of Japan or Germany which turned out OK and I do recall the Costituente Italiano which wrote a document with some problems.

Of course, if the Bush administration decided to subcontract writing a constitution they wouldn't hire Tribe and I doubt that I would like the constitution much but I'd accept it to avoid further bloodshed and I bet almost all Iraqis would too.

I disagree with Matthew Yglesias. This is big news for me because it is the first time it has happened since I started reading his blog.

It is about Bush's trip to Baghdad. He is slightly more cynical than me about the balance between improving the troops morale and the uhm voters morale. However, he even seems to object to the secrecy of the trip, discussing political reasons for secrecy.

Come on Matt it's almost all politics all the time, but the guy cares about his life too. I think the trip had to be secret for genuine security reasons. I mean Bush landed in an airport where a plane was hit by a surface to air missile recently. And (as I noted) given my view of the vice president I hope Bush remembers that discretion is the better part of valour.

Friday, November 28, 2003

Whew Bush is still with us .

I am not a big fan of Bush but just saying president Cheney drives chills up my spine. My sincere honest reaction to the news story was fear when I heard he had gone their and relief when I heard he made it out alive.

I actually think it was a good idea for him to eat turkey in Iraq. I am not thrilled at the thought of how this will help him with his chickenhawk problem, since, unless I am mistaken, he never entered a war zone with rank less than commander in chief. Still I think it is good for the morale of the troops and might convince a naive Iraqi or two that he cares about them.
Iran's unelected supreme religeous guide Ayatollah Khamenei gives a lesson in Democracy .

"In free elections the majority of the Iraqi people will choose those who will not allow the Americans to stay one more day in Iraq, "

Now I can see why Khamenei is eager to talk about future Iraqi elections not past Iranian elections since, in each of the last 3 national elections, about 70 % of Iranians have made it very clear that they want change and that means change from rule by Khamenei.

But oh the shame for a citizen of the worlds oldest established (large scale) democracy to feel the need to trade barbs with a theocrat.

The comment

''The Americans are so desperate that they are bombing an occupied country..." really stings.

I found about the sermon from Juan Cole

Thursday, November 27, 2003

Shop at Amazon and support Atrios by going there with this link. Costs same to you and he (or she) gets some of the money.
"Men who love sausage and respect the law should never watch either being made" Otto Von Bismarck
[quote added on November 29]

Omigod they don't do stuff like that here in Rome. Amazingly I only just learned that a majority of representatives voted against the medicaire reform bill
"an absolute majority of the House -- 218 of the 435 members -- had voted no,". I honestly would have assumed that this means the bill is voted down. I am amazed to leard that the speaker of the house could (and did) keep the vote open untill two members could be convinced to change their votes. Amazing. Appalling. Precedented but not very.

I stress that I am not holding the Italian parliament up as a model of fair play. It's just doing something outrageous that they don't do here is a very impressive accomplishment.

Of course I learned about this from Atrios .

Wednesday, November 26, 2003

Hatch Hatchets Hatchet Man

See how hard it is to catch a leaker when you really want to. Valerie Plame take notice.

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Brad Delong is trying to understand what the post immediately below means. There I typed Brad Delong so my hits should spike. He is very polite. I fear that the less charitably inclined are wondering if I have gone nuts. I mean do I really imagine that there is no real biologist around who either is doing what I propose or knows why it is a bad idea ? Well no I don't, but hey this is my blog.

I tried some more background for him and I include it here in case anyone else is reading the M-13 meets HIV thread.

OK so what is the idea.
So far AIDS vaccines are not working. This is not a surprise, since AIDS doesn't seem to be the kind of disease for which a vaccine works. The first symptom is an immune response yet people usually succumb in the end. It is now known that the immune system does slow the progress of HIV. However it does it in the less well known way -- by killing HIV infected cells. That is, in addition to the "ordinary" humoral immune response of making antibodies which stick to nasties and then cause them trouble, there is also the cell mediated system in which Killer T-cells kill our cells if they have strange proteins on them. This is useful to zap cancers (people only get cancer when this fails) and to kill virus infected cells.

It is not enough to clear HIV from the infected person. Recall HIV makes a DNA copy of its genome and puts the copy in a host cell chromasome. Sometimes the HIV goes dormant for a while. It stops making proteins so there is no way to tell if it is there. Anyway so it appears accoding the the last thing I read.

Now vaccines do stimulate anti HIV responses but what has an effect is the killer cell zap cells infected with HIV which HIV is active. Vaccines also cause us to make the usual pointless antibodies which don't do much of anything to the HIV.

Effective vaccines stop viruses by keeping them from infecting our cells. That is we make an antibody which sticks to the part of the virus which sticks to our cells to infect. That way the antibodies prevent infection in the first place.

So the question I ask is why don't HIV infected people (or vaccinated people) make antibodies which block infection ? One possibility is that there is no such antibody. Humans can make a huge variety of antibodies but not an infinite variety. If so I have nothing more to say.

It is also definitely possible that humans can make such a blocking antibody but don't when vaccinated or HIV infected. This is possible because antibody production requires more than a B-cell (the antibody producing cells) which makes the appropriate antibody and the target. There is a complex process involving 3 cells which communicate the antibody presenting cell presents the target antigen to the helper t-cell and the helper t-cell presents the antigen to the B-cell which makes the antibody which sticks to the antigen. At each stage there are a number of complex partly understood processes designed to prevent autoimmunity (our immune system attacking us).

I hope that the problem with making an antibody which blocks HIV infection (by sticking to the same bit of HIV which sticks to target cells) is at the level of the antibody presenting cell or the helper t-cell.
If so it might be possible to get around it by making a vaccine of a hybrid protein which contains the right bit of HIV and another protein to serve as a handle for the antibody presenting cell and the helper t-cell.

So the question my proposed experiment attempts to address is can humans make an antibody which causes HIV to fall off its target ? If so one might hope to diddle with the vaccine so as to get something which stimulates production of this antibody. Thus weird other ways to look for antibodies which do something. In this case bind to HIV and make it fall off of its target (CD4).


Sunday, November 23, 2003

More on m13 and say HIV

OK some background. M-13 is a virus which infects e. coli. It has a number of very useful features one of which is that it displays protein sequences inserted into one of its coat proteins. Another is that, since it does not kill the e-coli it infects, a huge amount of M-13 can be produced by an infected e-coli. The key for the main use of M-13 (irrelevant here) its genome is single stranded.

There is a (I forget the sites) an established technique of using m13 expression to find proteins that stick to something. In particular, the very first application was to find human immunoglobulin heavy chain variable regions which stick to a target antigen.

I have some thoughts on a non standard way to do this (I won’t describe the standard way).

plan. Make a M-13 which presents the target antigen and has a heat sensitive (or nonsense) mutation in an essential gene. Make a library of M-13 which express human heavy chain variable regions with a heat sensitive (or nonsense) mutation in another essential gene. Mix, dilute and infect e. coli at high temperature (or non nonsense suppressing). Repeat always adding the target antigen M-13.

Now a little more. to find a heavy chain variable region which binds to the antigen and knocks of another binding protein call it, say CD-4. Here first express target antigen as above. Express CD-4 on an M-13 with a dominant lethal (say streptomycin sensitivity or a heat sensitive coat protein).

First mix the target antigen M-13 and excess dominant lethal CD-4 M-13 and check that successful infection of e. coli is very rare (hah check indeed work for years more likely). Then repeat adding the mix of heavy chain variable region expressing M-13.

If the dominant lethal CD-4 M-13 coinfecting with target antigen M-13 bit works then it could be used to screen for monoclonals which compete off the target antigen.

Friday, November 21, 2003

hmmm by site meter someone is reading this blog (or was a minute ago). If you are reading please e-mail me at It will make my night.

Thursday, November 20, 2003

Dear Economist

I read a typically well written highly literate face value article quite critical of Paul Krugman in your still theoretically current November 15th-21st issue. To respond to each of your specific criticisms in turn.
Regarding California's energy crisis, he berated the Bush administration and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for not imposing price caps sooner -- but found no room to mention Bill Clinton. In fact Krugman argued in favor of price caps long before they were imposed. His arguments might even have had an effect on the final policy choice which, in retrospect, would clearly have been an effect for the better. I am no mind reader, but I think Krugman directed his advice to the Bush administration because it was in power and actually able to do something about the problem.

Some time ago Michael Kinsley accused the Economist of a similar partisan bias. He wrote (I am quoting from memory) "I love the snappy way in which the Economist writes 'there are three things that the government should do about this problem' although I sometimes suspect that the Economist decides that there are three things that the government should do about this problem before it decides exactly which three things. In fact, I sometimes suspect that the Economist decides that there are three things that the government should do about this problem before it decides exactly which problem". Notice the accusation of blatant partisanship. According to Kinsley's no doubt false accusation the Economist does not take a fair and balanced approach writing "there are three things the government should do and the previous government should have done about this problem" before deciding exactly which problem.

You claim that Krugman claimed that "Bush's ham fisted foreign policy had forced Dr Mahathir to make the remarks". Krugman's article does not excuse Mahathir Mohamad and does not claim he was forced to do anything. You write "-most unlikely, given that he was about to step down". It is indeed absurd to suggest that Mahathir Mohamad does not plan to spend his retirement gardening. Your corresponded could look closer to home for such howlers, since the Economist has asserted that Teng Hsiao Peng played a dominant role in China when, in fact, his only position was president of the China bridge society, and that Lee Kwan Yew continued to play a leading role in Singapore after he had actually retired. Seriously, I haven't read every issue of the economist and I don't remember everything I read, but this is the first time I can think of an article in the Economist which presents as absurd the idea that long ruling politicians working on a succession think about politics. I would imagine instead that your South East Asian correspondents would find the assertion in the Face Value article patently ridiculous.

One criticism starts by noting that Krugman argues that Bush is "probably" encouraging North Korea to become a more dangerous nuclear power. The complete criticism was "This probably didn't convince most game theorists". The implication is that it is obvious that Bush' policy couldn't have done that. It is possible that threats could cow North Korea. They could also convince North Korea that they need a nuclear deterrent. North Korean actions (certainly up to the time when Krugman wrote that) seem to fit the second possible theory. To be more detailed. It is possible that Kim Jong Il would like a bomb, thinks a deterrent would be useful, would like to extort money and might still dream of intimidating South Korea into submission. However, he also fears the US and responds to threats (and cash see above). How should he react given the fact that Iraq was invaded even though Saddam Hussein appears in retrospect to have done everything he could short of going into exile to avoid an invasion ? I see two choices resigning (unlikely) and attempting to frighten us (what he is doing and it is working). The successful attempts to frighten us have made North Korea a more dangerous nuclear power.

I am reminded of the Piranha brothers (from Monty Python) who thought up an operation which they called the operation in which they threatened to beat people up if they gave them money. This operation was not successful. Similarly, I think the Bush administration's Iraq policy is not the best way to convince dictators to disarm. I think your columnist’s one sentence discussion of an extremely important issue was completely unserious.

Finally you claim that Krugman accuses Erica Groshen and Simon Potter of committing the lump of labour fallacy. He clearly did no such thing. I quote in full his description of the study

"In it, Erica Groshen and Simon Potter argue that the pattern of laying off workers during recessions and rehiring them during recoveries has changed: since 1990 employers have become much less likely to rehire former workers. It's an interesting study, and it might — repeat, might — shed some light on why businesses have added so few jobs during our so-called recovery."

I see no criticism whatsoever and certainly no claim that the authors commit the lump of labor fallacy. Erica Groshen is a friend of a friend of mine and I was delighted that she had received such high praise from Paul Krugman, to be honest, delighted and envious. Krugman goes on to accuse un named and uncited "usually bullish, supposedly hardheaded business commentators." not the authors of the study of falling for the lump of labor fallacy. Having read Krugman's article, I can think of only two reasons why someone would claim that Krugman accused Groshen and Potter of falling for the lump of labor fallacy -- the accuser is illiterate in English and incapable of understanding Krugman's clear statement or the accuser is writing in bad faith.

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

See the post below for a brilliant observation by Mark Kleiman filled out to the following

The Declaration of Independence II

The Declaration of Independence of the United Kingdom In parliament November 19 2003
The unanimous Declaration of the England, Northern Ireland, Wales and, especially Scotland. When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for a multiethnic
bunch of peoples to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men and women are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. --That to secure these rights, special relationships are formed between countries, deriving their just powers from the consent of both governments, --That whenever any special relationshipbecomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new special relationships, laying their foundations on such principles and organizing their powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

Prudence, indeed, will dictate that special relationships long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such a special relationship, and to provide new Guards for their future security. --Such has been the patient sufferance of these kingdoms; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former special relationship. The history of the present president of the United States of
America [George III'd president of that name] is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these kingdoms.

To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world. He has (when governor of Texas) refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
He has forbidden his Governors to balance their budgets, unless suspended in their operation till his Federal subsidies should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people (such as Puerto Rico and Washington DC) unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
He has called together allied leaders at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has refused for a long time, to recognise that someone else was elected president; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
He has endeavoured to prevent the population of the United States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners and refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither.

He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by giving his executive orders to for establishing alleged Judiciary powers.
He has made the resulting "Judges" dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices.
He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent swarms of Officers to harass his people, and eat out their substance.
He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies.
He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power including the supreme court.
He has requested permission to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution and unacknowledged by our laws for Quartering large bodies of armed bodyguards among us and For protecting them, by diplomatic immunity, from punishment for any Murders
which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these kingdoms.
He has combined with others to subject the USA to a jurisdiction foreign to their constitution and unacknowledged by their laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
For depriving US citizens, in two cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
For transporting people beyond Seas to be held without trial:
For abolishing the free System of American Laws in a neighbouring naval base and establishing therein an Arbitrary government.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A President whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our American brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over them. We have reminded them of the circumstances of their emigration and settlement there. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common cultural background to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, in Peace Friends.
We, therefore, the House of Commons, in
Westminster, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by the Authority of the good People of these kingdoms, solemnly publish and declare, That
these United Kingdoms are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the Bush administration, and that the special relationship between them and the United States of America, is and ought to be temporarily dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Oh this is precious. Mark Kleiman notes that what goes around comes around.
The new plan for founding Iraqi democracy is up on the coalition provisional authority web site.

My view is that they have got to be kidding. If a camel is a horse designed by a committee what is a committee designed by a committee. The idea seems to be to find a way for Iraqi's to compromise by making a compromise between every existing proposal. There were two key questions.

1) Should Iraqi democracy begin with
a) elections (a common feature of democracy)
or should
b) democratic delegates be democratically appointed by bodies without democratic credentials the Govering Council (GC) and the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA).

The problem with a is the risk of tyranny of the majority of Shi'ite Arabs. Not coincidentally, the enthusiasts for an election to start with are (all?) Shi'ite Arabs. The problem with b is that to call such a process democratic is a blatent lie.

The decision is to choose a and b both of them first a fake election for a transitional assembly which will appoint a transitional prime minister then a real election some time in the future to write the constitution.

2) The other question is whether to A) write a constitution first then have an election (which seems the natural order) or B) to have an election then write a constitution (which seems odd).

The problem with A is that it would take a long time given that 6 months were not long enough to decide how to elect the delegates to the constitutional convention. The problem with B is that it sounds crazy to those of us who have had a constitution for 216 years and you would have to have an election soon.

The solution is to have a pseudo election to get a prime minister then a real election for the constitutional assembly to write the constitution.
This means that there will be a democratically elected constitutional convention which is only supposed to write the constitution and a not really democratically elected prime minister who is supposed to run the country.

The aim seems to be to compromise with Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani (who believes in one man one vote elections) while putting off the one man one vote elections as long as possible.

It seems to me that this is a recipe for disaster. What happens if the majority of the constitutional convention disagrees with the prime minister ? The democratically elected body with the authority to write a constitution clearly should rank higher than someone appointed by appointees of appointees of an appointee of George Bush. Yet it appears that the constitutional assembly will not have the power to vote no confidence in the transitional prime minister. To avoid this crisis the CPA will have to make sure that the majority of the constitutional assembly will not make trouble for the transitional prime minister. This does not seem to me to be a good approach to democracy, since it requires making sure that the first true election has the right result as judged by the CPA.

I think the risk of tyranny of the majority could be avoided in another way.
1) plan for electing the constitutional assembly written by Paul Bremer and some lawyers.
2) elected assembly (that's for Sistani the only guy who seems to really believe in elections)
3) assembly better make a committee to actually write the document.
The draft constitution must be approved by 2/3ds vote and a referendum.

The 2/3rds to avoid tyranny of the majority.

Or another way. Paul Bremer, some lawyers write a constitution. Presented for referendum. Then elections. Key point is informal negotiation with Sistani on the actual constitution.

Third plan (getting desparate here) the Jordanian option. Reunite the divided Hashemite kingdom and declare King Abdullah of Jordan King of Iraq.

OK the last proposal is even worse than the current plan, but it took some thinking to come up with something worse.

Saturday, November 15, 2003

For anyone who is willing to download a huge pdf file, there is a very interesting poll on US public beliefs about the war in Iraq here. A link directly to the 330 kb report that might last. To me the surprising thing is how well informed Americans seem to be. In particular the answers to follow up questions seem to help make sense of the headline numbers. It might mainly be that the program on international policy attitudes (PIPA) and I agree on what is reasonable and they have cleverly lead respondents there.

Anyway to me reassuring reading. First I find PIPA's analysis of majority US opinion convincing and am pleased and surprised that the debate is not (yet) so polarised that it makes no sense to talk of such a thing. Second Americans seem surprisingly well informed and eager to be reasonable.

Friday, November 14, 2003

CNN reports that Centcom commander John Abizaid said that it is clear that Saddam Hussein did not plan for guerrilla warfare in Iraq "calling him "one of the most incompetent leaders" in world history. " Ah *one of* the most incompetent leaders in world history. Any guesses as to who else Gen Abizaid might have had in mind ?

I admit that the above is an indirect quote of an indirect quote, but it sure seems to me that Saddam Hussein is not the only head of state who did not plan for guerrilla warfare in Iraq.
Brad Delong
"I thought last winter that the Bush administration would not be doing this without *hard* evidence of serious nuclear weapons programs. I--hard as this may be for some of you to believe--trusted them. No more."

I think Brad might consider following his advice to Daniel Luskin by suing himself for libel. Luskin's claim that Luskin is a stalker is probably not libelous because it is true. There is no such defence for DeLong's claim that DeLong trusted the Bush administration.

At very great length I comment

Dear Brad

I find your mea culpa unconvincing. I recall our semi heated e-mail debate about invading Iraq in March 2003. I don't recall your mentioning nuclear weapons. If you had, I would have pointed out that the "evidence" presented by the Bush administration was simply proof that they had no evidence (the point that the Niger documents were extremely obvious forgeries was public knowledge as was the point that the aluminum tubes were clearly rocket casings). I recall you argued for invading (only with UN approval) based on Saddam Hussein's depravity (and I admit I wasn't sure the invasion would be a mistake). How did trusting Bush come to be the explanation of your view ex poste ?

Now on chemical and biological weapons, I assumed that the Bush administration didn't have any secret evidence to speak of thingking that, if they had evidence they would have shared it with the UN inspectors ? I was also 99% sure that Iraq had gas and biological weapons. The reason is not that I overestimated Bush but that I overestimated Saddam Hussein. I knew he was a depraved idiot but I didn't think he was enough of a depraved idiot to allow his country to suffer sanctions to hide the fact that he had nothing to hide. The evidence which convinced me, you and I'm sure Bush that Iraq had gas and biological weapons was Iraq's resistance of inspections during the Bush Sr and Clinton Administrations.

I know you Brad and I don't believe that you could have trusted Bush. You are too smart to do that.

I have another theory, if I may be so bold. I will consider a hypothetical smart person with dovish inclinations who was in favor of invading Iraq (with UN approval) (ahspwdi for short). I think ahspwdi internalised political calculations or maybe Ahspwdi waw swayed by herd psychology. Ahspwdi knew that it would be politically highly costly to say that ahspwdi opposed invasion even with UN approval. In order not to feel like a hypocrite, ahspwdi decided made himself or herself believe what ge or she thought the Dems should say for political reasons.

I, in contrast, live in Italy and have yet to hear someone say they are in favor of invading Iraq (as opposed to reading on the web or in newspapers) except on TV (maybe not sure of that). So following the herd and with the exact same opinions you had about WMD I was opposed to invading.

Now I might add that I was not then and am not now sure I was right. I am not at all sure it was a bad idea to invade Iraq. As I have explained, on my blog for example, the absence of WMD, for me, tends to convince me that the invasion was not as bad an idea as I thought.

Ah now I see the urgent reason to call Bremer back to Washington standing up Miller (see below). After extensive top level discussions the Bush administration and Bremer agree that it would be nice if Iraq quickly became a Democracy without need for further US loss of life or spending. A tough call that one and clearly one that required Bremer to insult an ally and fly twice across the Atlantic.

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

What is with these guys (and condi) ? Paul Bremer cancelled a meeting with Poland's prime minister, Leszek Miller to rush back to Washington to confer. Now I understand an urgent rethink is in order, but was it really so urgent as to justify standing up the prime minister of an ally which has just sacrificed the life of a soldier to the cause ? I mean I thought the Bush administration's anti diplomacy was aimed at slapping down critics not allies. Maybe Miller can use his spare time to visit London and compare notes with Blair about how fun it is to be a political ally of Bush

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Pollingreport reports that the Latest Newsweek poll of registered voters shows that George Bush is in trouble especially with men and women

"In general, would you like to see George W. Bush reelected to another term as president, or not?"

_______Yes No Don'tKnow
ALL ____44 50 6
Men____45 51 4
Women _42 51 7

so 51% of women say no and 51% of men say no and the overall average is that 50 % of people say no ???

huh ? The (weighted average) of 51 and 51 is 50 ? Must have something to do with rounding. No how about smoke and mirrors.

I mean I do know that there are registered voters in America who find each of the terms "man" and "woman" too confining to refer to them, but I doubt that Bush has less opposition among them than among the general population.

Sunday, November 09, 2003

HIV ab

I wonder if there is a human antibody which would block HIV infection of CD-4+ cells. It is clear that anti HIV antibodies in infected people do not protect them (they are the first symptom of HIV disease). Killer cells specific for HIV infected cells delay the course of infection, but are usually not enough. Existing vaccines appear to stimulate anti HIV killer cells but not to cause production of blocking antibodies. I can think of two possible explanations. First it is possible that non of the antibodies in the huge human antibody repertoire that bind to the same part of HIV P-130 as host cells do. Second it is possible that HIV particles do not stimulate production of such antibodies as we have. The second case would be much more promising than the first as it has proven possible to make non antigens antigenic by connecting them to haptans (the H. Influenza vaccine works this way).

So I wonder, is there in the human antibody repertoire an antibody which binds to HIV in a way that makes it fall off of CD-4 ? If such an antibody exists it would be useful to identify it. I propose the following experiment

1. bind CD-4 to a solid support
2. add HIV P-130 (or virus particles if you dare work with them)
3. take a library of human igg c-dna in a P-1 expression vector. This is a bacteriophage which displays a protein on its surface. It will also display hybrid proteins. The P-1 system is a well developed way of finding antibodies which bind to a given target.
4. It seems to me that if there is the desired antibody the P-1 which expresses it will bind to HIV-P-130 and make it fall off of the CD-4. Also unrelated to HIV P-1s will just pass through.
5. precipitate the elutant with another anti P-130 antibody.
6. infect e. coli with the precipitant and repeat.

Actually it might be better to add one or two more purification steps.

Addition 1 would be to bind P-130 to a solid support. Run the P-1 library over it. Take the P-1 that stick (can you precipitate with HIV and P-1 expressing antibodies ?). A library of antibody presenting P-1 that stick to HIV would be a fine start.

It is conceivable that a sucrose gradient of the elutant from 4 to isolate particles with mass P-1 particle + 130 or P-1 particle + HIV particle might make sense.

Now would it be possible to go from an antibody to the antigen ? Maybe screaning hybrids of P-130 with good antigens (or interleukins) for binding to the P-1 that knocks HIV off of CD-4 would be a good idea.


An hour or so after writing the above, I have other thoughts. They are about what p-1 expression library to use. One might be c-DNA to igg mRNA from plasma cells of people who have been HIV positive for a long time but have not progressed to AIDs. Here the hope would be that they (or one of them) has not progressed because he or she is producing a blocking antibody. Notice the idea would be to pool from more than one person. One reason a very good very rare antibody might exist is the last stage (post stimulation) of generation of antibody variation via point mutations. Still this would not get the antibodies which might exist but not be produced after infection because of a recognition of self issue related to t-cells (boy that sure is clear e-mail for an explanation).

Another possibility would be not igg cDNA but the fab part of igd (B-cell receptor) heavy chain genes (that is get from the chromosome with some PCR).

Finally if there is a preliminary selection for sticking to HIV some point mutagenesis of the P-1 would get to antibodies that aren’t made by VDJ rearrangement but would appear after activation via the point mutation process mentioned above.

One thing about the pre selectiong for sticking to HIV and/or looking for a rare antibody. It might make sense once one had some clones expressing anti-HIV to subtract them from the library (I’m afraid I would do on nitrocellulose probe with radioactive known clone for the plaques then remove them physically from plates but I am so out of touch). This would make it possible to search for other rarer clones or clones harder to elute or precipitate.

Deontological Conservativism

Matthew Yglesias argues that deontological conservativism is not just wrong but absurd. I am neither a conservative nor a philosopher and I am not even sure what deontological means. However, I can’t resist the challenge.

I am going to assume that deontological roughly means contractarian. I remember Rawls saying that there are roughly two views of justice one consequentialist and the other contractarian.

So the story must begin in a state of nature or original position or some such thing in which moral agents decide on what terms they choose to give up some of their natural freedom. From this thought experiment Rawls, Locke (and followers like Hayek and Nozick) and Hobbes have drawn rather different conclusions. None was conservative.

The problem with contractarian conservativism is that a conservative has to conserve something in particular – some tradition or some institutions. In contrast deontology starts from the abstract. It must be difficult to defend a particular tradition with a general argument. I think this is Yglesias’ insight. He argues that the strongest case for conservativism is Burke’s argument that we should not trust arguments that seem reasonable. That is Burke’s argument against political philosophy as such. I am sure that both Burke and Yglesias have good solid points. I am just pretending I am not convinced.

In particular some American social conservatives defend and ask the state to help promote (or impose) the moral dictates of a particular religion. They try very hard to avoid sectarianism, but it is clearly a challenge for them. Even without religion the tradition to maintain is certainly national – the ideal is roughly an idealised image of the USA in the 1950s. Not entirely the USA in the 1950s itself. they are not so thrilled about extremely powerful trade unions and don’t care as much as liberals about the rapid reduction in income inequality. The problem is that it is hard to find an abstract philosophical argument for particular traditions.

So to whom may I appeal in my effort to counter both Burke and Yglesias ? I hope someone believes I am not joking when I type Fred Barnes. Barnes may not have lived up to the highest standards of deontologia giornalistica (journalists’ professional ethics in Italian) but he did say something that struck me once. He claimed that the key division in the USA was not between classes or regions or whatever but between conservative parents and liberal non parents. This does not quite explain why conservatives don’t win all elections but it is interesting.

I think that liberal and libertarian theories have some difficulty considering babies and children. This was a delicate point for Locke. The existence of children seems sometimes to be almost overlooked (often they are assumed away by economists the ultimate consequentialists). I would argue against freedom that, if we are free, we are free to make a mess of our children’s lives. I don’t think anyone believes that adults should generally be free to ignore childrens’ needs. The argument comes down to whether how completely this responsibility is born by the childrens’ parents.

I think defence of the traditional family is central to social conservativism (no shocker there). I would argue that other aspects like respect for the flag or the bible are related to a general belief that respect for authority is a good thing. So I will pretend that social conservativism is the argument that the traditional nuclear family (USA aobut 1960) is a very good thing, an excellent thing, so precious that every policy should be judged on the basis of its effects on this institution. This is, more or less, what social conservatives claim.

How can such a view be the social contract ? I think first of all, one has to believe that virtue is the highest good. That, while people living their daily lives might want this and that (right now I want a cushion) in the original position they choose the social contract that will make them good. Then one must add the assumption that traditional families are by far the best, perhaps the the only, way to make good people.

Hmmm well the empirical assertion is absurdly strong and besides the argument appears to be consequentialist. It is contractarian because of the assumption that people in the original position want virtue not pleasure or freedom. Still freedom or freedom correctly construed or negative and positive rights or whatever are consequences.

To claim that conservatives have a point, I argue that the standard stories leave babies and children out of the picture entirely. Hobbes and Locke clearly considered a contract between adults. Rawls consider agents in the original position who are ageless but certainly not 2 years old. I am not sure exactly what Ayn Rand would have proposed to do with a baby abandoned on a church door step. I doubt she would have advocated selfishness or condemned charity in such a case. I don’t plan to read anything she wrote, so I will assume she dodged the question. Liberals defending no fault divorce tend to get vague (and resistant to the evidence) if asked if it is good for the kids.

If a mom dad and the kids family is really crucial to promoting the virtue or the happiness of the kids, then much of social conservatives’ advocacy of conformism (to all norms and therefore to that norm) makes some sense. Even the argument that the social safety net is bad because it promotes risk taking makes some sense if the risk is unwanted pregnancy. Even the argument that consenting adults should not (perhaps should not be allowed) have sex except when married and intending to bear and raise children makes a tiny bit of sense, if marrying and bearing and raising children is so urgently demanded by the unborn in limbo who have the same rights as the living. In this context, respect for say couples that choose not to bear children or celibate single adults must be seen as a compromise, inconsistent with true principals but required to avoid seeming too extreme.

I don’t think the argument is convincing. I wonder if it is deontological.

Thursday, November 06, 2003

Why did we let so many of the Ansar Al Islam terrorists get away ?

Now I know of Ansar Al Islam largely in the context of Bush administration spin efforts. To claim that Saddam Hussein was linked to Al Qaeda, they argued and argue that Ansar Al Islam, which is highly violent and clearly linked to Al Qaeda, was based in Iraq. They fail to note that it was based in Iraqi Kurdistan outside of the area controlled by the Hussein regime.

I decided I ought to learn more, because of the increasing belief that Ansar Al Islam is currently a huge problem for the USA. The Washington Post reports, among other things, that

“"We believe that the fighters in Iraq belong to the organization of al-Qaida and Ansar al-Islam," Talabani said. "We have a plan to fight those."
Washington says Ansar al-Islam is linked to al-Qaida, and some U.S. officials say it represents the main organized adversary to American forces in Iraq.”

Jalal Talabani holds the rotating presidency of the Iraqi Governing Council and the PUK which has been fighting Ansar Al Islam since September 23 2001 (soon after Ansar Al Islam appeared).

Ansar Al Islam does not seem to have been a major factor in the Bush administrations decision to invade Iraq. A Christian Science Monitor article reporting the existence of the group says “With the US dedicated to rooting out Al Qaeda's influence wherever it surfaces in the world, a group of Islamic extremists in northern Iraq with even loose ties to Al Qaeda could complicate further any Iraq intervention. Already the US is in a delicate dance with allies over how to handle Iraq, with many warning that the US must consider the implications of possible instability that a move to topple Hussein could cause.
The emergence of the group comes as the US ramps up pressure on the Hussein regime in Iraq over weapons development. In a White House press conference on Wednesday, President Bush said Hussein "is a problem, and we're going to deal with him."
The State Department did not have extensive information on Ansar al-Islam, but one official there said he was aware of its existence and connection to Al Qaeda.”

This supports the suspicion that the claims about Ansar Al Islam were made to convince others to support a decision to invade Iraq that had been made on other grounds. However, I am writing this post, because I suspect that the Bush administration’s focus on Saddam Hussein caused them to consider the fight against Ansar Al Islam a side show, a distraction from the main issue. I think these priorities may have led to decisions which enabled most (almost all) of the Ansar Al Islam militants to avoid capture (or death) during the period of major armed conflict. If they are, indeed, the main factor in the current armed conflict, this would have been a terrible mistake.
How and when did they get away ?. They were based on the Iraq-Iran border. When joint US PUK forces over ran their camp on (March 30) many were gone, presumably to Iran.

On March 22 2003 (day 3 of the war no ?) Kevin Sites of Cnn reported as follows
“Now on another flank – the border with Iran and Iraq – Ansar al-Islam is the fundamentalist group, the "mini-Taliban" as some people have called them, that U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell has linked ... with Saddam Hussein. He says that this is his al Qaeda connection. .... Saddam Hussein's connection to the al Qaeda is with Ansar al-Islam. Now they're located in Kurdish territory, so it was an interesting observation that he made.
And the U.S. military must think so as well. They fired apparently, according to our sources here, 30 cruise missiles at Ansar al-Islam locations along that border with Iran and Iraq. Now those targets may have softened up a little bit and PUK sources – Patriotic Union of Kurdistan sources – tell us they may now attack Ansar al-Islam, either today or tomorrow.”
Right we’ll get around to that soon today or tomorrow. Notice this is presented as a PUK job without US special forces on the ground.
The attack didn’t come March 22 or 23. The Washington Post reports the battle beginning March 28 2003 (day 9 ) with US special forces assisting/advising the PUK forces.
According to ABC news The Ansar base was secured March 30 (day 11)
notice “Intelligence officials were convinced they would find the toxin known as ricin, which is deadlier than cyanide, or the apparatus to make chemicals at the facility. They were so concerned about the facility that plans were drawn up to attack it long before the war, although they were not carried out. “
Who decided that ?
there is a reference (past tense) in General Franks’ March 30 briefing

Now finally past tense of the attack in CNN on APRIL 1 2003 (a bit slow for CNN no)

“Unavoidable damage, say Kurdish officials on the ground, who say they had to root out this terrorist stronghold throughout the 250-square mile area, well dug-in, well-entrenched.
There was ferocious fighting for 36 hours. Now the Kurdish fighters themselves, about 10,000 of them, linked for the first time in the battlefield with U.S. special forces. “
Notice that the discussion is about Ricin not how many terrorists got away. No prisoners were taken (US soldiers reported that Ansar fighters killed themselves). No bodies were counted either (tacky I know but It would be nice to know what fraction of the approximately 700 slipped away say across the border into Iran.

Now I ask why wasn’t an assault on Ansar Al Islam the first step of the war in Iraq. In fact, I wonder why it wasn’t the first and last step. Consider what Romesh Ratnesar of CNN had to say over a year ago August 26 2002 proving the ABC claim that there were plans to attack Ansar Al Islam long before March 20 2003
“Other Pentagon aides leaked word that the Administration had recently considered but decided against sending commandos into Kurdish-dominated northern Iraq to knock out a clandestine chemical-weapons lab allegedly run by Ansar al-Islam, a tiny fundamentalist rebel group whose ranks are reportedly swelling with al-Qaeda fighters fleeing Afghanistan.
For those looking to promote a U.S. invasion of Iraq, such assorted morsels of intelligence are tantalizing hints of a conspiracy.”
Notice Ratnesar’s view that, to the Bush administration hawks, actually doing something about Ansar al Islam, is a minor aspect of the main effort to use the existence of Ansar Al Islam to convince Bush to invade Iraq. Notice also that someone decided not to attack Ansar Al Islam in 2002.
It seems to me that US forces in Iraq are in trouble because the Bush administration did not let minor objectives like catching terrorists by surprise get in the way of its “war on terrorism”.

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

Sometimes I even think about economics. Even stranger sometimes about macroeconomics. Strangest of all sometimes about the US business cycle.
This is an authentic e-mail exchange about inventories. This is not the most recent example. It is dramatic because I predicted that people would write about the data immediately so that the lag event to paper about the event will be less than the lag event to data reporting event was a decade or two ago. Brad's reply that, yes indeed, he had written something about the datum was not a joke.

Date: Sun, 15 Apr 2001 16:14:40 -0700
To: Robert Waldmann
From: Brad DeLong
Subject: Re: speed
X-AntiVirus: scanned for viruses!
X-MIME-Autoconverted: from quoted-printable to 8bit by id AAA08090

>Dear Brad
>I just read that U.S. inventories declined
>WASHINGTON (AP) — Inventories of unsold goods held by U.S. businesses in
>February registered the biggest decline in almost five years.
>The Commerce Department reported Friday that stocks of goods on shelves and
>backlots fell by 0.2 percent to a seasonally adjusted $1.22 trillion.
>Now first that seems a lot of fuss for a 0.2% decline (although it means
>net inventory investment declined I guess about 200%). Mainly however, I
>am impressed at how time is speeding up. Given the miracle of modern
>technology I sitting in Frascati (Roma) can read news somewhere in ap land
>and e-mail you all in half an hour. Well OK an hour. I haven't spead up
>much. I got distracted by the Drudge report.
>Here we might hope that we have a mini-growth recession already troughing 3
>months after it was first rumoured to be begining. Which is the alleged
>point of this message. The incredibly quick decline in inventories in a
>minor downturn seems to me to be really new. My guess is that typically
>there would have been a much longer period of involuntary inventory
>accumulation before firms caught on that sales had dropped. I wonder if
>the speading up is due to new methods of keeping track of inventories and
>sales. I fear that someone else has already written a paper about the
>latest datum (someone who can resist Drudge).

Nope. But I'm going to talk about it Tuesday at lunchtime in Washington DC...

How's life?

Matthew Yglesias writes a parody of what he considers to be Joe Katzman’s condescending tone, snap psychoanalysis of people with whom he disagrees and unwillingness to confront their arguments

Joe Katzman challenges Mathew Yglesias to find 5 examples. Yglesias claims to already have one in the very post which replies in kind to Yglesias’ parody of Katzman. Not a sharp way to undermine Yglesias’ claim.

Matt, here's a proposal. Go through all my stuff on Armed Liberal and Winds of Change. Find me five posts with condescending tone. Find five posts where I psychoanalyze you or any of the liberal Democrats (or even wacky leftists) with whom I disagree. Email me the cites. If we disagree, I'll let Kevin or Brian Linse act as a referee. Find five, I'll send you a nice crisp $100.00 bill. I'll bet I can easily find ten quotes like that from you. I'll even give you 2-1 odds; I'll only ask for $50.00 if I do. Are you in?

Notice the offer changes in mid paragraph from a one way offer of a nice crisp $100.00 bill to a bet. I think it is clear that Yglesias can accept the first challenge (find 5 for $100) and not the second (do you want to pay me $50.00 if I find 10). I mean nothing legally binding here but insta welshing is still welshing.

Notice the broad rules. Snearing at wacky leftists counts. No restriction on the nationality of the leftists either. Finally no rule that Yglesias has to find the 5 cases on his own.

I decided to search winds of war (which I have never read) for the word smug. Many hits. Some seem to fit the very broad conditions of the challenge. Here are 6 for a total of 7 including the self-referential post containing the challenge. I kept at it for 5 more minutes after finding 4 because I am not sure how many count. One, for example, appears to be a guest post for which Katzman might have grounds to consider himself not responsible.

Tom Brokaw (noted lefty) is a class snitch. Thinks offended Iraqi nationalism might be a problem. What a wimp fool. Katsman is quoting but also clearly endorsing the view.

The mask slips from the “antiwar” movement in Washington. Notice the whole movement is responsible for each sign.

France and Germany are the Axis of Weasels (beyond psychoanalysis). Bush shares none of the responsibility for tension in the UN and NATO. Arguably, of course, this is not covered since Shroeder and especially Chirac certainly aren’t wacky leftists.

“The Evil that Was France” headline says it all. Seems to be a guest submission though
yes Virginia there is an UN investigation coming

Sneering at people with whom you disagree is about par for the course in Blogs. However betting $100 that you don’t is not smart.

I think Katzman ought to pay up. He can probably get $50.00 back.

I stress that Matthew Yglesias does not know who I am, did not in any way encourage me to do this and is not sharing the money with me.

As noted above I had never seen winds of war before getting interested in the challenge. It seems, to me, to be a really excellent source of news and commentary and I expect to be back often. Also I plan to check out armed liberal.