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Wednesday, April 30, 2003

Yesterday Cesare Previti was convicted of bribing judges and sentenced to 11 years in prison. Oh what great joy it was to be alive on that good day but to be middle aged was very limbo. I am extremely happy about this. Non Italian readers might be surprised that I celebrate a prison sentence, since locking people up is always very sad even if it is sometimes necessary. My joy is unmixed with concern over the suffering of the honorable Cesare Previti in prison, since there is no doubt in my mind that he will never actually enter a prison.

I should clarify that my use of the adjective honorable above is not an expression of a personal opinion. It is the standard title for a deputy in the camera dei deputati (lower house of parliament) corresponding to "congressman" in the US or "member of parliament" in the UK. This status, re-conferred by the voters in an election with the investigation of the case at an advanced stage, explains why Previti has not been held in preventive detention (very common in Italy). To hold a deputy in preventive detention requires the permission of the camera which was not, in this case, given.

I am amazed and delighted by the verdict. I am not surprised that Previti wasn't acquited. There is a good bit of evidence that he did bribe judges including the record from a Swiss bank of a very large sum of money transfered from an account controlled by Previti to an account controlled by Renato Squillante who was at the time the chief GIP (see below) in Rome. I am surprised that there was a verdict, since his defence team managed to delay the conclusion of the trial through the most amazing series of manouvers.

Previti's explanation of this record was that the Swiss bank incorrectly recorded the financial transaction. I am not making this up. This explanation was provided years ago. In recent years the honorable Previti has not addressed the evidence that he bribed judges at all. Instead he has claimed that the prosecutors and judges in his case are persecuting him for political reasons. The day before yesterday he asked (demanded really) that parliament change the law (for the third time) not only to protect him but also to punish the prosecutors and judges in his case. I am not making this up either.

Since Gaetano Pecorella, the chairman of the judiciary committee of the Camera dei deputati, is part of the defence team for a large set of prominent defendants in two separate trials and, more importantly, Silvio Berlusconi was the benificiary of one of the allegedly purchased sentences, Previti's request (really richiesta that is demand) will not fall on deaf ears. See my Italian language blog fantapolitica for a discussion of this issue using only words begining with p. The law has already been changed in ways which might have been expected to help the honorable Previti twice in the course of the investiageion and trial. I translate Curzio Maltese writing in La Repubblica Monday "there may be a verdict and sentence tomorrow. Then there will be the punishment -- of the judges". Still it was a famous victory.

OK now background. This will be very long. I am not checking anything so much might be incorrect (especially speling of Italian names where I put single and double consonants more or less at random). I am not even going to try paragraphs I will put headings and explanations.

Cesare Previti: A member of the Camera in the past two legislatures and Senator in the one before them. Minister of defence in the first Berlusconi government. Formerly national co-ordinator of forza italia (yaay Italy) the largest party in the current government which belongs to Silvion Berlusconi roughly to the same degree that Silvio Berlusconi's shoes belong to Silvio Berlusconi. At the beginning of the electoral campaign in 1996, Stefania Ariosto girlfriend of a then prominent forza italia deputy Vittorio Doti, accused Cesare Previti of bribing magistrates in Rome. Doti ceased to be a prominent member of forza italia when he failed to publically denounce her as a liar. As a result of this accusation prosecutors in Milan (why Milan ??? see below) asked for information from Swiss banks in a rogatoria (how do you say that in English it just means asking foreigners for information also see below). Much of this information showed a very complex pattern of transfers of funds ending up either transferred to magistrates of as cash in Italy and beginning with the beneficiaries of surprising decisions in the IMI-SIR judgement and the Lodo Mondadori judgement (see below). One showed a very simple transfer of money from Previti to Squillante. On that topic, I think Previti really believes the bank made a mistake. He claimed that the transfer was not direct but was Previti to X to Squillante. My personal guess is that he asked the bank to do that so there would be no record of a transfer from him directly to a magistrate. I very much like the idea of a Swiss banker deciding to save on paperwork since it amounts to the same thing in the end and failing (for once) to generate a tangled paper trail. In any case, none of Previti's many and prominent defenders seems inclined to address the issue of Swiss banking records at all. Previti is, among other things, still attaching Ariosto even though her testimony is relevant to the case only because she claims Previti gave money to Squillante as clearly confirmed by the banking records. I think it is fair to say that everyone knows that Previti is guilty and that anyone who claims otherwise from the Prime minister on down is a liar. Also everyone knows that one of Previti's co-conspirators in one of the cases is the prime minister who is clearly a criminal.

Calunnia: I would like to stress that I write this in Italy where calunnia (slander) is a crime and false and damaging statements made without reckless disregard for the truth concerning public figures can be slander. Silvio please denounce me or at least sue me. Pretty please. No need to fear, the prime minister is not eager to appear in court as a plaintiff or witness. He is not Bill Clinton and is not going to let anyone else's lawyer ask him questions when he is under oath. He recalls that once when he sued the judges found for the defendants (respondents in UK English) on some counts declaring as an official judgement and established fact that the claim that Silvio Berlusconi was in business with the "white collar mafia" (my translation) was not slanderous because it was true. They also convicted Silvion Berlusconi of making materially false statements under oath. He was not sentenced to prison because of an amnesty.

IMI-SIR I don't remember clearly. SIR was a privately owned chemical company controlled by someone named Rovelli. IMI was a publically owned bank. At some point IMI took control of SIR (I think it might have been bankrupt). Rovelli sued IMI claiming that they had mismanaged his assets.
Surprisingly he won. In the course of the trial a key document in which IMI authorised their lawyers to do something disappeared then reappeared one day too late. After Rovelli senior's death his sons received damages (with interest) of roughly Lire 500,000,000,000 (even in Lire that's a lot of money)
As he was about to undergo the operation which he did not survive, Rovelli told his sons that they should pay one of their lawyers exactly 10% of the judgment (without interest). They did. Yesterday Felice Rovelli was convicted and sentenced to 6 years in prison. The very large sum of money (roughly Lire 30,000,000,000 about $15,000,000 but worth more then) passed through a Swiss bank account controlled (as he admits) by Previti.
Previti has explained this a very large fee he earned for legitimate legal services whcih he prefers not to describe and as money which he legally transferred for legitimate reasons to a third pary who he prefers not to name and most recently (Monday) as a very large fee he earned. It is important to note that the Swiss banking secrecy law forbids the use of Swiss banking records to prosecute tax evasion. Thus the huge fee explanation does not imply the risk of going to jail for tax evasion. The money then followed a complicated path ending up as cash and, perhaps, the mysterious ability to buy large houses on a judges salary. Some was transferred directly to Renato Squillante. This is admitedly odd because he was the head GIP of Rome involved in criminal investigations not the civil case. The prosecutor's theory is that he was paid for information and for acting as an intermediary in contacting other judges.

Lodo Mondadori. This is a very interesting case concerning who owned the Mondadori publishing company which, among other things, owned La Repubblica -- the Italian newspaper with the widest circulation. Roughly speaking Berlusconi and Carlo De Benedetti (remember him ? He was famous once) were trying to buy it. Roughly because I identify them with companies they run (Fininvest for Berlusconi CIR for De Benedetti) . In the end the judges said Berlusconi owned it except for La Repubblica and the weekly Espresso (aaaaaa the phrase weekly Espresso terrifies me) which are still owned by CIR controlled by De Benedetti. The people who edit La Repubblica and Espresso are sure Berlusconi's main aim was to fire them. This does tend to create a certain threat to their ability to report the cases impartially. In a heroic effort the La Repubblica finance pages applauded the successful effort by English speaking institutional investors to remove De Benedetti from Olivetti and, more or less, shut down Italian production of PCs. Now no French newspaper would applaud such a thing no matter who owned it.

It is alleged that the judges in this case were bribed by, among others, Cesare Previti. In the verdict of yesterday the judges ordered 3 defendants to pay Euro 380,000,000 in damages to CIR. Now this raises a very odd question. If something illegal was allegedly done to help Berlusconi why wasn't he personally on trial ? Well for him the statute of limitations has already run out. He was accused of providing the money (an event at the beginning of the bribing process). His alleged involvement was brief. During that brief period, the penalty for bribing a judge was short. Actually the law did not specifically mention the crime of bribing a judge during a brief period covering Berlusconi's alleged crimes (in this particular case). Thus he could only be accused of bribing a public official. That's not such a severe crime so the statue of limitations has already run out for him. In deciding the possible sentence and hence the appropriate statue of limitations, the fact that he is gainfully employed (as prime minister) was considered relevant.

Parte civile. Another odd question is what is a criminal court doing awarding damages ? In Italy the criminal and civil aspects of a case are tried together. This means that in addition to the prosecutors and defence attornies there are lawyers for the parte civile roughly plaintiffs. In addition to the ciminal verdict and sentence to prison or fines the judges also award damages. In this case the lawyer who just won his client Euro 380,000,000 in damages (subject to appeal) is the honorable deputy Pisapia mentioned above. No Italian finds this shocking except when the activities as member of parliament of the practicing lawyer get too close to the activities as lawyer. Actually roughly speaking Pecorella is one of two who have gone too far since I got here.

GIP and Renato Squillante: giudice per le indagine preliminari. This does not correspond exactly to any specific role in English speaking countries. These are judges who follow investigations by prosecutors. Furthermore at some point they become GUPs (giudice per l'udienza preliminaria) in the same case. In this role they have to decide whether to indict suspects. Thus they very roughly correspond to grand juries except that they know the law and don't always do what they are asked. They also have roles like the judge for arraignments and judges who issue warrants. A difference is that prosecutors can issue search warrants themselves in Italy. A key power of GIPs is to decide if a suspect is to be held in pretrial detention while still theoretically presumed innocent. Their decision can be appealed to a tribunale della libertà but is rarely reversed. This is very very important because trials take a very long time in Italy and defendants are presumed innocent until they have exhausted all appeals (see below the word exhausted fortuitous). About half of people in Italian prisons are presumed innocent (it must be noted that the immense sentences in the US help the ratio of convicts/prisoners but do not help people held without bail or who can't make bail). The maximum term of pretrial detention depends on the severity of the crime. For white collar crimes, it is a few months (I think 60 days maybe 90 for bribery). A GIP asked to put Previti in pretrial detention but was denied authorisation by the chamber of deputies (which then had a center left majority). Despite the fact that he had spent much of his adult life deciding on pretrial detention (and often deciding in favor) Squillante was not at all pleased when he was (briefly) locked up without trial. He went on a hunger strike.

Sostituto procuratore: this is what I mean when I say prosecutor. This is an role which definitely absolutely does not exist in the US or (especially) the UK. In Italy as in most continental countries, prosecutors supervise the investigation from a very early stage. Often the police are, effectively, factotums for the prosecutors (read Simenon for Maigret's complaints). It is very important that prosecutors are not subordinates of elected officials. They are all independent. They are promoted, transferred and disciplined by a body of magistrates, the CSM, the majority of whose members are elected by magistrates. The word magistrate refers to prosecutors, GIPs, trial judges, appeals court judges, constitutional court judges and judges in the highes court of appeal (cassazione). This is a largely self governing body which admits new members based on an annonymous exam on the law (which appears not to be fixed believe it or not). This means that to understand investigation of politicians in Italy Americans should think of special prosecutors(independent councils). It is not at all like the case of, say, George W Bush investigated at the SEC where the chief counsel was his former lawyer appointed by his father or the cases of George W. Bush (Harken) and Richard Cheney (Halliburton) who are to be investigated by the legislature controlled by their party or the Justice department controlled by Bush's appointee or etc. The amazing potential for drama of independent magistrates and corrupt politicians was strangely unfulfilled until 1992 and then was very much fulfilled. Needless to say "reform" of these institutions is a top priority of the current majority. I personally do not like the confusion of roles of judges and prosecutors (this is a very very key issue in Italy in which I just sided with Berlusconi). Also I would not be thrilled about such a powerful institution being out of democratic control if I forgot what democratic control has generally turned out to be.

Prescrizione: roughly combines the US concepts of statute of limitations and right to a speedy trial. The point is that if an amount of time has passed since the alleged crime, the defendant is declared innocent because the crime is "prescritto". The amount of time is a function of the sentence and is very brief for white collar crimes such as bribery at least given the glacial standards of Italian justice. Thus, it seems to me, that one of the main activities of defence attornies in such cases is to delay the final verdict until the crime is prescritto. The penalty for frivolous dilatory efforts is a small fine.

Delay: The reason the verdict is so exciting is that it finally arrived. Even by the standards of Italians suspected of white collar crimes his efforts to delay are truly amazing. For example the udienze preliminaria mentioned above is typically very brief. The GUP decides mainly based on documents filed in the udienza. However, the suspect has to be present. Oddly Previti was busy in parliament every time his GIP tried to have an UP. He stressed that it is illegal to schedule one on Sunday when parliament was closed. Notably the too busy to show up issue only arises when their is a vote of the deputato wants to give a speach. Previti developed a desire to speak about issues whose interest to him was unclear (well actually it is very very clear what his interest was). In the actual trial Previti recused his judges 8 times. Each effort was rejected. Most recently he recused them because they declared the trial over before he gave his final speach (defendants can make closing arguments themselves in Italy). Now this is not before they gave him a chance to speak. They did but he had just suddenly left the courtroom. They scheduled another chance the next day but he didn't show up. The presiding judge declared the trial over. Previti declares he must be punished for this.

Why Milan ?: This is actually a very very key issue. Previti's main arguments have been that he should be tried in Perugia which handles cases in which Roman magistrates are suspects or victims. He also argued for a change of venue to Brescia (handles cases removed from Milan) because he could not receive a fair trial in Milan. Gaetano Pecorella as a lawyer defending his client argued to the highest court of appeal (cassazione) that the existing directives written by the justice department were unconstitutional as they did not correspond to the instructions of parliament (they refered the issue to the constitutional court a separate body). Parliament including the judiciary committe of the Camera dei deputati chaired by Gaetano Pecorella as deputy serving the public interest then changed the law so that it explicitely said what Gatanto Pecorella as lawyer claimed it had already said. After a truly furious parliamentary battle, the new law was signed by the president of the republic just before the constitutional court decided on the argument made by Gaetano Pecorella as lawyer. It said that the cassazione can change the venue if it finds that there is a "legittimo sospetto" that it is impossible to have a fair trial in the current location. Legitimate suspicion is the closest I can come to a translation of a very abstract phrase legittimo sospetto. I would say the law means that the cassazione should feel free to move trials as they please. In the event the cassazione declared that there was not a "legittimo sospetto" that it was impossible to have a fair trial in Milan. Pecorella complained that they had asked for the new law more or less saying that they had promised him that if the majority managed to change the law they would move the case.
The astounding practice of members of parliament sworn to serve the public interest practicing law where they are obliged to serve their cliients interest is quite common in Italy. Previti is one of three lawyer deputies whose name begins with P involved in the complex of cases (the third is Giuliano Pisapia).

Rogatoria: How do you say that in English. It is asking foreigners for information in a case. One key issue is that the Swiss banking law requires a huge amount of due process before releasing banking records. The fact that few prosecutors are willing to devote the huge effort to dealing with Swiss law and well paid Swiss lawyers had lead to the illusion that Swiss banking records are secret. The prosecutors in this case -- Ilda Boccasini and Gherardo Colombo -- are very very determined people with an amazing record of contributions to the fight against crime. Recently they both look very very tired. One issue related to Swiss banking records, as mentioned above, is that they can not be used to prosecute tax evasion. It is, more or less, official Swiss policy that it is OK to use Swiss banks to evade taxes. Another key issue is that the copies of banking records are not notarised. The Swiss state does not formally declare them to be authentic. This is very key because one of the first laws passed by the current majority declared such documents obtained by rogatorie and not declared authentic by the foreign state to be in admissible in court. The word Previti was used very often by the opposition in the discussion. Oddly, Italy is not quite sovereign. There are European agreements which are binding so Italian laws can be either cancelled (as if they were unconstitutional) or "interpreted" so that they are consistent with the European agreement. In this case, Italian judges have all agreed that the new law is to be interpreted in a way that makes it irrelevant. Yesterdays verdict would not have been possible without this "interpretation".

verdict and sentence: This is my translation of sentenza di primo grado (literally first degree sentence). It is actually a fairly preliminary stage. The defendant is still presumed innocent. The first trial for most crimes (including bribing judges) does not involve a jury. A panel of three judges conducts the trial then decides on the verdict and sentence. It is very important that all defendants have the right to appeal on the merits of the case.
Even if there is no procedural error in the first trial, the defendant has a right to a second trial where (s)he is judged by a committee mostly made up of laypeople (omigod I forgot the proportions I think 6 laypeople and 3 judges). Needless to say Previti has appealed his conviction. I have not been able to detect any purpose of the first degree trial. Prosecutors can appeal the verdict as well. Again just as they choose. It is possible to be acquitted in the first trial and convicted in the second even if there is no new evidence. Silvio Berlusconi has been convicted 3 times in primo grado and, not only has he not spent a day in jail, but he is prime minister. I might add that one of the convictions was overturned because the statute of limitations had run out (prescrizione del reato) and Silvio Berlusconi did not challenge the finding of fact that he is an un punishable criminal even though he could have (this case is not at all related to the one decided in primo grado yesterday). My claim above that he is a criminal is basically not contested by Berlusconi.

Tuesday, April 29, 2003

“Isn’t there an existence theorem proving that there is a second best argument for any policy ?”
Robert Barro 1988.

Now there is. It is a simple generalization of the Pareto liberal paradox also known as Sen’s paradox. This note is the fruit of the meeting of the minds of Barro and Sen.

Sen’s paradox is well known, even if the example is painfully dated. Once upon a time Lady Chatterley’s Lover was considered obscene. Amazingly recently, the courts came to their senses. Sen considered what Pareto might say thinking of two agents lewd and prude. Lewd wants to read porn but finds even more exciting the thought of Prude being forced to read porn. Prude finds porn appalling but is even more disturbed by the thought of Lewd reading and enjoying it. Freedom is not Pareto optimal in this case. It is Pareto better to block Lewd from reading porn and force Prude to read it. This is crazy. In any case it shows that liberalism and the Pareto principal might hypothetically be in conflict.

Here an important point is that ethical principals the Pareto principal and liberalism are confounded by assumptions about the way things work which reconcile them. Ethics should apply to all conceivable worlds so such a reconciliation is hiding rather than resolving a conflict. I suppose one might argue that we have enough principled disagreement about right and wrong in this universe to have any need to dream of more problematic ones.

Another important point made once or twice by Sen is that alleged implications of rational utility maximization are, in fact implications of assumptions about the form of the utility function. If one is allowed to consider agents like Lewd and Prude who care about each other’s consumption, even the obvious point that people should be free to do anything which has no physical effect on anyone else, can conflict with the desire to Pareto improve the world.

Now consider some aweful policy X. Just what X is does not matter (this aims to be a general proof). What if everyone really really loves the idea of X being imposed for its own sake. That they want desperately to know that it is written in the law and being imposed on themselves and other people. This is a second best argument of a sort because “X is the law” is a public good.

X might make them poorer, less free, dead … whatever. However if we consider all utility functions we can consider one in which the joy of knowing that X is the law and is being imposed outweighs all costs. Now one might imagine that the lawmaker could just trick people into thinking X was the law. This possibility can be eliminated by another assumption about utility functions. Assume that lying about whether X is the law is so horribly painful that no one will do it for any reason.


Now that the lira no longer exists and it is not their problem, the Italian state has found a way to fight inflation. Amazingly it is also a way to make Italians watch the news. Like most countries (but not the USA) Italy has public television with a mass audience and commercials. This means it has a trace of public spirit (in the sense of people thinking they know better than other people what the other people should be doing). Thus the aim to get people to watch the news on public (which is not, shall we say, quite at the level of independence and quality reached by the BBC).

Thus in Italy if you want to be a millionaire and are willing to settle for seeing someone else become a millionaire, you have to wait through all this news to see if they correctly answered the key question. That is there is a dumb high prize game show interrupted not only by commercials but by half an hour of news. My wife and daughter get information from the TV news so I am exposed to game shows (really I hate them I swear). Lottery extractions are similarly used to force people either to watch the news or to be nimble with the remote control.

Recently they began a particularly irritating broadcast with a name like Eureka or maybe Euroeca (we watch with the sound off waiting for the news and the show has a logo with particularly irritating font). I just learned what this show is. Eureka. The cure for the shoe leather costs of inflation. The idea is that it is like a lottery extraction but no tickets have been sold to take money from fools. Instead a serial number on a 20 Euro bill is chosen at random and anyone holding that bill gets the prize. This means everyone plays. Well at least everyone didn’t just run out of cash in a supermarket where the debit card links to the banks were down (but that’s another story).

Brilliant. Now if this program were massively expanded with small prizes for everyone who say had a 20 Euro bill with a serial number starting with the right 3 digits, then it would pump up the demand for money.

One aspect of this would be solving the problem of dynamic inconsistency due to desire for senioriage . If all money supply increases were of the form of such prizes there would be know seniorage . More to the point such prizes cause increased money demand (this is compared to the same increase in money supply with the seniorage. The transactions costs of people cashing in on their prizes are smaller than the costs of giving money proportional to money holdings (not everyone wins). The choice between many small prizes and fewer larger prizes is a standard efficiency equity choice.

By the way, neither Word nor I know how to spell signoraggio in English. This is new to me. I never could spell but it is odd to know how to spell something in Italian and not in English. Worse I was so desperate that I decided to look it up in a book. I looked in a chapter on hyperinflation and I found the word signoraggio oops the book was written in Italian. I hadn’t realised that would be a problem. And wait I have something good to show about semi lottery on Italian TV. Not to mention I’m thrilled (pumping my fist in the air thrilled) that the giudice nel caso Imi-Sir, Lodo Mondadori have entered the Camera di consiglio. This is all getting alarming.
Hurray for Adam Smith

I have been thinking about nuclear proliferation and graphite. Oddly my attention is
focused on this because of slightly good news from Beijing: the North Korean
government has finally explained what they want in exchange for dismantling their
nuclear program (and the bombs which they already have) see

In 1994 the previous North Korean effort to make bombs with plutonium was stopped by a
deal which I find very appealing, even though, North Korea broke the deal by
enriching Uranium. The urgent problem was that they had a graphite mediated reactor
in Yongbon (Chernobyl type) which produces large amounts of plutonium. They extracted
this plutonium and made atomic bombs. The US and, of course, North Korea's neighbors
were alarmed. They reached a deal to replace the reactor with a preasurised light
water reactor (makes much less plutonium) and to give fuel oil while the reactor was
under construction. Notice the other disadvantage of graphite mediated (Chernobyl
type) reactors. They are inherently dangerous as proven at Chernobyl. The reason is
that the mediator (graphite) is not the coolant (water) so loss of coolant does not
slow the nuclear reaction much. The same reactors which are a proliferation threat
are also a disasterous release of radioactive materials threat.

[I plop a technical note here. Uranium is a mixture of uranium 235 which fissions
when it absorves a neutron and uranium 238 which turns into plutonium 239 when it
absorbs a neutron. To obtain a chain reaction it is necessary to avoid absorbtion of
the neutrons by uranium 238. The trick is that uranium 238 absorbs only high energy
(fast flying) neutrons. Nuclear reactors contain a "mediator" which slows down
neutrons so that they are not absorbed by uranium 238 and are absorbed by uranium 235.
If the mediator is also the coolant, loss of coolant means the neutrons are not

slowed down and are absorbed by the uranium 238 slowing (or stopping) the nuclear
reaction. Reactors can work either with good mediators or with little uranium 238
around (that is with highly enriched uranium). For both safety and non proliferation
reasons it is better to work with less highly enriched uranium. For safety it is
better if the mediator (neutron slower) is also the coolant (that's plain English
already isn't it?).]

The Kim Jong IL regime is not easy to deal with (read totally nuts). In the deal the
Yongbon reactor was not dismantled so North Korea could reactivate it, largely it
seems to me, because they were offended to be included in Bush's axis of evil. Still
I love it.

I think that there should be no graphite mediated reactors anywhere in the world.
They are dangerous. I should note that Chernobyl is not the only fire in one of them.
There was a fire (brought under control) in the UK Windscale reactor see (it's name has since been changed to Sellafield
in one of the clumsiest spin efforts in history). They are deadly dangerous and a
clear proliferation threat. Why not promise to replace all graphite mediated reactors
with less dangerous reactors ? Other cases are less alarming that North Korea because
most regimes and all democracies are less crazy than the Kim Jong IL regime but just
the reactor is bad enough. Chernobyl had 4 reactors one of which burned. One reactor
Chernobyl 3 was shut down in December 2000 (to prevent the total idiocy of operating
Chernobyl reactors from reaching the 21st Century I suppose)

Nuclear club coutries are disarming. We don't need more plutonium. I think this
makes the decomissioning of Hanford and Sellafield reactors an urgent issue. It does
not seem to be so considered

I got this from google. I do not read the Telegraph, although the idea of scraping off the
white-out to find the words Osama Bin Laden appeals to me. On the other hand I applaud
U.S. Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon and Congressman Adam Smith of Washington (hey wasn't
there some other guy with that name once?)

An important problem with nuclear nonproliferation efforts is that the idea that nukes
are OK for members of the club but no new members are accepted is very very offensive.
A no graphite mediated reactors rule is equal for everyone and helps ease this
important diplomatic problem. I think all reasoning beings on this planet which
vulnerable to ionizing radiation can agree that graphite moderated reactors are a bad
thing (for us) and ought to be cancelled from the face of the earth.

But whatever happened to heavy water ?

[I plop a historical digression here. The anti proliferation issue more important
than any other (more important than any other issue in history ?) was the effort to
keep nazi Germany from developing a bomb. In fact, they weren't even trying to
develop a bomb. Their aim was just a nuclear reactor (or so claimes Werner
Heisenberg). Outsiders didn't know this and, quite reasonably, decided that any
measure (including making an atomic bomb) was justified in order to prevent Hitler
from controlling all the atomic bombs in the world. The key ingredient in the WWII
era German nuclear energy effort was heavy water. There was a heroic air raid to
destroy the huge complex of tubes used to extract heavy water. There was a morally
ambiguous Norwegian resistance operation in which a bomb was placed on a tanker
carrying heavy water even though the crew was civilian and Norwegian.

Since V.E. day,

heavy water has vanished from the scene. Why didn't the Germans use graphite ? Werner
Heisenberg claims that they didn't because scientists in Berlin said it wouldn't work
and he trusted them and didn't check their calculations. Was this a mistake or a
heroic maybe world saving trick ? Either way who are the (accidental ?) heroes ?]

Nowadays, the nuclear options which are discussed are
1. Graphite mediated reactors (hell no omigod are you crazy or have you figured out how to scare us?)
2. Preasurised light water reactors (better than graphite mediated reactors)
3. no nuclear reactors (would be great except for global warming but hard to get to yes)

It is also possible to generate electricity with Candu a reactor which uses unenriched
uranium and heavy water as a mediator and coolant

Candu is inherently relatively safe compared to light water reactos let alone
graphite mediated reactors. Since the fuel is unenriched, candu type reactors provide
no cover for military uranium enrichment programs. Given the existence of this technology there is
no legitimate civilian need for enriched uranium.

I think a sufficiently immense majority of reasoning beings on this planet who are
vulnerable to ionizing radiation can agree that the any new nuclear reactors must be
of the Candu type that we should be able to impose our will on the nut cases who want
to build more preassurised water reactors and the total total loonies who want to
build graphite mediated nuclear reactors.

So this is my proposal we agree that there are to be no graphite mediated reactors and all new reactors use
natural unenriched Uranium. In exchange assistance to build Candu type reactors and
light water reactor grade uranium is to be provided by nuclear club members to some countries.

I have no fear at all that my proposal will be proven to be a bad idea, because there
is no chance that it will be implemented. I am not afraid that anyone with power is
paying attention to me (no chance of that). In this case I am not afraid to go on
record advocating a policy that coincidentally happens to be implemented and does not work. The
reason is that the proposal involved aid, using carrots not sticks and nuclear
reactors. The sort of people who are willing to fund foreign aid and want to use
carrots not sticks are unwilling to compromise with nuclear reactors. Such people
hate them all and will never accept the idea that a Candu type reactor is less aweful than
a Chernobyl type reactor. The sort of people who are willing to give nuclear reactors a
chance are unwilling to give other countries anything and eager to negotiate based on
threats and not offers. The proposal hits an automatic no button for almost everyone who is not writing this blog.

Wednesday, April 23, 2003

Today the Washington Post reports that
Bush administration officials are concerned that Iraqis might be selling chemical and biological weapons

"Analysts said they believe that former Iraqi officials hope to conceal their culpability, barter for status with the U.S. military government or sell the technology for private gain.

If such weapons or the means of making them have been removed from the centralized control of former Iraqi officials, high-ranking U.S. officials acknowledged, then the war may prove to aggravate the proliferation threat that President Bush said he fought to forestall."

An obvious concern. Why didn't I think of that ? Well actually I did. I wrote "Second other people with access to anthrax might hope to avoid death and prison but recognise that they are going to be out of a job soon. They also could get their hands on something (the anthrax) which a certain rich Saudi terrorist would be glad to buy for a ton of money. That seems to be a problem. The point is that, so long as Saddam is in control, hopes to die in bed, and knows that if his anthrax gets in our lungs he is dead, we are relatively safe" this blog March 12. George, just don't tell me I didn't warn you.

Actually, by now I am much less concerned, since I suspect that Iraq contained little to sell. How odd that the invasion of Iraq which Bush said was necessary, because Iraq has weapons of mass destruction seems a much less bad idea to me now that I hope that Iraq had few or no weapons of mass destruction.

Sunday, April 20, 2003

I know that self links carry link begging a bit far, but I was mainly trying to see if I could get the html right
Hardly anyone has visited the other blogs I post George Orwell might say and fantapolitica .

Thursday, April 17, 2003

Ten Days that Shook My World View

OK so who cares about my world view. Well I do and this is my Blog. I admit this post isn’t about Iraq. It’s about me. If you aren’t interested in me, skip it.

Today is April 17 2003.
My world view was shaken, in particular, last Thursday 9 April 2003 when Ba’ath power in Baghdad collapsed and the coalition armed forces entered Baghdad. Of course the symbolic moment was the tearing down of the statue of Saddam Hussein in the plaza near the Palestine hotel (where many foreign journalists are checked in). Many people compared that moment to the fall of the Berlin wall on 9 November 1989. To me it was strikingly different. 9 April in Baghdad was, in some ways, like the moment of crisis of a revolution say 14 July in Paris. As far as I can tell, mainly from websites, there was the explosion of joy, sense of liberation and sense of limitless possibilities. The 9th of April was not a revolution. It was a victory achieved by foreign invaders. To me this makes it very different. Those who love revolution and oppose all invasions on principal have a problem with an invasion which looks so much like a revolution. I think that 9th of April should shake their world view.

I am not a great enthusiast for revolutions and I am not a pacifist. I do not believe that undemocratic governments have any legitimate authority so I feel that Saddam Hussein, in effect, invaded and conquered his native Iraq. I don’t think that national boundaries are sacred. So my world view was not near the epicentre of the earthquake. Nonetheless it was shaken at least enough to make it’s windows rattle (right now I’m checking for structural damage).

I was not surprised to see video of Iraqi’s dancing in the street (see my the posting of (date)). You will notice that I said I would not be surprised to see Iraqis dancing in the streets of Basra but didn’t even make a non prediction about Baghdad. The people of Basra and southern Iraq generally made their desperate hatred of Saddam Hussein clear in 1991 and I didn’t think the ruthless repression of their uprising could have reconciled them and him. The Kurds of northern Iraq have been fighting the Ba’athists for decades. It was not clear to me what exactly Sunnis in central Iraq thought. I note that coalition generals very explicitly considered the contingency that their troops would not be welcome so I was not the only one. In any case, even though I didn’t say I wouldn’t be surprised if the people of Baghdad showered US troops with flowers, I wasn’t surprised.

Still I was disturbed to recall that I opposed the invasion of Iraq. Clearly the body which has authority to decide if Iraq should be invaded is the majority of the Iraqi people (well maybe a super majority of say three quarters should be required to authorise an invasion by referendum). Obviously, they could not express their will. I think their approval would make the invasion still ilegitimate according to existing international law but legitimate according to the moral law. I felt ashamed that, if it had been up to me, they would not have been celebrating. There is no doubt about that, by the way. I can almost imagine that I am president of the USA prime minister of England and Australia and the unanimous security council. Hey if I can imagine being president I can imagine being 17 other people too at the same time. I certainly would not have authorised and ordered the invasion. I just don’t have the guts to make such a decision no doubts about it.

If the Bush administration had presented its case better, I might have been convinced to agree that Iraq should be invaded, but passive acceptance of a decision is very different from making the decision. However I did not accept the proposed invasion and demonstrated against it.

For a while, I wondered if the ideological extremism, stubbornness and arrogance of the Bush administration was useful resoluteness. I even almost admired Wolfowitz (not Rumsfield, Cheney or Bush who are clearly cynical). I was suddenly attracted to the idea of abandoning all existing international law. I thought it might be a good idea to ignore the parts of the the UN charter (which I haven’t read) which recognise or establishes the sovereign authority of governments including unelected governments and declares that international boundaries must not be crossed in arms except in self defence or by invitation. I thought it might be a good idea to finally abandon the idea of a world order based on the balance of power. bury Metternich (who is so important that Word recognises his name as correctly spelled). Indeed I thought it might be good to tear up the treaty of Westphalia – no more eus reggio eus religio. War is never good, but with smart bombs we don’t have to accept the authority of princes to decide what is to be considered true in their realms. We now can spread the One True Faith of democracy in a new crusade a new Jihad.

That is, why doesn’t the USA declare that it will base its foreign policy on the view that governments derive their just powers from the suffrage of the governed, that the USA will no longer take into consideration the absurd claims of sovereign authority of unelected individuals or groups. That all countries must hold elections (counting dangling but not pregnant chads). That if any group with de facto power in a country (calling themselves a government or state or the finger of god or whatever) blocks such elections the US armed forces might be sent to impose and supervise the electoral process. That, in the unfortunate event that some undemocratic pseudo rulers resist the new democratic order, the president of the USA will pick the name of their country out of a hat and order the US armed forces to invade that country. That this is it, the game is over. No one is going to get away with pretending that they have sovereign authority without being elected.

I thought that maybe the 9th of April 2003 could be the turning point of history. The day when the USA, the first functioning democracy larger than a canton or city state, would decide to use it’s hyper power and amazing technology to abolish the pretence of non democratic government and sovereignty.

Well as you can see not only did I lose my grasp on my world view, I came close to losing my sanity.

For those who find the above paragraphs perhaps a bit frightening I would like to stress that I am letting my imagination run wild in a mix of memory and fantasy. My period as a neo-neo-conservative idealistic super hawk lasted only for seconds. I will never be in a position of power. If I were, I wouldn’t have the guts to start a war. Still it was a disturbing experience for me personally and this is my Blog.

Frankly keeping the focus on me, I attempt to name my feelings. I personally felt paradigm shift.
I also felt horror at the suffering caused by the war (for me symbolised by the case of Ali the 12 year old who lost both parents and both arms) and horror at the description of the regimes torture chambers. I felt guilt because I opposed the invasion and guilt because some of my fellow Americans made an (amazingly small) number of mistakes with powerful bombs and caused suffering which is immense except by the horrible standards of war (I hope no one finds out if the mistakes were made by pilots or by the workers who miss-assembled smart bombs). But I also felt the Euphoria sudden liberation. It is I think a symptom of revolution (a syndrome which is highly infectious)

As, I think, has been the case in all revolutions so far, the euphoria didn’t last. In the case of Iraq, the hangover arrived in no more than two days. Now I knew that many Iraqis expected looting in the period of power vacuum. I expected that there would be looting. I didn’t imagine that people would smash statues which had survived 5,000 years or that people would loot hospitals overwhelmed by people injured in the war and working without running water.
By now I am about back to where I was before the war. Again I think that people dancing in the street at the fall of a dictator is a sign of danger ahead. Like countries in the middle of a revolution Iraq is dancing on the edge of a cliff in a time of great promise and danger. Does my flinching at the danger of a revolution make me a conservative or even a reactionary ?

The point of the above paragraph (assuming it has one) is that I can argue that the last month in Iraq might lead to a disaster for Iraq. That the outcome might be even worse than Saddam Hussein’s repression I can argue that the invasion might be the road to hell paved with (in part) good intentions (maybe one cobble stone for every 10 of power lust and political calculation which is a better than average proportion for political decisions). I won’t bother, because everyone recognises the dangers facing Iraq, and especially because might is a mighty word, that is, it is always very easy to argue that something *might* happen so why bother.

The interesting point is that I could make exactly the same argument about an Iraqi revolution. That is, Iraq would face the same dangers if the ba’ath party had been overthrown by a spontaneous popular uprising. Deaths in such an uprising could easily be many more than those in the war. I certainly would not oppose such an uprising.

Going back to fantasy, imagine that the vast majority of Iraqis who hated the ba’ath regime simultaneously asked me, so Robert should we rise up and overthrow Saddam Hussein tomorrow ? This fantasy assumes that the key coordination problem that they all have to do it at once is solved. Would I, could I answer no ? I can think of an argument. I can think of the argument that a revolution would be bad, because although Saddam Hussein is evil, a revolution could easily lead to civil war which is much worse. I can’t imagine believing in it. Still, just such an argument had a major role in convincing me to oppose the invasion.

So why do I feel so differently about invasions welcomed by the vast majority of the people and uprisings accomplished by some of the people and welcomed by the vast majority ? It is not because I believe in undemocratic nation states. That is, I think it is often useful to pretend that they have legitimate authority but they sure don’t have it. The moral law is complicated, but I feel sure that it doesn’t have an appendix on political geography.

Why ? Well I don’t know and nobody cares.

Anyway the honeymoon is over. For me the earthquake is past. Writing this I realize that my world view has not experienced structural damage. I am still opposed to wars of aggression against undemocratic states. I have never for an instant taken seriously the Bush administrations presentation of their policy as pre-emptive attacks for self defence from a possible hypothetical conceivable future attack. For a few seconds, I thought that wars of aggression against dictatorship might be good.

The Bush administration certainly seems to have done what they could to help me disagree with them. It requires a kind of genius in reverse to accuse Syria of making chemical weapons while failing to find the tons of chemical and biological weapons that they claimed to know were in Iraq.
Many Iraqis have shown a very poor aptitude for constructive revolution.

I can even come up with a story for why a country might need a revolution not an invasion. I can argue that in a revolution, no matter how sudden, an indigenous leadership arises. Some people acquires charismatic authority. If, by some strange freak of chance, these people are reasonable, the revolution can end well. This does not happen if the old regime is overthrown by foreigners. Now I don’t really believe this argument, but at least I can convince myself that my world view might be coherent (might is a mighty word).

But what if the next president to use US power against a dictator is not like Bush, is more honest or a more skilful liar. What if, say, John Kennedy returned to lead the Jihad with the sword in one hand and the bill of rights in the other determined to impose the one true faith of liberal democracy on this fallen world. Would I sing again the ode to the west wind, cringing at the horrors of war, but sure that if winter comes spring can't be far behind ?
If Rumsfeld’s aim is to convince Arabs that the Bush administration is determined to conquer and colonise all Arabia he is a genius.

Antiamericanism and francophobia

First why can I write anti-americanism in English but I have to use a Greek suffix for Francophobia ?
So European anti-americanism. I remember reading about this in about 1977. The example was two Austrians who were shocked that a statunitense (US citizen and why can't I write that in English) asked them to sing Walzing Mathilde (an Australian song). Oddly this episode has stuck in my mind. Long ago I decided that these Austrians' problem is that they had no sense of humor. In any case since then, when I think of the topic of European antiamericanism I find myself singing "Walsung Mathilde Walsung Mathilde Walsung ...". This is getting serious because what with the war in Iraq and all I'm getting on my nerves.

I am extremely sensitive to antiamericanism (I am statunitense just in case anyone who doesn't personally know me reads this).

On the other hand, I haven't personally detected any anti-americanism recently (last time was one or two people in a crowd of over one million). Then again I don't live in Europe, I live in Italy.

Now about Francophobia. Leaving a seminar in which Rick van der Ploeg presented models in which a progressive income tax and generous unemployment benefits can promote high employment, a colleague of mine, who is married to an American and who might not like criticisms of seminars which he saved for after the talk to be quoted for attribution, noted that the Rick van der Ploeg had not explained why what works in Rick van der Ploeg 's native Netherlands does not work in France or Germany ( a contrast mentioned in the talk)
Robert Well Germany has high unemployment partly because of reunification
Anon What about France ?
Robert They are (shudder) French.
Anon You Americans are so Francophobic. My wife won't ever agree to go to France on vacation. Come on, they helped you win independence.
Robert Yeah so instead of groaning under the tyranny of Tony Blair we get George Bush. Big Thanks.

Thursday, April 10, 2003

Between Iraq and a Hard Place

I think it’s past time to begin thinking about which Iraqis the US/UK non-occupation ought to conclude have spontaneously been presented by the Iraqi people for a transition cabinet.

Consider the heroic rescue of Jessica Lynch. One of the heroes contradicts bitter longstanding American prejudices. He is the Iraqi, named Muhammad no less, who risked his life contacting US forces then returning *twice* to the hospital where Lynch was held in order to help save her. So what prejudice does Mohammad contradict ? He is a lawyer.

I think we have to hit this guy with two tough questions. First, what is your last name and, second, would you like to be minister of justice ?

I also think it should be easy to improve on the performance of the current minister of information.

Cheers, Tears and Looting in Capital's Streets

“As with Iraqi troops, so it was with most officials who until days ago were swearing undying fealty to Mr. Hussein. The information minister, Muhammad Said al-Sahhaf, who gained a reputation earlier in the war for daily news conferences that verged on the delusional, failed to show up today at the Palestine hotel. His last words on Tuesday were:

'I now inform you that you are too far from reality.’”

“Another man told a Daily Telegraph reporter there were so many different branches of the Shia Muslim religion alone in Basra, truly representative government would probably be impossible.

‘Democracy will not come overnight to Iraq. Democracy for us is like the other side of the moon - we know it is there but we have never actually seen it.’”

So who is this other man and would he like to be minister of information (ok communications director, press secretary or spokesman). I should add that I do not read the Daily Telegraph or its web page. I got the quote re-quoted by the bbc.
Whiners will whine. I am not satisfied by the technological and logistics capabilities of the US armed forces. What am I thinking ? Well I was honestly surprised that the US armed forces do not seem to be able to carry medium powerful electricity generators on helicopters. I would have expected that a few Chinooks could bring in enough generators that, working in parallel, they could power a water purification plant. Thus I am so spoiled that I was disappointed that damage to electric power lines powering the water purification plant meant that citizens of Basra (who are not spoiled at all) had to make do with 40% of normal water supply for weeks.

I mean in less than two weeks the US armed forces managed to airlift two entire water purification plants into Goma for the huge refugee camp.

I am gettting even more disappointed, because I read that hospitals in Baghdad are relying on their backup generators which might fail given heavy use (not designed to run for days straight). Surely the US armed forces should be able to airlift enough generating capacity to run a hospital to a field the size of a pingpong table no ? I mean they can take anything anywhere instantly. Can't they ?

Sunday, April 06, 2003

My 13 year old daughter asked why so few US casualties in the war in Iraq. I said they have body armor that actually works. Just think, Bush starts a war he could have avoided after trying and failing to get UN approval with only one of two fronts because he lost a vote in the Turkish parliament. Still he might end up looking great. This is largely because of the courage, ability and discipline of US and UK soldiers (especially discipline in almost totally avoiding killing civilians at checkpoints even though when the big risk is suicide bombers). The amazing techology also helps make Bush look good.
George Bush -- the Kevlar president

Saturday, April 05, 2003

I am a fanatical enthusiast for genetically modified foods and golden rice in particular (and an incorrigible cut and paster see below). Golden rice is rice modified to make beta carotene ( a precursor to vitamin A so named because there is a lot of it in carrots). It is appealing partly because vitamin A deficiency is common in people who eat a lot of rice which when unmodified contains very little vitamin A. Golden rice is a major technological success because it is very hard to make cells make beta carotene a small molecule made in many steps by many enzymes. It is much easier to make cells make one new protein. As far as I know (almost all the way to the tip of my nose) all other genetically modified plants make one new protein each.

So I was thinking is there another stable with a problem. Well there is a staple which is part of a lot of dangerously unbalanced diets – corn. Corn has the highest yield of any grain but it is not good food for two reasons. One is that the main corn protein contains very little of two essential amino acids (lysine and argenine I think Don’t trust any of my “facts”). This means that unless corn is eaten along with legumes that the protein is just used to make energy (water carbon dioxide and Urea). I should have guessed that sukatash wasn’t making it on taste.

Corn with more lysine and argenine is one of the big failures of the green revolution period of plant improvement. People refused to grow it because it had lower yield. The claim that it was healthier (which can’t be proved on the spot) did not convince poor farmers who have enough sense not to trust every stranger who claims to have an answer to their problems. I’m stumped. The only role I see for biotech is to make lima beans taste less awful.

There is another problem with living mainly on corn – pellagra or vitamin B-6 (pirodoxal phosphate and don’t trust my chemistry either) deficiency. Here part of the problem is that corn contains a protein which binds very tightly to B-6. People in central America have learned to mill corn with alkaline rocks which liberate some of the B-6. Now this looks like a case for biotech (the culprit is a protein). Getting rid of a gene is very hard (so far as I know not managed for grains or plants generally). It is possible to block expression of a gene with antisense RNA (same gene in backwards makes RNA which sticks to the message and keeps it from being translated into protein). It should also be possible to make corn produce an antibody which binds even tighter than B-6 to the place where B-6 binds. Sounds doable to me. I’m not sure how much this sticky protein is the main Pelagra problem.

Friday, April 04, 2003

I made it !

Finally after two weeks of trying I got to
There were various problems, like the first time I tried to get to the English version of the al Jazeera web page there was no English version. I found a page full of arabic and wasn't sure if some of the Arabic said English in Arabic. Al Jazeera made an English page the next day or so. Then, as you probably know, the site was hacked in various ways.
I didn't see the hack of censoring by replacing the site with "Let Freedom Ring" written by an oxymoronic moron. It did demand a password from me (fancy denial of service). Also I think that aside from hackers it's just jammed.

At I learned that AOL and Yahoo refuse to carry adds for Clearly this is legal, but I think it goes against the spirit of free expression so I am personally advertizing It seems to me to be a reasonable web page containing interesting information. Most of the quotes are from coalition generals and such. Their spin is different from, say, CNN or the BBC but the ball is in the same ballpark.


Wednesday, April 02, 2003

Blinkered perspectives

Yesterday, 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 clichés 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.