Keeping cool

Update (10/27): Peter Norvig at Google points me to his Election FAQ, for those who feel they haven’t yet spent enough time reading about the election.  I’ve just been perusing it, and it’s an unbelievably good source of information—reaching the same conclusions as I did on just about every particular, yet also calm, reasoned, and professional.

1. That’s my mom at an Obama office in Sarasota, FL.  For once, I find myself kvelling to strangers about her.

2. I’m at FOCS’2008 in Philadelphia right now.  Yesterday morning I gave a tutorial on The Polynomial Method in Quantum and Classical Computing, and was delighted by how many people showed up — I wouldn’t have woken up for my talk.  (And before you ask: yes, the PowerPoint slides for this talk include photographs of both Bill Ayers and Joe the Plumber.)

3. Here’s the FOCS conference program — tons of good stuff, as you can see for yourself.  If there’s a talk you want to know more about, say so in the comments section and I’ll try to find someone who attended it.

Note: I was a program committee member, and therefore know much more than usual about the talks—but my objectivity and license as a “journalist” are also severely compromised.  If unvarnished opinion is what you seek, ask my friend and roommate Rahul Santhanam, who’s also reporting live from the conference over at Lance’s blog.  (As you can see, we CS theorists manage our conflicts of interest roughly as well as the Alaska governor’s office…)

4. I apologize that I haven’t had much to say recently.  Against my better judgment, I find myself transfixed by the same topic everyone else is transfixed by, and it’s hard to find anything to say about it that hasn’t been said better by others.  If you want to enter my world, don’t read Shtetl-Optimized; read Andrew Sullivan or FiveThirtyEight.com.  Following the election is, of course, not all that different from following a football game, except for the added dash of excitement that the future of civilization might hinge on the outcome.

(Years congruent to 0 mod 4 are pretty much the only times when I understand what it’s like to be a sports fan.  Speaking of which, I heard there was some sort of “World’s Series” in Philadelphia last night—probably in basketball—and something called the “Phillies” won?  I might be wrong, though.  Maybe it was the “Flyers” … or is that a volleyball team?  Keep in mind, I only lived in this area for the first 15 years of my life.)

5. For a congenital pessimist like me, I confess it’s been difficult to deal with the fact that my team (I mean the Democrats, not the Eagles or whatever they’re called) is winning.  I simply don’t know how to react; it’s so far outside my emotional range.  Since when has the universe worked this way?  When did reason and levelheadedness start reaping earthly rewards, or incompetence start carrying a cost?  I’m sure Nov. 4 will bring something to console me, though: maybe Al Franken will lose the Senate race in Minnesota, or the homophobe proposition will pass in California…

6. Writing blog posts in numbered lists is easier; I should do it more often.  I don’t have to pretend all the little things I want to say are part of an overarching narrative, rather than standing in the relation “and that reminds me of … which in turn reminds me of…”

7. There’s another psychological question inspired by the election that’s fascinated me lately: how does one become more obamalike in temperament?

I’ve written before about Obama’s penchant for introspection and respect for expertise, which of course are qualities with which I strongly identify.  But Obama also has a crucial quality I lack: as the whole world has marveled, nothing rattles him.  Placed for two years under the brightest glare on earth, besieged by unexpected events, he simply sticks to a script, Buddha-like in his emotional control (although not in his quest for power in the temporal world).  His nerves are of carbon nanotube fiber.

When he briefly slipped behind after the Republican convention, I panicked: I felt sure he’d lose if he didn’t completely change his approach.  Sean Carroll recommended chilling out.  I now face the indignity of admitting that I was wrong while a physicist was right.

What struck me most, during the debates, was how again and again Obama would pass up the chance to score points—choosing instead to let his opponent impale himself with his own words, and use his time to hammer home his message for the benefit of any voters just emerging from their caves.  (As an example, consider his pointed refusal in the third debate to say anything bad about Palin—the subtext being, “isn’t it obvious?”)  It’s almost as if he thought his goal was winning the election, not proving the other guy wrong.

I have (to put it mildly) not always exhibited the same prudent restraint, least of all on this blog.  So for example, whenever there’s been bait dangling in front of me in the comments section, I’ve tended to bite, often ending up with a hook through my cheek.

But no more.  As the first exercise in my newfound quest for the Zen-like equanimity and balance of our soon-to-be-president, I now present to you two excerpts from the comments on my previous post, with no reaction whatsoever from me.

Have you considered the possibility that, in the same way a logical deduction is being equated with truth, understanding a thing is just an illusion? If a thing is logical, that only means that it appeals to the reasoning facility of the brain, not that it’s the truth.

Mathematics is just a place where it becomes clear how a human may think. Computers only go for the calculable. And the mathematical truths a computer can produce are at most countable infinite. But there are uncountable infinite truths.

91 Responses to “Keeping cool”

  1. Sean Carroll Says:

    I’ve managed to start ignoring stuff like this. It definitely improves the quality of life. But probably won’t make me leader of any part of the world, free or otherwise.

  2. Audun Says:

    “Sean Carroll recommended chilling out.”
    Wouldn’t that be Mark Trodden?

  3. Scott Says:

    It was Mark’s post, but Sean’s comment.

  4. Jeremy Henty Says:

    I wouldn’t have woken up for my talk.

    You gave it asleep?

  5. ST Says:

    Don’t be too sure about Obama’s win. There has been a terrifying increase in the number of anti-Obama videos on youtube in the last few days.

    They are trying everything, from emphasizing the “Hussain” in his name to questioning whether he is actually a citizen.

    I truly hope you guys don’t F*** up electing such an awesome guy into the office.

  6. rrtucci Says:

    wow, your mom rocks!

  7. Stubby Says:

    Scott,

    I’ll be glad when the election is over and Shtetl-Optimized returns to form. I forget how young you are until I read postings like this one.

    Relax, the fate of western civilization does not hang on a single election and does not depend on Barack Obama or John McCain assuming the US Presidency. Both parties, believe it or not, have had their chance to run the country & the results are more or less the same. For those expecting significant change come November or January, I think you’re going to get four more years of the same Washington D.C. we’re accustomed to.

    -Stubby

  8. Scott Says:

    Both parties, believe it or not, have had their chance to run the country & the results are more or less the same.

    That would’ve been substantially more plausible 8 years ago.

  9. Stubby Says:

    That would’ve been substantially more plausible 8 years ago.

    We’re conditioned to believe that this time is different. It’s not. Amid the crises of the day, the essentials stay the same. The base politics of the day are ripples in an ocean whose tides are beyond our understanding. We’re constrained by human nature, like it or not, and part of that nature includes putting our faith in whatever false hope is being proffered on the day. That’s a sure path to disappointment.

    If you seek the way of the Buddha, then practice loving kindness. Open your heart to George Bush, cultivate a loving compassion toward him as a fellow living creature.

  10. Vishal Says:

    If you seek the way of the Buddha, then practice loving kindness. Open your heart to George Bush, cultivate a loving compassion toward him as a fellow living creature.

    Stubby,

    If you are a practicing Buddhist, then you have got it all wrong. The fact that one can practice loving kindness toward George Bush does not imply that one should necessarily agree with his policies or world-view. And, sure, both the major political parties of the US are pretty much “mainstream”, but that does not mean that they are same. Yeah, I have heard statements such as “The two parties are really two wings of a supra-party.” or something to that effect (and I don’t disagree entirely) but that is not a completely fair-assessment. You can’t possibly argue that the Democratic Party of the 1950s is the same as the one we have today! Your statement “We’re conditioned to believe that this time is different. It’s not.“, in my opinion, is a tad too cynical.

    Scott,

    Let us celebrate after Nov 4th, not before! :) Your mom rocks!

  11. Eyal Ben David Says:

    I think he was referring to this extraordinarily incompetent fool ya’ll had for president the last 8 years. Definitely brings down the average of the republican party. Might even balance out Lincoln.

    Rereading your comment, though, I’m not sure I understand your point. And I’ve read lord of light…

  12. Eyal Ben David Says:

    I was of course commenting on Stubby’s #9 (which is quite comparable to the beatles #9)

  13. Jonathan Katz Says:

    Scott, to which paper does the Beals et al. reference on slide 47 refer?

  14. Scott Says:

    I see I’m in danger of breaking my vow of Zen-like equanimity in commenting on the very post where I announced it … :-)

    Stubby, one major US city destroyed, one bungled war, and $4 trillion in additional debt seems like a rather conservative lower bound on the cost of the Bush presidency, which might relate to the true cost much like 4.5n relates to the true circuit complexity of SAT. Yet that would already suffice for reasonable people to care whether or not the Republicans stay in power.

    I completely agree with you that in the last analysis, our human concerns are as ripples in a vast ocean. Eons from now, the policies of Bush, McCain, and Obama will live on only as patterns of information in the radiation and black holes into which the entire universe will have degenerated. But what can I say? I’m more of a short-term thinker. I find much to admire in Buddhism, but when it comes down to the T-shirt statement on suffering—

    Buddhism: “If shit happens, it isn’t really shit.”
    Judaism: “Why does this shit always happen to me?!”

    —you can guess which view is closer to mine.

  15. Scott Says:

    Jonathan: Quantum Lower Bounds by Polynomials, by Beals, Buhrman, Cleve, Mosca, and de Wolf. One of my favorite quantum papers of all time.

  16. Scott Says:

    Vishal: Don’t worry, I’m not celebrating, just watching with bewildered fascination.

    Everyone else: if you’re eligible, vote! The more inevitable an Obama win seems, the fewer other people will turn out, and therefore, the more imperative it is that you do. :-)

  17. Val Says:

    Definitely voting. Even though my vote won’t count for much in NY :)

  18. Greg Kuperberg Says:

    Stubby, one major US city destroyed

    Scott, said city was no better defended in January 2001 than it was in August 2005. The main point is not that the city was destroyed — although it’s true that some president with enough foresight could have helped — but that the response was botched.

    one bungled war

    Yes, that one is just true, and even understated.

    and $4 trillion in additional debt

    There is a valid criticism here, but since we are in the hard sciences it should be properly calibrated. Every president has signed off on “additional” debt as you measure it here, because that’s the wrong description.

    Debt held up by the public went 4 months of GDP in the last budget that Bush didn’t sign to a projected 5 months of GDP in the last budget that he has just signed. Compared to the entire economy this is not all that dramatic, but on the scale of the president’s authority this is indeed a lot.

    http://www.cbo.gov/budget/historical.shtml
    http://www.cbo.gov/budget/budproj.shtml

    In fact this is not a full assessment either. According to Keynes held by the public should have gone down in these units while the economy expanded. Now that we have a recession, debt should go up for a while.

  19. Greg Kuperberg Says:

    “I am told that according to Keynesian economics, debt held by the public…”, I meant to say.

  20. Moshe Says:

    eh, you guys have it easy: imagine how transfixed you’d be by an election if you had to actually make a choice, and then your vote would count no matter where you lived. Spectator sports is excruciating, only real sports is more painful.

  21. g Says:

    “And the mathematical truths a computer can produce are at most countable infinite. But there are uncountable infinite truths.”

    But how would you identify any of them, or distinguish them from the similar number of falsehoods?

  22. Blake Stacey Says:

    I hear you can produce an uncountably infinite number of mathematical truths if you upgrade your computer to the newest version of Ubuntu and install the Axiom of Choice package.

    (This is probably why one should not learn the foundations of mathematics from Slashdot.)

    Peter Norvig identifies Lincoln Chafee as a Republican; to the best of my knowledge, Chafee went independent in 2007 and has stayed that way since.

  23. Slakin Says:

    “Have you considered the possibility that, in the same way a logical deduction is being equated with truth, understanding a thing is just an illusion? If a thing is logical, that only means that it appeals to the reasoning facility of the brain, not that it’s the truth.”

    I recognize this from a book about the nature of consciousness. Mark may thought others did. Scott, I went back and looked at this and I think you are unZen’d about Mark’s following comment regarding the existence of God.

    No?

  24. Slakin Says:

    That’s if it’s the same “Mark”.
    BTW the term “self-referential” makes one think of Hofstadter’s G.E.B., then again maybe this is just something similar to R. Penrose. Still looking.

  25. Blake Stacey Says:

    Sean Carroll said,

    I’ve managed to start ignoring stuff like this [link to comment at Cosmic Variance]. It definitely improves the quality of life. But probably won’t make me leader of any part of the world, free or otherwise.

    /me checks to see what “this” is . . .

    Hooray! It wasn’t anything I said!

    Now, if only I could learn to do the same. . . .

  26. harrison Says:

    [M]aybe Al Franken will lose the Senate race in Minnesota, or the homophobe proposition will pass in California…

    There’s a pretty high probability that the Democrat will lose at least one of the pickups in which a Democrat is currently favored; using 538’s probabilities and assuming independence (which, yes, is a terrible assumption here), it’s close to 90%.

    I feel as though Franken’s, er, day job may hurt him as well; somehow I don’t see an average undecided voter walking into a polling both in Minnesota and deciding to pull the lever for a comedian. (Not that the Senate shouldn’t be funnier, of course, but I’m not sure I entirely blame J. Random Minnesotan).

    On the other hand, I’m scared about Prop 8. Very scared.

  27. John Sidles Says:

    Scott, the link to Peter Norvig’s FAQ was very useful, and it is indeed striking that you and Peter “reach the same conclusions on just about every particular.”

    Which leads to the question: “Who else agrees with Peter and Scott on just about every particular?”

    Reaching into my quotation database, I find this concluding postscript to Jonathan Israel’s Enlightenment Contested: Philosophy, Modernity, and the Emancipation of Man 1670-1752 (p. 866):

    Radical Enlightenment conceived as a package of basic concepts and values may be summarized in eight cardinal points:

    (1) adoption of philosophical (mathematical-historical) reason and the only and exclusive criterion of what is true;

    (2) rejection of all supernatural agency, magic, disembodied spirits, and divine providence;

    (3) equality of all mankind (racial and sexual);

    (4) secular ‘universalism’ in ethics anchored in equality and chiefly stressing equity, justice, and charity;

    (5) comprehensive toleration and freedom of thought based on independent critical thinking;

    (6) personal liberty of lifestyle and sexual conduct between consenting adults;

    (7) freedom of expression, political criticism, and the press, in the public sphere.

    (8) democratic republicanism as the most legitimate form of politics.

    Gosh, the above sounds familiar! It reads as though it came straight from the pen of Thomas Jefferson … or the blogs of Peter Norvig and Scott Aaronson! :)

    In Jefferson’s case, this congruity is no accident … Jefferson and the other Founding Fathers read deeply from the literature of the Radical Enlightenment.

    To develop this idea a little bit further further … we modern academics often conceive of logic, mathematics, computation, physics, history, economics, etc., each as a separate noumenon (ding an sich).

    But in so compartmentalizing our conceptions, aren’t we academics guilty of precisely the same incuriosity that we condemn in far-right ideologues?

    We academics should not, through our own incuriosity, condemn our students to ignorance of the remarkable historical fact, that (essentially) all modern academic disciplines—including many disciplines taught nowadays as mathematics—were forged originally as tools of the Radical Enlightenment.

  28. Stubby Says:

    Vishal, I’m not saying that one needs to agree with President Bush or that the Republicans and Democrats are the same.

    I guess I kind of conflated the two points I was trying to make: first, that Scott saying “…the future of civilization might hinge on the outcome…” of this election is overstating the importance of this or any other election—western civilization will be fine, even if Cynthia McKinney wins. Casting Barack Obama as the saviour of western civilization feels more like misplaced religious faith than a mere political decision.

    Second, since Scott said that he seeks the equanimity and balance he sees in Barack Obama, I suggested that he might begin by opening his heart to George Bush as a living creature. That will probably be a lot easier once the election is over, but its always worth remembering the dignity and humanity of others.

    As to whether or not one of the two major parties out performs the other, I have yet to see it. When either party has too much control, even for a short time, corruption and incompetence quickly manifest themselves. I’d say both parties are equally good at being corrupt and incompetent when given the chance; it seems to me the Republicans have had their latest chance & now its time for the Democrats to take the field and see what messes they can create.

    Ideally, we’d be a society of learned, wise, compassionate individuals who progressed together toward a greater good, but we’re stuck as lowly humans who screw shit up, wreak havoc, and leave misery in our wake. We’re limited creatures whose greatest gift is to consistently underestimate the extent of those limits.

  29. ScentOfViolets Says:

    While you make valid points, Scott, it is my considered opinion that you’re fighting the good fight just by doing what you love to do and are paid to do. And making more significant contributions. Myself, I see this as a fight between enlightenment-style thinking, with it’s emphasis on empiricism, hypothesis testing, willingness to admit error, and acknowledgment of lack of surety, versus the sort of ‘Dominionist’ thinking that goes with received wisdom, unquestioned dogma, and unwillingness to admit error. Which is almost always in the service of the established order. That’s what this election is all about. A McCain victory would just us up for another round of narrative-style thinking: Government is the problem, not the solution. Our enemies hate us for our freedoms. Antichristianists are corrupting our societal morals and our precious bodily fluids. This whole financial mess could be solved with a tax cut for the rich. There is no crises in medical care, just a crises in government intervention. And so on and so forth.

    It won’t last of course, and the present round Dominionism is just about played out.

    So just pause, take a deep breath, and turn your thoughts to your garden, as Candide would say.

  30. Cody Says:

    Well said ScentOfViolets.

  31. Sigivald Says:

    Andrew Sullivan as a primary news source?

    Seriously?

    And Scott – if you imagine that a non-Bush president would have Somehow Done Better With FEMA And New Orleans, I’d love to see the explanation, in terms of pre-Katrina expectations and priorities demonstrable with actual evidence – because I just can’t buy that one.

    (Then again, apart from the “trailers” issue, the “bungled handling of the aftermath” thing seems deeply overblown for partisan reasons. Actual response appears to have been on par with or better than previous hurricanes, from the Federal level.)

    And as far as the debt goes? Well, again, I see no possible way to support with evidence that another outcome in 2000, 2004, or indeed either outcome in this race will lower the debt, or even lower the deficit. Congress will always spend like a drunken sailor as long as it’s allowed to … and the majority of people don’t seem to care that much about the deficit, especially if their party is in charge and handing out the goodies.

    (And on Iraq, well, we disagree fundamentally enough that I doubt it’s worth talking about.

    Not that it was “mishandled” – it was, as all wars are – but

    A) that it was a good idea

    B) would have eventually had to have been done by some President of either Party (and note that “regime change in Iraq” as American government policy pre-dates Bush’s election), and of course

    C)we’ve pretty much won now.)

    My point is not “Bush is good!!!” but “I see no reason on any of the points mentioned to think that he’s actually any worse than the alternative”.

    I tend to agree with Stubby on this. Obama’s not a messiah (or an “antichrist” – thanks Scent and your wacky Sullivan-esque “dominionist” rhetoric!) and more than McCain is. Though I haven’t noticed anyone expressing vague, inchoate “hope” about McCain, and it’s been the central theme of Obama support this past year.

    The Republic will endure no matter who gets elected. America isn’t over, liberty isn’t going to wither away in the next four years.

  32. harrison Says:

    A) that it was a good idea

    Right. On the order of a trillion dollars and several thousand lives lost with very little to show for it is never a good idea.

    I’m of the opinion that we shouldn’t pull out too early — and the surge, I’ll grant, did end up being better than the alternative — but to start with? Hardly.

  33. John Sidles Says:

    Those who seek un-spun information about the status of the war in Iraq and/or Afghanistan might consider reading Small Wars Journal … which is both a website and a peer-reviewed journal.

    There is plenty of information and analysis at SWJ to discomfit equally the ideologues of both the right and the left. In particular, assertions that the war is “pretty much won” are unfounded, as are assertions that the war is “pretty much lost.”

    If this leaves you feeling dismayed that Gen. Petraeus’ famous question “How does this end?” may have no simple answer … well … that is probably an accurate assessment.

    If we extend Gen. Petraeus’ question to “How does this century end?” … well … that is indeed a mighty sobering question to contemplate seriously.

    The good news is … pretty much all the answers have a large component of information science! :)

  34. Cody Says:

    Sigivald, according to this article, Nixon and Eisenhower are the only two Republican presidents to lower the debt/GDP in the last 50 years, as opposed to every Democrat president in the last 50 years. Maybe there is a good reason that this is irrelevant to your statement that there is, “no possible way to support with evidence that another outcome in 2000, 2004, or indeed either outcome in this race will lower the debt, or even lower the deficit.”
    Maybe you’ll say that it had more to do with the situation? Or that the president didn’t have as much to do with it as some other factor. I don’t know enough about it.

    My question is, how does the Republican party continue to hold the reputation as ‘smaller government’, when from 1978-2005 they oversaw greater increases in spending than the Democrats did?

  35. Douglas Knight Says:

    harrison:
    I don’t see an average undecided voter walking into a polling both in Minnesota and deciding to pull the lever for a comedian.

    MN elected Jesse Ventura.

  36. Claire Says:

    Scott,

    Great picture, but take a close look: the bottom right part of it looks a bit strange, don’t you think?

  37. John Sidles Says:

    Claire, a person never knows who might unexpectedly drop by the lab and/or office. Just like Scott’s mom, our QSE Lab has been surprised by distinguished visitors … some of whom have even offered sound technical advice … and like Scott’s mom, we always take a photo. :)

  38. Evan Jeffrey Says:

    It isn’t just Jesse Ventura. Minnesota has a proud history of oddball politicians, and being a professional comedian certainly doesn’t disqualify someone.

  39. harrison Says:

    MN elected Jesse Ventura.

    Good point.

  40. Peter bacsi Says:

    Thanks for the link to Norvig’s great election FAQ. That page has no comment possibility, so let me make here a trivial comment on his “why it is rational to vote”. His argument does not seem to apply to a non-swing state like Massachusetts—but a general Kantian (ethical, so maybe not “rational”?) argument does. My own vote in Massachusetts does not count much. But ethics requires me to mostly refrain from actions that would be disastrous if everybody adopted them as a rule. Now, if everybody in Massachusetts stayed home thinking that their vote does not count…

  41. Cynthia Says:

    Scott,

    Not to throw a monkey wrench into your efforts to become more Zen-like in your ways, but if Obama goes into Super Tuesday with a decisive lead in the polls and McCain still manages to pull off a victory over him, it might indeed be the case that GOP crooks hired Joe the Programmer to rig voting machines in their favor.

    When I first heard about Mark Crispin Miller’s investigations into widespread election fraud orchestrated by the GOP, I first thought the man was a card-carrying member of the tinfoil hat brigade, but now I’m beginning to think otherwise…

    Here are two clips of him discussing election fraud on Bill Moyers’ Journal and on Democracy Now!:

    http://www.pbs.org/moyers/journal/10172008/watch3.html

    http://www.democracynow.org/2008/10/22/votes

  42. Cynthia Says:

    Claire,

    This picture you’re seeing here represents paleo-photoshopping at its finest. I think its quite charming myself.:-)

  43. KaoriBlue Says:

    “…it might indeed be the case that GOP crooks hired Joe the Programmer to rig voting machines in their favor.”

    That’s a pretty strong accusation to level at McCain and the current GOP leadership. In any case, I wouldn’t worry. McCain will lose because of the completely incompetent/desperate way he’s been running his campaign, his unimaginatively poor (reckless) choice for a V.P., and because he has now lost the confidence of honorable, serious conservatives like Colin Powell.

    I will hope for balance, restraint, and a rejection of the sort of ideological blindness that we’ve seen for the past eight years.

  44. Kurt Says:

    Off-topic, but maybe this would make a nice temporary diversion from the politics of the day: I see that there is a new paper up on the arXiv, P is not equal to NP, by Sten-Ake Tarnlund using a logic-based approach. I was just curious if anyone has taken a look at this yet.

  45. Scott Says:

    Kurt: After you’ve seen your first 50, your curiosity about these papers noticeably diminishes. I mean, P vs. NP seems to get solved by another arXiv preprint every week—how hard could it be? :-)

  46. rrtucci Says:

    Software at its best
    http://www.palinaspresident.us/

  47. Cynthia Says:

    So the solution to the P-vs-NP problem is shaping up to resemble something akin to a stringy landscape of 10^500 metastable vacua…

  48. John Sidles Says:

    Cynthia Says: So the solution to the P-vs-NP problem is shaping up to resemble something akin to a stringy landscape of 10^500 metastable vacua…

    That is IMHO a fine post! … an wonderful concept neatly expressed.

    The set of quantum systems that can be efficiently simulated, versus those systems whose simulation requires exponential resources, has (empirically) a similar look-and-feel … in the sense that the boundary between these two sets (again empirically) resembles a fractal landscape.

    Engineers are always on the lookout for theorems that help pin down this boundary … that is a practical motivation for engineers to study even the most abstract articles on complexity and quantum computing.

    In seeking this clarity, are we “Waiting for Godot”?

    Maybe or maybe not … in the interim, we can always do a Google Image search for “critical opalescence” … which is perhaps the nearest physical embodiment we have of this boundary.

  49. Kurt Says:

    I’m just worried that someone will go and solve the thing before I have a chance to write my own paper and get it up on the arXiv!

  50. A True Independent Says:

    As I’ve written on another complexity blog, I don’t understand why people would vote for such an EXTREME leftist. Extreme views on either side can be dangerous. Extreme conservatives are like overly strict parents, while extreme liberals are like overly permissive parents with zero discipline. Either style of parenting would be disastrous for the child.

    Some people may not agree with Bush’s policies, but at least we’ve enjoyed national security for the past seven years. It is sad that presidents do not get credit for what did NOT happen (thwarted terrorist plots). With Obama, I’m afraid things are going to change…for the worse. Look how patient the terrorists had been between the two WTC attacks (1993 and 2001).

    McCain is at least not as conservative as Bush. (He had voted, for example, to confirm more liberal-leaning judges, unlike his ideological colleagues.) And he’s not likely to be as fiscally conservative either. Obama, on the other hand, would be our most liberal president ever, if elected.

  51. Job Says:

    Go liberal.

  52. Eric Says:

    Permit me to point out that Obama is basically stealing this election in plain sight. Leaving entirely aside vote fraud (which also may be occurring), after reneging on his pledge to go with the public finance system, he is outspending McCain something like 4 to 1, which is generally considered sufficient to win an election by itself. Each million bucks buys attack advertising and people to turn out the vote that results in some number of votes, independent of the merit of his case.

    And he is raising this money in extremely underhanded fashion: 2/3 of it is coming through a website that accepts donations from pre-paid credit cards for which it is impossible to check the identity of the donor, like whether he is foreign or has already donated 10 million dollars, and on this website Obama has disabled all ordinary checks as to whether the person actually exists or lives at the address or corresponds to the credit card or anything. Nobody else on the internet, or in politics, would accept this stuff.

    This is completely outrageous. They are consenting to election law fraud on a massive scale. And its not as if its not happening. For example, They got $174,000 donated in the name of a woman who says she never donated a dime, and no donations appeared on any of her credit card statements.

    Sources: Washington Post and NY Times (which are reporting the story, but burying it in hopes it doesn’t swing the election.)

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/10/28/AR2008102803413.html?sub=AR&sid=ST2008102803431&s_pos=

    http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/10/29/obamas-easy-credit/?ref=opinion

  53. rw Says:

    Scott (and other logician-types),

    There are proofs that certain statements are independent (i.e. undecidable) of your model of set theory. I’ve read on the intertubers that perhaps the P=NP question is one of these independent statements, too. This is an obvious possibility, at least to a layman.

    I’m trying to use my very limited knowledge of proof theory and C.T. here, patience might be required:

    I want to go meta: is it possible that the proof of the truth/independence/falsity of P=?NP could itself be independent? Are there any examples of proofs like that? Does my question even make sense?

    Are there infinite chains of independent sentences?

  54. lylebot Says:

    Look how patient the terrorists had been between the two WTC attacks (1993 and 2001).

    You may have disagreed with his policies, but at least we enjoyed national security under Clinton.

    It is sad that presidents do not get credit for what did NOT happen

    It sure is.

    This post might be a good test case for Scott’s Worldview Manager.

  55. John Sidles Says:

    True Independent … you need to understand that for academics, the only unforgivable trait in a politician is incuriosity.

    AFAICT, the McCain campaign has no team of science and technology advisors at all … and couldn’t even be troubled to send a representative to Wired Magazine’s recent tech debate.

    A campaign that seeks to avoid even the appearance of curiosity can’t expect much support from the academic community, regardless of left-wing versus right-wing considerations.

  56. Cody Says:

    rw, from what I understand (I’m just a layman as well), there are “infinite chains of independent [statements]” in mathematics, and I think it might be conceivable that P vs NP could be independent, but it seems unlikely, simply because it is more of a question about the physical world… either there are efficient ways to solve NP-complete problems, or there are not.

    I suppose the result could depend on your model of computation (the same way the independence of mathematical questions might depend on what set of axioms you are using), but something about our models of computation seems more concrete than the axioms of a given mathematics. Maybe because we can construct our models of computation physically, as opposed to our mathematical axioms which are guided more by what we find most interesting/useful/fruitful/etc.

  57. Cody Says:

    And to True Independent, my parents were pretty much zero-discipline, overly-permissive types, and I’m pretty sure I turned out fine. Plus as an adult, anyone trying to parent me would be pretty annoying, including the president. Also, it was nice to have national security these last seven years, why did it take him 22 months of presidency to secure the nation? (I don’t really believe we have been more secure since then, but I will concede that point for the sake of argument.)

  58. A True Independent Says:

    I would have voted for another Democrat provided he/she is not that extreme. Obama, though, would allow all kinds of activities to be carried out or even with his support without questioning, perhaps in the name of curiosity, or because he is too nice to hurt anyone’s feelings, or whatever. That’s fine…if there were no such thing as evil…

    Alas, we live in a real world where danger is all too present, and I’m sure the enemies will take advantage of an extremely permissive, “nice” president. (What golden opportunities to plan another big one!) Even Biden has said that Obama will be “tested.” Have we gotten too complacent with our national security that we now worry only about the economy, funding, and other money issues? But without life or your loved ones, what would these things mean?

  59. Cody Says:

    True Independent, I’m struggling a little bit to understand your concerns. Could you provide a specific instance in which Obama’s ‘radical’ compassion might lead to harm, and how a less compassionate president’s stance would prevent harm in the same instance? Are you worried he will dismiss any alarmist reporting from the intelligence communities? Or disband the military? You appear to be awfully concerned with this, and I guess I just don’t quite understand your concerns.

  60. John Sidles Says:

    True Independent … even the American military (or better, especially the American military) has come to appreciate that true security requires massive investments in nation-building and peace-making, both abroad and at home.

    And this principle is more than just political opinion; it is now enshrined in doctrine.

    Far-right conservatives are remarkably incurious about this phase-change in American security doctrine … and that is my most severe criticism of the McCain campaign.

    This incuriosity is behind Gen. Barry McCaffrey’s recent assessment “There is fear on the part of many senior [military] leaders to see McCain in office. It’s almost counterintuitive, but there is a bit of me that says they would be happier to see Obama.”

    It is indeed curious to see the politics of America’s senior military leaders aligning so closely with America’s senior academic leaders. But then, we live in curious times … the roles of the military community, the scientific community, and the academic community are all undergoing revolutionary changes … whether we like it or not.

    As I write this, I am listening to my wife and my son (in the next room) discuss his experiences, on his third tour of Anbar province, as a US Marine tasked with the practical realities of nation-building and peace-making …

    Politics aside, the sobering realities of our shared global situation make it very unlikely that the history of the twenty-first century will be any less complicated that the history of seventeenth, eigthteenth, nineteenth, or twentieth centuries … these being the turbulent centuries of the scientific revolution and of the Enlightenment.

    Given that our past is complicated, is it reasonable to foresee that our future will be simple?

    That is why, regardless of a person’s political views, incuriosity is an inappropriate response to the challenges of the twenty-first century.

  61. rrtucci Says:

    True independent’s first sentence turns me off
    “As I’ve written on another complexity blog, I don’t understand why people would vote for such an EXTREME leftist.”

    I don’t think that someone whose key economic advisors are Lawrence Summers, Bob Rubin, Warren Buffet and Paul Volker is an EXTREME leftist.

    I think someone whose key economic advisors are George W Bush, Carly Fiorina and Sarah Palin is an EXTREME something,
    where something is not intelligent or well prepared

  62. harrison Says:

    I think someone whose key economic advisors are George W Bush, Carly Fiorina and Sarah Palin is an EXTREME something, where something is not intelligent or well prepared.

    Yeah, your statement.

    Not that I’m not voting for Obama, but please, please don’t pull a double standard, where you list actual economists for Obama (some of whom don’t even advise him, some of whom, IIRC, aren’t even openly supporting him) and pseudo-random unpopular Republicans for McCain. It lowers the standard of political discourse even more than it’s already been lowered.

  63. A True Independent Says:

    Cody, the problem with Obama is that he is a nice guy. Too nice. His long-term associations with shady people makes me question his judgment and whether he’s capable of saying ‘no’ to their requests and favors. Unlike Bill Clinton, he’s never shown anger in public — righteous anger — as far as I know. Such a personality would make a perfect ambassador or diplomat. But the president has to make tough decisions and exercise sound judgment. Is he tough enough? Is he tough enough to even stand up to his own party? Or would he keep the peace at all costs?

  64. Eric Says:

    Nobody has responded to my comment 52.

    This behavior by Obama is truly an outrage. If there are Obama supporters out there, I would like to know your reaction. He is stealing this election in broad daylight.

    He is absolutely collaborating with illegal donations, and they are probably massive. Everybody else reports the below $200 contributions. Nobody else ever takes credit card donations without checking the names. And takes prepaid cards. They have gone way out of their way to facilitate illegal donations. There’s no particular reason to believe that Soros didn’t donate $100 million, or for that matter, Bin Laden might have donated $20 million for real.
    Who would know. We can, however, be pretty confident they are getting massive illegal donations, such as the $140K from someone who didn’t make them.

    And this election is close enough, that these illegal donations are very likely making the difference. He’s running massive negative campaign ads that are affecting voters.

    It’s not really the first time he fixed an election either. When he first ran for state senate, he disqualified all the opposition so the voters didn’t get a say. But at least that was legal. When he ran against Hillary, he won largely by caucus manipulation, rather than any real will of the voters(plus her incompetence at not contesting the caucausses adequately.)

    It’s also an outrage that the newspapers are burying this in internal pages. Boy, can you imagine if a Republican tried this stuff.

    The man is going to be President, and probably rearrange America in radical ways, and you liberals are totally cool with the fact that he is collaborating with theft of the election, and will do all this without ever in his life have won an election fair and square, and probably wouldn’t be winning this one if he played by the laws.

  65. John Sidles Says:

    True Independent, may I refer you to Doris Kearns Goodwin’s biography Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln?

    This book is an outstanding study of the virtues of dispassionate judgment and even temper in a President.

    Similarly, Gen. George Marshall’s biographers all comment upon his dispassionate judgment and even temper, to which this remarkable speech gives witness (yes, I maintain a database of audio quotations too).

    The verdict of history, by and large, is that Marshall’s dispassionate approach to leadership worked well … since Marshall was acknowledged to be both the “architect of victory” in WWII, and subsequently, won the Nobel Peace prize as architect of the Marshall Plan.

    The point being, that for at least some American leaders, a dispassionate approach to leadership has worked exceedingly well.

    I mention the examples of Lincoln and Marshall because almost any student of history will recognize that during this campaign, Sen. Obama has been guided in his policies by these two leaders (domestic policy from Lincoln, foreign policy from Marshall, most especially the Marshall Plan), even to the extent that Obama’s rhetoric draws extensively from their speeches.

  66. Job Says:

    True Independent, i think he’s tough enough, i don’t see him as “too nice” or someone who’ll be walked over by everyone or lend himself to personal favors, he seems to have (i don’t know any candidate personally) strong principles, plus you’re also not counting with the i’m-the-president-damn-it factor.

    McCain strikes me as temperamental, stubborn, my-way-or-the-highway, no-room-for-discussion, lets-make-the-wrong-decision-asap, roll-the-dice-and-see-what-happens kind of person.

  67. Scott Says:

    Feeling … overpowering … urge … to bite Eric’s flamebait … but then … remember … quest for Zen-like equanamity…

  68. Job Says:

    Eric, here’s my reaction:

  69. A True Independent Says:

    John Sidles, dispassion is an honorable quality to have in a leader if indeed it means impartiality, which is one of its definitions. However, I don’t see how Obama can be described as impartial when he has been consistently partial toward his own party, being the senator with the most liberal voting record. He voted against confirming Judges Roberts and Alito even though they were highly qualified. And I just heard news today that three reporters have been kicked off his campaign plane. All three are known supporters of McCain. Coincidence? I think not.

  70. Cody Says:

    True Independent, do you really believe that Obama is the most liberal senator? What about Ted Kennedy? How exactly are you measuring liberal-ness? Do you mean socially liberal or economically liberal? Or both? Certainly even the conservatives don’t look too economically conservative at the moment, so I guess it’s social conservatism?

    And long term associations with shady people? Do you think Obama is some sort of sleeper cell for the weathermen? Do you expect him to bomb the capital building once he is elected into office? (Maybe to protest the Viet Nam war?) Do you think that Al Qaeda is going to call him up and ask for a pardon? Is anger ever ‘righteous’? If we had a computer that could make perfectly logical decisions based on a more complete knowledge of human behavior than any single human could ever have, would we be suspicious if it was never angry? Is it unreasonable to think that someone who can remain level headed in even the most stressful situations can make sound decisions? Is there such a thing as being ‘too nice’ (excluding of course the gullible, like myself)? Are you afraid he will go soft when dealing with countries that are absolutely insignificant in terms of the long-term existence of America? Seriously, what is the consequences of letting Iran, North Korea and every one else doing exactly what they want? Are they going to surpass the 300+ thermonuclear warheads on 7+ submarines, or the 1000+ land based missiles, or the other advanced warheads we’ve made? Are you concerned about invasion? Maybe just rogue nuclear attack? After planes were crashed into three of our buildings, we’ve spent billions of dollars a month for years on end in a country that wasn’t even related, how nuts would a country have to be to actually attack us? We are the psycho that takes things way too far, ignoring the consensus surrounding us. And if he doesn’t stand up to his own party, then what? The democrats will pass that communism bill they’ve been sitting on?

    Please would you give me a plausible situation in which a United States President is ‘too nice’, resulting in catastrophic international consequences, preventable by a more aggressive (i.e. asshole) persona.

    Scott, I want you to encourage you to preserve your Zen-like position, and I apologize for my blatant fueling of the fire—I guess I cannot resist.

    Eric, do you think that money is stolen from other people? In which case, the credit card companies who are handing out millions of dollars due to fraud aren’t making any attempt to apprehend the criminals? And you think it is a wise decision for Osama Bin Laden to encourage the election of Barack Obama? (20 million dollars, is that money he got from his rich inheritance or soviet-era CIA funding?) Is Colin Powell’s endorsement interpreted as a negative? What ‘radical rearranging of America’ exactly are you concerned about? Not gay marriage, personal rights, abortion, or any of the other relatively petty domestic issues, right? (Because face it, those are all petty when we are discussing national security and the future of the economy.) Are you afraid he might do something rash like disband the military? I just do not understand.

    Again, please: I am willing to listen to the anti-Obama side, but I want plausible scenarios, not vague accusations about the apocalyptic world envisioned by those who buy into the simple ‘he’s too liberal’ rhetoric.

    I do agree that it is disappointing that he went back on his promise to stick to public funding (as I understand it), but at the same time, I can’t blame him too much if he had the foresight (or more likely some campaign analyst) that he could raise such a ridiculously large amount of funding. One of the things I did like amount about McCain was his efforts on campaign finance reform. However, I could not in good consciences support Palin; I can’t even support someone who supports Palin. She seems to stand against what I think defines Humans as a species.

  71. ST Says:

    Fools are steadfast in their mistaken ways. Smart people on the other hand, are so good at overthinking the obvious that it is amazing how many times they come to ridiculous conclusions. This is what worries me most about Obama’s chances to get elected. Intelligent people have this beautiful ability to debate the nitty-gritty while sabotaging the big picture.

    True Independent, a leader who gets angry is a leader who is not feeling in control. Obama can be a formidable adversary, see his speech in response to comments that he is merely a “talker” – you can see some steel. If there is one thing we have learnt from this campaign, it is that Obama is an exceptional leader (something that the “left” is not used to), and great leaders, by definition, are not pushovers.

    Have you seen his interview with Bill O’Reilly? How many people can hold their ground while not losing their temper? You should also look up O’Reilly’s comments on him after the interview. Old Bill was in love there for a bit.

  72. Eric Says:

    Cody, the money is not stolen. Rich people or foreigners are supplying it to buy hundreds of thousands or millions of prepaid credit cards under $200 each. Unlike any other candidate in recent history, Obama is not reporting the identities of people contributing under $200.

    Its not as if this isn’t happening. In addition to the woman with the $140K donations, remember Hsu from the primaries? He’s the guy who organized illegal donations in the 100’s of thousands to Hillary, funneling foreign money through small checks from various Asians living in this country? But that was caught because Hillary reported the names of the under $200 donors. Obama is not.

    The problem isn’t theft, its being an accessory to violation of the election laws– laws which his opponent, McCain, is of course honoring.

    If you don’t have a problem with The One stealing the election in this way, I don’t know what to say. Think about it.

    And as to what Obama is going to do that is radical, you can start with spreading the wealth, changing the US system over to a European welfare system, and removing secret ballot for union elections. This last is a given, since it has already passed the house and he is a co-sponsor in the Senate, and he owes the unions bigtime. This bill polls at about 80% disapproval, so its pretty radical. But the effects haven’t been fully appreciated. The bill basically provides for companies to be unionized whether the employees want it or not (are you going to refuse to sign a card when union goons come to your house at night to ask you to?) and it also provides for forcing union contracts on businesses if they don’t come to terms in negotiations. In short, it provides that union presidents can loot a company. In recent years, we’ve seen numerous foreign car (and other) firms come to right-to-work states and open new plants, where they keep the workers happy enough they don’t want to unionize. Think we’ll see any such investments once Federal Law provides union presidents can loot the company? Think you’ll see any investment in new business at all so that it can be looted? Obama’s radical agenda is going to turn the recession into a Great Depression. In fact, similar policies (putting the Feds behind unions, protectionism, raising taxes especially on the upper brackets, big government spending plans) are what kept the country in the first Great Depression and he is absolutely poised to repeat these errors, even ones like Card Check which are wildly unpopular.

    There isn’t a proposal in Obama’s agenda which isn’t unfriendly to investors or bad for the economy. If you like “spreading the wealth” on philosophic grounds, which presumably you do if you don’t realize how radical it is, you need to at least think about what all these proposals are going to do in reality to the unemployment rate. Its not an accident that Europe ran double digit unemployment for years, but Obama’s proposals are even worse, and its a bad time for such stuff.

  73. Cynthia Says:

    John Sidles, you write:

    “Far-right conservatives are remarkably incurious about this phase-change in American security doctrine … and that is my most severe criticism of the McCain campaign.”

    What you are referring to is better known as the Bush Doctrine, one of the many things that Gov. Palin is totally clueless about…

    First the Bushies used this doctrine to conduct pre-emptive strikes against nations like Afghanistan and Iraq. Now they are using it to conduct pre-emptive strikes against nations that neighbor Afghanistan and Iraq, namely Pakistan and Syria. This Bush-league-led madness has got to stop before we find ourselves in a state of perpetual war!

    And don’t believe for a moment that pouring taxpayer dollars into wars always help the economy. This only works when wars are just, such as World War II. Since both wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are both undeniably unjust, they are only hurting our economy. And now that our economy is in the midst of a major downturn, the best way to turn it around is to funnel federal funds into building infrastructure here at home, not dumping dollars into destroying infrastructure overseas!

    [Sorry Scott, but I afraid that there's no such thing as a Zen-like Soapbox!]

  74. John Sidles Says:

    Cynthia, that was a great post! And perhaps you would be surprised to learn how thoroughly consonant your ideas are with modern strategic doctrine.

    One minor point is that by “modern strategic doctrine”, my post did *not* mean what the press commonly calls “the Bush doctrine” … because that doctrine pretty much died in 2006 when Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Rove, etc. departed the White House.

    The new doctrine is still being born … it has no single author … historians have not yet given it a name … and its still-evolving principles are articulated only in long, dry, technical documents that (frustratingly for ideologues) often embrace both sides of ideological disputes.

    The birth (always difficult) of new doctrines and syntheses is a topic of immense interest to me, and when it comes to the America’s ongoing phase change in strategic doctrine, a good summary of the present status of this birthing process is Janine Davidson’s recent SWJ essay.

    Ms. Davidson’s sparkling review is full of observations that (wittingly or not) are anathema equally to the ideologues of the right and the left. For example, one of my favorite passages from her review is is:

    For those who worry that this new doctrine will make it more likely that we will try to invade and occupy more countries, consider that it might just have the opposite effect. If there is one thing this manual makes very clear, it is that stability operations are not rocket science – they are actually more complex and uncertain.

    Gosh, a strategic doctrine that is founded upon humility and respect for complexity, and that offends ideologues of every stripe … now, that’s my kind of doctrine!

    It appears that Janine Davidson is a newly appointed assistant professor at the George Mason University School of Public Policy. Good on ya, Janine!

  75. Cynthia Says:

    Thanks for your kind words, John! And thanks for pointing out that there nothing simple and straightforward about war. Since hotheadedness invariably goes hand in hand with simple-mindedness, warmongers tend to be blind to the fact that war is not only steeped in complexity, but it’s filled with lots of twists and turns, too.

    I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty disappointed with Team Obama for not driving home the message that Iraq and Afghanistan are two of our biggest bridges to nowhere. My guess is that war profiteers are using their deep pockets to prevent Dems from conveying anti-war messages.

    And let me confess that I usually hang out in bear dens across the blogosphere, blogging with some of the most bearish bears around. So, it refreshing for me to get out into the sunshine from time to time and visit with our enlightened friends from the complexity community.

  76. John Sidles Says:

    Thank you, Cynthia!

    Yes, if a person is looking for specifics, than the choice between Obama and McCain on strategic policy is kinda like the choice between gazing hopefully into fog (Obama) and willfully shutting one’s eyes (McCain) … and ditto for their health-care policies.

    Cynthia, what mainly interested me about your post was the intriguing reference to “blogosphere’s bearish bears”.

    Wikipedia is no help! Are you referring to investment bears? Mammalian bears? I feel as hopeful as my wife does (she’s an Audubon master birder) when she glimpses a new, rare, or unexpected species. :)

    What are these “bears of the blogosphere”?

  77. A True Independent Says:

    Cody, the information about Obama’s voting tendencies was taken from the annual rankings done by National Journal, who has been rating senators (and representatives) for years now based on how conservative or liberal they are as expressed in their voting records. As with most rankings, this one is likely to be imperfect or perhaps biased. But I think it gives us a general idea of where he stands compared to his colleagues. His “composite liberal score” has been increasing each year since he was elected, reaching a #1 position in 2007 compared to #16 in 2005. This is why I described him as an “extreme leftist.”

    Now, “extreme” is not a description one might typically think of because his public persona, including the one projected by the media (who mostly favor him) is that of a calm, cool, articulate, nice guy. But what do the things that truly matter–his actions–say about him?

    Sure he is very nice…toward those who like him, that is. He is also calm, not easily agitated. But that doesn’t make him dispassionate because he is far from impartial. If elected as president, would he be able to reach across the aisle and compromise on some issues? Does he have the courage to do the right thing, to stand up to his own party if need be? The president, unlike a member of Congress, has to be a uniter, a compromiser sometimes. When, in his past, has he shown in action, not words, such a desire to unite or compromise?

  78. A True Independent Says:

    In the last part of my previous comment, I did not mean to suggest that members of Congress had no need to compromise. What I meant was that the president, being the head of a nation, must be willing to unite the country more so than others.

  79. Cynthia Says:

    Hi (again) John,

    I blog with bears, meaning that I blog with econ-junkies. While economics is a livelihood for most of them, it’s just a hobby for me.

    And believe me, most of us cheered when the Swedes awarded the Nobel to someone who’s got the balls to speak out against unfettered Capitalism, just as most climate scientists cheered when they awarded the prize to someone with the guts to tell the the truth about the dangers of anthropogenic global warming. So what if the Swedes politize the Nobel from time to time. I, for one, can’t think of anything more worthwhile than awarding those who do their utmost to expose the truth!

  80. John Sidles Says:

    LOL … Cynthia, I sure have a feeling that you and I would get along just fine … you wouldn’t happen to be a Jared Diamond fan too, would you? :)

  81. Cynthia Says:

    John, I imagine that you wouldn’t be too surprised to hear that Jared Diamond is up there among my favorite thinkers.

  82. John Sidles Says:

    Cynthia, me too. And just to keep a trickle-charge on this thread … Starbucks is giving out a free coffee on Nov. 4 to anyone who walks up to the counter and says “I voted.”

    From a purely game-theoretic point of view, the optimal strategy for a person who (1) has money & a job and (2) favors voting, is to pay for the coffee anyway (thus incenting Starbucks to do it in future elections too).

    What school of economics would this pro-voting choice represent?

    Alan Greenspan … nope. Paul Krugman … nope. Amartya Sen … hmmm … maybe. But my knowledge of economic thinkers is pretty sparse … perhaps some econo-wizard can enlighten us all … and point to some good reading too.

  83. harrison Says:

    From a purely game-theoretic point of view, the optimal strategy for a person who (1) has money & a job and (2) favors voting, is to pay for the coffee anyway (thus incenting [sic] Starbucks to do it in future elections too).

    Unless Starbucks is tracking non-coffee-related sales, which is where they likely expect to make most of their money on Tuesday, in which case the optimal strategy would seem to be to buy a coffee and buy a pastry or something similar.

    Except, of course, that the expected (pro-voting) value of paying for a pastry is close to nil, whereas the cost of a pastry is somewhere around $2-4, so really the optimal strategy is not to go into a Starbucks at all. Much like voting, in fact.

  84. Stubby Says:

    What school of economics would this pro-voting choice represent?

    If you drop it in the tip jar while no-one’s looking, then Adam Smith. If you ask for a double-shot of Vienna roast and pay the locally-adjusted price, then I guess it’s Hayek. Skinny half-caff grande carmel macciatto & you’re in the Suze Ormann school… If you borrow $700,000,000.00 to cover everyone’s order—except short shots!—to stave-off depression that’s Bernake. If your date is Paris Hilton & you insist on paying in Euros, that’s Mundell. If you pay out of your passbook savings account, it’s Keynesian. If your parents pay for it out of their passbook savings account, its Galbraith. If you estimate your permanent income before you pay, that’s Friedmann.

    If you promise to pay for your “investment in caffeine infrastructure” later, you must have ordered the Venti Americano.

  85. John Sidles Says:

    Harrison and Stubby, maybe its as simple as this:

    (1) Rational market forces do not control our lives, any more than beneficent omniscient deities control our lives.

    (2) Voting is good because “democratic republicanism is the most legitimate form of politics” (Jonathon Israel’s eighth cardinal principle of the Enlightenment, per the above).

    (3) Therefore, this will be a good election if everyone thinks carefully, speaks charitably, smiles cheerfully … and votes! :)

  86. Cynthia Says:

    Hi John,

    You deserve a brownie point or two for keeping this thread from grinding to a halt. But you deserve an entire batch of them for turning it back to the topic of voting…

    I’m not sure what you mean by someone being “pro-voter.” But if what you mean by this is someone who favors high voter turnouts, then Dems outdo Repubs when it comes to being pro-voter.

    And as long as the GOP is primarily the party of and especially for the rich and as long as the rich keep shrinking in numbers, Repubs will do everything in their power to keep voter turnout low. Plus let me make mention that about the only folks who have any business voting for the GOP are the ones who make $250,000 or more a year.

    And because Repubs know they can’t win elections by having only 3% of the population voting in their favor, they concoct all sorts of gimmicks to entice middle-class Americans and below to vote Republican. They entice the Joe Plumbers of America into voting Republican by painting the GOP as the party that loves God-fearing gun-toters and hates gay-loving intellectuals. They also entice the Joe Plumbers of America, who are still trapped in a cold-war mindset, into voting Republican by painting the Democratic Party as the party that harbors Marxists maniacs who are out to nuke Capitalism off the face of Earth. And now with the likes of Rev. Hagee on their side to convince Christian Evangelicals that the only way to get to heaven is to keep Israel fully intact and free of Muslims, the GOP now has the right ammunition in hand to entice the Joe Plumbers of America with crosses in their hands to vote Republican.

    Let me close by saying that I’m not entirely convinced that the the folks at Starbucks are handing out free coffee because they are out to increase voting turnout. My hunch is that they are doing this to lure customers into their stores to buy brownies and brownie-like things. But if there’s any truth to the notion that NASDAQ companies tend to vote democratic, while NYSE companies tend to vote Republican, then it may indeed be the case that Starbucks is doing its part to increase voter turnout!;-)

  87. John Sidles Says:

    Cynthia, my hopes for this election are more limited than yours … I’m just hopeful that plenty of folks will vote who have thought carefully about their vote, speak charitably, and smile cheerfully.

    Meanwhile, on the theme of keeping this thread stirred … and applying the general principle that “less is more” … which in the blogosphere means “less seriousness means more posts” …

    Let me respond to Harrison’s wince-inducing “incenting [sic].” Ouch! No one enjoys having their grammar and syntax “[sic]‘d!”

    Can it really be that “incent” is not a perfectly good transitive economic verb (in·cent·ed, in·cent·ing, in·cents)?

    Whew … the Merriam-Webster, American Heritage, and Oxford-English dictionaries all approve this usage .

    Hopefully [sic?], continued activity on this thread will help incent, motivate, lure, direct, remind, and seduce folks into voting, casting ballots, and going to the polls! :)

  88. harrison Says:

    (1) Rational market forces do not control our lives, any more than beneficent omniscient deities control our lives.

    Of course rational market forces don’t control our lives, but (unless you’re assigning a ridiculously high premium to voting) my point is that voting is a losing proposition under any interpretation of game theory I can think of. Similarly, going into a Starbucks and buying a coffee/brownie in order to indirectly entice the population into voting is also a losing proposition.

  89. harrison Says:

    Let me respond to Harrison’s wince-inducing “incenting [sic].” Ouch! No one enjoys having their grammar and syntax “[sic]’d!”

    Can it really be that “incent” is not a perfectly good transitive economic verb (in·cent·ed, in·cent·ing, in·cents)?

    Whew … the Merriam-Webster, American Heritage, and Oxford-English dictionaries all approve this usage .

    Touche [sic]. I’ve generally seen “incentivize” in the past, but if it’s good, it’s good :).

  90. John Sidles Says:

    Harrison, how I wish that every citizen embraced your voting-averse game-theoretic reasoning … because then I (as sole voter) would be their King … or possibly, Prime Minister … just like my heroes Blackadder and Baldrick. :)

  91. Cynthia Says:

    Rowan Atkinson’s “Tom, Dick, & Harry” is a favorite of mine…;)

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AaYXWAZmPfI

    And I’ve always wondered whether Darwin ever brought home any specimens from abroad that were anything like Gerald the Gorilla…;)

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_MpbMm0433I