Archive for June 6th, 2005

Monkeynomics!

I suppose this could be utter hokum, and I’m sure there’s stuff being left out of this article, but it doesn’t sound all that implausible to me, and it’s bloody fascinating:

The essential idea was to give a monkey a dollar and see what it did with it. The currency Chen settled on was a silver disc, one inch in diameter, with a hole in the middle — “kind of like Chinese money,” he says. It took several months of rudimentary repetition to teach the monkeys that these tokens were valuable as a means of exchange for a treat and would be similarly valuable the next day. Having gained that understanding, a capuchin would then be presented with 12 tokens on a tray and have to decide how many to surrender for, say, Jell-O cubes versus grapes. This first step allowed each capuchin to reveal its preferences and to grasp the concept of budgeting.

Then Chen introduced price shocks and wealth shocks. If, for instance, the price of Jell-O fell (two cubes instead of one per token), would the capuchin buy more Jell-O and fewer grapes? The capuchins responded rationally to tests like this — that is, they responded the way most readers of The Times would respond. In economist-speak, the capuchins adhered to the rules of utility maximization and price theory: when the price of something falls, people tend to buy more of it.

(snip)

…The data generated by the capuchin monkeys, Chen says, “make them statistically indistinguishable from most stock-market investors.”

But do the capuchins actually understand money? Or is Chen simply exploiting their endless appetites to make them perform neat tricks?

Several facts suggest the former. During a recent capuchin experiment that used cucumbers as treats, a research assistant happened to slice the cucumber into discs instead of cubes, as was typical. One capuchin picked up a slice, started to eat it and then ran over to a researcher to see if he could “buy” something sweeter with it. To the capuchin, a round slice of cucumber bore enough resemblance to Chen’s silver tokens to seem like another piece of currency.

Then there is the stealing…. Once, a capuchin in the testing chamber picked up an entire tray of tokens, flung them into the main chamber and then scurried in after them — a combination jailbreak and bank heist — which led to a chaotic scene in which the human researchers had to rush into the main chamber and offer food bribes for the tokens, a reinforcement that in effect encouraged more stealing.

Something else happened during that chaotic scene, something that convinced Chen of the monkeys’ true grasp of money. Perhaps the most distinguishing characteristic of money, after all, is its fungibility, the fact that it can be used to buy not just food but anything. During the chaos in the monkey cage, Chen saw something out of the corner of his eye that he would later try to play down but in his heart of hearts he knew to be true. What he witnessed was probably the first observed exchange of money for sex in the history of monkeykind. (Further proof that the monkeys truly understood money: the monkey who was paid for sex immediately traded the token in for a grape.)

This last bit leads directly to a sentence that has probably never been written before: “…Chen has taken steps to ensure that future monkey sex at Yale occurs as nature intended it.”

Anyway, I don’t have much to add to this, other than that I think it’s pretty damn cool, especially the part about the capuhoochie (although, to be honest, I notice the article never specifies the gender of either monkey, so it could just as easily be a capugigolo).

Also, I just really like the word “monkey,” and all the monkeyness it implies.

11 comments June 6th, 2005 at 04:51pm Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Coolness,Favorites,Science,Weirdness

You Go, Hill!

Well, I guess we can expect Hill to get the Howard Dean
treatment any second now…

“There has never been an administration, I don’t believe in our history, more intent upon consolidating and abusing power to further their own agenda,” Mrs. Clinton told the audience at a “Women for Hillary” gathering in Midtown Manhattan this morning.

“I know it’s frustrating for many of you; it’s frustrating for me: Why can’t the Democrats do more to stop them?” she continued to growing applause and cheers. “I can tell you this: It’s very hard to stop people who have no shame about what they’re doing. It is very hard to tell people that they are making decisions that will undermine our checks and balances and constitutional system of government who don’t care. It is very hard to stop people who have never been acquainted with the truth.”

Mrs. Clinton described Republican leaders as messianic in their beliefs, willing to manipulate facts and even “destroy” the Senate to gain political advantage over the Democratic minority. She also labeled the House of Representatives as “a dictatorship of the Republican leadership,” where individual members are all but required to vote in lock-step with the majority’s agenda.

(snip)

Abetting the Republicans, she said in some of her sharpest language, is a Washington press corps that has become a pale imitation of the Watergate-era reporters who are being celebrated this month amid the identification of the anonymous Washington Post source, Deep Throat.

“The press is missing in action, with all due respect,” she said. “Where are the investigative reporters today? Why aren’t they asking the hard questions? It’s shocking when you see how easily they fold in the media today. They don’t stand their ground. If they’re criticized by the White House, they just fall apart.

“I mean, c’mon, toughen up, guys, it’s only our Constitution and country at stake,” she said. “Let’s get some spine.”

Suggesting some lines of reporting, she asserted that the Bush administration could not account for $9 billion in Coalition Authority spending in Iraq, and that the Food and Drug Administration had allowed religious and political bias to interfere with science-driven decision-making on reproductive drugs.

I think she kinda pulled her punches with her choice of scandals for the press to investigate, and I would have liked to see her talk about election reform, but overall, some damn good stuff – I especially liked how she called the press out, which the Dems don’t do nearly often enough.

1 comment June 6th, 2005 at 04:29pm Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Bush,Constitution,Corruption/Cronyism,Democrats,Media,Politics,Republicans

Not Torturing People Is Hard Work

Interesting tidbit from Bush’s interview with the Radio-Television News Directors Association & Foundation, courtesy of The All-Seeing Eye Of Froomkin:

I tell you an interesting ethical dilemma that the President has to deal with. And that is, if you?’re in my shoes, and you thought Abu Farraj al-Libbi had planned an attack on America, would you use any means necessary to get the information from him? And the decision I have made is “No, we will not.” And let?’s just pray he doesn?’t have that information. And when I told the American people we’?re not torturing, we’?re not torturing. But try that on for an interesting ethical dilemmaas the President of the United States.

I think it’s pretty damn scary clear that deep down in his cold little heart of hearts, Bush is very much okay with torture, and has only (supposedly) renounced it because of all the goodie-goodies raising a fuss about it. Shorter Bush: “Okay, y’all got your wish, I’m not going to torture anyone – let’s just hope we don’t regret it.” Lovely.

1 comment June 6th, 2005 at 02:35pm Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Bush,Terrorism,Torture,Wankers

Oh, Please Let It Be So…

Today’s WaPo:

After enlarging their majority in the past two elections, House Republicans have begun to fear that public attention to members’ travel and relations with lobbyists will make ethics a potent issue that could cost the party seats in next year’s midterm races.

In what Republican strategists call “the DeLay effect,” questions plaguing House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) are starting to hurt his fellow party members, who are facing news coverage of their own trips and use of relatives on their campaign payrolls. Liberal interest groups have begun running advertising in districts where Republicans may be in trouble, trying to tie the incumbents to their leaders’ troubles.

Among those endangered are at least two committee chairmen and several other senior members. Congressional districts that traditionally have been safe for Republicans could become more competitive, according to party officials.

The article then goes on to hone in on Coingate in Ohio, which I think could have a huge effect. For while I don’t think it will have any impact at all on Republican credibility at the national level, it could provide a much-needed lever to tilt Ohio back into the Democratic column in 2008, which could once again be decisive in the presidential race. Even if Ohio was stolen in 2004, a lot of the voter suppression and vote-counting shenanigans would be non-issues with Democrats in control of the state’s voting machinery (although I suspect the Republicans and media will tell a different story, and that their allegations will be… revealingly specific).

The importance of painting the so-called “moral values” GOP as corrupt, venal money-chasers cannot be understated, and I’m glad to hear that the Democrats are actually trying to take advantage of this opportunity. Remember, “restoring honor and dignity to the White House” was a major theme in 2000, with the Republicans painting themselves as the super-integrityful antidote to eight years of Democratic sleaze. Let’s remind the voters of that, and of how Republicans have raised sleaze to an art form while they’ve been in power. Let’s also remind them that wealthy fatcats are the real elitists, and unlike liberals, they are only concerned with consolidating and enriching their own wealth and power.

I’m not saying that we should ignore substantive policy and all the Republicans’ glaring failures (and destructive successes), just that the Democrats need to rely on a two-pronged strategy that attacks the Republicans on policy and character.

We should also work on getting Bob Shrum to switch sides so he can work his “magic” for the Republicans…

Correction: I saw “Ohio” and mistakenly made the association to Coingate, but it is not mentioned in the article (Ouch). Instead, it talks about Bob Ney and his connections to DeLay and Abramoff.

But hey, the more dirt on Ohio Republicans, the better. I’m skeptical of Democratic prospects in the South, so discrediting Republicans in pivotal states like Ohio and Florida is vital.

Assuming fair elections, of course. Without those, it doesn’t much matter what we do, unless we can secure tamper-proof margins.

June 6th, 2005 at 01:38pm Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Corruption/Cronyism,Democrats,Elections,Politics,Republicans


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