April 6th, 2002


Artificial genocide

Jonathon Rauch has written an
absolutely fascinating article
about artificial societies. Be sure to check out the the movies of simulated genocide.

I would love to see betting markets develop where economists could bet on the behavior of such systems.

"...The outcome, of course, is chilling; but what is at least as spooky is that such complicated—to say nothing of familiar—social patterns can be produced by mindless packets of data following a few almost ridiculously simple rules. If I showed you these illustrations and told you they represented genocide, you might well assume you were seeing a schematic diagram of an actual event. Moreover, the model is designed without any element of imitation or communication, so mass hysteria or organized effort is literally impossible. No agent is knowingly copying his peers or following the crowd; none is consciously organizing a self-protective enclave. All the agents are separately and individually reacting "rationally"—according to rules, in any case—to local conditions that the agents themselves are rapidly altering. As hotheads begin to go active, the odds that any one misbehaving agent will be arrested decline, emboldening more-timid agents nearby to act up, reducing the odds of arrest still further, emboldening more agents, and so on. As in real life, the violence, once begun, can spread rapidly as cops are overwhelmed in one neighborhood after another. Although the agents are atomized and disorganized, the violence is communal and coherent. It has form and direction and even a sort of malevolent logic..."

Excerpted from:

The Atlantic Monthly | April 2002
Jonathon Rauch
Seeing Around Corners

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The Heroic Bookie: Jay Cohen


U.S. v. Jay Cohen
By James Oliver
May 2, 2001
[Nicholas Johnson's University of Iowa Cyberspace Law Seminar Spring 2001]


Jay Cohen, an American citizen, moved to the Caribbean nation of Antigua in 1996. He set up an Internet sports gambling site there which he called the World Sports Exchange. He chose Antigua because gambling there is legal and officially licensed by the Antiguan government. He believed that by placing his computer servers in Antigua the bets would be placed there, where they would be legal. Thus he thought and was advised by his peers that his business would not conflict with any United States law.
The United States government took a different view of the matter and charged him with violating the "Wire Wager Act" ("Act").1 The Wire Wager Act prohibits the "use of a wire communication facility for the transmission in interstate or foreign commerce of bets or wagers or information assisting in the placing of bets or wagers on any sporting event or contest."2

United States v. Jay Cohen is one of the first cases brought by the United States government under this statute in its effort to stop offshore Internet gambling. The District Court convicted him on all counts. Jay Cohen appeals.3 This paper will try to predict the outcome of that appeal in the Second Circuit. It takes the form of the following mock concurring opinion.

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The D'oh of Homer


The Simpsons & Philosophy: The D'oh of Homer
Edited by William Irwin, et. al. (Open Court, 299 pp., $17.95, Paper (Orig.), 0812694333)
"Marge's underlying moral philosophy may share much in common with that of the great ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle."

"Perhaps then, we can define the richness of a Simpsons text as a matter of openness to connotation, an openness to the allure of free-floating signifiers that coalesce and disperse apparently randomly, 'data,' as Barthes puts it, 'seemingly lost in the natural flow of discourse.'"

These two quotes come from the incisive, provocative, and entertaining (how often can you say that about a philosophy text?) collection that reflects on some of the connections between philosophy and The Simpsons. As anyone who has watched the show can tell you, The Simpsons is one of the most intelligent and perceptive television shows in recent years, brilliantly satirizing contemporary American society. Yet what, if anything, does it have to do with philosophy? The contributors to this volume, who are all philosophy professors and fans of The Simpsons, demonstrate that the sophistication and layers of meaning found in The Simpsons engage in legitimate philosophical issues. The contributors to The Simpsons and Philosophy strike the right balance between taking The Simpsons seriously and not taking themselves too seriously, offering a collection that is perfect for those interested in philosophy and the moral world of Springfield.

Essays include: "Homer and Aristotle," "Thus Spake Bart: On Nietzsche and the Virtues of Being Bad," "Simpsonian Sexual Politics," "The Moral World of the Simpson Family: A Kantian Perspective," "Enjoying the so-called 'Iced Cream': Mr. Burns, Satan, and Happiness," "Hey-diddily-ho, Neighboreenos: Ned Flanders and Neighborly Love," "'And the Rest Writes Itself': Roland Barthes Watches The Simpsons"