Archive for May, 2005

Nothing has a URI, everything is available

Thursday, May 26th, 2005

Chris Masse is an old fashioned (email) networker. Most recently he sent me a couple emails regarding my aside in this post:

Another complaint about HedgeStreet and to a lesser extent TradeSports: lack of easily linkable URLs for contracts. C’mon, it’s the web, get with the program!

Back to that concern in a second. First, I noticed that Chris included me in his list of blogs about prediction markets. I got a kick out of my entry:

Mike Linksvayer’s blog – My opinions only. I do not represent any organization in this publication.

  • Category: Prediction Markets
  • Mike Linksvayer is a developer, consultant and IT manager who is into open source software and public domain—among multiple tech topics.
  • He was recently profiled by one of his former Creative Commons’ colleague.
  • I think of him as a libertarian Democrat (or a Democratic libertarian)—I’m not sure, though.
  • He’s been good to me, but I fear him. The day I’ll miss a piece, he’ll assassinate me—cold blood. (Take a look at how he teared down economist Tyler Cowen.)
  • A Robin Hanson-compatible guy.
  • OUTING: Mike Linksvayer is a TradeSports affiliate.

Not bad. I’m registered to vote as an independent though I wouldn’t be the least bit upset if libertarian Democrats had some success.

Back to my complaint. Chris has a page with links to all(?) TradeSports markets. I was aware of these market URLs, and of URLs for individual contracts (beware: this content will attempt to resize your browser winodw). That’s why I said “to a lesser extent for TradeSports.” However, these URLs are obviously designed without consideration of access other than via the larger TradeSports website. They never appear in your browser’s URL bar, making them a pain to discover and they’re either incomplete or badly behaved.

If the Trade Exchange Network wants to be the authoritative prediction markets maker (interesting that they’re seeking to be a CFTC regulated exchange) one tiny step would be to make it easy for people to link to them. Better yet each market and contract would have a feed. Even better yet, an API for accessing market data and generating custom charts. In other words, take several cues from Amazon, eBay, and many others.

Apologies to Hassan i Sabbah’s legend.

Swiss Cheese Jesus

Sunday, May 22nd, 2005

This afternoon I saw Brian Flemming‘s The God Who Wasn’t There makes the case that Jesus of the New Testament did not exist. Christianity is part folklore (Jesus is one of many purported sons of gods who saved the world through tribulation and death and rose again) and part fabrication (the only shreds of historical evidence for Jesus may be fraudulent or derived from the same).

The parts of the film dealing directly with the ahistoricity of Jesus are informative and entertaining, but not particularly in depth. My only quibbles are tangential to the main theme.

The interview with the principal of the Jesus cultist school Flemming attended as a kid contributes nothing to the argument. The school’s teachings are faith-based, not evidence-based, though the principal backpedals for a moment and says that there is lots of historical evidence that Jesus existed. Zero surprise there. Could’ve been cut to about one minute. I suppose for some Flemming’s personal experience will prove interesting, and it does provide him a nice way to close the film.

The parts emphasizing that modern hard core Jesus cultists are nutty, dangerous, or both felt a bit tired.

Richard Carrier, one of the talking heads in the film, stated that violence and war has increased under Judeo-Christianity. That sounds like untenable speculation to me. First, there are confounding factors, to put it mildly, when comparing the world before and after the rise of the Jesus cult, e.g., changes in technology and population. Second, I suspect one woud be hard pressed to make a case that contemporary societies were or are less violent, cf. China. Third, I understand that primitive societies may have been extremely violent.

Carrier was present at the screening, so I asked him about this assertion. He said that he meant that Jesus cultists were the first to spread their religion with violence. That sounds suspect, but I don’t have any counterexamples. In any case, forced conversion sounds like an improvement over plain massacre.

Finally, one or two of the talking heads gave the impression that they think Jesus cultists are increasingly dangerous. I see precious little serious evidence for this. I find that according to activists, journalists, and nearly everyone else, every problem is critical, increasingly critical, or soon to be critical. Watch the headlines for this phenomena, you’ll see. This sentiment is completely ahistorical and annoys me to no end. Someday I’ll write more about it.

However, these are minor nits. The God Who Wasn’t There is well done and worth watching. The website says “Bowling for Columbine did it to the gun culture. Super Size Me did it to fast food. Now The God Who Wasn’t There does it to religion. ” While entertaining, I don’t think the comparison films “did it” to their targets. The god movie “does it” to the Jesus cult.

The film also makes excellent use of footage from old Jesus movies found at the Prelinger Archives, fair use footage of Mel Gibson’s religious snuff-porn flick. (You’ll be convinced that Jesus movies are cheesy if nothing else.) The soundtrack uses remixes of several tracks from the Creative Commons/WIRED CD, taking advantage of the sampling rights granted. This may be the best and most extensive reuse of public domain and Creative Commons licensed works so far apart from works explicitly about remixing.

A pleasant surprise is that the ending credits say the movie is Creative Commons licensed, though I couldn’t tell which license and the on screen URL (I think and variations thereof are unavailable.

Flemming is using a grassroots promotional strategy for the documentary, leading up to a release on 6-6-06 of The Beast Movie, a fictional thriller with the same idea–Jesus did not exist–at its core.

I wish both projects success. The documentary DVD will be available in a couple weeks. I suggest you buy it, share it, and check out a local screening.

(Above I use “Jesus cultist” in preference to Christian or Xian.)

Housing (Ad) Bubble

Sunday, May 15th, 2005

There’s lots to say about the current real estate price bubble*, but I hadn’t considered the boon to publishers. Not online anyway. I have noticed that advertising in Silicon Valley free papers is dominated by real estate for sale. The “Got Ads?” blog says that “mortgage re-financing ads comprise at least 20% of ad volume in total dollars” and guesses that at least 35% of Google’s and Yahoo’s recent quarterly profits were directly from mortgage ads. I assume that “ad volume” above refers to pay per click ad volume. I’d like to know the source of the 20% share and logic of the 35% estimate above.

Is potential loss of mortgage ad related profits priced into Google and Yahoo shares? I don’t want to bet on that.

Unfortunately promised direct real estate price hedges appear to have not launched (Robert Shiller’s Macro Markets) or have not reached the point of usefulness (HedgeStreet’s real estate price Hedgelets are still very thinly traded and only go out six months, a slight improvement over one quarter as of the beginning of this year. (Another complaint about HedgeStreet and to a lesser extent TradeSports: lack of easily linkable URLs for contracts. C’mon, it’s the web, get with the program!)

* I believe that we’re in a real estate bubble and that prices will decline over the next several years. However, I’ve considered housing overvalued since 2001 and stocks since 1996. Are my animal spirits a leading indicator, or just a spurious indicator?

Public Goods Group Shopping

Friday, May 13th, 2005

Discussing Fundable, Alex Tabarrok explains assurance contracts and cites his improvement, dominant assurance contracts (emphasis in original, link added):

In a dominant assurance contract if the group goal is not met then everyone who offered to contribute is given their money back plus a bonus. It turns out that it then becomes a dominant strategy to contribute and the public good is always provided!

Very interesting. I’ve mentioned before in passing that many political problems can be thought of as public goods problems.

I’d really like to see some analysis of what sorts of public goods are amenable to provision via dominant assurance contracts and then implementation. The only other instances of “dominant assurance contract(s)” I can find are in Zane Spindler‘s pedagogical A Tale of Twin Cities: A Parable in Urban Political Economy! and this which indicates that Tabarrok was working on a book on the subject ten years ago. I hope someone else follows up.

I’m also interested in further analysis of other proposed mechanisms for funding the production of public goods, including how their “payoff” would be effected by the addition of a failure bonus:

Fundable reminds me a little of the (failed:,, etc.) group shopping phenomena, but far more general.