Thursday, December 31, 2009

Department of yikes!

Our brains have some kind of process for deciding how many deaths is a lot... abstract from a paper by Olivola and Sagara, "Distributions of observed death tolls govern sensitivity to human fatalities":
How we react to humanitarian crises, epidemics, and other tragic events involving the loss of human lives depends largely on the extent to which we are moved by the size of their associated death tolls. Many studies have demonstrated that people generally exhibit a diminishing sensitivity to the number of human fatalities and, equivalently, a preference for risky (vs. sure) alternatives in decisions under risk involving human losses. However, the reason for this tendency remains unknown. Here we show that the distributions of event-related death tolls that people observe govern their evaluations of, and risk preferences concerning, human fatalities. In particular, we show that our diminishing sensitivity to human fatalities follows from the fact that these death tolls are approximately power-law distributed. We further show that, by manipulating the distribution of mortality-related events that people observe, we can alter their risk preferences in decisions involving fatalities. Finally, we show that the tendency to be risk-seeking in mortality-related decisions is lower in countries in which high-mortality events are more frequently observed. Our results support a model of magnitude evaluation based on memory sampling and relative judgment. This model departs from the utility-based approaches typically encountered in psychology and economics in that it does not rely on stable, underlying value representations to explain valuation and choice, or on choice behavior to derive value functions. Instead, preferences concerning human fatalities emerge spontaneously from the distributions of sampled events and the relative nature of the evaluation process.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Pissing off the Rwandans...

So now it will be Mr. al-Bashir against the powerful forces of two small African countries, Botswana *and* Rwanda, and Sadiq al-Mahdi, he of the hennaed beard, and Save Darfur, and Eris Reeves. Let's call them the SPLA back banch.

And over here in West Africa, Burkina Faso suddenly realizes that international diplomacy is a big stretch, with Gbagbo still smiling, Moussa Dadis in hospital, Darfur more complicated than ever...

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Al-Bashir's very bad scenario...

SPLM and Sadiq al-Mahdi work out a deal for al-Mahdi to stand (and possibly win) as President, guaranteeing peaceful secession and creating two states that actually work together to solve common problems... and one of them will be ICC indictment... oops!

And for people who might say that Sudanese "national pride" will never accept to be humiliated by a foreign court judging a past president (who took power in a coup), I say: Sudanese "national pride" took a holiday with the execution of Mah. Mohhamed Taha... cooperating by having a serious "truth mechanism" through the ICC seems like a perfect way to start restoring some dignity. Because, BTW, I think al-Bashir can mount a vigorous defense, and the whole sorry establishment will be exposed for what it really is and everyone knows it to be, and that is the first step of the twelve-step program back to "national pride".... along with making some more postage stamps with John Garang on them, for crying out loud.