Decisionmaking Bias

Megan McArdle blogged:

I’m hearing a fair number of comments along the lines of “Wow! She’s not jaw-droppingly hideous the way she said she was!” I don’t recall ever really mentioning my appearance. . . how did I convey the impression that I was 300 pounds and covered with warts? Of course, I suppose it’s better to set up low expectations than to disappoint.
This is a good illustration of a common decisionmaking bias that behavioral economists call anchoring. In this case, McArdle’s occasional self-deprecating wisecracks were the only information about her appearance that many readers had, and skewed their expectations in the direction of “low.” Some of those readers were therefore surprised to learn that she is actually quite attractive.

Other examples of anchoring abound. In my own experience, traffic became systematically faster on a stretch of local expressway when a “Minimum Speed 40” sign was removed. When I met women through personal ads, I found that any explicit mention in my advertisement of a personal characteristic that I considered negative, and wanted to avoid in prospective mates, was likely to generate at least one response from somebody who considered it positive. (For example, “dislikes Clinton” might have a brought a reply from a two-time Clinton voter.) The existence of anchoring bias implies, among other things, that it’s wise in negotiations to mention desirable, even exaggerated, outcomes and avoid mentioning undesirable ones (make low initial bids and high initial offers); that you should avoid joking about death or lawsuits with the doctor who is treating you in an emergency room; and that platitudes about accentuating the positive and minimizing the negative may have an empirical basis.

Fireside Bowl, Nerf Herder, The Eyeliners

Many New Yorkers live their whole lives in one of the five boroughs and never visit the Statue of Liberty. Many Parisians never visit the Eiffel Tower. Similarly, I have spent many years in Chicago without, until a few weeks ago, setting foot in the legendary Fireside Bowl. (and here and here). One of my coworkers, a regular, described the Fireside as “the last of the great punk dives.” It really is a bowling alley, with the lanes roped off, and a stage at one end of the back wall. It’s truly amazing claim to fame is that it has exclusively all-ages shows. (The bar is a cordoned off area, which you need ID to get into). Perhaps even more amazing is its survival in the face of the City of Chicago’s quiet but clear determination to make it go away. A gentrifying neighborhood may ultimately finish it off. But there it stands, for now. My visit occurred fortuitously. I was looking for Christmas presents on the cool Interpunk site, and I stumbled across the inventors and still champion practitioners of “Nerd Rock”: Nerf Herder. It turned out that Nerf Herder are pretty darn good, they have a bunch of catchy songs (“Vivian” is my wife’s favorite), a great pop/punk rock sound, and some funny videos. (Click on the guys in Star Trek shirts for the video of “Mr. Spock”). The downside is that they have painted themselves into a corner with the lonely-guy-as-pervert business, sometimes pushing it way too far into the “not funny anymore” category. But, that is a big part of their shtick and I guess they are stuck with it. (They reminded of the Simpletones, who had similar dorky lonely guy themes and singing.) (Moreover, Nerf Herder’s singer, Parry, mentioned in an interview that “we are big fans of The Muffs” — so I like them a little extra for that, too.) Best of all, I noted that Nerf Herder were going to be playing in Chicago in just a few days! So, the wife and I, instant fans, decided to get a babysitter and go. It was a very good show, and the Fireside, far from being a “dump” was run-down but cozy. It is like a neighborhood pub, almost. I had a good chat with various strangers at the bar, describing now defunct punk dives of a bygone era 15 or so years ago. And, get this, the bathroom was clean. That is always the sign of someone actually caring about the place. Everyone was there because they were into the music. Nerf Herder put on a solid, well-rehearsed show. Parry, the singer, is a great showman. (The guys from Nerf Herder are from California, and they looked COLD in Chicago. The guitar player was selling cds and stuff before the show and he said he’d never owned a pair of gloves before this tour.) This site has a bunch of good photos of Nerf Herder, including a bunch from the Fireside show, here, and here. Half the place was singing along with much of Nerf Herder’s set. My wife and I were about the oldest people in the place, with lots of teenagers and other people who were in diapers when we were in bands. Some people were dressed like ordinary yuppies, like me, some totally in punk attire, and everybody was cool. Finally, the truly awesome Eyeliners are coming to the Fireside in March. These gals are doing a substantial tour. Check their site for the night they are playing in your home town – and put on your eye makeup and go.

War Movies II: “Combat Films”

This excellent article, “The Serpent’s Eye: The Cinema of 20th-Century Combat” from the current issue of Military Review has an excellent discussion of “combat films”, i.e. those dealing with “frontline fighting”, “the clash of rival infantryman”, as distinct from the broader and less precise category of “war movies.” A must read for fans of the genre.

The Return of the Spectator

I just found out about this American Prowler, which looks like an alumni association of the old American Spectator, the bandwagon and brainchild of R. Emmett Tyrrell’s. I used to like TAS way back when it was a large format thing on cheap paper based out of beautiful Bloomington, Indiana. Then it moved to DC and lost its unique look, got too big for its britches, tried a little too hard to get Clinton’s scalp and then — went away. Tyrrell’s book the Conservative Crackup was well written, with nice vignettes of the Conservative old-timers he’d met, like Claire Booth Luce, William Casey and Luigi Barzini. The book was prescient in that it accurately predicted a period of time in the wilderness for conservatism, which did happen. It also depicted, between the lines, how he left the good-hearted and wise people in the heartland, got seduced by the trappings of DC, and allowed his marriage to break up. But this relatively new website is pretty decent, and it is great to see this gang back under one bigtop.

A “Diplomatic” Solution to North Korea?

Orson Scott Card has a most interesting piece about Korea. (Yeah, yeah, of course Instapundit linked to it first. So what else is new?) Card offers an analysis I haven’t seen elsewhere, that this Korea problem is basically going to be up to China to solve. This is premised on quiet threats from W and his team to the Chinese, saying (in my paraphrase), “look, you created this monster, so fix it, because if we go in and fix it, you won’t like what we have to do.” I’m not sure the US team is actually playing this level of varsity hardball. But it sounds plausible, and I hope so. Even better is Card’s answer to the inane query now circulating among various handwringers and dimwits, who think they have scored some kind of debating point by asking, in a smug “gotcha” tone of moral superiority: “Well, why isn’t Bush going after North Korea instead of Iraq?” You wanna slap ’em. Card puts it well:

…Of course, you can take that as a self-answering question. Let’s see – which is safer to invade, the country that almost has nukes, or the country that already has them?
And this:
Foreign policy is conducted in the real world. In the real world, madmen like Saddam Hussein respond only to credible military force – and sometimes not even then. For the safety of our friends and allies in the region (notably Israel, Turkey, Jordan and Kuwait), and to protect the First World’s vital oil supplies from domination by a ruthless enemy, it is reasonable to strike that enemy before he wreaks devastation again.
In that same real world, however, there are opponents whom it is simply too dangerous to fight, unless you are forced into it. If China or Russia attacked us, of course we would defend ourselves. But we would have to be insane to provoke either of them into war.
Wow, rationality about the limits of power, the tragic fact that even moral-grounded action faces intractable limits, that it is stupid to attack a guy who has nuclear weapons already, etc. Too bad so many people think that waiting around for some imaginary state of moral purity is an adequate substitute for necessary, concrete action within the limits of what’s possible. Fortunately, W does not suffer from this particular malady. He’s not smart, sophisticated or “nuanced” enough, I guess. Thank God.