Here we go again (reclining airplane seat controversy edition)

File this addendum under “backward induction,” a strategic concept that will be familiar to anyone who has studied game theory. Regarding the latest airplane seat controversy (#reclinegate), the one that occurred on an American Airlines flight from New Orleans to Charlotte, a lot of people are saying that the lady in the video (Wendi Williams) should not have reclined her seat in the first place because the man in the back row (who is admittedly the biggest jerk in the world) was in a seat that did not recline. The problem with this observation, however, is that it ignores the logic of backward induction. In brief, if a passenger in the next-to-last row should not recline her seat because the last row does not have seats that recline, then the person in the third-to-last row should not recline their seat because the person in the next-to-last row isn’t able to recline, and if the person in the third-to-last row should not recline their seat, then the person in the fourth-to-last row shouldn’t either … By this logic, no one — not even the person in the first row! — should be able to recline their seat.

prior probability

The Washington Post (via Natalie B. Compton) recently published “The completely correct guide to reclining on an airplane.” The problem with The Post’s guidelines, however, is that they are not only incomplete (what about commuter flights?); they are also inconsistent (since the application of this set of complex and multifarious rules depends on a wide variety of subjective factors, like the height of the reclinee). As a public service, then, I am reposting three of my previous blog posts on this subject:

  1. The Airplane Seat Dilemma (10 Sept. 2014) (where we note the “reciprocal nature” of the right to recline versus the right to legroom);
  2. The right to recline? (3 Oct. 2014) (where we explain why disputes over the “right to recline” on airplanes are a textbook example of a situation involving unclear or contested property rights);
  3. The problem of reclining airplane seats (7 Oct. 2014) (where we summarize our…

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Vicious circle or virtuous spiral? (law and morality feedback loop edition)

Building on the work of Donald Regan, law professor Bert Huang explores the complex relationship between law, ethics, and artificial intelligence in his beautiful paper “Law’s halo and the moral machine” (hat tip: @lsolum). Among other things, Professor Huang describes a “feedback loop” between law and morality: the scope of existing legal duties might exert some level of influence on our moral judgements about right and wrong (i.e. knowledge of the law might produce a “moral halo” effect), and at the same time our moral intuitions might influence what the content of the law should be (cf. natural law theory). For my part, I find this conjecture to be plausible, but given the problem of motivated reasoning and the primacy of Humean emotions, is this feedback loop more likely to produce a virtuous spiral or a vicious circle? (Why vicious? Because morality can be used to justify bad deeds as well as good ones.) Also, what if we used auctions or some other market method to determine what our moral or legal duties should be, a counter-intuitive possibility that I have further explored in two of my previous papers: “Trolley Problems” (2014) and “Coase and the Constitution” (2011)?

Image result for vicious circle

Is the circle a vicious or virtuous one?

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Here we go again (reclining airplane seat controversy edition)

The Washington Post (via Natalie B. Compton) recently published “The completely correct guide to reclining on an airplane.” The problem with The Post’s guidelines, however, is that they are not only incomplete (what about commuter flights?); they are also inconsistent (since the application of this set of complex and multifarious rules depends on a wide variety of subjective factors, like the height of the reclinee). As a public service, then, I am reposting three of my previous blog posts on this subject:

  1. The Airplane Seat Dilemma (10 Sept. 2014) (where we note the “reciprocal nature” of the right to recline versus the right to legroom);
  2. The right to recline? (3 Oct. 2014) (where we explain why disputes over the “right to recline” on airplanes are a textbook example of a situation involving unclear or contested property rights);
  3. The problem of reclining airplane seats (7 Oct. 2014) (where we summarize our analysis of the right to recline).
Image result for recline airline seat

It depends?

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What is the optimal number of email folders?

For me it’s three. In addition to my main inbox, which serves as a holding pen for my most pressing matters (i.e. messages that I must respond to before I go to bed), I make use of only three email folders as follows:

  1. “Action this week” folder: Everything that requires a response before the end of the week. (I will respond to these on Friday afternoon; my way of getting revenge on the person or organization who sent me the original email in the first place.)
  2. “Happiness” folder: Emails that brighten my day or make me happy in some way (e.g. a thank you note from a student, an acceptance of publication from a journal, or other good news) go here.
  3. Zafacónfolder: I dump most of my emails into this massive catch-all folder (out-of-sight, out-of-mind!), just in case I may need to reference a particular email again, or if I am otherwise unwilling to hit the “delete” button. (In Puerto Rico, the word “zafacón” is slang for a general or all-purpose category.)
Image result for zero inbox memes

Pro-tip: just hit “delete” or dump everything into your “catch-all” folder.

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Chess children

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Dresden, 1945

Via Wikipedia (citations omitted): “In four raids between 13 and 15 February 1945, 722 heavy bombers of the British Royal Air Force (RAF) and 527 of the United States Army Air Force (USAAF) dropped more than 3,900 tons of high-explosive bombs and incendiary devices on the city. The bombing and the resulting firestorm destroyed more than 1,600 acres (6.5 km) of the city centre. An estimated 22,700 to 25,000 people were killed ….” Victor’s justice aside, why wasn’t the bombing of Dresden by the Allies a war crime?

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Taxonomy of bookmark techniques

Hat tip: @sheldongilbert

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