Sunday, December 27, 2020

The Prisoners’ Dilemma of Covid 19 ••

By Madeleine Kando

The Prisoner’s dilemma is a concept in game theory that demonstrates how two prisoners acting in their own self interest both end up with a worse outcome than if they had coordinated their behavior.

This applies to the current situation and it maybe explains why the infection (and death) rate is so high the United States.

In the game, two bank robbers have been arrested. They cannot communicate with each other. The police have no proof of a major crime, but can convict them on a lesser charge. They have two options: to confess or to remain silent. If both remain silent, they each get a 2-year sentence for the lesser charge. If one confesses and the other one remains silent, the confesser gets a 1-year sentence and the other gets an 8-year sentence. And vice versa. If both confess, both receive a 5-year sentence.

The optimal decision would be for both prisoners to remain silent, but they are out to get the least amount of prison time, and do not care about the other prisoner.

If we replace the 2 prisoners with 2 states (California and Arizona), we can see why there is no incentive on the part of the Governors to keep their state on lockdown. (see next illustration).

The blue square is obviously the best option. The states cooperate with each other and will be able to reopen safely.

In the green square, Arizona tries to stop the virus by locking down, but California, which is open, transmits the virus. Arizona does not get the benefit from locking down, so reopens the state. This is called the Nash Equilibrium. If the states coordinated their strategy of moderate reopening, both would have been better off.

Thursday, December 24, 2020


 The Sacramento Bee recently published an article by   Malik Pitchford in which he quotes Barack Obama   saying that “Socialism is still a loaded word for   some  folks.” This is so very true. I would argue,  fortiori, that to many Americans the label is still a   dirty word, an epithet used by politicians to destroy   their opponents, a strategy that Republicans often   use   successfully. 

 I grew up a socialist and I remain a socialist. My     parents were socialists, as were most of the people I knew. To me, socialism is the most sensible ideology. Growing up, I also assumed that the world was moving in the direction of socialism. I still believe this. But I could be wrong. 

In this brief article, I cannot do justice to the many different meanings of the word “Socialism.” Nor do I touch upon the different forms of socialism in the world. For example, the Soviet Union was called "Communist." However, the USSR defined itself as a socialist state (USSR = Union of Soviet Socialist Republics). 
What about the distinction between "social democracy" and "liberal democracy"?  Some say that most of the  European Union consists of Social Democracies, whereas the US is often called a Liberal Democracy. However, the distinction is not firm. It is more a matter of degree. Freedom House, for example, classifies most Western  European Countries, as well as a Australia and Canada, as both social democracies AND liberal democracies.  Read more...

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Happy Holidays!

PS: Santa is closed, but we are OPEN!

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Tuesday, December 15, 2020

In search of the Past

At my age, the future is a pretty shaky and a relatively short affair. The past however has left a long trail behind and it is only natural for me to turn in that direction to find some security. The past will always be there, unchanging and safe. Which is why I have these hiccups. Every ten years or so, I get obsessed with my lineage.

My maternal grandparents were upper class Hungarians from Jewish descent. There was pressure in the old Austro-Hungarian days, to ‘assimilate’ and become ‘a proper Hungarian’ (meaning gentile), which is the reason why much of my mother’s Jewish lineage descended in obscurity. My grandfather even changed his Jewish name (Guzman) to ‘Görög’, which means ‘Greek’ in Hungarian.

My father was of Hungarian nobility. His family left a trace a mile long and finding my way around the Kando family tree wasn’t easy. After many frustrating dead ends, climbing up side branches only to find myself stuck amongst in-laws with names I didn’t recognize, I finally found a Jakab Kando, way up in the canopy. He didn’t have a date or a face, but his son Janos was marked as being born in 1659.

But why stop there, I thought. With the help of numerous documents that a generous family member sent me, I went all the way up to the 9th century, where I met a chieftain by the name of Kund or Kundu.

Kundu was one of the Seven Chieftains of the Magyars. The Magyars (Hungarians) left the Ural Mountains in Central Russia, and after a long migration, invaded the Carpathian Basin in the 9th century, under the military leadership of Arpad (845-907). The Seven Chieftains are considered the founders of my native Hungary.

Contrary to popular belief, the Magyars do not descend from Attila the Hun. Sorry to burst your bubble, Orban. Hungarians are descendants from a peace-loving, fish eating tribe, somewhere in the Ural mountains. Attila lived in the 5th century and was long dead and gone by the time the ‘Magyars’ came on the scene. Orban’s fabricated mythology (called Turanism), plays on Hungarians’ desire to feel special by telling them that they are descendants of Attila the Hun – a martial, autocratic, and patriarchal society. But it is a dangerous nationalistic vision, easy to get lost in. Like the fantasies of Tolkien or Game of Thrones. Read more...