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Lord Shang and the Commitment Problem

From The Political Philosophy of the Middle Kingdom, chapter 5:

Shang Yang’s radical reforms needed credibility. To achieve this, according to one anecdote, he once put a beam outside a gate of the capital, stating that the man who moved the beam inside the gate would be rewarded handsomely, for what seemed to be a rather simple task. People considered this ridiculous and so no one took up the challenge. He then increased the award fourfold. Someone eventually fulfilled the task and was duly rewarded. This helped establish the credibility of his future policies.

The Parsis

  • Before the refugees could make Gujarat their home, Jaditya Rana, the local monarch, quizzed the Parsis. The story goes that Rana questioned the head priest on how they planned to reside in an already overpopulated place.

Nairyosang Dhawal, the leader of the refugees, called for a bowl of milk filled to the brim and a spoonful of sugar. He carefully blended the sugar into the milk, without spilling a drop. Like sugar in the milk, Parsis will blend with the population and sweeten society, said Dhawal. "Pleased with the answer, Rana promised them a home but imposed certain conditions," adds Jamshed Dotivala, president of the Surat Parsi Panchayat. (

Agnew, Nizon, and Connally at the Concert

I will now quote William Safire in his marvelous memoir, Before the Fall:

Concert-goers know that it is improper to applaud between movements of a symphony or concerto; one is supposed to preserve the mood of the music and withhold applause until the conclusion of the work. But many members of that audience were not experienced in concert-going; they bought tickets because it was the thing to do that night of Inaugural weekend and besides, the President would be there.

At the end of the first movement of Grieg’s Piano Concerto, most of the audience burst into applause for soloist Van Cliburn. From my orchestra seat I craned my neck to see who was doing what in the Presidential box.

John Connally was clapping enthusiastically. Regular concert-goers in the audience knew immediately that he did not know the right thing to do.

Earlier, between movements of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, Vice President Agnew had sat stonily, his hands resting in his lap, ostentatiously not applauding. That, too, was a mistake (and of all things, on the elitist side); though the concert-goers would approve, the majority of the audience that looked around wondered why the Vice President did not join in — didn’t he like the performance?

Only Nixon handled the situation with understanding. He did not applaud at first, reassuring other classical music lovers that he was a man who knew what was proper, but after a couple of moments, as eyes turned to him from around the hall, he joined in the applause, so as not to have the people applauding wondering about him, or about their own gaffe.

That is one meaning of “Old Pro.” I was not the only one who noticed this little byplay; Bob Haldeman had also turned in his seat to see what his Boss would do in the circumstances, and when the Nixons joined in the applause, he grinned widely, shook his head, and started to clap as well. The applauding Connally looked at the President too, probably wondering what in hell took him so long to make up his mind.