RWCG


For poll conspiracy-theorists
October 31, 2012, 5:23 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

To follow-up my previous post on the Sonic Charmer Electoral Model™, we can now use it for something really important which is to help hone, calibrate and fine-tune your poll conspiracy theories.

As I’ve said, the quandary faced by righties is that they need to disbelieve state polls in order to think Romney isn’t a long shot. Now, there are plenty of half-assed reasons one can come up with to disbelieve state polls, and I’ve come up with some of them myself. It’s fun! I encourage it! Maybe there’s a ‘Bradley effect’. Maybe pollsters tend to be biased lefty Smart People so they fudge whatever fudge factors in whatever direction. Maybe righties Don’t Answer Their Phone As Much because they’re more likely to Have Jobs And Families. All three.

On the flip side, as you know, I think (D)s are Better At Cheating. This means they’ll outperform (accurate) polls which means that a poll that is (D)-biased, in the exact size of (D) cheating, might actually be ‘correct’.

In any event, when I mentally pull these poll biases out of my butt and add them together, I get that maybe polls are consistently underestimating (R)s by ~1.5%. And if I add that number to all the state polls, and run it through the Sonic Charmer Electoral Model™, I get that Romney has a ~55% chance of winning.

Which is good to know. But for folks playing along at home, I realized it might be helpful to know the answer to this: IF…I want to fantasize that the election probability is different from what Nate Silver says, HOW MUCH…do I have to fudge state polls?

Now that I have the Sonic Charmer Electoral Model™ at my fingertips, this is easy to do! Let’s run the model by bumping Obama’s advantage in each state by X%. Remember that for X=0% (no bump), I just come out with the ~78% Obama advantage that Nate Silver has. As stated above I have to bump Obama’s polling by -1.5% (i.e. 1.5% in favor of Romney) to make Romney the (slight) favorite.

Here’s a fuller table below, to aid you in your poll second-guessing/election fantasizing:

poll fudge (O+): Obama%
2.0% 98%
1.5% 95%
1.0% 91%
0.5% 86%
0.0% 78%
-0.5% 68%
-1.0% 57%
-1.5% 45%
-2.0% 34%

And the good news for conspiracy-theorists/poll skeptics everywhere is, the sensitivity really is pretty big. You only have to think polls are off (in Obama’s favor) by 0.5% to lower Obama’s probabilities by ~10% or so. That’s not that hard a fantasy to pull off!

So, good to know. Just another public service from the staff here at RWCG, Inc.



The 10-minute Nate Silver (or: why the right needs to find another line of attack)
October 31, 2012, 10:42 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

The righty backlash against Nate Silverization seems to have put a bee in my bonnet. I mean, how low have things sunk that I’m tempted to link to an Ezra Klein column for making good arguments against such model-skepticism? Ezra Klein, people. So I decided to devote a whopping 10 minutes or so to showing why the righty criticism of all things 538 is so silly.

To listen to the right talk, the output of Nate Silver’s “538″ (and other similar efforts) is just so counterintuitive and controversial – diagnoses often reached after looking at national popular-vote polling data (as if that means anything for a Presidential election), or thinking about aphorisms such as ‘a bad economy is bad for the incumbent!’ – that it requires either a big conspiracy theory, or (at best) illustrates that the Nate Silver Generation is totally putting themselves out on a limb and staking their somehow precarious reputations and complicated/opaque ‘models’ on the coming election, which will either confirm or (the idea/hope seems to be) decisively-refute Nate Silverness once and for all.

I disagree, and here’s why: I can basically replicate Nate Silver’s results (more or less) in 10 minutes of Excel hackery. I know because I just did.

And please keep in mind that I am a rabid, conspiratorial-minded righthy and I totally want Romney to win. There is absolutely no room for confusion here about my biases: my clear, unmistakable bias is for finding reasons to doubt, discredit, and demonize Nate Silver. I’d love that!

But here’s the thing: those reasons are just not there in widely-available public polling data. And what righties need to understand is that’s all Nate Silver is really doing: taking polling data, throwing them in a big bingo machine, and seeing whose ball comes out as the winner.

So what did I do? Here are the ultra-advanced, super-secret, oh-so-quanty steps I took. You may want to take notes because I am ‘opening the kimono’ on my proprietary ‘electoral model’, and I’m not even charging you for it!

1. Use a web-browser to go to RealClearPolitics.com. They have two basic types of data I used: (a) a tally of electors that are ‘solid’ for either candidate, and (b) for each of those that aren’t ‘solid’, an average of state polling data. So, for example, right now it says that Obama has 142 in SOLID STATES, while Romney has 127. Similarly, it says that the average of whatever Ohio state polls indicates that Obama leads Romney 49-46.6% in that state. In passing let’s note that nobody thinks this site has a lefty bias, if anything, it is righty-biased.

2. Now, when I added up electors the SOLIDS plus the toss-up/swing states didn’t add up 538. I realized that the RCP isn’t tallying South Carolina or South Dakota either as solids nor showing them in the table of state averages. They seem pretty red so I just gave them to Romney as solids. So in fact my ‘model’ assumes that the solid tally is Obama 142, Romney 140.

3. There’s some funkiness with Maine and Nebraska’s electors – it looks like they each allocate an elector by congressional district or something equivalently unAmerican and communist – anyway I just attached that ‘extra elector’ to the state overall. So in my model, Nebraska has 5 electors not 4. Whatever. Once I did this the elector tally checked out to be 538, so I had all electors accounted for. Obviously I could deal with Maine/Nebraska’s weird extra elector more carefully in future work if I felt like. Similarly, if there are states that aren’t winner-take-all (I forget), I’m pretending they are. Doesn’t seem like a huge deal though.

4. Anyway once I had the solids (142-140), and the rest of the states laid out by poll data, the rest of the exercise is just to simulate a bunch (i.e. 10,000+) of elections and see who wins. In the words of one of my favorite grad school math professors, here I did the ‘dumbest possible thing’: to account for error in all these state poll numbers, for each state I just bumped the lead by a little bell-curve. I made these bell-curves in the most inefficient, dumb way (using Excel’s normsinv(rand())). So, say Obama is leading 49-46, so the polls show Obama+3. Then I draw a Gaussian random number; say it comes out -3.5. This means (in this scenario) the ‘real’ lead is not Obama+3 it is Romney+0.5, which means Romney will win the state. I did nothing special for turnout, for dependence on the economy, or any of that.

Anyway, do the above independently for every state, add up the Obama elector tally, see if it gets to 270 (I have read that Romney wins in a 269 tie), if it does the winner is Obama, if not, Romney. Count up Obama winners vs. total simulations (each laid out as rows in a spreadsheet), and that’s an Obama victory %. SERIOUSLY, THIS IS THE DUMBEST MONTE CARLO METHOD POSSIBLE. But easy as hell. I mean, just take a gander – you could totally probably do this too:

The Sonic Charmer(tm) model

This is totally rocket-science. I should get a patent or a Field’s medal or something.

5. Some technical details: I broke out the Gaussians as a national error + a state error. [UPDATE: No actually I didn't, see ERRATA below.] I figured, there could be a ‘systematic’ error in all polling, and meanwhile, there could be (independent) errors in each of the states’ polling. The actual error in each state is the sum of the two (national/systematic + state/particular). Each type of error has its own standard deviation, which are ‘parameters’ of my ‘model’. I basically made them up, using a national standard deviation of 3% and a state deviation of 4% (so the total per-state standard deviation is sqrt(3^+4^2) = 5%). Again, this is kind of made-up but you could play around with it. More/greater volatile error in these polling numbers would increase the model’s prediction for Romney (this might be obvious, as he appears to be behind, i.e. out-of-the-money in the electoral college…). I don’t think even the most contrarian poll-doubters think the polling error is more than something like +/- 5 points though.

MY EARTH SHATTERING RESULT: According to this ‘model’, Obama has a 78.3% chance of winning. Hey let’s press F9 again to refresh those random numbers. 77.1%. Once more for good measure? 77.8%. Seems pretty replicatable; however I slice it, a reasonable, easy, dumb model – based on publicly-available state polling data – puts a chance of an Obama victory in the high 70s.

What does Nate Silver’s model say right now? 77.4%.

Well what do you know. Remind me again why we’re all supposed to be so skeptical of Nate Silver’s model? Actually, I’m asking the wrong question here: remind me why anyone’s supposed to even be impressed by it? Just freaking make your own.

The point is, the premise that Nate Silver’s output requires a bunch of skepticism and raised-eyebrows isn’t supportable at all. He is literally doing something more or less mathematically-indistinguishable from mapping state polls + poll error margins -> election outcome in the dumbest, most obvious possible way. So tell me then, why all the griping from the right? Obviously, it’s because they don’t like the output.

But that is dumb.

Now, keep in mind, I still think Romney could win. (I don’t think he will, but he totally could.) And there could certainly be something seriously wrong with all the polls. But if that’s what you think, then your gripe is with the polls, not with whatever Nate Silver’s black box is doing. Because again, whatever that black box is doing, it’s not coming out with a result markedly different from doing the most easy, obvious thing you can possibly do in 10 minutes of Excel work.

ERRATA (11/1): Actually I noticed a short-circuit in my sheet had prevented the systematic/national error bump from feeding anything. So really, in the above, the Sonic Charmer Electoral Model™ assumes no correlated error between state polls, and used a 4% per-state standard dev. This should explain, if you were wondering, and I know you were, why my model was already converging ok with 10,000 sims instead of 10,000 x 10,000 sims (which I think would break Excel if I tried it the way I’m doing). The national systematic-error/correlated component can be added in but would need more work. For future papers!



Obama dropped the ball on Sandy, refused to roll up his sleeves
October 30, 2012, 6:52 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

When Hurricane Sandy first hit, I tweeted, importantly:

I hope we get a photo of Obama with rolled-up sleeves in some kind of Sandy control room. That’s when I’ll feel safe.

Well, I found some photos, but they’re all variations on the one seen here:

Do you see what I see? NO ROLLED-UP SLEEVES.

I mean seriously, what the hell is he wearing there, a freakin’ blazer? Also, he’s sitting up like he’s in church (instead of leaning forward), wide-eyed, almost looking scared. NO WONDER this storm was so devastating. He was OVERWHELMED.

Let’s compare to how he Managed that other (surely not coincidentally, far less devastating) storm from last year, Irene:

OH MY GOODNESS. Sleeves TOTALLY rolled up. Leaning forward. Talking into the microphone. Probably talking important stuff too. (Also notice how the same guy was on his left, but there was a WOMAN on his right back then. What, they couldn’t bring her back? For the photo at least? Surely it would have been more inclusive.)

Anyway, the point is, THAT is what screams LEADERSHIP. You could totally feel safe knowing THAT guy was in charge of the storm. Especially the sleeves part. I think I just swooned all over again. On account of the sleeves.

What happened to that guy? TAKE OFF YOUR BLAZER MR. PRESIDENT AND ROLL UP THOSE SLEEVES there was a storm that needed your MANAGING.

Sorry, but this is the last straw. I can no longer in good conscience support President Obama to be the President-guy. We need a President who is willing to roll up his sleeves for important storm-managing-control-room photographs, and apparently, that’s just not Obama anymore.



N=1
October 30, 2012, 5:58 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

I have to say, probably the most enjoyable aspect of Sandy has been the spectacle of Smart People (who, as we know, care only about Facts And Science And Argument) taking the single data point (i.e. the fact that a big storm occurred, i.e. this one) as obvious evidence of climate change and, therefore, for their preferred purported solution to climate change.

Because of course, that’s totally scientific.



When you look at poor people and think ‘zombies’, the problem might lie with you, not Mitt Romney
October 29, 2012, 9:35 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

I like Firefly and possibly even other stuff made by Joss “Joss” (sp?) Whedon and all – though not that one where Eliza Dushku is an induced-amnesia mind-controlled prostitute and/or robot (?) – but my first reaction to seeing this ‘funny’ video on Romney being a zombie, or something, was 100% pure unadulterated grade-A “Huh?”

I mean, what’s the thought process here? Let’s try to trace it. Fine, put myself in the shoes of a ‘liberal’ (i.e. leftist) guy like Whedon. What is the idea here?

The idea is:

Romney = on the right = bad for poor people = poor people suffer = [SCENE MISSING] = zombies.

Because, um, poor people make you think of zombies. Or, poor people are potential zombies. Or something. Anyway, the point is, if someone says ‘poor people’, all good lefties – like Joss Whedon – think immediately of zombies.

I’ll say it again: Huh?

I mean, really. Who thinks like that? Who makes the instinctive association between ‘poor people’ and ‘zombies’?

Oh wait. I know who! 4 years ago I even already wrote a blog post about it and everything. Lefties do. That’s who looks at poor people and thinks of ‘zombies’. Lefties! Lefties who see themselves in the savior/messiah role. Lefties like Joss Whedon. Lefties including Joss Whedon, writer/director of Serenity, in which we learn that the Reavers were regular people poisoned by a well-intentioned ‘liberal’ government project.

Yeah, now I remember. And I have the years-old blog post to prove it.

Thanks for reminding me of what a great blogger I am, ‘Joss’!



New blog
October 29, 2012, 9:02 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

A provocative new blog with an interesting yet subtle point of view:

CLICK



What did Kweku Adoboli think his job was?
October 29, 2012, 4:54 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

The excuses of the UBS trader who lost $2.3 billion are interesting, and should be required reading for anyone who subscribes to the Paul Volcker conception of trading, in which all investment bank trades are (or, are supposed to be) either perfectly-crossed client trades, or magically-perfect instantaneous hedges to (somehow) existing positions.

Obviously in reading over these testimony excerpts there is much self-serving nonsense one has to mentally factor out. His (apparent) line of defense – that he ‘wasn’t a rogue trader’, because he only positioned himself the way senior management wanted him to – is so stupid that I can’t understand how his lawyer could let him put it out there (does he even have a lawyer?). Sorry Mr. Adoboli, but when you book tens of thousands of fake trades to hide losses from your internal systems, which leads to the inevitable follow-on trading as you try to trade out of it, you’re a rogue trader. The fact that the initial trade whose losses you were covering up may have initially been at senior management’s behest doesn’t change that (unless of course you can show that senior management aided/abetted/approved of the coverup too, which he hasn’t AFAIK). ‘I would have never gotten into that position initially if I hadn’t followed the clear orders of my bosses’ doesn’t even seem like a defense against the charges against him.

But even after factoring out the nonsense, we’re still faced with quite an instructive picture of the ‘global synthetic equities business’ of which he was a part. Reading between the lines, it’s quite clear that his higher-ups at UBS approached this business as a proprietary profit center: they expected, wanted, and sought P&L not from having these guys just doing trades for clients and booking a tick in fees, but specifically from deliberate, large-sized positioning. From using risk/capital limits (‘pushing the boundaries’) so as to take risk, and maximize P&L potential. This basic picture being painted of the business is not being denied as far as I can tell.

And note, this wasn’t 2006. This was 2011.

Now I guess someone in favor of the Volcker Rule would just cite this as Exhibit A in why the Volcker Rule is needed. (In fact, I’m surprised I haven’t encountered more commentary along these lines. Do Volcker Rule fans just not realize the import of this testimony?) But what it really illustrates, to me, is that if you had taken away the positioning, there’d have been no business as such. You will note, that nowhere in any of this trader’s descriptions and notions about what he was doing is there any conception of Pure Market-Making. I am sure there were clients coming to them for synthetic equities trades, at least some, but reading between the lines, that’s not where the action was. Clearly, even now, he thinks his job was to make money by taking intelligent risk: to make good calls on positioning, to use his risk limits in intelligent ways, to manage his trading book and macro/manager’s book (the ‘umbrella’ account) in the best interest of the firm’s bottom line and revenue needs, and so forth. That’s what he thought he was getting paid to do. He thinks he only screwed up by not following his gut in positioning. He thinks if he had followed his gut, and kept on the big (opposite) position from the one he got into, all would be swell now. (And he might be right!) He also thinks he took one for the team by not releasing P&L into ‘his’ account in 2011. And so on. Every aspect of his attitude suggests someone who thought of himself as a prop trader. A bigshot who made big calls with big risk limits that made big money when they went right, and was due to get paid accordingly.

And I guess my point is that he is the norm, not the exception. For better or worse, most guys in positions like that, think that way. It’s inevitable and unavoidable. Perhaps the Volcker approach is correct in saying: ‘they shouldn’t, and so let’s erect a gigantic regulatory apparatus to discourage it’. Where they really lose me, though, is when they try to justify it by saying: ‘…because that’s a departure from what investment bank trading is all about.’

Is it really now?



A Righty On Why The Criticism Of Nate Silver Is Generally Stupid
October 29, 2012, 2:02 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Pay attention because this is one of the rare occasions in which I’m on the same side as Paul Krugman.

Kruggie (as I like to call him), or Little Pauly Krugster (as I also like to call him), incurred some righty guffaws for writing this column in which he wrings his hands over the criticism of Nate Silver’s ’538′ electoral projections. These complaints, he frets, represent a ‘war on objectivity’:

This is really scary. It means that if these people triumph, science — or any kind of scholarship — will become impossible. Everything must pass a political test; if it isn’t what the right wants to hear, the messenger is subjected to a smear campaign.

Oh, my stars and garters! The horror! The masses might not automatically believe numbers spit out by Smart People like Pauly K.! That’s so ‘really scary’ that I just well I never!

Now, as you can see, I don’t quite share Krugman’s obsession with erecting barriers around the Smart People class and sheltering their output from all criticism. Indeed, as you know, I find the campaign of Enforced Belief In Official Numbers more than a little creepy, and I believe that All large calculations are wrong anyway.

So why am I on the same side as Krugman? Because the criticism of Nate Silver and his oeuvre has just gotten stupid.

Maybe this is still just sour grapes from my having been embarrassingly hoodwinked by some of the initial righty poll-debunking, but the more articles and ‘exposes’ of Nate Silver and his ‘bias’ I read, the more I scratch my head at their content (or lack thereof).

To get one thing out in the open, no, I have not studied Nate Silver’s model. I am sure I don’t know many of the details. However, I can imagine how I would do it if I were building such a model – and all indications are, Silver’s basically just gone and done the exact same thing I would do.

Maybe part of the problem is a misconception of the purpose of such a model. Implicitly, the purpose of the model is not to tell people what to think about who will win, or even necessarily to predict the winner. The purpose of such a model is to translate public polling information into a best-estimate of who will win, consistent with that data. It is a type of equivalence: because the polls say X, that is equivalent to a future in which Obama has a Y% chance of winning.

It is a translation operation such a model is performing: it is just translating the data from polls (Obama leads by X% in state S) into the language of Who Will Actually Win The Presidency, constrained by that data (in whatever way).

In that sense, the lefties are absolutely correct when they look at the gripes about Silver and see them as righties idiotically arguing with data. Does Nate Silver control all these national and state polls from all these different organizations? No? Because (presumably) all he’s doing is putting them all inside a giant Monte Carlo simulation and letting it spit out the results.

Now. Does this mean there is no room whatsoever to criticize Silver’s model? Of course not. Any such model will inherently depend on lots of subjective choices about parameters, factors, distributions, fudge factors(?), how much weight to give to this data point vs. that data point, etc. etc. Sure. And Silver’s model is surely no exception. This inevitability is part and parcel of why I think All large calculations are wrong. Make no mistake, Silver’s model is ‘wrong’.

But that goes without saying. (All large calculations are wrong.) The question is not whether his model is wrong (it is), the question is whether it is less-wrong than viable alternatives. What are the viable alternatives? Jonah Goldberg’s model?

As we know, Nate Silver’s model predicted the 2008 outcome quite well. This is undeniably a point in his favor. If righties want to criticize Silver’s model (I don’t see why – what’s the point?), they have to confront its earlier success.

But more importantly, to make a convincing case for rejecting the model’s output, they’ll need to drill into the actual details and subjective choices inside his model (whatever fudge factors, etc.), and not merely show that they are subjective, but show that other choices are both more rational and would lead to a different output.

This is, with very few exceptions, what I am not seeing from the right. Which is why the criticisms are stupid.

And even if you do make a valid criticism that is based on critiquing some tangible detail of his model construction, all you’ve really done is established the principle that: Someone else could construct a model where they choose fudge factor F2 instead of Silver’s fudge factor F1, and it would show Romney as the predicted winner.

Which is swell, but ultimately doesn’t say all that much. These are all just models, attempts to translate (imperfect) data into an (inherently imperfect) estimate of an event related to that data. The only real test of such models, is reality.

In other words, Election Day is an experiment. It might indeed allow us to reject the null-hypothesis that Nate Silver’s model is a reasonable one. But until then, when all we have are all these righty columns, blogs, and tweets griping about it, the hypothesis seems alive and kicking to me.



The Denialist Way Of War
October 29, 2012, 10:59 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

From Why Our Forces Were Told to ‘Stand Down’ in Benghazi:

Libya was meant to be a new kind of war. Not a display of American arrogance and unilateralism, but a show of submissiveness to the goals and ambitions of the Muslim world. [...] A Spectre gunship blasting away at an Islamist militia in the streets of Benghazi would have ended the fiction of a successful war in Libya and infuriated most of the Islamist militias.

To many of our elites – and yes, as the article states, this approach was also evidenced in a big way under Bush in Afghanistan – foreign policy and warfare is now about trying to create the desired ‘fiction’. Reality need not have anything to do with it. This is part and parcel of how denialists** wage war:

…a mindset that says there are diplomatic goals that are more important than American lives. This mindset did not begin with the War on Terror and it will not end until it is exposed for what it is.

What the article leaves out is that sometimes it is not ‘diplomatic goals’ per se that are sought, but political ones. President Obama doesn’t want anyone to think of him as a President who has waged war. What this means is that he has been pretending that he didn’t (even though he did), and he has been pretending that the ‘non-war’ effort was successful (even though it wasn’t). The goal is to win re-election so he can do more national-socialist stuff like he did with health care. And to President Obama and his followers, there is nothing wrong with any of this: it’s patriotic.

**yes, I wish I’d thought of a better term than ‘denialism’ for what I’m trying to convey. ‘Sonic Charmer’ is bad at coining terms – what else is new. Suggestions in comments?



Links/Comment: Magic & Scandals
October 29, 2012, 9:23 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Memo to Matt Levine re: banking ‘getting boring’ when it comes to capital usage: you don’t need to ‘tweak’ models in order to optimize capital treatment. You can also hack them, i.e. reverse-engineer them, to see which (non-economic) trades give you the most bang for your buck in ‘reducing capital’. Basel totally blesses this and we are going to see more and more of it. Just saying, don’t give up hope on the ‘magic’!

Deus Ex Macchiato asks “Is there any such thing as a low risk asset?” Once again the world is slowly coming around to Per Kurowski’s observation that incentivizing everyone to lever up ex ante “low-risk” assets might not be such a hot idea.

Coming from Powerline, this was actually a surprisingly sober assessment and analysis of the response to the Benghazi attack. It’s still important to keep in mind that none of this matters though. Obama is cool so nothing he does can possibly be bad or merit criticism. So it will simply never be allowed to be portrayed as an official ‘scandal’ by the people who control what is perceived as a ‘scandal’. We should just get used to that.



Everything Is Right With The Universe
October 29, 2012, 9:09 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

No team has won more** World Serieses in the 2000s than the San Francisco Giants have won in the 2000s. TEAM OF THE MILLENIUM.

**ok, 3 other teams have won the same number. But it’s the Giants who have a 1- (and counting) World Series winning streak going and 2 of the last 3. So they’re set up nicely to run the table and win the remaining 987 World Serieses yet to be played in years 2XXX.

(Image stolen as usual from McCovey Chronicles)



The Denialist Calculation
October 26, 2012, 4:45 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Bookworm on the politicization of Benghazi:

Obama made a cold, brutal calculation that, if he wanted the American people to believe that his (or Panetta’s) Osama kill order destroyed Al Qaeda, he would forever after have to pretend that Al Qaeda doesn’t exist. To do so, he would have to ignore completely all Al Qaeda activity, including the cold-blooded slaughter of four Americans.

Bingo. A perfect example of what I have been calling war denialism in action. And again, keep in mind that war-denialists think of what they are doing not only as clever/politically shrewd, but good for the country. It is this fact that will help you understand administration behavior, and lies, and misinformation, on this subject. As well as that of the Important Journalists who are assiduously not-investigating it.



How Scandals Work (And Don’t)
October 26, 2012, 3:24 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

More details are coming out about Benghazi and of course the refrain is, When is a big deal going to be made about this? When is some investigating going to be done? When it is going to become a full-on scandal?

I think it’s time for a little refresher on such things. I’ll do it in Q&A format.

When is something a bona fide scandal?

Something is a bona fide scandal when Important People are talking about it on TV a lot in tones of voice that make it clear that they disapprove and will not stop talking about it until some political damage is done. For example, the Iranian hostages thing was a scandal which politically damaged Carter because Ted Koppel made a whole show where he would go on every night and ask people “When are the hostages gonna come back?” and like that. There would be day counts and timelines and checking back in with reporters on the scene (I imagine – I was probably in bed at the time). That’s howcome America could know it was an actual scandal and that it was ok to disapprove of Carter over it. Because an Important Guy (Koppel) kept talking about it and asking people about it, and it seemed pretty clear he wasn’t gonna stop till the scandal was Over.

What does this mean re: Benghazi?

It means that if you want it to be a scandal in a way that damages someone in power politically, you need to get an Important Guy to talk about it, and make it clear he won’t stop till the scandal gets Over. (Someone is fired, etc.)

Well, I read about it on Powerline, Rush Limbaugh talks about it, don’t they count?

No.

Why?

Because those kind of people favor Republicans in elected office. Literally nothing they can possibly say, even “Charles Manson is a bad crazy person” or just “2+2=4″ for that matter, can ever be paid attention to as scandal-worthy or even merits treating as fact.

So what kind of Important Guy do we need to get to talk about it and ask about it?

Here’s some examples: Chris Matthews. Brian Williams or whoever else anchors the nightly news. Matt Lauer would probably count. Oprah? I actually don’t know of a lot of actual Important journalists nowadays but they kinda have to be people like that.

Oh, well, that’s clear enough, sort of. Okay then, how do we get those kind of people to talk about Benghazi and continually, neverendingly ask questions about it in disapproval-conveying tones of voices?

You can’t. There is no earthly possible way that you can. It simply will never happen under any circumstances. President Obama could eat the head of an infant on live TV and it would not happen.

Why is that?

Because all people officially Important enough to be able make this a genuine scandal know that making it a scandal would politically damage President Obama.

So?

They all, as it happens, like and favor Democrats to hold elected offices, and they love President Obama in particular and want him to remain in elected office. So they – as journalists – are actually not interested in asking questions or in finding out things in any circumstances that could potentially damage President Obama politically.

Weird. It doesn’t seem such the people who for whatever reason have attained the role of Important Journalists are practicing anything resembling journalism with any amount of integrity whatsoever.

Now you’ve got it. A+. Class dismissed.



Make It Stop
October 26, 2012, 8:31 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

So this is the ‘Lena Dunham’ that’s all famous and everyone loves and whatnot?

Holy cow (no pun intended). I can barely watch more than ~3 uninterrupted seconds of her talking without the irresistible urge to SHUT IT OFF. Is this what our politics are reduced to? If this is what is appealing to Younger Voters, I just. I give up.

UPDATE: I’m just glad the Obama administration has made sure to tell us they’re the people of Facts And Science And Argument. Otherwise the Facts And Science of Lena Dunham’s Argument might have just gone over my head. Or under, whatever.

UPDATE: So help me out, Lena Dunham fans: her schtick is that she’s a lesbian but pretends not to be and everyone pretends not to notice? Is that it or is there more to it?

UPDATE: This is a perfect illustration of what I mean when I lament the old negative campaign days of candidates calling each other cuckolds and mulattos. You really want to tell me this tripe is better?

UPDATE: But I shouldn’t talk, as I haven’t really watched this ad. I wasn’t kidding when I said I couldn’t take more than 3 seconds at a time without turning it off.



Obama Curse
October 26, 2012, 8:18 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Obama’s best Presidential act ever. Thanks, President Obama! Yes we can.



Important Firsts
October 25, 2012, 4:41 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Suddenly seeing multiple stories/speculation today regarding the question that I’m sure was on everyone’s mind, who will be the ‘first black James Bond’? (The consensus seems to be Idris Elba, who I think is “Stringer Bell” from The Wire.)

This makes total sense because of course there has to be a ‘first black’ everything, and James Bond is a thing, so there has to be a first black one. It’s not as if James Bond is a specific literary character with any sort of fleshed-out backstory involving a Scottish father (!), a Swiss mother (!!), a family pedigree whose motto translates to ‘The World Is Not Enough’, a single curled lock of dark hair falling onto his forehead, looks that remind Vesper Lind of ‘Hoagy Carmichael’, or any number of other character traits that on the face of them would seem to logically preclude his being ‘black’.

Who will be the first black actor to play a British military/secret service character described as reminding someone of this guy?


There just has to be a first black one. Period.

Similarly, I assume there has to be a first Korean Zorro, a first Paki Sam Spade, and a first Australian-Aborigine D’Artagnan. These things all just go without saying and so therefore all that remains is to monitor the countdown until we get all these very important and rational firsts.

Now this might raise some symmetric questions such as: Shouldn’t there be a first Scotch-Irish Sun Wukong? How about a first French king Shahryar of 1001 Nights fame? A first Slavic Kunta Kinte anyone?

But for some reason such questions never arise. Puzzling!



Links &c
October 25, 2012, 2:30 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Did Obama display cocaine fingernails in an old photo? You know, prior to reading the same speculation about Princess Leia a while ago, I hadn’t even know or imagined there was such a thing as ‘coke nails’. God bless the Internet. The thing I wanted to mention here is how interesting it is that a (D) President having been an admitted druggie, and possibly a dealer, is no big deal – if anything, it just adds to his coolness – whereas when the cocaine story came out about W. Bush a few days before the 2000 election it was a ‘November surprise’ and by some accounts gave Gore an insta-3-point-bounce over polls (though I’d probably, more simply, attribute most of that 3-point gap vs. polls to (D) cheating). Anyway, why does this double standard make sense? Because we are looking at high school politics in action. There are, quite simply, different rules for the cool people. And interestingly, everyone knows that, because no one remarks on it (besides me).

A link to the 1972 Peter Singer argument – allowing me to finally read it – that we’re morally required to donate literally all our property/money, other than subsistence, to, like, East Bengal. By which in effect he really seemed to mean ‘donate to whatever unnamed group promises to deliver bags of rice mush to East Bengal’, which actually illustrates a weak link in his argument, but I don’t feel like fleshing that out.

James Kwak on why taxes can totally be raised, in contrast to the (supposedly) Dickensian “Romney-Ryan state of nature” he has spied under his bed. Do certain economists just wake up every day thinking ‘What Economics-based argument can I cobble together to make other peoples’ taxes go up today?’ Anyway, his point is that if real wages go up, you can just tax them away, and you wouldn’t be giving anyone a disincentive to work. This might make sense in a static world of no optionality in which no one is future-oriented in the slightest. You know, a world in which humans don’t have lifespans, and so, no one ever thinks: “If I work now, even though it’s not literally ‘worth it’ right now on a spot basis, it will have become worth it because of the rewards I’ll get later.” Because if anyone ever thought anything like that, then knowing that Economists would come along literally every single second and say “real wage gains? freely tax ‘em away!” anytime you threatened to work your way up to real wage gains might actually change your calculus.

On foreign-policy intellectuals. This is some of what I think I’m trying to get at when I constantly question what ‘foreign-policy experience’ is supposed to mean:

We tend to celebrate foreign-policy intellectuals as thinkers who try to transform grand ideas into actual policies. In reality, their function has usually been to offer members of the foreign-policy establishment rationalizations—in the form of “grand strategies” and “doctrines,” or the occasional magazine article or op-ed—for doing what they were going to do anyway.

Steve Sailer actually remembers what Countrywide used to do before BofA and the lawsuits etc. One of the few who does. Oh, but I keep forgetting, Paul Krugman proved that housing policy had nothing to do with the bubble, or something. With a bar chart.

BONUS MOVIE REVIEW: The fact that I actually got around to watching Babel should illustrate how completely I’ve scraped the bottom of the barrel of the Suggestions supplied to me by Netflix-streaming’s algorithm. (It was either that or finish up 1978′s Carrie-knockoff, The Initiation Of Sarah starring Kay Lenz, Robert Hays, and Morgan Fairchild, which I’m about halfway through. (It’s not bad!)) Anyway, I knew from the press at the time that Babel is one of those multi-linear, multi-plotline’d things by one of those Spanish or Mexican directors, and that it’s ‘about how we fail to communicate’ or some such. The press didn’t quite convey to me how it approaches Crash-level manipulativeness (clunky attempts at illustrating white racism, spuriously putting kids in jeopardy, etc.) But that’s all just the press. Having now finally seen the movie, here’s what it’s really about: people in underdeveloped countries are STUPID and screw up the lives of people in developed countries! The goatherd father in Morocco has no sense of responsibility for keeping his kids out of trouble. The Mexican nanny and her nephew are crazy, unreliable loose cannons. The Westerners/Japanese had their emotional problems and all but they were basically functional people helping each other to work through them. Meanwhile, despite the title, I didn’t see much ‘lack of communication’ going on or playing a meaningful role in the ‘tragedies’. Mostly just stupid Third Worlders instigating them. So, if that’s what the writer and director were trying to say, it came through loud and clear. 2 3/4 stars out of 5.



How to spot ‘manipulation’ in the Intrade prez markets
October 24, 2012, 2:36 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Last night someone tweeted that Romney was now favored to win Ohio on Intrade, so I went over there and sure enough, the Romney-Ohio contract was trading at something like 50.5% vs Obama’s 49.5%. Was this for real?

Well the answer is no and here’s how to recognize why.

When I saw Romney-Ohio in the ~50 area, the Obama contract (to win it all) was trading at around 55%. So of course I thought I was seeing an arb opportunity:

Sell Obama @ 55

Sell Romney/Ohio  @ 50

Since these contracts make you long/short Romney, they are partial hedges to each other. The ‘most likely’ scenario is that one pays out, one doesn’t, and so you lose 100pts at maturity, but in the meantime you collected 55+50=105 points in premium. In other words this looked to be an easy ~5pts gain between now and election day.

Of course, it’s not a true arb, as this pair would lose if Romney (a) won Ohio but (b) lost the election. However, no one thinks that’s likely or possible (right?) so you would be taking the informed/educated view that this sort of loss just wouldn’t happen. Meanwhile there is always the (small) possibility that Romney loses Ohio but wins the election, in which case this pair trade would pay off 55 points.

“I’m such a genius”, I thought, and immediately emailed this idea to someone.

Then as soon as I hit Send, I went back to Intrade, and the trade was gone. Or arb’ed away by others with the same idea I had, if you will. Obama had kept cratering to ~54, but the Romney/Ohio contract got smashed back down to ~47.

So what probably happened is that an irresponsible, or dumb, or ‘manipulator’ trader had pushed the Romney/Ohio contract out of whack. For whatever reason – and the reason doesn’t really matter – the point is that, if you’re one of those people who wants a way to identify whether prices are ‘real’ or ‘manipulated’, here’s a rule of thumb: add these two things,

The price of the Obama contract

The price of the Romney/Ohio contract

In a ‘healthy’/’normal’ Intrade situation these two should add up to no more than about 101-101.5 (allowing an extra point or two for bid/offer, generic market inefficiency/illiquidity, etc). If you see this pair creep up much higher than that you’re probably looking at a ‘manipulated’ or ‘inefficient’ market that will soon get arb’ed away (like I wanted to), thus ‘isn’t real’.

Of course if I still had my Intrade account and had placed actual money on this claim of mine, it might make my claim more believable. But still.



The Trump Revelation
October 24, 2012, 9:09 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

A few days ago Donald Trump said he was going to reveal something on Wednesday that could affect the Presidential race. That’s today, and now reports are trickling out that what he’s revealing are…un-filed divorce papers drawn up by Michelle Obama.

Let’s see, how will this affect the Presidential race?

1) If the news is entirely comprised of the fact that the Obamas once had marital troubles, but worked through them, this mostly gets an “Awwwwww!” from all the female voters out there. Advantage: Obama.

2) But, you say, divorce papers usually have juicy stuff inside them. After all it was the contents of, not the fact of, leaked divorce papers that (mysteriously!) took down two of Obama’s prior electoral rivals. So what could be in these divorce papers? There aren’t that many possibilities, really.

2a) Infidelity: Obama cheated with another woman. How will people react? ‘He’s a player! We never realized! This makes him Clinton-esque!’ Advantage: Obama.

2b) Homosexuality: Obama, confirming certain rumors, is a closet homosexual, or at least was into the homosexual ‘scene’ back in Chicago (but gave it up?). This is a BIG wild-card, but I have to think that if it actually came out, in the end the story would be: ‘Obama is even more Diverse than we thought. He has really lived the whole Minority experience in every dimension! Such a Compelling Life Story!’ Advantage: wild-card, but I’m saying Obama.

2c) Um, something like ‘emotional coldness’ or a related complaint leading to ‘irreconcilable differences’? This actually seems like the most realistic read of the Obamas’ marriage. And it could, I imagine, hurt him with some female voters. But I’m skeptical that a Michelle Obama would have drawn up divorce papers on such a basis at that time.

So we shall see, but my baseline expectation has to be that the Trump Revelation – if it reveals anything tangible at all – will only help Obama win re-election.

UPDATE: It’s seeming like this isn’t even what it was, so I was duped. Unless I’ve just missed the news somehow. But all I’m seeing is something about a ‘reward’ *boggle*



Why it’s hard to think the thought ‘there was no protest’
October 24, 2012, 8:46 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Last night I did something I rarely do, which is that I had the TV tuned to Fox News (while reading a book). O’Reilly, evidently, is still on. He had that guy Allan Colmes, and some chick, at the table and they were talking about Chris Matthews’s ‘correction’ of an audience member of his that the Benghazi thing was ‘all about the video’.

Colmes defended this. O’Reilly, to his credit, was aghast in a sincere, not over-the-top way. (I mean it, he should get credit for that.) Colmes was saying stuff like “well it was partly about the video”. It is really surprising to someone who has seen the news (or in my case, who has read blog posts/tweets linking to the news) that there was no such protest in the first place and it was a planned assault.

But I think I’ve figured out what’s going on. Colmes, Matthews, maybe Susan Rice – these people are still stuck on ‘protest’ because of the following factor:

ANGRY ARABS!

So you tell them there was not actually any protest, about any video or anything else and their eyes just glaze over. Because hey, there was an attack. The attack was confusingly and fog-of-warry and it was full of Arabs. Angry Arabs.

Isn’t that kinda like the same thing as a ‘protest’? Attack, assault, protest, demonstration – six of one, half dozen of the other. I mean what’s the diff? It’s all a bunch of undifferentiated nameless faceless Angry Arabs in a big mass, doing violent stuff, far away from us. And then once you approach these things thinking Angry Arabs + Violence = protest, it’s only natural that you think (1) well they must have been angry about something, and so (2) as far as we know, the ‘video’ must have figured into their anger somewhere.

Thus if you’re a pundit, like Colmes, you easily fall into the ‘how-do-we-know-otherwise?’ routine when an O’Reilly tells you it wasn’t about the video. You’ve already assumed it was (something like a) ‘protest’ and so the only question is how. But none of us can know for sure, because faraway ‘protests’ that we only learn about on the news or from CIA briefings are really really fuzzy vague things. So why couldn’t it have been about the video?, you punditize, to score a point for your team.

I really think something like this must be going on in these peoples’ minds when they try to process the events in Benghazi. If so, telling them there was no protest just rolls off their backs like water off a duck. Their brains can only process ‘Angry Arabs Being Violent’ as something like a ‘protest’ in the first place. They can neither see nor process any meaningful distinction between ‘protest’ and ‘planned assault’ – when it’s Arabs. So as long as they still think there was an attack of some kind, they’re just unable to think the thought there was no protest.

I know because it was shocking to me too. Remember how shocked and confused and disoriented I was the day it was revealed that there was no protest. It took a while for this to sink in, to me. That’s because to some extent I too suffer from the Angry Arabs Are Kinda All The Same disease. So I think I’m well qualified to recognize it in these other guys.

And they clearly have it in spades.




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