To The People Who Are Always Signing Up For Websites And Junk Using My Gmail Address, And Giving It Out To Their Relatives And Employers Thinking It’s Their Own, Leading Me To Get Dozens of Sign-Up Passwords And Updates From Uncle Jake Every Week
May 31, 2011, 2:07 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

I really, really wish you would learn your own damn email address, and get it through your thick skull that it’s not mine. Your first clue should be never seeing those registration emails that are sent within 15 seconds. Your second clue should be Uncle Jake wondering why you never write back. But clearly, you have no clue, because seriously, how freaking dumb do you have to be to not know your own gmail address?

My Favorite Regulatory Critic, And My Complicated Risk-Weighting Scheme
May 29, 2011, 6:53 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

One of the blogs I admire is Tea With FT by Per Kurowski. He is tireless and single-minded in his criticism of financial regulators, to a degree rarely seen in the blogging world, on any subject.

His strongest critique – and most striking in its simplicity and common sense – is of the current system of ‘risk weights’ (=charging financial institutions different amounts of capital for assets deemed to be in different risk categories). It is based on the seemingly iconoclastic and counterintuitive, but I think ultimately incontrovertible, observation that assets that everyone already thinks are risky aren’t the ones that cause widespread problems. Assets believed risky already get discounted by the market, in the thing we call the ‘price’, and by having more risk-averse buyers shy away from them.

The assets that cause widespread problems are those that everyone thinks are safe. So, charging lower ‘risk weights’ for perceived-safe assets is idiotic. The risk-averse don’t need any extra incentive or leverage to be induced to park their capital in perceive-safe assets, by definition; more to the point, telling everyone that in effect they can gorge themselves on perceived-safe assets is precisely what you would expect to set the financial system up for a big crash – unless one could somehow have a foolproof way of identifying assets that really are 100% safe. Which would be hubris. Not that that prevents Basel from trying.

This critique meshes perfectly well with my critique of the stupid idea to use rating agency reviews of assets (I know they are technically called ‘ratings’ but I call them reviews, for reasons better explained in that link) as part of official regulation of them. As Kurowski complains, the ‘Basel’ consensus is based on the notion that (what some rating agency calls) a “AAA” asset has very low risk, thus should be given less risk weight. This automatically leads to an incentive to repackage “AAA” assets out of sub-AAA assets. In other words, to take assets in a perceived-risky category and convert them into a non-risky category, so that the risk regulators will penalize them less, and more people can buy them.

The point is that the moment you even set up different ‘risk weights’ for different assets, you automatically create the incentive for this sort of regulatory arbitrage. You are asking for CDOs, in other words. Thus anyone who (1) thinks CDOs were a bad thing and shouldn’t have been created and had a hand in creating The Financial Crisis™ should be (2) against variable ‘risk weights’ and (3) against basing any regulations on rating-agency ratings. To be (1) but not (2) and (3) either bespeaks ignorance or lack of understanding of the products in question.

The interesting thing is that nobody seems to have a good reason for weighting “AAA” assets at 20%, etc.; it springs a sort of tacit, shared-consensus risk framework that everybody accepts but nobody questions (besides Per Kurowski). In Sonic Charmer’s ideal regulatory environment, all assets would have a risk weight of “1”. It would be a very complicated calculation. What’s the capital usage of this asset? 1 times the asset!

Think of all the spreadsheet columns saved….

Certainly in my Regulatory Eden, any utterance issued by “Basel” or the “Basel Committee” or whoever the hell they are would be ignored, as they have already proven their incompetence beyond a shadow of a doubt. So why aren’t they discredited? My theory is that it has a lot to do with being associated the word “Basel”. To most people, who don’t know where/what “Basel” is really any more than I do, terms like “Basel” and “Basel Committee” and “Basel II” probably connote little more than “some classy European city, so there’s probably classy old dudes in suits listening to translators on earphones (like at the UN) who probably know what they’re talking about”.

I suspect none of these stupid risk regulations would have gotten any mileage whatsoever if the committee had instead been headquartered in, like, Nashville Tennessee. “We welcome and vow to be compliant with not just the letter but the spirit of Nasvhille III” just doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.

Just a theory.

Wait So Oprah Wrapped It Up?
May 28, 2011, 11:05 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

And silly me, I never got around to watching her show.

Was it any good?

Want Ads
May 28, 2011, 9:45 pm
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Buster Posey
May 28, 2011, 12:55 am
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As a Giants fan I am obviously biased but I agree with Rob Neyer here. Why are baserunners allowed to slam into a catcher who doesn’t have the ball? Would they be allowed to slam into a first baseman who doesn’t have the ball? A pitcher? What exactly about a catcher standing somewhere near home makes it ok to slam into him? Isn’t that just assault?

But I’d go one further. The ‘legitimate’ reason for a baserunner to slam into a defensive player is that he is holding a ball trying to tag you out, and you’re trying to get him to drop that ball.

Why is it legitimate to slam into a defensive player to try to get him to drop a baseball? I don’t understand the merits of including such methods into normal baseball. The skills baserunning plays are trying to bring to bear and test/reward are things like running fast, good fielding, accurate throws. Rewarding a runner for “knocking the ball out of his hands” only makes sense if that’s the sort of skill the sport of baseball is designed to test and put on display. Is it?

This has bothered me from both directions too, because (as Neyer writes) an escalation has taken place: baserunners try to slam into catchers because catchers are allowed to interfere with baserunners. I don’t understand why either is allowed.

Back in the ’80s, annoying and mediocre hitting catcher Mike Scioscia of the Dodgers was often praised for his ability to “block home plate”. When someone was trying to score this means Scioscia would squat and put his legs down across home plate in an attempt to obstruct the runner from being able to touch it without either smashing into him or acrobratically jumping over/around him. This is how he would set up to receive a throw – i.e., before he had the ball. And TV announcers would gush with praise over it.

Literally, this means Mike Scioscia was being praised by all his wonderful baseball fans for breaking the rules of baseball: blocking a baserunner from running down a basepath (particularly when you don’t actually have the ball) is against the rules of baseball. On every single of those “tough” plays where Scioscia saved a run by “blocking home plate”, according to the rules of baseball (the game he was playing) he really should have been called for defensive interference, and the run should have been awarded. I don’t mean to pick on Scioscia here (I have no tangible evidence he was even the worst offender at this in the first place, it was just his reputation); it’s just that it always bothered me that Scioscia became a semi star almost solely on the strength of this perceived skill. And then went on to manage the 2002 Angels who…but I digress.

Obviously now I can be accused of pro-Giants bias from both directions so let me just quote and agree with Neyer:

Baseball was not designed, and is not best played, as a contact sport.

In my view

1. The baserunner owns the basepath, and any defensive player who tries to “block” him, holding the ball or not, should be called on it and the runner awarded the next base.

2. Players can’t and shouldn’t physically assault each other. “Knocking the ball out of his hands” shouldn’t be a legitimate aim of a baserunner (whose job is to try to evade and run fast, not to assault). A baserunner who gets tagged but “knocks the ball out” should just be called out anyway – this should remove the incentive.

Point 1 is actually what I believe the rules of baseball actually say. Point 2 probably requires a rules amendment but is just sensible.

So I realize this will be a tough sell. But to baseball fans I say, suppose both 1 and 2 were enforced regularly and consistently. To the point where fielders had no incentive to try to block a baserunner and baserunners had no incentive to try to assault fielders. Now, please tell me what is the downside? You really think those home plate collisions are an awesome part of the game and want to keep them? Can you think about and articulate why? What exactly would you miss about them?

The career-ending injuries?

May 27, 2011, 8:57 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

“Basura” is the Spanish word for Trash/Garbage. Do you know how I know that? Because I have seen a zillion trash cans in offices and public spaces with “Trash/Basura” printed on them, and I figured it out from context. I think I am probably a genius.

After all, Spanish-speaking people can’t figure out the reverse from context. (Apparently.) That is why we in the U.S., in our gentle benevolence, realized we needed to force-print “Basura” onto all our trash cans. Otherwise, how would Spanish-speaking people ever figure out what these cylindrical objects on the ground were?

But seriously. Whoever came up with this idea to print “Basura” everywhere, and whoever thinks it’s a good idea, must have a serious prejudice problem against Spanish-speaking peoples. They must believe that all Spanish speakers are absolute morons. That’s the only thing I can figure. There’s no other explanation for why “Basura” would be needed. Anywhere.

Suppose you, my English-speaking reader, were living and working in some foreign country for an extended period of time. One day, your first or second day there, you spot a cylindrical object on the floor of your office or on a street corner or in the public park. You peek down inside to see what the object contains, and see some paper products that are slightly wet and dirty, some empty soda cans, and the like.

Now, please tell me, faced with such a mystery how long do you think it would take you to put 2 and 2 together and deduce that that there thing is a trash can?

Similarly, now imagine that there is a word printed on the cylinder. It is some word written in the Latin alphabet with As and Bs and Cs and so on. You can therefore read and parse this word in your head, and attempt to pronounce it to yourself. Now: How long do you think it would take you to deduce that that word is the country’s language’s word for “trash”? And how long, really, would it take you to memorize that word? I could see forgetting it once. Twice. Thrice? After three times of encountering this language’s word for “trash”, do you think you’d be able to remember – once and for all – that the word on all those cylinders means “trash” in that language, upon encountering it on some cylinder?

Would you really need the word “trash” written above it? What for? After all, you’re not a moron.

But Spanish-speakers living in the U.S. do need “basura” written above Trash. In other words, they are all morons. At least, this is evidently what some people think.

Why Basically All The People Around Me Are Socialists And Fascists, And That’s OK
May 27, 2011, 3:58 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

I think the words ‘fascist’ and ‘socialist’ should be reclaimed for polite conversation. They are too useful not to be used.

‘Socialist’ has dropped into this weird uncanny valley where you’re basically not allowed to call anyone socialist, not because they’re not socialist, but simply because if you do, they’ll say sarcastically to other people ‘…but for my views they call me ‘socialist”. Yes, for socialist views one gets called socialist, why not? *shrug* It’s all very mysterious to me for example why we can’t just call the prevailing economic policies of most of the (D) party (and much of the (R) party) socialist. Why shouldn’t we.

Meanwhile, obviously ‘fascist’ long ago became little more than a pejorative, but the actual word is a very meaningful and useful term in its own right in the sense of using state power and monopoly to harness and unify private institutions towards public ends. This is the usage I would like to bring back, only, I’ll need to cleanse it of its pejorative connotations. (Wish me luck on tilting against that windmill!)

I promise I shall chronicle my success or failure in this very important linguistic campaign of mine on this very important blog over the next few years and decades. Stay tuned! With baited breath!


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