The Smart People Test
January 30, 2012, 11:28 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Charles Murray’s idea of a class ‘bubble’ seemed better in theory than in the execution. For what it’s worth, I got a 5/20 (but that includes the cheapo Half-Sigma point for riding the SWPL-beloved NY-DC bus) on that test, adapted from a (slightly better) test in Murray’s book, both indicating that I’m pretty far into, but not in the top tier of, the ‘bubbled’/sheltered class that is culturally-isolated from mainstream America.

I think the problem is one of design. You have a test designed to answer ‘how mainstream are you’ and you’re giving it to a bunch of yuppies, mostly. Shouldn’t it go the other way? Shouldn’t we design the test for how isolated a person is? Positive answers will be outliers (not mainstream), and higher scores will indicate more isolation (not less).

But more importantly, isn’t Murray’s notion of ‘culturally isolated’ a bit…muddled? Let’s face it. We all know what we’re really talking about here. We’re talking about Smart People.

The how Smart are you test

Answer all questions to the best of your ability. Some answers are worth points. Any answers or answer combos not mentioned (including ‘huh?’) are worth 0 points. Count up your points.

  1. Ivy league? Went to one (or Stanford): 2 points. Didn’t, but work with >=3 people who went to one: 1 point.
  2. # of Malcolm Gladwell books read?: 2 or more: 2 points. 1: 1 point.
  3. Best TV show in history? The Wire: 2 points. The Sopranos: 1 point.
  4. Complete the sentence: “The science is ____.” Settled: 2 points. In: 1 point.
  5. (a) People drive too much (b) I live in a big city where a car would be superfluous: Both: 2 points. (a) only: 1 point.
  6. What’s there to do in K-Town? Karaoke and Korean food: 2 points. Korean food: 1 point.
  7. Name a sport that’s on the decline. Baseball: 2 points. Other, besides basketball or soccer: 1 point.
  8. Zagat? Have it: 2 points. Know what it is: 1 point.
  9. I helped recommend my college friend for a job he/she got/got a job from a college friend’s recommendation. Both: 2 points. One: 1 point.
  10. Worse grades in college, Bush or Kerry? Bush: 2 points. I see what you’re doing there, but the premise of that question is flawed: 1 point.
  11. What’s the matter with: Kansas: 2 points. That’s a sentence fragment: 1 point.
  12. Good reason for private elementary school for your kids? I believe class size/personalized attention is very important, like [insert boring anecdote about your own kid]: 2 points. I researched a lot of average testing statistics that followed cohorts and there seems to be an X% effect with an R^2 of [bla bla]: 1 point.
  13. Bush’s Brain: Yes I saw that documentary, what about it?: 2 points. Um, is dumb/damaged? (duh): 1 point.
  14. (a) Approve of Obamacare (b) haven’t read it/pretty much don’t know the details at all: Both: 2 points. (a) only: 1 point.
  15. Sarah Palin would be a terrible President because she’s: Dumb and crazy: 2 points. Crazy: 1 point.
  16. Name two Nobel Prize winners. Barack Obama and Paul Krugman: 2 points. Barack Obama and (someone else): 1 point.
  17. After she graduates from grad school you’d be most pleased for your daughter to get a job at a: Nonprofit: 2 points. Hedge fund: 1 point.
  18. (a) Believe in Anthropogenic Global Warming (b) know nothing about climate modeling and have never studied let alone engaged in anything of the sort: Both: 2 points. (a) only: 1 point.
  19. Podcast: This American Life: 2 points. Other NPR-related: 1 point.
  20. Fill in the blank: ____ Diplomacy. Smart: 2 points. Cowboy (as in “Bush’s Cowboy diplomacy”): 1 point.
  21. Constitution and Obamacare: I don’t see how Obamacare can be unconstitutional: 2 points. I recognize the tension but I pretend not to and instead insist on arguing that Obamacare fits inside the Commerce Clause: 1 point.
  22. Alexander Payne movie: Sideways: 2 points. Citizen Ruth: 1 point.
  23. (a) Cities are great because of all the cultural opportunities, like the symphony/museums/etc. (b) Don’t really go to the symphony/museums/etc. Both: 2 points. (a) only: 1 point.
  24. A kind of tax we need more of: Pigouvian: 2 points. Value-added (or financial-transaction): 1 point.
  25. Who’s dumber, a PhD or an MBA? MBA: 2 points. PhD: 1 point.

25 questions. Max score = 50. To establish a baseline for you, if I answer these questions as generously (=max points) as possible, I get an 8. This scientifically means I am 16% Smart. How Smart are you?

Ok looking at these it sort of turned into a hybrid SWPL/Smart/Murray-bubble test. But so be it. Anyway post your scores in comments so I can collect some DATA. It would be Smart to have DATA.

I Love
January 30, 2012, 8:40 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

by Ken Yokoyama from Hi-Standard

In Defense Of Spielberg
January 30, 2012, 10:30 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

This piece by (not the Rolling-Stone, I assume) Bill Wyman on Steven Spielberg is a strange one. Not that I am the biggest Spielberg fan as such in the world, and it’s not like I have any intent to ever see War Horse, but it just seems stubborn and weird to deny that he has made several great movies, which is more great movies than almost all movie directors have made. In that light Wyman’s criticisms just seem to be trying too hard; is the idea to make a name for himself by cornering the market in ‘brave’ Spielberg contrarianism?

For example there is an extended riff on certain tropes that appear in more than one Spielberg movie: sudden crowd scenes, clotheslines with sheets blowing in the wind, lens flares, faces looking up agape. Well okay to all that, but is this not mostly a function of Spielberg just having made a heck of a lot of movies? You can’t so easily identify the ‘tropes’ of someone who’s made like 2 movies. A bad director doesn’t stick around long enough to generate identifiable ‘tropes’. And the razor isn’t even applied consistently: elsewhere Wyman appears to praise – as if by contrast – Kubrick, Scorsese, David Lynch. Not to take away anything from any of those guys, but you’d be hard pressed to think of three directors as prolific and whose visual and directorial style and themes repeat themselves more or vary less, from film to film – i.e. is full of and relies on ‘tropes’ – than those three. (The only worse ‘offender’ that comes to mind is Wes Anderson, but he’s really only made about 5 movies.) But they get a pass, because they’re ‘great directors’.

Wyman points out that Spielberg had some misfires (1941, Always), so of course he sucks. Those other directors apparently had no misfires or interesting failures, which I guess means I need to re-watch classics like Shutter Island and Inland Empire. Similarly, much as I kinda admired Baz Lurhmann’s cheesy, all-over-the-place new-age Western Australia, to praise how it ‘wove the threads of Gone With the Wind and The Wizard of Oz’ at the same time as trashing Empire Of The Sun for being ‘schlock’ just demonstrates no sense of proportion. Wyman’s complaint that some of Spielberg’s movies don’t have big stars is just weird. Or was Griffin Dunne [sic], the lead in Scorsese’s (great, non-misfire?) After Hours like one of the biggest stars of the ’80s without me realizing it?

Ultimately maybe the problem here is just that Wyman was tired:

But that noble and humanist worldview starts to feel thin when you watch all those movies in a row.

Note to self: never sit down and try to watch every single movie made by a director who’s made like 30+ movies “in a row”. It might make me grumpy, petty, and dumb.

Grabbing Hands
January 30, 2012, 12:45 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Great version of “Everything Counts”, which is simultaneously one of my favorite Depeche Mode songs and a song that ticks me off every time I hear it (because some of the harmony lines sound written ‘wrongly’ to my ears, and I always find myself wishing I could ‘fix’ the song).

By a dad and his two kids, via here

Why I Hate The Post-Album Era
January 29, 2012, 9:49 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

For example, I have the album Icky Thump by the White Stripes, only I don’t, I downloaded that collection of songs to my iTunes, and they went into the shuffle like all my other songs.

As a result, only just now did I hear “Catch Hell Blues”. I’ve been missing out on “Catch Hell Blues” all this time.

That would have never happened in the Album Era. Back in the Album Era, you’d take your paper route money every weekend, hope on your bike to Tower Records, peruse the “tapes” they had there, maybe 5-10 would catch your eye but you’d have to narrow it down to 1-2 (keeping the others in mind for next week), then after buying them from the pale-skinned girl with the The Cure “The Head On The Door” T-shirt, you’d put the yellow-orange bag on your handlebars and pedal back home as fast as you could.

Once home, you’d run up the stairs to your room, struggle with the ridiculously-hermetically-sealed cellophane, shake off the bits that were sticking to your hand due to static electricity, pop the tape in your “dual” “tape deck” (which was handy for “dubbing”), lie on your elbows on your bed, unfold the 7-page cassette sleeve, squint, and read the lyrics and liner notes all the way through, letting the album play all the way from start to finish, including the filler songs.

And then you’d do it a second time. Because it was unfair to judge a whole album after just one listen. Besides, you needed that second listen to truly appreciate the flow of the song order – the closing song on side 1, the change of mood for side 2, etc.

As a result, having an album without also knowing all the songs just would not have happened. You might not like all the songs, or even most of them, but you’d at least know them.

It’s harder to know music nowadays.

The Solution To Being Broke
January 29, 2012, 9:39 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Make it illegal to say you’re broke, and (borrow money to) sponsor a group of people whose jobs it will be to publish stuff saying you’re not broke.

At least, that’s the solution, if you’re a Euroweenie.

Dear Economists: Please Check Your Assumption That There Is Such A Thing As “Prop Trading”
January 29, 2012, 6:59 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

It’s always disorienting and a little scary to observe Big Important Economist People opining on banking while suffering from delusions one knows to be factually incorrect. I speak of the delusion that there is a distinct and separate form of trading known as ‘proprietary (“prop”) trading’. (See here for example)

I know this to be false. But I also always see B.I.E.P.’s regularly writing and speaking as if it is obviously true. So, I have no choice but to conclude that they don’t know what they are talking about, in a literal sense. They do know a lot of Economics, I am sure. But they don’t know a lot about the thing they purport to weigh in on, opine on, offering their regulatory advice for – i.e., trading. Something or someone, perhaps some textbook, has put the idea into their heads that there are two kinds of trading: “prop trading”, and the other kind. They took this at face value and have proceeded to formulate all sorts of theories based on this premise. There is one problem. The premise is false.

People who disagree with me will write back with non sequiturs such as ‘well howcome we had to bail out banks then?’ or ‘are you saying banks don’t take huge levered risk?’ Of course they do. Of course banks take risk. And of course they got underwater and were bailed out. None of that, however, speaks to the basic point about “prop trading”. None of that establishes that you can cleanly and neatly somehow separate “prop trading” from the other kind.

As I have said before, the main thing that got banks underwater was exposure to mortgages. Mortgages are not “prop trades”. Mortgages are bread-and-butter, your-grandpa’s-banking. Maybe you say “aha! so the prop trade was that they got too levered to mortgages”. Okay, but what is “too”? Where is the line?

You can make up a line, in your head, draw it, and call everything above it a “prop trade”. That’s what the government is effectively doing with its “Volcker Rule”. But I don’t know what you are accomplishing, other than setting up yet another arbitrary boundary that will need to be defined, evolved, monitored. What is the boundary for? To separate out the “prop trades” from the other kind?

But there are no “prop trades”. Like I said. There are just trades. Risk. Some riskier than others. Some more levered than others. Some more “exotic” (i.e. hard to understand/explain, I guess) than others. Where do you cross the line from an intelligent “macro hedge” into a “prop trade”? I guess that it’s when you lose money on it instead of make money on it.

This is not a real definition. It is not a real distinction. It is not a real concept. There are no “prop trades”. Or, to put it another way, all of banking is a “prop trade”. The essence of banking is to borrow short, and lend long. To sell 1-day rollable money and use it as collateral against which to buy, e.g., 5-year money. People seem to get confused into thinking that it is a non-risky activity because it is called by the dry term, ‘intermediation’. “That’s not risky! It’s just plain old intermediation!” Oh, okay, genius. But news flash: that is a BET. It could go in your favor, or against you. So by the (dumb) ‘definition’ most people seem to be have in mind, it’s a “prop trade”.

There are no “prop trades” unless all of banking is a “prop trade”.

Will someone please inform the Economics profession?


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