Archive for September 2008

More on Republicans Unclear on the Concept

September 30, 2008

Up from the comments on this post, another attempt to analyze the source of the House GOP caucus’s behavior in the current crisis.

I have to say, I had forgotten this scene, and I must now acknowledge its value in explaining our current predicament.

Not exactly yom ha’zikaron appropriate…but I will atone.

(Thanks, John).

A Pet Peeve: S & P, not Dow Jones

September 30, 2008

Just listening to NPR, and they talked once more about the record drop in the Dow.  The Dow is a skewed, small and much more imprecise than needed index of market performance. Worst of all, for anyone that cares about sample size and error, its cherry picked 30 companies provide a very narrow snapshot of the market as a whole

The S & P 500 is imperfect as well.  It’s criteria exclude Berkshire Hathaway, for example, which is odd at best.  It is a constructed index.  That is, unlike very broad measures like the Wilshire 5,000, which is a very close proxy for the American stock market as whole, the five hundred large companies within the S & P are selected (and de-selected, which creates difficulties in interpreting historical price comparisons) based on issues of market sector and so on.

But it is still a pretty good proxy for the market. According to the S & P’s own claim, the index covers about 75% of the total capitalization of the American stocks.  It is a much, much better measuring stick than the Dow.  The Industrials index retains its cachet as a brand; it is not that good a tool.  Let’s move on please.

Image: “The excitement before the bubble burst” – people looking at ticker tape in front of a stock ticker, probably sometime in 1929.  Source:  Wikimedia Commons.

Be Glad That Barney Frank Uses His Powers For Good, Not Evil.

September 29, 2008

Watch this.

(headline shamelessly stolen from Brad DeLong.)

Yet Further To McCain’s Gambling Problem

September 29, 2008

We’ve seen today what can happen when you go all in on a risky bet.

What McCain can now do, after having inserted himself into the bailout, urged his caucus to support it, and seen the dice roll hard against both his stated views and his claim to lead his own party, much less the nation, I have no idea — and neither, apparently, does he.

So I can’t say I’ve seen anything over the last few days to make me revise my impression that McCain’s likely behaviour as President would be any different from that of any other craps player betting against the house.

But I’ve turned up some new resources to help put McCain and what we know of his gambling habits in context.

Here’s the invaluable Jen-Luc Picard, learning calculus from craps.

And here, via David Munger, is a nice piece from the Times two years ago on research into impulsive behavior.

And here’s David’s own take on trying to assess the personalities of the candidates, using a classic psychological experiment to measure tolerance for risk.

Image:  Released under the GNU Free Documentation License.  Source:  Wikimedia Commons.

Republicans Unclear on the Concept.

September 29, 2008


“You keep using that word?”

“I do not think it means what you think it means.”

Read Pelosi’s offending speech for yourself and tell me that this is too much for grown men and women to bear.

Fools and knaves.

Update: dialogue fixed thanks to commenter and occasional guest blogger (more please) Michelle Sipics.

From the Days When Folks Knew How To Deal With Enemies

September 29, 2008

DeLong channels Cato.

Granite Staters Know Their Snark: Suspension of Disbelief edition

September 28, 2008

Hats off to the Keene Sentinal, responding appropriately to the urgent issues of the day. (h/t Jason Linkins at the Huffington Post.)

Further to McCain’s Gambling Problem

September 28, 2008

Matthew Yglesias has hit the nail dead on on the implications of McCain’s gambling problem — the conflict of interest, the poor judgment, and certainly the degree to which someone who can bang away thousands a session is divorced from the experience of ordinary folk.

What neither he nor I in this post conveyed was one other aspect of McCain’s game of choice that has to make  you wonder about the capacity for judgment for anyone who truly has the craps bug.

Remember — McCain doesn’t just go hit the craps table in passing.  This is the kind of gambling he likes, so much so that he would be willing to risk his presidential campaign to get a table hauled up to his (free) room.  He’s got a jones, not a casual interest.

And that pits him against the relentless mathematics of craps.  A quick look at the odds of craps is enough to give you the overview, but just to make sure that my basic quantitative intuition was backed up by the facts, I sought a quick expert reality check.  Here is what  the seemingly inexhaustible Brad DeLong told me would serve as synoptic view:

In craps, you lose 1.5% of your bet with each roll. At a ten-chip bet
rolling once a minute, your expected loss is $15.0 a minute–$900/hour, or $3600 for a four-hour evening at the table.

Think on the implications of this rate of expected losses.  There is little doubt that over an extended session a persistent player will hit a few happy rolls, with all the hedonic reward of a big win.  But the reality over any even moderately long run is steady erosion.  Drip, drip, drip — a few bucks here, a few bucks next roll, maybe a pop, then another twenty down the tubes and so on.

Last summer, Time reported that McCain’s “goal, say several people familiar with his habit, is never financial” — which is a very good thing, for to see the tables as a earning proposition would reveal an even greater degree of financial ignorance than has been on display recently.  Instead, say these sources, “He loves the thrill of winning and the camaraderie at the table.”

The thrill of winning?  He’s playing for that momentary glow that comes only against the background of that 1.5 % toll, grinding away over the hours, until, unless something very fishy is going on over weeks and months, McCain like every other craps fool, walks away with lighter pockets than those with which he began.

Is your model of a president a man who values momentary thrills more than long term consequences?  Mine isn’t.

More Mental Health — we all need an xkcd hit from time to time

September 28, 2008

Just substitute blog post for youtube, and you get my terror at this latest observation from xkcd:

Mental Health Break: Sarah Palin’s Gay Friend Auditions

September 28, 2008

See this. (h/t Andrew Sullivan.)

It actually got me thinking.  Why not me?

True, I’m straight, not Alaskan, and do not like what I have seen of Governor Palin.

But how could those be impediments, given that my attributes as Palin’s Gay Friend ™ would be no more divorced from the reality than, say, the Governor’s “opposition” (support) for the Bridge to Nowhere.

I’m perfect for the job!

Image:  Saints Sergius and Bacchus. 7th Century icon.  There is an interpretation of this icon as a representation of a same-sex union blessed by Jesus as best man.  Source: Wikimedia Commons.