Wednesday, June 30, 2010

From The Archives: Vegas, Jan 2010

In my absence, please enjoy re-reading some past Vegas trip reports, like this 4 part series from earlier this year:

Part 1 - The Arrival
Part 2 - March of the Penguins
Part 3 - Real Time Wagering and Off Strip Dining
Part 4 - Downtown


Tuesday, June 29, 2010

ECB Failed Fixed-Term Deposit Auction

Right on cue, as soon as I write a post saying that big stuff happens when I'm away, a significant story:  ECB Fixed-Term Deposit Auction fails.  What does this mean?  Well, although I don't have a PhD in economics, allow me to explain it to you in layman's terms:  the ECB's attempt to "sanitize"  (EDIT:  correction:  STERILIZE - see, if only I had a PhD in economics...) their bond purchases - they were going to distribute capital by buying bonds, and then remove capital by selling term deposits, so that no net money was created - failed.   The banks didn't want to buy ECB term deposits with their precious money.   Why?  Well, it seems that liquidity is pretty pretty pretty tight right now in Euro-land... I don't think that could ever be considered a good thing.

ok - have at it in the comments - I won't be able to respond, but maybe Kartik Athreya will stop by and tell us mortals how to interpret the failed term deposit auction.


Vegas Baby

I'm about to head off to Vegas for a few days (forecast: 110 degrees!), as global markets teeter.  I should warn my readers that I have a pretty solid history of taking trips when major market moves happen - so who knows what will happen in the next few days...  Dow 10,000 party tonight!


Garden Update - Blowing Up

That's right - the garden is blowing up - in a good way.  Although Mrs. Dynamite and I have had our fill of broccoli, other crops are coming up quickly.  We managed to diversify out of steamed broccoli, and into a nice broccoli and cheese casserole, as well as a tasty oven roasted broccoli variation with olive oil, salt and pepper, topped with shredded Parmesan and some lemon juice.  Choppin' Broccoli.....

Now, we've been picking sugar snap peas off the vines:

Oscar and Mr. Griffey also love them, and strangely, they also love raw broccoli.  They spend much of their time outside crazing like herbivores.  I caught Griffey mid-chew here:

While I'm at it, here's a video from a few months ago of Oscar crunching on raw carrots:

Back to the garden:  my sage is looking DOMINANT, although we haven't used it yet:

We planted a new addition this weekend: rhubarb!  To be harvested starting next year (it's a perennial)

The basil and cilantro are coming along nicely.  We cut some cilantro tonight for our grilled pineapple salsa:

And the cuke plants are looking monstrous:

Yes - I'm using tomato cages on the cukes too.  Speaking of which  - tomatoes are developing:

Finally, check out the baby Brussels Sprouts!

Yep. pretty pretty pretty good...


Monday, June 28, 2010

More on "Economics is Hard"

Yesterday I mentioned a paper from Kartik Athreya titled "Economics is Hard, Don't Let Bloggers Tell you Otherwise."

Not surprisingly, today, many bloggers responded to Athreya's piece, including some of the ones he named specifically in his piece (Brad Delong, Matthew Yglesias - both well respected, widely read bloggers who I actually do not read on a daily basis.)  Here are some of the responses:

1) The Reformed Broker wins for his simplicity, summarizing: "Economists Can't Do Economics Either"

3) Matthew Yglesias  "Completely apart from the fact that the “science” of economics is a good deal less developed than what you see in real sciences, the fact is that economic policy is economics plus politics."

4) Scott Sumner expresses a sentiment I talked about recently: "Unlike Athreya, I don’t judge people by their credentials, but rather by the quality of their arguments."

"It's so hard that experts don't always do it well.  The experts are constantly prone to correction by non-experts, by practitioners, by people who are self-educated economic experts but not professional economists, and by people who know some economics and a lot about some other field(s).  It is very often that we -- at least some of us -- are wrong and at least some of those other people are right.  Furthermore those other people are often more meta-rational than a lot of professional economists."



Sunday, June 27, 2010

Things You Should Read

-"Economics is Hard - Don't Let Bloggers Tell You Otherwise."  I've never heard of Kartik Athreya, economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, but I like his style in this piece.  Here's his abstract:  

"In this essay, I argue that neither non-economist bloggers, nor economists who portray economics —especially macroeconomic policy— as a simple enterprise with clear conclusions, are likely to contribute any insight to discussion of economics and, as a result, should be ignored by an open-minded lay public."

Again, I think Athreya's piece is well written, and largely accurate, but I think he makes a huge mistake when he compares economics to oncology.  See, in case it's not clear, oncology is a hard science.  Economics is a soft science - as Athreya acknowledges, human behavior plays a huge part in it - and that's precisely why the oncology (and later, seismology) references are ambitious and misguiding.  Without getting into a 10,000 word essay on the subject, the real problem we moronic bloggers have with economists is twofold:  1) they prove REPEATEDLY that their models are ill equipped to handle reality, largely because 2) human behavior cannot be modeled like the other inputs can.

Anyway, go on and read Kartik Athreya's piece above - it will not make you dumber.

-On that note: Bloomberg:  "Geithner Says G-20 Needs To Focus on Domestic Demand, not Deficits."  My "blogger,"  non-economist summary of that article is, "Hey guys - the Ponzi scheme only works if we are all committed to it."

"One day next month every student at Loyola Law School Los Angeles will awake to a higher grade point average. 

But it’s not because they are all working harder. 

The school is retroactively inflating its grades, tacking on 0.333 to every grade recorded in the last few years. The goal is to make its students look more attractive in a competitive job market.

-NT Times: "IBM's Supercomputer to Challenge Jeopardy Champion."   A very interesting look at the difficulties computers have in solving Jeopardy-type questions, and how artificial intelligence is making good progress in the field.

-Suburban Snapshots: "Why Having a Toddler is like Being at a Frat Party"  funny. samplers:

"10. There are half-full, brightly-colored plastic cups on the floor in every room. Three are in the bathtub.

9. There's always that one girl, bawling her eyes out in a corner."

Wrapping up, back to the initial topic, Barry Ritholtz points out that economists themselves should frequently be ignored as well.  Here's Ritholtz, talking about former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan.  I think the second paragraph is fantastic:

"Before we get into the details of his deficit commentary, I must highlight this sentence: “The financial crisis, triggered by the unexpected default of Lehman Brothers in September 2008, created a collapse in global demand that engendered a high degree of deflationary slack in our economy.”

No, Alan, the financial crisis was not triggered by Lehman’s collapse. You are getting the causation exactly backwards: The crisis is what triggered LEH’s collapse. Further, the fall of Lehman was hardly “unexpected.” Whether you want to look at stock price before the collapse, spreads on its debt, David Einhorn’s forensic accounting (he was short LEH) or our own quantitative analysis (we were short LEH), there were plenty of warnings about Lehman’s collapse. It was only unexpected by those whose ideological beliefs blinded them to reality. (Remind you of anyone?)"

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Dumbest Thing I Read Today - Tom Matzzie

I was going to title this post "Tom Matzzie is an idiot,"  but I don't love starting internet flame wars, although it seems that Matzzie clearly deserves it in this case.  Felix Salmon wrote a coherent post debunking Matzzie's shit-sandwhich of an article, which attempts to discredit Steve Eisman's thesis against the for profit higher education companies by demonizing Eisman and short sellers in general.   The only problem is that Felix's post was too kind, and didn't make an emphatic enough point.  Felix calmly slapped aside Matzzie's mosquito of a claim that Eisman has a conflict of interest - in Felix's words:

"A conflict of interest happens when you have two different interests which are in conflict with each other: I see no conflict of interest at all here. To the contrary, I see an alignment of interests: Eisman has realized that if the government does the right thing, then he’ll make money, and so he’s more than happy to show the government everything he’s been able to find out about these companies."

Here's the point - since it seems that many people still have trouble with this simple concept:  it doesn't matter who wrote the article or made the argument. It doesn't matter what their underlying position is.  What matters is WHAT THE ARGUMENT IS.  So, in this case,  unless you are disagreeing with anything Steve Eisman is saying, it makes not an ounce of difference that he is short the stock, that he works for a hedge fund, that he bet against subprime mortgages, or that he likes comic books.  It doesn't matter if Steve Eisman is a vegetarian, or if he only eats candy bars.  It doesn't matter if he didn't graduate from high school, or if "Steve Eisman" isn't even his real name.   It doesn't matter if he's a democrat, republican, socialist, capitalist, illegal immigrant, or if his parents came over on the Mayflower.  What matters is his thesis, which, of course, Tom Matzzie didn't make a single mention of.

Although I personally think Eisman makes a pretty good case, it's irrelevant - Matzzie didn't even bother to take on a single one of Eisman's claims or data points (from Eisman's testimony):  

"The for-profit education industry accounts for 9% of the students, 25% of all Title IV disbursements but 44% of all defaults. And the President of the largest for-profit institution is paid nearly 25x the  compensation level of the President of Harvard. There is something wrong with this statistical  progression..."

"The bottom line is that as long as the government continues to flood the for profit education industry with loan dollars AND the risk for these loans is borne solely by the students and the government,  THEN the industry has every incentive to grow at all costs, compensate employees based on  enrollment, influence key regulatory bodies and manipulate reported statistics – ALL TO MAINTAIN ACCESS TO THE GOVERNMENT’S MONEY..."

"The core of the problem in both the subprime and the for-profit education industries is a problem of incentives. In subprime, brokers were incentivized to make as many loans as possible because they were paid on volume. They faced no risk of loss due to bad  decision-making because the loans were sold off to investors. In for-profit education, every segment of the institution is incentivized to enroll as many students as possible – recruiters are paid on volume, instructors are compensated based on completions, and executives and shareholders are paid based on growth. None bear the risk of loss should the students not get their money’s worth or even worse, default on their loans. The incentives to grow far outweigh the incentives to educate. And thus, like in subprime lending, rather than having a fundamentally sound industry with a few bad actors, you have a fundamentally unsound industry with few good ones."

Matzzie started his column with the attention getting intro: "Sometimes the ways of Washington, DC are truly baffling."

Indeed, Mr. Matzzie - it is truly baffling that people like you are still able to raise money to accelerate the spread of ignorance amongst the population.  A big fat sarcastic "Thanks" to all you're doing to help dis-educate America.


disclosure:  no positions in any of the companies Eisman mentioned, or any education related companies.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Phish - Mansfield Comcast Center

We'd been eagerly awaiting the Phish Great Woods (Comcast Center) show ever since my brother in law snagged 4th row center seats in the Phish pre-sale lottery.  He finished work for the summer yesterday, and we were well prepared to party at Phish.  Picking up burgers, dogs, booze, and Mark, we headed down to Great Woods early, arriving at 4pm.  I'd read horror stories about the parking situation there:  they offer free parking, but then you get stuck in the lot for hours after the show.  We ponied up $30 to park across the street in a private lot, which was a slam dunk decision:  we had a spot down a tiny hill, near some woods, with water behind it, ample room to lay out our camping chairs and hibachi, and there was even a band playing in the parking lot.

Prepartying hard for 3 1/2 hours, we eventually journeyed across the street to meet up with some of Dan's friends before the show.  We each poured a beer into a plastic red Solo cup, and walked up to the main street. I already knew the State Troopers were in aggro mode, because upon arrival I'd decided to walk across the street to the multi-mart to grab another bag of ice for our cooler.  They had an entire lane coned off, but I stood patiently on the curb waiting for the officer to stop traffic.  When I stepped down, putting one foot in the street, he turned on me like a gunslinger, snapping "GET BACK ON THE SIDEWALK!"  Whoa tiger.  Don't tase me bro.  I stepped back up onto the curb.   Now, heading into the main lots with our red cups, a different Trooper shouted to us as soon as we appeared out of the parking lots: "You can't bring that with you." (We'll ignore the fact that he had no idea what was in the cup)  Obviously, the instant reaction is to stop, turn around, and drink it, which we tried.  "Do NOT drink it - pour it out.  If you drink that we'll lock you up!"  Whoa cowboy - no problem - don't tase me bro, and don't lock me up!  I'll dump it out... Like a criminal in a movie slowly and deliberately sliding his gun to a cop, I slowly bent down with one hand above my head and one hand on the cup, and poured out the beer. 

We found Dan's friends in the main lot, and were still psyched with our decision to pay for parking. I laughed at the sign for the venue's "Premium Lot."  Hey - putting a sign that says premium doesn't make it premium!  I'd read lots of mixed reviews about the level of service demonstrated by Comcast Center staff in getting people out of the VIP lots quicker...  I took all of the pictures in this post on my Casio Exilim.  It was really hard to get in-focus picture, even up close, in the low light situation, but I think some of these came out pretty good...

Heading inside, we grabbed NINE DOLLAR beers and found our seats in short order.  Sick - 4th row center.  The show started about 20 minutes later, and we were pumped up.  One thing I always like to do at concerts is to look at the crowd, which in this case required me to simply turn around 180 degrees.  I constantly checked the scene behind me, but didn't really feel like the crowd was rocking until Divided Sky, which quickly lost momentum in a slow song I love:  Dirt.  Kill Devil Falls rocked hard, but the new song Doctor Gabel, which I also liked, killed the crowd energy again.  Trey didn't seem to notice, I guess, as he thanked the crowd for being receptive to the new song, and rewarded us with Antelope.  Set the gearshift for the high gear of your soul - you've got to run like an antelope, out of control.  That anthem never gets old, and I went typical Kid Dynamite Bonkers, bouncing up and down triumphantly, and collapsing back in my chair in an exhausted huff at the set break.

I ventured to the bathroom, which was like a sauna in a Turkish prison (at least what I'd imagine that's like) before grabbing more $9 beers and heading back to my seat.  The good thing about the extreme beer prices is that it drove the customers away and there were no beer lines.

The second set got grooving right away with Mike's Song and Weekapaug Groove.  I always said that if I were to make a movie, I'd use Weekapaug as the music in my chase scene.  Two separate people behind me had "Sneakin' Sally" signs, and Trey obliged, and later played 46 Days, which I've always thought was very similar to Sally in terms of musical structure - especially the beginning.

Limb by Limb was hot, and Golgi Apparatus got the crowd really frenzied, finally, which I noticed as I jumped up on my chair with my back to the stage, arms raised in a giant V, ticket stub in my hand, as I screamed along, "I SAWWWWWWWWW YOU - with a ticket stub in your hand!"

Slave was hot, as usual, but I went ballistic when I saw/heard Trey turn to the band after the song and say "Loving Cup."  That's how close we were - I could see him tell the band what song to play.  Of course, Loving Cup was absolutely sick, with the refrain, "Oh, what a beautiful buzz," echoing through the Comcast Center.

I like this pic of Page with the spotlight behind him:

And I think this washed out red picture is cool:

Now, I promised/threatened that I would take my shirt off if Trey played First Tube, which is how I came to be jumping around waving my shirt over my head going absolutely apeshit as they ripped through First Tube as an encore.  I was also committed to take my pants off and run onstage if they continued the terrific Tweezer Reprise theme, but fortunately for me, I was let off the hook on that front.   Here's a few videos I shot - the first is of Trey's "O" face during Antelope (easier to upload one video of the O face than a bunch of pics):

And then this one of Loving Cup, which gives a sense of the crowd energy during the song:

All in all, we had a sick time from insane seats at a great show.


USA vs Algeria: Greatest US World Cup Game Ever?

Wow - what a finish.  In my opinion, this will go down as one of the greatest victories in USA World Cup history (1994 vs Colombia also stands out in my mind, but this game is a much better total package).  The US's 91st minute goal was essential - not just for the US to move on to the round of 16, but to avoid an eternity of disgruntled US fans complaining about officiating and in general being turned off to the game of soccer, after another horrendous blown call led to Clint Dempsey's 21st minute goal being disallowed for offside.  Again - we know that refs make mistakes, and offside is a call that's easy to blow when players are making full speed runs near the final third of the field - but Dempsey was standing nearly still, in an onside position - and the linesman had no excuse to blow that call.  Ironically, on the winning goal, Dempsey's attempt to score left him lying on the goal line in an offside position, which the linesman wisely did not flag, since the sequence was lightening quick and Donovan just pounded the ball into the net, so Dempsey wasn't impacting the play.

The US's frustration - at what seemed like an awful lot of bad luck over the rest of the game resulting in a plethora of near misses and wide open end to end action - turned to elation when Landon Donovan slotted home the goal in the 91st minute, eliciting the celebration.

I haven't been the biggest Clint Dempsey fan, but he played a wicked tough game and worked through a lot of adversity in the form of soul crushing missed opportunities, and his one successful offering being overturned, along with a punch to the face that left him bloody and needing stitches after the game.  I also loved the look of pure emotion on his face that was visible during the national anthem.

Anyway - this was about as exciting as a 1-0 game could ever hope to be.  Great game.


Suing Yourself

"New York state's pension fund plans to sue BP Plc to recover losses from the drop in the company's stock price following the worst oil spill in U.S. history, Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli said on Wednesday."

""BP misled investors about its safety procedures and its ability to respond to events like the ongoing oil spill and we're going to hold it accountable," said the comptroller, a Democrat, who stands for election in November."

Come on, DiNapoli - just say you're doing it as a political ploy to be re-elected, and we'll all understand.  Now - let's not even bother to debate if the suit has merit - what is the point?  As a commenter on Clusterstock put it:

"This is idiotic. How is BP going to make the stock holders full? By taking money out of its coffers? If so the stock price would fall further. Net effect would be zero change in the wealth of stockholders."

Another commenter sarcastically noted:

"This is a wonderful scenario. BP shareholders who don't sue will bailout BP shareholders who do sue."

Lawsuit arbitrage!  Fantastic!

So, see, the problem is that the shareholders ALREADY own the company. So when they sue the company, they are suing themselves.  And the lawyers get rich in the process.  Sweet.

"One day next month every student at Loyola Law School Los Angeles will awake to a higher grade point average.  

But it’s not because they are all working harder. The school is retroactively inflating its grades, tacking on 0.333 to every grade recorded in the last few years. 

The goal is to make its students look more attractive in a competitive job market."


I don't think this post would be complete without the Jerky Boys classic:


disclosure:  I have a small long BP stock position

Monday, June 21, 2010

The Dog Days of Summer

I'm off to Boston to see Phish.  I leave you with pics of the pups, in lieu of economic rants:

That's Mr. Griffey on top, and Oscar on the bottom.  Griffey still doesn't like me, although we've undertaken Operation Treat Overload to try to get him on my good side.   Despite the fact that after 8 weeks I never so much as raised my voice at him, he's wicked skittish around me still.  If we're out walking on the leash, sometimes he lets me pet him, but other times he lies down on the ground, crouching, in a super submissive pose like he thinks I'm going to beat on him.   It's all very strange, especially since his prior owner was supposedly a single woman. Griffey absolutely loves Mrs. Dynamite, and gets along great with Oscar, so we're still trying to see if he can make it work with me.  It's especially hard because I can't even put his harness and leash on him without help from my wife to corral him.


Sunday, June 20, 2010

Phish - Tweezer Reprise

I could try to explain Tweezer Reprise (aka Tweprise), but I think it's easier to let the music speak for itself.  A quick background:  Tweezer is a Phish classic - a long, dark, jammy song. Usually, when they play Tweezer in a show, they'll later play Tweezer Reprise - usually in the encore - which brings the whole "jam" back together in a composed piece that's intense and explosive.  On occasion, Phish has been known to not "finish" Tweezer, and instead play Tweezer Reprise a night later, or even a number of nights later, to "finish" the song. 

In Hartford a few nights ago, they closed the show with Tweprise, but had an extra few minutes before curfew, so Trey simply announced that they had time to play the song again - to finish the Tweezer that they'd played in Pennsylvania earlier that week -  and played it back to back. Awesome - it's hard to describe how intense this must have been:

But Phish wasn't done.  See, they have a fanatical fan base, and they - "they" being both the band and the Phans - GET IT.  Thus, Phish kept the streak going and opened the next night's show with Tweezer Reprise.   I think this has actually happened a few times before (10/21/95, 11/9/95,) but certainly not when they closed with a double shot of it the night before.   Of course, Phish continued the saga by closing the show with Tweezer Reprise also, despite not playing Tweezer that night (making it 4 times played in two nights).  

I know that non-Phish-fans might think this is lame, but for a band who can play a 4 night run in a city without duplicating a single song, the fact that Phish picked up this Tweprise theme and ran with it is basically an inside joke between the band and their phanatical fanbase - which comprises most of the audience - and the crowd loves it.

I'll see the band Tuesday night at the former Great Woods, now "Comcast Center" in Mansfield, MA.  My brother-in-law was lucky enough to get 3rd row center tickets in the Phish ticket lottery, so we are insanely pumped for this show.


Manute Bol, RIP

Was I the only one who had the life sized Manute Bol poster on my wall growing up?  Bol was so tall that the poster came in two pieces - each was a normal full sized poster, but one was from the waist down and one was from the waist up.  It went up my wall and onto my ceiling.

According to Wikipedia: "Over the course of his career, Bol averaged 2.6 points, 4.2 rebounds, 0.3 assists and 3.3 blocks per game while only playing an average of 18.7 minutes per game."

I'd wager that Bol is the only player to average more blocks than points per game.  Oh wait - Wikipedia addresses this too: "The only player in NBA history to block more shots than points scored, blocking 2,086 shots and scoring 1,599 points."  There you have it.


Bruce Springsteen - London Calling

I'm a Springsteen fanatic, so it was with surprise that I found out that The Boss has a new live 2-DVD set, "London Calling" coming out tomorrow!  As one of my Springsteen buddies who I've probably gone to 25 concerts with put it, "I guess news travels slower up there in the country."

Needless to say, I insta-preordered the DVDs.

setlist info:

DISC 1 1. London Calling 2. Badlands 3. Night 4. She's The One 5. Outlaw Pete 6. Out In The Street 7. Working On A Dream 8. Seeds 9. Johnny 99 10. Youngstown 11. Good Lovin' 12. Bobby Jean 13. Trapped 14. No Surrender 15. Waitin' On A Sunny Day 16. The Promised Land 17. Racing In The Street 18. Radio Nowhere 19. Lonesome Day 

DISC 2 1. The Rising 2. Born To Run 3. Rosalita (Come Out Tonight) 4. Hard Times (Come Again No More) 5. Jungleland 6. American Land 7. Glory Days 8. Dancing In The Dark 9. Credits (Raise Your Hand)Raise Your Hand (Instrumental) 10. The River (Glastonbury) 11. Wrecking Ball (Live at Giants Stadium)


note:  I am a member of's affiliate program.  If you click on my links to products, and buy them, or anything else through Amazon, I get a tiny little commission.  You pay the same price - it's just a sort of referral fee from Amazon.  Since Kid Dynamite's World is a no-shameless-whoring-zone, I can only promise my readers that I will only recommend products which I myself actually endorse.

Saturday, June 19, 2010


"Religion is dangerous because it allows human beings who don't have all the answers to think that they do." - Bill Maher, Religulous

Regular readers will notice that I try to avoid topics on this blog which I think people cannot discuss rationally and intelligently:  politics being the main one.  Thus, I'm certainly not about to embark on a debate about the merits of religion, but I will heartily recommend Bill Maher's documentary "Religulous," which I just watched, and enjoyed immensely.

I'm a Bill Maher Agnostic - I don't watch his show, like him or dislike him, but I think "Religulous" is worth watching for anyone interested in religion - both devout worshipers and agnostics/atheists.

Readers wishing to dig deeper into the subject might also enjoy Christopher Hitchens' book "God is Not Great."


note:  I am a member of's affiliate program.  If you click on my links to products, and buy them, or anything else, through Amazon, I get a tiny little commission.  You pay the same price - it's just a sort of referral fee from Amazon.  Since Kid Dynamite's World is a no-shameless-whoring-zone, I can only promise my readers that I will only recommend products which I myself actually endorse.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Speak Up: FIFA, Koman Coulibaly

Two weeks ago, MLB umpire Jim Joyce butchered a crucial call in the 9th inning which would have been/should have been the final out of a perfect game by a young pitcher.  Joyce quickly apologized, admitting that he butchered the call, and felt horrible about impacting pitcher Armando Galaragga's chance to put his name in the record books.  Joyce apologized both to Galaragga privately, and spoke up in the media.  Guess what - once you admit that you screwed up, there's not much more people can say.  "Hey Joyce, you really blew that call,"  "Yes - I did. I agree. I'm sorry."  End of discussion.

In the wake of one of the most blatant blown calls in recent World Cup history, (USA - Slovenia, 85th minute) referee Koman Coulibaly owes the soccer world an explanation.   He doesn't have to bow down, cry, admit he screwed up, or even apologize (although it certainly never hurts to admit you were wrong) - but he does owe it to the soccer world to at least explain what foul he called - what he saw!

""We asked the referee many times, and he wouldn't or couldn't explain," said striker Landon Donovan, whose goal in the 48th minute from the right wing broke the U.S.'s drought. "I don't know how much English he spoke. We asked him numerous times in a non-confrontational manner, and he just ignored us or didn't understand us.""   

I read elsewhere that US defender Carlos Bocanegra confirmed that the ref spoke ample French and English.

ESPN's article concludes:

"Coulibaly isn't commenting on the disallowed goal -- at least that's what FIFA told a U.S. soccer spokesperson -- so in addition to an injustice, the scent of unaccountability also lingers."

Coulibaly, at minimum, should explain the foul that he called.

USA vs Slovenia - WTF?

Today's USA vs Slovenia match was one of the best games so far, with some wide open end to end action and scoring chances on both sides.  The U.S. came back from a 2-0 deficit, tying the game at 2-2, before having their go-ahead goal disallowed.  Since I've been highly complementary of the refereeing of the World Cup thus far, I have to say, I have absolutely no idea what today's ref was thinking when he called off what would have been the go ahead goal for the USA in the 85th minute when Maurice Edu volleyed home Landon Donovan's free kick.

Soccer is a difficult game to officiate - I know from experience - and there's a lot going on with free kicks served into the penalty area.  The call the referee usually gets wrong is missing a foul by the defensive players, or calling a marginal foul by the defensive players and awarding an especially harsh penalty kick.  On this play, the referee both missed a foul by the defensive players, and called a non-existent foul on the attackers.  Michael Bradley was being outright held by a defender, and Jozy Altidore was being pushed in the back.  The real travesty, however, is that despite watching the replay numerous times, I can't even find a hint of a foul on a U.S. player.  It definitely wasn't offside either - I don't think that was the call - I think a foul was called.

EDIT:  here's the video - see if you can spot anything that could potentially be called a foul.  Notice the Slovenian defender with his hands LOCKED around Michael Bradley's waist (Bradley is number 4, shaved head)

Anyway, the U.S. gained a point for the draw, in a very exciting game, and the referee stood out as one of the worst in the World Cup thus far (although German fans will complain that their side was harshly penalized with a barrage of unnecessary yellow cards, including two for their striker, Miroslav Klose, which resulted in his early ejection, in their earlier game this morning vs. Serbia)

EDIT 2: thanks to commenter "stimit" who reminded me of the insanity that was the yellow card awarded earlier to US striker Robbie Findley (his second of the first round, which means he sits out the next match) - when the ball hit him in the face, and the referee somehow thought it was an intentional hand ball.


Friday Links

"Winners go unnoticed because people are looking for winners on the losers page when in fact the biggest winners come from the winners page."

That's a sentiment that Howard has been voicing for a long time now.  It's also, perhaps, one of the most difficult natural tendencies to override - I mean - that our nature is to do the opposite:  we normally want to buy stocks that are down, not up.  I penned a more abstract version of this concept early this year.

-A double shot from Calculated Risk:


-If you haven't yet watched John Stewart's piece on "Independence from Foreign Oil," you must.


Thursday, June 17, 2010

Our Dependency on Foreign Oil

Jon Stewart's eight minute piece illustrating the populist talking point that is U.S. Presidents vowing to reduce our dependence on foreign oil is a must watch.  If you can't view the embedded video below, then click and watch above, and laugh at the absurdity of the ceaseless rhetoric, which continued this week.

As Stewart says, "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.  Fool me eight times - am I a fucking idiot?"


Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Harvest! (and An Unkown Pest)

We have broccoli!

We cooked it up (steamed in water in the microwave for 6 minutes) for lunch with some leftover chicken w/broccoli.  So yes - we had chicken w/broccoli w/broccoli.

I have a potential issue with my tomato plants, which I'm counting on my reader's vast experience to advise on:  there are slices on the tomato leaves that look like a mini-Wolverine slashed them with his claws.

I'm guessing they're from some kind of worm???  The question is - big deal or not?  Should I spray them with Sevin? (note: I sprayed the broccoli and Brussels sprouts with Sevin last week, but it rained later that afternoon, and maybe I didn't spray enough because I spent the next week picking big green cabbage worms (thanks RJS!) off the leaves.  I'm trying not to use pesticide where it's not needed).  I looked on the tomatoes for the elusive camouflaged hornworm, but I didn't see any.  So - does anyone recognize this damage?


Monday, June 14, 2010

The Death of Personal Responsibility

Fitting in nicely with my prior post about the Tragedy of the Commons, I was riled into a severe state of Bajungi Tilt this evening when I read the NYTimes article "For Forgetful, Cash Helps the Medicine Go Down."  Before I even clicked on the article, I closed my eyes and prayed that it wouldn't be about a program that pays people to take medicine.  My prayers were not answered.

"It has long been one of the most vexing causes of America’s skyrocketing health costs: people not taking their medicine.

One-third to one-half of all patients do not take medication as prescribed, and up to one-quarter never fill prescriptions at all, experts say. Such lapses fuel more than $100 billion dollars in health costs annually because those patients often get sicker. "

Ok - so they're appealing to my inner capitalist.  See, the point is that by paying people to do something, we'll avoid higher costs later as a result of their failures to do what they were supposed to do in the first place.   I have the phrase DARWINISM, DARWINISM, DARWINISM blaring in my mind, repeatedly, but alas, we can't just tell people that if they don't take the medicines we prescribe them that we will deny them emergency treatment and let them die.

Now, a controversial, and seemingly counter-intuitive, effort to tackle the problem is gaining ground: paying people money to take medicine or to comply with prescribed treatment. The idea, which is being embraced by doctors, pharmacy companies, insurers and researchers, is that paying modest financial incentives up front can save much larger costs of hospitalization.

“It’s better to spend money on medication adherence for patients, rather than having them boomerang in and out of the hospital,” said Valerie Fleishman, executive director of the New England Healthcare Institute, a research organization, who said that about one-tenth of hospital admissions and one-quarter of nursing home admissions result from incorrect adherence to medication. “Financial incentives are a critical piece of the solution.”

In a Philadelphia program people prescribed warfarin, an anti-blood-clot medication, can win $10 or $100 each day they take the drug — a kind of lottery using a computerized pillbox to record if they took the medicine and whether they won that day."

Before the program, Chiquita Parker, a 25-year-old single mother with lupus, too ill to continue her job with special needs children, repeatedly made medication mistakes, although she knows she depends on warfarin to prevent clots than can cause strokes, paralysis, or death.

“I would forget to take it,” and feel “like I couldn’t breathe,” she said. Or she would “take two in a day,” and develop bruises from uncontrolled internal bleeding.

But in the six-month lottery program, she pocketed about $300. “You got something for taking it,” Ms. Parker said. Suddenly, she said, “I was taking it regularly, I was doing so good.”
I'm Speechless... let's keep reading:

"“We’ve made our best efforts to say, ‘If you didn’t take your beta blocker or asthma medicine, you have a greater chance of ending up with a heart attack or dead or hospitalized,’ ” said Dr. Lonny Reisman, Aetna’s chief medical officer. “It’s going to take more. It’s going to take incentives.”"

Well, that's one way to look at it, and anyone looking at it like this should not be surprised at exactly why our health care costs are spinning out of control.  Oh - some people will point out that this is the private companies that are paying these funds - yes - they are paying them with YOUR premiums.  You're supposed to feel good because if Aetna didn't pay forgetful people to take their medicine, then you'd have to pay even HIGHER premiums to pay for the subsequent emergency treatments of these people.

Enough with INCENTIVES.  There is another way - disincentives.  I'm not going to be so radical as to suggest that they use the same computerized pillbox to invalidate your health insurance if you forget to take your pills, and mandate that you die a painful death outside the hospital door as you are refused treatment.  However:  I will absolutely advocate going the opposite direction as this program, and suggest that if you fail to take your pills, you are subject to a fine. Or to some other loss of privilege.  I'm all in favor of benefits - like health care - to help people out.  But if people abuse those benefits, I think at some point it's quite reasonable and not at all heartless to ask for some accountability.   I'd be in favor of more "socialist" benefits, if they came with restrictions. *** {see tangent below}

Sounds harsh, right? I know - and I don't care. At some point we have to draw the line, and this is it.  We shouldn't have to pay kids to get good grades (oh - that program failed, by the way), and we shouldn't have to pay people to take their medicine.   Furthermore, if you are going to pay people to take medicine (it sounds dumber every time I type it) - shouldn't you keep it CIA level hush hush?  

There's a reason the Credit Card companies don't tell you that at some point they'll settle your outstanding debt at pennies on the dollar after you stop paying - if they did, no one would pay their bills.  There's a reason banks aren't screaming out that they have all the economic incentive in the world to reduce your principal balance outstanding on your underwater mortgage instead of foreclosing on you - if they did, everyone who is underwater would stop paying (this is starting to happen, as I discussed previously).  There's a reason we shouldn't bail out states who fail to, as required by law, balance their budgets - because it makes it so that no state has any incentive to exercise fiscal prudence.

And there is a reason why if Aetna is going to pay people to take the drugs they are supposed to be taking if they want to live a healthy life then they should STFU about it.  As the NY Times article puts it:

"Skeptics question if payments can be coercive or harm doctor-patient relationships. “Why should people who don’t want to take medication be paid, when prudent people who take medication are not?” said Dr. George Szmukler, a >psychiatry professor at King’s College London. 

Joanne Shaw, who runs a department of Britain’s National Health Service, asked: “Will others think, ‘If I behave like a potential noncomplier, I’ll get money for taking medication?’ And once you start paying people to take medication, when do you stop paying them?” 

I want to bring personal responsibility back, like Justin Timberlake is Bringin' Sexy Back.  This concept applies to other areas I've written about as well:  there should be very clear requirements regarding stock trading that make sure that people ACKNOWLEDGE that they understand that when they send a market sell order, they can get filled at $.01 when their stock is trading at $40.   Then, we wouldn't have to cancel trades after the fact because "hey - I didn't know that could happen."

Mortgage borrowers should be required to pass a test that shows that, in no uncertain terms, they understand the product they are using.   Mortgages and other financial products, including credit cards, should be made simpler - so that there is nothing to misunderstand - no fine print.  I have only seen one adjustable rate negative amortizing mortgage in my life.  My friend has this mortgage, and I read her contract, expecting it to be a jumble of incomprehension.  Guess what - it's not. It tells you that at first you're paying only the interest, and not even all the interest, and none of the principal. It tells you what the rate is, how long the rate is good for, and when the rate resets. It tells you what the new rate will be based on, what your payments might be depending on different reset rates at the time,  how often the rate resets, and by how much.  It's impossible to not understand.  If they aren't all like that, they should be.

See - once we remove "blame" from the equation the rest gets easier.  Now, when Johnny Speculator says "I was tricked into this mortgage, I had no idea that my payments would skyrocket," we say "Well Johnny, you demonstrated that you understood the product by passing the Mortgage License test that was required before hand.  You can't blame anyone else - you are accountable.

"Hey Kid Dynamite," you are wondering, "since when do you want all this Big Government?  Why do you want MORE regulations, certifications and restrictions - what happened to small government free market Capitalism?"

Well let me tell you - we (we, as a country) have clearly demonstrated that we don't like the effects of the free market, which allows people to fail.  We want to place the blame for failure on all sorts of different parties, some of whom are certainly actually guilty, and many of whom are not.  But we've gone way too far off the deep end of abandoning and ignoring that in the end, everything comes down to PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY.  If more government, or more market intrusion is required to make sure that people lose the "hey - I didn't know - it's not my fault" excuse, then I'm all for it.  THEN we don't have to have philosophical debates about how Johnny was tricked into being given more money than he could afford to pay back - the blame will be removed from the equation, we will know that Johnny is responsible for his situation, and we can objectively figure out how to address it.

Trying to get back on topic:  how do we bring personal responsibility back to medicine?  Since we're not willing to let people who fail in their personal responsibility die as a result of their failure, the answer isn't quite as simple as it seems!  I'll say it again though - forget "incentives"  - if life isn't incentive enough, we need to go to "disincentives."

Now, a few of the reader comments on the NY Times article which I found enlightening or interesting:
-"The life-saving effects of her medication are not a good enough incentive? If she can remember that if she takes her medication, she might win some money, she should be able to remember that if she takes her medication she might continue to be around to watch her little boy grow up. Maybe it's just the computerized pill box that helps keep track. What if patients were FINED each month for not taking their medication? Certainly the incentive would still be in place."

-"Why don't we pay people not to be criminals requiring incarceration? Why don't we pay people to not do drugs? Why don't we pay people not to have more than one child? Why don't we pay people to stay in their own country instead of coming here illegally? Why don't we pay people to work instead of not to work? The list goes on. The real questions to ask are: Why don't we expect some personal responsibility for a change? Why don't we stop taking from those who are responsible to reward those who are not?"

and finally, from a reader who takes her meds:

-"I understand the rationale of paying people to comply with their pharmaceutical treatments; I really do. But, I know that if I don't take my meds, I will suffer considerable pain and, ultimately, death. So, I take my meds -- at a considerable cost to me. I often have to forgo eating three meals a day in order to afford those meds, despite the promises made when Medicare Part D was passed to relieve seniors from having to choose between food and medicine (and, not incidentally, to pad the pockets of pharmaceutical companies and insurance companies). I go without the little extras that make life more pleasant in order to have life -- period. And I'm not complaining, because I choose to live rather than to die.

So, please forgive my for being livid that people who care so little about their own personal health are being paid to do what they should be doing because they forget to take theirs meds. Every action has a consequence, and the consequence for their action is suffering and death. If they don't know that, they will learn very quickly.

And please forgive me for not really giving a damn if they do suffer and die. That, ultimately, is their choice."


*** tangent from above:  see, here's the kind of "socialist" benefit I could get behind.  You want free health care for everyone?  Noble goal. I do too.  So, my rule is this: if you're on the free government health care, you are not allowed to eat at McDonald's.  You're not allowed to smoke cigarettes. etcetera - get the point?

Sunday, June 13, 2010

State Bailouts: The Tragedy of the Commons

Readers may be familiar with Garret Harden's Tragedy of the Commons.  As Wikipedia describes it:

"Central to Hardin's article is an example (first sketched in an 1833 pamphlet by William Forster Lloyd), of a hypothetical and simplified situation based on medieval land tenure in Europe, of herders sharing a common parcel of land, on which they are each entitled to let their cows graze. In Hardin's example, it is in each herder's interest to put the next (and succeeding) cows he acquires onto the land, even if the carrying capacity of the common is exceeded and it is temporarily or permanently damaged for all as a result. The herder receives all of the benefits from an additional cow, while the damage to the common is shared by the entire group. If all herders make this individually rational economic decision, the common will be depleted or even destroyed to the detriment of all."

Simply: each individual has incentive to do the exact action which, if everyone does it, will result in a pareto-inferior (aka: worse) result for everyone.  It's not entirely unlike the Prisoner's Dilemma.

I've been using the Tragedy of the Commons to describe the downward spiral which I think will result if the Federal Government starts bailing out cities and states from their failed budgetary decision.  Today, in the NY Times, I read the article "Obama Presses for Aid to Cities and States," and could only think: and so it begins. {tangent:  this post has nothing to do with Obama - this piece would be identical if you changed all the "Obamas" to "Bush," "Palin," "Clinton," or anyone else - so please save your partisan rantings for another blog}

The NYT says: 

"President Obama on Saturday implored Congress to provide more aid to states and cities to blunt “the devastating economic impact of budget cuts” by local governments that imperil the jobs of teachers, the police, firefighters and other public employees."

Now, the House and Senate have thus far resisted this aid, and my home state Senator Judd Gregg even tried to insert a clause into the financial reform bill which would have prevented the Federal Government from bailing out individual states.  His amendment failed.

The NYT article continues, clarifying:

"Unlike the federal government, all but one state and most local governments are required by their laws to balance their annual budgets, and they continue to struggle against the increased costs of relief programs and lost revenues from high unemployment and home foreclosures."

I do take issue with the argument used by the President:
"Making the economic case for helping the states, Mr. Obama said that if teachers and others are laid off — his education secretary, Arne Duncan, has said that without federal aid, up to 300,000 fewer teachers would be in classrooms this fall — “it will mean more costs helping these Americans look for new work, while their lost paychecks will mean less tax revenues and less demand for the products and services provided by other workers.” 

Now, I love teachers.  I think education is immensely important, and it's one of the main problems we have in our country.  My father was a teacher for over 30 years.  My mother was a teacher for over thirty years.  My sister is a teacher.  My brother-in-law is a teacher.  I am certainly in favor of teachers keeping their jobs and getting paid - and I think most people think similarly - which is why I hate the "we have to give the States all this money or the teachers will lose their jobs and your kids will wallow in their own ignorance" manipulative argument.  What next?  Will the next batch of money go to help save starving puppies and kittens?  After all - we all love puppies and kittens.  It's somewhat disingenuous to suggest that merely because people agree that we need something that the Government has to bail out the decisions of those who failed to adequately provide it.

I live in a town with good schools.  I don't have kids, and the majority of the residents in town also don't have school aged children.  Still, each year, we vote for massive property taxes  (mine are nearly 3% of my home's assessed value!) which go largely to support our schools, because the community values it.

Of course, teachers weren't the only emotional appeal.  In the opening paragraph I quoted, firefighters were also thrown in there.  Who doesn't love firefighters?  I love firefighters - I think they're heroes, and I absolutely want them to be there if my house burns down (although I'm told, slightly tongue-in-cheek,  that out here in the woods, in the Land Without Fire Hydrants, if you call the fire department their main job is to come and watch your house burn).  But wait - THERE'S MORE!  If teachers and firefighters isn't enough for you:

"Mr. Obama had supported about $50 billion in aid initially — $25 billion for public employees, $23 billion of which would go for teachers’ salaries, and $25 billion to offset states’ increased costs for their share of Medicaid, the public health program for the poor, people with disabilities and many nursing home residents....Mr. Obama warned that if Republicans blocked a vote, it would “undoubtedly force some doctors to stop seeing Medicare patients altogether.” 

So now we have teachers, firefighters, poor people, disabled people, nursing home residents, and Medicare patients - you'd have to be Satan Incarnate to vote against this money! (this is starting to remind me of the SnL classic: Steve Martin's Christmas Wish)

Look - we all want all this stuff.  No one wants teachers to lose their jobs, or for doctors to stop seeing Medicare patients.  But States are required by law to balance their budgets.  There are other solutions, and I don't just mean "hoping that the stock market comes back,"  which, horrifyingly,  has been suggested on more than one occasion recently.   Debts must be restructured, benefits must be scaled back, belts must be tightened, and, simply, spending must be less than revenues.  

If, instead, we just resort to Federal bailouts for every state who fails to balance their budget, the result can quickly spiral downward into a Tragedy of the Commons nightmare - where each state lacks the incentive to exercise fiscal prudence, knowing that Uncle Sam will be there to pick up the tab.

No - we're not there yet - this article was about, specifically, teachers and medicare - but once you open Pandora's Box of Bailout Bucks, it can be very hard to close.


p.s.: I wrote, two weeks ago, an analogy: " Greece : European Union :: Troubled States (CA, NJ, MI, NY) : United States.   Greece is a model for the pending budgetary crises in our respective municipalities, who cannot print their own currencies."

A Horrible Solution To NY's Pension Woes

Several weeks ago I wrote about potential solutions to deal with underfunded pensions, and singled out Alicia Munnel, former member of the Council for Economic Advisors for her horrible suggestion:

"The only real option is to wait for the market and the economy to recover."

Today's NY Times tells of a similar plan being put into motion for New York:

"Gov. David A. Paterson and legislative leaders have tentatively agreed to allow the state and municipalities to borrow nearly $6 billion to help them make their required annual payments to the state pension fund. 

And, in classic budgetary sleight-of-hand, they will borrow the money to make the payments to the pension fund — from the same pension fund. 

As word of the plan spread, some denounced it as a shell game and a blatant effort by state leaders to avoid making difficult decisions, like cutting government spending or reducing pension benefits.
“It’s a classic Albany example of kicking the can down the road,” said Harry Wilson, the Republican candidate for comptroller, who holds an M.B.A. from Harvard."

and then, emphasis mine:
"Under the plan, the state and municipalities would borrow the money to reduce their pension contributions for the next three years, in exchange for higher payments over the following decade. They would begin repaying what they borrowed, with interest, in 2013. 

But Mr. Paterson and other state officials hope the stock market will have rebounded to such a degree by that time that the state’s overall pension contribution burden will have been reduced."

HOPE the stock market will have rebounded.  Oy vey. 

Sitting silently, staring in awe at what I just read.... Pursing my lips... Furrowing my eyebrows...Steam coming out my ears... Shaking my head in disappointment...  ending this post - is any more comment really necessary?

Friday, June 11, 2010

Bernanke's Guaranteed Box Full of Crap

It's not that I want to keep writing about the tragic irony when life imitates art, but the scenario just keeps coming up.  This will mark the 7th time on this blog (enter "Tommy Boy" in my search box for the others) where I've found relevant occasion to use the Tommy Boy quote:

"Because they know all they sold ya was a guaranteed piece of shit. That's all it is, isn't it? Hey, if you want me to take a dump in a box and mark it guaranteed, I will. I've got spare time."

And yes, this time it refers to Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke - although I think it's actually Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner's box of crap - let's have a look...

A little over three months ago, Congressman Alan Grayson posed a list of aggressive questions for Bernanke to answer following a Committee for Financial Services hearing.   Bernanke has finished responding, and you can view the questions and answers here.  I want to talk about question number two.  As part of the question, Grayson asked: 

"A central bank normally holds sovereign debt, so as to avoid counterparty risk; does the Federal Reserve view mortgage-backed securities as sovereign debt?"

Bernanke replied (emphasis mine):

"The Federal Reserve's holding of mortgage-backed securities (MBS) are not equivalent to sovereign debt, but they are fully guaranteed by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and Ginnie Mae, and thus pose essentially no credit risk to the Federal Reserve."

After you're done LOL'ing at "fully guaranteed by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and Ginnie Mae..." we can continue.

Ummm.. They don't pose credit risk to the Federal Reserve (aka, the left pocket) because that credit risk has been taken by the US Treasury (aka, the right pocket).  It's kinda like arguing semantics, isn't it, Mr. Bernanke?  In other words, Geithner's office stamped the box of crap "GUARANTEED,"  but the Government is eating the credit risk (aka: THE LOSS) no matter how you look at it.  You don't take the risk - he does.  

So, according to Bernanke, he is buying riskless assets - because even though the guarantors of the MBS have already been proven to be insolvent, his counterpart at Treasury has already taken care of that little issue.  Voila.

This reminds me of another old post I wrote, one of my favorites,  about a hypothetical conversation between Citigroup CEO Vikram Pandit and FDIC Chairwoman Sheila Bair.  Despite being insolvent, the FDIC was still allowing Citi to issue new debt under the FDIC's TLGP guarantee program...

The boxes full of crap are piling up...