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Showing posts from March, 2014

Regression to the Chalk: March Madness

Did you fill out a bracket this year for the NCAA tournament, dear reader?

I did. I'll report the following three points about the experience: I wasn't even close to winning the billion dollars; I didn't try to predict any of the "first round" games; and I've decided that tournament results exhibit a definite pattern, which I have come to think of as "regression to the chalk."

The first of those three points needs no particular explanation.

As to the first round, I'll offer this. I am still sentimentally attached to the idea of a 64-team field. Nowadays, though, the Powers that Be have mandated that 68 teams be involved. So they have four "first round" games on Tuesday and Wednesday of the first week of the tournament to eliminate four of those 68. By Thursday morning, we're back to a 64 team field, and that is the best time to fill out the form, IMHO. The "second round" is exactly what the first round was in days of yor…

A dry moon after all?

Almost five years ago now there was a  of excitement in some quarters about the discovery of water on the moon.

Those who found the news stirring included fans of the science fiction master Robert Heinlein, who remembered that the water on the moon as a crucial plot point of one of Heinlein's best-loved novels.

I made that point at the time myself, in the blog that was a precursor to this one.

Now it appears the discovery was not so much as discovery as a plausible inference. And the dry moon has advocates who are chipping away at that inference.

Such is the progress of science. Sometimes those of us who follow it are delighted at a result, and sometimes we have to abandon that delight. It doesn't survive the testing.

Ah, Bartleby. Ah, humanity.

Four Types of Trade

"Most traders think there are two types of trades: winning and losing. Actually, there are four types of trades: winning trades and losing plus good trades and bad trades. Don't confuse the concepts of winning and losing trades with good and bad trades. A good trade can lose money and a bad trade can make money. A good trade follows a process that will be profitable (at an acceptable risk) if repeated multiple times, although it can lose money on any individual trade."

- Jack Schwager

When Money Dies

When Money Dies, by  Adam Fergusson, is a well-known study of the hyperinflation of the early Weimar Republic years. Here is a passage, referring to the demands of the labor unions in late 1921 and early 1922:

Final Quote from Ackroyd Book

Much of Ackroyd's discussion of Elizabeth's reign is given over to the rivalry between Liz and her cousin, Mary, Queen of Scots.

That theme comes to its inevitable end in chapter 35, a chapter evocatively titled "The Dead Cannot Bite."

By early February 1587 all was in readiness for the end of this rivalry as an earthly contest. Mart had been effectively deposed. Her (Protestant) son, James VI, had been formally recognized as King of the northern neighbor by the English government, though James insisted on referring to his mother as "Queen Mother" anyway.

Mary had been convicted in a trial before the Privy Counselors of conspiring to kill Elizabeth and usurp her throne. All Elizabeth had to do was to give the final order and the execution would proceed.

But ... she hesitated. And sought to find a way to kill her Stuart cousin by indirection, to keep her own sovereign hands free of regicidal blood.

Here's a fine passage from pp. 422-423:

"She a…

RIP Joe McGinniss

The well-known journalist, true-crime author, and provocateur Joe McGinniss died Monday, March 9th at the age of 71.

Here's an obit with the basics, from the grey lady.

McGinniss first found a spot in the public spotlight with The Selling of the President, his account of Richard Nixon's 1968 campaign. As the title suggested, the book played against the series of Theodore White campaign chronicles.

As my contribution to the marking of McGinniss' death I'll share one detail from the book that I personally find amusing. McGinniss is telling the story of Nixon's men trying to round up a six-person panel of 'ordinary people' to ask Nixon questions on a television show, a political infomercial if you will.

McGinniss himself made a suggestion, "I suggested a psychiatrist I knew: the head of a group that brought Vietnamese children wounded in the war to the United States for treatment and artificial limbs."

Roger Ailes (the executive producer of the c…

Burning the Reichstag

On February 27, 1933, the Reichstag (the parliament building) in Berlin, Germany, caught fire. A suspect, Marinus van der Lubbe, soon confessed, and portrayed himself as a lone-wolf arsonist. But Hitler had only just become Chancellor, and the fire gave him an opportunity to consolidate his power – he saw a broad Communist plot behind van der Lubbe, and soon prevailed upon President Paul von Hindenburg to suspend civil liberties to allow for the “ruthless confrontation” with that conspiracy.
From the start, many anti-Nazis agreed with Hitler that van der Lubbe was merely a cog. On their account, the Hitler and his henchmen themselves had been the malefactors.
Since the end of the Second World War, the hypotheses of the lone-wolf arsonist and of the Nazi conspiracy have vied for dominance.Defenders of the lone-wolf viewneed not harbor any Nazi or neo-Nazisympathies: distinguished historians like Hans Mommsen, Ian Kershaw, and A.J.P. Taylor have taken that view, seeing the fire as a mat…

More from the Ackroyd Book

Last week, I quoted Peter Ackroyd's book, TUDORS, in connection with the dispossession oif the Catholic monasteries in Tudor England.

Today, I'll quote a passage form a bit later in Ackroyd's story. As my readers probably know, Henry III was succeeded on the throne by his only son, Edward. King Edward (beloved among those of us who read The Prince and the Pauper as youngsters). As some may not know, the young King and his circle of advisors pushed the Protestant Reformation a good deal further than Henry had. Henry was interested in the power of the pope and the wealth of the monasteries, but he wasn't interested in making changes in doctrine. He didn't see himself as an ally of Lutherans in another other than their possession of common foes.

But under Edward, the English Church came under the control of people who very much did have doctrinal quarrels with Rome -- over the role of Mary as intercessor, over the veneration of saints, over the miracle of transubst…

Dave Camp and Grover Norquist

I've written here, and in my earlier blog, about the "carried interest" tax loophole. Here is an example, for those who enjoy hyperlinks.  And here is another.

There is something new to say about this aging subject, involving both Messrs Camp and Norquist. And a question about idiomatic American English.

Before I get to any of that, though, a two-paragraph recap. Managers working with certain private funds [including but not solely hedge funds] receive much of their compensation in the form of a share of the profits of the fund they manage. The loophole in question is the fact that our tax law charges these managers at the capital gains rate, not the ordinary income rate, for that portion of their compensation.

Periodic efforts to close this loophole have failed over a period of years for a number of reasons. Largely they fail because the issue seems a technical one, discussed in technical language, and that sort of thing can get talked to death in smoke filled rooms.

Bruce Bartlett Doesn't Like Me

I've annoyed a semi-famous person. I'm stoked.

Bruce Bartlett is a veteran Republican guru -- and, often, a staffer for successful Republican politicians. He was a domestic policy adviser to Ronald Reagan, and a senior policy analyst in the White House under George H.W. Bush.

Since leaving the White House, he's been known largely as a pundit and scold in intra-Republican matters. He is the author for example of IMPOSTER (2006), a broadside at what he saw as the ruinous policies of Bush the younger.

Bartlett since has built something of a reputation as a pundit engaged chiefly in those intra-Republican battles. He is unhappy in particular with certain libertarian institutions and websites. This is where I enter the picture.

Soon after 9 AM Tuesday morning (all my times here will be eastern time), Bartlett tweeted "Ron Paul's favorite website attacks the transcontinental railroad. Way to stay relevant, guys." This was a reference to something on Lew Rockwel…

Weimar Hyperinflation

It is a truism that "hyperflation in Germany paved the way for Hitler's takeover." Everybody knows this ... right? Everybody has seen the photos of the wheelbarrows -- filling one wheelbarrow with marks was enough to get the bearer of the barrow a loaf of bread.

Like much that everybody knows, this isn't quite ... accurate. There is some truth to it, but ...

The worst of the hyperinflation in Weimar Germany was over long before Hitler became Chancellor in 1933.

It was in the early 20s that those famous wheelbarrows were rolling about with those bills. Late in '23, after a new currency was introduced [one Rentenmark, as above, was pegged to each one TRILLION of the cheapened Reichsmarks] the govt wisely pegged the new Rentenmarks to the US dollar at a ratio of 4.2:1. A peg to the U.S. dollar was, indirectly, a peg to gold.

Then the currency situation gradually normalized. This is worth noting because there was no very direct relationship between the hyperinfla…

Janet Yellen and my Book

As regular readers of this blog surely know, I published a book early in 2012, Gambling with Borrowed Chips.

I'm thinking of that book anew because one of its key contentions received some support in recent days from an unlikely source, Janet Yellen, the new chair of the Federal Reserve.

One of my book's central contentions was that overly the permissive credit policy by the Federal Reserve throughout the early years of the new century under both Greenspan and Bernanke fueled the housing and housing derivatives boom, a boom that was bound to burst. Entering the new century, the Fed Funds rate was at 6.5 percent. Greenspan pressed to lower the target in several steps starting in January, so that in early September, before the 9/11 attacks, the rate was 3.5 percent.

Of course, after those attacks the Fed sought to forestall panic by lowering the rate further, to 1.25. If you only have a hammer (or only think you have a hammer) all problems look like nails.

Some people disagree …

Pyramid Schemes II

The prohibition of pyramid schemes does not amount to a prohibition of all multi-level marketing (MLM). Tupperware lawfully sells storage and serving products branded with its name and the well-known “burp” on the one hand. It also lawfully offers to some individuals the right to offer its products to other potential customers in return for initial entry costs (in effect, purchasing a Tupperware franchise) on the other. That much is uncontroversial. Nor is the sale of a Tupperware franchise a security requiring registration as such.
Where controversy begins to enter the picture is when these individuals are themselves empowered to sell the right to sell the product to third parties, creating another downstream level, and where the second level retailer not only thereafter gets a commission from the sale of the company’s products herself; she gets a share of the downstream profits: she shares in the proceeds of sales made by individuals she recruited to be sales people.
This kind of ar…