Dave Rants - Technology, Politics, and Dogs

Friday, January 14, 2011

Michael Steele, the Republican Hudsucker Proxy

Today the sad, embarrassing career of Michael Steele came to its predictable end. From his ridiculously lame attempts to 'reach out to the suburban, urban hip-hop community' to the made-up financial and expense scandals, he has clearly been designated the fall guy from day one, the lynchpin of the Republican plan to regain their manifest destiny as ruling party and finally destroy the monster that is Obama (or whatever other Democrat is convenient at the time).

Let's review the predictable career trajectory of this prop, er man.

  1. Michael Steele, who disappeared after being Maryland governor, is suddenly revived as a response to Obama's election 2 months earlier. Tactic #43 in the 'pathetically predictable Karl Rove reads 'the prince'' playbook is to take away any positive attribute the opponent might have. They try to steal some thunder by electing the first black chairman of the RNC, and to give white people cover so they can hate Obama and not feel racist. This is the last time the Republicans will benefit from Steele doing something actively.
  2. Since 2007, the tea party movement has been fomenting. Here is an early post from one of the louder voices condemning wall street greed and government lies:
    That is the fact that the housing mess, and the coming severe economic pain that we are going to take in this country, is, if you live in a "bubble" area and bought, refinanced, or HELOC/MEWd out money in the last four or five years - YOUR FAULT.

    The post is quite a good example of the mind behind the tea party, in its pure form. Before Fox News co-opted the entire movement into whatever the hell they wanted it to be, there was a genuine movement of real people who were angry for a good reason. Post after post, year after year, Denninger rants against the Fed and George Bush, about the criminals whose fraud caused the entire economic debacle, who still today live careless lives of the super rich.

    But there's a hysterical quality to it... He predicts a crash in the dollar if we spent a ton of money bailing people out, and the exact opposite happened. The dollar got much stronger while Obama was president, bouncing all the way back from years of sliding value under Bush. This wasn't so much due to either president, but to the rest of the world going into the shitter with us, making our debt unbelievably attractive. The entire would would lend us more money than God for zero precent interest. This is primarily due to the fact that the USA has never defaulted on its debt, making us a safe bet in a scary world. Of course now, moron Republicans are threatening to force us to default, because getting rid of our AAA credit rating and destroying our reputation forever would somehow help. Fucking assholes.
  3. Back to the fresh, hip-hop chairman. He embarks on an endless campaign of gaffes and ridiculous behavior. Hilarious quotes that get passed around come out of his mouth as only a true buffoon could. Before he even starts, the funding for the GOP dries up and goes elsewhere. Karl Rove starts a new organization that can focus completely on telling white people what to be scared of, without any of that pesky 'oversight' or 'transparency' or 'obeying laws'. This is where the money is flowing to now, and every Republican knows it. In the coming years Steele will take the fall for that drop in funding, although it's obvious to anyone capable of basic math that he had nothing to do with it. People stopped giving the GOP money because everyone hates them, and that kinda started before Steele was chairman.
  4. Scandals are manufactured. An expense was paid for an evening at a gentleman's club, and somehow it becomes news. Not only that, but it's somehow the chairman's fault, as if he personally reviews every expense report. Ridiculous and idiotic, but everyone takes it seriously. The right-wing media is on the inside, and has begun their campaign against him. They are the instrument of the leak, they stoke the fire until legitimate (or at least less openly corrupt) news picks it up and runs with it. The CNN and NBC news of the world simply loves drama of any kind, and they do nothing but fan the flames of idiocy.
  5. The reality is that the chairman of the RNC doesn't have much power. No one kisses his ass because he can't vote on anything. Can you name who was chairman of the DNC under Bush? No one can. They aren't important or powerful, they are more worker bees. For the record it was Howard Dean, and he had little influence or power.
  6. While Steele is making a fool of himself, the media is having a multi-year orgasm over a tiny, well-off, extremely white section of the population. The tea party, brewing for years, suddenly becomes the apple of Fox's eye once Obama was elected. They are seen as the obvious savior of the Republican party, and any idiot in a 3-corner hat is given air time.

    Fox organizes & promotes rallies that are thinly disguised Obama hate-fests. Any inkling of the original intent, or any hint of the disgusting crimes that created the movement are gone. Replaced with idiotic rhetoric like 'down with taxes' at a time when taxes are the lowest in 40 years. Anger over bailouts is directed at Obama, who most Fox viewers believe signed TARP. And now that a Democrat is in office, conservatives who cheered Cheney when he said 'Reagan proved deficits don't matter' now suddenly care that the country is saddled with debt. And whose fault is it? The new guy!
  7. The ultimate irony of his life, his career, and everything he's done for the last 2 years is that he's the tool of racists, bigots and power mongers. He was hired solely because he's black, and to have a darkie around when they wanted to play the race card. His ultimate failure, manufactured or not, was because he simply wasn't smart enough to successfully weild power. He was too dumb to use the power of his chairmanship to save his own job, and it's no surprise because he was hired because he was black, not smart. He is living proof that competence suffers when factors like race are the most important. He is a walking argument against quotas in spite of himself, and he's too dumb to know it. He is also the opposite of Obama, who succeeded because of competence and skill and not race.

And so we come to his final chapter, except for his book which will no doubt come out next year (in addition to the surprise book he put out during his tenure, a purely idiotic way of violating the rules, making people hate him, and making himself appear unaware of even the most basic rules of his job). Michael, you were a patsy and a stooge. You were hired to run the ship into the reef and you did it gleefully, swinging around on ropes and wooping like an idiot. Of course now you appear surprised to see things end this way, but my guess is you spend a lot of your life being befuddled at what life does to you.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

I love soccer, but FIFA and the world cup COMPLETELY SUCKS

I've played soccer since I was 5, and love the sport. Scoring a goal can be a transcendent experience, much better than hitting a grand slam or dunking or really anything similar from another sport. When everything lines up just right and it goes in the back of the net, well there's just no better sport to play. That doesn't necessarily translate to a great sport to watch on TV, and FIFA has a lot of work to do if they want to build a real American audience. I don't really care if the rest of the world likes soccer just as it is - I want it better and here's how:

1. More goals. I don't care what you do, just make it happen. It's ridiculous how often the better team loses or ties. The defense in soccer at that level has all the advantages. Think about how often a possession turns into a goal in soccer. Pretty much never. Makes it damn boring and the score often doesn't match the real performance on the field. They could make the goal bigger, or make it illegal to have more than 8 players on the defensive side of the half, or test out a bunch of ideas and see what happens. For the love of God make more goals happen!

2. Offsides. This is the most boring rule in all of sports. It kills breakaways, is understood by only the most hardcore soccer fans, and makes for boring, lame, shitty to watch goals when it breaks down. Watching teams battle it out by depending on the linesman to get the right call every time is not fun to watch.

3. Fix the fucking ball. Instead of being sell-out whores, why not just use a ball that isn't a piece of shit? Other tournaments have no problem finding a fucking work-able soccer ball, what a shame that they can't.

4. Instant replay. FIFA: Seriously, step into the goddamn previous century and use all those expensive-ass cameras. Instead of letting fuck-ups by referees decide games, why don't you pretend like it's not 1905 anymore and make the right call happen. Inexcusably stupid.

5. Camera work. I usually don't have any complaints about the way other sports are shot, but clearly no one has figured out how to film a soccer game even half-decently. You have to be zoomed in so the dudes fill the frame in order to see all the skill involved, but with no warning the ball could be flying 50+ yards away. It's obvious that you should just stop showing it truly live and build in enough buffer so the camera work zooms in for all the skill work and cuts away at the exact right moment. It would also be nice to see all of the field and how the off-ball players are moving. Maybe make a split screen with a close-up next to a wide angle shot. You've got HD widescreen tvs out there - act like it.

6. The announcers. I'm sorry but the announcers suck and are mostly boring. I know it must be very hard to find anyone who can ID all the players on both teams on sight and who know anything about them, or for that matter have anything to say. Try harder. The NBA finals have some great talent doing the call.

7. Fuck those vuvzelas. I'm sure it's fun for the fans to honk that shit at games. It's clearly fun. It's fun the same way it's fun to walk onto the subway and start acting out scenes from the Waterboy - fun for you, but not for anyone else. The filters don't do shit, it's still annoying as fuck. It drowns out any hope of the players talking, you can't even hear the fucking crowd screaming. It's constant and retarded. Make them 10x quieter or make em take 5x as much air to blow, I don't care. Hell I'd rather the announcers be in a soundproof box than hear that constant beehive drone.

8. Professional fouls & flopping. End that shit with extreme prejudice. As a fan, I don't want to see stupid injuries caused by malicious fouls. I don't want to see every piece of skill punished with an obvious foul, even if the douche who did it gets a yellow card. Players should get thrown out for flopping and that idiotic performance piece, where they act like they are hurt by covering their faces because they don't even know what body part should hurt. If there were more goals, players wouldn't be so willing to risk a card in a desperate attempt to draw a foul and get a shot on goal.

Fix that stuff, and soccer would become much more popular in the US. Who wouldn't like it more?

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Saturday, May 01, 2010

Tea-baggers are racist-leaning hypocrits who mostly just hate Obama

While I agree with many of the complaints of the tea party people, I don’t want to be associated with what they have made themselves into. There’s plenty of polls out there that try to figure out what the tea party people are like:

They are basically richer, primarily republican, anti-obama, ¾ of them are self-described conservative, and 89% white. According to this:

88% of them disapprove of Obama. They are pissed they lost an election, and have been convinced that they can blame many of their problems on illegals (gee blaming society’s ills on the outcasts, where have I heard that before?)

As a contrast, here is some coverage of the recent massive protest on wall street, which was completely ignored by the mainstream media (even though many more showed up than at many of the tea party protests that got massive coverage):

See all the black people? That is a true cross-section of America, pissed off for the right reasons. I will never associate with an organization that is 89% white. We can argue about whether they are a bunch of racists or not, but the undeniable fact is that there are no black people in the tea parties, and if their motives & ideals were as pure as they like to tell themselves, there would be plenty of other ethnic backgrounds right alongside them.

I don’t think the tea partiers are a bunch of good old Americans who just want a better/smaller government. I think they are a pissy bunch of racist-leaning babies who lost an election and want to tell themselves that Obama invented deficits. Anglo-saxons who are afraid of ‘losing their country to the foreigns’, which I find simply pathetic. Like any white person can claim America is theirs. We are all immigrants, even the native Americans who came across the beiring strait. They obviously don’t care about facts or they would have complained when Bush massively grew the size of the government (hello department of homeland security, 180k employees and a $28B budget). Where were the protests about small government then? Do they care that Bush spied on Americans? Nope. Only the left protested Bush or anything he did. They are hypocrites – they want a big republican government that demands ‘papers, please’ of illegals, but the day a democrat gets elected, it’s back to protesting how big the government is.

They are intellectually bankrupt. They want lower taxes, smaller government, and zero cuts to any social services like medicare. Oh and no deficit. They are willfully ignorant of the impossibility of their demands, because they are primarily just pissed that they lost and the other party won. Bush grew the deficit more than every president combined, but none of them cared then. Cheyney even said ‘reagan proved that deficits don’t matter’. I have no time for people who lie to themselves so they can be righteously angry.

I don’t want to be associated with the left, either. They are 75% as shitty as the conservatives in this country. The left isn’t protesting Obama’s continuation of Bush’s ridiculous policies, or escalating the wars, or the insurance industry hand-out that was the bullshit health care bill. Sure some of us are complaining, but the few pretend-liberal media outlets (NY times, msnbc) ignore and belittle anyone who doesn’t toe the party line. There is only one party in this country, the party that takes bribes and makes up bullshit to pacify the masses. That’s the point the tea partiers would be making, if they were intellectually honest.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Bored by Justice - my time as jury foreman in federal district court

My time in the jury box

I was surprised to get a jury summons this year, after going to Multnomah county jury duty a few years ago (I didn't have to actually serve then). Turns out it was for the federal district court this time, and they don't care if you served county jury duty lately. I could have gotten out of it by claiming financial hardship since I own my own business, but I've never actually been on a jury and I wanted to see what it was like, and do my part blah blah.

The case, in a nutshell

Basically, a company that sells brakes and parts to truck manufacturers and such are based on the east coast, and their one sales rep for the west coast is based in Seattle. One of his benefits was a company car, which he paid taxes on for his personal miles. It's a rental, so really it's his car during off-work hours. One friday night he gets drunk with some friends, naps on the couch and gets up at 4am to drive home. He is still wasted, and somehow drives up the paved MAX lightrail tracks until it goes into a tunnel, which he follows for over a mile until his car is wedged and he's ordered via bullhorn to get out. They arrest him for DUI and a couple other things, and release him. Total damages were around 60k. He leaves a message for his HR rep at the company on Saturday, and they talk on the phone Monday morning. He tells her he got high-centered on a lightrail track, that no one was hurt, and that he got a DUI.

The local news had a field day, covering it in detail and playing the security cam footage with relish:
He failed to mention any of this to the company, obviously hoping they wouldn't find out. To his credit, he immediately sought out alcohol treatment and claimed to be sober a year during the trial. The company discovered the video on their own, and were so pissed about being lied to and embarrassed like that that they fired him in a knee-jerk decision.

It was our job to decide if they were discriminating against a disabled person when they did this, but the legal language truly had its head up its own ass. More on that later.

Jury Selection

We showed up at 8:30 because they wanted us at 9. This is how your government works. Pathetic, and yet sort of necessary since people can't be depended upon to act like adults. Of course I didn't see anyone show up late, so we all wasted a half hour. Next they took us to the courtroom where they picked half of us (12) to go sit in the jury box and get asked questions. The other half sat in the back as reserves should the judge excuse people.

First we got the chance to try to beg out of jury duty, and a couple people tried, complaining that they had business or work to do, etc... The judge didn't let anyone off the hook. Then ee were basically asked if any of the following would affect our ability to render an impartial verdict, only one at a time and tediously slowly:

  • Knowing an alcoholic
  • Knowing someone with a DUII (almost everyone raised their hands for both, but I didn't)
  • Being fired
Then he asked if who had experience with insurance companies, hiring & firing, that sort of thing. Once he was done, each of the attorneys got like 10 minutes to ask questions of people. There was one guy who was a rabbi and had a bachelor's degree, no one else had a degree. Both attorneys focused on him for some reason, and he was dismissed. This was done at the end of the q&a, and each side got to pick 3 jurors to excuse for no stated reason. They each picked 3, so 6 left, and then there were 8. Apparently this is the number for civil trials. We then took our oaths (after earlier swearing to some other oath).

Off we go
Read more »

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Confounding Factors for Technical Analysis

One thing I've been struck by technical analysis in stock trading is the attempt to distill something as complex as the combined actions of millions of market participants into easy to handle formulas and mathematical models. This is the history of economics played out again - trying to find 'the right formula' that will explain it all. I think Nassim Taleb does a wonderful job of destroying the idea that there's a single economist on the planet who can forecast out more than a few years, or past the next unexpected event.

I understand that at its best, TA is a way to generate probability-based bets, under the assumption that you'll be right just enough more than you're wrong and make money. I think it's hard to avoid the trap of getting overly confident in these signals, the spike in the SP500 a few days ago is a pretty ringing example.

One of the most popular forms of analysis I've found, especially lately, is to compare the market to past bear markets, and try judge which past pattern it will fit. Tempting, for sure, but isn't it fundamentally flawed? To some degree people haven't changed much in 100 years, but there are many things that have changed that affect the way markets behave. It's these confounding factors I'd like to discuss.

1. One major difference is the technical knowledge of market participants. Almost everyone who invests money now has at least a rudimentary understanding of TA concepts, moving averages, fibbo retracements, etc. Certainly everyone near a trading desk is well aware of even more complicated stuff like Elliot waves and such. I think this has to have an affect on the way the market behaves... to me it seems to move more violently after a technical indicator is breached, and seems to waver a lot when near major support/resistance levels. Lots of people can get fooled when a more obvious technical indicator is wrong, like the spike in the SP500 last Wednesday.

2. The prevalence of automated trading platforms, trailing stops, and other trading tools. Any shmoe can get a think or swim account and have access to complex trades that weren't possible not too long ago, and hedge funds/brokers have computer-driven trading algorithms that make their own trading decisions. We've seen huge moves in the last 30 or even 10 minutes of the trading day thanks to all those computer traders moving in unison.

3. Which brings me to education - most traders (and economists for that matter) share a disturbing groupthink pattern. They are all educated the same way, with the same theories, and as a result tend to reach the same conclusions at the same time. This, I think, is responsible for a good % of the sickening volatility the market has had since summer 07.

4. The rise of mutual funds driving the market. Not too long ago, a much larger % of the market was directly controlled by individual investors. Now their presence is almost nothing more than margin of error. The entire market is driven by a tiny group of fund managers controlling shitloads of dough, and who reflect points 2 & 3.

5. Speed of info transmission. Never in our history has information traveled so fast. Rumors spawned via crackberry move markets in seconds and in major ways. I think this also contributes to volatility, as there is massive mental pressure to decide which way to bet within seconds of some new piece of news, and/or people are much more likely to follow a blip up or down if it happens at the right time.

6. The global pool of wealth. There's just shitloads of money out there that needs investing. Our tax policies don't exactly punish investors and reward entrepreneurs, so there's little reason to take one's money anywhere else than the markets. Why sweat and work starting a business when you can kick back and earn shitloads through tax-free munis? Add to that the US-fueled kings, princes and Chinese rulers who are sitting on metric ASSTONS of us$, who couldn't give a fuck about their dying and ignorant people, and would rather have even more money. If these unbelievable fucktards were to invest in their shitty states, they wouldn't have had so much to invest, which was one of the major underlying causes of the housing bubble. No matter how many shitty CDOs Godlman came up with, there was an unending line of folks wanting to buy more. That's called demand.

7. The corporatization of America. There used to be many independent newspapers in NY, now there are none of any note. Instead of a company started by a newsman and ran for journalism, all major news & media outlets are now nothing more than profit centers for massive trans-global corporations, who couldn't give a fuck what country they started out in. Even Google gets 60% of its revenues overseas, and most of HP's workforce isn't in America. This article has some great examples of how this is affecting the information that most people use to make their investing decisions:

Not to get too tinfoiled, but I don't believe there is any other rational way to view things. Media outlets who are subsidiaries of a company will serve that company's interests first. Duh.

8. The endless corruption at the highest levels. Justice seems to work like a pendulum, and we're about as far down the shitty side as I think it's possible to get without the common folk rising up in violent revolt (which may still happen). Bernanke issuing a surprise rate cut the morning before options expiration, the endless bullshit Karl has been pointing out for years... This probably affects the market more than anything else. Not only is it impossible to know where and how much the corruption is having an effect, but now all market participants are well aware of it. So people now trade like the market is rigged, which is only going to bring on more unforeseen consequences (at the least, more volatility and a higher likelihood of people saying 'fuck this' and buying t-bills).

9. The act of observing affects the observed. Few things are more dangerous than trying to apply quantum physics to the real world, but this is a definite human phenomenon. In practical terms, to me it seems like a game of paper/rock/scissors. Everyone is expecting a bad GDP report so the market tanks, and it comes out and it's bad, but not as bad as it could be, so the market rallies. The next time people are expecting this, and for some reason the market tanks instead in the same situation.

I personally believe there are enough factors that are unique in the history of our markets that we will find it behaving in ways that don't fit any historical pattern. I fully expect that in 5 years, when someone posts those charts of bear markets against this one, that it won't look like the others. If only I could figure out how, I'd be out making cash instead of posting on the internets.