Archive for January, 2021

Stop the Games

Roulette wheel and a winning number

Mr. Wisdom of Crowds himself, James Surowiecki, compares the Reddit/Robinhood action on GameStop to the bull runs of the early 20th Century, or to the social media manipulation in the 2016 elections.

In a classic speculative craze, investors may take cues from each other — the fact that everyone is buying internet stocks makes you think it’s smart to buy internet stocks — but they’re not working together to make stock prices rise.

With meme stocks, on the other hand, that’s exactly what’s happening: The small investors on the r/Wallstreetbets subreddit (which has 2 million subscribers) and other sites are taking part in a conscious collective effort to drive the prices of these stocks up. No one is in charge of this effort, though, of course, some voices are louder than others. But it is a self-organized campaign with people using the message boards to communicate with each other, encourage each other, and reassure each other (thus the many posts on r/Wallstreetbets admonishing fellow “autists” — their self-mocking term for each other — to not lose their nerve and to keep holding GameStop’s stock). Thus threads with titles “We are the captains now,” “Have no fear, GME gang. We are consolidating in preparation for tomorrow’s moon landing,” and “GME — it never has to end.”

In the short run, if I were an existing GME shareholder, shorter, board member, or member of senior management, I’d be furious. I’m now holding shares that nobody knows the actually value of.

The company can’t go back to the market for additional capital, because it’s like walking into a casino with my own company’s money; only about 2/3 of outstanding shares are floated right now, so there was always the possibility of raising cash, but that can’t happen now. If it does, and sells for $200 and buys back for $50, it’ll be accused of market manipulation, even if it’s just being opportunistic. And to be fair, starting to sell more shares out of the treasury could pop the bubble, and some of this crowd might decided to take it out on some of the local storefronts.

Eventually, yes, this does have to end, but if the phenomenon becomes commonplace, it will destroy the stock market as a useful tool for capitalization. I have no idea when my own stock is liable to become to target of this kind of manipulation. That’s in the long run.

In the past, these kinds of bull raids have been orchestrated by a few investors with limited resources, hoping to drive up the price and then sell high. Think of the Hunt brothers trying to corner the silver market. Maybe they’re able to sell out, maybe they’re not, but they’re not capable of sustaining a market for the security at an artificially high price.

What makes this different is the large number of investors, and the lack of a single or small group of ringleaders. Some will make money pushing the price up and then selling. But money can continue to flow in at the higher price, at least for a while. If GME were to continue to trade with volatility between, say, $200 and $240 a share, lots of individual investors could continue to make money on the movements.

Ultimately, the only solution to this may be coordinated action between sites like Reddit and the markets. Suspend all trading for a few days. Right now would be excellent, since a set of options expires on Friday, and the raiders have become adept at using options to buoy the price. Then have Reddit shut down this chat room, to keep the buyers from coordinating. When signs of new bull raids appear, wash, rinse, and repeat.

Otherwise, virtually stock could end up being the victim of a bull raid flash mob.

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Restaurant Scenes

When Tomorrow Comes
Five Easy Pieces @50: The Diner Scene | Best Classic Bands

The bottom photo is Jack Nicholson in his famous restaurant scene from Five Easy Pieces, made in 1970. Nicholson plays a failed, or self-defeated, concert pianist working a series of blue-collar jobs. It’s fait to say his character has a lot of repressed anger over his life and his family situation.

He wants toast, which isn’t on the menu, and which the disinterested waitress refuses to serve him. Nicholson gets increasingly frustrated and angry as he tries to order it through a variety of maneuvers. Eventually, furious beyond all proportion to the problem, he insults the waitress and explodes in rage, leaving the restaurant.

The top photo is from a less well-known movie, When Tomorrow Comes, from 1939. Charles Boyer is a famous concert pianist who also, as the film will out, has a difficult family situation.

Here, he’s trying to order a couple of slices of American cheese. Similarly, the restaurant doesn’t serve cheese except on apple pie, which Boyer detests. He’s also a little frustrated, and asks the waitress, slyly, if he can order the pie, and just take the cheese. Unlike Nicholson, Boyer doesn’t insult the waitress – who clearly wants to help but doesn’t know how – and instead is aided by Irene Dunne, also a waitress in the restaurant.

The 1930s were a tough time, and even in 1939, the economy hadn’t really recovered. Dunne’s character makes a rousing speech at a union meeting, encouraging the reluctant waitresses to strike. But there’s nothing of Nicholson’s nasty, vicious rage or the impatient indifference of his waitress in When Tomorrow Comes, probably because it’s more melodrama than psychodrama.

But one can’t discount the temper of the times, either. Nineteen thirty-nine was an angry year, like 1970, but people were more hopeful and felt less powerless. Nicholson’s temper tantrum is what people do when they feel they have no choices. Boyer is mature enough not to take his home situation out on innocent bystanders. Indeed, anyone acting like Nicholson in 1939 NY would have been carted off to jail, if not Bellview.

Five Easy Pieces was probably the better film. When Tomorrow Comes is entertaining, but it wasn’t even the best Boyer-Dunne melodrama of 1939. That would be Love Affair, later remade as An Affair to Remember with Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr, emphatically not remade as Sleepless In Seattle. Both Love Affair and Five Easy Pieces got Oscar nominations for Best Picture, and for Leading and Supporting roles. But Boyer is more pleasant to watch, especially since his character doesn’t insist on destroying every life he comes in contact with, including his own. He just wants some cheese.

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MLK Day Reading

Race: a Study in Superstition: BARZUN, Jacques: Amazon.com: Books

On Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, many people will post quotes from the great man himself, or videos of the “I Have a Dream” speech, or some-such. There’s nothing the matter with that, insofar as it keeps the spirit of the day front-and-center.

Some will attempt to hijack it for some partisan purpose, either to ridicule or shame members of the opposing political party. I think there’s a great deal the matter with that.

As an alternative, I would like to suggest a fine book by the esteemed scholar Jacques Barzun, Race. Amazingly enough, it was written in 1937, and yet for the most part reads as though it could have been released last year or last week. Or, sadly, next year or next week.

In it, he traces the roots of the concept of race to intra-European rivalry, particularly that between the French and the Germans. Each attempts to locate the idea of an Ur-race both for itself and for the other, and each attempts to define certain qualities of that race. In this effort, nobody succeeds, even in internal consistency, never mind being persuasive to those outside the fight. Things get even worse when the basis for “race” moves from the sociological to the phrenological.

In the end, Barzun comes to condemn the entire concept of race as little more than politically-convenient collectivism, a superstition that falls apart under his close examination. Sometimes, this is caricatured as meaning that he’s denying the existence of genetics, but as he’s writing before Watson & Crick, but with the knowledge of Gregor Mendel, he is nowhere close to doing that. What he is doing is denying the attribution of alleged “racial” characteristics to individuals whom one decides to lump in with that tribe.

The last paragraph here may have spoiled Barzun’s conclusions, but it hardly spoils the book, which while brief, is not an easy or light read. It is, on the contrary, a solid and dense tour through the intellectual pedigree of this misbegotten concept.

And, to draw the connection with today’s remembrance, if race itself is little more than a tribal construct, often imposed from without, then what cause can there be for anything other than equality of the individual before the law?

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Vermont’s Secretary of State Undermines Democracy, Violates Federalism

Minnesota, like a great many other states, participated in our great national mail-in voting experiment during last fall’s elections. And like a great many other states – either through Democrat lawsuit or Democrat rule-making – it eliminated meaningful ballot security. In Minnesota’s case, this meant removing both voter identification and signature witnessing for first-time mail-in voters. Combined with our country’s notoriously sloppy voter rolls, the net result was a system where it was virtually impossible to be sure that the ballot being returned was actually voted by the person who allegedly signed it.

While the presidential race wasn’t particularly close, a number of state legislative races were decided by extremely close margins, enough races to potentially have shifted the balance of power in the state House of Representatives. But the forensic work required to track down potentially fraudulent votes is enormous, certainly impossible between election day and the vote’s certification. It’s unlikely that we’ll ever know the total number of ballots fraudulently cast, and now those voters are part of the mail-in system.

In order to get things back under control, a Republican state senator has proposed that the state issue a specific photo ID to be used for voting. The ID would be issued for free to those who can’t afford it. Such an ID would also help to keep the voting rolls cleaned up, since it would be tied specifically to voting, unlike a drivers license or a Social Security card.

The senator proposing the bill also notes that it would help restore some faith in the voting system. No doubt this is true, although it would be more true if the Democrats hadn’t fought tooth and nail to derail even legitimate inquiries into voting irregularities in last year’s elections.

All of this proved too much for Vermont’s secretary of state, Jim Condos, who tweeted out the following:

Apparently, requiring that voters prove that they are who they say they are does “little” but suppress their votes. Note also that Senator Newman doesn’t allege that there was fraud, only that many people believe there was. Without any sort of long-term follow-up, given the lax rules in Minnesota, it’s hard to blame them for being suspicious. But Condos does, of course.

It’s unclear exactly what Condos finds “not acceptable.” Is the assertion of fraud, which nobody has made? Is it the “suppression” of eligible voters, which would in no way happen under the proposed law? It’s hard to tell.

But then, what business does the Vermont secretary of state have expounding on proposed election law in Minnesota. One of the most effective complaints about the last-minute Texas election lawsuit was that it would violate federalism. Indeed, one of the effective arguments against the so-called National Popular Vote interstate compact is that electors in, say, Colorado, would find themselves bound by the results of rules their state had no hand in making.

Instead, we see the fruits of the Democrats’ Secretary of State project, where those in charge of administering our elections and ensuring their integrity use the system to undermine that integrity, and then complain that people have no confidence in the system.

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Rep. Jason Crow Has A Short Memory

Jason Crow has just begun his second term representing Colorado’s 6th Congressional district. In response to last week’s riot at the US Capitol building, he has been tweeting frequently, in disgust at what happened (a disgust I share).

But he has also sought to turn the events to partisan political advantage, looking to turn the actions of a few hundred people on a single day into a general assault on the Republican Party.

He has, for instance, used his campaign account to accuse any and all Republicans who objected to the electoral vote counts from a handful of states of effectively taking the side of the rioters. This is, of course, rubbish from beginning to end, but it’s rubbish that much of the press seems to take seriously, if the reporters I follow on Twitter are representative of their caste.

Having established that narrative, Crow used his campaign account to call for corporate PACs to defund any Republicans who objected to the vote:

And he has used his official House account to claim this:

That is, anyone who suggested that anyone might have used the gaping holes opened up in our electoral process – holes opened up by Democrats – to commit election fraud, is disqualified from complaining about the terms he and President-Elect Biden intent to impose on their version of “unity.”

If anyone should be disqualified from preaching about unity, it’s Crow, whose own version of “truth and accountability” applies to only one form of political violence.

At the end of May last year, BLM protesters did significant damage to the Colorado state capitol, breaking windows, spray painting, among other things, a hammer-and-sickle, and generally trashing the grounds.

The truck of Senate President Leroy Garcia suffered a smashed windshield, and legislators took a few days off from their covid-delayed session to get some security back in place.

Crow’s official press release is titled as a statement about the Denver protests, but it never mentions Denver at all, spending more time trashing President Trump for suggesting that National Guard troops might be needed to restore order.

Later that summer, a protest in Aurora over the police shooting from 2019 of Elijah McClain got out of hand. The protesters took over and started marching down I-225, one of the major routes to Denver International Airport. When a man driving a Jeep on the way to the airport unexpectedly found himself in the middle of this mess, he did the natural thing and floored it, trying to get the hell through the mob and out of danger as quickly as possible.

At that point, one of the protesters pulled a gun and started shooting at the Jeep, hitting two other protesters instead. Fortunately, nobody was killed, but he was eventually charged with attempted murder. The Jeep driver was not charged.

You wouldn’t know any of this from Crow’s official press release on the matter:

We are still learning exactly what happened on Saturday night, but what we do know is horrifying enough: a driver sped through a crowd of protesters causing chaos and harm, in yet another example of the violence that is inflicted on those fighting for justice and equality. 

He mentions the destruction at the Municipal Building as a “distraction,” but neither here nor in additional releases on the McClain shooting does he acknowledge that the Jeep driver was acting out of fear and common sense, or that one of the protesters pulled a gun and started shooting.

In another incident last year, protesters “visited” Aurora City Councilman Francoise Bergen at her home, and demonstrated on the street and sidewalk in front of her house. Crow had nothing to say about that, either.

The inescapable conclusion is that for Rep. Crow, all political violence is bad, but some political violence is more bad than others, especially when it comes to his team.

Yoram Hazony writes in his excellent book, God and Politics in Esther, that there are basically three types of subjects in a tyranny. One can oppose the tyrant. One can keep one’s head down and passively support the tyrant. Or one can actively and energetically support the tyrant in ways he finds useful. Only the last is likely to earn much support from the tyrant or advancement within the regime.

Rep. Crow is making a strong bid to be a subject of the third kind.

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Reliving the 1984 LA Olympics

Carl Lewis, Long Jump Gold Medalist | Neil Leifer | Carl lewis, Sports  photography, Long jump

Watching 16 Days Of Glory and reliving the 1984 Olympic Summer Games.

I came home from work every evening that summer, and plopped down in front of the TV to watch the Games for about 4 hours straight, and then stayed up until 1:00 for the late coverage. After they ended, I went through Olympics withdrawal. And some of the wins, like Joan Benoit in the women’s marathon, and the men’s gymnastics team, are still emotional.

Aside from the things I had forgotten, there are things that I hadn’t noticed before. For instance, before Zola Budd and Mary Decker collided, there was a moment where Decker looked down and frowned, clearly worried that Budd was crowding her. You only see that in slow-mo.

The movie was, I believe, Bud Greenspan’s first for the Olympics.
The cinematography is, of course, first-rate, and David Perry’s dead-pan, emotionless narration lets the athletes tell their own stories.

Given that the USA USA USA dominated the Games, in part because of the Soviet boycott, it could have been mostly about the US team. And he certainly doesn’t short the home team. But he makes room for plenty of foreign victory stories as well.

The photo above is not from the movie. It is, of course, Carl Lewis in the Long Jump, one of four gold medals he won that year. It by Neil Leifer, one of the greatest sports photographers of all time.

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Monday Morning Racing

In a normal year, today would have been the 3rd day of the National Western Stock Show.

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Facebook Censors…The Tax Foundation?

Oh, you thought this censorship stuff wasn’t about you, because you weren’t about Trump.

A friend of mind posted the follow on Facebook, only to have the site apply a “fact-check” to it. Understand that “fact-checks” are more than just checking facts. When run by the AP and by FB, they amount to entering the debate on the leftist side.

The Tax Foundation – the source of the data for the graphic used by Fox News – is a thoroughly center-right think tank, devoted to tax policy at all levels of government. The “fact-check” isn’t a fact-check, since it admits the facts are correct. In fact, the “context” that is allegedly missing – that the rates posted are only for the top earners, is literally in the headline for the graphic.

I look forward to any post by the left-of-center Brookings, The Urban League, Urban Institute, or Bell Policy Center being similarly “fact-checked.”

More realistically, we should be waiting to see how long it is before the Tax Foundation is demonetized and then deplatformed altogether.

But consider this an object lesson in how even policy-based right-of-center discussion is forced into pariah status. By putting a “fact-check” on this, it forces someone who posts it to defend the Tax Foundation and their work, with the allegedly objective FB and AP having put their thumb on the scale. Conservatives must work even to have their analyses considered legitimate and within the bounds of informed discussion, never mind get a debate on the facts. Left-of-center posts, no matter how far to the left, are granted immediate legitimacy.

Image may contain: text that says 'TOP TAX RATES BY STATE UNDER BIDEN TAX PLAN California New Jersey 62.6% 60% New York State 58% City i 62% Missing Context The same information was checked in another post by independent fact-checkers. See Why 5 Like 12 Comments Related Articles Comment AP Associated Press Fact-Check Graphic shows top tax rates by state only for high-income earners'

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A Word on Book Links

With some frequency, I’ll be posting about books that I’m reading, will read, have read, or look forward to reading when I get the chance. I will try to post a link to those books, in the event that you’re interested in reading them, too.

In the past, that would have meant a link to Amazon, but no longer. I would link to ABE Books, but they have been bought by Amazon, so I will link to eBay instead. The eBay preview isn’t the sexiest, so I may also have to add a copy of the cover just for aesthetics.

Obviously, if you’d prefer to order from Amazon, the choice is yours. You can search on the author and title and probably find the book pretty easily. But I won’t be linking to them directly.

It’s a sad moment, another tiny step in the direction of a Red America and a Blue America. But after Amazon’s assist in crushing smaller businesses during the Covid shutdowns and the riots of 2020, and now their discontinuing of inconvenient apps, it’s one that I prefer to take.

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Freedom of the Press – Created, Not Inherited

I finally finished Daniel Boorstin’s The Americans: The Colonial Experience. It’s 372 pages long, divided up into bite-sized chapters of 5-10 pages each. For all that, it needs careful reading, and there’s something worth flagging in every chapter.

For instance, the press labored under government restrictions on this side of the Atlantic much longer than it did in Britain. Partially, this was because chronic shortages of paper, ink, and typeface made a successful press harder to run. But it’s also because the colonial governments passed press licensing laws here, and then kept them in force after similar laws in England had lapsed in the 1690s.

For instance, on page 329:

Authorities were still impressed by the great power for irresponsible attack which a press could put into any man’s hands. The European governing classes would no more have thought of leaving the manufacture of explosive printed matter unregulated than they would have permitted the unlicensed manufacture of gunpowder or the raising of private armies. In America control was exercised, sometimes in one way, sometimes in another, and the need to censor varied with the flow of events. But one fact is clear: the traditional European idea of monopolizing the press to cement the social order was successfully transplanted to American shores.”

We tend to think of our liberties as having been ancient, inherited from England, and being encroached upon by the Crown. But in at least this instance, freedom of the press was included in the First Amendment not from inheritance, but from the experience of not having had it.

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