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It’s Good to Have Dreams

[ 0 ] January 24, 2008 |

Here’s the thing; I can’t even imagine having a job in which I personally had the capacity to lose seven billion dollars:

Societe Generale SA said bets on stock index futures by a rogue trader caused a 4.9 billion-euro ($7.2 billion) trading loss, the largest in banking history.

Jerome Kerviel, 31, was the trader responsible, the Paris- based bank said today. Societe Generale plans to raise 5.5 billion euros from shareholders after the loss and subprime- related writedowns depleted capital. The Bank of France, the country’s banking regulator, is investigating the alleged fraud.

The trading loss exceeds the $6.6 billion Amaranth Advisors LLC lost in 2006, and is more than four times the $1.4 billion of losses by Nick Leeson that brought down Barings Plc in 1995. An offer by Chairman Daniel Bouton to resign after the trades were discovered this past weekend was refused by Societe Generale’s board, the bank said…

The trading loss wipes out almost two years of pretax profit at Societe Generale’s investment-banking unit, run by Jean-Pierre Mustier. The company said it’s suing the trader, who had a salary and bonus of less than 100,000 euros a year and worked at the bank since 2000.

Four to five people will be fired as a result of the loss, Mustier told reporters at a press conference in Paris.

But let’s remember; private industry is more efficient, transparent, responsive, etc. etc. etc. than government.

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Esteban Colberto y Lou Dobbs

[ 8 ] January 24, 2008 |

Hilarious. It’s a “recreation” of an interview Colbert conducted with Dobbs last year (virtually word for word), but I gotta hand it to Colbert: he’s making the best of his writer-free show.

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[ 0 ] January 24, 2008 |

A prominent pro-choice activist switches from Clinton to Obama based on the former’s smears of the latter’s record.

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[ 23 ] January 24, 2008 |

Any thoughts on what I should do with my possible $6-12 per week of stimulus? I see that if I use about two weeks’ worth, I could purchase this book.

Or I could just blow it all on a shiny new pony.

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[ 0 ] January 24, 2008 |

I’m generally pretty lenient in evaluating Congressional leadership, especially in the Senate. Sometimes, Reid will get heat for not making votes he doesn’t have materialize out of thin air. But as has been widely noted, trying to steamroller filibusters of bad legislation by members of your own party when you’re unwilling to do the same with respect to filibusters of good legislation by members of the other party is appalling. And any politician who can’t find a politically successful way of opposing a free pass for telecom companies whose illegal acts violate the privacy of their customers needs to fine a new line of work.

It should also be noted that John Edwards deserves credit and Jay Rockefeller is a disgrace.

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There Is A Santa Claus!

[ 7 ] January 24, 2008 |

I know it’s hard to let go of your dreams, but there seems something uniquely pathetic about combining brokered convention wankery with “Fred Thompson’s still in it although he never was in it!” wishful thinking. I hate to tell people, but the GOP nomination is a two-person race, and a two-person race won’t produce a brokered convention.

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Tiger Makes Other Golfers Worse

[ 0 ] January 24, 2008 |


If money motivates, then the prospect of winning the top prize should bring out extreme effort in golf. But when Tiger is playing and you’re not Tiger, you face a depressed prize schedule. If you assume Tiger is going to win, then the top prize available to you is $864,000 rather than $1.44 million. That beats the heck out of steak knives, but it’s significantly less than the winner’s take. Second place—among players who are not Tiger—gets $544,000 rather than $864,000, and so on. While Tiger certainly doesn’t win every tournament he enters, he does frequently shift the reward schedule for most of the field. Of the 219 tournaments he’s played in during his first professional decade, Tiger collected 54 PGA wins, finished in the top three in 92, and in the top 10 in 132….

Analyzing data from round-by-round scores from all PGA tournaments between 2002 and 2006 (over 20,000 player-rounds of golf), Brown finds that competitors fare less well—about an extra stroke per tournament—when Tiger is playing. How can we be sure this is because of Tiger? A few features of the findings lend them plausibility. The effect is stronger for the better, “exempt” players than for the nonexempt players, who have almost no chance of beating Tiger anyway. (Tiger’s presence doesn’t mean much to you if the best you can reasonably expect to finish is about 35th—there’s not much difference between the prize for 35th and 36th place.) The effect is also stronger during Tiger’s hot streaks, when his competitors’ prospects are more clearly dimmed. When Tiger is on, his competitors’ scores were elevated by nearly two strokes when he entered a tournament. And the converse is also true: During Tiger’s well-publicized slump of 2003 and 2004, when he went winless in major events, exempt competitors’ scores were unaffected by Tiger’s presence.

This doesn’t seem right to me, but the empirical case is certainly interesting. What are the alternative explanations? It’s obviously a bit twitchy to claim that Tiger’s hot streaks and slumps cause other golfers to play better or worse; the causation could run in the other direction as well, although the sample size would seem to suggest that isn’t happening…

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Score one for Bazelon & Lithwick

[ 9 ] January 24, 2008 |

The Slate Legal Ladies make quick work of wingnut M. Edward Whelan’s bully-style critiques of NY Times Supreme Court reporter Linda Greenhouse, and of the Times’s seeming inability to fully stand up for her. Sure, ombudsman Clark Hoyt gives lip service to her lack of bias and calls Whelan a bully, but he then validates Whelan’s critique by going on to criticize Greenhouse for not disclosing in her columns that her husband is a lawyer who has filed amicus briefs with the court, sometimes in the cases she covered…even though she doesn’t talk about her husband’s briefs in her stories. Hoyt suggests that the Times should make stricter its disclosure policy–say, require Greenhouse to provide more information to the public than that her husband is a lawyer, even when it’s not relevant to the substance of her writing.

Lithwick and Bazelon make clear the ridiculousness of the chest-puffing stance:

(Disclosure: We have both worked with Greenhouse and admire her enormously. Fidell has never said anything about the Bush administration to us. We made that quote up. Also, our husbands like Thai food and the color blue, in case that precludes us from reporting on anything in the future. Also also, Whelan has slimed both of us, too—apparently there’s lots of us unfit reporters out there.)

NB, Whelan and other slate-watchers: they write about thai food or the color blue — you complain.

But seriously, Lithwick & Bazelon are right to lay bare the ridiculousness of Hoyt’s acceptance of Whelan’s pseudo criticisms. Especially because Hoyt bases his suggestions for a new Times disclosure policy on Whelan’s complaints. I’ve got a question for Hoyt: does so disingenuously defending your own reporter undermine your stance as the moral authority at the Times?

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Like New

[ 12 ] January 24, 2008 |

I spent much of yesterday afternoon/evening installing a new internal hard drive into my computer. When I got my MacBook about a year ago, I scoffed at the idea that 80GB would not be enough. Well, it wasn’t.

My certified Apple Genius friend took charge (with her handy dandy mini screwdriver), and voila. A few hours later, I had a new hard drive. Frankly, it feels like I have a zippy new computer.

A word to the wise: if you ever migrate information from your old computer to a new computer, do it manually. After ten years and three computers, turns out I had over 10GB of junk “old system” files on my computer…and that, having deleted that stuff, maybe I didn’t really need a new hard drive after all. Doh.

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Deader Than Fred

[ 0 ] January 24, 2008 |

Rudy!’s Florida firewall seems to be rather porous.

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Things That Are Very, Very Cool

[ 11 ] January 24, 2008 |

If you pay the slightest attention to the threads around here, you’ll be delighted to know that Aimai is now blogging at If I Ran the Zoo. From her touching introduction:

I’m a dedicated political junkie and free lance cultural kibbitzer. I’ve been posting on other people’s blogs for years and have a wider than I would like group of posters who recognize and detest me (in the last month alone it seemed like “fuck you, Aimai” was some kind of auto response to my posts). It was lonely and sometimes frustrating to have to piss people off retail, as it were. Thanks to Tom’s generous offer to let me perch here I hope to bring my annoying opinions to even more people, and give them a chance to tell me to fuck off right here at my new home base.

Sounds good, but can you take Fitz with you?

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How About Everyone Agree With Me Instead?

[ 73 ] January 23, 2008 |

In light of the anniversary of Roe, you’ll be excited to know that William Saletan has an exciting idea for advancing the abortion debate. The solution is: everyone should just concede that William Saletan is right about everything!

To pro-choicers: Talk about abortion the way you’ve been talking about teen sex, embracing an ideal number of zero. To pro-lifers: Accept that the best way to advance toward zero is through voluntary prevention.

On the latter point, I suppose it would be nice if American “pro-lifers” were more concerned about protecting fetal life than regulating female sexuality, but alas you go to war with the reactionaries you have. While we wait for the forced pregnancy lobby to abandon criminalization and focus instead on contraception access and health care I’ll take a pony and an ice cream castle in the air. Saletan’s advice to pro-choicers, similarly, fails to explain how arguing that abortion is icky will help advance an argument for its legalization, and also fails to explain why people who don’t already should agree with Saletan’s moral intuitions.

In a new moralistic twist, however, pro-choicers are supposed not only to claim that the ideal number of abortions is zero, but that the ideal amount of teen sex is zero! The former is at least narrowly true; I guess it would be nice if the number of abortions was zero in the sense that it would be nice if the number of appendectomies was zero. But in the real world unwanted pregnancies will happen just as burst appendixes will happen, so talking about an ideal abortion rate of 0% can do nothing except undermine the case for keeping it safe and legal. Why I’m supposed to be outraged that 17 year-olds are having sex, on the other hand, is beyond me, and Saletan doesn’t help by providing, say, an argument for this position apart from citing Nancy Keenan’s unfounded assertions. I might agree that the ideal rate of teen pregnancy — and, for that matter, unwanted pregnancy — is zero, and while we’re at it I’ll take three ponies and the next four winning Powerball tickets.

For bonus wankery, Saletan praises what was perhaps last year’s most disingenuous argument for forced pregnancy:

Last year, in a New York Times op-ed, journalist Melinda Henneberger (now a Slate contributor) argued that public sentiment against abortion was hurting Democrats. “Most people differentiate between a fetus in the early weeks of development and at nearly full term,” she wrote, citing the party’s defense of partial-birth abortions.

It’s remarkably how much wrongness can be packed into so little space. First of all, “partial birth” abortions do no just occur “at nearly full term,” and in fact bans on the procedure proscribe even the ones that are preformed before viability, which is why pro-choicers who actually know what they’re talking about opposed the bans. Secondly, neither Saletan nor Henneberger have any argument for their claim a D&X is more morally problematic than a D&E performed at the same time of gestation, most likely because such a distinction is transparently irrational. And finally, neither Saletan nor Henneberger provide any evidence that being pro-choice causes a net loss of votes for the Democratic Party. But when you remember that Saletan actually argued that the Democratic Party’s position must be unpopular unless they win pretty much every single election — they’re all, apparently,referenda on abortion, even the ones held during wartime! — bare assertion is probably the better approach.

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