Tuesday, November 23, 2010

On China and Japan

An interesting take on China and Japan's economies. I'm not a macro investor, but if I were, I think I'd take these arguments seriously. (The article also features a great observation which helps explain why I'll never attempt macro investing: "These bubbles usually last longer than the reputation of the person who predicts their demise.")

Monday, November 22, 2010

Stan on Facebook

I enjoyed this clip, though I haven't yet seen the whole episode:

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Free Online Educational Sites

As much as I prefer taking courses live, this list seems valuable.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


Yesterday marked the 5th anniversary of Pajamas Media. They commemorated it by providing some interesting history.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Don’t Let the Bad Overshadow the Good

As “a person of color”, I’ve often been subject to, or witnessed, racial slurs and taunting, particularly in my younger days. When I was in junior high and high school, these experiences had a real impact on me, making me feel powerless and alone. But by the time I got to college, though I still didn’t like them, I had the attitude: “I’m glad I found this out about the character of the people making these slurs, even if they’re not directed against me”. By that time I realized that no matter what other shared interests I might have with such people (science, sports, humor, etc.); and whatever other intellectual skill or talent they might have, they were deeply flawed and thus of no possible value to me.

Given that it takes years to really get to know someone, I came to consider a person revealing his racism early on as a good thing, for in so doing they saved me enormous time and energy. Indeed I came to the point where I wished that any racist were openly so, because those who hid their true views, not only ended up ultimately having the same noxious effect on me, they doubled it by wasting my time in the interim (and the hurt was worse).

I have the same attitude towards recent events* in the Objectivist community. I’m exceedingly glad that — no matter how “intelligent” they might otherwise be — scum like Rory Hodgson, Dan Edge, Shea Levy, etc. have “outed” themselves with their public spewings, making all too clear their essential characters. I benefit by now being able to shun them; no longer sanctioning their contemptible behavior, nor wasting any further time, energy or other resources on them. And if my reaction is typical, then it’s a good thing that they delivered their vilifications and calumnies early in their involvement in the Objectivist community. Getting rid of them now is analogous to performing a clean, but painful cauterization of a wound, rather than harboring a festering infection which could cause real damage. (Of course, given the particular level of venom displayed by those listed, it was probably inevitable that they’d reveal their true selves sooner rather than later.)

Unfortunately however — because they’re such loud and obnoxious bullies — these few disgusting individuals can give the unfair impression of representing their entire peer group. That’s simply not the case. For example, I’ve been privileged to see the workings of the Undercurrent’s editorial list, whose staff is also comprised of young Objectivists. Everyday I’m struck by how judiciously and rigorously they strive to operate. Ideas and arguments are subject to extremely careful deliberation, scrutiny and multiple editing sessions before they’re made public. Indeed, many posts and articles — despite having significant effort already put into them — are squashed because they’re deemed inadequate for whatever reason (not graspable by an average audience, attacking a strawman, etc.). This of course isn’t to say that the Undercurrent’s product is perfect, but to me it’s extremely inspiring to see the staff consciously engage in the very exacting process necessary to achieve objectivity. And I’m sure there are many other young people out there quietly doing the same — it’s just that I happen to see the Undercurrent’s process daily. (To avoid any confusion, all opinions in this post are mine alone; my using the Undercurrent as an example should not be construed as their endorsement or even knowledge of my personal position on this matter.)

It’s a fact of life that building a reputation takes a long time, but ruining one takes only an instant (just as being honest is a life-long task, while being a liar means only telling one or two lies). The vociferous scumbags are the minority, but because of their pathological need for attention and their bullying tactics, they often get the spotlight. Don’t let them eclipse the many better people in the Objectivist movement who are taking all the slow but necessary steps towards honor and integrity. In the end it is they, not the dregs, who will determine the course of our culture.

* If you’re a normal person (i.e. a person with a life), lucky enough to be unaware of what I’m referring to here, I emphatically urge you NOT to spend a second of your precious time to investigate or research it. There’s absolutely no value to be gained. Unfortunately, I’ve spent a few weekends wading through the muck just to get a sense of what’s been going on. The latter fact explains this post, the former why I won’t be commenting further.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Addition by Subtraction

I’m a fairly avid football fan. I watch primarily because I enjoy the game, but given my career as a stock trader / short-seller, I also follow it from a managerial or organizational standpoint. And while at first it might seem odd to try to learn about organizations by following professional sports, when one thinks about modern culture, it’s much less so. For nowadays, sports are perhaps the only field in which achievement is sought and praised openly and unconditionally. (We admire good teams without seeking to handicap them, denigrate their winning players, nor pit antitrust lawyers against their owners.) Thus, sports is a venue where one can unambiguously see the results of policies aimed at success. Those principles can be then used to inform our (egoistic) analysis of, and approach to, other fields.

Recently I’ve been reflecting on how the perennial top teams in football, notably the Colts and Patriots (and soon, I think the Saints and Chiefs), prioritize character and attitude over raw talent. And it’s not just a bromide, they can routinely be observed passing over talented but troublesome players. By contrast, perennially losing teams, e.g. the Raiders and Bengals, seem to go out of their way to select talented but corrosive, lazy, prima donna players. The results speak for themselves.

I think there are many factors at play here. But perhaps the least appreciated is how “coachable” an athlete is. Many college stars are used to riding their talent alone, and thus resent and resist any feedback or criticism. (In a more general organizational context the equivalent might be the pompous know-it-all.) Their unwillingness to learn or take coaching not only stultifies their own development, it also sets a terrible example for the rest of the team, many of whose players are less naturally talented than the would-be stars.

Similar points can be made about players who won’t put in the effort at practice, or who are so demanding of attention and special treatment that they not only cause the team to lose focus, but also eliminate any possibility of an organizational pursuit of excellence. As much as the absolute best people will be self-starters and dedicated no matter how others in the organization behave, there’s no doubt that almost everyone else, at least to some degree, will come to resent the behavior and treatment of malcontents, which results in a certain contempt for the organization that condones it. This affects the players’ motivation and willingness to do their very best at all times.

For these reasons among others, the overall effect of players with bad characters is corrosively negative. Teams that understand this avoid such players from the outset, and if one sneaks in, take no time to get rid of him.

However, since this in not the majority view, reporters often question the decision to pass over or let go such players. A coach like Bill Belichick, who is very clear and confident in his principles — and hence very sure of his decisions — can serenely and simply respond to such questions: “we’re taking the steps that give us the best chance to win”.

As confirmation of the wider applicability of these observations, a close friend of mine, who is a senior vice-president of a successful firm, emphasizes to me how much corporate culture and employee attitudes matter to his firm. When they find employees — no matter how skilled — who detract from the workplace, the decision to let them go is easy because they now truly understand the value of character to culture, and of culture to achievement. Indeed, it’s a policy they hold to no matter how short-handed they might be.

Of course all of this is not to say that talent doesn’t matter — it certainly does. If and when you find an extremely talented individual with the right character and work ethic, you build a whole team around him (e.g. Peyton Manning, or in basketball, Michael Jordan). But notice that such players are not only highly coachable and demanding of themselves; by their attitude, example, and expectations of other players, they make everyone around them better. In other words, in every respect (except talent) they’re the opposite of the uncoachable, prima donnas.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Dropping the Context

This is too funny:
A convicted murderer was set to be executed in Arizona, but there's apparently been a shortage of sodium thiopental, which (I have to say) I didn't know was the preferred drug for this use. The Arizona authorities imported some from Great Britain, whereupon the convicted man's lawyers got a stay of execution, on the grounds that this particular material had not been FDA-approved.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Objectivist Paternalism

There’s a set of very funny/sad disputes currently going on in the Objectivist world (if you’re unaware of them, pat yourself on the back for having a life). The disputes are almost impossible to follow because so many of the participants substitute volume for depth (e.g. “I clearly don’t know what a BOD is, so I better write an extra long analysis of the functioning of one. And because that doesn’t seem too convincing, I’ll follow it up by explaining to businessmen that it’s like a parent/child relationship!”).

Nonetheless, from a sampling of the arguments, I personally think that there are many problems with the framing and analysis of the issues. As a particularly flagrant and obvious example of the types of contradictions that are advanced, consider this: Objectivists spend much time and energy writing passionate editorials and book reviews denouncing those who would make our decisions for us (e.g. Cass Sunstein’s Nudge and the movement it’s spawned). Yet somehow they ignore those very same arguments when the one usurping other’s decisions is doing so out of Objectivist “magnanimity” or martyrdom. It’s beyond me how anyone could think that, just because it comes from an Objectivist, it’s not outrageously insulting to say to someone: “I see you’re faced with a difficult decision — so I’ll unilaterally make it for you.”

Update: Someone asked me (privately) if I was being “fair” in the above post. Sadly — in the name of not becoming consumed by this — I wasn’t. To be fair would require a much longer and harsher moral condemnation of the first item I mentioned, and it would mean not treating the second with as much plausibility as I did. I think the first point is obvious, and by looking at the second item, I think one might see that while it’s deeply insulting, it’s also pretty ridiculous.

As an illustration, consider how one might characterize the types of decisions any adult (let alone a very capable, 50+ year old CEO!) might face:

“I’ve been informed by my doctors that my terminally ill wife is expected to remain in a vegetative state. Should I pull the plug on her?” — Difficult decision

“I’ve been offered a very interesting and potentially lucrative job. But it’s with a risky startup in New Guinea. Should I completely uproot myself and my family to pursue something which in the end may fail?” — Difficult decision

“A business acquaintance posted an odd letter to the internet. How should I respond?” — NOT a difficult decision.

For the letter’s author to elevate it to the status of difficult, seems (IMHO) mildly megalomaniacal -- not the type of thing one should treat too seriously.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

The Value of Doing What You Love

I enjoyed this story about the unconventional business practices of a successful local brewery. There are several interesting ideas in it, but this one I think can be most easily replicated -- making the work environment one where employees remember why they were drawn to their jobs in the first place:
First, the tiny company spent a small fortune sending staff to beer festivals across the country. Second, they humored Arthur.

“Everything he wanted to do, they’ve backed up,” said Tom Nickel, then Arthur’s assistant and now owner of O’Brien’s Pub in Kearny Mesa.

Arthur wanted to create sour beers with cherries and wild yeasts; unfiltered farmhouse ales; deep, spicy abbey ales. In 2006, the Marsaglias, Arthur and a fourth partner, Jim Comstock, opened Port/Lost Abbey in San Marcos. There, Arthur bottles his work — the brewpubs’ beers are only available on tap.

But in brewery or brewpubs, the Marsaglias urge brewers to experiment and create.

“That’s the only way you can be passionate about something,” Vince said. “Otherwise, it’d be ‘I’m coming to work today’ instead of ‘I’m going to make my beer today.’ ”

Friday, November 05, 2010

Election Takeaways

Jared Rhoads and Paul Hsieh have penned good editorials on what lessons Republicans should draw from their victories. I particularly like Jared's ending paraphrase of Ben Franklin.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

A Trained Athlete

Anyone who saw the Velasquez - Lesnar fight knows how great a fighter Velasquez is. But to amplify that knowledge, and to appreciate how hard he's trained across the board, consider these stats:
He was tested by Sports Science prior to the fight with Lesnar, where it was discovered that he had the cardiovascular endurance of a marathon runner. He punched harder than any boxer they’d ever tested and the force he applied on a takedown was similar to the kind that Indianapolis Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney applies coming off the edge to blast a quarterback.

Knowing that, perhaps it shouldn’t have come as a surprise that he was able to handle Lesnar so easily despite giving up three inches in height and perhaps as much as 35 pounds in the cage that night.