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We're in a bear market

Relative new lows on the DJIA + not much fear/panic = bear market.

Nobody in the popular press seems to be saying it.

Supreme Court strikes down DC gun ban

From the WaPo:

The Supreme Court, splitting along ideological lines, today declared that the Second Amendment protects an individual's right to own guns for self-defense, striking down the District of Columbia's ban on handgun ownership as unconstitutional.

The 5 to 4 decision, written by Justice Antonin Scalia represented a monumental change in federal jurisprudence and went beyond what the Bush administration had counseled. It said that the government may impose some restrictions on gun ownership, but that the District's strictest-in-the-nation ban went too far under any interpretation.

Scalia wrote that the Constitution leaves the District a number of options for combating the problem of handgun violence, "including some measures regulating handguns."

"But the enshrinement of constitutional rights necessarily takes certain policy choices off the table," he continued. "These include the absolute prohibition of handguns held and used for self-defense in the home."

The court also held unconstitutional the requirement that shotguns and rifles be kept disassembled or unloaded or outfitted with a trigger lock. The court called it a "prohibition against rendering any lawful firearm in the home operable for the purpose of immediate self-defense."

Lot of wiggle room it seems.

Pic from Yahoo via AFP/Tim Sloan:

False Alarm

Ninja in NJ:

It's the case of the nonexistent ninja. Public schools in Barnegat were locked down briefly after someone reported seeing a ninja running through the woods behind an elementary school.

Turns out the ninja was actually a camp counselor dressed in black karate garb and carrying a plastic sword.

I just got stimulated

$600 of others people's money finally arrived.

I'm off to save the economy. Wish me luck!

Technology and Education


Notice how the iPod is not a way to use technology to entertain yourself. No one asks "how can I manage to get more technology into my music listening? That would be putting technology in front. Instead, it is a way to entertain yourself that happens to use technology.

From what I have seen, no educators have understood this critical distinction. No one has *started* with asking how students learn and then searched for how technology can help that process. Instead, they ask how they can stick technology into the classroom regardless of what actually goes on in the classroom. The end result is miserable utilization of these tools.

Pregnancy Pact

From Time:

As summer vacation begins, 17 girls at Gloucester High School are expecting babies—more than four times the number of pregnancies the 1,200-student school had last year. Some adults dismissed the statistic as a blip. Others blamed hit movies like Juno and Knocked Up for glamorizing young unwed mothers. But principal Joseph Sullivan knows at least part of the reason there's been such a spike in teen pregnancies in this Massachusetts fishing town. School officials started looking into the matter as early as October after an unusual number of girls began filing into the school clinic to find out if they were pregnant. By May, several students had returned multiple times to get pregnancy tests, and on hearing the results, "some girls seemed more upset when they weren't pregnant than when they were," Sullivan says. All it took was a few simple questions before nearly half the expecting students, none older than 16, confessed to making a pact to get pregnant and raise their babies together. Then the story got worse. "We found out one of the fathers is a 24-year-old homeless guy," the principal says, shaking his head.

Picture of a bubble

Inspired by the discussion below.

(Click on image to enlarge)

This is a decade chart of the stock for the company Ciena. I have a friend who worked for that company in the late 90s and was a multi-millionaire on paper for a brief period, but like many others in the tech industry, lost the value of his options in the crash. Ciena is representative of the rise and fall of many companies' stocks in that era. I could find at least a few hundred companies with similar charts.

Note the parabolic nature of the spike from late 1998 to late 2000. It's not simply a linear increase in price. Rather, the price increases faster and faster till a blowoff top results.

The price before the spike was as low as $25. After the spike, the price has been below $50 for more than five years. The lowest price after the spike was nearly $10. It's hard to say what "fair value" is, if there is such as thing at all, without looking at the fundamentals, but we can approximate it at $20 or so. That means that the bubble 'falsely' raised the price by a factor of 50. This is a dramatic illustration of just how out-of-whack prices get during bubbles. They're not simply high, but rather, shockingly, disgustingly, beyond-belief high.

Would anyone who believed during the period of the spike that the stock market was in a bubble want to short this stock? Remember, nobody knows how long the bubble will last nor how high prices will go. We can look back in time using the chart and see that the price peaked in late 2000. But at that time, we wouldn't know. We can't predict the future. What if the spike had continued for another six months?

You're a spaz cause it's in your genes

From The Economist:

Of course, this analysis turns on the definition of “inappropriate”. The main symptom of ADHD is impulsiveness. Sufferers have trouble concentrating on any task unless they receive constant feedback, stimulation and reward. They thus tend to flit from activity to activity. Adults with ADHD tend to perform poorly in modern society and are prone to addictive and compulsive behaviour. But might such people do well in different circumstances?

One hypothesis is that the behaviour associated with ADHD helps people, such as hunter-gatherers and pastoral nomads, who lead a peripatetic life. Since today's sedentary city dwellers are recently descended from such people, natural selection may not have had time to purge the genes that cause it.

Chat with email scam artist

The following is an IM conversation between someone who posts on a message board I frequent and an email scam artist. The scammer's email is first. The scam target's thoughts are in bold. Their chat follows at the end.

I have a listing out for a room in my place and received the
following e-mail from a potential roommate:

Hi ,

Thank you for your quick response.I would have loved to set up an appointment with you but at the moment,i am out of town. My name is Susan Rice and i am a deaf mute female caucasian of about 25 years of age.I am a native of York in Pennsylvania. I do not smoke. I am single with no kids and pets friendly and easy going.I am single and with no kids. I am currently trying to obtain my Masters degree in Clinical Pharmacy at Sunderland University in the UK. I will be rounding up my programme come june 10th,2008. I will be sending you a certified check of $3500 which will written in your name and cashable in your bank. I am sending you that much money because i will be using the balance to pay for my travelling expenses.I know this is a very difficult task but i am craving your indulgence to please take the check to your bank and cash it. After cashing,deduct the stipulated fees and send the balance to my travel agent via moneygram. Moneygram transfer is available in every Walmart outlets. Please send me your full name and address in order to write the payment in your name.

I hope to hear from you as soon as possible


Obviously a scam. But it came from a gmail address, and lo and behold, last night "her" id showed up in my gmail chat client. Curious, I decided to see if "she" would talk to me. Very interesting conversation. My favorite part was her concern for my well being at the end. Here's the transcript:

me: so do your scams ever work?
susan: yes
4:57 PM me: really? i'm amazed that there are people out there
naive/greedy enought to fall for such a thing
how often does it work?
4:58 PM susan: about 4-5 times a month
me: out of how many emails sent out?
4:59 PM like how much time do you spend sending them?
susan: why all this questions
me: I'm curious. I get these kind of e-mails all the time
5:00 PM I could not believe people were falling from them
but someone must be making a decent living off them if they still
keep coming
5:01 PM susan: it is a good business
Are you male or female
5:02 PM me: male. so is it enough to live off of?
susan: yes
me: and don't you worry about getting caught?
i guess you must be overseas
5:03 PM susan: no
5:05 PM There is so much laxity as regards internet security
5:06 PM me: true. and if you're based outside the US, it would be
costly to track you down. i doubt american officials even care at that
5:07 PM so what is your average take on a successful run?
susan: $2500
5:08 PM me: $2500 a month or per take?
susan: PER TAKE
5:10 PM and you canget as much as 3-4 takes a month depending on how
lucky you are
me: tax free
5:11 PM does the government not pay attention to your expenditures
where you are
i guess if you pay cash for everything, there's nothing to trace...
especially depending on the country
5:12 PM that is quite a confortable living!
susan: yes
5:13 PM what do you do for a living
5:14 PM me: tax consulting for oil companies.
5:15 PM susan: you are a tax lawyer
me: no more of an accountant. but the laws are favorable for the oil
companies here
5:17 PM so is your priamry target americans or it works worldwide?
5:21 PM so about $100k/year?
5:22 PM susan: worldwide
it is like illegal drug business
5:23 PM the momentyou start, there is no going back
me: what do you mean
no going back
susan: you cannot stop
5:24 PM me: because the money is so easy you mean?
you don't work under anyone
5:26 PM do you have to live in a country with favorable laws or can
get away with this in industrial countries?
5:27 PM susan: yes
i am in Africa
5 minutes
5:33 PM me: Okay gotta go home and sift through the valid rental
offers. Talk to you later
susan: ok
5:34 PM dont fall scams
me: thanks for the info. very interesting. people are dumber than i
susan: there are a lot of scams out there
5:35 PM good
take care

Tim Russert is dead

Tom Brokaw just announced it on MSNBC.

Japan makes being fat illegal

From the NY Times:

Those exceeding government limits — 33.5 inches for men and 35.4 inches for women, which are identical to thresholds established in 2005 for Japan by the International Diabetes Federation as an easy guideline for identifying health risks — and having a weight-related ailment will be given dieting guidance if after three months they do not lose weight. If necessary, those people will be steered toward further re-education after six more months.

To reach its goals of shrinking the overweight population by 10 percent over the next four years and 25 percent over the next seven years, the government will impose financial penalties on companies and local governments that fail to meet specific targets. The country’s Ministry of Health argues that the campaign will keep the spread of diseases like diabetes and strokes in check.

That's downright totalitarian. But in a public health care system, does the government really have any other option?

Why do have the sinking feeling that a similar policy is in the cards for the US?

Kherington Payne

Speaking of SYTYCD, one of this year's contestants is Kherington Payne, whose audition video follows.

One Republic's "Stop and Stare" had been an unremarkable mellow song to me. Kherington's audition changed it into an optimistic ballad. As the judges state, her expressions dominate the stage when she dances. In the clash between the song lyrics and her charisma, her charisma wins.

Most popular dancing that I see in clubs and so forth is rhythmic dancing. The movements coincide with the beat. It's refreshing to see dancing that doesn't rely on the rhythm of the song. Her movements are easy and elegant, her smile captivating.

Taleb's tips for life

In case you missed, there was a great article on Nassim Nicholas Taleb in the Times Online. The exercise stuff is wacky, but the rest of the article is well worth reading. It's capped off with Taleb's "top life tips".

1 Scepticism is effortful and costly. It is better to be sceptical about matters of large consequences, and be imperfect, foolish and human in the small and the aesthetic.

2 Go to parties. You can’t even start to know what you may find on the envelope of serendipity. If you suffer from agoraphobia, send colleagues.

3 It’s not a good idea to take a forecast from someone wearing a tie. If possible, tease people who take themselves and their knowledge too seriously.

4 Wear your best for your execution and stand dignified. Your last recourse against randomness is how you act — if you can’t control outcomes, you can control the elegance of your behaviour. You will always have the last word.

5 Don’t disturb complicated systems that have been around for a very long time. We don’t understand their logic. Don’t pollute the planet. Leave it the way we found it, regardless of scientific ‘evidence’.

6 Learn to fail with pride — and do so fast and cleanly. Maximise trial and error — by mastering the error part.

7 Avoid losers. If you hear someone use the words ‘impossible’, ‘never’, ‘too difficult’ too often, drop him or her from your social network. Never take ‘no’ for an answer (conversely, take most ‘yeses’ as ‘most probably’).

8 Don’t read newspapers for the news (just for the gossip and, of course, profiles of authors). The best filter to know if the news matters is if you hear it in cafes, restaurants... or (again) parties.

9 Hard work will get you a professorship or a BMW. You need both work and luck for a Booker, a Nobel or a private jet.

10 Answer e-mails from junior people before more senior ones. Junior people have further to go and tend to remember who slighted them.

I especially like 1, 4, 5, and 7.

Lew Rockwell on Amit Singh

Lew Rockwell, widely believed to have written the Ron Paul newsletters that effectively quashed Paul's campaign, writes:

Let's face it, folks. There is only one Ron Paul. Indeed, he is unique in the entire history of American politics. So I take with a grain of salt all the claims of various pols to be Ron Paulians. Oh, we do have free will. It is possible for an eloquent and principled intellectual to be a brilliant campaigner, to reject the lure of Power, and to work untouched in corrupt DC for peace and freedom -- to be another Ron Paul, that is. But even Jefferson sold out, so I am not holding my breath. And note that it is long-term performance in office that will decide the question, not campaign blather.

For example, I do not join those mourning the loss of Amit Singh in Northern Virginia. This minor-league merchant of death, who brags of being a contractor for the NSA and the Pentagon, and of helping write the software for Total Information Awareness!, ran for the Republican nomination for congress as a Ron Paulian. Perhaps conservative conman Mark Ellmore, who beat Singh last night, is even worse. But thanks to performance in office, here is one thing we know for sure: the incumbent, Democrat Jim Moran, is not bad on the war.

I had a long post typed up about everything that's wrong with this quote, but I think it's better to simply let Rockwell continue to dig his ever-enlarging grave.

link via Mark


A couple of Intrade contracts:

Obama winning the election: 61.5

McCain winning the election: 34.6

USA and/or Israel to execute an overt Air Strike against Iran by 30 Sep 2008: 21.4

On the last one--say what? Does this seem like free money to anyone else? I know the one Israeli official made a remark about bombing Iran the other day, but still, the price seems awfully high.

Also, I might be missing something here, but does the fact that the prices of the contracts for Obama and McCain don't add up to 100 represent some sort of arbitrage opportunity?

Edit: Arthur points out the uncertainty in electing either candidate. Either could get shot, have a heart attack, or have a scandal. If this is the cause of the fact that the contracts don't add up to $100, then the sums will never add up to $100 since there is uncertainty about each candidate. This makes sense.

If on the other hand the cause is simply "Brownian motion" in an illiquid market, then the sum will bounce around about $100, sometimes above, and sometimes below, and this indeed is a potential arbitrage play.

I'll be watching the prices more closely in the future.