Archive for the ‘Idiots’ Category

“National Signing Day” is among the worst things ever created in the history of bullshit media creations.

If you thought Lebron James’s narcissistic “Decision” was bad enough, the “National Signing Day” provides teenagers the chance to bask in the same spotlight as they choose… which college they will attend.

Now, I know, college sports is big-time business, so it makes sense for highly-touted high school players to be heavily recruited. Whatever.

But the phenomenon of “National Signing Day” is entirely one created by ESPN and its conversion of the day into an all-day media event–an orgy of interviews, TV cameras, etc.

I don’t know what makes me feel so disgusted when I see ESPN’s frontpage slathered with NATIONAL SIGNING DAY in all caps: is it the further perpetuation of the “me-first” culture? Is it the over-inflation of 18-year-olds to god status? Is it the fact that many of these kids, even the highest touted recruits, will end up injured, unprepared, or unsuited for professional football and end up without their college education? Something about the whole affair feels slimy, like those countdown clocks for the Olsen twins turning 18.

It may be the inevitable outcome of the recruiting business, but maybe that should make people think twice about the recruiting business and college sports generally.

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So, it looks like the Republican Party will get the nominee they all hate: Mitt Romney. For all that “the base” found him repulsive, his enemies could never coalesce around a single candidate capable of beating him. Now, it’s too late. The media may still describe the Republican primary as a race (much as they did with the Obama/Clinton race after Texas and Ohio), but barring scandal, Romney is now the Republican nominee.

Why didn’t the “anyone but Romney” forces gang up? After all, they really really hate the guy.

What we had was a classic collective action problem. Here’s John Nash via Russell Crowe:

Getting the Republican nomination for President, then, is the “blonde.” The Republican nominee not being Mitt Romney is the “friends.”

The refusal of any of the other nominees to leave the race and/or put support behind other candidates (as Michele Bachmann could have done for Rick Perry, had she done it earlier) made it impossible for the “anyone but Romney” forces to align, even though their policy preferences were largely more in line with each other’s than with Romeny’s. Why didn’t they? Because they each thought that with the field so fractured, they actually had a chance to win. Their overconfidence led to Romney’s eventual dominance.

As a result, no one (except Romney) gets what they want.

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…is when you are super-rich.

The hubbub over the hedge-fund managers who struck it big in the Powerball suggests that we have a problem with the image of the rich getting richer. Yet, it’s only the super-rich who should be playing the lottery in the first place.

Every additional dollar you have means less to you in terms of general utility and you worry less about losing it. Put differently, your first dollar is worth much more to you than your 114 millionth dollar. At some point, that dollar then becomes worth it for you to bet on a highly risky investment on which you might accidentally hit the jackpot.

Obviously it’s difficult to assess how much utility that dollar would have for a random individual (I’m sure some economist has calculated this using some arbitrary formula). Regardless, the lottery essentially functions as a regressive tax that only makes sense for the richest people to play.

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Ta-Nehisi Coates has a great reply to Andrew Sullivan’s rather tone-deaf regurgitation of an unsourced story on a “p.c. egalitarianism” stranglehold on so-called “intelligence research.” He writes a takedown as it should be written — with respect for the author and no tolerance for bullshit.

The problem with Sullivan’s suggestion that researchers continue pursuing race-based intelligence is that it ignores what it is that “intelligence research” is supposed to find in the first place. Context matters, and the search for the elusive g — a measure of “general intelligence” — has largely led to skewed results in favor of the dominant ruling class of well-educated white males.

Let me give you an example. Here’s a common IQ test type logic puzzle that has a clear “right” answer (the Wason selection test, for those interested).

You are told to check if the following statement is false: “If a card has a vowel on one side, the number on the other side will be even.”

You are then given the following cards: A, G, 7, 4.

Which cards do you have to flip over to check if the statement is false?

The answer is to flip over card A (obvious) and card 7 (not as obvious). It doesn’t matter what’s on the other side of G, and if card 4 had a vowel or consonant on the other side, the statement could still be true.

But let’s frame the question a different way:

You are told to check if the following rule is false: “If a person is drinking alcohol, they are over 21.” You either know the beverage they are drinking or their age.

The four people you see are: age 16, age 22, drinking a beer, and drinking a Coke.

Who do you need to check?

Most people get this one correct. (See the paper here.) Why? Because we have experienced events like these and adapted our brains to understand them. I would bet that the 10 percent of people who get the vowel/number version correct have taken formal logic courses or have wrestled with such logic puzzles before.

When I was teaching, one of the standardized tests that the book included had an extended reading sample about a family’s experiences with skiing and snow. For my students, many of whom had never left the city of Chicago, such a reading sample was totally foreign. The test wasn’t testing their reading comprehension; it was, in many ways, simply testing their familiarity with skiing and its terms.

The search for g is a search for something that doesn’t exist — no intelligence is “general”; it shifts with the context of the activity and the world we live in. I’m not a big believer in the woo-woo Gardner multiple intelligences, but I think we should be honest when we discuss intelligence. We were not born with intelligence; our culture created it. Performance on cognitive tests is as artificial as anything else we can cook up.

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Although the new NBA collective bargaining agreement (CBA) does give us basketball again, it does not solve any of the supposed problems that it set out to solve.

The owners claimed that the old CBA was deficient. The new CBA will supposedly address three primary areas of concern:

  • Profitability: Small-market teams find it difficult to be profitable with high player salaries weighing them down.
  • Parity: The rise of superteams (Miami, Los Angeles, Dallas, etc.) has made it impossible to have strong small-market teams (please ignore San Antonio).
  • Bad Contracts: Too many middling players receive outrageous contracts, and teams have no way of freeing themselves from bad contracts (i.e., their own bad decisions).

Let’s see how the new contract affects these aspects.

Profitability: Why are NBA teams having problems making money? Is it the colossal player salaries? Well, since player salaries are a flat percentage of revenue, some other higher expenditures must be impacting the NBA’s finances. Even though player salaries are the biggest chunk of an NBA team’s expenditures, they are also the most consistent because they are tied to league revenues. The new CBA does nothing to address the other costs (stadium expenses, administrative overhead costs, etc.). Assuming that the owners find no solution to those growing costs, there’s no reason why this exact standoff won’t happen again in 10 years. (That’s what happened last time.)

Parity: Will the new CBA stop superteams? Absolutely not; if anything, it encourages them. More than football or baseball teams, basketball teams rely on stars and superstars to succeed. Superstars bring people through the turnstiles, and put up championship banners. The more you have, the more you win.

How does the new CBA encourage superteams? Assume that you are a superstar player. You know that you will get paid identical money from all the clubs; no team can possibly offer more than a max contract, and your options are limited by the stricter salary cap. Would you rather go to an attractive city (big market) and a team of other stars, or would you rather go to a small market with middling players? Consider Lebron James: if there had been no cap and no max contract, Miami could not have afforded James, Wade, and Bosh. Instead, they could form the Superfriends and cost the same as the Washington Wizards.

The new CBA only makes these conditions worse.

Bad Contracts: Let’s set aside the fact that bad contracts are the owners’ fault in the first place! They exist; now what?

The new CBA has a few features to mitigate bad contracts: 1) the “amnesty” clause that allows teams to waive/release bad contracts; and 2) a costlier mid-level exception combined with more limits to sign-and-trade deals that will probably result in shorter contracts.

Yet, none of these proposals actually targets the underlying causes of these bad decisions. If we assume that people respond to incentives, then a painful negative response to a bad contract would make them less likely. Instead, the CBA makes it easier to wash one’s hands of a bad contract, making it all the more likely that GMs will sign more bad short-term contracts because they have less chance of getting burned. Just changing what makes a “bad contract” doesn’t make it less damaging to the competitive advantage of a team. Signing Joe Johnson for 6 years and $119 million dollars would have been just as dumb at 5/50 if the league’s max contract was 5/50. When dealing with scarce resources like excellent basketball players, one wrong move will still cost your team in money and in chances at success.

Conclusion: The new CBA will do little to nothing about anything it purports to solve.

What it does do is pay players less money. This will make owners happy for now, but it does nothing to address the underlying problems that hurt the league financially and the teams competitively.

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Despite my schadenfreude at the hilarious Perry implosion at the “debate” last night, I want to point out that Perry is being lambasted for forgetting which three agencies he wanted to destroy, but he should have been disqualified for wanting to simply eliminate three federal agencies at all!

Instead, the whole Republican field is so far to the right that Perry’s position to eliminate federal agencies was downright moderate.

Rather than knocking Perry (or Cain) out for his awful policies and crazy ideas, it looks like the Republicans will probably just oust him for being a boob.

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Slate is touting this blog post as “The one graph that explains why America is losing power so quickly.” Well, that sounds promising. Let’s see it!

That may look scary, but notice that the big convergence occurs after 2010-2011. More importantly, look how straight the projection lines are!

And yet, the lesson of the first half of the graph is that conditions are often unpredictable. A straight line projection from 2000 would have drastically understated India and China’s growth and overstated Russia’s. Similarly, a straight line projection may under- or over-state their growth in the future.

There are signs of slowing in Chinese GDP. And frankly, China may not want that level of growth for too long.

I’m not saying that China won’t surpass American GDP. They have a billion people and a sea of capital; I’m sure they’ll do it sooner rather than later. But despite the bold straight-line predictions of the graph, such projections are almost always wrong. (See the housing bubble.)

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