April 26, 2010

And Now For Something Completely Different

As campaign season starts to really gear up, we are once again entering the fact-free zone where the only factor most people pay attention to is how appealingly snarky their own side can manufacture sound-bite insults to lob at the other, or how emotionally appealing their own policies can be framed, regardless of how abysmal said policies perform in any truly objective context -- especially that of the history of such policies. Once again, I am hearing the old, tired refrain I used to (and still do) hear endlessly from Markists: "The only reason our policies don't work very well is that the right people haven't applied them yet!" Yep, Utopian policies often fail when they depend on human beings to act as hive insects pursuing only the good of The All. Oddly enough, the Utopians themselves seem subject to this constraint.

Since I'm busy and tired of arguing with the endlessly ignorant vox populi who have mistaken freedom of speech and the egalitarianism of opinion as providing them with, you know, actual knowledge or expertise of certain fields (namely, almost all of them) and therefore think that their ill-informed and uninformed opinions are the equivalent of objective reality if only they click their heels often enough and worship the shiny promised Utopia, I offer a reality check that comes complete with automatic scorekeeping.

Namely, poker. Poker is a game of skill that combines statistics, probability, and psychology. Any fool can luck their way through one game and come out ahead, but to consistently come out ahead requires not just a knowledge of the mechanics of the particular game being played, but a clear basic understanding of the three areas mentioned above.

There's a new variant being played (well, new to most of us Westerners) that is wide open for the quick study. It's called Badugi, and it's a four-card-hand variation of lowball draw. Mind you, *I* don't understand it well enough yet to play it for actual money, but I find it presents interesting possibilities and many traps for tradtional poker players, lowball and otherwise. A quick video intro can be found at "How to Play Badugi".

If you see me at the play money badugi tables making a botch of it, try not to laugh too hard. And don't mistake my ineptitude at it as extending to other real-money poker games. Or do -- being underestimated is always good for enhancing profits.

For those who want to work up their skills in a broader variety of poker games, there are mixed-game tournaments. One of my favorites is the 8-game mix, which consists of alternating rounds of Limit 2-7 Triple Draw, Limit Hold’em, Limit Omaha Eight or Better (Hi/Lo), Razz, Limit Seven Card Stud, Limit Stud Eight or Better (Hi/Lo), No Limit Hold’em, and Pot Limit Omaha. A similarly brief intro video about 8 can be found Game Mix can be found at (surprise!) "How to Play 8 Game Mix".

If nothing else, playing in freeroll 8-Game tourneys can give you a feel for the varying strategies required for different games, especially for games that on the surface appear similar but require different strategies to play well, such as Limit Holdem versus No-Limit Holdem. It also encourages verstaility in thinking and strategy, which is always a good thing.

April 16, 2010

Poor Carpentry

Peter Beinart of The Daily Beast indulges in some Lakoffian framing to "explain" how the Tea Party movement isn't "populist." All he has to do to get there is redefine populism and by implication recast the federal government under the current administration as being the little guy. Seriously! Here, let's watch him stack the deck...
In American history, populism has a specific meaning: It’s our non-Marxist way of talking about class. Being a populist means standing up for the little guy against ruling elites.

Such vague claptrap is what Beinart deploys as a definition of populism for exclusionary purposes. And it fails on the face of it. In modern poli-sci terms populism is best defined as "an ideology which pits a virtuous and homogeneous people against a set of elites and dangerous ‘others’ who are together depicted as depriving (or attempting to deprive) the sovereign people of their rights, values, prosperity, identity and voice." [1]

This is a clear definition of populism that fits well the assorted populist movements in American history, including the current Tea Party movement. Beinart doesn't want to employ it because it specifically negates the rhetorical pretzel logic he has conspicuously constructed to steer the definition back into the fallacious trap of using "populism" as a mere sneering pejorative when describing any popular non-leftist movement. In Beinart's world, ONLY leftist movements employing identity politics can truly be "populist."

Beinart has substituted "little guy" into the equation to exclude anyone falling outside the heroic leftist totem of "the oppressed" from being capable of being "populist." In Beinart's world, only "the oppressed" can be "populists," and in leftist terms that automatically excludes anyone not favored by, well, leftists. It's simply a new polish on the old "victimhood" routine, one intended to deny victim status to anyone not of Beinart's tribe. One is either a victim or an oppressor, and by defining populism in terms of class struggle (while claiming he's being "non-Marxist" in doing so) Beinart seeks to automatically and categorically label the Tea Party people as elitist oppresssors. Thus anyone they are opposed to must categorically be the oppressed.

Now let's watch the second part of the framing attempt, in which Beinart casts the Obama administration in the role of the oppressed, since those opposed to the oppressed by Beinart's definition cannot be populists:
The Tea Partiers aren’t standing up for the little guy; they’re standing up to the little guy. We’ve long known that their leaders, like Sarah Palin, opposed against real regulation of Wall Street. Now we learn that what the Tea Partiers dislike about Barack Obama’s economic policies is that they don’t do enough for the rich. According to the Times, Tea Partiers are more likely than other Americans to think Barack Obama’s policies favor the poor, and they’re mad as heck about it.

Yeah, right. This is merely an attempt by Beinart to cast anyone opposed to the actions of the administration as being part of a privileged racist/elitist mob. Beinart is asserting here that being opposed to the massive growth of federal government and economy-crushing spending by same somehow automatically makes Tea Party people privileged elitists oppressing the "little guy." The "little guy" in this case being the federal government as personified by Barack Obama! (Try oppressing the IRS next time you're summoned for an audit. You'll quickly find out who the "little guy" really is.)

Pretty disingenuous stuff coming from a left-wing elitist Ivy League product of exclusive private schools, Yale, and Oxford. Perhaps Mr. Beinart has mistaken his own wealth of elitist privilege as being an acceptable substitute for intelligence, when even the most cursory examination of his premises makes clear that his ham-handed rhetorical framing is pretty poor carpentry indeed.

As George Orwell once famously remarked, "One has to belong to the intelligentsia to believe things like that; no ordinary man could be such a fool."

UPDATE: Right on cue, here comes reliable tool and left-wing elitist Ivy League product of exclusive private schools, Harvard, and Oxford E.J.Dionne promoting the narrative. Why, you'd almost think it was a coordinated effort on the part of left-wing elitist Ivy League products of exclusive private schools, Harvard/Yale, and Oxford to shape the narrative. Is having had a Rhodes scholarship one of the required credentials for this club? Elsewhere, Glenn Reynolds notes his own powers of prognostication.

UPDATE AGAIN: James Taranto at WSJ's Best of the Web takes notice with "Populism of the Privileged." Heh. Remember that we were there first.

[1] Albertazzi, Daniele and Duncan McDonnell, 2008, Twenty-First Century Populism: The Spectre of Western European Democracy, New York and London: Palgrave Macmillan, p.3

April 06, 2010

Econ 301: Data and Doubt

If like me you have a solid background in advanced real-world empirical economics, you're probably getting rather annoyed by now with the creatively optimistic interpretations of every stat release that comes out. This is generally a manifestation of confirmation bias, the tendency on the part of somewhat naive ideologues to see everything as evidence of their own wishes manifesting rather than as data points for objective assessment in a coherent empirical framework. Pointing out to same that they don't really know what they're talking about is somewhat futile -- ideologues follow pre-dispositions, not evidence and objective analysis, and the attempt will probably just get you called names. Especially as they tend to be certain they ARE being objective, despite the contrary evidence and their own lack of expertise in the field.

For those more interested in what's actually going on than in simply cheerleading their own fantasy scenarios, David Rosenberg of Gluskin-Sheff has a handy and concise list of some of the most mis-represented stats currently being used to cheerlead (and claim admin credit for) a "recovery" that at best looks to be somewhat slow and anemic at this point. A sample:
The ISM index came out before the payroll numbers did and injected a big round of enthusiasm into the pro-cyclical camp. The index did shoot up in March, to 59.6 from 56.5, and while many of the components were up, the prime reason for the increase was the eight-point surge in the inventory component, to 55.3. Moreover, the orders-to-inventories ratio slid to a level suggesting that we could be in for a big pullback in the next few months. Meanwhile, very little attention has been made to the construction spending data, which sagged 1.3% MoM in February with broad-based declines across sectors — and January’s 0.6% drop was revised to -1.4% (the fourth slippage in a row).

Go read the whole thing at the link. It's a good quick-and-dirty capsule check on why the institutional investors are not nearly as sanguine about the current condition of the national economy as the administration mouthpieces and partisan cheerleaders are.

UPDATE: Some related thoughts on the unemployment figures.

April 01, 2010

Why We Don't Trust Congress

Georgia's 4th Congressional District must be so proud of him! I admire the admiral's forbearance. The really scary thing is that Johnson is a major improvement over the previous member to hold that seat. Even scarier, while he's not the sharpest knife in the drawer, the odds are excellent that he's not the dullest either.