Sunday, April 18, 2010

Dreams From Whose Father?

During a discussion of Obama's first book on iSteve somebody posted a link to Jack Cashill's site where he argues that Bill Ayers must have had a substantial involvement in writing Dreams From My Father.

I read through that whole page and it left me unconvinced. For example, Mr. Cashill treats the fact that both Ayers and Obama described people's eyebrows in their books as incriminating. Same with the use of the words "stooped" and "fedora" by both. Perhaps we should now suspect Ayers of being a prominent Linux nerd.

"Obama tells the reader that the neighbor’s “silence” impressed him. “Silence” impressed Ayers as well. There are at least ten references to the word in Fugitive Days. "

What impressed me is that Cashill considers things like that to be tell-tale signs. Millions of people must have written about being impressed with silence at some point in their lives.

As I wrote in the comments on iSteve, Obama may well have gotten help with his book, and he may even have gotten it from Ayers, but those quotes on Mr. Cashill's page did nothing to convince me of that.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Back to Intrade

I've won about $400 on Intrade since the start of this year, most of it through small bets on American Idol eliminations. The greatest thing of all about this field is that it lacks any experts. The stock market, for example, is full of guys who are really, really knowledgeable about stocks. Same with any kind of sports betting. Even though I've followed the NFL on and off for years now, I'd be scared to bet on it because there are lots of guys out there who've been obsessed with football all their lives.

Men, let alone geeky ones, rarely watch American Idol, so no one who's betting on it on Intrade could be fairly called an expert. Having only watched a few shows, I already feel completely up to speed.

This morning, while looking through the news, I saw an article that linked to a TMZ story about Crystal Bowersox, the Idol frontrunner. Apparently she's had a major hissy fit, threatened to quit the show, and had to be talked into staying by Ryan Seacrest himself.

"In front of several people, Crystal told Ryan she couldn't handle the competition.... she said she hated the attention and said to Seacrest, "What's the point?"

Couldn't handle the what!? She's never been in the bottom 3 and Cowell embarrasses himself weekly by gushing to everyone about how great she is.

And while there are millions of naturally shy people in this world, I've seen Crystal on TV way more than enough to be sure that she's not one of them. I believe that in her case "hating attention" is a swipple pose, related to the brooding, "misunderstood" pose familiar to spoiled middle class children everywhere. Oh, what she wouldn't give to be finally misunderstood some day.
Just two of the problems with this:

1) Swipples don't watch American Idol.
2) What exactly is there to misunderstand about Crystal? As I've written before, she sings pop songs like a fat, drunken middle-aged man. It's really not complicated.

When I shared that last point with a co-worker of mine who watches American Idol, she started defending Crystal by comparing her to Janis Joplin. I don't know if it was through drugs or because of some inborn chemical imbalance, but Janis Joplin really was crazy. Luckily for Crystal, she's just posing.

While it's icky and immoral to find unhinged people fascinating, sadly, on occasion, everybody does anyway. In that sense Janis Joplin was far more fascinating than this Crystal girl will ever be.

Back to business: I've yet to regret shorting Crystal's win-it-all Intrade contract. This TMZ story should further strengthen her poseur image in the minds of the downscale, swipple-hating Idol audience.


One weird thing I've noticed about Intrade is that events whose chances of occuring cannot be more than 1% sometimes trade as if their likelihood was 10% or 20% instead. I've seen this phenomenon again and again and I've made most of my Intrade winnings by capitalizing on it.

For example, just last week I shorted a contract predicting the passage of an immigration bill before the end of this year. The market was saying that it had a 20% chance of being signed into law, which was clearly insane. If a similar bill failed in 2007, when the unemployment rate was still low, the chances of this one passing now must be very close to zero. I expect to win about $120 on this bet alone.

Another such case is the contract predicting a bombing campaign against Iran before July 1st of next year. An event like that would be sure to lead to an oil embargo, which in the current economic climate is clearly unacceptable to the kinds of people who usually make these kinds of decisions. There is a fear out there that, largely due to the debt situation, this economic crisis could turn into something that's never been seen before, something worse than the Great Depression. An oil embargo could easily be the final push that plunges the world into an economic abyss. This is why a war with Iran is extremely unlikely in the near future.

But for some reason there are people on Intrade who're giving this war a 20% chance of occurring before next July. Needless to say, I've shorted that contract too.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Thoughts on the Latest News

A plane carrying much of Poland's political leadership, including its president, has crashed in Russia. It's a tragedy, of course, but while reading about it in the NY Times I couldn't help but be annoyed by this sentence:

"The two countries had been making strides in recent months to improve their ties, which had been strained since the days of communism, when Poland was a Soviet satellite."

It's amazing that somebody at the Times, somebody whose job is apparently to report on Poland, thinks or can get away with pretending to think, that the Russian-Polish rivalry dates to "the days of communism." Or that it ever had anything to do with communism.

Russia and Poland had been at war with each other in pretty much every century since the 11th. The two countries tried to swallow one another whole several times. For example, Russia's main state holiday, its rough equivalent of other nations' Independence Days, is the anniversary of the Russian popular uprising that chased Polish occupiers out of Moscow in 1612. Oh, you didn't know that the Polish army once occupied Moscow? Then you shouldn't be reporting on Poland for the New York freaking Times!

The article points out the irony of this tragedy occurring near the place in the Smolensk region where thousands of Polish officers were executed by the Soviets in 1940. But anyone who knows anything about the history of that region is more likely to remember that Russia and Poland fought several incredibly bloody wars for Smolensk in the 16th and 17th centuries. The human toll of every one of those wars surpassed that of the Katyn massacre many times over. Ethnically the Smolensk region was always Russian, so its repeated occupations by Poland could never be described as anything but foreign aggression.

What, you're saying that such imperialistic attitudes died centuries ago? Then obviously you are unfamiliar with the concept of Intermarum. Jozef Pilsudski, Poland's leader between 1926 and 1935, wanted Poland to once again run the entire area between the Baltic and the Black seas, calling it Międzymorze in Polish and Intermarum in Latin (both words translate as between-the-seas).

"Józef Piłsudski's strategic goal was to resurrect an updated form of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, while working for the disintegration of the Russian Empire, and later the Soviet Union, into its ethnic constituents. (The latter was his Prometheist project.)"

You've got to give the guy credit for ballsiness. An attempt to put that project into practice would have rivaled WWII in scale. This map of it is nothing but insane. It shows Poland running an area with a population at least 5 times greater than its own. And the reason why guys like Pilsudki didn't just go for it was weakness, not humanitarianism or lack of desire.

Back to Communism:

In the 1920s and 1930s, while Soviet Communism still conformed to Marx's and Lenin's original direction, The New York Times was one of its biggest fans. But when after the war Stalin remade Soviet Communism into its polar opposite (Russian nationalism), the Times and similar organizations suddenly became anti-communist. Which is to say that they kept true to Marx's and Lenin's original conception of Communism, while Stalin severely deviated from it. But since he continued to call his government Communist, the New York Times, together with the US government, started calling themselves anti-communist in order to better express their disapproval of him. It's confusing, I know.

Polish nationalists, who understandably hated the Russian occupation of their country after WWII, started exploiting this change in terminology as soon as they caught on to it. Guys like Lech Walesa, to get sympathy from half a world away, portrayed the latest round in their millennial conflict with Russia as a struggle against communism, not as a struggle against Russians as an occupying people. Did he realize that actual Communism died in Eastern Europe in 1946 and that the guys whose help he was seeking against the Russians were actually Marx's primary political heirs? I'm sure he did.

The more you think about politics, the more you realize that all of the intelligent, pragmatic actors in it are moved by ethnocentrism, i.e. by Darwinian forces. Ideologies like communism, libertarianism, PC, anti-racism, feminism, Islamism, what have you, are for the most part ruses. The people who believe in them sincerely are chumps, losers, detritus lining history's road.

Not that mere observers like me, whose political involvement is limited to laughing at these ruses in private or on blogs that nobody reads, aren't losers ourselves. Of course we are. I'm not trying to get onto any high horses here. It's just an observation.