Tuesday, March 31, 2009

And we're listening to him because...

After quoting a Robert L. Rodriguez at length as the bearish counterpoint to the now-bullish Doug Kass, this column rather undermines his credibility here:

The Capital fund that Mr. Rodriguez manages for First Pacific, which is slightly lower for the year and down 42 percent since last March, is now making heavy bets on energy companies.

So on one hand you can listen to Doug Kass, who was considered the most prominent bear going into the collapse, or on the other you can listen to a guy who took it on the chin at least as badly as the S&P over the past year. And if he's down 42% since last March, he's probably down a lot more than that since YE07, given how horrendous the first three months of 2008 were.

This isn't to say that Mr. Rodriguez is especially bad at his job or is wrong that there's a lot more downside left, only that it's not clear why they couldn't find a bear they could quote who had been a little less wrong recently.

h/t Ritholtz

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Biting like there ain't no shame in it

Compare and contrast the cover art for Dan Deacon's "Bromst" (2009) and Department of Eagles' "In Ear Park" (2008):

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Can you get anything right?

This is pretty funny. BP's John Perrotto apparently reported that Pedro Martinez was about to sign with Houston, and that turned out not to be the case. In his post today entitled "Mea Culpa," he concludes:

I would love to be able to write this off as easily as saying you win some and lose some. That’s not the case, though. As a reporter, you’re [sic] No. 1 responsibility is to get the story right.

I didn’t do that and, to you the readers, I apolozige [sic].

Monday, March 16, 2009

That's the private banking system for you

As Dr. Black explained to Larry Summers in his seminal post "Stop Feeding Me A Shit Sandwich," it's called bankruptcy you idiot.

It's true that the government can't do much to stop AIG from paying out bonuses but this is because Obama listened to Summers and Geithner and decided to pretend that these institutions aren't bankrupt.

Well guess what, if they're not bankrupt then who is he to say that their executives didn't generate tens of millions of dollars worth of "shareholder value"?

You think Apple's playing about its money?

High dudgeon in the tech blogosphere over Apple's putting an "authentication chip" in the headphones/controller of the new ultra-tiny iPod Shuffle. The chip ensures that if you want to buy non-Apple headphones you'll only be able to get them from companies that are paying Apple for the privilege (and passing the cost on to you).

Now I get the argument that making your product a "closed" system like this is counterproductive. If you discourage third parties from making hardware/software that's interoperable with yours, you will eventually get out-innovated by a competing platform that welcomes them.

But in the mobile music player space, Apple doesn't have any competitors on the horizon. That's why they can take their customers' lunch money and leave them clawing their eyes out for more. And even to the extent that someday there's a Zune Shuffle to worry about, the battle is not going to be won or lost over whose players are compatible with the greatest variety of headphones.

So why should they leave money on the table, is my take.


Saturday, March 14, 2009

"It's just an achiness."

Well that was a sweet two months.

Now, I approved of the Tim Redding signing, so I'm not really in a position to criticize here. But Omar's saying that his achy shoulder (also, presumably, his inability to avoid getting shelled by the University of Michigan in a spring training exhibition) is the result of an offseason foot surgery that he had in November and hasn't had adequate time to recover from.

Of course, the Mets signed him in January, so maybe they should have asked for a little more than an MRI to prove he was in pitching shape.

Whether the injury was forseeable or not, I'm going to make like a credit rating agency and downgrade the Redding signing from "prudent addition of rotation filler" to "huge waste of $2 million" after the implosion has already happened.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Fortunately, he's a relief pitcher

Gordon Edes pens a column "Rodriguez Falls Short in Ambassador Role". Apparently after Venezuela beat the U.S. in their WBC game our new closer initially declined to take questions from the media. He was convinced, however, to come back out and by Edes' own estimation "was engaging, answering all inquiries at length." He was angry at some unflattering press the Venezuelan team had gotten after getting trounced by the U.S. in their first matchup.

Now while I tend not to care how much players talk to the press or whether they're good "clubhouse guys," if that's the kind of thing you concern yourself with, fine. But Edes completely loses the plot here:

"K-Rod’s inning of work was not a clean one, a foreshadowing of what Mets fans are advised to expect."

How unclean was it? He walked (former MVP) Jimmy Rollins, and another guy reached on an error before he struck out Kevin Youkilis to end it. Doesn't sound that bad, but Edes notes that Rodriguez walked 10 leadoff batters last year, compared to just one for Jon Papelbon.

Of course, Jon Papelbon is not a point of reference. He's a freak of nature who gave up fewer walks last year (8) than a lot of closers gave up home runs. "He walks more leadoff hitters than Papelbon" is the kind of criticism a moron would make.

So do your hand-wringing about K-Rod's people skills if you must, Edes, but let's not pretend he's likely to have much to apologize for pitching-wise.



Jon Stewart needs to move on

As much as I've enjoyed Jon Stewart's prosecution of Jim Cramer, I'm not sure what he managed to prove except that a lot of his advice turned out to be bad. He did that pretty effectively. I hadn't realized that in addition to the bogus clip that Stewart played first (showing Cramer assuring a caller that his money was safe as a client of Bear Stearns, which it was), there were also clips from about the same time of Cramer recommending Bear stock.

Still, I have no idea what Stewart means when he chides "I understand you want to make finance entertaining. But it's not a fucking game." Besides being maybe the most cringingly unfunny thing he's ever said, what's his fucking point? That if Cramer didn't scream and have sound effects that his mother's 401k would be in better shape? Give me a fucking break.

I think CNBC appeared on Stewart's radar because of the Rick Santelli thing, when he realized, apparently all of a sudden, that the dominant financial news channel was largely staffed by super right-wing cheerleaders of corporate America. And I'm glad that he's gone after CNBC.

But the political bias of the "news" side of CNBC has nothing to do with Cramer. Yes, he has called Obama a "wealth destroyer" and talked about certain stocks being "Obama-proof," but it's somewhat tongue-in-cheek and always in the context of pitching an investment theme. He "liked" the Bush administration because it was "of, by and for the corporation," friendly to mergers, etc. But if he really shared Larry Kudlow's politics I wouldn't be able to watch the show.

Unless you're going to outlaw giving financial advice on television, I'm not sure what Cramer is supposed to do differently except stop making bad calls, which obviously no one can do. If you don't like Cramer, don't watch him! Or take the other side of the trade! I have zero sympathy for people who lost money following his advice. Or at least, no more than I have for anyone who lost money.

Stewart seems to honestly believe that Cramer bears some personal responsibility not just for the advice he's given/his failure to predict the financial collapse but for the financial collapse itself, which is intensely stupid even though it sounds plausible that such a figure would have "contributed to a frenzied environment" or whatever.

Anyway, whether or not Cramer is actually good at giving financial advice I don't think he deserves the accusation that he was recklessly endangering people's money. Stocks really had outperformed every other asset class by a wide margin for a long time, and if you've watched his show for any length of time his advice actually tends to be fairly conservative.

Cramer didn't look good when he got all indignant that a "comedian" would deign to criticize him when he didn't even know what Tier 1 capital was, but Stewart was much more the self-important, uninformed asshole in this little skirmish.

Does Mickey Kaus know about this?

CNN just did a segment on a website called BlueServo.net that lets you monitor the U.S.-Mexico border via webcam. It's sponsored by the Texas Border Sheriff's Coalition (TBSC), and enlists, I'm not making this up, "Virtual Texas Deputies" to report any suspicious activity to the brick-and-mortar border patrol.

This is going to be like the Shiba Inu puppy cam for wingnuts.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Ross Douthat is a joke

Everyone is very excited that Ross Douthat is going to be replacing Bill Kristol as the house conservative of the New York Times op-ed page.

On the one hand, I do think this is a brilliant move by the Times. As conservative pundits go, Douthat is smooth jazz to Kristol's death metal. He's just the kind of conservative that allows liberals to pat themselves on the head for finding common ground with an ideological foe.

But the idea that Ross Douthat represents a new breed of "conservative intellectual" only goes to show what an oxymoron that term really is. His thesis: "Liberals are probably right about supply-side economics being bunk, but do they have to be so mean to pro-lifers like myself?" He's not so much a right winger as he is a young person who manages to whine about the kids these days as you'd think only an old person could.

That's his whole schtick. He's a conservative who often seems like he knows better, but (as you can tell by his grandfatherly Brooks Brothers style) he identifies with things that are Old and Traditional, like the Catholic church. His politics seem fundamentally driven by aesthetic considerations. He opposes reproductive rights not so much because he's a misogynist, but because he fancies himself "old school."

So fine, he's an improvement over Kristol, but spare me the fawning. I'd rather the Times look for a conservative who's actually persuasive instead of one who just knows how to flatter liberals before whining about how intolerant we are of God-fearing traditionalists like himself.

And just for fun, this was his reaction to John McCain's VP pick:

At the moment, I'm probably rooting harder for Sarah Palin to succeed than I have for any politician in recent memory. Just something to keep in mind while you're reading my commentary.

But he's a very serious thinker.

Monday, March 09, 2009

When white people do it it's "political violence"

I don't think anyone had a problem calling the USS Cole bombing an act of "terrorism," even though it was a military target, so I'm not sure why the New York Times would decline to use the term anywhere in this story.

Sounds plausible

DougJ: "To put it simply, I fear that we are now ruled by incompetent egomaniacs who will never blow the whistle on each other, no matter how bad things get, because to do so would be to admit that none of them is indispensable or brilliant after all."


Saturday, March 07, 2009

Obama Embraces Unitary Executive

I've finally taken the time to read Glenn Greenwald's various indictments of the Obama administration's views on executive power, and he does seem to have the goods. So I'm answering the call and acknowledging that Obama is indeed making some of the absurd, wholly unconstitutional legal claims that the Bush administration made.

As disastrous and unjustified as the Iraq War may have been, there wasn't anything unconstitutional about it. There was no formal declaration of war, but we haven't gone that route in a while, and both houses of Congress passed an Authorization for the Use of Military Force Against Iraq. Whatever else it was, it didn't represent an attempt by Bush to undermine our whole system of government.

The real Constitution-shredding lay in Bush/Cheney/Addington/Yoo's claims that when acting in the interest of national defense (as determined by him, of course) the president doesn't have to obey the law. That was the essence of the FISA controversy, which was staggeringly soft-pedaled by the media. It was the most dangerous, though hardly the bloodiest, legacy of the Bush administration.

So Obama's decision to basically spit on a court order and claim executive powers he doesn't have is really bad news. The "Unitary Executive" theory is completely un-American and we shouldn't be letting Obama trot it out when he finds it convenient. In the best case scenario, he's only doing it to protect Bush administration officials from prosecution (enforcing the law being too "divisive" for his liking). But even that would be a piss-poor justification, and the alternatives are all worse.

Who cares about Opening Day?

The coverage of Johan Santana's elbow has focused overwhelmingly on the question of whether or not he will be able to pitch on Opening Day. I am not agnostic on this question. I have a strong preference for "Yes," and the latest is that it is still possible and that's all to the good. But the focus on Opening Day specifically, as opposed to say Game 4 of the 162 game regular season, seems to miss the point.

I'm worried about Opening Day only to the extent that Santana's inability to make his first scheduled start would bode extremely ill for the total number of starts he makes. I don't care if he misses one, or which one it is, as long as he makes the vast majority of them. The Mets are in Cincinnati for their first series anyway.

It's good to hear that he and the Mets are trying to keep hope alive for Opening Day. And the fact that they have him throwing at all means the medical staff must be supremely confident that nothing is about to explode, but I'm still very worried. And I'll remain worried even if he makes his (all-important) Opening Day start and throws a gem. Something must have really scared Omar Minaya for him to give assurances to the Daily News that he still has minor league chips left to trade (say if the ace of the staff went down for the season).

And that elbow has a lot of miles on it for a guy who hasn't quite turned 30. Every year since he was 25, Santana has tossed at least 219 innings. Last year he threw a career high 234. Of course this is the "damned if you do" paradox of staying so healthy for so long, but you'd have to think that kind of workload eventually catches up even to durable players. And while his out pitch may be his change-up, he's not exactly a finesse pitcher, either.

In any case, the metric that people should be following is not % Chance of Making His Opening Day Start it's the Over/Under on starts for the season (I'd put it at 28 personally). They're related, but the former is only significant to the extent it changes the latter.