Information Landmine

"The Americans keep telling us how successful their system is. Then they remind us not to stray too far from our hotel at night." - An un-named EU trade representative quoted during international trade talks in Denver, Colorado, 1997.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

All your money is belong to my moustache!

Ok people,

I've been bullied into signing on for Movember.

For those of you too lazy to click through on the link, the basic idea is for the month of November, I will grow some facial hair, and you will all part with your money to sponsor me.

Now I know what you're thinking: "PAY for Pete to have crap facial hair in November? We get that for free year round. What sort of suckers does he take us for?"

Well I'm not going to answer the last bit of that question until I'm holding your hard-earned cash. But I can offer you at least two reasons for paying for my facial growth.

In the first place, it's for charity. Prostate cancer to be exact. Which is, apparently, the number one cancer for men in the UK. As a man, I say "Down with this sort of thing", and I hope you'll join me.

More importantly, however, I will not be cultivating any old lip slug. What you are going to see, from me, good people, is a full-on, lovingly groomed, no-expense-spared imitation of the spectacular (though I suspect prosthetic) effort sported by Al Swearengen (no stranger to prostate trouble himself) in Deadwood (Not all that Safe For Work, but pretty tame by the standards of the show)

Or as close as I can get to it in the permitted one month of growing time, anyway.

I also believe the idea is for me to keep some sort of documentary evidence of the growth on a blog, so you can check to see that you really are subjecting me to the indignity that you paid for, as is your right.

So now, the full facts having come to light, I'm guessing that what you're thinking is, "How can we give money to this noble cause?"

Glad you asked. You can donate by either:

Clicking this link
and donating online using your credit card or PayPal account, or Writing a cheque payable to ‘The Prostate Cancer Charity Re: Movember', referencing my Registration Number 1627561 and mailing it to:

The Prostate Cancer
First Floor Cambridge
100 Cambridge Grove
London W6 OLE

How easy is that?

Pictures of the 'tache will be posted to this blog on a weekly basis from November 1st. Just in case it fails to reach the required proportions in the alloted time, I may also use that time to post various Deadwood themed items, so as you not be denied all the moustache action you so richly deserve.

Update: Careful, if belated, research informs me that the McShane 'tache is in fact 100% real. I unreservedly retract my careless allegations and apologise profusely for any distress or loss of reputation this may have caused Mr. McShane or his family.

Powers Boothe, though. That's gotta be a fake.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Paranoia? I 'ardly know 'er.

In an uncharacteristic feat of basic observation skills, a large majority of the USA seems to have cottoned on to what the rest of the world new already, that voting for McCain-Palin would mean that the only thing between a dangerous fanatic and the nuclear codes would be... another dangerous fanatic.

What's a power-hungry team of psychopaths to do? Keith Motherson has a few suggestions:

First they need to win the ‘Jim Crow’ battle to suppress the vote of likely Democrat demographics. Robert Kennedy Jr and Greg Palast report in Rolling Stone that the Republicans have been mis-registering and purging voters at unprecedented rates, with the result that when John Brown goes to the polls in Ohio he may find that he can’t vote because his driving licence says John D Brown (the ‘exact match’ rule), because he has been forced to move house recently, or on a host of other pretexts...

Second McCain will need to win the ‘Boss Tweed’ battle about counting the votes. Although the burgeoning election integrity movement has been recruiting many teams of citizen exit-pollers, the media will likely ignore them and the Republicans will be doing all they can to ensure that the ‘offical’ exit polls aren’t leaked before the necessary ‘adjustments’...

The Republicans have prepared the ground for protracted legal battles by countering ‘election theft’ charges with relentless propaganda against ‘massive partisan improprieties’ supposedly accompanying the registration drive of ACORN. The fact that the ‘voter fraud’ meme has been demolished in the eyes of rational people, does not mean that it might not be good for legal filibustering and serve as a great battle-cry for Palin’s mob against the ‘sore losers’ and ‘terrorist/insurgents’ causing ‘anarchy on our streets’.

Which failing there’s always the JFK solution (lone Pakistani gunman, anybody?) and Martial Law.

Those who think this all seems a bit fanciful might want to swing by Virgnia some time soon.


Saturday, October 25, 2008


Via William Gibson's blog:

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Financial recruiters maintaining fine sense of humour

From the Durahm Uni careers page (emphasis added)

12:00 – 19:30
Credit Suisse Offices, London
Looking to leverage your mathematical or algorithmic skills?
Enjoy developing effective solutions to challenging problems?
Want your work to make an impact in the real world?

Discover how Credit Suisse models the next generation of financial instruments and apply your technical and interpersonal skills in a credit derivatives workshop...

Find out how to apply for quantitative positions in investment
banking and meet with representatives from our Graduate
Recruitment team. Please note no prior finance knowledge is required.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Well there's a comforting thought...

From the FT:

The world's stock markets reacted positively to the gathering campaign to bail out the world's troubled banks, with governments on both sides of the Atlantic announcing measures to restore liquidity and inject fresh capital into their ailing banking systems... It was the best day for US stock markets since the rebound following the great crash of 1929.

Well that's reassuring.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Peeking out from behind your hands...

Legendary doomsayer/clairvoyant Nouriel Roubini says that, with a bit of good old fashioned government stimulus and some luck, we might just avoid global disaster:

While most of the economic and financial damage is already done and the global economy will not be able to avoid a painful recession, financial and banking crisis (i.e. the V-shaped short and shallow 6-month recession is now out of the window and we will experience a severe and more protracted 18 to 24 months U-shaped recession) the rapid and consistent implementation of these and other action will prevent the US, European and global economies from experiencing a systemic financial meltdown and entering in a more severe L-shaped decade long stagnation like the one experienced by Japan after the bursting of its real estate and equity bubble.

This may not sound like much to write home about, but keep in mind that Roubini has been both incredibly pessimistic and pretty much right so far - as a friend put it in an e-mail "we know the credit crisis is entering a wild phase when the time lag between Roubini making a prediction and it coming true collapses" - and you can maybe start to breathe half a sigh of very slight relief.

I am suitably chastened

Newly minted Nobel laureate Paul Krugman says that Gordon Brown is the man with the plan. Far from adopting the standard British policy of doubling down on what the Yanks do, he's actually helped make them do the right thing:

But when Henry Paulson, the U.S. Treasury secretary, announced his plan for a $700 billion financial bailout, he rejected this obvious path, saying, “That’s what you do when you have failure.” Instead, he called for government purchases of toxic mortgage-backed securities, based on the theory that ... actually, it never was clear what his theory was.

Meanwhile, the British government went straight to the heart of the problem — and moved to address it with stunning speed. On Wednesday, Mr. Brown’s officials announced a plan for major equity injections into British banks, backed up by guarantees on bank debt that should get lending among banks, a crucial part of the financial mechanism, running again. And the first major commitment of funds will come on Monday — five days after the plan’s announcement.

At a special European summit meeting on Sunday, the major economies of continental Europe in effect declared themselves ready to follow Britain’s lead, injecting hundreds of billions of dollars into banks while guaranteeing their debts. And whaddya know, Mr. Paulson — after arguably wasting several precious weeks — has also reversed course, and now plans to buy equity stakes rather than bad mortgage securities (although he still seems to be moving with painful slowness).

So, his initial claims about taking a global leadership role are looking a lot less like grandiose hot air. Which is why I've been rather regretting this post. Not because I feel bad about being nasty about Labour, obviously. But I think I may have made myself look a bit of a tit.

(Vince Cable would have done it better and sooner, though.)

Update: Commenting on the Krugman award, John Quiggin clues me in to what may be the most exciting thing I've heard this year:

Paul has generously agreed to take a part in a CT seminar on the work of Charles Stross, which should be published in the next month or so.
Confirmation of my long-held suspicion that Crooked Timber was somehow a big, happy conspiracy devoted to providing stuff I wanted.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

To Quote Spinal Tap: How Much More Black Can It Get?

Could things in the financial markets be about to get even worse when trading opens tomorrow, following Friday's lame attempts by the G7 to settle industry and consumer fears (for in this brave new world, we are no longer citizens but consumers)? Watch this space and, more importantly, watch your pension and retirement funds as they disappear into a black hole formed by 30 years of laissez-faire, market fundamentalist ideological dominance within the international political economy.

Just how bad will things get by the time the financial system finally bottoms out? And is this merely a foretaste of why the Bush administration is illegally deploying the Army onto US soil in the shape of the new Consequence Management Response Force? Exactly what "consequence" are they preparing to "manage" that requires hardened combat troops on the streets of US cities?

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Thursday, October 09, 2008

The continuing adventures of McCain Boy...

His zeal apparently unswayed by a lack-lustre performance by his boy in the debate, the lunatic continues to pump money into Intrade at odd hours. The downside is much quicker now though - people have started linign up looking for a hand-out.

Monday, October 06, 2008

42 days later?

Nick Robinson: 42 days is dead.

Money quote:

Even if the PM had not made up his mind, an article by Andy Hayman, Scotland Yard's former Head of Anti-Terrorism, in today's Times would have made it up for him. Hayman writes that :

"It would have been my job to make these proposals work but just trying to understand them gives me a headache. ...Let's get real. This will just not work...The bill is about politics and it won't work"

He adds intriguingly that :

"I was astonished when, in July last year, the government floated the idea of revisiting the detention limit. I remain curious as to what prompted this rethink."

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Prediction Markets Questions

I've been getting more and more interested in predictions markets of late. For those who aren't familiar with the idea (and, frankly, why would you?), a predictions market lets you buy and sell bets on whether a certain event is going to happen. Oversimplifying a bit, the idea is that this gets you a better prediction than just looking at bookies odds, because everyone is placing bets can also sell them. So anyone who has any useful information to bring to the topic can look at the odds, say that they're under/overvalued, buy/sell them, and make a profit if it turns out they were right and the market moves the way they were expecting. All very Friedrich Hayek.

Anyway, the point is that, just like other sorts of markets, there's potential for arbitrage for the same good on different markets. If I see great odds on something on market A, and shitty ones on market B, I can make myself a healthy, risk-free profit buying on A and selling on B, in just the same way that traders do in other markets like currency and shares. A happy side effect of this, so the theory goes, is that all the markets get more efficient in their predictions, because instead of having lots of little markets, you've got one big one.

Trouble is, it doesn't seem to work like that. People have been commenting for some time now on how Intrade, which tends to be the go-to market for political events, is out of line with the other major betting exchanges on the hardly-obscure matter of who's going to be the next president of the US. At the moment, by my back of a fag-pack calculations. You could buy (bet on) John McCain at Betfair

sell (bet against) him for the same amount on Intrade (NB for anyone tempted to try this, you'd have to have about twice your betfair bet to cover your position)

and make a tidy profit either way.

Now why would this be the case? Part of the explanation is that Americans can't trade on Betfair, whereas they do trade on Intrade. But all that really means is that this should be a way for savvy folk outside the US to make a killing on the price difference. Which isn't happening.

There is, in essence, still a big pile of free money between the two markets. Why might this be?

Well, Nate Silver noticed back in September that a lot of the shorting of Obama seemed to be happening in spikes - as though one trader or institution were gambling heavily on the Obama campaign getting somehow derailed. This, obviously, can give rise to all sorts of conspiracy minded thinking, especially as people also seemed to be buying stock in Hillary. Assassination market, anyone?

I'm not sure I buy (sorry) much of that, especially since it seems to have stopped now, but I wonder if there isn't another possibility. Towards the bottom of his article, Nate drops this little gem:

And if I were one of those Beltway pundits who thinks I can be hip by referring to Intrade, I would take a look at the gross inefficiencies in these markets and think better of it.

Now, if Intrade is considered to be accurate by campaign journos, what's to stop someone affiliated with the McCain campaign buying up his stock and shorting Obama? Might not sound like a good use of money for the campaign, but it's a pretty good way to get round campaign finance laws if you happen to have maxed out your donations. This works particularly well in so far as the media covers the horse-race ("McCain announced his healthcare policy and polls suggest it was well-received"), rather than the issues ("McCain's healthcare poilcy is pure bullshit and relies on made-up figures"). If you have stock in Halliburton feel your business would do better under a Republican administration, you might think of it as an investment.

More sinisterly, what if it actually is someone working for Dieblold with inside information that hasn't yet come to light?

The bottom line is that I don't have a clue what's happening, but if it is someone trying to get some momentum behind McCain by buoying up his chances on the fancy new predictions market, then arbitrage on this could bring a whole new meaning to the idea of ethical investment. I have duly taken a position.

Update: WSJ had an article to the effect that someone still messing around with it on the 2nd October, and it shows no sign of stopping:

They also point out that the fact that this happens at times when trading is slow suggests that this is someone trying to move the market, rather than someone with inside information.

Suddenly, It All Makes Terrible Sense

So, there Information Landmine was, mulling over the ridiculousness of the McCain campaign's half-assed effort to bring Sarah Palin up to speed with foreign policy by putting her through a whirlwind session of meeting seven sympathetic Heads of State in the course of 48 hours at last week's opening of the UN General Assembly, when suddenly it all clicked into place:

Of course we've seen this before!

Our shocking-but-all-too-logical conclusion: McCain, inspired by Rex Harrison's iconic performance as Professor Henry Higgins, has a bet going with his cronies down at the VFW hall that he can take a simple, unsophisticated backwoods girl and, with only 60 days of intensive tutelage, pass her off to all and sundry as a bona fide world-leader-in-waiting.

So far, however, it's not fooling anyone outside of the usual yahoos from the "family values" crowd. "Professor" McCain, it would appear, has a lot more work to do.

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