People’s Republic of China – BONUS POST

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This is the song Janet Yellen is singing now.

PEOPLE’S REPUBLIC OF CHINA

sung to the tune of “Hotel California” with apologies to The Eagles.

In a busy Asian city, bright lights in my eyes,
the stink of cigarette smoke, crowds in every high rise.
Given the agenda, I tried to relax.
The talks were heavy and deal chances slim.
It’s all spies and hacks.

I was geared to debate there. I heard the opening bell.
I was thinking to myself– so much stress. I hope I stay well.
Then they fed me their specialties, and they showed me the way.
The media waited in the corridor. Thought I heard someone say,

Welcome to the People’s Republic of China.
Such a lovely place.
Such a lovely place.
But they’re in the rat race.
Plenty of excess in the People’s Republic of China.
Oppression and fear.
Oppression and fear.
Paradoxes here.

They’ve got top officials– they got fancy cars.
They got factories and technology, they might go to Ma-ars.
How they danced in our peace talks. Overtures and threats.
We jockeyed for position. A treaty is anyone’s bet.

I said to my hostess, you’ve got a great crew.
They said we haven’t had that spirit here since 1972.

And still we put up a front in all-ll we say.
We talked circles around human rights; be reasonable– okay?

Welcome to the People’s Republic of China.
Such a lovely place.
Such a lovely place.
Always saving face.
Livin’ it up in the People’s Republic of China.
Put on a good show.
Put on a good show,
till it’s time to go.

Warships and solar panels, semiconductors and rice.
We’re all just prisoners here, of our own device.
And as part of the ceremony,
we gathered for the press.
They stab it with their steely words but it’s still an economic mess.

This was a trip to remember, as I headed for the door.
Haven’t made much progress from the place I was before.
These talks scratched the surface. But I was gladly received.
We’re entrenched countries joined at the hip, we can NEVER leave.

the signal and the noise (sic)

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The Book of the Week is “the signal and the noise (sic)” by nate silver (sic), published in 2012. In this volume, the author described in redundant and wordy terms, why human beings are so fallible in their predictions and forecasts (and explained the difference between the two). Basically, humans get distracted by noise, so they don’t zero in on the right signals in order to tell the future correctly.

Ironically, the author used less-than-ideal language in describing the epic failings of ratings-agencies in the 2008 financial crash. He should have pointed out that they could have mitigated, just a little, their false advertising by using better risk-assessment wording.

Silver wrote, “… trillions of dollars in investments that were rated as being almost completely safe instead turned out to be almost completely unsafe.” (Never mind the awkwardness of the word “being” in the middle of the sentence, or “it” in the middle of a sentence– so many recently published books have that kind of bad writing.) The ratings agencies should describe investments as “low-risk” or “high-risk” and use the adverbs “extremely” or “very” or “somewhat” or “slightly” as applicable, but never use the word safe.

Anyway, another irony was that the author appeared to be distracted by vast generalizations that were just noise– as cherry-picked data tend to be. He provided all sorts of line graphs and scads of data on housing bubbles. He cited a study on market prices of the “American home” completed by Robert Schiller and Karl Case that created an index based on a century’s worth of data– the years between 1896 and 1996, inclusive.

The research indicated that an inflation-adjusted home bought for $10,000 in 1896 would be worth $10,600 in 1996. Is that noise or what? Silver didn’t specify what “American home” meant. Anyhow, who would buy a home in 1896, and sell it in 1996?

Silver did admit that predictions and forecasts were less inaccurate when qualitative data supplemented statistical models. Worded facts are considerations that add real-world conditions because numbers never tell the full story in complex situations, which are dynamic.

Incidentally, at the book’s writing, he had had success in making predictions in professional baseball because: 1) an excessive amount of data on it had been collected, and 2) he claimed its rules didn’t change. The latter is not true anymore. And besides, performance-enhancing drugs, not to mention new stadiums– among other factors– have put new noise and signals in baseball statistics.

The author pointed out that more data actually made for worse accuracy in predictions in many areas of life. Technology in the form of software that can process scads and scads of data in record time has improved humans’ ability to specifically forecast severe weather, but not earthquakes. As an aside– in any area that involves linguistics, technology is overrated. A chatbot cannot comprehend complex concepts and nuanced language (like sarcasm, irony and idioms). American English is especially fraught with words that have multiple meanings, so it is highly contextual.

There are still financial crashes, gamblers who lose big-time, and “experts” who can’t modify conditions to improve the economy with certainty. Incidentally, as is well known, more and more, daily life in America has been infiltrated by politics.

Read the book to learn about futuristic pronouncements of: television pundits, professional-sports commentators and gamblers, seismologists, chess software, national-security advisers, poker players, and many others.

Just About Everybody vs. Howard Hughes

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The Book of the Week is “Just About Everybody vs. Howard Hughes, The Inside Story of The TWA-Howard Hughes Trial” by David B. Tinnin, published in 1973.

In the 1930’s, Howard Hughes inherited his father’s oil-industry-equipment company, Toolco, which sold a unique, patented, lucrative drill. By the early 1950’s, Hughes had become a pilot passionate about acquiring jets (whose engines had technology that was obsolescing pistons) for his airline, TWA. He was an alpha male whose desire for control of his company led to decades of complex litigation involving age-old economic and political issues.

As American society became ever more capitalistic in the Postwar Era, businessmen hired more and more attorneys to wield more and more power and influence. They sought to change the tax laws to make more and more money.

Hughes was a victim of his own success in that he was using highly leveraged, deficit financing to purchase the new jets through his Toolco. Into the 1950’s, individuals (rather than their companies or employers) were the ones responsible for debts if they needed to borrow money for their businesses. This economic condition has come full circle with tech startups.

Hughes borrowed from banks and insurance companies, but by the late 1950’s, his debt was so high, they refused to give him special treatment. He used dirty tricks (which arguably weren’t illegal but were unethical, at best) to order jets from a few different suppliers.

Hughes’ incestuous business transactions generated an escalation of commitment among various parties, who were averse to losing even more money if they withdrew from their ongoing deals with him. Need it be said, there is nothing new under the son (or sun– either one). In the early 1960’s, his creditors terminated his borrowing privileges and created a voting trust that took control of TWA. Neither side wanted to see TWA go bankrupt. There were, of course, other wrenches in the works, which are too numerous to mention here.

The orgy of litigation resulting from Hughes’ business activities triggered a very controversial legal and economic issue. Hughes owned 78.23% of the voting stock of TWA, which was financially affiliated with his Toolco. At that time, TWA shares were not owned by the general public. His side argued that he should be allowed to control his companies as he saw fit, because he had a controlling interest in them. On the other hand, he really didn’t own them– his creditors did!

Besides that, if TWA went belly-up, there would be far-reaching economic consequences for many stakeholders. All employees of TWA would lose their jobs, competing airlines would benefit financially, contractors supplying jets and their parts to TWA would lose a customer, Hughes’ lenders would lose megabucks, etc., etc., etc.

According to the book (which appeared to be credible although it lacked Notes, Sources, References, and Bibliography), in June 1961, the big lawsuit initially launched in federal court in the Southern District of New York against Hughes was named TWA v. Howard Hughes. TWA charged Hughes with making special deals with third parties that led to financial harm for TWA. He tried to keep competing airlines from buying jets he wanted for TWA, through monopolistic practices.

BUT, due to disastrous losses (from a downturn in air travel that prompted proposals of various airline mergers, and his tax-evasion tricks), Hughes chose to cancel a portion of jet orders for TWA. Under his crushing debt load, he couldn’t afford to pay for all of his purchases. So the airline couldn’t stay competitive in the commercial airline industry. Other airlines were purchasing jets sooner at lower cost. Hughes’ series of attorneys through the years, of course used all manner of shenanigans (through: filing a blizzard of documents with creative legal arguments, counter-suing and appealing rulings) to delay the case.

One last-minute development that aided Hughes’ attorney before Hughes would be charged with contempt of court yet again, was a curious January 1963 Supreme Court ruling regarding jurisdiction in connection with a monopolistic entity. There was a little federal agency called the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB), that had been regulating the airlines. The attorney repeatedly tried to get the case against Hughes dismissed– by arguing that CAB, rather than a federal court, should have been trying Hughes’ case.

Read the book to learn every last detail of this suspenseful story that spawned reams of tabloid fodder, but also greatly impacted the legal, economic and tax cultures of corporate America.

The Emergency

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The Book of the Week is “The Emergency, A Year of Healing and Heartbreak in A Chicago ER” by Thomas Fisher, published in 2022.

At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, friendly bedside manner disappeared in the Emergency Room of the author’s employer, a medical center affiliated with the University of Chicago, on Chicago’s South Side. The author, a medical doctor, was tasked with judging whether to put newly arrived patients on ventilators.

Already a stressful place, the Emergency Department was put under excessive tension when an edict was issued that everyone entering the building was required to cover his or her mouth and nose (with any old piece of germy fabric or a plastic shield; most wore the fabric). The authorities perpetuated the scientifically questionable assertion that covering one’s face (with anything) would stem the spread of disease.

BUT, requiring the country’s entire population to wear medical masks would be impractical and unenforceable. There wouldn’t be enough medical masks for everyone; meaning, masks that would filter one’s toxic exhalations, allow one to breathe relatively easily, while presumably, disallowing most germs from entering and exiting one’s mouth and nose. So, instead, across the country, there was rampant abuse of power by numerous officials in controlling the population with petty, dishonest mask-orders.

Anyway, a nearby Chicago hospital had no more ventilators, and another had only three on hand. A patient might not have COVID, but still might be struggling to breathe because she had heart failure from postpartum cardiomyopathy. The author decided to treat a young patient such as this one with magnesium, additional Lasix and nitroglycerin instead of a ventilator, because she would be more likely to survive than an older patient in poor health who had severe COVID.

“Still, too many physicians and scientists accept that the inequities around us emerge from inside the body we treat, rather than in relation to prevailing societal structures or systems… But it is society that shapes the population-wide patterns we see.”

This volume presented, in a series of anecdotes on the patients admitted and treated by the author, reasons why this country desperately needs NATIONAL HEALTHCARE. It is the right thing to do at this time in history. Other reasons can be found in this blog’s posts:

Morphine, Ice Cream, and Tears. (sic); Chasing My Cure; Clinging to the Wreckage; and I Shall Not Hate.

Read the book to learn of the physical and psychological traumas suffered by not just patients, but also caregivers, that could be prevented or minimized by improving policies in national healthcare in the United States.

The Education of A Speculator

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The Book of the Week is “The Education of A Speculator” by Victor Niederhoffer, published in 1997.

Born in 1943 in Brooklyn in New York City, the author sorted “market advisers and investment newsletter writers” into eight different categories, providing a brief description of their behaviors or personality traits. He classified himself as “The Other World Person” because he ignored the overpaid noisemakers and distractions of conventional media outlets that purported to convey information on which securities to buy, sell, or avoid.

The author’s two data sources for his commodities, currency trading and investing ideas consisted of the National Enquirer and his research results from testing all kinds of variables in statistics-calculations of past securities-market data using software. No other sources.

The mid-1990’s saw great advances in statistics software modeling that could process scads and scads of data; hence, market players could erroneously use past performance of investment vehicles faster than ever before for predictive purposes to help themselves and others lose their money faster than ever before. And those advances might have played a part in the scandals and financial crashes that have occurred with alarmingly increasing frequency in the last thirty years. Big Tech’s and Big Media’s incestuous oligopolies (fraught with political donations) just keep getting more hegemonic, so that power and money keep feeding on themselves ad infinitum. Globalization is yet another wrench in the works.

At the book’s writing, global trade had been maturing for decades, but capitalism was still in its infancy in many territories of the world; particularly in ones that were becoming politically democratic again, or for the first time in their histories. Many European countries were in the process of adopting cooperation rather than competition in their financial and economic dealings. A large proportion of them even voted to use one currency among them. The United States kept to itself, but more and more people around the world were starting to trade or invest in foreign securities, currencies and governmental financial entities, so chain reactions occurred more and more.

The Federal Reserve (aka Fed) has always been a major influence on America’s financial markets. The author contended that the Fed was just as clueless as the rest of the country about what effects its making of rate-adjustments would have on the nation’s economy. It is currently just as clueless. But its announcements are made with such confidence and arrogance, that a large number of their listeners are brainwashed into believing they are receiving valuable information.

The incumbents– known names pre-Internet–became the most influential voices in the financial sphere. The wiliest ones use propaganda techniques to paper over their wrong predictions. They never apologize for the losses stemming from their pronouncements. The walls of the author’s business office were lined with portraits of ones who had disastrous losses.

To be fair, the author himself told various anecdotes of his own failures. In 1992, he bought IBM stock for his own kids. That was an embarrassing mistake. He learned to cut his losses at a certain level of the total money he reinvested. And, he didn’t let his greed get out of control when he was winning.

The author was a champion squash player. One similarity between squash and speculating is externalities–opponents’ actions determine players’ actions in the game. So, for instance, in ten-pin bowling, there are no externalities. In squash, there are. In one college finals-match, the author moved his body in a way that tricked his opponent into thinking the ball was going to go in a certain direction, but it went the opposite way. Traders and investors play similar tricks in their communications in the financial markets. Conditions change rapidly so even the market propagandists’ winning streaks don’t last long.

The reason is:

First, independent thinkers make observations or find obscure data that works in making them money. Then software detects their trading tricks. So word gets around, and everyone else jumps on the bandwagon so that the advantage is lost.

Human beings want so badly— to believe they can predict the future, and love to fantasize about getting rich quick– that they tend to look for patterns and order where none exist. The author did provide one vast generalization that might be valuable, though. His statistical analysis between the years 1870 and 1995 inclusive showed that years ending in the digit 5 were good years, and those ending in 7 were bad, for the American stock markets. He didn’t speculate as to why.

However, politics is one major mover of markets, and the collective mood of the United States specifically, might be a bit more upbeat in years when political uncertainty is at a minimum. Presidents and other politicians begin or continue their terms during years ending in 5. The public might be unclear about their future policy directions, or weary of them by the years that end in 7.

Anyway, read the book to learn a boatload more about the author’s philosophy, his trials, tribulations and triumphs in the markets, his research results and comparisons between financial markets and: ecology, games and sports.