Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Caught Between Barack and a Hard Place

I was wrong.

I was wrong about President Obama and Mr. Romney being handcuffed by the town hall format of last night's debate, going so far as to explicitly say it "means Romney's assertions will go unchallenged."

I was wrong about my evening being ruined by the preemption of New Girl. The second presidential debate of the 2012 general election, as it turns out, was entertaining and satisfying and arguably the most exciting political discourse I've witnessed in my lifetime.

I was wrong to think there wouldn't be a moment like in the video below, a moment that should not be overlooked. A moment where Mitt Romney lies about a dog-whistle issue and gets caught, where he exploits the death of four American diplomats, killed while serving our country, for political gain. Never mind that if this happened when a Republican was in the White House, Fox News wouldn't bat an eye at letting the investigation run its course; never mind that the State Department didn't want to announce to the world that there was a major CIA operation going on and they had to make sure nobody released any classified information; and never mind that Romney didn't call out Obama for merely being technically correct because Mitt wanted so badly to win a political point.

What I was not wrong about, however, is that last night's debate "won't change people's minds like the first one did." I feel confident in saying that once the post-debate polls come in over the weekend, Obama will see a small, meaningless bump, and I will still be pissed.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Passion of The Candidate

On the eve of the second presidential debate of the 2012 general election, I find myself wondering a few things.

I wonder, why did Obama, in front of his largest audience all season, act like a reluctant boyfriend dragged to a Twilight movie? No, Mr. President, you did not simply have "a bad night." You and your team canonized the bullshit notion that Romney should be handled with kid gloves, as if he wasn't going to come out swinging like an Adderall-fueled collegian studying for the LSATs. You are not, nor have you ever been even a Joe Biden-level debater, and Mitt Romney is no Sarah Palin. And the gall, the absolute arrogance to ask me for money after that shit show you called a debate performance? It all but makes me hope you lose. That's how pissed I still am.

I wonder, what will the inevitable Willard Romney administration be like? Will President Romney roll back abortion rights? Will he actually cut income tax rates across the board by 20%, even when "helping small business owners" has the (un)intended effect of helping the very wealthiest Americans? Will his presidency prove a boon for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, even though evangelical Christians, who believe the Bible is the word of God, really shouldn't vote for someone who thinks Jesus rose from the dead, then made a B line for America?

But mostly, I wonder how President Obama will manage to disappoint me in the remaining three months of his presidency, tonight included. With New Girl preempted, my evening is already ruined. But the second debate will be town hall format which means Romney's assertions will go unchallenged. The final debate is on foreign policy, so Obama won't have a chance to address "the 47%" or Romney's record at Bain Capital or his campaign's anti-education, anti-healthcare policies or any other thing that Americans actually care about, because foreign policy sure as hell isn't one of them.

Romney has surpassed Obama in a number of polls, and the remaining debates won't change people's minds like the first one did. Record donations will be made in these closing weeks, money that could be better by those who need it most. The only question left to wonder, I suppose, is whether to move to Florida or Texas before I blow my life savings on the lottery.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Are Public Schools Worth It?

NPR's Planet Money blog created the following graphic that illustrates the combined federal, state, and local government per student cost per year of public school:

Here's a map I created that uses SAT scores. 

Some states require students to take the ACT or the SAT so I recreated the map using ACT scores.

Perhaps a compromise is in order. Here's the average of each state's ACT and SAT ranking.

I could say that spending more on students means better educated students that do better on college entrance exams and get into better universities, but then I'd be like Fox News and knowingly lie to make a political point.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Friday Feature

This week's Friday Feature is something white people like, and the theme is shorts on social interaction.

Youtube's trends managers discusses his thoughts on why videos go viral.

An author with a name eerily similar to a famous Playmate tells you what you don't know about marriage.

And the founder of Rhapsody reminds us of the absurdity of the MPAA's copyright claims.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Financial Media Coverage 2

A month ago, I wrote an entry about the failure of my favorite CNBC show to recognize that Apple probably wasn't in for a (short-term) pullback. A month is a reasonable time frame to follow up on people's buy/sell calls, so let's see how things turned out:

I'm sorry, you were saying?

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Buyer's Remorse

Apple unveiled its newest iPad yesterday, yet in under 24 hours, I've already developed buyer's remorse. I don't have the iPad yet - I pre-ordered for delivery next Friday - but I'm already leaning more toward returning the iPad than keeping it. This is just the latest edition of purchasing indecision for me: in college, it took me 2 1/2 years and 13 jackets before I settled on one.

This iPad situation is different, however, because the machine has everything I wanted: a crazy high resolution display that looks as good as print, 4G LTE data connectivity, and a 10 hour battery life. The entry level version replaces the old model at the same $499 price point. Why then am I agonizing over buying it?

For the past 8 years, my computer usage profile has simply been a full-featured 15" laptop. In 2009, I added an iPhone, and in 2011, I received a decent laptop/desktop setup at work, but in the end, whether I'm in bed or on the couch or at the airport, I'm using my 15" laptop. My desire to purchase an iPad was motivated, in part, by being unable to replace my 4 1/2-year-old laptop while Intel continually delays the release of Ivy Bridge, their new processor and platform, but also because I thought it would be nice to be able to make digital annotations on the academic papers I read. Unlike making annotations on printed papers, I wouldn't have to keep track of the physical copies, and the digital annotations would even be searchable. The rest of the iPad's capabilities are nice if somewhat redundant in my usage profile, so when the new iPad was announced, I immediately placed my pre-order.

Later in the day, someone threw out the suggestion that with an iPad, I could replace my laptop with a cheaper, more powerful desktop. I haven't owned one in many years, but my work setup was growing on me, so I started to seriously consider the notion. Then this morning, everything fell apart.

I was sitting on my couch with CNBC on the TV, watching The Daily Show on Hulu, when I remembered that Hulu doesn't allow mobile devices to access its content without first subscribing to Hulu Plus. I could avoid Hulu by just downloading the shows, but I'd still have to transfer them from the downloading computer to my iPad, a nontrivial inconvenience. Furthermore, I was simultaneously chatting with friends and reading news articles, a level of multitasking that cannot be done on any device short of a laptop. And so I came to the harsh realization that iPad + desktop was a non-starter.

What about iPad + laptop? Surely that's a reasonable setup, and indeed, that was my intent all along, to buy an iPad upon release and replace my laptop upon Ivy Bridge's release. But then I started thinking to myself, is $500 really a good use of money for a half-internet device to read papers on? Aggravating my reluctance was an alluring pair of Harry's of London brown wingtips on Gilt for $199, down from $575 MSRP. I didn't end up buying the wingtips, but they did make me reconsider what might be my optimal purchasing strategy.

It seems inevitable that I will return my iPad and just buy a replacement laptop, but saving the $500 may not be as meaningful as staving off possession bloat. I would like to link this to some part of the economics literature dealing with consumer choice, but honestly, I'm so neurotic when it comes to these things that I surely do not show up in any general model and only might be interesting as a case study. I can offer one useful thought: as the economy recovers and we have more discretionary income to spend, perhaps we should be asking ourselves not what to buy but whether to buy at all.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

"Super Size Me" Revisited

I am a fan of McDonald's. That's a tenuous statement to make in today's health-crazed America, but there's something compelling about free-market capitalism and food. The stock has certainly rewarded shareholders, up 30% in the last year and 125% in the last five. One thing people don't seem to know is that McDonald's has been made-to-order for a decade. That's right, no more heat lamps. But that's not what this post is about.

In his famous 2004 documentary, Super Size Me, director and star Morgan Spurlock ate only McDonald's for 30 days. He ate McDonald's for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and Super Sized his meals when offered the option by the cashier. The result? Spurlock gained 25 pounds and experienced serious health degradation; it took him 14 months to lose the weight. The consequence? McDonald's eliminated the Super Size option and introduced legitimately healthy menu items.

But McDonald's is not to blame for the outcome of Super Size Me -- Spurlock consumed about 5,000 calories per day and didn't exercise which, regardless of what you're eating, will noticeably damage your health. In fact, independent film producer Soso Whaley managed to lose weight eating only McDonald's over 60 and 90 day periods because she adhered to a reduced-calorie diet and exercised.

So what does this all mean? It means that McDonald's, like anything you eat, is fine in moderation. Personally, I eat at McDonald's a couple times a month, always on the go, usually just ordering a small chicken sandwich and hamburger. Last night, however, I decided to see what would happen if I bought the McDonald's dollar equivalent of a cheap meal: fish nuggets, two chicken sandwiches, and two hamburgers. The monetary total was only $6.42 including tax, but the calorie count was more expensive, coming in around 1,600 calories. Everything tasted fine, but the sheer quantity of food was difficult to finish. The real concern was that, after passing out a couple hours after, I was woken up at 5:30am by a toilet run. If you didn't know better, you might have thought I was visiting the rainforest.

My point is that if a regular patron of McDonald's can have such a strong digestive reaction to the same food he always orders simply because it's a double serving, McDonald's still has a long way to go to improve their food. Until then, I think I'll stick to the stock and my usual small order every couple weeks.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Sleep Disorders

A friend of mine turned me onto the possibility that my historically inconsistent sleep schedule might be due not entirely to behavioral factors but a sleep disorder. Her initial suggestion was delayed sleep phase disorder, but that's simply a shift in one's daily schedule. I tried to remember how I've been sleeping for the past few days, and this is what I came up with:


Sleep: 5am


Wake: 9am
Nap: 2-4pm
Sleep: 1:30am


Wake: 5:30pm
Sleep: 4am


Wake: 7am
Nap: 2pm-5:30pm
Sleep: 12:30am


Wake: 8am
Nap: 1-2am
Sleep: None

Friday (Today)

Wake: None

I haven't taken any drugs and I only had a few beers on Monday night, so the cursory impression is that something is seriously wrong. With that in mind, I'll be keeping a log of my sleep during this month, and hopefully by April I'll have enough data to schedule a doctor's visit. Most related conditions stem from a hormonal imbalance, which I suppose isn't the worst thing in the world.

If you are also suffering from sleep-related problems, check out these resources from the CDC and WebMD, and consider seeing a professional.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Why I'm Voting For Rick Santorum

As Super Tuesday approaches, I hope to convince you all to vote for Rick Santorum in your respective primaries. There are a number of great reasons to support him, but personally, I'm voting for Rick Santorum because I enjoy raping women.

On January 20, 2012, Rick Santorum had a sit-down interview with Piers Morgan where he, in no uncertain terms, stated that rape babies are "a gift from God," and what kind of Christian would I be if I didn't try to share God's gifts?

This was my "You had me at 'Hello'" moment. Senator Santorum is the only candidate in this election, Republican or Democrat, who shares my pro-rape views. In Genesis 9:1, God tells Noah and his sons to "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth." Since Bible verses should be taken literally, what better way to fulfill the word of God than to rape as many women as possible and multiply my fruit?

The more detail-oriented of you may quibble with my implication that rape will result in offspring, but again you overlook the obvious fact that I would never use contraception. Here, too, Rick Santorum agrees fully with my pro-rape views. Even as far back as 2006, Rick Santorum asserted that contraception is harmful to women.

If you take just a moment to reconsider your vote, I think you'll find that Rick Santorum is the right candidate. With Rick Santorum in the White House, you and I and everyone will know that, when we're raping women left and right, we'll have the President behind us. Remember, a vote for Rick is a vote for rape babies!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Conversations About Health Insurance

The following conversation took place between American college students in Virginia and Georgia, both employed full-time.

"Ugh, my leg still hurts from when I hurt it somehow on Sunday, but if I go to the student health center, I'll get a diagnosis of "I don't have now have lortabs" and or "babies."

"What did you do on Sunday?"

"Went sledding. I didn't think I did anything but ever since Monday morning, my leg has been hurting like a bitch."

"Btw, what does 'babies' mean?"

"The health center's default diagnosis if you're female (or even male, in my friends case) is that you're pregnant."

"Ah right. Well, can't the health center refer you to an orthopedic specialist?"

"Hahahaha they probably don't even know what 'orthopedic' means."

"Then go see a specialist on your own?"



"I have some, but my orthopedic dude is four hours away and has to schedule appointments three months in advance."


Another conversation between full-time employed American college students, one in Georgia and the other in California.

"I broke my foot a little over a year ago and ever since then, wearing normal shoes hurts my foot."

"Did you rehab the foot properly?"

"I don't have health insurance. (No)"

"If only the Republicans weren't such demagoguing assholes. Oh noes a public option will result in the communist downfall of America!"

"I tried to get Medicaid and they literally told me I didn't qualify because I didn't have a child. So apparently I have to get knocked up to have healthcare. But at the same time people will bitch about the poor having kids they can't afford!"

"I had a similar experience last year when I developed gastrointestinal bleeding. I went to the student health center but they didn't see any hemorrhoids near the surface, so they referred me to a specialist. The bleeding stopped shortly after, so I didn't end up going because my health insurance sucks, but the bleeding has come back periodically since then."


There's a reasonable debate to be had about fiscal and regulatory policies, but can we at least agree that decent, affordable health care shouldn't be a luxury like a Rolex?

For another perspective, NPR recently did a story looking at substandard health care for employed adults.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

How Much To Teach

As a Ph.D. student at a public university, I am obligated to teach. Many seem to assume this just means TA responsibilities, but I'm actually the instructor of record for a class of 50: I choose the material to be covered, and I alone assign those oh-so-important grades. This semester, as with last spring, I am teaching financial management, the core finance course that must be taken by all business undergrads.

The course is supposed to be an introduction to both investments and corporate finance. I work primarily in empirical asset pricing, so naturally I like to dig deeper on the investments topics. Friday marked the end of the chapters on the most important investments material we will cover, culminating with an explanation of the Capital Asset Pricing Model (CAPM) and sample applications. What we did not cover, however, was a rigorous explanation of where CAPM comes from and how to derive it.

To be fair, no sophomore-level introduction to finance course would cover the derivation of CAPM. (Of course, I am talking about the derivation that follows from William Sharpe's 1964 Journal of Finance paper, "Capital asset prices: A theory of market equilibrium under conditions of risk", not the stochastic discount factor-based derivation taught in finance PhD programs) At my school, the relevant course is the aptly-titled "Investments" (which incidentally I will be teaching next year). So, if students are going to learn how to derive CAPM in investments, what's the big deal? For one, most of my students won't take investments, but there's a larger pedagogical question at hand.

The lecture ended about 20 minutes early; I had finished covering the material that would be on the students' next test. Part of me wishes I had spent that 20 minutes giving the students a crash course in CAPM derivation, but realistically, it just would have been a jumbled mess. Even a rudimentary explanation of Sharpe requires an understanding of the efficient frontiers from Harry Markowitz's 1952 Journal of Finance paper, "Portfolio selection." Alas, students do not (need to?) see efficient frontiers in the core course.

(As a sidenote, both Markowitz and Sharpe are Nobel Laureates, based in part on the work in those papers)

Of course, I could have structured things to leave a full class session for Sharpe and CAPM, but I could not reasonably test them on the material since, as mentioned, it's really the domain of the investments elective, and for those who miss the class, it's certainly not in the textbook. What, then, is the point of losing an entire class session in the name of "education" when the majority of my students aren't even finance majors?

There's a very small chance that some undeclared business students might be moved by the elegance of CAPM and decide to declare as a finance major; there's also a very small chance that I'll win the lottery. Then again, maybe that's not the proper metric of success as a teacher. Trying to inspire all my students may not necessary (or even desirable) if I can inspire just one who goes on to do great things; for everyone else, perhaps it is sufficient that I simply prepare them for their first job out of college.

For what it's worth, yesterday the students took the aforementioned test, and they performed very well on the CAPM section.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Financial Media Coverage

CNBC is an interesting animal. Many praise its coverage of market events and interview exclusives while just as many criticize its sensationalism of market movements and oversimplification of investing. Something I think almost all investors and traders could find useful is Fast Money, a daily digest of market developments and analysis from industry professionals. Despite its name, the show is not some wasteland of stock tips and get-rich-quick schemes, despite what Jon Stewart may believe.

Wednesday's price action in Apple (and the market as a whole) was certainly worth the attention given on Fast Money: everyone agreed that Apple's morning move from $509 to $526 followed by a close at the daily low of $497, all on five times normal volume, signaled an important reversal and intermediate price top, and that while you shouldn't necessarily get short of the stock, long positions should be lightened.

What happened yesterday with Apple, however, received hardly any attention at all. The panelists spent less than one minute discussing what today's gap lower open, followed by stabilization, followed by a close near the daily high meant for the price reversal thesis.

Those unfamiliar with the show might attribute the producers' decision to self-preservation - they don't want to look bad. However, the show has a segment specifically for revisiting bad calls made previously by the panelists called "Fast Fire." And really, did you actually expect coyness from a show entitled "Fast Money"? That the price action caught the producers off-guard isn't an entirely meritless argument, but I'd say the chart below offers strong counter-evidence:

No, there really doesn't seem to be a good reason for what happened on yesterday's show. It bothers me, not just because I'm a fan, not just because I'm an Apple shareholder, but primarily because there are people who watch the show who also control vast sums of investment capital.

We should all think critically about the financial information we consume. We know that investors have home bias for stocks to the detriment of their portfolio returns, and that's partly driven by media consumption vis-a-vis frequency of exposure. Consideration of content presentation will make you not only a more conscientious investor but also a more successful one.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012


We the People of the United States This blog is a public forum where I will talk about finance and other very important things. I hope you'll find this blog compelling and entertaining and worth visiting on a regular basis adding to your RSS feed.