Wednesday, April 21, 2010


The New York Review of Books provides a helpful three-page article covering the crazy of Silvio Berlusconi. Two points: first, the writer unfavorably compares Obama to Berlusconi, saying that Berlusconi never would’ve been tripped up by death panels, etc., etc. because Berlusconi understands the permanent campaign. This may be true, but remember that the reason Berlusconi is able to do this is because he owns all the TV stations and most of the newspapers in Italy.. This generally makes message discipline much easier. The second point: why people aren’t thinking Italy’s the next big nation to come under speculative attack in its bond markets is weird—do you really think Berlusconi has the discipline to cut the budget?

Meanwhile, speaking of European nations in economic trouble, how about this report? Britain experiences 3.4% inflation rate. This wouldn’t be bad…if the economy were growing vigorously. It isn’t, and the British had better come up with a cheeky way to say “stagflation.”

We’re nearing peak phosphorous, and that’s bad.

Where Bloomberg’s millions take their summer vacation (hint: the Caymans).

Why do bad bonds get good ratings?

Wall Street theories: why do they make so much money? An unconventional one (it’s the trade deficit’s fault) and a conventional one (it’s the Fed’s fault!). I prefer the unconventional—it’s a little spicy.

Chinese hipsters: they don’t ride bikes.

Rent vs. buy, the debate resurfaces.

The Senate is considering regulating insurance premiums. I’m not sure about this: seems like the wrong way to approach the fundamental problems.

Fifty years of Brasilia, the built-from-scratch capitol.

A nice, quick overview of the derivatives bill. Here’s another, with a puzzling graf:
One important amendment added to the bill by Mrs. Lincoln just before Wednesday’s vote would allow the Treasury secretary to exempt derivatives tied to foreign currency rates from the new rules requiring swaps contracts to be traded on an exchange and routed through a clearing agency.
This sort of thing probably won’t cause systematic failures, but it’s puzzling nonetheless: if you standardize your foreign-currency swap—and that’s a pretty simple contract, so there’s no reason why it can’t be, right?—then investment banks make less money on fees, etc., etc. The investment banks make fees off of the corporations doing the hedging, so that’s money out of their pockets. So apparently whoever was lobbying for this decided they wanted less money. Very odd. Nevertheless, it mostly looks good: I like the clearinghouse + exchange provision. Well done, Senator Lincoln. And I guess that primary challenge was worthwhile after all.

Where Phil Jackson’s head is at (this was before Game 2). He said that Kobe should either “shoot less or shoot better” and this:
"If Kobe's going to play this style of basketball, he's got to adjust his game to match ours," Jackson said. "He can still play exactly the way he's playing right now, but he has to limit the amount of shots he takes. Obviously he can't shoot 30-something percent, he can't shoot that percentage and have us be successful. Either the proficiency has to increase or else he has to become a playmaker out of those things. But he can still draw attention, can still make the plays."
Bryant’s return for the playoff opener affected the number of touches big men Pau Gasol  and Andrew Bynum got in Game 1, which Jackson wasn’t happy about.

“They want to give him the ball inside of really seeing that the post is open, and they’ve got to pass it in there,” he said. “They see where Kobe is a lot of times, and sometimes the squeaky wheel gets the most grease.”
First, shouldn't people be paying attention to how pessimistic Jackson seems about his team? He's had a lot of comments in this first round that speak to a lack of confidence in the team. Two notes on the game last night: Kobe was great down the stretch, but his overall production was a bit meh: 39 points, 39 possessions. That’s better than the Lakers overall (.97 pts/poss), but still not especially efficient. Now, if you’re a cult-of-the-winner type, you’ll probably say something like, “Well they won” or “They made the plays when it matters.” This logic always frustrates me because, look: you can make all those plays down the stretch, but if your overall play isn’t great—which Kobe’s wasn’t—you have no guarantee of getting there in the first place, now do you? If events outside the player’s control go slightly differently, then Oklahoma City might have won before Kobe even had a shot at making those superheroics. He had a shot and he took it: congratulations, that’s awesome. No sarcasm. It’s important. But having that chance in the first place was fortuitous in no small part due to poor play earlier, and that deserves criticism in retrospect and prospective wariness: a team playing as sloppily as the Lakers have since the All-Star break, with as many structural weaknesses as they have, really can’t be playing at less than peak efficiency throughout the playoffs and expect to win. Example: Pau was brutalizing the Thunder as only he can. It’s frustrating that no one watching the team seems to realize how good Pau is; it’s even more so that no one on the Lakers seems to either. Except for Phil, who obviously gets it. This series could be much easier for the Lakers, but I suspect they’ll make it hard on themselves.

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