Understanding Stock Markets

This post is not going to help you get rich off the stock market. If that’s what you’re looking for, the best advice I have for you is to understand your desire makes you a mark and study up on scams of various sorts. That’s fun to do anyway, and I don’t understand why cons aren’t a bigger part of true-crime publishing, and you’ve probably moved on already because you think I just insulted you.

Photo of a graph in a newspaper. Graph shows a year of Dow Jones Industrial Index values.
Photo by Markus Spiske

This post exists because most financial education in the U.S. is a sales pitch, either directly or for a particular school of economics. I came at the stock market as a pension analyst whose job it was to understand the assumptions inherent in funding pensions. Also as someone who finds the history of fraud fascinating, but you may have picked that up. I did this work in the post-Enron regulatory environment in the U.S. and through the collapse of housing bubble plus a few years. This is where I ended up on funding retirement.

This post exists to give you a basic framework for understanding investing events and scandals. Consider it a skeptical but not cynical high-level guide to (mostly U.S.) stock markets. Continue reading “Understanding Stock Markets”

Understanding Stock Markets
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When 2 + 2 = 5 and Other Ways to Be Wrong with Heuristics

I recently finished my first set of classes toward a BS in data analytics. It’s not very useful advice now, I hope, but I wouldn’t necessarily recommend attempting this in the academic quarter containing the most critical election of your lifetime. That notwithstanding, this means I’ve spent the past several weeks immersed in discussions of deriving meaning from numbers.

As I was gearing up to start my term, a “debate” broke out on Twitter. I put the term in scare quotes, because what actually happened is that one group of offered reasoning and explanations and another group pointed to the first and had vapors about the end of Western civilization. The question at hand? “Does 2 + 2 = 4?” The answer some people found objectionable? “Sometimes. Not always.”

Surrounded as I’ve been this term with issues of data quality, making assumptions explicit, the limits of the most common statistical tests, and error terms, this “debate” has never been far from my mind. I saw an echo of it again today, and lo and behold, I finally have some time to write about it.

The boys who cry “Postmodernism!” without much understanding of the history of philosophy are all but background noise these days, so I mostly noted their existence once again and moved on. Funnily enough, though, this actually is a postmodernism question. This is all about deconstructing the meaning of the equation. Are we talking about some ideal of “2” and “4”, or are we communicating about something else, where “2” and “4” are abstractions of reality that may be more or less reflective of that reality?

Also, does anyone else laugh when someone claims that questioning the perfect, inherent two-ness of “2” will be the end of civilization as we know it? Continue reading “When 2 + 2 = 5 and Other Ways to Be Wrong with Heuristics”

When 2 + 2 = 5 and Other Ways to Be Wrong with Heuristics

Reasons to Not Despair

This is what the title says, friends. If you’re not feeling tempted toward despair by the close election results, this may not be what you need to read today. If, however, you’re disheartened by the vote being this close, this is for you.

I’m not here to tell you the United States isn’t racist, sexist, classist, homo- and transphobic. It is. Many of these are founding principles of the U.S., written into our constitution. And it’s good that we’ve spent much of the last four years refusing to let the well-meaning people around us deny that fact. It’s good that more of us are refusing to allow people to duck the social and political consequences of that. It’s good that we’re tearing the wallpaper off these cracks, because we can’t fix them until we do.

It’s less good that we’ve allowed the outcome of this election to stand for America’s willingness to address these problems. This particular election is critical because it determines whether voters still have any power to address them. It isn’t the last word on our thoughts or feelings. There’s far more going on here.

This election reflects:

  • The Electoral College
  • Voter registration purges
  • Voter registration restrictions
  • Disenfranchisement through the criminal justice system
  • Insufficient resources dedicated to voting
  • Changing election rules due to the pandemic
  • Changing election rules due to court challenges, some of them last-minute
  • Real and threatened violence aimed at voter suppression
  • Disinformation campaigns aimed at voter suppression
  • A well-funded disinformation industry, including a top news channel
  • Foreign interference
  • A news media unprepared to cope with lies on our current presidential scale
  • A news media unaccustomed to naming bigotry
  • A news media scared of being called liberal
  • A shrinking, increasingly centralized news media
  • Political identities at odds with voters’ support for policy
  • Panic and exhaustion
  • Poor public political education
  • A long cultural trend saying nihilism and cynicism = cool

I’m missing things. I’m tired. But the point is that this is a huge system with a lot of moving parts that chews up public opinion to eventually spit out a result having more or less to do with that opinion. The result is not public opinion itself.

Many of the parts of that system are racist, sexist, classist, homo- and transphobic because they were set up to be. We know this. We talk about this. We don’t so much acknowledge that this means they’re going to produce results more bigoted than we are as a group of individuals. They’re ours, and we bear responsibility for them, but they are not us.

We’ve made some progress on them over the last four years. We’ve also lost ground on some of them, like the courts. We have so much work to do. This election isn’t about whether we’ve done that work. This election is about whether we’ve done enough to be able to continue. That’s the part to focus on today.

Reasons to Not Despair

Second Choices and Delegate Allocations: Why Primary “Electability” Is a Wild Guess

Let me declare my biases up front. I voted for Elizabeth Warren yesterday in Minnesota. She was my first choice among the huge field of Democratic contenders. Like hers, my main priority is seeing as many of her plans as possible enacted. My next four choices dropped out before I got to vote. If I have to choose between Sanders and Biden (I don’t), my choice is Sanders, but the margin is very narrow, based mostly on candidate negatives on both sides, and easily shifted by things like VP choice.

I also spent nearly a decade doing actuarial (pension) math for a living. I’m not a trained actuary, but I have a lot of experience in determining probable outcomes in situations with a lot of variables. More importantly for this post, I’ve spent an awful lot of time identifying and making explicit the assumptions that go into these calculations.

Yes, I’m writing this (or compiling it from various places I’ve talked about the question over the last few days) because of the pressure for Warren to drop out of the race. At best, it’s based on assumptions about what would happen to her votes that don’t match the best information we have. At worst, it’s counter-productive to seeing progressive issues move forward.

Let’s start with the assumptions being made about what will happen if Warren drops out. The two big assumptions are:

  • People who are prepared to vote for Warren will switch predominantly to Sanders.
  • Those votes will roll up to enough of a gain in Sanders delegates to prevent a brokered convention.

There’s also a third assumption I’m seeing in my social media that Warren really wants delegates so she can throw them to Biden specifically to prevent Sanders from becoming the nominee. I’ll talk about what can happen at the convention later, but I’m not going to address this assumption directly because:

  • It’s coming from a small minority even of Sanders supporters.
  • Those are the same people who think snake emojis are solid politics.
  • Their reaction to this post will be the same no matter what I say.

On to the main assumptions.

Second Choices

Would Warren supporters move primarily to Sanders if she dropped out? Not according to them. Continue reading “Second Choices and Delegate Allocations: Why Primary “Electability” Is a Wild Guess”

Second Choices and Delegate Allocations: Why Primary “Electability” Is a Wild Guess

Mock the Movie: Meet the Press Edition

Any similarity to actual persons, living or dead, is purely hilarious. I was really just looking for a lighter movie than our last several, something we could mock with affection instead of out of self-defense. Then I came across The Werewolf of Washington. Shot and released during the Watergate scandal, it stars Dean Stockwell as a very sincere member of the White House press who just happens to have lycanthropy.

So that’s what we’re doing Tuesday. You’re welcome to join us.

This one is available on YouTube. Continue reading “Mock the Movie: Meet the Press Edition”

Mock the Movie: Meet the Press Edition

A Q&A with David Silverman

For whatever reason David Silverman decided he needed my attention on Valentine’s Day.

My to do list says I was working on a meeting agenda. By the time I made it to Twitter, I had to dig through my mentions to figure out what was going on. My response:

Which eventually came around to this:

He’s not good with “No.”

I eventually figured out he thought I should have something to say about this because of the Reason Rally.

There are a few problems with this:

  1. I had nothing to do with the 2016 Reason Rally besides deciding at the last minute to attend and to volunteer for the associated conference. I helped out wearing someone else’s name badge.
  2. I didn’t say anything about the original allegations of abuse. I did mention Depp in 2016, but I noted that newbie atheist podcasters weren’t going to learn much from Lawrence Krauss talking in a workshop about how much he enjoyed working with Depp.
  3. There was a bunch of news coverage at the time.

One thing that happens when you put on an event designed to garner publicity and use celebrities to do so is that those celebrities get news coverage.

Lyz Liddell, executive director of the Reason Rally Coalition, a paid position she likens to a community-building pastor, says organizers were disappointed when Depp and Heard withdrew.

“We were like, ‘Wait! What?’” she says. They then learned about the abuse allegations, she says, and “we absolutely support Amber and hope they can both have success in their personal and professional lives.”

I confirmed with another Reason Rally board member that they have no recollection of a discussion about kicking Depp out. Silverman is offering to testify, but…well, I’ll get to that.

Silverman continued to tag me in gems like this well after being told to stop:

Then came Wednesday: Continue reading “A Q&A with David Silverman”

A Q&A with David Silverman

Readings in Heritability

Charles Murray has a new book out. Yay.

Hadn’t heard of Human Diversity: The Biology of Gender, Race, and Class? Well, that’s because his publisher didn’t make review copies available. So the first places to get their reviews out were those feeling no need to take a critical view of the book, like openly white supremacist sites and The Federalist. Unsurprisingly, they think it’s great.

Photo of a backlit sign consisting of stripes and DNA sequence represented in letters (TTAGCACC, etc.).
“DNA” by MIKI Yoshihito, CC BY 2.0

The reviews that do engage critically will take longer. “Critically” here means “Does this accurately represent our best knowledge of the subject?”, rather than “Ugh, don’t like.” Not that those are mutually exclusive. Asking those questions take time.

Some scientists and science communicators have already gotten a head start, however. They can do that without seeing the book because they’ve been dealing with the “evidence” and the arguments on this topic for ages. And of course, because heritability is an easily misunderstood topic, there are some good explainers out there.

So what should you read if you want to learn about heritability from experts rather than political scientists whose prior work on the topic hasn’t held up? Try these articles on the basics and methodological challenges of studying heritability. (Please note that some of these sources uncritically discuss the history of scientific work aimed at a “cure” for autism.) Continue reading “Readings in Heritability”

Readings in Heritability

Mock the Movie: He Can Do That? Edition

I fully and freely admit that the impetus for this month’s movie is wanting to watch Bruce Payne chew some scenery. It’s been a while. I have to admit we might be disappointed by Aurora Intercept, though. Not only does Payne play a hero(!!!) for once in his career, but there’s zero evidence of tooth marks in this trailer. Or dialogue, for that matter.

This one is available on YouTube. Continue reading “Mock the Movie: He Can Do That? Edition”

Mock the Movie: He Can Do That? Edition

Carrier Victory Celebration

By now, you may know that Richard Carrier dropped his remaining SLAPP suits in November. If you read the settlement agreement, you’ll see he even explicitly said we are free to talk about the allegations and the suit without incurring more legal hassle from him. So we’re going to do that.

Photo of confetti being shot over an outdoor concert audience at night, catching the stage lights.
Photo by Pablo Heimplatz on Unsplash

Save the date for the evening of February 23. We’ve rested, we’ve let the news sink in, and we’re ready to talk. We’ll bring you more news soon as we work out technical details for live streaming and confirm special guests. In the meantime, however, just know that our lips are legally unsealed. We can talk. We will talk.

As much fun as that sounds, one of the things we’ll talk about is the cost of suits like these (and what we can do to help with the problem overall, because we’re activists). We have our final bills now, along with our victory, and totals on the debt we’ve taken on over the last three and a half years. We’ll save the details for the 23rd, but know we’ve only paid off about half our total.

Winning frivolous lawsuits is expensive, so this will be a fundraiser, like much of what we do until this debt is retired. There’s no cost to watch us or ask us questions during the event, but donations to our GoFundMe and to Skepticon help us sleep better at night.

But for now, we celebrate! Please join us.

Carrier Victory Celebration

Mock the Movie: Welcome to Hell Edition

I have the strangest feeling that this is one of those movies we’ll need to take a break after, by which I mean watch something decent with special effects that mean well. We might even have to watch a good movie to take the tastelessness out of our mouths. But whatever. We’re watching Hell and Back anyway. Join us if you can handle it.

This one is on Netflix. Continue reading “Mock the Movie: Welcome to Hell Edition”

Mock the Movie: Welcome to Hell Edition