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How to Write a Deceptive Op-Ed, featuring William D. Cohan

The August 29th New York Times had an op-ed by William D. Cohan entitled, “Show Some Spine, Federal Reserve”. It is a wonderful case study in how to write from a biased point of view. Let’s go through it in a bet of depth, shall we? Our tour starts at the title itself. The basic thesis is that the Fed (which seemingly is one entity, not a collection of people with individual points of view) is making it’s decisions out of fear, not reason.

THE financial markets and the Federal Reserve Board have been playing out a tragicomedy in three acts. Here’s how it works: Initially, a flurry of news stories appear about how, a few months hence, the Fed intends to raise short-term interest rates for the first time in years. Second, the predictable market swoon, as Wall Street traders ponder the fact that the morphine drip of free money that they have been enjoying since the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis might be pulled out of their arms. Finally, the Fed backs away from its much-overdue policy change, causing traders to rejoice and the artificially stimulated bull market in both stocks and bonds to continue. The curtain comes down, and the audience roars its approval.

Note the inequality between the stated aims and actions. “News stories appear,” second-hand interpretations of what the Fed intends. Then the Fed itself does something different. This is not interpreted to mean that any news stories could be incorrect, the obvious answer. No, the Fed “backs away”. And what are they backing away from? “much-overdue policy change.” Mr. Cohan infers that the Fed is acting cowardly when it acts differently than a particular position. Perhaps they just disagree with the policy Mr. Cohan prefers? No, they are being spineless!

…Some background: At end of the 2008, the Fed dropped its benchmark short-term interest rate to around zero. It also began a program with the Orwellian name of quantitative easing — buying huge sums of bonds to suppress long-term interest rates and stimulate lending and spending. Thanks to Q.E., the cost of borrowing money was pushed to next to nothing. This was a bonanza for those who make money from money — hedge-fund managers, private-equity moguls, banks — and a disaster for savers, retirees and anyone on a fixed income. (Have you checked the interest your bank pays you on your savings account? Mine: .06 percent per year.)

Obviously “Orwellian” is a loaded term, but the sin here is the myopic focus on one impact of the policy. Inflation.

Inflation is a word that doesn’t appear anywhere in this editorial, but is really at the core of it. You see, QE is logically connected to inflation, the more QE there is. The more inflation there should be. Do you know who hates inflation? People with money in the bank. Creditors. Rich people. Wall Street. When money you lend/save/invest can be paid back with cheaper dollars, you have lost. Do you know who loves inflation? Debtors. People who borrow. By the same logic, they can pay back with cheaper dollars. Inflation is great for borrowers.

With all this as background, re-read this paragraph. Here is the translation: “QE was a bonanza for those who borrow (hedge-fund managers, private equity and poor people) and a disaster for creditors (rich people on Wall Street).”

…The case for raising rates is straightforward: Like any commodity, the price of borrowing money — interest rates — should be determined by supply and demand, not by manipulation by a market behemoth. Essentially, the clever Q.E. program caused a widespread mispricing of risk, deluding investors into underestimating the risk of various financial assets they were buying.

So many problems in this one short paragraph!

1. QE distorts the market for sure. That is the whole point. It is the point of the whole Federal Reserve Board and Federal Banking system. If there was no desire to distort the price of borrowing money, these institutions would not exist.

2. QE is a very well known distortion of the market, the numbers are widely and precisely known. That means their impact is known. The QE system does not misprice risk. Uncertainity about the future is what misprices risk. Here is one of the few things Mr. Cohan gets correct even though he doesn’t say it. The more the Fed acts differently than it says it will, the more risk is mispriced. Good thing the Fed barely ever says what it will do and constantly hedges its statements.

3. So what? So risk is mispriced some. (Not by much, since QE is a small part of the market.) Big deal. What exactly is the harm from this? And how is the harm different from the mispricing of risk from not knowing how Apple will do, or another 9/11, or China’s market crash, or any of the other many unknowns that go into risk. The future is uncertain, that’s how the world works. If the future was known, there would be no Wall Street.

4. A complete blindness to the idea that QE serves any other goals. The program wasn’t started to somehow mess with Wall Street. The program had goals that are never mentioned here. They have nothing to do with traders, they have to do with a little thing called the 2008 recession, insufficient demand, and the economy as a whole.

The only way to return the assessment of risk to something resembling normalcy is to stop the manipulation. That requires nothing less than serious intestinal fortitude from the Fed and a willingness to raise interest rates in the face of determined opposition from Wall Street.

Again, the market is always being manipulated by the Fed. He just doesn’t like this particular manipulation. Again, the implication that the Fed takes these (in-)actions because they are spineless, not because they disagree. Mr. Cohan seems to believe that if Wall Street wants something, you would have to a superhero to do something different. And by the way, the Fed are wimps for not agreeing with Wall Street.

In a few paragraphs, he quotes Larry Summers and another Wall Street titan as agreeing with the Fed. Maybe there isn’t “determined opposition from Wall Street” in the first place.

By now, you may have noticed another theme. The myopia about Wall Street. Except for one rhetorical flourish to avoid saying the word “inflation”, there is no mention of the recession, the economy, of anybody but the 1% and Wall Street. He seems to feel they have the only opinions that matter.

…Thursday was also the first day of the annual central-banker retreat in Jackson Hole, Wyo. The gathering’s theme is the boring-sounding “Inflation Dynamics and Monetary Policy,” but it’s the perfect setting for these supposedly brilliant economists to figure a way out of this perennial Catch-22 once and for all. The right answer is self-evident: End the easy-money addiction, raise rates in September and begin the healing.

What Catch-22? There is no Catch-22. There is disagreement about what to do. The “right answer” is not “self-evident”. Vast portions of the administration, the public, the economics profession, and Wall Street itself disagree with Mr. Cohan. And of course, the members of the Fed itself. Unless you believe they would rather destroy the economy than stand up to the supervillian of Wall Street that Mr. Cohan believes it is.

Is Mr. Cohan wrong? I think he is. Maybe he’s not. Reasonable people can, and do disagree. You would never get that from this editorial, which presents every aspect of the case in the most biased way possible. This is an opinion piece, but opinions should be supported by reason, and presented in a fair way. This is not.

Wisdom from the 4-year old

Long ago, we read Dr. Seuss’ classic tale “The Lorax” to our four year old. It is still a great book. The message still holds up. When we had finished, we discussed the book.

Mom looked him in the eye and said, “Do you see what happened? The Onceler was very greedy. He wanted more and more money and was never satisfied. He destroyed the environment, so all the animals and plants died. He was very bad.”

He thought about this for a good five seconds. He looked up and replied, “But Mom. He did make a lot of money first!”

The Who turns 50: Atlanta Review

Here we are in Atlanta, Georgia on April 23, 2015 to see The Who hits 50. I last saw them in 2012. I paid for the VIP tickets and watched from the third row. This time I was in the company suite, way up in the rafters. A very different experience! I don’t have good video or pictures this time, I was too far away. One of the other guests in the suite turned out to be good friends with Keith Moon’s cousin. He sadly admitted that it got him exactly nothing in any kind of access or good stories.

I felt bittersweet, this is one of the last shows I’ll ever see. This will be the last tour they do. I am planning to go to California to visit my brother and catch one of the shows, and then it’s over. No more live Who. I think I’ve seen them about 20 times (including various solo versions). I believe this puts me in the “devout but not psychopathic” category.

Alright, let’s get to the review! Pete Townshend is my god and I make no apologies for the Pete-centric focus.

The background visuals and electronics were excellent. They were always interesting to watch, but never intrusive. Some genuinely clever CGI was added on top of nostalgic images and videos. Before the show they scrolled a neat history of The Who and Atlanta. You would never know the Who existed after 1980, but that’s okay. The audience… there’s something sad about all the suburban parents dressed up nice to go the rock show. I say this as a suburban parent myself, but it’s depressing how un-rock and roll a crowd can be.

Overall, the show had three parts. The warm-ups and ‘get these out of the way’, then they start trying, then they blow the doors off the joint.

• I Can’t Explain
• The Seeker (the opening sounds exactly like The Relay)
• Who Are You

Pete had on a truly ridiculous hat, it looked like a mutant bee had died on his head. Rogers voice was generally quite strong. It faded here and there by the end, but he is far from done.

• The Kids are Alright. I love their treatments of it nowadays. Time has treated this song well.
• I Can See for Miles

They sound sharp tonight. Roger Daltrey is ridiculously good looking for his age. I think I’m glad my wife couldn’t come.

They are still funny. And they are having fun. Pete will be 70 in two weeks. Wow. He quoted from Dylan Thomas, stating he was still raging against the dying of the light and whacked his head against his guitar to prove it. This was after he pretend to mistake Duluth, Georgia for Duluth, Minnesota, where Bob Dylan grew up. This led to a bizarre tangent about Atlanta growing bigger and bigger to take over more space… much like Elton John. Pete asks Roger, “Do you get a Christmas card from Sir Elton John? Because I do.” “No, but I get one from George Bush!” Back to the show.

• Pictures of Lily
• My Generation
• Magic Bus. During which he sang that he would give the money to anyone who could correctly explain what the fucking song is actually about. They kept a lot of Country Line Special in as well.
• Behind Blue Eyes. Simon on acoustic, Pete on lead.
• Bargain: Pete asks everyone, what key are we in for the next one? B flat? What? What key? I need a different guitar then. Where’s the… allright, let’s do Young Man Blues (much cheering). More banter. OK, seriously, what f’in key are we in!? He gets a new guitar, and they launch into Bargain.

He did one warm up chord on the new guitar, and I instantly called out it was Bargain. Several Who songs (Behind Blue Eyes, Pinball Wizard) have distinctive opening chords, and Pete often likes to strum the first chord before starting for real. I was very impressed with myself by calling out the song from a single warm up chord out of context. I’m not entirely sure my suitemates appreciated my display of brilliance.
• Join Together. This started up with several people playing the mouthharp parts. I don’t know where these musicians were. I’m sure they were on stage the whole time and doing useful musical things, but they could not have been more background until this point. It was like they materialized out of thin air. This is a fun singalong tune. You couldn’t hear the lead vocals very well, the harmony parts were overwhelming.

Overall, I found Pete’s guitar tone frustrating, as I have since 1990 or so. It’s too much to ask him to go back to a Les Paul, but I don’t like his modern tone live. It is trebly and tingy. The abrasive tones that everyone hated in Quadrophenia seem to be his normal playing tones now. I firmly believe this to be a consequence of the tinnitus. I don’t think he can hear the lack of muscle and depth in his tone anymore, so we get loudness in the ranges he can hear.

• You Better You Bet: The vocal mixes keep going in and out. One song you can’t hear the harmonies, the next song the harmonies overwhelm Roger. I don’t know whose fault this is, but the sound mix is really not up to par.
• I’m One: Finally, Pete puts down the electric guitar. I was fairy disappointed that he didn’t play a wider variety of sounds. Only one song on acoustic. No wah-wahs or echos or compressors or anything like that. Straight ahead rock and roll sound on every song. Reminded me of current Queen — I love Brian May, but their setlist leaves out the variety and eclectism from Freddie Mercury that made them so great. Same for The Who. The guitar sound was pretty consistent for most of the night, making songs sound more alike than they should have. Feels more like dinosaur rock. Would love to hear acoustic Drowned, or Imagine a Man, or something with horn parts. On the other hand, it’s really hard to complain about the setlist. Every song is amazing. And it is somewhat of a greatest hits tour.
• Part Two begins, now they start trying. Despite complaining about the lack of variety in tone above, I do love that almost every song has something a big different in it. They’ve never been overly concerned about playing to the record, they have always felt free to introduce new ideas, and it’s wonderful. And many of the songs that I am used to their non-record standard live versions (Kids are Alright, Magic Bus, My Generation) are new to most people
• Love Reign O’er Me started with a beautiful piano intro. I wish it could have gone longer. It’s not the same without Rabbit, but this was marvelous. The song was great as always. Roger hit the notes, which is no small feat. He ended with an interesting transition down to bass notes. I think the background visuals might have been the exact same as 2012.
• Where’s the bass? Where is the bloody bass? This song should have bass guitar that makes your balls quiver.
• There are few better moments in rock and roll than the end of Pete’s solo coming back to the final chorus. How he can play two or three simple notes and have it sound like God is speaking to you through his music… it’s a true gift.
• Eminence Front! Yeah! This was the absolute highlight of the Atlanta show in 2009. I play the live track from Vancouver 2006 constantly. And Pete has woken up, he’s trying now. But… this was just a good take, nothing special.
• Pete had trouble all night with the ‘twiddly-diddly’ riffs and fills he likes so much. Very often he missed some of the notes or they were inaudible for some other reasons. Around now he started doing less of that and more of his old style – less notes played with more power and tone.

And now begins Part Three. It probably should have been two parts, starting with Love Reign O’er Me, but the lack of bass and poor mix was all the difference. Part Three was the show you came for. It was the part where you couldn’t stop moving and singing along. It was forty five minutes of rock and roll heaven.

• A Quick One While He’s Away: Ah, there’s the bass! Someone on the sound board turned up the bass! About time! Now they suddenly sound amazing. Rich deep sounds, and Pete is playing on top of and against something. Oh, this is great now! We got us a legitimate Who concert! There would be no more banter after this, no more talking, nothing but one amazing performance after another until the night ended.
• Amazing Journey / Sparks (with some of It’s a Boy thrown in). The best cut of the night. Nailed every bloody note. Every bit of energy, all the dynamics, awesome. It might as well be 1970 again. Pete is playing with his volume and tone distortion. He’s stomping around and flailing at the strings. He seems completely lost in the music, taken to another place (I am also). For three minutes, he is playing like his old self. I mean his young self. You know what I mean.

In one of their documentaries, Pete and Roger explain how The Who attacked the beats unlike other bands, it is part of what gives them their unique sound. That is absolutely correct. When they lay down a riff on a time signature each part is in exactly in unison and aggressively on the beat.
They are great at covering up mistakes for each others. There were a few obvious bits (Pete forgetting the lyrics in the break section of Pinball Wizard), but there were also plenty of others were someone messed up and other band members adjusted to make it seem like it was on purpose. Pete and Roger cover for each other. It’s nice to see how well they do that.

• See Me Feel Me / Listening to You: Boy, these guys are great. Pete is unconscious now. Zak and Simon and Pino and… this is what it’s all about.
• Pinball Wizard
• Baba O’ Riley: Fuck, yeah.
• Won’t Get Fooled Again: This was the final song. It bores me. I suspect it bores the band most nights. Tonight it did not. Pete was still revved up and throwing everything he had at it. Zaks drum fills were right on. A strong ending.

Says Roger, “Be good, be lucky! Good night!”

Here is the review from the local paper.

Cosmos: Done

Last night, we finished watching the Cosmos series. I remember watching the Carl Sagan version as a child. It you weren’t affected by it, you weren’t paying attention. The new version is wonderful as well. We watched it as a family. The kids got different things out of it, and didn’t understand many things, but that’s fine. We had great discussions, and turned on some curiousity. It was also a rare setting where my geekiness is a plus. Speed of light? About 186,000 miles per second or 300 million meters per second. Distance to the sun? About 93 million miles. Etc.

Near the end, there was a bit on the “Pale Blue Dot” of Earth. It is well worth watching in full.

Since seeing this, I have felt a bit distant myself. It is awesome in the literal sense. And of course this view is still within our solar system, it does not begin to show the true size of the universe. The show should have ended right there.

pale blue dot
The Earth is the small dot about halfway up the stripe on the right. (The stripe is an artifact of Voyagers’ photography, it does not exist in reality.)

Links o’ Interest

Welcome back to the blog! As a reward, you get a big batch of links.

World Cup: Traffic during USA Germany game

Ten brands to rule them all

Skydiver almost hit by meteorite

Oh my god

Alex Trebek makes a funny

I wish this didn’t make me laugh

Kafka’s joke book

That is a wonderful wedding cake

You can make a Buckinghams Palace guard smile. What makes it even better is the guys name is Yankel.

Donald Sterling at his best

Evolution

Goals

Which Harry Potter character are you?

Zebra

Fathers Day win

Funny baby bib

The Spongebob theme song is terrifying when played slowly

All hail the champion

Beach messages are temporary… a beautiful one in the sands.

The search for the end of TGIF endless appetizers

Joaquin Phoenix’s Forehead (rotated). Hypnotic.

John Cleese’s response to a young fan, and Michael Palin’s followup

Serious links:
Animals you didn’t know existed

Why the Meyers Briggs test is a waste of everyone’s time

The wreck of the Santa Maria has been found
Why you shouldn’t be in left lane driving slow and also driving me out my mind.

The correct way to dry your hands, with only one paper towel. I have adopted his methods. They work. Most impactful Ted talk yet.

My Latest Favorite Song #10

I read Mick Fleetwood’s autobiography. I’ve always loved Rhiannon, and hearing the back story and how they used to do it live got me curious. They were awesome at it. Just awesome. Watch the video below, particularly around 2:30 when the dynamics and jam start up.

Here’s a couple other good versions:

Didi Benami shows the good side of American Idol

This girl shows the bad side. Uch.

I’ve never heard of Brooke White, but I’m going to keep my eye out for her now.

And of course the official studio version.

I’m Back!!!

It has been an epic struggle. I am back. I have lost anything posted since March 18th, but that is a small price to pay. Thanks to Sid, and thanks to the fantastic tech support people at GoDaddy.

My Latest Favorite Song #10

Okay, it’s not a new one for me. But this particular version kills. Just kills! Simon playing wah-wah adds so much. This seems to have been the highlight song from that tour. Eminence Front was unworldly at the Atlanta show “l’il bro” and I saw. I don’t think there is any other Who song with a steady backing track that Pete goes lead guitar nuts on.

Links o’ Interest

This is a very nicely presented video on wealth inequality in America. Among other things, compares peoples perceptions of how it is with their opinions on how it ought to be, and puts those both against reality. A bit slow, but eye-opening for most.

A nice legal response from the Cleveland Browns.

This petting zoo is giggle-worthy

Hey Kool aid!

Understanding Infographics

Judge Judy rules in 20 seconds. You got to love the dumb criminals.

I want one of these amazing rings. It must be magic.

A little neglect goes a long way

Bill Gates is awesome in unexpected ways.

I’ll have to call you back

How to death metal

30 for 30 covers Space Jam

Even The Dark Knight makes mistakes

Fun with Google Translate

Like a Rolling Stone – an interactive video. Clever.

Sir Nicholas Winton meets the lives he saved.

My Latest Favorite Song #9

I like Kings of Leon. They tend towards the harder side of rock and roll, but I also enjoy their quieter songs. Here are a pair of songs from them that I can play over and over. They are easy to sink into.

Kings of Leon are great craftsmen. They don’t do solos. Every note is carefully planned out. They are not stunning instrumentalists. The drummer is particularly very good, but for the most part they are all professionally competent. And you have to say the singers voice is… not so amazing. It’s a Bob Dylan or Jimi Hendrix voice, an acquired taste. From these ingredients, they have made a wide variety of really good songs and a couple great ones.

Distractions in Cars

There are a few auto accessories that ought to be illegal. (Or if they already are illegal, enforced.)

1) The fancy rims. The rims keep turning after the vehicle is stopped. That gives false visual information. At some level it appears that the vehicle is moving when it isn’t.
2) CDs and pendants hanging from the mirror that scatter and reflect light. Not only does the glare get in my eyes, but it does so in a random pattern making it difficult to adjust to. Everyone understands that having your brights on is rude. An old friend used to keep an enormous spotlight in his car, and if anyone behind him had their brights on too long he would shine right in their eyes. Those folks wised up quick.

Visual clutter and disinformation is an actual issue. A friend of mine got in a car crash. The car in front of him was stopped, but the brake lights weren’t on, and he plowed right into it.

None of this is because I am anti-bling. I am pro-bling, it amuses me. For instance, I am in favor of huge crazy spoliers on Honda Civics, and neon all over the undercarriage. It also amuses me that probably no one who has that kind of bling calls it bling anymore. There’s a more current term by now.