Ender’s Arena

After a speedy game of old favorite War at Sea in which the brilliant and extraordinarily handsome Axis admiral took advantage of Ender’s inexplicable failure to control the Mediterranean in order to steal an early Turn 5 Axis Major Victory, it was decided that we would give the Avalon Hill classic Gladiator a try.

Ender’s first attempt in the Arena was remarkably short, coming as it did to a speedy end in the fifth phase of the first turn. His medium gladiator, Felix, was arguably the most inaptly named gladiator to ever stumble across the sands of the Colosseo. Felix collided twice with my champion Varius, a light gladiator who didn’t wear much armor but carried a large shield that gives +2 Impact Factors. Felix stumbled after the first collision, at which point Varius charged him, crashed into him behind the weight of that large shield, and Felix was out cold. Ender was more amused than disgusted, but wouldn’t even bother to consult the Moment of Truth chart to determine the unlucky Felix’s fate. *schlunk*

The undefeated Varius, whose wins date back over a period of ten years thanks to some old battles with Big Chilly and the Missile Digit, next met Ender’s light, but brawny Aptus. Aptus quickly put his massive +4 Strength to work, smashing into Varius and stunning him, then methodically bashing Varius’s large shield to bits. Varius repeatedly sought to get positional advantage to counteract the stun penalty he could not seem to shake, but to little avail.

After a few furious engagements, the two gladiators found themselves facing each other. Varius was vision-impaired, bleeding from a serious head wound, and was lacking both his shield and his weapon, which had been knocked from his grasp when parrying a thunderous head stroke. Aptus had clearly been getting the better of the combat, but was badly wounded in the chest due to four targeted attacks that had been inadequately blocked. Varius managed to elude Aptus’s subsequent charge and circled around behind to retrieve his sword, then immediately spun around to score with an all-or-nothing thrust to the chest that brought Aptus to death’s door.

In the first two phases of the fifth turn, Aptus tried to retreat, but Varius successfully anticipated his loss of nerve and forced two more engagements that both came within a single point of finishing Aptus off. But in the third phase, Varius made the mistake of sidestepping forward while Aptus turned and plowed straight ahead into the smaller, lighter, and shieldless gladiator. The combination of strength, shield, and movement advantages gave Aptus a +7 mod to the collision roll; Ender picked the perfect time to roll boxcars for a 19 that sent Varius sprawling unconscious on the bloody sands.

We were in accord that Varius merited Missus, as his Attack CF – Defense CF was +44 in only eight engagements. But the fans in the Colosseo were apparently in a bloodthirsty mood that day, as they nevertheless turned their thumbs down. *schlunk* And Varius the light gladiator was no more.

And now Spain

First Greece. Then Portugal. Now Spain. It shouldn’t be long before Ireland’s credit rating appears in the news, as per RGD.

Spain’s credit rating was cut to AA from AA+ by Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services. The outlook is negative, S&P said.

It’s going to go lower than AA….

Here we go again

Another much-ballyhooed bazooka fails:

“We have gone past the point of no return,” said Jacques Cailloux, chief Europe economist at the Royal Bank of Scotland.“There is a complete loss of confidence. The bond markets are in disintegration and it is getting worse every day. “The ECB has been side-lined in the Greek crisis so far but do you allow a bond crash in your region if you are the lender-of-last resort? They may have to act as contagion spreads to larger countries such as Italy. We started to see the first glimpse of that today.”

Mr Cailloux said the ECB should resort to its “nuclear option” of intervening directly in the markets to purchase government bonds. This is prohibited in normal times under the EU Treaties but the bank can buy a wide range of assets under its “structural operations” mandate in times of systemic crisis, theoretically in unlimited quantities.

And here is a perfect example of the inherent danger – and stupidity – in centralizing any form of power. In the pre-Euro days, Greece could have devalued the drakhma and relieved the pressure on its bond market. The effects would have been negative, but limited solely to Greece. Now, thanks to the centralized structure of the EU, the bail-out expense threatens the pocketbooks of Germans and the debt contagion threatens Portuguese, Italian, Spanish, and Irish bonds.

The worst thing is that the proposed “emergency” solution involves further centralization, which involves kicking the problem down the road for a while. This means that when the debt issue resurfaces, it will threaten the ECB directly. The ECB would be wise to do what the Fed did not have the courage to do and let Greece default. Unfortunately, wisdom and central bankers appear to be mutually exclusive concepts these days.

I am amused by the continued expansion of the financial analogies, though. First the Fed had a “gun”, then the EU had a “bazooka”. Now the ECB has a “nuclear option”. But, like previous analogical armaments that were brandished so futilely, it can only be perceived as effective so long as it isn’t used. It’s an empty bluff, just like all the previous ones.

Here’s a few more details on the latest in the ongoing Euromeltodown:

ATHENS — Greece was pushed to the brink of a financial abyss and started dragging another eurozone country – Portugal – down with it Tuesday, fueling fears of a continent-wide debt meltdown. Stocks around the world tanked when ratings agency Standard & Poor’s downgraded Greek bonds to junk status and downgraded Portugese bonds two notches, showing investors that Greece’s financial contagion is spreading. Major European exchanges fell more than 2.5 percent, and on Wall Street, the Dow Jones industrial average finished down more than 200 points. The euro slid more than 1 percent to nearly an eight-month low.

“We have the makings of a market crisis here,” said Neil Mackinnon, global macro strategist at VTB Capital.

Greece is struggling with massive debt, and with prospects for economic growth weak it could end up in default. Its 15 eurozone partners and the International Monetary Fund have tried to calm the markets with a euro45 billion rescue package, but it hasn’t worked.

Standard & Poor’s warned that holders of Greek debt could take large losses in any restructuring, but a greater worry is that Greece’s debt crisis is mushrooming to other debt-laden members of the eurozone.

One bailout can be dealt with but two will be stretching it, and there are fears that other weak economies could be pulled down in the Greek spiral – including Europe’s fifth-largest, Spain. Can Germany, Europe’s effective paymaster, continue to bail out the weaker members of the eurozone?

The crisis threatens to undermine the euro and make it harder and more expensive for all eurozone governments to borrow money.

It has also disrupted cooperation between eurozone governments, with Germany resisting the idea of bailing out Greece unless strict conditions are met. Many investors think Greece will have enough money to avoid default in the coming weeks, but the future is cloudier. Both Standard & Poor’s and the Greek finance ministry insisted that the country will have enough money to make the euro8.5 billion bond payments due on May 19.

Beware the post-Ides of May….

Greece junked

Another Black Swan spotting!

Greece’s credit rating was cut three steps to junk by Standard and Poor’s, the first time a euro member has lost its investment grade since the currency’s 1999 debut. The euro weakened and stock markets throughout the region plunged.

Greece was lowered to BB+ from BBB+ by S&P, which also warned that bondholders could recover as little as 30 percent of their initial investment if the country restructures its debt. The move, which puts Greek debt on a par with bonds issued by Azerbaijan and Egypt, came minutes after the rating company reduced Portugal by two steps to A- from A+.

Wait a minute, hasn’t the financial media reported that Greece was saved, bailed out, etc about 20 times in the last month? Anyhow, you may recall that I suggested going long dollar a few months ago, back when the Euro was around $1.45. Needless to say, the few people who noticed at the time said I was crazy. Again.

On a tangential note, don’t you enjoy the way the ratings services always helpfully let you know that a bond is worthless well after it becomes completely freaking obvious? I don’t often agree with Paul Krugman, but I thought it was impressive that 93% of the AAA-rated mortgage securities are now downgraded to junk. Ex post facto, of course. It would appear that an AAA rating doesn’t mean what so many investors thought it meant.

Immigration irony

A letter to the New York Times:

To the Editor:

Of course Arizona’s governor, Jan Brewer, signed the state’s anti-immigrant bill (front page, April 24). Why? The majority of Arizona residents wanted her to. Immigrants, undocumented and legal, are blamed for crime, unemployment, crowded emergency rooms, pet overpopulation and every other social ill that comes to mind.

It reminds me of Germany in the 1930s and how Jews were held culpable for Europe’s problems. Arizona’s Legislature shamelessly panders to the radical fringe in our state and snickers at those of us who seek common ground.

For the first time since moving here from New York City in 1997, I am ashamed to call myself an Arizonan.

Debra J. White
Tempe, Ariz., April 24, 2010

This is exhibit A why Arizonans should be restricting immigration. And not just from south of the border.

Statistical status

There is something about the economics-inclined mind that can’t help considering what the reported numbers imply:

The average woman dates 24 men and spends more than £2,000 before finding “Mr Right”, research has shown.

Here’s what occurred to me upon seeing this article in the Telegraph. First, the average man probably dates fewer than 24 women before settling down, so once you have dated 12 women, you should have a pretty good idea of where you rate with the opposite sex. Don’t delude yourself, that’s where the market has valued you. So, if you want to get married and have children, you should strongly considering doing so with the next woman you meet who compares reasonably well with those previous 12 women and is largely compatible with your faith, personality, and finances.

Second, if you’re only interested in trophy hunting, you can also use this information. Since the average woman has also had sex with six men, this means that she will have sex with one in every four men with whom she goes out on a date. So, if you’re not having sex with at least one out of every four women you take out, you’re clearly doing something wrong and need to either adjust your approach or rethink what sort of women you are pursuing.

Third, it occurs to me that this sex/date ratio is probably as effective and objective a means of defining male sexual status as any, which is useful given the inability of many men to understand that this status has nothing to do with what a man thinks of himself, but is determined by the way women react to him. Alphas, being near-irresistible to women, would have a percentage of .850+ since even George Clooney and Brad Pitt strike out from time to time. Sigmas would be a bit less, around .750+, thanks to the strangeness and unpredictability factors. Betas would be between .250 and .400, Deltas between .100 and .300, Gammas between .050 and .200, and Omegas below .050. So, if you want to figure out to which classification you belong, just work out your historical sex/date ratio. Note that this isn’t a sex per date ratio, it is the percentage chance that a man will eventually have sex with a woman if he goes on a date with her. It would probably not be unreasonable to use this ratio as a probability proxy for the likelihood that a woman will accept a date request from the man as well.

This sex/date classification obviously doesn’t apply to women because they are the ones responsible for deciding whether a date ends in sex or not. This means that their status has to depend upon initiations rather than conclusions, but it should be possible to come up with a similar classification set based on the amount of date requests and propositions women receive from men of varying statuses. A date request from an Alpha would be worth 3x more than a proposition from an Alpha, which would be worth 5x more than a date request from a Gamma. Something more or less like that, anyway.

Mailvox: the probable irrelevance of the Tea Party

JM explains why he is dubious with regards to the Tea Party’s ability to achieve anything:

In the past, every president has shown great concern with how they will look, and what is said about them, this one has no concern at all, apparently, on those issues, but only regarding his intended goals. His party has remained true to its fundamental principles, it has handily tossed off the handicap of being expected to behave within the constraints of “republicanism”, because people have ceased to relate that notion to the Nation as a whole, and have allowed themselves to confine the term to the party, forgetting that our unique status as a Nation is entirely dependent on the principles of “republicanism”, as most who vote these days were never taught that in school, and won’t learn it by accident.

Add to this picture, the least responsible previous president as the head of a Nation in serious fiscal problems preceding him, and we have in essence, “the perfect storm”, a situation where the fact that playing offense in politics meshes perfectly, and makes for that much more effective gains….

The “tea party movement” has more citizens activated than any other movement in my life, and should, by rights, be sufficient to offset this advantage the social democrats have, however, there is far less real power in simply massing than appears and most protests in the past have made the most impact through the fear of those facing it, than any other factor. It would appear the social democrats and this administration were prepared for mass protests, and while they perhaps didn’t expect the numbers, they are not showing any fear.

I’ve watched riots close up from the crashing of the DNC in Chicago, in 68, and ever since, and from where I stood, each and every time, the entire issue was decided by the reaction of the administrators, not the crowd. If the administration and the party standing behind it do not flinch, the tea party movement will cease to have any influence unless the whole issue devolves into outright uprising and a physical outbreak of war against the illegal government is commenced.

Seeing the way in which Obama is confounding the Tea Party movement tends to remind me of the classic alternative history short story in which the Germans conquer British India and instead of facing imperial British troops, Gandhi finds himself confronting soldiers of the Wehrmacht. Needless to say, satyagraha is rather less effective in the face of a ruthless enemy that is indifferent to bloodshed.

Obama is entirely focused on his goals, not the polls. He is as indifferent to the political pressure from his left as he is to the Tea Party-led pressure from his right, in part because he has largely delegated his legislative priorities to the Congressional Democrats. And being a ruthless pragmatist who has never hesitated to discard others once they cease to prove useful to him, it is extremely unlikely that he is in any way concerned with the Democratic Party’s probable loss of the House in the fall. Obama will simply keep pursuing his progressive goals while relying upon Republicans to do what they do best, namely, crumble under media pressure.