Biotech is Awesome – And Accessible

I have a lot to say on this topic, but not now. For the moment, I just want to point out that biotechnology has always been with us, is a gift of God, and we have only scratched the surface of what we can do. What we need to do is get our kids excited about it and it will be the next big thing. I’ve had a dream for many years of having a public biology lab, and stuff like this would be awesome.

Experts as Blowhards

Note – this is Part 3 of a series on Tom Nichols’ book The Death of Expertise. You can also go to Part 1 and Part 2.

Continuing on our discussion of Tom Nichols The Death of Expertise I want to talk about a specific story that Tom Nichols thinks shows that experts are giving us important information which we are ignoring, but which really shows that experts are infatuated with their own importance and focus on irrelevant technicalities to boost their own ego.
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The Real Cause of the Death of Expertise

Note – this is Part 1 of a series on Tom Nichols’ book The Death of Expertise. You can also go to Part 2 and Part 3.

I am currently listening to an audiobook titled The Death of Expertise. I have only just started it, so I am curious to see if my position changes over the course of the book. But so far, I think that the author Tom Nichols is dead wrong on the reason why Americans are skeptical of experts.
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MicroSecession and Stock Trading

I am planning on starting stock trading, and I decided before I did, I would first layout my philosophical framework for understanding what I am undertaking.  I get the feeling that many people engage in activities that they have not fully understood.  They may get it right by chance, or even by skill, but disaster will also overtake them because they only understood the smaller forces, not the larger scale ones (for more information on this topic, see this post on seeing to infinity).  Understanding something philosophically means that, while you will often get the smaller things wrong, you will usually get the larger ones right.

The stock market and MicroSecession

Now, you may think that stock trading is the opposite of the MicroSecession mindset.  And, to an extent, you would be right.  I am posting this here precisely because I recognize the dissonance in the approaches to the world, and wanted to explore them for myself and for others.  In MicroSecession, we focus on our families and communities, and try to order our lives in such a way as to be able to be impacted much less by macroeconomic and political forces.  It also aims to focus on the real over the artificial – preferring silver to dollars, land and chickens and personal capital to stocks and bonds.

So, before I go into further depth into stock trading and MicroSecession, I want to first review the MicroSecession approach to money and wealth.  A lot of it is actually borrowed from the financial sector, but applied in such a way that any person on earth should be able to take advantage of it.

  1. Stop consuming, start producing – focus on hobbies and activities that are productive, not consumptive.  Don’t watch TV, write a play instead.
  2. Purchase capital assets – a capital asset is one that allows you to be more productive.  Whatever it is that you are doing, look for things that you can purchase to increase your productivity.
  3. Convert extra money into hard assets – if you have extra money, purchase things of real, lasting value.  The simplest version of this is to buy real silver and gold, either as coins or jewelry. 

This is not a get-rich-quick scheme.  It is a way to make a tiny, stabilizing move in our modern society.  Here are a few ways in which we have implemented this.  First, our hobbies currently deal with learning and teaching.  We learn (an activity that improves ourselves), and then teach (an activity which benefits others as well as earns us additional money).  We produce teaching materials that do the same.  We are not great at this yet, especially not great on the selling side, but most importantly, even though we are just eking out money, we are not consuming, but rather producing.  Being above the zero line is the primary goal.  As for capital assets, most of our purchases are for things related to improving our ability to teach and produce teaching products.  Finally, we are indeed converting our extra money into hard assets.  There isn’t a lot of extra money, so there aren’t a lot of hard assets.  But, over the years, we have generated enough to the point that we have a hard asset savings with a modest value.  Not large, not even nest-egg sized, but some.  More than we would if we weren’t converting into hard assets.  We have some silver and gold, we have some long-storage food, we each have a business bank account that is positive.  So, we aren’t in a great place, but we are going forward.

Why Change?

So, if it is working, then why the stock market?

Well, there are a few things that are not working.  Christa and I have been both trying to leverage our day job and our individual part-time jobs into larger growth areas.  However, for my day job, despite the fact that we seem to be perfectly positioned for it, it just has never worked out.  For our evening jobs, we have never had enough capital to really expand the business.  All of our books are print-on-demand because we can’t afford a real print run.  I can’t afford to take time off of work to write or otherwise develop the business.  I can’t afford to hire a marketer to help me make sales.  We need capital, but there is no source for friends-helping-friends investing.  My hope is, if I wind up making it big, that I can help correct that.  I would love to see a local stock exchange where people can easily contribute to the idea and easily take out the profits.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.  There is no such idea, and there isn’t anyone who believes in our ideas enough to help us move on to the next level, and we are unwilling to go into debt. 

Therefore, I decided to take what I did have, and put it at risk in something.  If I can’t get a break in my job, and I can’t get a break in my business, and there is no exchange for putting money into local businesses to help them out, I’ll simply go where there is a system and mechanism for putting money at risk to generate profits – the stock market.

However, before I begin, I need to know for myself what is the philosophy of the stock market.  What is it that at least should be happening?  What is it that people should be gaining?  Where does this intersect and not intersect with reality?

Philosophy of Business and Stocks

So, the basics. 

What is a profit?  A profit, in theory, is the difference between the effort put into the company and the value placed on those efforts by the market.  Hopefully, in order to benefit society, those efforts have a real value for society even above the value placed on it by the market. 

What is a stock?  A stock is a part ownership of a company.

What is the goal of owning a stock?  The goal of owning a stock is to participate in the profits generated by the company.

What is the goal of issuing a stock?  The goal of issuing a stock is to generate capital to enhance the productivity of the company.

What is productivity?  Productivity is the ratio between the effort you put into the company and the total value the market provides.

The goal is that when a company issues a stock offering, it can become more productive, such that each unit of the company brings in even more profit than before.  This way, the company benefits by increasing productivity, and the stock purchasers benefit by seeing a share of the productivity increase.

Note that simple expansion is not enough.  Actual productivity must increase.  If expansion introduces overhead rather than removing it, then the profit will go down, not up.  Note that there are always new individual overhead items when scaling up, and also some implicit costs that were never recognized but always there, but, in the final analysis, the overall overhead should go down for increased productivity, or the unit cost should be sufficiently decreased to allow for the overhead.

I like to analyze things like this by looking at what it looks like on the smallest scales.  Let’s say that Bill is an accountant.  However, he is currently just using paper.  He can’t afford a computer because he doesn’t make enough sales, but he doesn’t make enough sales because he can’t afford a computer.  If Bill offers shares of stock in his company, then people can pool together money to buy Bill a computer in exchange for a piece of his company.  That computer then dramatically increases Bill’s productivity.  The increase in productivity is enough to both increase Bill’s income as well as provide a solid profit for the investors.

So, from this, we can deduce the following:

  • The final expectation of owning a stock should be profits/dividends.
  • The result of investment for the company should be sufficient increase in productivity to benefit both the business and the investors.
  • The result of investment for the investor should be a higher return than the maximum of real inflation (about 6.25%) and the treasury bond rate (2.34%).  Therefore, our return should be significantly greater than 6.25% if we are going to invest.
  • The best way to anticipate future profit is from examining their effectiveness at generating internal productivity.

That last note probably requires some explaining.  If inflation is 6.25%, then we can achieve this by just converting our money into hard assets, and then we have lower risk.  We can also achieve the treasury bond rate by just investing in treasuries!  Therefore, both of these represent a floor (really, a sub-floor – we all want to do much better than this) to what our gains should look like when investing.

Bad Strategies for Investing

Now, there are several strategies for investing that I have heard that I don’t like.  I love value investing (it seems to make the most out of the above description) in principle, but the problem with value investing today is that most of the market is way overvalued.  For instance, is a mature company, but it is trading at a P/E ratio of 511.  For a company as mature as Amazon is, this is ridiculous.  If we look to the model described previously, this means that it is acting like a bond earning 0.2% per year. That is ridiculous.  Apple, on the other hand, has a P/E around 16.  That means that it acts like a bond that earns 6.25% per year.  Much better!  But still not where we want a stock to be at.  Here, it is generating a return that is just at the inflation rate, so we might as well be buying hard assets.  Plus, Apple lost its innovative touch a few years before Jobs died, and people are finally starting to notice, which doesn’t bode well for the future.

Anyway, having said this, many value investors will just say, “look for the best value.”  That is ridiculous.  If you are going to be a value investor, you should be looking for actual value.  If the market isn’t giving you value, then you should not be investing in it.

Another common option is technical trading, where you trade based on market signals.  I don’t doubt that someone can build a system that will spot market signals that no one else sees.  However, these systems fall prey to a few systemic effects that few people bother to stop and think about.

The first one is that many systems are simply curve-fitting.  That is, someone generated a system that fits old data really well, but it doesn’t actually capture any market knowledge.  You see, anyone can fit data into a model.  It’s really easy.  However, to make a model that actually shows something real is a different animal.  It’s also really easy to convince yourself that you made a model of something real when what you actually did was curve fit.  I actually have a method to measure this effect, but it is still in development and will have to wait for another day. 

The next two are what I call “recursive effects”.  See this article for an introduction to recursive effects.  The first recursive effect is in that models usually don’t take themselves into account.  That is, models are “outside-looking-in” creatures.  They tell you what is going on in the room.  However, once the model itself is in the room, the room plays differently.  A model that works on the outside looking in will often cease to work once it is on the inside, because the model didn’t account for itself.  This is why models that are effective for individual investors often times lose effectiveness when it gets public.  As long as it was with a single investor, the model itself had little impact on the market as a whole.  Once everyone knows about it, there is now a new market which the model didn’t know about.

The other recursive effect is similar.  Most models don’t take into account the effect of their own trades on the system.  That is, if it looks like IBM is going up, and then I start buying IBM stock like a madman, I am going to trigger other price moves of IBM that might not have happened had I not made the trade.  I might have to buy it at a higher price because I was buying!  I might have to sell at a lower price because I was selling!  Most models don’t take into account these recursive effects.

The final one is what I call “scale effects”.  These are similar to the recursive effects just mentioned.  That is, when you start doing something at scale, there winds up being problems that you didn’t have before.  Perhaps you make a great trade and buy a million shares of stock XYZ at $1 and the price goes to $10.  Did you make $9 million?  Only if you can also sell it.  All of a sudden, having $10 million and having access to $10 million are two different things.  There might be interest rates, taxes, overhead, etc., that all come into account once you are at scale that may overwhelm a previously working system.

My Strategy

So, if not value or technical trading, how should you trade?

Here is what my strategy will be:

  1. Look for places where the market is mis-pricing things.  In the current situation, I would look for places where the price is at least 15% off.
  2. For most plays, buy stocks where I legitimately can see value in holding them.  That is, if the stock price went to zero, would there still be value?  If so, then this is similar to holding other kinds of hard assets – the value is independent of the present price.
  3. Leverage using options, with the understanding that the price could go to zero.  Options are great because they have a fixed downside risk.  It is a way to exercise leverage without having to borrow.  You can also short in this way.

The problem with #1 is that the market can continue to mis-price something for a long time.  So, you have to be comfortable with that.  However, as long as the price discrepancy is significant enough to warrant having your money there, it can work out.

Even shorter, (a) bet against the market, but only where the market is wrong by at least 15%, (b) buy things of underlying value, and (c) use options for leverage and shorting, not borrowing.

Anyway, I would prefer to invest in friends who need capital to enhance their productivity.  I would also like for others to invest in me in a similar manner.  However, there is not currently a means to do so.  Therefore, I will attempt to use the existing mechanisms as best I can using my microsecession understandings to build enough of a base to fund my own way.  Perhaps it will work, and perhaps I will lose it all.  But I don’t want to be like the man who said, “I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.” (Matthew 25:25).

How to Tell if You are Good at Gambling Using this One Weird Trick

There are many people who think they are good at gambling – whether hitting the blackjack tables or playing the slots. You always hear about stories of people who take the casinos for a ride, and everybody who tries their hand thinks that they are going to be the big winner. There are, indeed, people who are legitimately good at gambling. I had a friend who put himself through a graduate program in physics by gambling.

However, you also hear stories about people who lose everything, while all the while they think they know what they are doing. They may get on a winning streak, and gain a ton of money, just to lose it all again. They often end up broke multiple times. The book “The Power of Habit” has a tragic story about a lady who gambled because they always made her feel like she was knowledgeable and capable when she gambled. But, in reality, she was just a sucker.

So, how can you tell if you are good at gambling, or you are just a sucker for the casino? Well, I’ve come out with an easy way that you can use to tell which one you are.

If the casino is actively trying to remove you from the premises, you are good. If they are giving you discounts and coupons and freebies, then you aren’t.

End of story.

The people who actually know what they are doing are banned from casinos and have to sneak in to get around security. They have to dress up like other people to keep from getting thrown out. If this isn’t you, then you aren’t actually good at gambling – the casino is going to take you for a ride.

BuzzFeed is Heroic while CNN is Fake News

A lot has been said about the kerfluffle between Trump and CNN/BuzzFeed about the scandal involving potentially fake documents about information the KGB has on Donald Trump. Here is the original CNN story. Here is the BuzzFeed story.

Most people have been either hailing or shunning CNN/Buzzfeed as a unit. That is, either you think that they should have published the news, and therefore are doing their patriotic duty to keep power in check, or they shouldn’t have published the news, and are both guilty of FakeNews.

CNN has said that since they did not publish the documents, but only the contents of the meetings, that they are NotGuilty of FakeNewsery, and that BuzzFeeds should be the only ones to hang. However, I think they have it completely backwards.

First of all, CNN reported first. The reported that there are reports that Russia has compromising information on him. The was published around the blogosphere, and re-published, and many of my own friends were saying, “ohmygosh, Trump is being controlled by the Russians”. That was the result of the CNN story. After the story came out, BuzzFeed published the actual documents upon which these stories were based. As soon as the BuzzFeed documents came out, the scandal quickly turned, and everybody could see that this was a bunch of B.S..

Here’s the deal, had BuzzFeed not produced the documents, then CNN would have been able to say with impunity that the CIA was continually providing intelligence reports to Trump that show that the KGB has information on him. There would be nothing to stop them. Despite the fact that the documents were obvious fabrications, since CNN did not distribute the documents, it is just a bunch of “he said she said” with the only factual information known is that the CIA was talking to Trump about it.

However, BuzzFeed’s reports effectively ended the CNN story. Once people were shown the ridiculousness of the document that the story was based on, it was easy to see that it was all a fake sideshow. Even my friends who were pushing the CNN story, once the BuzzFeed story came out, started to shy away and say, “well, maybe not”.

Now, had BuzzFeed published their document before CNN said anything, I would say that BuzzFeed was publishing Fake News. However, because CNN published first, BuzzFeed was actually exposing CNN’s Fake News operation – showing it for the sham that it was. BuzzFeed didn’t even have to come out and call CNN out. They just showed the base information that CNN was reporting on (and CNN confirmed this by later adding in a link to the BuzzFeed documents into their story!).

What CNN did – report to the public bogus claims about Russian intelligence operations as if they were truth.

What BuzzFeed did – show the actual documents that the CNN report was based on, and exposing it for the sham that it was.

So, I have to say that, at least in this instance, CNN was the purveyor of Fake News, and BuzzFeed did the whole country a favor by giving us all access to the real documents that CNN was working from.

Fact-Checking is an Important Task – I Only Wish that Journalists Would Actually Do It

I believe in objective facts. I believe that there are questions of fact which are known. And, when someone says something, I think it is a 100% legitimate role of the news media to check the facts. I don’t believe that the media should necessarily present candidates with a totally even tone if they are, in fact, not equal. However, if only the media did that. The media believes itself to be doing that. But, unfortunately, they are totally unfamiliar with reason and facts, and can’t actually be trusted to them.

There is a role for opinion journalism, but it needs to be marked as such. Opinion journalism masquerading as an impartial fact-checking maligns the whole industry and profession, especially when done by a major network. The reason I generally prefer blogs to news outlets is because blogs don’t hide who they are or where they are coming from. They don’t pretend to be unbiased reporters and verifiers of fact. And, because they know *you* will be checking them, they actually oftentimes take *more* time to verify their claims.
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The Hypocritical Case Against Donald Trump

My social media feed is full of Trump criticisms by Obama supporters that criticize Trump for the things Obama does. Melania Trump copies Michelle speech. Okay, Obama, on numerous occasions, plagiarized sections of other people’s speeches. Others criticize Trump for being narcissistic and continually referring to himself. Has anyone ever actually listened to an Obama speech? Others are complaining about the benediction for Trump and the GOP convention being theologically incorrect. Did everyone miss the DNC’s savior-of-the-world theme going into the 2008 election?

These are all good points to make against Trump. I agree with each one. My point is simply if you have been an Obama supporter this whole time, and now you are making these complaints against Trump, you are self-deluded. The reason why the GOP is better than the DNC, is that when a narcissistic, self-important, pseudo-intellectual, religious demagogue gets nominated as the GOP candidate, you get the #NeverTrump movement from the GOP themselves. For the DNC, it is just the same as any other candidate they ever run.

The only real difference is that the DNC is usually subtler than the GOP. Personally, if someone is going to do wrong, I prefer that they do it loudly and openly than having to tease apart their statements – it makes life easier. If you wish for the subtlety of the DNC candidates, you only wish for the opportunity to deceive yourself by long words, and can’t stand to hear the lies you tell yourself spoken forthrightly.

Again, I’m not defending Trump, I am just completely amazed at the number of people who obviously don’t know how to look into a mirror.

Why Trump will Win in November

Here’s my prediction – Trump will be our next president. Possibly by a long shot. I don’t say this because I’m happy about it. Frankly, I’m not happy with any possible result at this point. But I think the cultural shifts in our country are going to get Donald Trump elected. Here’s why:

The People of America are Narcissists

Everyone wants to feel good about what they are doing without actually having to do good. Everyone wants to be “on the right side of history” (whatever that means) but this rarely actually means caring for their neighbor. Actually caring for your neighbor involves both helping them when they need help, and confronting them when they are being self-destructive. Simple slogans and using other people’s money to help people out is not caring for others, it is caring for your own self-image. Let’s look at the list of things which people do to pretend that they are better than others which don’t require them to actually do anything:

  1. Global warming. There’s literally nothing you can do. So, if you are part of the global warming bandwagon, you get to feel good about helping the environment while doing jack squat.
  2. Obamacare. If you support Obamacare you don’t actually have to care for the sick. Someone else takes care of that now.
  3. Gay Marriage. Nope, that didn’t require anything from you, either. You just had to put an equal sign on your Facebook page and it was just like you were in the Martin Luther King marches.
  4. Evolution. You don’t actually have to know anything about science. You don’t have to know any biochemistry, physics, cosmology. But if you use the e-word and are against the creationists and call ID’ers “Creationists in a cheap tuxedo”, then congratulations, you are on the side of science with a scientific worldview, battling the eeevil ignoramuses. You’ve never cracked open a science textbook, but you are sure that every scientist who is a creationist must be stupid.
  5. Feminism and BLM. Really, this one just involves either (a) getting mad if you are an oppressed group, or (b) “checking your privilege” otherwise. No actual thought or work required.

There are others. but as you can see, we have exchanged actual thought and action for simple signals that tell other people that we are on the “right” side without actually having to do the work. Each of these positions which is gaining by leaps and bounds culturally allows a person to feel better about themselves without actually doing anything.

The one with the most uniform social impact, gay marriage, is a special case in point. Never do the proponents of gay marriage stop even for a second to ask themselves what marriage is about, or why it might historically have been between a man and a woman. That would be asking too much. To actually have a conversation would be beyond the pale. No, if you are not already in agreement with them, then you are a bigot, and an actual conversation about the issue would just be too much. The actual work of building a society pales in comparison to whether or not we all celebrate someone’s personal fetish.

This brings me to point number 2.

Hillary is an Ideologue and Trump is a Narcissist

I’m not against ideologues per se, but Hillary happens to be an ideologue for a bad ideology. Trump, however, is a narcissist. The country doesn’t care about ideologies, it cares about feeling good and not getting its own feelings hurt. The country is narcissistic, not really leftist ideologues. The current platform of the left caters to narcissists, but there is a difference between those who really believe (i.e., Hillary), and those that are just along for whatever makes them look better to themselves (i.e., Trump).

This brings us to our conclusion:

Trump will Win because He’s a Narcissist Like the Country

Yep, that’s about it.

But, as usual, there is something you can do about it. It’s simple.

Rise above it. Create value that cannot be taken away – value in relationships, in people, in knowledge, etc. Store away wealth in ways that cannot be taxed or inflated away. Do business with the people around you and build up the economy right where you live. Restructure your life so that you can give all of them the finger and just keep on going. If we all do that, then their power will evaporate on its own. We will have no need of them.

But, as far as who will win the election. I’m fairly certain of my conclusions. It is just basic human nature. I’m just not going to let it get to me.

The Trump Phenomena and the Left

I find the left’s outrage with Trump quite interesting. I see in Trump exactly what I saw in Obama – a candidate whose primary virtue was stirring up distrust of the existing system for their own gain. The fervor over Trump reminds me a lot of the fervor over Obama in his first campaign. And both candidates played on those emotions to make their win.

I also find it interesting that those who complain most about Republicans not working with those across the aisle complain most bitterly about the candidates who do. The president who did the most to build bridges in governance in my lifetime was W. He was hated for it, and his worst acts of legislation were the bipartisan ones. Likewise, Trump is the most left-leaning of the candidates. He *is* the candidate that is most like the left.

Anyway, I don’t mind so much that Trump is winning, simply because we have endured 8 years of Obama, 4 more of essentially the same attitude won’t kill us any worse.

Also interesting is the fact that the people who complain most bitterly about the Republicans being theocrats hate Trump the most, who is the least Christian candidate.

All this leads to one conclusion – the hatred of Trump from the right is because the right doesn’t like Trump’s principles. The hatred of Trump from the left is because they don’t like the fact that their nice, contained political hegemony may soon be shifted into the arms of someone else promising them the moon.