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Archive for December 31st, 2008

Too True To Be Good

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Today, you will give me a single grain of rice. Then, each day for thirty days you will give me double the rice you gave me the day before.

One Grain of Rice, a mathematical folktale by Demi

About 90 years ago, an Italian immigrant made essentially that same double-the-rice proposal to citizens of Boston: invest in my company, and I’ll double your money every 90 days. Do the math, people, do the damned math! Invest a million dollars in a scheme like that today, leave your money invested a mere five years, and you’ll be able to retire after that very brief period with upwards of one third of the current money supply of the entire U.S.!! Except . . . hmmmm, there seem to be more than two other financial idiots throwing into this scheme along with me, so how exactly are we going to be dividing up the country’s wealth between us all, pray do tell.

In the current re-run, the TV and the press and the politicians keep mislabeling the scheme’s investors as “victims.” The more accurate tag: “sucker.” And this time around, our scam artist’s biggest mistake was not turning his operation into a bank while he had the chance, in which case the U.S. taxpayer could have joined all the suckers by bailing him out.

So if these financial versions of chain letters are doomed to failure anywhere from as few as 15 to at most 30 iterations out into the future, might we not still see at least a near-term reality to them, temporarily without fraud, able to actually produce those get-rich-quick asset returns at first, simply not able to sustain it past some certain point, the exercise then becoming to know that point and get out before the scheme turns sour? No. That moment was back at the very initial point, at the origin of the idea.

Anything so good that it can’t be true will have its truth found out as not being all that good to begin with.

bumper sticker [] - whatev

Written by macheide

31 December 2008 at 10:30 am

Posted in whatev

Making It Not Work

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Just before I start approaching publishers to seek those rejection letters, I’ll need to go to my own employer for permission to proceed. This would be necessary even if I were to write this book as a children’s book (which might not be a bad idea). They simply need to make sure there is no questionable connection between my work and any outside enterprise in which I involve myself. As an easy and very relevant illustration, I would not be allowed to publish a revised edition of my nondiscrimination book, not while I am serving in the government in a position where such a book would too easily look like I am speaking on behalf of the government, or using my government position to improperly benefit myself outside my job, or prejudicing work I do for the government on cases involving what the book might express opinions about, or any of a truckload of other potential conflicts of interest.

This book I’m now working on would be about actuarial thinking. Which obviously is the basis of my work for the government. Yet I have every reason to hope that I will win approval to seek its publication while remaining in my current position, since the book is not really about what I do, but rather about how I do it. There will be nothing in the book that should affect or be affected by any specific work I do for the government, any more than if I were to write a book about breathing although obviously I need to breathe in order to perform my duties for the government.

But to make that line clearer, I’ve settled on a specific goal that will need some special attention: I plan to avoid discussing pension plans anywhere in the book. Not only in the conceptual chapters, but also in any background material about what actuaries do or used to do. In fact, I am going to aim toward not even having the word pension appear anywhere throughout the book’s text.

Stretching that a giant step further, the book would not be balanced well if it mentions insurance – life insurance, health insurance, or casualty insurance – without also at least waving a hand in the general direction of pensions. So I’ll take this goal to its extreme: I will plan to avoid discussing insurance, will avoid even using the word insurance.

A book about actuarial concepts without using the words “pension” and “insurance”? Yes, I think it can be done without having it feel distorted or silly. In fact, the discipline of the effort would help shift the focus precisely in the direction I want anyway: away from the standard job description and the traditional career path, concentrating instead on the person and the concepts. If I can discuss the future perspectives of financial risk and uncertainty as a broader universal concern without collapsing it into the pre-packaged notions of insurance and pensions, I might find more freedom to present my material without all the baggage that those specific “actuarial” topics carry.

Sure, any thoughtful reader is going to bring insurance and pensions to their understanding of my content. Like, if I were to ever go out on any post-publication speaking circuit on the book, questions about insurance and pensions would be inevitable. But I’m nowhere near needing to think any of that through. For now, in part because of the need to win my employer’s approval to proceed, but in equal part because it will help focus the material the way I feel I need to do, I will avoid insurance and pensions altogether in any of my writing for the book.

bumper sticker [] - littérateur

Written by macheide

31 December 2008 at 5:48 am

Posted in littérateur

Decorating It All Up

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When do you put your decorations up?

christmas meme from susan


The day after Thanksgiving. That’s one of our family traditions. With emphasis on the family, mom. It’s not about the decorations: it’s about the love shared throughout this season. Let others show us “what Thanksgiving is all about” by lining up at Walmart at 3am to stampede their separate ways fighting the crowds for those discounts they’d like Christmas to be about. We’re here spending the day with each other launching a season of spending time together.

We start putting it all back up in the closet and the garage the day after Christmas. Today we’ll be taking down the living room tree. (Tell me, if the raw commercialism of Black Friday’s stampedes for those early holiday discounts is what Thanksgiving is all about, then those malls crowded this past week with shoppers doing their gift exchanges to get what they really wanted, is that what Christmas is all about?)

bumper sticker [] - not me

Written by macheide

31 December 2008 at 1:01 am

Posted in not meme

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