Wednesday, June 25, 2014

A Rebuttal to the Smarter and More Vicious Wall Street Dinosaur

I’m sure that by now many have seen the famous Wall Street denizen’s letter to the “Average Joes” of middle America. If you haven’t seen it (I know many of my more traditionally conservative friends have posted versions of it on Facebook or in blogs), you can read it here:
Yes, this was circulating around back in 2010, and the crash was six years ago now. But I still see this thing cropping up in places. And frankly I remain somewhat surprised by the people I know who still float this thing around. But I’ve never really seen a response to it.
So here's mine.

To the smarter and more vicious wall street fellow (and whoever else thinks like him):
Come on down. Make my day.

Let’s get something straight. The crash of 2008 didn’t happen because the market crapped out, it happened because you’re an unethical idiot. You think you’re smarter than the rest of us, but you’re not. In fact, you’re so stupid, you damn near killed off our entire economy because you didn’t have the slightest god dammed idea what the hell you were doing.
You had no clue whatsoever what sort of risk you were exposing your clients (and everyone else) to when you started combining triple B rated bonds composed almost entirely of sub-prime mortgages into new tranches, then foisting those collateralized debt obligations off onto even more incompetent insurance companies like AIG, who couldn’t even be bothered to wonder what the damned things were composed of before backing credit default swaps on them.

But in addition to stupid, you suffer from a blatant lack of integrity, as you gleefully suckered Standard and Poors into giving a giant pile of high risk triple B bonds a triple A rating, then knowingly duping others to buy or insure the things. You knew what you were doing when you transferred the risk to others; you were taking advantage of their ignorance of what you were doing. And you thought it would be fine because you were too stupid to ever realize that the housing market could collapse and uniformly have a price correction (despite the fact that it had happened historically).
So come on over jackass, and try to eat my lunch. You don’t have any idea what risk is because you’ve never truly been exposed to any. You’ve never mortgaged your house to start or propel a business; you’ve never had to actually produce something, or be entrepreneurial where the only safety net out there is the asphalt that you land on if you fail. You’ve never had to hire or fire people, or have anything like what the rest of us call moral responsibility to our fellows for our own actions. Eat my lunch? You won’t get anywhere near it. But unlike the value traders, such as Michael Burry, who ate your lunch on Wall Street, you won’t even have a lunch to be eaten. No one I know would hire anyone as stupid and unethical as you are.

Joe Main Street

Sunday, February 2, 2014

One of the first courses in my PhD program was an advanced economics math course. In that course I met a fellow named Noah. Noah had just completed his MA in econ at University of Miami, Ohio, and was in the pure Econ PhD program (I was a PoliSci guy). He and I hit it off, and started doing our studying together. We got each other through that course, along with advanced econometrics and advanced game theory. Often he and I would go to a local pub and get a table in the back. While knocking back pints of beer, we would sit with our calculators and derive moment generating functions, or whatever other hard-core math we had to study. We proof-read and commented on each other’s papers, and commiserated over the good and the bad professors we experienced or endured. When we weren’t studying, we were playing poker, or engaging in cooking contests, or organizing wine tastings. Noah was a brilliant mind, and dedicated to his field. He passed away earlier this week, aged only 32 years. You can’t go through what we went through together without forming a bond, and we were very close. When I found out earlier today that he’d passed, I pulled out my text book on mathematical statistics, and stuck in the pages was the final exam study sheet for Econ 308. He and I spent a week together studying for that exam, cooped up in whatever room we could find available. I remember it well. Noah burned brightly, but, unfortunately, unstably. The notice I got says he died of his personal demons. I don’t know what that means exactly, but I can guess. Noah, I hope you are in a better place and have found the peace you were seeking. I will miss you my friend.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

With Bated Breath and Trepidation

Modern War, the new magazine coming in June (2012) form Decision Games, is the gaming magazine I’ve always wanted. It’s focused on modern topics and has a game in every issue, which, for me, is just about the perfect thing. I’ve wanted this magazine for so long that I once wrote a proposal to do exactly this magazine back in 2002. It was called Perspectives in Modern Conflict, and I pitched it to Doc at DG at the time. He didn’t seem particularly interested, and I ended up working on Fire & Movement instead. (I also pitched it to ATO, who showed more interest, but ultimately it never went anywhere.)

So I was pleased, if a bit startled, to discover that Doc decided to do a modern magazine after all. I was even asked to contribute to it by a member of the staff, but alas, my current work limits my capacity to participate meaningfully at this time. Nevertheless, I will subscribe to the magazine even though I don’t subscribe to the other magazines. But it’s the reasons that I don’t subscribe to those other magazines that I use the word trepidation in the title.

DG has hit upon a strategy for S&T and now WaW that seems to work for them. The games limit their ambition to well established or very simple systems that emphasize playability more than anything else. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s just not what I personally like.

Without going into yet another SPI lament, one thing I really miss about that company was its willingness to innovate, even at the expense of a game’s playability. They were seeking to understand the dynamics of situations and express those dynamics in game form. It frequently didn’t work that well as a game, but always proved an interesting intellectual engagement, at least for me.

Maybe I’m just different. I don’t’ play competitively; I seldom even play to win. I play to glean some insight from the situation, some understanding of conflict to add to my broader narrative. Looking at how some designer approached a situation, modeled it in game form, and then examining the ramifications as a game plays out is an intellectual pursuit that I relish. It’s one I’m particularly interested in in the modern context of conflict. In my opinion, the world is more interesting now that it ever has been. To examine that world through serious games, I want serious game designs that take on current issues that are novel and innovative in their own right. So I want games that are novel and innovative and I’m quite content with the fact that it may damage their playability.

DG is unlikely to give me that. The last several years of S&T and WaW have demonstrated DG’s commitment to making their games as playable as possible. From their point of view, and the point of view of most gamers, this can hardly be couched as a bad thing. Good for them.

But modern topics are different. Net-centric, cyber, air-sea battle, all of these descriptors for aspects of modern conflict have wide reaching ramifications worthy of deep exploration in our serious games. Looking at the first half dozen issues of Modern War doesn’t give me a lot of hope for that. Bruce Costello’s original design submission to S&T for Red Dragon Rising looked nothing like what was ultimately published. The result was a slick, very playable game that has very little to say about the potential reality of the event portrayed. Costello’s original design, unflatteringly described as “overwrought” at the time, had much more to say. It contained cyber and net-centric elements, and had a much more reality-based approach to the subject. I desperately hope that his new iteration in issue 1 of Modern War will bring some of these things back to the table, but I’m not hopeful, especially after DG’s development team are done with it. We’re probably going to get a very playable, entertaining game. I predict that it may even win some awards. But I’m skeptical that it will really be what I’m hoping for.

Looking at the other issues doesn’t give me much optimism either. The premise for the Oil War game seems far-fetched and comes across more like an effort to remake an old game than to tell us anything really interesting about the theater it takes place within (which is really sad given all the things that are happening there now). And of course, we have a back to Korea topic in the mix as well. Gods be praised. Somali Pirates holds some promise, but in truth the first six offerings look more like a closet cleaning than a well thought-out plan to seriously deal with modern and current events in conflict.

The articles and authors previewed so far also leave me with some distress. It looks like the same names and faces as those in S&T and WaW; which is to say that the content is written by hobbyists with a sprinkling of subject matter experts. Current events and history are not the same thing. Writers of one are not necessarily qualified to write about the other. I was able to preview one of the upcoming articles for issue 1 in its entirety. It’s good in a superficial way, but it lacks much of the strategic insight an actual subject matter expert could have brought to the table. And what’s sad is that there are an abundant number of said SMEs to choose from. You just have to go after them … which takes effort.

So yes, I’ve put in my pledge to subscribe to the new magazine, and I expect I will remain a subscriber. It is my dream magazine after all, or at least as close as I’m ever likely to get unless I do it myself. In truth, DG’s approach may be the best one, as it will probably have a much more broad appeal than mine would. Many of my favorite wargames are referred to as valiant failures. Sad (in many ways) as I think that moniker is, I suppose it is better to have a cowardly success than it is a valiant failure, especially where running a business is concerned. But here’s to hoping DG proves me wrong. In the meantime, I continue to wait with baited breath and trepidation.