The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

FTX was not a "tech company"

Josh Barro explains the FTX collapse in simple terms:

[T]his is not a technology story, because FTX was not a technology company. Sure, FTX’s business relied on technology, but so do most businesses. FTX has an app; so does Fidelity, and so does Chipotle, and that doesn’t make them tech companies. FTX was a brokerage, and there were two things that set them apart from a regular brokerage. One is that they dealt principally in nonsense financial products with no underlying economic value, and the other is that the owners either lost or stole the customers’ money and then lied about their resulting insolvency.

Because cryptocurrency assets have no fundamental economic value — unlike stocks and bonds, they do not reflect a claim on the cash flows of some business creating real value in the economy — there can be no such thing as fundamentals-based investing in them. When people invest in crypto, they out themselves as marks for scammers who might believe any nonsense about what something is worth. And therefore it’s the least surprising thing in the world that someone would open up a crypto exchange, offer implausible interest rate terms in order to hoover up billions in customer deposits from the gullible masses, and then misappropriate the proceeds.

He also provides some rules of thumb for dealing with cryptocurrencies, the first being, "any crypto-related business is a scam." Quite so.

Three photos

Photo number 1: Cassie, from above. (My office is in a loft over the master bedroom, where Cassie has a bed.)

Photo number 2: can anyone give this 1½-meter (5'3") scratching post a good home? I'm keeping it for a friend who went back home to Spain "for 6 weeks" in August 2020. He will come back to Chicago eventually—for a visit.

Photo number 3: a Tweet that made me laugh out loud.

I know that the super-rich in previous eras also had more narcissism than good sense, but watching Musk destroy Twitter in real time makes me wonder if our super-rich are massively stupider than the Gettys and Carnegies, or only significantly stupider.

Self-parody?

The new boss of Twitter, who laid off half his workforce and watched as half the remaining employees quit last night, found the silver lining:

And yes, I linked to the Tweet, because I cite my sources. Kind of like putting a bookmark in a scroll in Alexandria as the fire spreads to the next room, I suppose...

While the site still keeps going, check out the #RIPTwitter memes.

Will Twitter last longer than this head of lettuce?

And as I'm typing this, the BBC News Hour presenter just said they'll have a former Twitter vice president on who says Elon Musk has told everyone to "hold his beer," which sounded perfect in RP.

Foggy Hallowe'en

A week after moving, I'm averaging 30 minutes more sleep and my Body Battery score is back to normal levels after two weeks of waking up like a zombie. I might even have all the boxes unpacked by this time next year.

Meanwhile, me shifting a couple tonnes of matter a few hundred meters did not affect the world's spin by any measurable amount:

Finally, the Tribune reviewed a new New York-style pizzeria in East Lakeview that...doesn't sound like it sells the greasy slices I used to get on Lexington after midnight. But I'll try it.

Anthony's Song

I'm movin' out. A lovely young couple have offered to buy Inner Drive World Headquarters v5.0, and the rest of the place along with it. I've already gotten through the attorney-review period for IDTWHQ v6.0, so this means I'm now more likely than not to move house next month.

Which means I have even less time to read stuff like this:

Finally, American Airlines plans to get rid of its First Class offerings, replacing them with high-tech Business Class and more premium coach seats. I'd better use my miles soon.

The BUSINESS of baseball

Major League Baseball owners, over the objection of players, have made more rules changes trying to turn America's Pastime into something it never should become:

Major League Baseball passed a sweeping set of rules changes it hopes will fundamentally overhaul the game, voting Friday to implement a pitch clock and ban defensive shifts in 2023 to hasten the game's pace and increase action.

The league's competition committee, composed of six ownership-level representatives, four players and one umpire, approved a pitch clock of 15 seconds with empty bases and 20 seconds with runners on, a defensive alignment that must include two fielders on each side of the second-base bag with both feet on the dirt as well as rules limiting pickoff moves and expanding the size of bases.

The vote was not unanimous. Player representatives voted no on the shift and pitch-clock portions of changes.

The rule is strict: The catcher must be in position when the timer hits 10 seconds, the hitter must be have both feet in the batter's box and be "alert" at the 8-second mark and the pitcher must start his "motion to pitch" by the expiration of the clock. A violation by the pitcher is an automatic ball. One by the hitter constitutes an automatic strike.

The banning of defensive shifts, which were once a fringe strategy but have become normal occurrence and the bane of left-handed hitters, is among the more extreme versions, preventing defensive player movement in multiple directions. With all four infielders needing to be on the dirt, the days of the four-outfielder setup will be over. Even more pertinent, shifting an infielder to play short right field, or simply overshifting three infielders to the right side of the second-base bag, will no longer be legal.

Because the problem with baseball in the last 20 years has nothing to do with trading players like so much feed corn so that no one cared about their home team players anymore, and nothing to do with the new playoff rules making the season pretty much irrelevant, and nothing to do with turning baseball parks into Disneyfied "Entertainment Zones"...no, the problem was always the action.

And of course, turning off your traditional fan base has always worked in the long-term interests of the sport.

Lunchtime links

Happy Monday:

I would now like to take a nap, but alas...

San Antonio loses an orchestra

The San Antonio Symphony dissolved itself yesterday, to howls of anger from its musicians:

The board of the Symphony Society of San Antonio cited stalled negotiations with the Musicians’ Union and the lack of a labour contract.

In a statement on the San Antonio Symphony’s website, the board said: “The last bargaining session between the Symphony Society and the Musicians’ Union took place on March 8, 2022 after which the Union declined to return to the bargaining table, despite efforts of federal mediators and the Symphony.

The symphony’s musicians had been on strike since late September 2021, when they were asked to take a pay cut from $35,774 (£29,097) to $17,710 (£14,404) a year.

In September Mary Ellen Goree, chair of the San Antonio Symphony musicians negotiating committee and principal second violin, said musicians had been “shocked and appalled” by the proposal, which would have reduced their salaries to less than the living wage.

Goree suggested the board's move might violate an existing contract:

She cited a 2019 contract that specifies what needs to be done if there is a dissolution of the San Antonio Symphony Society, the board that manages the symphony.

She read an excerpt of the document to TPR: “Such transfer of assets shall be subject to the approval of the Union and the members of the orchestra, as well as the Board of Directors of the society.”

The only vote taken was within the Symphony Society.

The news reached Sebastian Lang-Lessing, the symphony's former music director, during a visit to South Korea. He said the move by management was indefensible.

“It's totally in contradiction with the mission of the San Antonio Symphony, and they need to be held accountable for that," he said. "By just dissolving now and ... to blame to the musicians is a very arrogant move.”

The union's own statement calls out the Symphony Board for financial mismanagement:

“What the Symphony can afford,” of course, is directly tied to what the leadership of the Symphony Society is willing to raise. It is telling that the past 30+ years have been an unbroken trend of the San Antonio metropolitan area becoming larger and larger, and the Symphony budget becoming smaller and smaller. Given our population growth and the number of corporations either headquartered or doing significant business in San Antonio, the idea that San Antonio cannot support an orchestra even at the level of Omaha, Nebraska (an orchestra with a $9M budget), is ludicrous.

On September 26, 2021, the SSSA wrongfully declared impasse and imposed draconian terms that would reduce the size of the orchestra by 40%, cut the pay (already barely above a living wage) of the remaining 60% by 33%, and offer most of the remaining 40% of the musicians a salary of just over $11,000 a year with no benefits. Agreeing to such terms would have been meant agreeing to our own destruction, so on September 27, the musicians called an unfair labor practice strike.

There seems to be a lot more to this story, and I'm curious if anyone down there might commit some journalism to finding out what.

The collapse of crypto

I want to call attention to an article from October by Ben Mackenzie and Jacob Silverman that seems prescient today:

Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Gary Gensler has compared [the cryptocurrency industry] to betting in unlicensed, unregistered casinos. “We’ve got a lot of casinos here in the Wild West,” Gensler said in a chat last month with the Washington Post. “And the poker chip is these stablecoins.” In this casino, the chips themselves might be just as risky as sitting down at the blackjack table.

A stablecoin is a digital currency whose value is directly linked to another asset, kind of like the dollar under the gold standard. The value of a stablecoin is supposed to remain constant. Such cryptocurrencies are useful because converting fiat money into and out of a cryptocurrency like Bitcoin can be slow and cumbersome; if you load up on stablecoins, you’re dealing in the coin of the realm and can make your transactions quickly. The most popular stablecoin by a country mile is Tether. According to a recent study, 70 percent of Bitcoin trading is done in Tethers. On any given day, Tether is by far the most-traded coin, its volume often double that of Bitcoin. If you want to gamble at the crypto casino, you need Tethers.

I was never into betting on crypto for the same reason I was never into online poker: There’s no human interaction involved, and drinking at my desk while watching numbers flicker by on a screen is not my thing. I’m also not eager to gamble on things where I don’t know the risks involved and when I may be playing by different rules than others. For all of its talk about ensuring trust via strong code and decentralized authorities, the crypto industry remains, like many pockets of its mainstream finance counterpart, profoundly concentrated and often untrustworthy.

For those who look past all this and end up on the losing end if this $2 trillion bubble pops, it might be catastrophic, especially as crypto exchanges increasingly resemble unlicensed banks, with some now encouraging users to directly deposit their paychecks into crypto. For the average investor/gambler (is there a difference anymore?), one would be best advised to heed a popular saying in Vegas: Look around the poker table; if you can’t spot the sucker, you’re it.

Forward to this past week, and the tulips South Sea Company Ponzi scheme crypto market seems like the casino is closing.

Just one or two stories today

Sheesh:

And finally, when I left for San Francisco on Saturday morning, it was 10°C and sunny. Here we are about 76 hours later and it's 30°C. We really don't have spring or fall here some years.