Links 3/17/09

Canadian dig yields tiny dinosaur BBC

Wolfram Alpha Computes Answers To Factual Questions. This Is Going To Be Big TechCrunch (hat tip Ed). If this works, it is a major threat to Google. Stay tuned.

AIG refuses to hand over workers details Times Online

Fed Plans For TALF Stymied Clusterstock

The Button-Down Mafia: How the Public Accounting Firms Run a Racket on Investors and Thrive While Their Clients Fail Francine McKenna, Huffington Post

Private Business Sidelined by China’s Stimulus Economic Observer Online (hat tip reader Michael)

China lost billions buying stocks just before crash Financial Times

‘Medieval’ U.S. Law Firm Pay Structure Buckles Bloomberg. The problem is that merit based pay is not all it is cracked up to be, see the section “The Illusion of Meritocracy” on page 6.

Prosecutors seek Ruth Madoff’s assets Financial Times. Hhm, federal prosecutors plan to seize assets held in the wife’s name, but Treasury can’t figure out how to halt AIG bonus payments.

Goldman Offers Loans to Stretched Employees New York Times. Am I being unfair? Looks like TARP money is now bailing out Goldman staff. When average Americans overextend themselves, they have to cut back on their lifestyle, sometime in a very disruptive way, or declare bankruptcy. Not Goldmanites, it seems.

Shovels Are There, but the Readiness May Not Be Wall Street Journal. Our doubts about shovel-ready projects are proving well founded.

Bernanke May Need ‘Massive’ Asset Buying to Counter Contraction Bloomberg

How to Stop AIG’s Bonuses Bill Black, Tom Ferguson, Rob Johnson, Walker Todd Huffington Post

Treasury Footnote Loses Billions Karim Bardeesy, The Big Money

Antidote du jour (hat tip reader Don):

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  1. Anonymous

    Canadian dig yields tiny dinosaur BBC

    Neanderthal Hockey Goons can be seen every night playing in the National Hockey League.

  2. dearieme

    The Goldman sob story tweaks the old heart-strings, eh? Poor wee lambs. What better use for mountains of taxpayers’ cash?

  3. Dan Duncan

    On Wolfram and Google:

    Wolfram Alpha comes from the same guy who in 2003 said he was “going to revolutionize science”. In fact, his “seminal” work was humbly called, “A New Kind Of Science”.

    Extraordinary claims of “changing everything” appear to be quite ordinary when coming from Stephen Wolfram.

    Yes, WA appears to be an impressive achievement, but even the article itself expressly asserts that WA is “not a threat to Google”. [It’s about 2/3 in to the article. Can’t miss it.]

    Even beyond the “fact” that this answer engine won’t be of much use in a fuzzy search—like “What’s the best place for a honeymoon”…it has a real problem because the notion of “fact” is itself very fuzzy and quite slippery.

    Personally, I think Google is the most over-rated over-hyped piece of garbage on the planet. I’d love to see a new standard…but it’s not going to be from WA.

    Google is overrun with advertisers. It’s like watching network television with 3 minutes of programming and 27 minutes of commercials.

    If you want to see a potentially compelling alternative to Google then check out This is a site that makes sense and in many ways is already superior to google. And it’s young, so it’s more interested in providing a compelling content/info, than in milking affiliate advertising.

  4. Anonymous

    Since 1987, at Congress’s request, the Selective Service has had a plan to register male and female health care workers ages 20 to 45 in more than 60 medical specialties in case the country suddenly needed more doctors or nurses. The proposal would require the authorization of Congress and the president.

    More recently, the agency has talked about reinventing itself by registering all sorts of professionals whose expertise could be helpful in an emergency. That way, the Selective Service could become a national “repository or inventory of special skills,” according to the agency’s annual report.

    The “special skills” draft could give the government the option of calling up people in a variety of specialties, such as linguists, computer experts, police officers or firefighters, Flahavan said.

    Other government agencies besides the Department of Defense could draft those workers, the report states. They could include U.S. Customs and Border Protection and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

    I would guess that derivative trading is certainly such a specialized skill.

  5. Walker

    Wolfram Alpha Computes Answers To Factual Questions. This Is Going To Be Big TechCrunch (hat tip Ed). If this works, it is a major threat to Google. Stay tuned.

    This is likely to be crap. It has already been discussed on Ars Technica.

    As a poster above said, Wolfram burnt a lot of credibility on A New Kind of Science. He overhyped it as this breakthrough in science and mathematics. The reviews where brutal. The AMS said that it was more Baghavad Gita than Principia. Another review said “A New Kind of Science has interesting and new ideas. Unfortunately, everything that it is interesting is not new, and everything that is new is not interesting.”

    Speaking of the poster above…

    Google is overrun with advertisers. It’s like watching network television with 3 minutes of programming and 27 minutes of commercials.

    Except that on a TV, advertising cannot be ignored and actually detracts from your “productivity” (e.g. time watching TV). Do you honestly feel that the advertising on Google is intrusive enough that it affects your search productivity?

  6. Anonymous

    “If this works, it is a major threat to Google. Stay tuned.

    If you’re going to comment you might want to read the article first.

  7. ruetheday

    Black is spot on about AIG.

    Prepackaged bankruptcy, shareholders get wiped out, senior management replaced, the AIG Financial Products division gets excised like a cancer, the rest of AIG gets reprivatised, possibly through a debt to equity conversion (with the taxpayers being wholly reimbursed first). The Financial Products division can go piss in the wind and their CDS counterparties get told “tough shit”.

  8. artichoke

    From the G20 pre-meeting, the Europeans are beating on the Americans to keep bailing out the “American” banks.

    It’s true Americans are in no position to borrow. So we wonder “why bail them out”?

    But the Europeans and Asians don’t have it as bad as we do. Life is normal in China. Life is pretty normal in Germany. People are not really losing jobs. People are not up to their eyeballs in debt. People are ready to borrow and spend.

    They want our banks to lend them the money on good terms. They want us to bail out our banks so they can use them.

  9. Anonymous

    Wolfram Alpha Computes Answers To Factual Questions. This Is Going To Be Big TechCrunch (hat tip Ed). If this works, it is a major threat to Google. Stay tuned.

    Yeah, once again Wolfram will revolutionize AI like he did with cellular automata. Don’t hold your breath.

  10. Don

    From Reuters:

    “(Reuters) – Goldman Sachs Group Inc (GS.N) is asking investors in its $15 billion private equity fund for approval to shift much of its remaining uninvested money into distressed debt, the Financial Times reported on its website late on Monday.”


    “In recent months, many private equity firms have quietly shifted their focus to buying debt at a discount as they are unable to pay for acquisitions with cheap flexible debt as they could during the boom years, according to the paper.”

    I wonder how they can do that?

    Don the libertarian Democrat

  11. Anonymous

    Don’t hold your breath.

    Sorry Yves and everyone…I should elaborate for people not in this field. Answering natural language factual queries is a hot topic in AI right now. There are literally thousands of researchers all over the world making incremental progress on it over the past two or three decades. The idea that the major driving force might come from wolfram is absurd.

    The only thing that might challenge Google’s model at this point is called the “semantic web” and it is still in the development stages, although progress is being made. Google actually performs better at the moment due to a number of kludges/hacks, but the semantic web is cleaner theoretically and everyone sees it as the way forward. Google however would be in a much better position to leverage discoveries in this field and wolfram would.

  12. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

    Say you and your Japanese robot (or should that be robotess? Any feminists here?) made love last night. So, that becomes an indisputable ‘fact.’ Now, I would be interested in how Wolfram Alpha’s gadget of new science would handle a factual query to the robotess such as, ‘Do you really love me?’

    Better yet, I would really be curious about its response to ‘That was just a one night stand. Nothing more. Now, please leave me alone. Don’t block the door. Let me go!!!!’

  13. brushes9

    Internet advertising is becoming more aggressive. They are exploiting the visual cues that the human is wired to focus on, ie. movement (flash ads), silhouettes of the human form, and morbid pictures of body parts (these “teeth whitening” ads, and weight loss adds). I wonder how far it will go? They really are very distracting and is making me desire a new product besides google, or a software that will block these images on my screen.

  14. Moopheus

    said Janet Hanson, … “No one saw the entire thing collapsing.”

    Wow. So basically GS employees ran their personal finances the way they ran the business. Using this year’s bonus to pay the taxes on last year’s bonus? And then they end it with “hoocoodanode?” Yeesh. And we’re supposed to believe these folks had some kind of talent that was justifying the bonuses? They wanted us to trust them with OUR money? F that. I freelance, and when I get a check from a client, part of it goes right into a separate account for taxes, as soon as I deposit it. If these geniuses couldn’t figure out how to do that, then what the hell are we bailing them out for?

  15. donna

    Wait — google has ads? Huh.

    Someone needs to learn to use firefox with adblocker and noscript, stat…

  16. donna

    Oh, and we were doing natural language and expert systems in the early 80s. Yeah, it’s old stuff. Fun to see the kids picking up on this stuff again, though.

    The fun part is combining it with Mathematica — that could be cool.

    Who knows, someone is eventually going to get expert systems right. Unlike those idiots on Wall Street. ;^)

  17. Anonymous

    Wolfram is a decent businessman. In the runup to his book, “A new kind of science” (which had about as much content as an obscure research paper, but said it in 1000 pages) he went on an advertising and media blitz of hype.

    The hype proved to be just that– hype. He revolutionized nothing, but sold a lot of copies to scientists who were nearly unanimous in their assessment that his book/software didn’t live up to its hype. At least one scientist was able to winnow one or two good ideas from its thousand or so pages though, so it wasn’t a complete loss. I imagine something like this will happen with his latest endeavour.

  18. brushes9


    Thanks for pointing out ad-blocking add-ons.

    But, how does AI weigh competing noun-verb input in human discourse to approximate the role human emotions (feelings) play in this process called life?

    Emotion is at the basis of meaning, not logic.

    This failure by AI researchers is why AI has barely moved an inch since the 1980’s.

    Show me a computer that can bleed and you may peak my interest in AI.

    But, my heart goes out to all the spin-off technology that AI research has produced.

    Now, can you make the diabetic, check-out stiff running the cash register at the local box-store obsolete to really get this party started..:)?

  19. Lucifer


    03.17.09 — 12:07AM By Josh Marshall

    I was reading this very dispiriting article in the Times about how folks in the administration have known about the AIG bonuses for months, how the folks at AIG are now saying they’d never have done any of it without the go-ahead from the Treasury and — best of all — how the plan to get AIG to pay the bonus money back appears to involve giving AIG still more taxpayer money which they can then hand back to us as ‘repayment’, while the new bonused execs (bonees?) get to keep the money anyway.

    But all was not lost. Because I found out a little more about AIG Financial Products, my new obsession.

    We’ve already told you about Joseph Cassano, former head of AIGFP, the guy who ran the operation as they were busy making tons of money blowing up AIG and the global economy.

    Inter alia, the Times article reports the division is now run by Gerry Pasciucco, a former vice chairman of Morgan Stanley. On the left, you can see a recent photograph of Mr. Pasciucco from a party in Belle Haven, sporting a Che Guevara t-shirt, blue blazer and handkerchief, with some sort of sporting drink I’m unable to identify (possibly a mojito?).

  20. ruetheday

    Now it turns out that 11 of the AIG folks receiving RETENTION bonuses no longer even work for AIG. What a crock.

  21. Anonymous

    These AIG folks taking the money need to understand that they are going to get a better deal under the government’s prosecution of their crimes than they will get otherwise.

    It is way past time they fess up. That hush money they are getting will not buy their souls.


  22. Yves Smith

    Folks, I said “if it works” re Wolfram, which is a big caveat. Second, the article itself says that it expects Google to be surprised by Wolfram Alpha.

    I have been hired often to advise on tech deals even though I am not a technologist. One thing I find almost without exception is tech people are not good at judging how mere mortals will react to a new product. They project what they think is cool or useful, and have a lot of trouble identifying with normal Joe and Jane users.

    The operative paragraph is here:

    I think the folks at Google will be surprised by Wolfram Alpha, and they will probably want to own it, but not because it risks cutting into their core search engine traffic. Instead, it will be because it opens up an entirely new field of potential traffic around questions, answers and computations that you can’t do on Google today.

    I don’t agree with that assessment, and I use Google a lot. Yes, it will increase the “market” for searches. But IF this tool does what it says, I would do a considerable portion of searches I now do on Google on Wolfram. It’s naive to think this is primarily additive. Google is very hit or miss, I find it either delivers what you want on the first page or two or is useless.

    But the caveat is IF this tech delivers on its promises, and I made that caveat.

  23. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

    I stand by my earlier suggestion – declare Wall Street a federal disaster area, infected by the virulent SIV virus, among other deadly toxins. Cordon off the entire area. Shoot all looters on sight.

    In addition, the Treasury dept. has been hit and we might as well declare Geithner a federal disaster area.

    Elsewhere, traders, investment bankers, hedge fund managers, they should all be rounded up and put on trial for Crimes Against Decency.

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