Monday, October 29, 2012

It's All Good: Bad Lobbying

A weak lobbyist exhibits short-term thinking. He spends his time persuading the decision-maker that his side is wonderful and the other side is terrible. An expert lobbyist has a long-term strategy for his cause. He spends his time explaining both the pros and the cons because he knows his opposing lobbyist will bring up those cons.

"Senator, I've told you about all of the upside but I wanted to make you aware that the other side is claiming that the cost will be too high. Actually, this non-partisan study shows that it pays for itself over twelve months."
Now he has defused the opposing lobbyist's one-sided argument.

The business equivalent might be the act of reviewing the estimated financials of a potential investment. To show only the income would be as misleading as only showing the expenses. The informed investor wants to know both. Anyone who only gives one side loses credibility as an adviser.

A corollary tactic is to speak with the decision-maker after your weak opponent does. The idea being the weak lobbyist's one-sided pitch will be easy to knock down.

The goal is not to have the best perception possible after you're meeting, it's to have the better perception after the decision-maker walks away from the opposing lobbyist's meeting.

Only in circumstances where the opposition has no access should a lobbyist even consider this tactic. Even then, some sort of token cost-benefit discussion is needed to appear comprehensive.

President Obama's media strategy may have made this mistake in defining Mr. Romney in the worst-possible way. Since the campaign knew that Mr. Romney would have access to the electorate via paid media and public debates, it should have had a more balanced approach in order to be persuasive on Election Day. With the rise of early voting, the effects from the President's team's misstep may be mitigated since those voters presumably spent less time listening to the challenger.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Referee Size & Fouls

Soccer is a game with many split-second judgment calls made by a referee. Since there is variance whenever  a human makes decisions, it would be helpful for a coach to have insight on whether the referee calls a tight or loose game.

Without benefit of prior experience with a specific referee, what else can be done? One rough method is to see how physically large the referee is. One might imagine a larger ref growing up as a larger player who does not see tough play as much of a problem. Conversely, a smaller-sized official might be more sensitive to a physical style and call more fouls.

Definitely not Howard Webb
Obviously, there will be exceptions. I imagine Napoleon would have swallowed the whistle. But it beats flipping a coin.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Your Mom Goes to Middle School

It's natural to want to help your children succeed. One way to do that is to help them with their school assignments. To the extent the kid is further educated, this is a great activity. Some parents may be tempted to cross the line and actually do some of the work. As with many things, there could be gray areas where the parent corrects some homework problems that the student originally missed.

When a mom or dad goes to far, it shows up in the kid's grades unfairly. No one wants to discourage the at-home teaching moments though.

Maybe one solution would be to report student grades in two categories:  take-home assignments versus in-class assignments. This homework v. test GPA might help identify where more learning is taking place, and tease out the effect of parental involvement.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Gamblers Anonymous is for Losers

Visit your local country club and you might be tempted to draw inferences about what traits lead to financial success. You might walk away thinking that risk-taking is the key. This is misleading, since you are only looking at the risk-takers whose risks paid off.

The key distinction, it seems, is to determine whether a certain choice will increase the expected value or just the variance. For example, imagine twenty fraternity brothers on a high-roller roulette website. Each sells his Tahoe and combines his student loan money to form a pot of $62,500 per brother. After four red/black bets letting it ride, one of these guys is probably a millionaire. If all of the guys who win this get together and form a club, then it would look like reckless roulette is the key to riches. You don't see the nineteen losers this way.

So how to tease out the true traits that lead to higher expected wealth? Visit both clubs: the winners' club and the losers' club; see which traits that the winners have that the losers do not have. These are the traits to emulate.

This idea reminds me of the distinction made between value transference and value creation by Half Sigma.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Mumble Mumble

Historically, some have stereotyped the British as being reserved and having bad teeth. To the extent there is some truth here, could one have caused the other?

Maybe a person with bad teeth is prone to not smiling and speaking loudly. He might come across as reserved.

Alternatively, maybe a person who is reserved has less incentive to care for his teeth. Potential mates may not care as much, if the teeth won't be often seen.

What may have happened is that these two traits survive better as a pair than each in isolation. A symbiotic relationship, like, um, a lichen.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Airport Security & Profiling

Airport security has a tough job. 99.999999% of passengers pose no threat. A terrorist attack hurts American morale more than it gets boosted from an averted attack. Reminds me of a soccer goalie:  a wonderful save gets lets hoopla than a goal scored at the other end, although they have the same net effect on the score-sheet.

Banned from profiling based on the demographics of prior perpetrators, security is limited to treating every passenger with the same routine or with the same chance of an enhanced routine. Is this a good thing? Think of the quantity of available security energy that can be allocated among passengers. Every unit spent on a low risk passenger is effectively taken from the extra time that could have been spent on a high risk passenger. Deciding who is a higher or lower risk is easier said than done though, right?

Each airport has its average demographic mix of passengers. Pretend that Martians have been the demographic group with the most attackers. At the same time, Martian attackers make up only a sliver of all Martians. If Martians are typically 15%-16% of the airport's daily passenger mix, then there is no signal of anything askew. When this % rises, perhaps the airport could spend more time on this demographic since something out of the ordinary is occurring. The idea being that attackers would be additive to the typical mix.

Knowing this, a would-be attacker would have to leave his abettors behind in order to minimize his chance of being detected.Otherwise the demographic spike would alert authorities. Alternatively, he could bring in abettors of different demographics but that seems unlikely due to how affinity groups are often composed. This leaves him more vulnerable to obstacles such as fisticuffs and second doubts. Not foolproof by any stretch, but an improvement in an area where every edge counts.