Friday, August 31, 2007

Liquid relief

The markets eased into the holiday weekend on twin reasurrances from Bernanke and Bush. It's hard to think back to the time when the markets weren't pushing the government around with such ease, didn't have this tried and true call and response routine worked out with CNBC and, by extension, both the investing masses and the elites.

It's striking how quickly we've gone from general talk of "excess liquidity" driving up the prices of all sorts of assets from real estate to collectibles to equities to a liquidity shortage or "credit crunch." So on with the spigots! A direct injection here, a discount rate there (a symbolic gesture that did not in fact result in net added liquidity for the week in which it happened), a tweak to Federal Mortgage insurance there, keep it flowing. I think there's plenty of liquidity out there, it's just in private pools, stagnating and fostering mosquitos.

And, at the end of the day, when the dollar crumples, China eases out of Treasuries and the current account deficit hangover, we'll be left like Russia in '98: too poor to buy imports. So who could be the big winner: Detroit.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Campaign rhetoric

In answer to a question about the online fund-raising capacities of his campaign site, a common friend of ours wrote me:

"Most small campaigns are using paypal, I notice."

In view of our shared anxieties about size, I could only reply:

"If you feel your campaign is small perhaps you should dab a little ointment on it.
Using the clipped version of your first name can't help the size-perception situation."

Together, as we shall see, we can help make this young man's campaign large indeed!

The Team

This is a Research Triangle based investment team that shall go unnamed. I'm sure my old firm used to look clonish some of the time, but this is ridiculous. Did somebody decree blue-shirt day only to have a few white-shirt rebels turn up? I'm sure these guys have some fascinating yarns to tell, like: "... and I had an onion on my belt, which was the fashion at the time."

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Home alone

Got home from Larchmont, checked the mail. From Citigroup (Citi?), I received cards for me and Mary with a new number. From another branch of Citi, I received a come on to use our newly enhanced cash advance power to borrow money at the old card number. Whoops. There will probably be fees to transfer the balance.

Then I went to the grocery store, where I noticed a sign over the ice machine claiming "crushed ice is food." I can just see it, a family at table and one of the kids says "mom, can I have another serving of the crushed ice, please." It must have been reclassified under Reagan, along with ketchup.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007


When I was about to pull the burgers off the grill I dashed upstairs to push Mary Lee towards wrapping up her often lengthy process of putting down Natalie, who is, after all, her first grandchild. What I found, instead -- much to my dismay, was Natalie alone in bed with a Harry Potter novel, perhaps the third. She and I agreed she would read fifteen minutes more and then turn off the lights.

I forgot to check, and when I went back upstairs at 9:30, there she was, light on, many pages deeper into the novel. "I got carried away" she said, sheepishly, all too conscious of her guilt. We kicked the cat off the bed and turned off the light.

Since Mary doesn't read this blog, she'll never know.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Bonnie Briar indeed

Riding bike through Bonnie Briar golf course in Mamaroneck around 3 pm on a warm day, I noted an umbrella and table coming up on my left. Young ladies, who upon closer inspection proved to be model pretty, sat in there. And what were they distributing, these bonnie lasses? Lemonade? I don't think so.

Dewar's. In the middle of the summer, models pouring free shots of scotch for a bunch of bozos in black pants (I actually saw that too) and Mercedeses.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

At once preposterous and repulsive

Sitting in a Starbucks in Larchmont, NY, a densely-packed inner suburb of New York, I am looking at the most obscene vehicle I have ever seen. It's a luxury king cab of a Freightliner rig with a pickup truck rear. It makes a stretch Hummer limo look demure. The owner -- undoubtedly an investment banker with an sick sense of humor -- should be shot on sight

Friday, August 24, 2007

Getting a life

Just reading an article in the Wall Street Journal about how business people -- and consultants in particular -- have to continually be figuring out to dress to feel appropriate and fit in. In one example, a woman talked of getting directions from a style maven client to spruce up because she wasn't fashionable enough. Which is absurd. The correct answer for both of them is get a fucking life. Later in the article others kvetched about how one needed to be careful to pick consultants who fit in.

It never ceases to astonish, the things people get paid lots of money to do.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Larchmont - Mamaroneck - Scarsdale - New Rochelle

Today I hauled my tired old mountain bike around the charms of upper-lower Westchester. Scarsdale was the goal, as I had never really checked it out, though I vaguely recall having disdain for it in college.

For naught. It was swanky as all get out. There was one building where there was a newsstand on one side, furs on the other, but they were both in the same font and color, which looked kinda funny. Ornate old buildings in the town center.

On the way home swung through New Rochelle, where parts are just flat out ghetto. In front of one bakery as I passed, a slim and attractive young black woman was screaming at an Hispanic woman who walked past, who had apparently rolled her eyes at her. "You better not come on back here or I'm gonna fuck you up good, in front of your man." She nattered on as I left. I liked to had told her to carry her lazy self on and get a j-o-b.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Princeton Junction - Newark 10:50 AM

These daytime trains are a frickin zoo. Bizmen on phone doing deals, Borat with the moustache over there talking at length in some language, and then 4 shiny and tan Princeton teenage girls with demonstrated cleavage bound in squealing, reenacting pop videos ensemble in voice and dance while playing tunes aloud on their... cellphones. New to me.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Memories of yore

In the doldrums of August, with seemingly no one at their desk to take my call or read my carefully crafted email, I resorted to one of the many amusements of the so-called "Internet": GoogleMaps.

So I checked out the satellite images of Emerald Isle, my old beach haunt, and confirmed that, indeed, they done built a bunch since I was last there.

And my eye trailed south from Emerald Isle to Bear Island, or Hammock's Beach State Park, as pristine and untouched as ever it was. And my eye focused more specifically on the southwest tip of the island, where, in 1988, I wandered naked amongst the dunes with a number of my college cronies, until most of them headed back up the beach to where our stuff was, and I was left lolling in a shallow pool of water -- far out of eyeshot from anyone and with a long views of anyone who might approach -- with a young woman with whom I was, at the time, romantically involved, whom we may call, shall we saw, Jennifer. And we lolled there in that water and talked, and I thought... and I thought.... and I thought too damned much, and did not pull the trigger, and there it went. My one and almost certainly final chance to have fantasy island sex on the beach, vanished in the ether, only to be immortalized in blog.

Monday, August 20, 2007


I'm feeling a bit grave after learning of an uncle's impending demise from multiple myeloma. This after hearing of a peer's recent demise from some other equally nasty cancer.

I suppose I might really take this as a message that I should chill the fuck out, stop being so serious about everything. Indeed I might.

Had been thinking about reading Samuel Pepys, the original graphomaniac diarist fool from back in the 17th century day, as a model for the daily blogathon. Then I took a look at volume 1 of a neighbor's 6 tome set, and I saw that Pepys wasn't very reflective at all, though he was observant, they say. Just flat out boring, is all. Which is not what the Grouse means to be, nossir.

Not that I have anything particularly scintillating going on here at "Tales from the Desk," rack my head as I might.

I will say that I was a little shocked to see Stephen Colbert bring on some poor guy who had been behind bars for 26 years but was exonerated by DNA. Colbert takes a very generous step like letting the guy have some large airtime and then stays in his psychotic pseudo conservative character and hardly lets the guy talk. He's gotta make up his mind which side he's on. As if we didn't know. He's on the side of Stephen Colbert.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Old Nick

Every once in a while I remember just how much there is on YouTube.

Here, for example is the greatest Rock and Roll scene in the history of film: Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds doing "From Her to Eternity" in Wim Wenders' Wings of Desire.

Cave has done a fine job to keep his career going all these years, but the sad thing is that he keeps leaning on the same look, has never had the courage to reinvent his persona/hairstyle. He has, in some sense, become like Johnny Haliday, a eurorock impostor.

Nonetheless, he does some good work. Here's a video of Cave in a duet with PJ Harvey. Really an amazingly subversive video, insofar as they demonstrate sexual desire by.... actually touching each other, as compared to hiphop rumpshaking or the Nashville Levi's airbrushing with Breck school of wholesome sexuality. Never mind that he's not even cute.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Today's headline "Sentinel sells some assets to Citadel"

I may yet have a thoughtful post, but this headline just caught my eye. Two hedge funds with the same branding consultant do biz. It's like the sports page that days "Tigers devour Lions" or a tale from the playground like "Sophia bit Lucia" or (OK) "Madeline was picking on Natalie." But Sentinel/Citadel, that's extremely ripe.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Down at the bread line, or, fun with whitey

I was told that NJ Dept of Workplace Development mandates attendance at a "Reemployment Orientation" to get your benefit paid, so I went down there to Trenton yesterday. Unfortunately, I got tangled up in directions and was seven minutes late. So the lady at the "Triage desk" tells me that they lock the door right at 9 and I need to come back tomorrow. So I say, "Will they really require a Social Security card? I haven't had one in 20 years." And she says, yeah, they will, but go over to SSA a few blocks down and order one and the printout for ordering one will suffice. So I go and do that and it goes smoothly and easily.

So today I come back just like she said and I was there plenty early, and nobody asks to see Social Security Card at all. Then a 9:06 somebody comes in the room and at 9:10 somebody else. The door is literally but not figuratively locked, and she didn't turn them away.

They just have fun tweaking the white-collar types. It's cheaper than cable, you gotta figure. There's more, but I gotta run.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Idea for a party

Invite 20-30 people. Solicit suggestions for tunes. Order songs from your favorite vendor and arrange. Print set list with recommender's name and post to web too.

Quick and dirty way to get exposure to stuff.

Make sure you have multiple rooms at party so that people can recoil to music-free zones as necessary.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Men at work

In a Starbucks on Market St in Philly today I chanced to overhear a young insurance salesman working a prospect while his slack-jawed understudy looked on. "So lets just say we've got your mortgage and your other fixed expenses covered, how much income do you think you would need?" Like the guy's going to be able to estimate that. For retirement income replacement there are pretty much standard formulas based on a % of your income, there's no reason Life insurance shouldn't also be formula driven. He shouldn't be asking the guy that question, he should be giving him guidance. But he was probably trained to do this to milk prospects for bigger policies and premiums. I wish I coulda figured out who he sold for.

Later, in the wilds of backroads NJ, out for a ride of record length (for the kid at least), was only surprised see that Lindbergh Road (goes by the estate from which the baby was nabbed back in the day), a narrow winding two-lane road between nowhere and nowhere through woods over a "mountain," had a significant rise in traffic at rush hour. I've said it before, but this proves it: any through road in NJ will become somebody's shortcut at rush hour.

What's more, traffic picked up at 4;45. It was the ultimate getaway crowd.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Protecting the Innocent

I was enjoying a lunchtime read of an Institutional Investor piece on Orin Kramer and his attempts to beat some sense into the New Jersey Pension Authority or whatever it's called, which has long managed its own money in-house (i.e. nothing in funds of any sort). Given Kramer's reformer's zeal and serious pedigree, I reckoned it might be a place for someone like myself to earn bread fixing processes and whatnot.

Then I kept reading. There's a lot of pushback against Kramer from unions, fear he's gonna put too much money in hedge funds etc. In fact, the unions resist putting money in funds since they see it as outsourcing and, get this, the investment staff of 65 is unionized! That's the stupidest thing I've heard in a long time. Securities analysis and trading are not functions subject to collective bargaining. You should be able to fire these people at any time, and their comp should be based on individual performance. Otherwise why would they bother pushing themselves to do well?

This is a sure recipe for disaster for New Jersey and its pensioners, but nothing surprising from out most opaque neighbor to the south, Trenton. Would that it were Kramer vs. Kramer.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Too much mumbling

De Niro's The Good Shepherd suffers from many things. It is too long, too bleak. Sure, one of its themes is noncommunication, but that could have been enunciated more clearly. All the "Ang" part of Brangelina gets to do is sulk, after some initial moldering. And, finally, it is unjust towards the fine men of Skull and Bones, who have done so much for all of us. I guess.

Thursday, August 09, 2007


My laptop won't take power from the cord, even the one Dell impressively overnighted to me after I ordered it last night at 10:30. Trying to jiggle and finesse the thing. It brings to mind the tortures of trying to get Natalie and then Graham to breast feed in those first days out of the belly. Excruciating.


Was watching Vulture investor Wilbur Ross talk about the subprime mess with a reporter from Marketwatch when I heard something that sounded suspiciously like a fart. I rewound the wmv file, but there was nothing there. It was, apparently, me, getting a rumbling in my tummy. Onwards to lunch!

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Day of Challenges

Nasty drive home today for Concord, MA. First was vexed by Massachusetts and its typical shit. Trying to take 126 to the Masspike, got confused by multiple sets of poor and misleading directions. And the de minimus signage favored in puritano-aesthetic North was no help. What would have helped, admittedly, was a good map. But I was too cheap and lazy for that.

The Masspike and gentle Connecticut were kind to me, admittedly, flowing by smoothly. Even the occasionally skittish Saw Mill and Tappan Zee rained favor on me.

But my New Jersey and the inaptly named Garden State, they made my day.... nasty. And diverting onto 78 was vexing in its own way. All in all, bad.

And then, at home, I discover that my power brick would appear to have died. So I have to commandeer Mary's computer till Dell can get me another one. Stay tuned..

Monday, August 06, 2007

John Thornton for President

Although his arrogance sometimes make him seem arrogant, I'm casting my ballot for John Thornton in 2012. Everything that comes out of the guy's mouth is smart and interesting. If China is the future, Thornton is our best shot at staying dialed in.

Man with plan

As I pulled out of the driveway this morning (to park the car on the other side of the street and free up the other car, down at the end of the drive), I had an idea. A rarity, though now I've had two in three days.

What's our drought status? (I thought). How far below normal are we for this time of year? I know where to dig that up in the Times, on the web. But I don't care enough to put that much effort into it.

And then I thought: what about an environmental / climate change dashboard, like the CEOs love so muchso they can swivel in their desk chairs and know at a glance how their company is doing? What if I could plug in a zip code* and see a tricolor summary of KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) like precipitation, mean temperature, smog, CO2, rate of farmland consumption, whatever else. And also be able to drill down on the data and change date parameters to map historical change. This would rock. The trick (as always) would be to get good and reliable data and then get traffic to the site. But it would be a terrific consciousness raising tool.

Has anyone seen such a thing?

*Another good front end model would be like Smart Money's Map of the Market (which must be the only thing propping that old rag up).

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Falling down

All this hand-wringing about the Minneapolis bridge collapse and the implications for bridges throughout the Interstate system reminds me of the hullabaloo following the August 2003 power outage, when a few trees near Lake Erie plunged everybody into darkness. For a few weeks after that, we all became experts on grids, substations, yatta yatta yatta, and politicians promised focused and decisive action.

So what became of that? It could well be that it receded from the headlines and substantial progress has been made. It's much more likely that $42 million and some earnest crackerjack civil engineers have been thrown at it, and they're doing their utmost but lack the high level visibility and sponsorship needed to fund, drive, and coordinate major interagency initiatives. I'm sure it's underfunded.

The fact of the matter is that the US has pretty mindblowing infrastructure. How much should be spent on maintaining it, and how to allocate it are basic questions. But they are not sexy ones. Building a new bridge or highway is sexy and enhances electability for local and state politicians. Fixing an old one is not. I cannot tell you if this is a partisan issue, but I tend to doubt that it is. Maintenance is the type of thing only a lame duck administration could like.

Friday, August 03, 2007

90 Degrees

Sitting in a bar in DC listening to Bananarama and watching X-game idiocy. Some old black guy I thought was homeless with matted hair turns out to be a neighborhood intellectual, of sorts. Something like my dad.

It's 90 in DC, 90 in Chapel Hill, 90 in Princeton, 90 in Manhattan. 95 in Boston. You can't win. At least I took off my tie.

Between me and home lies a frigid Amtrak trip.

Washington appears to have some character. Saw an African diplomat in kente cloth wandering amongst the 6 story glass boxes and sorority girls.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

A clean well lighted hotel room

Oh, the classic conundrum of arriving in a hotel room in a distant city with nothing in particular to do. What to do? First must eat, but then. TV? Web? Sleep? The possibilities are endless, but not the time.

And so, Washington DC. Our nation's fair capital, hot, humid, urban and quasi-urbane but with much bad furniture and often only reasonable hair. A town where people would seem to do the things they think people are supposed to do in cities, like the black T shirt punks out my window down by Dupont Circle sitting in the dirt strumming a guitar. That's city living. Maybe kids do this in New York too, and I don't see em. Some do it in Princeton, and they're silly.

We'll see.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Update from the pool

This is turning into a huge landmark summer for Natalie. First she fully mastered the bicycle, at one point in time going a full 11 times round the large loop of the driveway at Canandaigua.

Also in the Finger Lakes, she made tremendous strides in the cool, cool, clear water, swimming out to the raft unescorted by the time we left.

Then, as we have recently reported, she plowed through the first Harry Potter book mercilessly. No prisoners.

And so, after a couple of weeks swimming at the Dillon Gym summer camp, I decided to take her out to the Community Park Pool for a swim to let her strut her stuff. Very impressive, it must be owned. She can swim long distances without help. She can touch the bottom with her hand. She's learning freestyle and breast stroke. She'll dive off of my knees. Mostly, she's perfectly comfortable and acclimated in the warm, chlorinated water, and wants to keep swimming.

Crazy hats off to those buff and bored young counsellors at the camp.