Friday, October 31, 2008

The Race speech

When the whole brouhaha with Reverend Wright happened back in the spring, I was kind of caught up in the whole Bear Stearns thing -- which seemed at the time to be shocking -- and commuting to Manhattan and all that, so I missed the race speech. Now, as we come down the to the wire and I'm going to canvas tomorrow in PA, I thought I'd watch it during Trick or Treating time.

Pretty astonishing. Politicians just don't speak like this. Obama is an oracle. He stands up there and says stuff the rest of us dare not say, and he does it while running for the Presidency. That speech wasn't vetted by numbers crunchers, there was a lot of risk in there. He's smart, he's rhetorically strong but wonky too, and he speaks from the heart. The only thing I figure he can't do, since he's kinda bony, is box out. It's exciting to have someone who's really worth voting for.

Palin's First Amendment Rights

I don't usually like to recycle things from the mainstream blogosphere here at the Grouse, but this weekend, at this juncture in history, it's hnrd not to. The Huffington Post reports that her highness Palin is complaining that her First Amendment rights are threatened by the press's objection to her ads about Bill Ayers and Jeremiah Wright.

Say no more. It's embarassing to live in a country where people think that someone so utterly bereft of anything commendible could be veep and perhaps prez. Long may she live in Wasilla.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Race baiting

By race I mean political race, not race race, and the bait, this time is ExxonMobile's record profit announcement: $14.8 bln in Q3. Obama broke populist this summer -- in a move I did not approve though it doesn't dissuade me from supporting him this weekend by going door to door in Pennsylvania -- and proposed in the middle of the oil price run up that we tax oil companies aggressively on their record profits.

I think it's a bad idea for a number of reasons that I don't have time to talk about (it's like taxation market timing, does not guide future economic activity rationally), but right now, in the middle of an economic hysteria, those big fat numbers are just dangling there like grapes. Lets hope Obama lets them wither on the vine. Of all the things that freak people out about Obama: he's black, he has funny names, etc., the one thing that could be pushed successfully in skillful hands is that he's a "redistributionist." That charge legitimately invokes a set of core values that have been successfully marketed to the American populace for the last 50 years. Never mind that these values contradict other core values that have been prevalent at other times in our history. Reconciling that contradiction is a longer term task, and one Obama is ideally suited to. He doesn't need to jump on ExxonMobil, and lets hope he won't.

In the elevator

At 10 am I was in an elevator at 32nd and Broadway, and there were 8 people in there and none of them was speaking English. All Spanish and Korean. On a blustery October day, in a rinky dink elevator in a building full of costume jewelry wholesalers. Now that's America for you, that's what I'm talking about.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

From Motown to Nashville

As we gear ourselves up to next Tuesday and an opportunity to pound a stake into the feeble heart of Reaganism's cultural legacy, it's worth looking back to think about what we're killing. Back in the 60s and 70s the gulf between black and white culture wasn't nearly what it is today. In 1979-1980, as many white people will remember, rap songs featured lyrics like: "He was roly was poly and I said holy moly, you got a lot of whispers on your chinny chin chin" or "and since kindergarten I acquired the knowledge, that after twelfth grade I went straight to college."

But the two cuts below speak volumes. First here's James Carr performing "The Dark End of the Street", a song he wrote in 1967.

Flash forward to 1968, and here's Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton covering the song.

A couple of things are noteworthy here:

  1. Look how close the cover is to the original, it's not drastically changed. The difference between country and soul wasn't huge, just like Motown and Nashville are only 500 miles apart, even if Brown vs. Board of Education and the Voting Rights Act were really just taking hold.
  2. As an addendum, listen to what Porter and Dolly are singing about. Stealing away to the dark end of the street? That's acknowledging physical desire out of wedlock (just like Palin's daughter). The Christian right would not be down with this, and I don't know where either of them would stand on it today.
My point is, if I haven't hammered it home forcefully enough, that black and white America used to have a whole lot more in common. The divisive "let them eat jellybeans" attitude of Reaganism drove a wedge through popular culture and popular consciousness, and now with a little focus and effort, we may hope to return to a time where more black and white Americans see each other as something like humans.

Monday, October 27, 2008

In lieue of something substantial

I had planned a substantial post today, but was interrupted when my buddy Dwight skyped me from Rio, so we'll make due with three cheers for Charles Barkley declaring his intent to become governor of Alabama (why wait till 2014, I ask) and the bagatelle below, sent in from Katherine Davis (now Williams). Note how close Whitney's phrasing is to Dolly's below on the chorus.

I Will Always Love You

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Gloom, Despair and Agony on Me

A new theme song? Seriously, Hee Haw came to mind while listening to this new Porter Wagoner CD (some good songs, generally trying to slipstream off the later Johnny Cash stuff)I got Mary for her birthday. But seriously, after Nascar Democrats, Sarah the Hairstyle, and Joe the Plumber, it's easy to see how a remake of Hee Haw might make business sense in 2008:

  • It has a ready toolkit of folksy rejoinders to economic downturn
  • It's as cheap as reality TV
  • It has a history of T & A in skimpy costumes
  • You could do it at the Grand Old Opry and get box office revenues, or even build another Grand Old Opry in Vegas or Branson

Friday, October 24, 2008

Official Endorsement of Barack Obama

At this point in time, for no better reason than that I forgot, I would like to convey my official endorsement of one Barack Obama for the office of President of these great United States of ours in the upcoming election.

Though he is occasionally too wonky and pauses more perhaps than he should when speaking, and though he has never quite hit the rhetorical home run that he did as the "skinny kid with a funny name" that he hit in 2004, the guy rocks. Finally, a Democratic candidate we can actually both trust and be excited about. It's been a while. Compare the Grouse's second post, four years and change ago on the occasion of a Kerry / Bush debate.

No no, Obama is the real deal. I plan to canvas in Pennsylvania the weekend before to make sure we stick a nail in the W coffin. And maybe we can purge the Christian conservatives wholesale and get back some Republicans worth arguing with.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Cold winds a blowin

Was at a small hedge fund industry do where the panel droned on and on about the credit crisis and how bad it was gonna get and finally somebody asked an obvious question: where's the alpha these days? Where can profit be made? And of course, nobody had an answer, though one of the guys on the panel was actually buying up loans and helping homeowners restructure and refinance them within an FHA program, which is actually the kind of thing you like to hear.

But really, there are few good answers out there, and in the absence of good answers the question is: what about those fees? How can hedge funds charge the fable "2 and 20"? Who wants to pay Steven Cohen 3% to sit in cash? And indeed, we're hearing more and more about pressure on hedge fund fees. One guy I was talking to was talking about doing away with incentive fee altogether in a fund of funds, with a 1% fee. Which starts to sound mutual fund like.

I think the hedge fund industry is going to pull back from $1.9 trillion under management to $1-1.2 trillion, and a third to a half of the funds will shut down. When its assets go down far enough, new strategies will emerge and they won't be so crowded. The money that gets pulled from hedge funds will flow back to equity markets in indices, or to fixed income, or to real estate, or to Subway franchises, but the fee layer will be taken out.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

A little smug

I must confess that, although I keep watching it, I am beginning to tire of MSNBC's evening line-up, Rachel Maddow and Keith Olberman. They are, perhaps, a little too smug right now, too delighted with Obama's lead. I consider it a little jinxie.

But I do kind of love Rachel Maddow. She has a winning smile and she don't take no lip. She just talks right over mofos. Though Pat Buchanan gave her a taste of her talk down medicine this evening, no lie.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

School Pride

At Natalie's school they're having a contest to come up with school slogans. Natalie's was one of the two selected by her class to go on to the schoolwide competition:

"A gem of paradise"

The other winner -- collecting one more vote only because Natalie wouldn't vote for her own -- was Evan's "Up to bat, cuz that's the place that we're at", or something like that.

I'll leave it to my fair readers to determine which is the true winner.

Monday, October 20, 2008

In the woods

We don't have much of this in our neighborhood, unlike Glen Heights. So it's kinda cool to get Graham in the woods.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Singing in the shower

Natalie at times can become quite growly when directed to shower. Once there, however, she stays for a while, and she sings happily.

When questioned, she denies singing, though she hums the same thing at the dinner table.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Soccer in fall

Out on the soccer field today, with the leaves turning off on the edge of the field, was as close to being back in the glory days of high school as it gets. Except for the inflammation in my knee which made me slow and gimpy. Or the fact that I kept launching shots over the cross bar and the Chinese guys were totally making fun of me and I had to run shag the ball. One thing's for sure, it was a graphic reminder that being in tennis shape and being in soccer shape have almost nothing to do with one another.

Later, we started watching 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days, yet another Rumanian new wave flick. I was hoping it would match the others that preceded it, The Death of Mr. Lazarescu and 12:30 West of Bucharest, but it doesn't. Or rather, it is good, in its hyper-naturalist way, it's just so tension-provoking it's hard to watch. We stopped just before the abortion scene, lacking the guts for all that pain and blood, but after the blonde friend has sex with the abortionist to make up for the fact that they're short on cash.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

My new investment strategy

After years of investing like a buy-and-holder but spending my days like a day trader -- checking market status intraday by having Marketwatch as my home page and looking at it from time to time -- I have embarked upon an ambitious new program of intraday ignorance.

Yesterday someone mentioned at lunch that the Dow was down 400, but I can't be faulted for that. By day's end it was off 733, but I'm sure I was more productive by having stayed in the dark. Today, I rationalized and let myself check at 11ish, and it was down 300. I didn't check again till 4, and it was up 400.

I think I actually did get more work done, but in the last hour or so I have allowed myself a few blogs. In general, I know that it times of such volatility as we're having, ignorance is bliss.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Graham can read?

I've been suspecting that Graham can read for some time, particularly after he seemed to be sounding out the words in the 100 Trucks book in Larchmont this weekend. Today he actually picked up Mary's grocery list and read it. So I guess he's reading now (Mary's actually not sure he hasn't somehow memorized it)

He also had a very cute word tonight. He was hungry before dinner and said that he needed to be fed "more quickerly." That's a keeper.

Flatlining out of the gates

McCain is tripping... over himself. "They're hurt and they're angry, they're hurting and they're angry blah blah blah Fannie Mae Freddy Mac caused this subprime mess..." He's totally knocked off whatever kilter he may have had, I'd call it stream of consciousness if he had consciousness to stream. He's flatlining, politically.

And he's blinking uncontrollably too. What's up with that?

Moreover, who gave the green light for McCain to indiscriminately interrupt Obama and speak under his breath "to the American people" while Obama had the mike. That wasn't a real winning move.

And who dressed McCain tonight? A black tie with a black suit for this cadaverous white-haired guy. Isn't that setting him up to play Nixon to Obama's Kennedy?

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Recessionary indicators

Five weeks back I wrote that the presence of samples in the supermarket and the relative low frequency of local ads on cable television were not indicative of a recession. Now, although I had some nice crab dip samples in the Super Stop N Shop in Larchmont over the weekend, but there were no cookie or muffin chunx in the baked goods area. And I must say that I'm seeing a lot of local ads on Verizon Fios out here in Jersey, and during John Stewart, no less. Some cardiac surgery center out in Doylestown, PA, Rutgers Football. During John Stewart, I tell you.

Monday, October 13, 2008

5:43 Northeast Corridor Express

The woman sitting in front of me talked on the telephone non-stop for 35 minutes. Usually that would annoy me. This evening it did not, because she was a bank lawyer working with an associate back at the office on putting together a short-term line of credit or somesuch, saying things like: "We're not gonna fund them for more than 60 days and we're not gonna even put that in writing, we're gonna structure it as an overnight...." and then a lot more mumbo jumbo, but clearly credit was being extended. Which is good, for now. We can tax it back later.

Ghost town

At the end of another historic day on Wall St (one we could like, for once), the street is a ghost town at 4pm, when your constant correspondent stepped out for fresh air, a seltzer and dental floss. At lunch, the schwarma cart guy told me how slow it was. At 4, all the carts were atypically gone, and the sidewalk down past Deutsche Bank was uncommonly clear.

Could be that a bunch of people have Columbus day off (JP Morgan Chase commercial bank people, for instance). Or it could be that people are sitting at their desks, humbled, thinking about how their enthusiasm for whizmo gadgets (in this case, derivatives) quite nearly brought the world to a standstill, and how we may just live to tell the tale.

So we can get back to fighting the real problem, which is global warming.

Nobel for Krugman

I saw the guy in the tunnel beneath the 2/3 at Penn Station wearing goofy shorts a few weeks back.

Who knew he was still working as an economist? I thought he had gone over almost entirely to writing tendentious pro-Democrat op-ed pieces in the New York Times.

It's not that I don't agree with most of what he says, I just think there are other people who can write that stuff while he has demonstrated, from the time I first read him when he had a column on Slate in the mid-90s, a singular ability to articulate complex economic issues in a way which is accessible to the non-specialist reader, and to not prejudge the issues. In short, he can present questions, positions on them, and contradictions within them, without force-feeding answers. He is rare in his ability to do so, and he debases himself as a continual purveyor of certitude.

Congratulations, in any event, are in order. He's a good guy.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Wall Street

With the exception of the sledgehammers and construction equipment and reporters, Wall St is rather a quiet place these days. Today, insofar as the time-space continuum did not implode, there was relative relaxation out on the street come Miller time, where until recently people have seemed amped up enough to pull out other peoples' hair along with their own.

Yesterday, in a sign of perhaps a new era dawning here in the estwhile capital of finance, there was a new truck on the corner on Wall and Williams Streets, a shiny red track, selling dumplings. This is indeed a new and welcome addition to the legions of schwarma carts ("white sauce, hot sauce, boss?") which grace the nabe. I have not yet had the dumplings, but you know I'm gonna.

There have been more tourists than ever here recently. If this drama follows the path of 9/11 and we end up with a big hole in the ground, perhaps people will come from MittelAmerika and gape at that crater and throw roses and American flags at it, with tears in their eyes and mustard on their pretzels.

Thursday, October 09, 2008


I will confess...

that I have roamed the blogosphere, and the financial press, seeking to understand just what the hell is going on out there, and that in the course of so doing I have come to haunt the comment boards of Marketwatch. And there I have been exposed to all manner of yahoo freemarketier neo-anarchist lunacy, Joe Sixpacks who have bashed one too many cans against their skulls and revel in the financial chaos that may soon deprive them of their paycheck if not more. People are so very angry out there, angry at the fat cats and weasels that they're happy to see the whole economy come crumbling down just to see the Gucci befooted get their comeuppance. Which is crazy.
...and, ever the rosey-eyed optimist, I have tried to argue rationally with them, and have thrown out the blue state plaints that nobody dares voice in public, but resistance is as quixotic a task as I could be picked, and I find myself progressively warn down and inured to visions of financiak armageddon, to the accompaniment of Brooks & Dunn.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Greek television

While I was in Greece I watched some TV in the hotel room, as I am oft want to do. A couple of highlights:

  • JLo was in town and being interviewed by some older sleazy dude in a black silk shirt on something like the Greek "Sabado Gigante!" She was telling him all about her recent triathlon, about swimming in the ocean and how it was a bit freaky and he goes: "So you were concerned about the sharks, eh? I bet they know just where to bite you, just where the tender places are..." Larry King would not have broke it out like that.
  • A Greek band doing a rap cover of "Smells Like Teen Spirit", in some other "Sabado Gigante!" like context.
Other than that, very little going on.

Steve Forbes on CNBC

Steve Forbes is such a weasel. Why does CNBC have him on at all? First he's up there crying for Mark to Market accounting to be suspended so bankers will be more comfortable, then he and Jack Bogle of Vanguard are going back and forth in a predictable manner, and Forbes asks Bogle something like: "If equity markets are like this, and the economy is like that, what can we do for the (he stopped himself from calling them "poor bankers") who are huddled scared over here in Treasuries? What can we do to make them start lending again?" Portraying the bankers as the victims now. Now, I don't demonize the financial community, I think we've all been overconsuming together, but bankers are by no stretch of the imagination victims, and there's no reason to evoke pity for them.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

McCain's stoop

What is up with McCain's shoulders? He looks like he's got something stuffed in there to make him look more thuggish. In general McCain is looking less and less plastic every time I see him. He has the appearance of someone's malevolent grandfather. At this stage is the game, I'd say we need a President who can give us eight good years. Not a good bet.

Anyway, with this thing getting boring it's time to flick over to one of the few good things Fox ever gave us: the Fox Soccer Channel and a game from deep in the Premier League Archives, Nottingham Forrest vs. Queens Park Rangers from October, '94. Rock and roll, lots of good goals.

Monday, October 06, 2008

What I've been doing with my portfolio

These days are truly stressful, with the whole financial world going berserk, and I am not immune to the emotional backing and forthing of the markets. I promised myself I'd buy at 10,500 but couldn't bring myself to do it, and then I look over today and we're below 9600 and still I can't pull the trigger, though I've upped my allocation to equities in my 401k to 70% from 40% since, perforce, my cash and fixed income allocation has risen recently.

But I haven't sold a share since last October. What I have done is this:

  • Put a roof on our house (this was our stimulus money plus a bunch more)
  • Am getting the trim painted
  • Redid the bathroom (that was back in March, back when Bear went down, which seems cute in the rearview)
  • Donated $500 to the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen. This was when I was concerned about my job and wanted to force my employer to make a matching contribution (which they did)
  • Donated an undisclosed amount to Josh Stein for NC State Senate, and some to Barack Obama too, I'm pretty sure
  • Got outbid for a flannel shirt on Ebay
  • Put 19k of my 401k in a Russian mutual fund, which makes sense given my background, but has turned ugly. This I regret.
  • Cleaned out our closets and took clothes down to donation boxes.
  • Continued to feed my compost pile with as much good brown and green matter as I can find
Down the block from us multiple households have been doing a lot of work on their houses, including the drab green house owned by the crazy Chinese guy which moldered empty throughout the boom period.

Up in Minnesota, a high school classmate of mine is a little concerned because she's building a house and needs to sell the one she's in in the spring, recognizing that, though she bought it 10 years ago, she still might take a loss. She takes comfort, however, in the fact that she is employing the people who are building the house.

One of these days this idiocy will end.


Right about now I'd love it if some enterprising reporter would raise his hand in a meeting and ask Paulson if he still thinks Sarbanes-Oxley is negatively impacting US capital markets' competitiveness. Though it does seem like Europe is keeping up with us just fine.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Invisible wires

Yesterday David and I were riding our bikes to play tennis at the high school. There was a Princeton Tiger football game going on (vs. Trenton), and various other white people were gathered in the parking lot to tailgate with what looked to be turkey arugula havarti wraps. Pussies.

As I got through the parking lot and prepared to pull the front wheel of my ancient mountain bike up over the wee curb, I passed to the left of a cheap plastic barricade...

...all of a sudden I found the crooks of my arms gripping a plastic-encased wire as I was suspended in mid-air, my bicycle continuing on in front of me. Turns out, there was a wire going across the entrance to the sidewalk, but it visually blended into the sidewalk. There was a "Keep Off" or somesuch sign attached to it which I would have seen, but it was obscured by the barricade thingie. So I ran straight into that bitch going 12-14mph, and now have thin horizontal bruises on my lower biceps, and got a little chunk taken off of my calf by my bike, to boot. And you know I was cussing up a storm.

For all that, I still whumped David good.

Thank God I didn't hit my head, or our wives would have tried to make us start wearing helmets.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Cassandra's Dream

It's hard to figure out what Woody Allen was thinking when he made this movie, though there are young women and young breasts in it, so he hasn't strayed too far from the tried and true. In many ways he's returning to Love and Death and his youthful enthusiasm for Russian Literature, this being his take on Crime and Punishment. If it weren't Woody Allen, we would have stopped watching it some time ago. As it is, we went to bed before the "climactic" scene, such as it is. Climaxes, I reckon, get less compelling at Woody Allen's age.

A heartbeat away from the Presidency

What's all this about Joe Biden being a heartbeat away from the Oval Office. Sarah Palin is a heartbeat away. Joe Biden is a gunshot away. Barack Obama's a young and healthy man. He ain't having no heart attack.

Friday, October 03, 2008

To drive a point home

I may have stated this in brief earlier, but let me come back to this. Leading up to the passage of the Paulson bill there's been all this uproar over executive pay, and measures were added to the bill to curtail executive pay in companies getting help from the government. So people have been in an uproar over your Chuck Princes and Stan O'Neals. But they've been getting paid chump change compared to the heros of 2006, hedge fund managers like John Paulson, Steven Cohen, Jim Simons, David Shaw, people who bring home a billion or so in a good year. Or private equity heros like Steven Schwartzman and Henry Kravis. These people haul coin.

So once the shakeout of existing hedge funds gets done -- and lots of trained mid-level hedge fund people are sitting around, all the truly ambitious prop traders and bankers will cut loose and form new hedge funds. The only thing that might stop them is if institutional investors get cold feet from getting burned (horrible mixed metaphor -- I like) in the most recent generation of alternative investments.

In any case, unless the SEC or some other more robust regulator steps up and institutes more rigorous regulation, a new order of unencumbered but well-capitalized hedge funds will emerge. Not that that's all bad, but it's an unintended consequence at best.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

A draw?

I'm sorry, but all the commentary about the veep debate out there that claims it was a draw just doesn't jibe with the half an hour I saw, where Palin tripped all over herself and sounded like an idiot and Biden sounded like a well-informed wonk and a politician. Hmmm, which is more suited for the job?

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Check out time

Running to check out of Europamperdom after a very positive meeting yesterday. 11 hour flight back to New York, not even supported by the blessed cover of night.

Yesterday strolled around the nabe here and saw much wierdness, including derelict old houses and lots amidst densely packed high-end housing, 6 story buildings going in with 8 foot setbacks next to single family homes, primitive construction methods, immense piles of clippings piled up on disintegrating sidewalks, and a 2500 square foot supermarket which was BY FAR the largest food store I had seen in town. Everyone must drive to Hypermarkets on the freeways and/or old school bazaars somewhere. Hence the maddening traffic everywhere.

Real estate markets in the United States may be messed up, but they are largely transparent and comprehensible.