The Journal yesterday ran a story about how Putin wants to institute controls on capital flows in and out of Russia to stem the toing and froing of "hot money." One wonders if one-time Putin supporter Bill Browder of Hermitage Capital fell into this class before Putin locked him out of the country at that time, before Browder's lawyer Sergei Magnitsky died at the age of 37 of pancreatitis acquired in prison, one week before being released from prison because the state had failed to bring him to trial within a year. I kind of doubt it. Putin, though popular, remains the kleptocrat par excellence.
This talk by Browder is pretty amazing.
Thursday, December 31, 2009
The Journal yesterday ran a story about how Putin wants to institute controls on capital flows in and out of Russia to stem the toing and froing of "hot money." One wonders if one-time Putin supporter Bill Browder of Hermitage Capital fell into this class before Putin locked him out of the country at that time, before Browder's lawyer Sergei Magnitsky died at the age of 37 of pancreatitis acquired in prison, one week before being released from prison because the state had failed to bring him to trial within a year. I kind of doubt it. Putin, though popular, remains the kleptocrat par excellence.
Wednesday, December 30, 2009
Somewhere in the Journal today -- in the article about the federal government's promise of unlimited backstopping of Fannie and Freddy despite the fact that they haven't maxed out the $200 billion of support promised them as of yet-- there was mention of the fact that lots of bond market folx are concerned that mortgage rates may go as high as 6% by the end of 2010. Hmmm. I seem to recall that when we locked our rate at 5.75% for our house purchase in 2003 that was a record low rate at the time, or going back to 1961 or something like that. 6% is, historically speaking, very cheap money. Our first mortgage back in 2000 was at 8.625%. The country remains addicted to cheap money as if it were the proverbial glass pipe. Why deleverage under those conditions? The dollar carry trade will live for some time. Until it dies.
Anecdotally, based on what I'm hearing in AA, the job market is improving. People are bitching more and more about their jobs and less about not having them.
Tuesday, December 29, 2009
One almost forgets the preternatural calm of a real (as opposed to pseudo- or semi-) university town during the depths of winter break. I pulled right up to the student union, parked, and returned books to the library without seeing a single soul, the same place where not two months ago students were practically tripping all over themselves trying to get to the next ATM or burrito.
Then, just for kicks, I went to the nearly empty Whole Foods and pulled up right by the door to the cafe area. In and out in three minutes with dinner. Got to love it.
Monday, December 28, 2009
Flying home from LaGuardia this afternoon. Will report on how bad the airport security is for domestic flights. Maybe is nothing.
Yesterday made copious use of the traffic feature in Google maps. Where once Traffic.com seemed to have a lock on this market, I now predict its imminent demise if it hasn't gone away yet. Traffic.com is slow and clunky to the nth. Google maps is, well, Google. I got the kids from Princeton to 42nd and Broadway in 2 hours on zero notice (via Pulaski, Holland, and 1/9. Thanks also due to 1010 WINS). Then we made it home from Tribeca to Larchmont in no time via FDR when Manhattan and the West Side Highway were painted the deepest red for gridlock. Once more Sergei and Larry win.
Friday, December 25, 2009
In keeping with the holiday spirit, I took it upon myself to relieve my mother-in-law of some of the many stacks of aging and dusty magazines she archives around the old homestead. While she was busy in the kitchen getting ready for dinner, I decided to go through some of the stacks underneath the coffee table in the sunroom. And what should I find there -- not, mind you, in some far off corner of the attic, but in a room used by the family every day, looking out at the beloved Long Island Sound and before that Manor Park, apocryphally rumored to have been designed by Frederick Law Olmsted. What should I find indeed, but an issue of Smithsonian magazine from 1982. 1982!
And the amazing thing about is that every advertisement in the magazine is chock full of text. On page 3, and ad for Land's End Corduroy pants had probably 200 words of text. I know 1982 was also hard-assed recession time, but was stagflation really so bad that people were sitting around taking 2 hard-earned minutes to read about cords, even ones with lovely elastic wastebands? I guess so.
Thursday, December 24, 2009
Pathetically enough, the Grouse is still grinding it out at his desk this late on Christmas Eve, evidence of his general conscientiousness as a footsoldier in the great game of capitalism. Or just demonstrating that he appreciates his paycheck and other benefits.
Tooled around Westchester today in Susan's Mini convertible. Sweet handling, crappy visibility. Got some pizza cuz hey, I'm in the Northeast, what else are you gonna do?
A hearty Grouse-style fart-out to the boneheads at Hearthsong.com, who discovered that one of the items Mary had ordered for Natalie was out of stock, did not even send an email to let us know, and then the "customer service" person who answered the phone didn't even begin to apologize. I know where we'll never be spending another nickel of our hard-earned cash.
Now back to the grindstone for another hour or so.
Monday, December 21, 2009
So I read Graham a version of The Night Before Christmas tonight, and afterwards I asked if he had ever heard the sound of reindeer hooves up on the roof. And he said no. And so I said, "you probably sleep through it. I sleep through it to." And he looked at me and said "but one time, you heard them, and you ran out in the yard and saw the sleigh as it was flying away."
And I realized that I must have made up a story of a Santa sighting, perhaps sometime when the ever precocious Natalie had been trying to disabuse him of his Santa belief at an all-too-tender age. So I quickly reassured him that, of course, I had heard and seen the reindeer that one time.
Friday, December 18, 2009
We have been too slack to get together a card this year. It may happen later, it may not. We are still settling in here in the south, adjusting and whatnot. In any case, here are a couple of pix to give you the flavor of good things that are going on to tide the curious over.
Natalie with cousin Caroline at the Life and Science Museum in Durham
And below is Graham throwing a balsa wood plane down by the lake.
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
In these intermittently troubling times, we here at the Grouse are comforted to read today at Bloomberg that the Tiger Woods Dubai golf course will be built to completion. “The Tiger Woods Dubai does not comment on the personal lives of our valued partners,” said a spokesperson in an email. The Grouse continues to have the utmost faith in the utter probity of both Tiger Woods and Dubai, and consider them an integral part of the cultural legacy of the 21st Century.
Thursday, December 10, 2009
The Times yesterday ran a story about Madoff victims seeking compensation for their losses from the SIPC (Securities Investors Protection Corporation), a government-chartered non-profit that offers limited account protection to brokerage customers against default by participating brokerages. The agency has $1.2 billion in reserves now, with a lifeline of $1 billion from Congress. Madoff claims at present exceed $20 billion. If you want to understand the intricacies of this specific dispute, read the article. SIPC’s position is undoubtedly correct.
The article brings to mind, however, the outstanding issue of CAPCO Insurance, nestled up in the verdant hills of Vermont. Astute readers will recall the July story in the Times about CAPCO, a captive insurer owned by nine large broker-dealers, including Lehman Brothers, Goldman Sachs, Fidelity, Edward Jones, get whole list) to provide excess protection for brokerage accounts, including those at Lehman, where claims may run to $11 billion dollars. CAPCO was stripped of its ratings in February and is no longer writing coverage.
With bonus season upon us and broker-dealers having enjoyed much better 2009s than 2008s, one would think it would be a fine time for participating firms to recapitalize CAPCO, or at least to earmark reserves for that purpose in anticipation of Lehman-related claims. It would be nice to hear commentary on this issue from David Viniar and his counterparts.
Another delicacy in the SIPC article in the Times came from the mouth of former SEC Commissioner Harvey Pitt, who argues that the SIPC “is missing an opportunity to stand up by those who have been defrauded by a master swindler.” My gentle reader may recall that the SEC under Pitt was utterly deaf to repeated and well-documented entreaties by whistle-blower Harry Markopolis to shut Madoff’s master-swindler ass down. She may also recall that, in the Spring of 2007, after the initial statute mandating hedge fund registration with the SEC had been beaten in court and after well-publicized but now laughably puny scandals at hedge funds Amaranth and Bayou, Pitt – already at the helm of his own hedge fund -- vigorously opposed further efforts to bring hedge funds into the SEC umbrella or to raise the asset and income thresholds for investments in hedge funds. Our hirsute erstwhile “regulator” argued at the time that middle-class investors should not be denied the opportunities to enrich themselves in alternative investment vehicles just like their richer counterparts. Hedge funds in aggregate did not do their jobs well during the credit crunch and considerably aggravated market volatility as a whole. Bu it is good to know that Harvey is ever and always on the side of the common man.
Wednesday, December 09, 2009
On the way across the railroad tracks to Harris Teeter at lunchtime I passed a 50ish caucasian male, wearing aviator glasses and something resembling cowboy boots (jeans, obviously), sitting on the little railroad tie bridge over the ditch next to the tracks, smoking a Marlboro Light, drinking a 24 ounce can of some Budweiser varietal. Still in its little plastic bag from the store. On the way out saw a black guy covering up a 40 of Old English(?) with his jacket, for some reason.
Geithner has informed Congress he's extending TARP till October of 2010, utilizing the authority granted Treasury in the initial TARP statute or whatever it was. Fine. They want to put the money they've gotten back to work for small businesses, small banks, what have you.
How's about kicking a little of it over the transom to Sheila Bair at the FDIC? Banks keep going bust, and the FDIC is tapped out. Which means it's raised the rates its assessing on banks (mostly in Georgia) to pay into its reserve pool for making account holders whole when banks go bust. Which means banks will soon be charging us for checking accounts, online bill payments, etc.
Admittedly, I'm happy to pay for online bill payments, for now, no biggie. And I do find it a little bit objectionable to be continually bailing out morons in the gated communities and McMansions of Alpharetta. But the FDIC have been troopers throughout it all.
However tight-fisted banks have been about making loans, somehow I doubt the ability of Treasury to build up alternate programs and infrastructure to get credit out to small businesses. And bailing out specific banks that have underserved their clientele, even if it's cute little ones, serves little purpose.
Tuesday, December 08, 2009
The Fed is test-driving a reverse repo scheme with primary bond dealers to drain liquidity from the banking system. Frankly, I don't entirely get it: the Fed sells securities to the dealers, taking money out of the system for a spell, and then buys them back at the end of a set period. They're practicing now, did $180 mln in volume in recent days. I guess it would work if they did it once and kept doing it, so that cash stayed out of the system. But that would get expensive just from a process standpoint.
My proposal is: sell treasury and agency (Fannie and Freddy) debt back into the market via the Fed Open Markets desk. When the Fed receives cash, it hits the delete button and "poof", it's gone. Like Kaiser Soze.
Right now is not the time to do this. The housing markets are still too unstable. Shit, I'm too unstable. But there will come a time when it makes sense to, gradually, in a pre-announced fashion, sell down it's portfolio. Yes, it will have the effect of gradually raising interest rates, but to the extent that it excites confidence in our fixed income markets and, more importantly, the somewhat wilted greenback, it might attract capital. Remember how all those fed funds hikes from 2003ff didn't really cause mortgage rates to skyrocket? Emerging market treasuries liked the dollar. They still want to, they're just confused is all.
Monday, December 07, 2009
Yesterday Graham wanted to see some African warriors, so I broke out YouTube and watched Maasai warriors throat-singing and leap and then Zulu warriors doing a dance for some tourists while drums were pounded. I don't know why I couldn't leave it at that, but lest he get the impression that they really still lived like that, I went into a little discursus on tradition and culture, and we watched Scottish highland dancers and Ukrainian Cossacks to get the point about folk dancing and drums generally, and then went on. I showed him some Brazilian stuff, including Carnival, as well as some killer African-American high school step bands, to talk about the transmission of culture and African heritage specifically. We watched a little Capoeira (awesome!), and then some Lakota dance.
By this time I had to talk about slavery, the difference between Northern and Southern economies and why slavery was more prevalent in the South than in the North, and the Civil War. Somehow, I also let slip that the Europeans weren't all nicey-nice with the Indians, and that we pushed them back over the Appalachians and fought wars with them too.
I didn't go into all the gorey details, but I did mention wars and killing and such, and that was enough to fire the imagination of the 6-year old boy. He was talking about it rather animatedly later in the afternoon, including how karate was the best method of fighting.
Luckily he was also interested in seeing some whale song videos, so he was a little distracted.
Thursday, December 03, 2009
With my new job and all, I keep getting calls back from people I left voicemails for earlier in the day. These calls inevitably come at 5:30 in the afternoon, typically issue from New Jersey, and are inevitably from people (OK, guys) who are extremely knowledgeable and enthusiastic about the insurance industry and eager to share this knowledge. This is a toxic combination in terms of letting me get home to participate in the dinner to toothbrushing to story reading slope.
But I do learn a lot. In fact, I typically learn more than I had bargained for, and it gets downright confusing. Oh well.
Wednesday, December 02, 2009
That's what it is. Work kept flowing over the transom today, once I got there after being at the dentist and getting an NC plate for Mary's car (mine will come in due time). Barely had time to stuff food into my yawning maw.
And now it sounds like it's pouring down rain outside when, in fact, it's just water rushing over the damn way down at the bottom of the hill.
Tuesday, December 01, 2009
Worth reading. It ain't over till it's over. Remember, Connecticut is the nation's 2nd richest state. According to the article, it is now one of 25 states where the unemployment fund is insolvent, and states are borrowing from the US Dept of Labor.
So yeah, we need to keep paying taxes, and anticipate rising tax rates.
The other morning, in fact, I was musing over coffee that what the Obama administration really needs to do is communicate a plan for raising taxes over the next few years, probably starting in 2011, so that businesses could plan for it. And then I read the Economist, which advocated the same thing. Which means that either I'm deucedly clever, or that my thinking has been too swayed by years of subscribing to one publication.
Monday, November 30, 2009
Sunday, November 29, 2009
Graham continues to say cute things.
- Last night, when praising the blue Ikea "coverter" with white circles on it, he said he liked it because it was "very decorationable"
- Just now, he was talking about how the Indians knew how "if you live souther you had gooder foods"
Thursday, November 26, 2009
The markets are upset that Dubai will have trouble servicing its debts, and there is trouble in Vegas as well. Nevada has the most underwater mortgages of any state, big casino deals are having trouble working.
Pardon me for not caring. Neither of these places have ever held any fascination for me, except a perverse one. They strike me as being emblematic of all that has been wrong in the world for some time, and the only reason to rue their downfall is to think of the quantity of productive labor that has been squandered on them. Yes, they have fed many construction and service workers from the hinterlands of here or there, but also many more or less enslaved sex workers. Some significant portion of that cash could have gone into math and science education. Oddly enough, just as pornography has driven the development of internet technology, I'm sure that there have been worthwhile advances in engineering which have come out of the otherwise fruitless exercises in building front shaped islands and choreographing fountains. Or maybe not.
Anyhow, I shed no tears for Abu Dhabi this week
Monday, November 23, 2009
Enjoyed the hospitality and bandwidth of a Panera on Six Forks Road in North Raleigh today, a corporatist no-man's land that I had visited once before in 2003. Today I was astonished by the number of people who came in and had cheesy bowls of soup at 10:45 in the morning. The place was veritably hopping with people both with laptops and without.
If this is any indicator of the fiscal mood of the nation, it's good. Much casual dining, and before noon, when, as I'm always telling my daughter, one could get busted for having lunch.
Saturday, November 21, 2009
It occurred to me sometime this ending that the whole supersizing trend: cars, houses, compensation, restaurant portions, malls, as well as the pseudocosmopolitanization of America: a mocachino in every pot, seared ahi tuna on every grill, really got rolling in earnest after the end of the Cold War 20 years ago. At that point in time, the great narrative of history having come to a close, not with a bang but with a whimper, America really got down to indulging its taste for just about everything. What else was there to do, after all? We had won.
And the last decade has been little more than a steady realization that history hasn't really come to an end, after all, that there were forces below the surface all along, in places little suspected: the Middle East, China and now Brazil. We shall see how it plays out.
Friday, November 20, 2009
I have received inquiries from my readers regarding my lack of reportage concerning my lunching habits of late. My sincerest apologies. Although there are a lot of fine eateries in Carrboro, sometimes referred to as the "Paris of the Piedmont," and others within walking distance just over the line into Chapel Hill, I will confess that I have recently fallen victim to the sober and niggardly mood that has swept our fair nation, and have therefore been frequenting the deli at the Harris Teeter (a grocery store) just across the railroad tracks and a ditch or two. Said deli has daily specials for $2.99 half subs: each day has a hot sub and a cold sub option. Recently, in fact, a $3.99 meal option has reared its head, which offers a half sub with a bag of chips and an house brand iced team or lemonade. They offer a "whole wheat" sub roll as well, designating a roll containing whole wheat flour.
There is also a display where one can get a free sugar cookie each day and, should the mood strike one, there are samples of ham on toothpicks and little cuplets of cake or pie to be had. Fairly bountiful sampling indeed.
And -- and this is the kicker -- if one scans one's VIC or "Very Important Customer" card at check out, after purchasing 15 half subs, one earns a 16th whole sub free, a further 13.3% markdown, though it does encourage a little feasting (or at least chip skipping).
Needless to say, lunches have been had elsewhere, to wit, Neal's Deli, Amante Pizza, IP3, Jade Palace, Tyler's, the shitbox Chinese all u can eat at the corner of Lloyd and Main (never again), and even Weaver Street, though I am largely suspicious of the prepared foods in that cruncheteria. I will keep you up to date on the story as it emerges.
Thursday, November 19, 2009
I started reading the Harry Potter books some months ago in an attempt to get on the same page with my daughter, who can be a stubborn protopubescent pill at times. I have since learned the rhetoric of "muggles", "snogging," "butterbeer" and "you-know-who" plenty well. I have also started enjoying the books.
And, I must say, it's not the magic or the fantasy or the enigmas or the denouments at all. That stuff, altogether, is rather plodding. But just as in Huck Finn or Dead Souls, the journey was said to be a device for the displaying of society, so in Harry Potter the magic and thrills and chills, hokey as they may be, are but a backdrop for the main plot of growing up and developing and maintaining friendships and loyalties. The emerging and deepening bonds of Harry - Ron - Hermione - Hagrid -- Dumbledore and later Neville -- Luna -- Ginny et alia. is really what it's all about. Harry and crew are rewarded time and again for having good hearts and good execution to back it up. And you don't get that everywhere. And I'm happy that my daughter likes it.
My sister once said that she no longer wanted to watch movies that didn't have happy endings. And, while I haven't gone that far, I know what she meant. There is a point in time in life when you really appreciate the positive in art, whatever that is, and Harry and friends have it going on.
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
After a protracted spate of telephone calls this afternoon, walked out and grabbed a cup of coffee from the groover cafe and wine bar up the block, just across the street from the KFC that has been there forever. Inside was the kind of hip setting that I would have just eaten up when I was in grad school, just the place to go to of an afternoon with laptop and books to smoke, space out, pretend I was working, try to look good, scope out women and dream of hooking up with my true love who might just come through the door at any minute, though it didn't work out that way in the end.
Today, I just wanted the be-banged barista to hurry up and get me my coffee so I could get back to my desk.
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
Is it just me, or are more and more spammers figuring out how to hijack people's Facebook accounts and send spam and potential viruses? What a pain in the butt. Why can Zuckerberg et al. get this straight?
Also, I can tell you for sure that there's a lot of lag time in DoNotCall.gov getting my business phone off of people's call lists. Every day I get calls from morons trying to get me to accept credit cards. So I have to tell them that a. I'm not the boss and b. we're corp to corp and would never take credit cards anyway. On the other hand, our home number remains blissfully free of callers, which promotes marital harmony. If not always successfully.
Saturday, November 14, 2009
Every once in a while I put on the Replacements, and I'm continually struck by the extent to which a band this drunk, this out of control, was in so many ways the voice of a generation, or at least the piece of one to which I belonged. I don' t know why this should surprise me.
Unfortunately there's no good video in the public domain of the Replacements, but this cover is close enough. All you need to hear is the sound and the chorus to get it.
Friday, November 13, 2009
There was a story yesterday in the Wall Street Journal about how it's become the hip thing at high end engineering schools to form up in clubs, pool tools -- especially fine tolerance machine tools whose prices have dropped dramatically in recent decades -- and tinker and make physical objects. Well, hip is one thing, extensible is another. It got me thinking about all the bubbas sitting around America drinking PBR, watching Glenn Beck and NASCAR, and generally freaked out and disempowered about having a black president. What if those guys had high-end tools and could tinker? I bet they'd feel kind of empowered, after being eviscerated by multiple decades of real income declines at progressively shittier jobs. And I'll bet they'd produce some interesting gadgets, too.
It's just a question of building out a little business plan (though not for profit), getting some seed funding from universities and Soros, and running a pilot at a community college or two here in the great state of North Carolina, where, thanks to Terry Sanford and others, we've got strong community colleges. This could be a scalable way to encourage innovation while making a bunch of rednecks shut the fuck up about the government always doing something for somebody else.
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
The sweet little kittens that we brought home a few weeks ago are performing according to script. Last night in bed, I thought I smelled bad, bringing back bad memories of years long gone by when a nasty brew of cigarettes, beer, greasy food, garlic and an obstinate refusal to bathe enough meant that I had a body odor problem. Not atypical of your young athletic substance abuser.
But last night it wasn't me. The kittens had peed all over the bed and comforter. After one had shat on the sofa the day before.
The vet tells us they have giardia, which is normal for cats coming out of a shelter, and they have to be fed antibiotics (force-fed, in Leon's case). Why doesn't the shelter treat for this since it treats for other things, that's my question?
I have a feeling I'm going to be buying some furniture and other stuff soon.
And to top it off, Jennette is coming down from New York this weekend.
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
Sunday, November 08, 2009
In the Times biz section this weekend, there's an interesting article about studies being done to decrease the incidence of old people falling down, which is estimated to cost $75 billion a year in the US (a decidedly non-trivial ~0.5% of GDP). Good and innovative work is being done in the field, to be sure. But I have to wonder how much effort is being taken to provide long-term preventative approaches to help older people develop better senses of balance: I'm thinking of Tai Chi or Yoga specifically geared towards 50-60-70 year olds.
I also have to wonder about the relative incidence of injuries on wood floors vs. wall-to-wall carpet. The latter would seem to have an advantage once you've fallen, but would its unevenness encourage falls? Or is moving from wood floors to individual rugs and back again the greater risk? One can imagine having suitability standards for floor covering salespeople, as is the case for financial advisors etc., who have a fiduciary duty to inform clients of risks associated with products (high-flying stocks, variable annuities, etc).
Saturday, November 07, 2009
So Mary ran uptown to drop something off, and then she stopped into a little antiques store on Rosemary St, and then she thought, "I'll just pop my into Red Window" (a furniture store opened by Elizabeth Edwards promising some sort of oddball discounting of fancy chairs and whatnot). And Mary goes in and who does she find sitting there jabbering on his cellphone, alone minding the place, but mister all-teeth-and-Breck himself, Chapel Hill's own would-be President, Mr. John Edwards. He looked up from his phone and flashed his pearly whites at Mary, but kept on talking on his phone, which is, I will have you know, not considered best practice for retail salespeople. But it kind of makes sense, if you think about it: if you can't be the most powerful man in the world, you might as well be an underperforming employee of your breast-cancer afflicted wife, particularly after you sire a child by some vixen but deny it.
Or maybe he just thought Mary didn't look like she had money.
Now that it looks like Steven Cohen's SAC Capital may get dragged bodily into the insider trading scandals, things could get interesting. If you think there's been an uproar over bonuses at AIG and Goldman Sachs, wait till the mainstream press starts chewing over Cohen's compensation ($1 bln in 2005) and lifestyle (35,000 square foot house in Greenwich, bought for $15 million but with jah knows how many improvements put into it). Jim Paulson may have made more in 2007-8 betting against housing, but at least it's pretty well understood how he did it. Cohen's modus operandi has always seemed dubious: being the closest to information, getting the first phone call from the broker.
Once its understood how much money hedge fund people made relative to investment bank people, main street people will be hopping mad. And it will be hard for Glen Beck to keep thumping Atlas Shrugged as if it were the Bible.
Thursday, November 05, 2009
Just bought a Diet Coke at Wendy's at Boston Logan. The woman in line behind me, perhaps Dominican, ordered a Chicken Nuggets meal. The cashier, almost certainly Filipina, responded "Ok, bonita." (I.e. "beautiful"). You don't hear too much of this between us white folk. Very nice.
In other news, stayed at a Sheraton for the last couple of nights. I watched the corporate propaganda tv channel for a few minutes for yucks, and it informed me that one of Sheraton's new deali-os was all white beds: sheets, pillows, blankets, duvets. This was nice, but didn't help me when I woke up at 6am cold. Because everything was white, it took me 45 precious minutes of grogginess to recognize that I was missing the duvet. Thanks, Sheraton.
Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry
Wednesday, November 04, 2009
In Boston. After a 7AM (no typo) meeting with my boss at the convention center I walked across a couple of bridges into town, observing the morning rush. I felt I deserved a proper breakfast, where I could sit at a table and someone would bring me a plate of eggs that someone had actually cooked for me and which I could eat with something metallic. Alas and alack, it was nowhere to be found. Dunkin Donuts and Starbucks seem to have sown up the joint (where, indeed, is Tim Horton's, purveyor of a superior round product that has made incursions as far south of the Canadian border as New York?). I ended up at a bagel place where they did, at least, cook my eggs, but I had to carry it to my own table and eat it with plastic.
Such is the world we live in today.
Tuesday, November 03, 2009
It was 1998, and we lived in Somerville, NJ, with one car. Mary taught at Princeton, and I taught at Drew, 45 minutes in the other direction. I was in a sort of DIY period, and had recently bought a book called Fix Your Bike Yourself. For me, this was very ambitious, almost starry-eyed.
So I drove our 1987 Volvo to Drew one Monday, and I had to get the car back to Mary so she could drive to class in the evening. Normally, it would have been no problem. However, as I pulled off 287 at exit 33, I had the distinct impression that there was smoke coming from the hood. And I was not wrong! And I knew what smoke meant. Fire!
Luckily, there was a fire station right there, with a garage, and I went back by the garage and this guy looked under the hood, and there was oil all over everything. Apparently, someone had been changing the oil and had not put the cap back on. That someone was of course Mr. DIY himself, alias moi meme. So he broke out some duct tape, covered up the oil putting-in area and advised me to get a real cap quickly (or, as Graham would have it "more quickerly").
So I go and teach class, with like an hour's wiggle room before I needed to get back to Somerville, and right after class I went to the nearest garage to figure out what to do. They told me of a dealer some 10 miles and two exits north and called to see that they had the part in stock. The gods smiled on me that day, as a very nice Asian woman, relative newcomer to this fair land of ours, driving a white 240 station wagon, offered me her oil cap as a loaner to get me up to the dealer. Naturally, I took the cap and ran, went up, bought another, raced back, returned hers, and then high-tailed it down the interstate back to Mary, who was getting a little nervous.
And this all took place long before we were hip or bemonied enough to have cell phones, so I hadn't even let Mary know how close we were to a major fuck up.
Monday, November 02, 2009
We did the first tour of the new/old nabe as a family on Halloween. The hills are as steep as ever they were. Most impressive was Graham, who, despite his milk allergy, was as aggressive and predatory as any non-allergic kid at the bowls of unsuspecting neighbors: he dove in for handfuls and was only slowed by considerable parental intervention.
Not that Natalie didn't get her own. After our local tour, we took Natalie to Meadowmont, a nouveau-riche neo-urbanist development to the south of town, where we hooked up with Nick-Nack and his family and Natalie was able to go through one "totally awesome" haunted house, before retreating to his house with 5 other 9-10 year olds for a sleep over and a viewing of one truly horrifying movie: Mama Mia. Thankfully, Mary and I were spared this viewing.
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
Currently H1N1 vaccines are being doled out to particularly at risk populations: kids, old folx, health workers. Of these, only health workers are chosen because they're likely to infect others, but might that not be the right paradigm? Could it not make sense target vaccine distribution at people who are particularly likely to pass the disease on to others? Food service workers, for example. Might that not slow the rate of infection and thus the total footprint on the population more than focusing on people at risk of harm from it?
I dunno. It seems to me that the goal of epidemiology should be to minimize the impact of an event on a population in general, rather than on specific sub-segments of it.
That said, they should absolutely vaccinate my kids first. Then they can do whatever they want.
Monday, October 26, 2009
Shipped back my Clearwire wimax wireless modem and VOIP phone adapter this evening. It was kind of sad, although I did have some bad dreams about watching the blinking lights that denoted reception. Three hiccups in phone service in two weeks is 3 too many for a job with as much phone work as my current one. Back to AT&T. Even as a colleague in Chicago bitches first about his phone service and then today is without internet. The deal is, if I have a problem and blame Ma Bell, it's her problem. If I have a problem and blame a carrier nobody's ever heard of with a new model, I'm the idiot. Sad but true.
It was December of 2007, and I hauled my sorry self up to Manville to play indoor soccer with Rob Finnegan and John Patterson pretty late at night. I'm not sure if it was the first game, when I -- for lack of understanding of what new Astroturf was like -- wore sneakers instead of cleats, and was thus abused mercilessly by opposing strikers and snickered at unceasingly, but on one occasion at least I stubbed the hell out of my left big toe.
Now, the astute amongst you will notice that the progress of this minor injury has coincided precisely with the period of this, the longest recession of the post-Depression era, if the preliminary release of GDP numbers on Thursday indeed confirms that we exited recession, however fragilely, in the 3rd quarter of this year. And the thickness of the toenail is like unto the "new normal" being touted by the dashing Mohammed El-Erian of Pimco, ex-of Harvard, as the new paradigm for the economy.
So, my readers, I trust that you will stay with me for further updates from this oh so prescient toe, a bellweather of all that is and may be.
Sunday, October 25, 2009
Apologies to any regular readers out there, I've been sick. First was sniffly, then stomach was messed up. Thought, therefore, that it might be H1N1ish, but if it was, I must say I'm not sure what all the hype was about. Not that it was fun, there was a lot of pain in the belly, but it wasn't gonna kill me.
Come to think of it, I already blogged about being sick, din't I? More real content real soon. Got some doosies sketched out.
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
Nasty stomach thing for both me and Natalie. Day 2. Highlights include
- Another hundred pages of The Order of Phoenix
- Listening to The Sorcerer's Stone as a book on CD with Natalie
- Playing footsie under the blanket with her while reading (physical contact: a rarity)
- Watching AC Milan beat Real Madrid 3-2 in Champion's Cup play
- A nap
- An episode of The Rockford Files
Friday, October 16, 2009
Sat in my office, looking north. Was on the phone approximately 3 hours today, coming to the end of my seven day trial of 3G Wimax provider Clearwire. After having a disastrous set of broken calls (two of them Skype calls, then one on the "land line" -- which is itself wireless VOIP), I called up Clearwire and threatened to cancel my service as the seven day trial period came to its conclusion. The customer service person (and their customer service is outstanding, it must be owned) stayed on the line with me for 45 minutes as we talked and tested different modem positions until we found one that was better, and then they gave me another seven days to test it.
Thursday, October 15, 2009
Graham is going through an intensive whale phase, so he's been bringing home a lot of books about whales recently. He can actually distinguish between all the various types... even when their pictured in the distance, with just their tales sticking out.
So he brought one home called Big Blue, about a girl who dreams of swimming with a blue whale. So she tells her mom about it, and they go to Baja California with some whale specialist friends, and the girl actually swims with a blue whale, looks it in the eye, has that total bonding thing that is mentioned in a recent New Yorker article about whales of the Baja.
And I actually cried as she was swimming with the whale because it was so beautiful, the tone was just perfect, the girl knowing exactly what she wanted to do and then actually doing it. It was like that book about the little girl who wants to be in the Nutcracker and instead of getting a good role has to play a little fir tree, but she dedicates herself to being the tree and glides out onto the stage and experiences bliss.
I wish my job was like that, I tell ya.
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
Monday, October 12, 2009
As I slowed at the end of my bike ride yesterday, ready to dismount to go around the chain over the entrance to the parking lot at the end of South Lake Shore, I espied a hawk landing on a branch not twenty feet away from me. He sat there for a while as I looked at him and drank water, he remained still even when I spoke to him. It was amazing.
When I got back to the house and recounted this, and then checked in Raptor! A kid's guide to birds of prey, I discovered that the striped tail and reddish brown torso clearly demonstrated that this was a red-shouldered hawk.
And then... when I was bathing in the outdoor shower, looking down at the lake, I saw Graham gesturing with a big smile from over in the dining room, I thought at me, but then I realized he was pointing behind me at something as everyone gathered round him, and I turned and saw a red-shouldered hawk, looking intently at me, again 20-25 feet away on a low branch. And he just sat there as the whole family came outside with cameras, binoculars, etc. And Graham walked out towards him even closer than the shower.
If I were new agily inclined I would probably believe there was some mystical hocus pocus between me and this hawk, or hawks. But I'm not. But it was very cool.
Friday, October 09, 2009
Was planning to right a post about the New Yorker article about Larry Summers (perhaps tomorrow) when I happened upon a trove of short videos Natalie had made with her digital camera. Playing in Larchmont with Graham and Sadie, videos of Grandpa, goofing in the character of "Cheesie Lady" in her room while mocking Mary, but most importantly having pillow fights with Helen and Ella, perfectly at ease, glowing, a Natalie I don't have access to on a day to day basis. It made me doubly sad to have left Princeton, to have ripped her away from her friends.
Thursday, October 08, 2009
Not much time to write tonight. Packing up my office crap to move to the new office tomorrow. Taking all the business books, plus a few essentials from my former life:
- Pretty much all of Wittgenstein: Tractatus, Blue and Brown Books, Culture and Value, the Philosophical Investigations
- John Donne
- Wallace Stevens
- Volume 1 of Pushkin's Trekhtomnik, including all the early verse
- William Carlos Williams
- Alfred Jarry, Ubu Roi
- Ian Watt's Rise of the Novel
- Washington Irving stories
- Gogol stories
- Denis de Rougemont, Love in the Western World
- My dissertation
Listening to stuff I got off of Napster in 2001. Still good.
Wednesday, October 07, 2009
In March of 2006, shortly after he was appointed Chair of the Fed, Ben Bernanke returned to his recently jolted employer in Princeton to deliver his first public address in his new role. Somehow I got a ticket, which pissed off certain of my colleagues to no end. Bernanke spoke at length about price stability and how that had evolved into the key goal of the Fed. Specifically, he described how a view held in the early sixties that high inflation and low unemployment were fellow travellers got skewered, thanks to Uncle Milty Friedman in theory and finally Paul Volcker in practice, who demonstrated that low inflation and low unemployment went together even better. And then he fairly gushed about Greenspan (as, admittedly, we all did back in the day):
Most striking, Greenspan's tenure aligns closely with the Great Moderation, the reduction in economic volatility I mentioned earlier, as well as with a strong revival in U.S. productivity growth--developments that had many sources, no doubt, but that were supported, in my view, by monetary stability.Whoops! I would guess that Ben would like to take that one back. In the end, Bernanke praises the consensus that has been achieved, and notes that "we will continue to learn about the economy and economic policy," but the overriding sense was that the Great Moderation and the consensus that had built it meant that he could run on autopilot, an impression furthered by having a railroad executive (John Snow) at the helm of Treasury.
After the talk, questions were limited to Princeton undergrads and there were only two, softballs about the Fed's role in managing asset prices and what the heck was up with China.
I so terribly wanted to ask him why he felt sure that the consensus was robust and what sort of skeptical skunkworks they had going on within the Fed trying to imagine what could go wrong.
And we got the answer to that in due course. Not much.
That said, I'm not down on Bernanke now. The guy has danced with the devil as well as anyone could have expected, expanding the Fed's repertoire of steps as needed. Yes, he's stomped on a toe or two here or there, but he's nimble nonetheless. Ron Paul and his obstructionist cronies should stop posturing, back off and let him move forward to confirmation hearings.
Tuesday, October 06, 2009
Monday, October 05, 2009
Signed a lease and got keys to the new office today. Now it just remains to figure out how to handle phone and internet service.
At home in the PM, was snoozing lightly on the couch while Graham showed me something he was building with cardboard blocks, when my phone rang. It was some fast-talking consultant interested in perhaps subleasing the other room in my office. That was quick, I thought. He was not all that convinced when I described the lack of a window as a "feature", but I think he liked the price. I'll meet him tomorrow. We shall see.
Now to bed. Throat is sore. This is supposed to be my vacation week and I have three meetings tomorrow before noon. One of them involves good coffee, at least.
Sunday, October 04, 2009
On a lovely fall day here in the heart of the Piedmont, the family bethought itself to have a "nature walk" in the woods, so we went to the forest around my old neighborhood, the thousands of acres which have come to be called "Carolina North." And walk we did, diverging from the main path onto the ones shown in purple on the map, where the children proceeded to run and frolic. And when we got to the place where we were to rejoin the main path, the kids declared their preference for staying in the shady forest. And they were having such fun that I couldn't correct them, though the trail did loopdy loop in such a way that it was hard to know just where we were.
Now, I won't say it was the quasi Blair Witch experience that we had had a few years back near Princeton. I knew these woods better and knew quite well that we were between the airport, Airport Road, and Seawell School road, but within that space I'll confess to being a little confused. And then finally we emerged onto the main path and trouped back to the car, having, in the end, probably walked three miles, a non-trivial quantity for a six-year old softy like Graham.
Saturday, October 03, 2009
Friday, October 02, 2009
After about 7 weeks back in Chapel Hill, today was the first time I took the opportunity to walk around town and really check it out. As everyone says, the 100 block of Franklin Street has indeed really gone to the dogs. Stupid chains and bars everywhere. Nothing for the townsfolk to speak of, except maybe the Sugarland bakery. Highlights of our stroll:
- Two police substations within half a mile of each other: one in the BofA building, one by Granville Towers
- Fine lunch at the Mediterranean Deli
- Nothing much else to speak of
In other news, have come to terms with landlord (OK, he's my stepdad) to sign a lease on some office space for my new job. Soon I will have, as they say, A Room of My Own. What's more, it will be A Room With a View.
Thursday, October 01, 2009
Returned to the UNC campus after years away today. Was generally overwhelmed by the throngs, the veritable hordes of students, a significant plurality of whom were wearing Carolina blue at a random moment, as they shuffled along in the overcrowded walkways and sprawled on the grass.
In Davis library, I snapped up a library card for $25 and then made my way up into the stacks to look for books on the history of life insurance, a field in which I need to soon exude expertise. Was somewhat nonplussed by the physical aspect of the place. The elevators were tagged with gang logos and anonymous homosexual comeons, the kind of shit you're supposed to see in a rest stop bathroom.
I went upstairs to the 9th floor lounge to take in the view, thinking that it might perhaps have changed in the nearly two decades I had been away, with the massive influx of population and all the necessary development. I needn't have worried, it looked just the same. Green rolling hills into the distance.
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
In Athens there's a tremendous temptation to focus on the antiquities, from the Acropolis and the Archaelogical Museum to the Agora. But for my money, the most interesting attraction is the Benaki Museum, which focuses on post-Hellenic Greece from Byzantium forward.
After trolling about for a little while, I was fairly stunned by the incidence of the image of St George slaying the dragon, supposedly an allegory of Christianity's subjugation of paganism. "Supposedly" I say, because, upon reflection, the image of horses and spears seems more likely to have been a literal representation of Christianity's advance than a figurative one. Think about it, how were new converts to Christ won over? Did missionary's roll in and sweet talk them about the meek inheriting the earth? No. That whole ideology was a long way from being invented. A bunch of soldiers would come into a town, announce the arrival of a new religion, tear down pagan temples, and demand tribute. That's got to be how it worked.
Nowhere is the bellicose nature of Christianity clearer than in Greece, which stood at the Eastern edge of the Christian world, facing off against the Saracens.
Here's an old post from the drafts folder
Apparently some old-timer named Bob had passed away. People were sad. One septuagenarian, in bottle-thick glasses with a bad-assed black gaucho hat pulled over his face, told a story.
"One evening I was sitting there drinking and Bob come up to my door and set to knocking. 'Who is it?' I said and he said 'It's Bob. I've come to take you to a meeting.' And I said 'Like hell you do.' And he came back the next night and did the same thing and...." The story droned on for weeks, day after day, and the guy drew it out. And the effect of this repetition -- not unlike the enumeration of all the names of the fallen soldiers at the Vietnam memorial in DC -- was to say that this guy Bob really stayed at it, persisted, and here 30 years later were the fruits of his efforts, that had outlived him, this old drunk with a hat. And I teared up a little because the old timers really are and were like that, living the life, saving each other day by day.
Monday, September 28, 2009
So this guy from Fidelity and I are setting up a place to meet: "There's a Starbuck's on, mmm... Page Road, next to a Jimmy John's, meet me there at 8:30." And I'm, like, "OK, sure." Now, I'm fairly certain that there was a Starbuck's and a Jimmy John's in the complex next to Mez, the utterly mediocre Mexican place belonging to the same group of unexceptional restaurants as 411 West, Spanky's, and Squid's, but I'm not certain.
So I go to the Starbuck's store locator. It shows no stores on Page, though it turns out to have one on Slater, which is next to Page. There is in fact a Jimmy John's at the same given address as Mez, though their websites have Xs on very different spots of maps. Google Maps Street view, unfortunately, was taken before the complex in question was completed, and in fact has completely unrelated street names in some places.
So I have to ride out there with something like 85% certainty that I know where I'm going. In 2009. Ridiculous.
Friday, September 25, 2009
While plowing through a very dry set of documents about trust and estate planning, I remembered that I have to be up on the UNC campus on Monday and in turn that I intended to get a library card while there.
Joy of joys! After years of living in a university town dominated by a private, snooty (and for no good reason) school, where library access for community members ran to the high three digits, it is a fine thing to be back on the red clay soil of America's oldest public university, where access is almost free. Though I have never gotten a degree from this place, I have used this library system off and on since 7th grade (when I got busted good for plagiarism on a report about the effects of radiation on cells [about which I knew fuck all]). The circulating movie collection sustained me during the years between college and grad school, when I was virtually coin free.
And I worry about libraries these days, with kids stealing shit off the internet all the time, will diminished library volume lead to defunding and dereliction? Last year's stats for the UNC Libraries looked OK, but the only frame of reference was 2003ff, so it's hard to say.
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
It has been some time since I catalogued the cute things the kids say, though that was one of the original purposes of this blog (in the mutual fund world, this sort of straying is known as "style drift", as when a "Value" fund becomes a "Growth" one). Natalie has, alas, reached the age where she speaks more or less like a proto-adult, except when she's made to giggle.
Graham, however, still has some adorable catch-phrases. Right now he likes to start every third sentence with the word "Besides." As in, "Besides, can I have a snack?" or "Besides, Andrew had a baloney sandwich today" or "Besides, my favorite dinosaur is the Apatosaurus, which is another word for Brontosaurus." He's also fond of the word "original," as in "I was just resting my head on my original pillow." Gotta love it.
Graham has also continued on occasion to refer to me as "mom", which I love.
Monday, September 21, 2009
As I write it's a lovely late summer day in North Carolina: 83 and not too humid. I'm at the library, escaping the noise and fumes of my boy Marvin doing some fine painting at the house. It's a good thing I brought along a flannel shirt and socks with shoes, because it's frickin freezing in here.
So what is it about air conditioning down here, why the continual overkill, even in a place where eco-consciousness is pretty well ingrained? One has to carry a wrap wherever you go in summertime so as not to freeze, but it's blazing on the street. I don't get it.
Saturday, September 19, 2009
On the long drive to Morehead City yesterday, there were many highlights. All of which were only noted in passing, as Graham and Natalie were rather keen on getting down there.
- Nahunta Pork Center: "America's largest pork display!"
- Gun and Knife Show at the New Bern Fairgrounds
- Big and Tall Men's clothes -- "with pants to size 84"
- King's of Kinston, "Home of the 'Pig in a Pup'."
Thursday, September 17, 2009
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
My days continue to be sucked up by the little details of arriving here: making this house suitable for habitation by the family, especially Mary. Today we consulted with our boy Marvin about some paint colors and techniques for lightening knotty pine panel, then hosted a chimneysweep (who informed me that one of the chimney liners was cracked which will cost ducats), got the old Subaru fixed, paid some bills, and otherwise delt with crap.
In other news, check out the sweet article on my once-fleetingly colleague Felix Salmon, who has recently taken up residence behind the wheel of economic discourse at Reuters.
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
Tonight I'm watching a 1974 episode of The Rockford Files with the title given above, in which Jimbo gets put in harms way by some chick he used to date. I realize that's not narrowing the field very much, because this is pretty much the plot of half of the episodes. I predict that Jim will come out unscratched in the end, but that he won't be a penny the richer or wiser.
Monday, September 14, 2009
We watched a documentary about Pete Seeger named The Power of Song, one of the rare occasions when we actually pulled the trigger on one of those many documentaries on our Netflix list. It was a fine piece, and Seeger is a very inspiring human, an uber-grandpa for all of us.
But his role in the propagation and popularization of folk music and the banjo may be more problematic and complex than this movie lets on. The film tells of how Seeger's parents, classically trained musicians, went South in a wagon with violins and a piano to take music and culture to "the people" and were stunned to find that the people already had music of their own. Seeger went back to the well and mastered pickin and a grinnin, no one doubts that.
But the next day I was listening to some Porter Wagoner and I had to wonder: what does the Grand Ole Opry set think of Seeger? Probably the same thing some Schwabian bard thought of Herder when he came nosing round back the glades back in the 1760s: "buy me a drink and leave me be."
Sunday, September 13, 2009
Thursday, September 10, 2009
Was doing a little benchmarking last night at JobNob and saw some interesting trends in Raleigh. We all tend to think that federal government jobs don't pay well, but these numbers seem to indicate otherwise. Putting aside some biases in sampling (the large numbers of reported government salaries seem to indicate that there's some official effort to report to the site, probably as a recruiting measure, whereas in the private sector lower salaried employees are more likely to self-report), these numbers are nonetheless a little eye-opening. Once you factor in the long-term benefit conferred by a defined benefit pension plan (I think the Economist back of the napkined that at 25-30%), those are pretty good ducats.
Consider that the AFGE -- the American Federation of Government Employees -- has 600,000 members. I imagine that numbers those large would hinder any effort to impose any sort of management discipline on the federal government.
Wednesday, September 09, 2009
A lot of activity at the desk over the last few days. The steady drumbeat of good market news and positive soundbites from the economic and political establishment is clearly translating into some hiring, at least for people like the kid. If I am not careful, I could be gainfully employed in a manner of days, which could put a crimp into my tennis and otherwise diversified portfolio of sporting.
Tuesday, September 08, 2009
Certain of my readers have at times expressed frustration at the opacity and arcaneness of the blog, which is kind of just par for the course. But certain things can be explained.
The title itself, "Chew Your Grouse", has been touched upon in earlier posts, like the inaugural one.
But the current subtitle is probably a little bit mystifying. Who are these mysterious Kaufmans to whom I liken myself?
- Andy Kaufman -- less of a mystery. Lattke from the 80s sitcom Taxi, he of Mighty Mouse fame from SNL and later career forays into extreme life/art boundary crossing as a professional wrestling provocateur.
- Walter Kaufman -- Professor of Philosophy at Princeton, translator of Nietzsche and others. A horrifically egotistical man, who would pepper his volumes with footnotes to his own books and would place his own introductory essays (for example in a sampler on existentialism) on a par with those whose works he edited (i.e. Kaufman, Kierkegaarde, Sartre, Heidegger). This amused us to no end in college.
- Henry Kaufman -- The original Dr. Doom (an interest rate hawk). A fine old Wall St eminence grise, a sober economist and long-time Managing Director at Salomon Brothers, who very charmingly and affectingly nodded to his wife at the end of the acknowledgements to On Money and Markets: "She has been the center of my world for more than four decades, and has shared all the strains and triumphs of my life and career. How could I ever acknowledge her enough." In other words, a very centered and balanced guy.
Saturday, September 05, 2009
I've been running in the mid-late morning (I know it's foolish and I should go earlier in late summer heat), but twice I've seen the same foolish thing: a bus driver stopped at the bus stop right by Booker Creek apartments who has left his bus -- a double, accordion-length thing -- running, while he stops for a cigarette in the bus stop enclosure. I'm sure the bus is empty. Probably his schedule accomodates this. It may even be that the energy expenditure break-even period for turning an engine that big off is less than that of a typical car (typically reckoned to be 1 minute).
But still it seems excessive, if not downright wrong. The best way to disincent this behavior would be to build in some performance-based compensation possibilities for bus drivers around fuel consumption, and/or itemize their health care insurance premia based on tobacco consumption. But I'm sure that ain't going on.
Friday, September 04, 2009
Last night from down the hill into the ravine outside our window we heard what could only have been bird sounds, but from a thick thorax cavity. One was nearby, on this side of the lake, and it called out at a somewhat regular rhythm. And then, from across the lake, came an answering call.
A little poking around shows this to have been the typical call of a Great Horned Owl.
I don't remember owls being around when I was growing up. Maybe there are now no predators, letting populations rebuild, or maybe I was ignoring them back then.
Thursday, September 03, 2009
I was dumbfounded to discover -- while trolling around Atlantic Beach, North Carolina using Google Maps Street View -- that the putt putt golf course that my dad always claimed was the first one on the East Coast, which had belonged to our family in the 40s and 50s and which would have made us so much money just to own the real estate in the 80s -- is gone. Decimated. History.
From the looks of it, some developer flattened the whole boardwalk carnie scene Ferris Wheel scene around there and was gonna put something big in there, and then (you guessed it) ran out of cash. Or maybe this is North Carolina's version of Asbury Park, faded glory. Only there's not enough of a gay community in this state to give it the hope of a comeback that Asbury Park has.
Wednesday, September 02, 2009
I have always eschewed active stock selection, buying instead into random-walk, Boglehead theory. But overweighting domestic stocks is actually a form of faith-based investing: faith that the US will come out ahead. In general this has been a good bet. In the late 70s and early 80s it looked like were were toast, but then we turned out to be more like French toast, enriched by eggy ideas and the sweet sweet syrup of continuously confident fiscal policy. But somewhere along the way this confidence metastasized into hubris.
For now, The Economist cites as basic US competitive advantages over the rest of the developed world productivity growth and population growth, especially via immigration and assimilation. Europe doesn't do the latter nearly as well, and Japan totally doesn't.
But relative to rising Asia and Brazil, an entirely different set of dynamics are at work. Those folks are hungry and competitive, while we are threatened by educational underperformance by Anglos. We have great universities but a bunch of slacker kids. We only have a fixed quantity of very high-end imported talent from India and China, and they are geographically circumscribed to specific regions, and as the balance of economic power shifts the talented ones will be drawn inexorably back to their homes.
We need to do a number of things to be sure they want to stay here, or reverse brain drain will accelerate. We need to maintain the comparative advantage of open and civil society versus the male-dominated and caste and statist constraints of Asia. And we need to kick our own kids' butts into gear.
Tuesday, September 01, 2009
Yahoo mail is dramatically more feature-rich than gmail, no question about that. But is Yahoo! getting squeezed in terms of keeping the servers running smooth? It seems to me t
hat I'm seeing hiccups in the way the thing works all too frequently. Emails don't get sent. I can't search my inbox without throwing an apache error. And so on and so on.
Is this a result of the failed monetization of a free service? Build it and they will come, but then what the hell are you gonna do?
I remember riding to a wedding with someone from D.E. Shaw back in '94 or '95 and she's telling me that they're starting up a free, web-based email service called Juno and I was just dumbfounded. "How's that gonna work?" I asked. Maybe it hasn't.
Monday, August 31, 2009
Rather than writing a quality post this evening, I reposed on the couch and watched a classic episode of The Rockford Files from my complete archive on DVD. In this episode, guest-starring the ever lovely Linda Evans as a former flame, our hero goes toe to toe with Sergeant Becker and a surly captain over some undercover cop whose been shaking Rockford's ex down for years. Evans "has no money", despite an opening chase sequence in a pretty sweet Mercedes spider (240 SL?). In any case, it was perfectly decent watching, and I'll have to return to the well for more soon.
Sunday, August 30, 2009
After a run around the lake, I stopped in for a quick swim at the shared beach area behind our house. The last other swimmers were leaving, and I had the place to myself. The water was end of August brackish, but I drifted out a little on my back and could see the almost full moon rising over the trees at the top of the hill above the grassy park area.
In the not so great distance (1.2 miles), I could hear the gentle droaning of our new neighbor, I-40, which is nestled over a rise or two to the Northeast. It makes for easier commuting to RTP, and quicker beach access, but is it worth it? A toughie.
Friday, August 28, 2009
Some teenage girl in New Jersey keeps calling me and insisting that she has the right number and that I'm lying when I say there's no Thomas there. "Thomas?" she says. "No," I say. "I'm Graham and this has been my cell number for the last seven years or so." And she says: "But I looked it up." My guess is that Thomas works for Verizon, he ran out on his girlfriend and changed his listed number to be mine to get the whiner off his back.
But it's definitely getting old.
Thursday, August 27, 2009
A dad at my kids' bus stop is the son of a former Chapel Hill-Carrboro Schools' Athletic Director, and he told me a little anecdote today about hiring a basketball coach for Chapel Hill High School back in 1981 or so. Roy Williams was, at that time, an assistant to Dean Smith, and he interviewed for the job. The AD looked at him and threw him out on his butt, because it was clear that he was too talented and would never stick around.
Then Ken Miller came in wearing sweats. He was hired.
Apparently Ken Miller never tipped when he went to restaurants. He claimed that it wasn't his responsibility to pay those people, they weren't his employees.
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
Had a meeting in Durham today. Prowled Main St. looking for my dad's old office. Vacant storefronts jostled with fancy eateries and lawyer's offices for space. Waited on at lunch by a guy who was a waiter at a restaurant when I started there as a dishwasher in 1984, and whose mullet has not changed substantially. Nor, for that matter, has his skin.
Haunted by memories of shopping at a long since departed department store in Downtown. Long gone.
It appears that the Grouse will have to obtain a compost bin or somesuch device here in the South, as his open pile is being pillaged by the local fauna nightly.
In other news, while walking home just now from Estes Hills Elementary Kindergarten orientation, I saw some intense mushrooms and caterpillars.
Next, a trip to Durham for lunch with the man who Forbes has called the "Ralph Nader of mortgage lending," more or less.
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
Another day of disruption at the desk. Graham puking on what was supposed to be his first day of school. Puking and very whiny.
And then I tried to set up my printer, this Hewlett-Packard Photosmart C7280 which has been such a pain in the butt when talking to my Dell Latitude D420 running Windows XP. When it talks so nicely to Mary's Macbook. I downloaded 193 megs of crap only to be told that I needed the original installer disks to install a bunch of features. If I needed the disk, I wouldn't have downloaded the .exe, for chrissakes.
Anyway, now I can print.
Friday, August 21, 2009
At the Wet n Wild water park west of Greensboro, NC today, the Grouse experienced extreme culture shock, despite running into the son of a regular reader, a certain Jake. I haven't seen as much skin as that in a long time, and the incidence of obesity meant that the per capita square inchage of skin was high, too. Tattoos were also very much in evidence, including on otherwise bourgeois looking women who looked like they might in other times wear black cocktail dresses and comment on the oakiness of a Merlot. There were one or two of those.
And blaring metal and soul oldies, in blazing hot sun.
I was very glad Mary had not come. This was not the new South whose praises we have sung.
Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
After a deeply anticlimactic struggle to get our sorry butts out of our beloved Princeton house while our obese movers huffed and puffed and cursed our three stories, we finally set out caravan style at 3pm in a torrential downpour. We got across the Delaware Memorial Bridge, and soon thereafter diverted onto 896/301 to skip the Baltimore/DC traffic scene.
Before long, a two-lane road through generic Delaware suburbia opened out into a rural two/four lane highway, and it was us and farms and trees and trucks, and I had the distinct memory of the seeming endless monotony of pine forest and the loneliness of it all. In the North, there's all too often a sense that you're chasing after something going on over there, or down there, whereas in the South all too often it's just between you and the trees with no illusions of something you might be missing out on, because no one cares, or it's easier to believe that they don't, or that you shouldn't care if they do.
Sunday, August 16, 2009
Fear not, faithful readers, the Grouse's plaintive song has not been silenced or even stunted, it has simply been stifled momentarily by transit. The family has now arrived safely in the bosom of the Great North State, but, for shame, I must wait till Friday for real internet service. But I'll make an effort to post here and there.
Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry
Sunday, August 09, 2009
Apologies for the lack of posting to those few faithful of my regular readers. I've been packing to move this Thursday, which was interrupted by a need to inter my recently and sadly departed father-in-law George Berridge, whose eulogy needs to be adapted to fit the needs of the blogosphere. I'll climb back on the horse soon.
Wednesday, August 05, 2009
Are they not kissing cousins to interest rate swaps? You pay a fixed amount and then get yield plus the adjustment on an underlying instrument, in this case the CPI. There are, of course, a good number of arguments against the efficacy of CPI in reflecting inflation as it is actually experienced, and TIPS are relatively young (born in '97) and not that large an asset class in general, so there sort of not quite battle hardened. So if China is going to bully us into using them as a primary means of debt issuance, we need to think long and hard about what that might mean for us down the road.
Tuesday, August 04, 2009
Let me count the ways. I've been on the phone an hour now trying to disconnect my FIOS service. I guess they don't staff anyone on that branch of the phone tree. That's not really a good client retention strategy.
For one, it just gives its customers time to mouth off on the blogosphere.
Lots of members of my former firm worked for Accenture in the 90s and they told horror stories of what a cesspool Verizon was and how they would spend many millions of dollars on projects that just failed outright. And for this I spend $250 or so a month for all of my home and mobile data services. I look forward to severing this relationship, if I'm ever able to do so.
One of the benefits of working at home recently has been that I haven't been subjected to CNBC in public spaces, but I tuned in the other day while constructing boxes. And there before me was a familiar face, an attractive blonde Russian woman with her own "quant trading strategy" firm -- an energetic self-promoter, met with her in summer of 08, had a beverage in the basement of Grand Central, where she was all too happy to minimize expenses and jumped at the chance to advise on a simple FX transaction.
As of August '08 co-published an article (with her husband) on raising capital from high net worth customers (rich people but nonetheless retail clients) through structured products, which seems like a relic of a bygone era.
The other day she was talking about whether CITI is too big to fail, she talked too much and tripped over herself and got beat down by a more media-savvy guy from Connecticut AG's office.
Generally speaking, this is indicative of CNBC's status as a good source of analysis: this woman really didn't need to be commenting on Citi, nor was she particularly qualified to do so, but she fills the screen better than she does the air waves, and she'll do it, so hell, run with her.
Monday, August 03, 2009
This afternoon I had the displeasure of getting my haircut in a place where the guy was watching Fox News. I should have had the backbone to tell him I wouldn't let him cut my hair and walk out, but I wanted it shorter.
So I was watching the Neil Cavuto show, and he was all bent out of shape -- among other things -- about Geithner and Summers getting on the talk shows yesterday morning and hinting at raising taxes on the middle class. And he brings on Governor George Allen, a Virginia Republican, who says: "the only way to pay down these big deficits is by raising taxes."
Hmmm. Since the age of the great Arthur Laffer, the Republicans have been the party of the supply side. He're a not so ancient quote from our buddy McCain: "Don’t listen to this siren song about cutting taxes. Every time in history we have raised taxes it has cut revenues." — McCain, [1/17/08]. So Allen should be arguing that raising taxes will make budget deficits worse. But somebody handed him the wrong script, I reckon.
CIT is still working things out. Today it revised a tender offer to buy-out noteholders, and has left in place some outdated company profile boilerplate in its press releases.
CIT is a bank holding company with more than $60 billion blah blah blah... Founded in 1908 and headquartered in New York City, CIT is a member of the Fortune 500. www.cit.com
In fact, CIT was dumped from the S&P 500 a couple of weeks back and replaced by Raleigh, NC-based open source vendor Red Hat. I guess CIT has been cutting back on its flack expenditures.
Saturday, August 01, 2009
Friday's NYTimes had a story on CAPCO, a captive excess insurer of deposits for brokerages. The long and short of it was that CAPCO, founded in 2003 by 12 major and minor brokerages, including Lehman, Goldman, Wachovia Securities, Morgans JP and Stanley, Credit Suisse, Fidelity, Edward Jones, Raymond James, and some smaller fish.
When I called my broker in October following the “breaking the buck” freak out, I was told that SIPC plus Capco coverage protected my shares if not their value (as if the latter were an issue at that point in time). As of February: poof goes CAPCO.
I’m not generally one for the general free for all pile on Goldman and Wall St in general thing, but it seems that, to the extent that the remaining big banks and other CAPCO participants may have $11 billion unfunded liabilities emerging from Lehman litigation, that some of the YTD profits could have been steered to a recapitalization. At the very least, we may hope that CAPCO participants are now reserving adequately against the possibility of future Lehman-related claims.
If anything, this should raise red flags for customers of Fidelity which, as a private company, is itself pretty opaque.
Humorously, there is a warning on the CAPCO site that some unscrupulous firm is misrepresenting itself as being covered by CAPCO. After Friday's article, that firm may regard its nonparticipation as a boon.
Friday, July 31, 2009
I was reminded by a Googling of my friend Levon Kazarian, now impresario of St Francis Fountain, a San Francisco landmark, of my intent to post about a piece of Central Jerseyana which I will miss.
The place is called Rose and Chubby's, in the middle of Hopewell, NJ (just across the street from the old railroad station where -- 9 years ago -- an upstanding realtor assured us that NJ Transit was going to reinstitute commuter service to NYC. You can guess the punchline there). Anyway, the exterior of the place is, as you can see, none too preposessing.
Once you get inside, however, it is somewhat less decrepit, but nonetheless furnished basically straight out of the Hardy Boys series.
The proprietors of the place are two septua/octagenarian lasses, perhaps they for whom the joint is named. When Ted and I visited recently and he took these pix, we were the only people in there not on a first name basis with them. The food is fine, basic, but the menu is noteworthy.
Most trips to Rose and Chubby's are low on drama, but I remember when I was in there one time and this 80ish couple was having a nice civilized lunch, he with jacket and sweater vest, she in a nice dress. When it came time to leave, he paid the bill, and his wife got up and walked to the door, he turned, watched her, making sure that she wasn't going to turn her head, and then pounced his teeth into the half of an egg-salad sandwich that she had left on her plate. Some marital dynamics die hard.
Cleaning out cubbards, and with a celiac disease suffering child in the house during a heavy thunderstorm, I came across some grits. After making tha girls a traditional cheese grits (i.e. with cheddar), I set to thinking: "if grits combine so well with salt and fat in the form of country ham or sauteed shrimp with lots of butter, why not smoked salmon and cream cheese?"
So I tried it this morning. Works fine. To charge $12 for it in a restaurant all you need is some adjectives ("artisanal", "organic"), and substitute creme fraiche for the cream cheese and top with fresh dill.
Thursday, July 30, 2009
Stuck here alone in Princeton as the family has gone to Larchmont to deal with sad events, of which there will be news in due time.
Right now I'm waiting for this big hispanic guy, John, husband of Kathy, who babysits here in the hood. John works in a garage, and in his spare time he drives around and collects scrap. And boy do we have that for him...
Flash back 3 years or so, when Anne and another John were moving from an 80s colonial to a more manageable 70s ranch over on the lake with an apartment for their special needs child, approaching his/her 20s. In their basement they had a treadmill, which Anne proferred to Mary on the cheap. Here's the post about moving the heavy thing into the house and disfiguring our lovely stairs.
So, a thousand days and nights on, how many times did we use the damned thing? 15? 20? Not much more. Global warming and the concomitant warm winters have helped, but so has general lassitude and the siren call of the Fox Soccer Channel, which calls my name all too often. And John will come with his F150 and, with the help of David across the street, we will haul this heavy bitch down from the 3rd floor to the street, without marring this house which will soon pass into the hands of others. My shoulders are pre-knotted in anticipation.
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
I recently dropped a note on Facebook to someone somewhat famous in literary circles, telling him/her that I had gone and read his/her big book (winner of a big prize in its day) and found it very rewarding and instructive -- which was true. I won't delve into more detail.
Today I note that this same person has expressed -- again on Facebook -- considerable glee to have been said (in print) to have been on the bedside table of another Notable Author type. So I guess that shows that even when you're famous, your ego still particularly appreciates being stroked in public, rather than in private.
At long last we have given in and installed the air conditioners in all windows. I have spent the days going up and down stairs carrying heavy stuff from the third floor down, the basement up, stuff to the curb or to the shed, all over. Calves and quads showing signs of crampage.
This is what they call aging, I believe.
At least the grey hair means that, twice within recent weeks, tween or teen girls have said I look like George Clooney which -- while not true -- I can live with.
Saturday, July 25, 2009
Natalie and I took in the new Harry Potter movie, the 5th book, The Half-Blood Prince. In it, Harry and his crew are progressing well into puberty, making out ('mugging"?) and coupling up prodigiously. Natalie, in all her glorious tweendom at the age of 9 and 2 months, smiled sheepishly and blushed during the romance scenes.
And then, at the end, the untimely death of Dumbledore, and she turned her head away from me to conceal the fact that she was crying, she who has done her damnedest to conceal any emotion she might be feeling about the fact that her grandfather is in hospice care. I'm just getting to know this Harry Potter thing and I cried, and I knew exactly what it was about.
She was also indignant about places where the movie deviated from the plot of the book, which took me back.
Friday, July 24, 2009
Tim Collins is an interesting choice for the Citigroup board. The swashbuckling story of Ripplewood, JC Flowers, Volcker and how they restructured LTCB into Shinsei was one of a big quick buck for our private equity guys and some dispersion of keiretsu murkiness. But now that Shinsei has stumbled into a proposed merger with Aozora, is it clear that they did unequivocably good work? Is he really the right guy for a long-term salvation of what is -- after all -- 35% ours? Or is he a value extractor first and foremost?
I read Gillian Tett's book on Shinsei and then I heard Collins speak once in 2005. Smart guy, but sort of self-involved and not someone who gave the appearance that he would be overly concerned with safeguarding shareholder (i.e. taxpayer) interests. Other than that I don't know.
BofA sent me an offer of free Accidental Dismemberment and Death Insurance with the option (imagine that!) of buying up more. Coverage is through the Hartford. For kicks, I read through it a little bit:
The Hartford will not pay more than the Principal Suim for all Losses due to the same accident. Loss means, with regard to hands and feet, actual severance through or above wrist or ankle joints; with regard to sight, speech, or hearing, entire and irrecoverable loss thereof; with regard to thumb and index finger, actual severance through or above the metacarpophalangeal joints.
You just gotta love lawyers for keeping it all straight for us.
Thursday, July 23, 2009
Today, Marx's The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon. But before I do that, lets transcribe the classic opening coda just for safekeeping.
Hegel remarks somewhere that all facts and personages of great importance in world history occur, as it were, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second as farce.He may not have ended up redefining political economy, but the guy could bust a rhyme here and there.
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
The story of Henry Louis "Skip" Gates being arrested in his own home is all over the blogosphere, and rightly so. I normally don't pick this kind of thing up, but it is ridiculous. Some neighbor called in a report of "two black men forcing the door"? Like she had never noticed he was black before?
In truth, he ain't no Wesley Snipes or Charley "Midnight" Murphy in terms of depth of skin tone, but he is distinctly a black man, and a frickin world-famous one at that. If he were my neighbor, I would know.
Now, it's possible that -- like my actual neighbor, Toni Morrison -- he doesn't spend any time at this particular residence. But still, everybody would know he lived there. Even in Cambridge.
Monday, July 20, 2009
It seems a lot of people are getting all lathered up about Goldman Sachs and Matt Taibbi's Rolling Stone piece about it, specifically. There's more than a dollop of anti-semitism at work here, and since I did a little digging for some posts on a thread elsewhere on the internet, I might as well recirculate it here. The key bit is that Taibbi likens Goldman Sachs to a "blood-sucking squid."
The blood-sucking squid metaphor shows a little originality on Taibbi's part, but deviates only slightly from the image of the "Symbolic Snake of Judaism" promulgated in the apocryphal Protocols of the Elders of Zion which have served as one of the grounding texts of anti-semitism since their initial publication in turn of the century Russia. See this, for instance:
"These learned men decided by peaceful means to conquer the world for Zion with the slyness of the Symbolic Snake, whose head was to represent those who have been initiated into the plans of the Jewish administration, and the body of the Snake to represent the Jewish people - the administration was always kept secret, EVEN FROM THE JEWISH NATION ITSELF. As this Snake penetrated into the hearts of the nations which it encountered it undermined and devoured all the non-Jewish power of these States"and also, further on:
"In all corners of the earth the words "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity," brought to our ranks, thanks to our blind agents, whole legions who bore our banners with enthusiasm. And all the time these words were canker-worms at work boring into the well-being of the GOYIM, putting an end everywhere to peace, quiet, solidarity and destroying all the foundations of the GOY States."And why does Taibbi situate himself in this tradition? Because he's ambitious and he's out to make a bigger name for himself as a journalist. Taibbi was one of the editors of The Exile in Moscow in the 90s, a zine run by frat boys on steroids that made its name mixing serious exposes of Yeltsin-era crime and politics with celebrating an emigre culture of abusing drugs and cheap street whores.
Taibbi is a classic bad boy run amok, but he hasn't done any real legwork on this one.