Friday, January 29, 2010

Grahamisms du jour

  • As we were stacking our half cord of wood, Graham says to Mary:  "This is just like in the olden times, when everyone would gather whale blubber"
  • After collecting some kindling, Graham referred to it as "kindlington"
  • In discussion with Natalie, Graham declared that it was the Marx brothers who were the first to fly a plane
You really can't make this stuff up

On Greece

For those of you who are monitoring the debt crisis in Greece, let me direct you to the posts from my trip to Greece in the September '08 (yes, that month).  It was mildly portentious.

Greek television
Checking out of hotel
Day 1

See also this, written as if in another century.

GSE regulators

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Dealing with the press

In my new capacity of industry analyst, I have occasion to talk to the press not infrequently.  It has been an illuminating experience.  Years ago, I was working on a project for a major newspaper publisher where my firm was writing software for placing ads in the paper, and I was writing a small program (my one and only attempt at being a programmer) to test the bigger application.  In so doing I learned that the newspaper ad salespeople referred to the content of the paper as the "news hole," and that newspapers are all about selling ads.

Now that I am in the position of providing journallists with content, I see that the hole metaphor is entirely apt.  Journalists will call you up looking for answer X.  "Do you think X is true?"  And you say "Oh yes, X is very true."  And then your name appears in the press, as if by magic.

Sometimes I will take some time to think about X and consider why X might be true, what might be some of its preconditions, or what we may from X's awesome trueness.  I may share these musings with the journalist, who will run off and print that I said the X was very true indeed.

If you write a press release, the press may read it and restate this or that ever so slightly, and print it.  Or they may just print it.  I guess that's why they call it a release.  If you put numbers in a report, they will definitely print those, often without even reading the caveats.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Big day

Rarely are days as packed with potentially market-moving news as this one:

  • Geithner goes before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee to talk about AIG.  Personally, I'm sick of the whole thing.  Congress likes to hover over AIG and Goldman because it stirs up populist sentiment which makes them feel important.  Rarely in human history have people worked under as much pressure as the Treasury, Fed, New York Fed, and others did in the fall of 2008.  Did they fuck up some?  Sure they did.  We got through it.

    I'm beginning to think Goldman is like Iraq after 9/11.  Definitely some shady shit went down there.  But is Goldman the primary cause?  No.  Just like after 9/11, we had to hit back somewhere.  Nonetheless, the optimal resolution is for GS and Blankfein to offer a haircut to the government now:  give back $1-1.5 bln to Treasury in recognition of the extraordinary circumstances of last fall.  Show leadership.

  • Bernanke cloture vote.  Is that even happening today?  It was supposed to but has dropped off the radar;
  • Federal Open Markets Committee.  What will they say about QE and rates?
  • State of the Union Address.  Can Obama build momentum and trust again?  (I hope so).  I will watch, despite good Premier League action on FSC.
  • Continued expansion of Toyota recall:  clearly good news for Ford, Honda, Hyundai.  Can GM also capitalize?
  • If the markets can stay stable and the markets close within .5% of where they start, that's good.  There's a risk the dow goes below 10,000 today, which is actually fine from and end of month 401k contribution perspective.

  • In a positive indicator, Carolina beat State on the road last night.  Glad to see it. 

Monday, January 25, 2010

Too big to fail?

Andrew Ross Sorkin's book Too Big to Fail has been praised pretty much by everyone as the definitive book on the credit crisis. All I can say is that, if this is the case, I'm glad I haven't wasted my time on any of the other ones. Because for the first 100-odd pages I haven't really learned much that I hadn't read elsewhere except that Dick Fuld was really loyal and that his good buddy Joe Gregory probably wasn't cut out to be #2 at a big investment bank and that Erin Callan also wasn't the best choice for CFO. But I don't really care about that.

I already knew Stan O'Neal had a great rags to riches story and was an asshole and I knew that Henry Paulson was an environmentalist. OK, I didn't know he drove a Prius, but I don't really care about that either.

So I'm taking time off for Eric Ambler's A Coffin for Dimitrios.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Mild day

Graham and I went looking for deer prints down by the creek and found no fewer than eight of them. Later, after tetherball with Natalie, I returned to a project begun for Leslie's wedding reception in 1990 and since delayed a little: building a rock wall along the edge of the property in a shameless pseudo-Connecticut affectation. Carrying those dogies up the hill is no joke. This will continue to be a slow burn project, but it will move forward nonetheless.

Was trying to think of something to write but then noticed that Tottenham Hotspurs are taking on Leeds on the Fox Soccer Channel, Murdoch's great contribution to American culture. More later.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Speedy Gonzales

It is astonishing that Obama should move so quickly and so transparently in response to the election of Scott Brown in Massachusetts to attack investment banks cum bank/holding companies for blending proprietary trading and more traditional banking functions. Everybody predicted that he would have to kowtow to populists and make this move if the senate supermajority was lost.

The fact is, working through these contradictions in the banking system should have been the focus of his first year in office. It shouldn't have needed to be a knee-jerk reaction to apparent failure on another front. Rahm Emanuel's cynical evocation of Milton Friedman and Naomi Klein's shock doctrine ("never waste a good crisis") took the Democrats off course from where they needed to be.

A careful and considered reevaluation of financial regulation could have been more easily followed with a measured advancement of health care reform, conceivably with less injury to the Democratic agenda as a whole. We may hope that Obama will battle back to fulfill his promise of being a truly awesome and excellent president. Dropping a surprise bomb on Wall St, even if it contains the right explosives, is a little risky.

More of cousin

This picture should give you a good idea of what Natalie thinks of her cousin Caroline.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Tiny little Nightingale

In keeping with our recent theme of women singing on stage, here's Natalie (and Margaret) in last summer's production of The Nightingale.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Singing her heart out

This came off well on the big screen, still a pretty intense tune.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

A chip

I will confess to paternal pride when told of how Graham is viewed as a general authority on a wide range of questions in his kindergarden class. He's been out sick for much of the last week with something (bronchitis?). Apparently, the teacher was asking the kids why you could see your breath when it was cold outside and nobody had the answer. Then someone said "I wish Graham was here, he would know."

Aid to Haiti

Everyone is coming out of the woodwork urging relief for Haiti. I gave some today too. Here's how I did it.

First, I went to GiveWell, a new service which does due diligence on and rates charities in terms of their efficacy in getting money to their stated causes, their transparency, and other metrics. There I found a charity called Partners in Health that is on its rather short list of top-rated charities.

Then I went to Network For Good, a website that lets you aggregate the recordkeeping of your charitable giving for tax time, and generally serves as a conduit for giving. On their front page I saw that Partners in Health was listed as a popular organization providing direct relief to Haiti. I donated money to them over NFG's platform, and tacked on a surcharge for NFG to keep them going.

I'm not certain that GiveWell's ratings are perfect, but they seem pretty dedicated to their mission. Network For Good I like, though clearly their servers are having some difficulty handling high volume days like today.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

I think I'm in love

What more is there to say.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Stuyvesant / Peter Cooper two-step

Is it just me, or did BlackRock and Tishman/Speyer's decision to default on debt payments coming due over the real estate deal of the century in the East Village smell funny. Coming on the heels of Ecuador's decision to thumb its nose at its creditors in December of 2008, the Federal government's decision to interject the UAW in front of more senior creditors in the GM bankrupcy negotiations, and the new fad for walking away from underwater mortgages, there's a whole new culture of debt repudiation coming round.

BlackRock and Tishman Speyer couldn't come up with the dough? I don't know about T S, but BlackRock? What, are they strung out from the Barclay's Global Advisors acquisition? Come on, Black Rock sitteth at the right hand of the Fedder in every matter these days. They just decided it didn't suit them to own up to this clusterfuck of a deal. A whimper rather than a bang.

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Hazard of Love

Incredible stuff. Be sure to listen to the end if the harpichord stuff doesn't float your boat.

Newsflash: A little digging shows that the star of this song, Shara Worden, isn't even a member of the band. She's a guest. Whoops! Never want to have a guest blow the hosts right out of the water. Still, the band has merits.

Friday, January 08, 2010

For TED?

Was talking to Tom last night at the bar of Lantern, hearing his war stories from the TED conference, thinking how cool it would be to go. So he tells me you have to write a short essay to get in and I think: what would I write?

The best I could do, really, would be to pull excerpts from this blog, anecdotes about people I've met or observed here or there, the woman on the train instructing her 14-year old daughter about cash management and the importance of customers, Oleg's grandfather Senya telling us how cold it was on Red Square on Great October day, 1941, as the troops headed out to face the Nazis. Because in the end people are really the most interesting thing, the fabric of existence. And yes, the trends and themes that hold them together, the commonalities and identifications are what make it possible to cohere, but it's the delicate interplay of the particular and the general that form the warp and woof.

Pseudo-Zen / Taoist afficionados often wax lyrical about "being in the moment," appreciating where you are, air you're breathing, landscapes, whatnot. I would refine that to "being in the social moment." Appreciating who you're talking to and the way in which they present otherness to you, the simultaneous variety and continuity of human experience. That's where it's at.

So, for instance, last night before heading up town to see Reardon I was lying in the upper bunk (with her in the lower one, of course, as she's long past snuggling) of Natalie's bunk bed, in the same room that used to be Leslie's, half-reading her Wizardology book, leaning against her big stuffed tiger, looking up at crap she and her friends have been smudging on the ceiling, really quite at ease. And then I go and hear Tom's stories of sparring with Roubini and Taleb, Gates and Brin at TED and I'm sucked into the glamor of it all for a moment, but then recall the warmth of the upper bunk.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

The Marlboro Man

On my floor in my building there is one guy who still smokes. In his late 40s, he looks a little bit like Seinfeld's neighbor Newman -- both hair and shape-wise -- and drives a Mercury Marquis into our lot full of Prii and Minis. I recently saw him carrying a twelver of Tab out of his car. No slave to fashion he.

He indulges the evil weed (and I must admit I'm jealous) out on the open-air second floor staircase landing. A few weeks ago he plugged in a space heater and ran the cord out the door, presumably to keep his feetsies warm. He left the heater on, and the cord kept the door propped open. He did not persist in this habit for long, presumably being brought low by the spoken or silent pressure of his peers.

I am somehow inspired by this guy in his quixotic attempts to shrug off the norms of society. However, given his predilections, one suspects that his ride off into the sunset will not be slow.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Open, soon to be closed

I will confess that I was excited by the advance press for Andre Agassi's Open. I like the guy, his comeback-ness, his bald stylings, the way he strikes the ball on the rise. Not as interesting to watch as McEnroe, but considerably more so than all these tall server dudes.

So I put the book on my Amazon list and got it as an Xmas present (thanks, Rog), and open and read it. By now, I'm 2/3rds of the way through the thing and pretty much sick of it and his gee whiz gollie "I'm a victim, but a good guy, I've just been so misunderstood" stylings. OK, I can see how marrying Brooke Shields was a mistake and how he would have sensed it as the church bells were ringing but couldn't back out. OK. I get that both his dad and Nick Bolletieri are jerks. OK. I understand how he chooses alternate father figures. Great. He founds a school in Vegas for poor kids and really grooves on helping people. That I really believe and find infectious, even if the ghost writer is a little ham-handed.

But spare me the details of how he conquered Stephanie Graf by whipping off his shirt during an initial practice session while hardly on the rebound from Brooke Shields. Somewhere in there the guy just needs to dial it back and show a little circumspection.

By now I'm just finishing the book because it's so featherweight and it feels good to finish books. Probably a bad instinct. Better to move on to an actually good book.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

A nod to Prince

I saw some stats attributed to the Insurance Retirement Institute in the Journal yesterday and I thought "what's that? An insurance industry association I've never heard of?" Really should be no shock, as the acronym soup is thick in the insurance world, but I looked it up anyway. And what did I discover?

The Insured Retirement Institute, the variable annuity trade group formerly known as NAVA...
I.e. National Association of Variable Annuities, which I remembered from bygone days as the kind of association that would have a former President (to wit, Gerald Ford) come and speak as a member of a panel, not even as keynote (I think Giuliani had that honor that year, probably 2003). Which is to say, it's an organization with a lot of money behind it. So why did it change its name? Too many hookers at the convention?

addendum: A little sleuthing shows that NAVA's complete rebranding dates to July of '09. Undoubtedly the group wanted to distance itself from pure play variable annuities, as the minimum guarantees associated with the most popular flavors of these little products were so detrimental to the financial health of such TARP recipients as the Hartford and Lincoln Financial, as well as ING, CIGNA, and a number of others. Variable life and annuity sales have fallen through the floor in 2009, so it seemed wise to wipe the slate clean and start all over! Good work guys!

Monday, January 04, 2010

New shoes

Mary and the kids went to the shoe store today. Graham totally needed new sneakers, as his old ones were pretty literally falling apart. Also because, as it turns out, all the boys in his gang had ones with flashing lights except for him. No longer does he lag behind his peers, I will tell you, because his now flash a good number of colors.

Natalie, on the other hand, has some perfectly decent New Balance sneakers. But now, as she has cruised right past the age of nine-and-a-half, she's venturing into the pure years of pre-tweendom where multiple pairs of shoes are very much in order, and she's been outfitted with a pair of aquamarine lo-top Chuck Taylors. Gotta love it.