Friday, March 27, 2009

They're watching you Debra

I think of Deb every time I see one of these articles about the increasing use of cameras to monitor traffic and neighborhoods and in school buses and public bathrooms and the changing rooms at Walmart and such. I'm just kidding about the public bathrooms and the changing rooms - I think. The authorities monitor behavior in public bathrooms with undercover cops, and Walmart probably monitors its changing rooms with geezers too frail to put up front where they might be trampelled in a shopper stampede. But they might be using cameras and we don't know about it because they haven't been caught yet.

I think this camera thing is a good idea; but it doesn't go far enough. Imagine how much more efficient government offices and school classrooms would be if the bureaucrats and teachers knew they were being watched and recorded full time. But we would have to be careful not to hurt the economy. The fall-off of donut sales near police stations would be dramatic and might put Dunkin Donuts out of business; and the sudden rise in demand for gas might drive up prices if all the ghost employees at the various national and state bureaucracies actually started having to show up for work. Also, imagine the stress on the supervisors at the Department of Labor and the Department of Education if they suddenly had to start showing up and also had to find make-work for all the sons and daughters and nephews and mistresses of the various Congresscritters so they would look busy on the videotapes. Claims for disability might skyrocket.

On the other hand, imagine the positive effects on the economy. The feed from a webcam trained on Michelle Obama's new vegetable garden behind the White House, for instance, would probably become an instant hit and generate lots of advertising dollars to help support the government. Imagine the sudden rise in the sales of seeds as everybody rushed out to get what they need to plant what Michelle is planting as she flexes those fine toned arms of hers that the press has been all in a tizzy about.

The public would also learn lots of important information as well if there was a camera focussed on Michelle's garden. For instance, does Michelle use a stoop hoe or a long handled hoe; or does she use those little ergonomic stainless steel trowels and rakes and dibbles that they sell at Smith & Hawken; you know, the kind of tools that look like they were designed by Buckminster Fuller and cost like $39.95 each? And when she picks her vegetables later in the year; will Michelle use one of the baskets that you get when somebody gives you a Harry & David Christmas assortment, the way I do; or will she use a faux Hopi or Navajo basket like those they sell at Williams and Sonoma when she picks her arugula? The boost in sales of gardening equipment and supplies could be immense if the public knew these things.

And then there are the questions pertaining to fertilization and soil amendment. Does Michelle use cow manure or does she use horse manure? Does she shovel the manure into a 55 gallon drum and then fill the drum with water so she can feed each heirloom tomato plant with a little cup of tea, the way Grandpop L used to do? Or does she bury a little fish with each corn seed the way the Indians taught Pilgrims to do before the Pilgrims figured they knew enough and drove all the Indians away? Does Michelle have a mulch heap like I do behind the house, or did the President buy her one of those fancy $179.95 rotating drum compost things that claims to make good compost out of kitchen scraps and lawn clippings in 30 days? Imagine the amount of potential mulch that must be generated by the White House kitchen when they throw those big dinners for all the third world dictators who visit.

And then there's pest control. Is Michelle planning to squish those big green worms between her thumb and forefinger if she finds them on her tomato plants? Will she have a tick can half filled with water like Pop used to have to drop the ticks into if she gets one on her while she's gardening, or if the girls find a fat tick on their dog? Or is Michelle going to teach her girls to gently return the tomato worms and the ticks to the wild the way the PETA folks would no doubt prefer?

These are the crucial questions to which the public needs answers every bit as much as the Limerick police need to know whether Deb comes to a full honest to God stop at the stop sign on Ridge Pike when she goes to work in the morning.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Dancing, Dancing With The Stars, and the dog show syndrome

Jas told me yesterday that Hobbs was viciously attacked by a pit bull while he was innocently performing his duty of taking Sam out for a walk. The pit bull viciously chewed up Hobbs' tail despite Sam's valiant efforts to drive him off.

Now, unless you happen to be a groundhog, you know Hobbs to be the very model of an even tempered, well adjusted and peaceable canine, exceptionally well suited for his role as Sam's minder when he's out of sight of Deb. Hobbs is very different from the sort of high strung, overspecialized and neurotic dogs that are being bred by upper class twits to win dog shows. Pit bulls are an example of the kinds of dogs bred in the past by lower class twits to win the kind of dog shows that predominated back in the age when bull and bear baiting and dog fighting to the death were the cultural equivalent of Dancing With the Stars.

In short, Hobbs is a good all-purpose dog while pit bulls are bad single-purpose dogs. Just as Jas and Kathy are good dancers and dance instructors while the sort of neuroticly grinning high kickers who teach and dance with the stars on Dancing With the Stars are bad dancers and worse dance instructors. The Dancing With the Stars instructors and the kind of folks who win dance competitions are the pit bulls and ridiculously over-grinning, over-coiffed, over pampered, over-bred, under-dressed, over-specialized poodles of the dance world. Not that there's anything wrong with that, except that the preposterous poodles and steoidal pit bulls are taken out of their properly fenced dog runs and inevitably escape the leash.

On Saturday evening Linda and I went to the Ballroom on High for its second anniversary dance. The first hour of the evening was given over to dance demonstrations that ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous. Jas and Kathy did a real Bolero. A western style couple did a real Two Step and some other country style dances. A swing guy did a real Lindy Hop, which is sort of a jitterbug on steroids. Lin Kettenberg and her husband did a real Foxtrot. All were sublimely better at those dances than any of us ordinary social dancers in the audience who dance for fun and exercise will ever get. But what made them sublime was that they were real; the level of their skill was within range of what we clodhopper social dancers can imagine as being within the range of the possible and desirable.

Interspersed with the real dancers listed above were others who "danced" in the manner of the sort of overbred Chihuahuas and Corgis and Schnauzers and Dachshunds who instruct the stars on Dancing With the Stars in the kind of "dancing" that's more suited to comparison with a performance by the Flying Wallendas or the Chinese National Acrobatic Troup than with a genuine social ballroom dance.

That wouldn't be a problem except for the fact that Jas and Kathy are planning to abandon us and move to Florida. And Farrell plans to turn over their teaching slot to a pair of haughty, overtrained Pit Bulls whose artificial international ballroom competition grins are a cover for their genetic predisposition to bite the tails off us clodhoppers and thus ruin the Wednesday night social dance lesson that we and the other social dancers enjoy.

We had a great time on Saturday night; but it's sad that the event also contained the clear message that the Wednesday night dance lessons will soon go the way of all good things once the "professionals" take over.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Our Brave New World and a change in my understanding of mark to market accounting

When I went to the AOL site this morning to get my email I found a new feature that's like the home price estimator at Having nothing better to do, because corporate recruiters are still among the unneeded and undervalued if not toxic assets of this economy, I clicked on it.

No surprise in the valuation. Our home is now estimated at $330,000, down about 30% from the $470,000 that zillow was estimating it at the very peak of the real estate boom valuations in July of 2007. What was really interesting is that AOL Real Estate has a much better satellite or aerial photo of our home and lot than the one I last saw on zillow a few months ago, and I can almost precisely date that photo.

That photo, a very clear one, shows the redbuds and the crabapples in bloom and my garden as a rectangle. It also shows the big hybrid poplar nearest the house, a tree we had removed in 2006, still in place. Finally, it shows the white plastic recliner out on the lawn in the sun. So it has to have been taken in the late Spring, about mid May, of 2005, almost surely on a Saturday or Sunday since I was working pretty intensively on the weekdays during that period. We all still thought real estate values would rise forever and the biggest business problem at my contract employer was the difficulty of continuing to hire enough new people to expand fast enough to ensure that the other commercial mortgage companies would never catch up in our specialized market niche.

First off, what a brave new technological world we live in. A couple of clicks and I'm looking at an image of our house and lot from above, an image clear enough so I would probably be able make a good guess at the tee shirt I was wearing if I had been in the recliner when it was taken. I think that image is from a stitched together pastiche of aerial photos rather than from a satellite photo. The implication is that the entire country, if not the world, is now imaged at a resolution of about a foot and searchable. Somewhere, some biology graduate student who knows that polar bears do not shit in the woods is counting the brown blobs on the snow and writing a paper on how many craps a polar bear took last week and how far apart they are. Somewhere else, someone with different interests is occasionally stumbling across a picture of a California or Florida swimming pool owner who thought he or she could take a dip in the nude in total privacy.

But enough of that line of thought. I have serious quibbles with the rather simplistic calculation assumptions that zillow and now AOL make about home values. Our home, for instance, appears to be valued almost soley on the basis of its square footage and bedroom and bathroom count. The system they both use assigns little or no value to the land that our home sits on, a much larger and infinitely more private lot than those of the houses presented as comparables. This is only natural because it's no doubt impossible, at least now, to put a value on purely esthetic factors, But the AOL valuation also misses the potential for subdivision of our five acre home lot.

Which brings me to my other point. The other day I asserted that the value of something is simply what someone is willing to pay for the thing. On Commentary Magazine's Contentions blog yesterday I came across a comment that made me recognize a slight wrinkle that I hadn't considered which is perfectly demonstrated by my reaction to AOL's valuation of our house. We, the owners, have a better understanding of both intangible and tangible factors that go into the value of our house. We know that the privacy has great value to us, if not to others in the general marketplace; and we also know that the lot is subdividable.

So there is no way we would trade our house and its lot for one of the comparable houses worth $370,000. As the commenter on Contentions correctly pointed out, accounting for value has to take into consideration the price at which the owner of an asset would be willing to sell it as well as the price at which some other party would be willing to buy it. And for thinly traded assets that bid versus asked spread can be pretty wide. For our home, for instance, the bid versus asked spread is more than the current bid price, at least as simplistically arrived at by zillow and AOL. We might sell if someone showed up tomorrow with a check for double the valuation on AOL; but I'm not sure. Even putting aside the pretty tangible value of subdivision we might not sell. Linda and I both like the pond and the privacy a lot.

So we're back to this question of mark to market accounting. The banks unwilling to sell those so called toxic assets at current bid prices presumably understand those assets somewhat better than the potential buyers do. Hence, the toxic assets are worth more than the bid price as I asserted the other day; but how much more? The mere fact that my best answer to that question is "Who knows?" says that this question of mark to market accounting is more complex than I asserted the other day.

Do bankers know the value of the assets in their vaults? Do bears shit in the woods? Do Californians and Floridians swim in the nude?

Not always.

And - in somewhat related news, here's a 3 minute speech by a member of the European Union parliament that's fantastic. We should offer this guy citizenship and elect him to our congress. It would be refreshing to have one politician down in Washington who makes sense.

"You cannot borrow yourself out of debt."

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Bernie Madoff did some good

As usual most people are talking only about the negative vibes; but Bernie Madoff did this architect and his wife a big favor. These lunatics believe living uncomfortably can help people live longer and better and they designed houses to keep life annoying; so Bernie probably prolonged their life by stealing all their money.


Monday, March 23, 2009

Give me a lever and a place to stand and I will move the world

Give me a lever long enough and a strong enough fulcrum and I will move the world. . . or at least a wayward tractor.

There is nothing quite so pleasing as a plan that works straightforwardly since plans mostly don't work without a great deal of fussing, if they work at all. The other day my dumb tractor went and got itself stuck over in the sewer easement just before Linda and I needed to get ready to go up to Pottstown to watch the dance demos and then strut our somewhat less impressive waltz, rumba, foxtrot, jitterbug and west coast swing stuff at the Ballroom on High. As a result the tractor spent its first night all alone in the woods in twenty five years, pitched down at about a 40% angle with its front wheels half buried in mud. Why the darn thing let me drive it down that slope is a mystery. It should have known it wouldn't have the traction to pull itself back up that muddy slope.

Anyway, it was the first time I've ever failed to retrieve the thing from its folly on my own. After past incidents I've always managed to get it out of trouble with a mere hour or two, or four, of individual effort, even that time it got itself wedged under. . . well, perhaps I'd best not go into that. . . Linda reads this blog.

Anyway, I went over to Sears while Linda was cooking dinner to get a second come-along. I already have a come-along that's rated at a ton; but that one ton rating presumes a certain amount of arm strength to apply to the 18 inch or so long lever. Back in the old days, when I used to do real pushups instead of sissy from the knee pushups, me and the come-along probably pulled a ton; but now maybe not so much. And I don't have a pipe that will fit over the handle lever. Memo to self - get a 36 inch length of pipe with an inside diameter greater than two inches. Faced with half the arm strength, one must double the lever length. Maybe I ought to look for a 48 inch long pipe. The ability to project future conditions and plan for them is the very height of what makes us human.

Anyway go figure, the Sears Hardware store up on Route 29 no longer sells come-alongs. What good is a hardware store that doesn't sell essential pieces of hardware? They still sell one and two ton car jacks for surprisingly reasonable prices. Even given that I would have also had to buy a second long length of chain to use with the car jack the total would still have been lots less than the cost of hiring someone with a four wheel drive tow truck capable of getting to where the tractor spent the night. But using a car jack in tandem with the come-along would have meant a lot of carrying of stuff out into the woods and a lot of careful fussing with the rigging because of the push rather than pull design of a car jack, and because of its very short working travel. A lot of fussing.

So I bit the bullet and asked Jas to come over on Sunday morning for a try at doing it the straightforward way with the one come-along. By great good luck there was a decent sized tree across the sewer easement directly behind and not more than thirty feet from the rear of the tractor. An easy reach for my existing length of chain and the cable of the come-along.

Lo and behold, with a skeptical Jas working the come-along and me running the tractor after jamming a couple of lengths of rug under its rear wheels, we retrieved the beast from the muck and mire within fifteen minutes or so.

"That's a real lesson in applied physics," Jas commented. When something works cleanly it's really satisfying. We celebrated over coffee and talked of the ballroom dance demos of the night before. Have I mentioned that Jas and Kathy wowed the crowd with their Bolero demo? There were flashier, much more athletic and choreographed pairs; but Jas and Kathy and a few others showed what ordinary people can do if they practice, practice, practice.

Jas and I also talked about our Saturday morning pinochle game with Sam. And we talked about Al R, and Florida home prices, and the news I heard that one of my acquaintances, a seemingly judicious fellow, on the fancy neighborhood side is suddenly facing bankruptcy because he got himself overextended in real estate development, and the upcoming trip to The Villages in late April early May. Sam was meanwhile out on the golf course, no doubt blissfully unaware that the handle of a golf club is nothing but a long lever and all the club heads are wedges of varying pitch.
Later in the day I successfully guided the much chastened and distinctly less adventurous tractor over to the old house on Route 29 where I ran into Dan K. I mentioned to Dan that my third option had been to call him and ask if he has a come-along, which it turns out he does, of course, like any sensible person. How do people get through life without essential tools? What do they do after they pick themselves up and check their extremities and their heart stops pounding to find that the tractor has not been so lucky and is a bit wedged under the tree that perversely fell the wrong way?

Anyway, Dan proudly showed me his growing pile of firewood, maybe ten cords so far. Top quality stuff because he's been cutting big oaks and cherries and chestnuts. He's also been been
patiently splitting, doing real yeoman work, ever since he got laid off a couple of months ago, with the work accelerating since his brother got laid off a couple of weeks ago. He also ripped a few really impressive quarter sawn slabs from the four foot or so in diameter oak at the back of their property. Those slabs should be worth a pretty penny if there is still anyone around here who does real furniture making.

Dan told me cured firewood is already up to over $200 per cord. I reiterated that he's welcome to cut at will along the tree line dividing our properties. There are three pretty big trees, one maple, one cherry and one chestnut, up there along the border near Route 29 that are ripe for taking. I suspect he's going to get even more than $200 a cord next year when the wood is cured, maybe a lot more if the government is insane enough to pass some version of cap and trade in the middle of a recession. Cap and trade will drive up electricity, oil and gas prices maybe thirty or forty percent.

Dan has also increased the size of his garden maybe fivefold for this year. He has me wondering whether I should increase the diameter of my garden. The S's who live in Mom and Pop's old house have a pretty good sized pile of horse manure that's there for the taking. Next weekend I'll retrieve a scoop load for my garden and one or two loads to drop off for Dan. Maybe I'll deliver the loads to Dan first. The tractor route across the marshland will get iffy once we start getting spring rains which are late this year. In a pinch I can take the tractor around the long way to Dan's via the roads; which does have the advantage of irritating and shocking the impatient yuppy drivers, especially when one does it with a load like manure which tends to dribble out of the tractor bucket a bit.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Why shouldn't casinos get stimulus money

Senator Harry Reid of Nevada is very concerned that the nasty Republicans added an amendment to the "stimulus" bill preventing casinos from sharing in the great deluge of our tax dollars that are being strewn around the country. This article doesn't say it, but it's probable Senator Reid also wants stimulus dollars for his favorite cathouses. If the manufacturers of cute little whips and the banks that finance them can get stimulus money, why can't casinos and cathouses get it?

Casinos and cathouses are important parts of the economy of Nevada. They provide tens of thousands of good jobs, they almost singlehandedly support the towel laundry services, and they funnel millions in "contributions" to Senator Reid. The good senator uses the casino bribes to get elected so he can continue to do good for the people. He mostly takes his cathouse bribes in trade because it's important that he stay in close touch with his constituents, and he has to remain well stimulated himself so he can deliver what the people of Nevada want and deserve.

Casinos and cat houses are every bit as worthy of stimulus dollars as banks and car companies.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Schrodinger's cat is clawing at the financial system

Who knew that an understanding of quantum mechanics is necessary to be an accountant?

The so called toxic mortgage derivative assets are just like Schroedinger's cat. They have both value and non value until someone opens a bank vault and looks at them, thus causing their value to collapse into a definite state. Once the bank vault door is closed again the value of the assets can only be expressed as a quantum superposition.

In more formal terms, accounting for the assets of the banks must take into account that the psi function of a vault, whenever its door is closed, has in it both value and non value mixed or smeared out in equal parts.

Full disclosure: I got a D in second semester freshman physics at Illinois Tech, so someone at Fermilab or CERN or Princeton's Institute for Advanced Study should probably review this before passing it to Barney Frank, Chris Dodd and the FASB for incorporation into the mark to market accounting rules and the regulations implementing same.'s_cat

Patrick Kinna has died at 95 years old - RIP

If you're at all into history there is nothing quite like the obituaries in the London Telegraph and other English newspapers.

This is a good example. It's the obituary of Patrick Kinna, who was Winston Churchill's private secretary during World War II.

Here's a sample:
"Offered a lift by a general and two staff officers, Kinna sat in the front of the car, with a rifle between his knees which was pointing at the general's head. The general asked if the safety catch was on, and Kinna – who had received no arms training – replied that he had no idea. The car was stopped, and the general examined the weapon to find that the catch was not engaged and there was a live bullet up the spout. Kinna never forgot the dressing-down he received."

The story about what Churchill, naked, said to Franklin Roosevelt when the president surprised him is also great.

And there are others.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The AIG bonus hullabaloo may be a smoke screen

Everybody from President Obama down to pond scum like Barney Frank and Chris Dodd is yelling and screaming about $165 million in bonuses that AIG paid to employees who had contracts guaranteeing them those bonuses.

All this outrage is itself a hypocritical outrage because the stimulus bill that President Obama rushed to sign and that Barney Frank and Chris Dodd rushed through congress contains specific language that seems almost designed to guarantee those bonuses.

But I think this is all a sideshow and perhaps even a consciously designed smoke screen to hide the real thievery. The really interesting question is why everybody is so excited about $165 Million when AIG has already taken in $173 Billion of our money and has been rapidly paying out that money to a whole host of institutions all over the world with barely any transparency.

Here are the key question about this matter that we need an answer to before those tens of billions disappear and are no longer possible to recover.

Who is AIG paying those tens of billions out to? When did those recipients buy the the AIG mortgage derivative guarantees that AIG is paying off on with our money?

I think I saw the other day, for instance, that Goldman Sachs is a big recent recipient of money from AIG and that Goldman Sachs executives helped to design the TARP plan. Did Goldman Sachs buy those derivatives before or after it's executives "helped" Timothy Geithner and Ben Bernanke to design the TARP program?

I'd be willing to bet that there are smart folks out there who bought up AIG insurance guarantees at fire sale prices way below face value because they knew that they could get a little help from their friends in putting the government on the hook to pay off those guarantees at face value.

Update: This guy makes a start at answering the question: I've quoted him below.

During his testimony this week, Fed Chairman Bernanke felt compelled to say, and I quote:
"AIG exploited a huge gap in the regulatory system; there was no oversight of the financial products division. This was a hedge fund basically that was attached to a large and stable insurance company, made huge numbers of irresponsible bets, took huge losses" One knows the folks at Goldman are no fools. Were they going to put good money down for CDS that their counterparty (AIG) might not be able to honor because it made no reserve provisions? Or was the temptation of another big pay day just too tempting not to risk Other People's Money to play the game?
To date we have poured $160 billion into AIG -- this while others see the value of their homes cut in half, the better part of their 401(k)s wiped out, their government services significantly reduced, and other lending institutions diligently try to work out past due credits, taking significant mark-downs and extending due dates to keep industries and corporations alive.
This, as Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley are being covered 100 cents on the dollar on their speculative positions of intrinsically flawed CDS derivatives on which they gorged themselves to the bursting point. It is past time that a distinction be made between that part of AIG's business that was a "large and stable insurance company," and that part that was a "hedge fund," or better put, a casino. So the big question becomes, why should AIG's CDS be paid down 100 cents on the dollar when the rest of the country is taking at or near 50% haircut on the value of its assets?

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

This post is only for diehard Scrabble players

Za is now a valid word according to this article that's in The Wall Street Journal today. So is Qi, which is already in Jas and Kathy's well thumbed Scrabble dictionary. ZZZ is also now a valid word, although you would need to have both blanks to make that word so I don't see much use for it.

Clearly we need to get a new Scrabble dictionary.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Insisting that something is a fresh rose does not make it smell sweet

Last Saturday Sam brought up the question of "mark to market" accounting. Most people have completely avoided learning about mark to market accounting because it seems like one of those complicated subjects that are best left to the boring accountants who wear green eyeshades and garters on their sleeves.

But mark to market accounting is actually very simple. Anybody can understand it. Let's take an example.

If you are wise you have probably been saving some money toward retirement. Over the years that money has been slowly building up and you've been investing it, perhaps in stock market mutual funds. For years and years you were generally pleased with the statements you got from the mutual fund company every three months. Last September you looked at your statement and were pleased to see that the $5,000 you had invested over the years had grown into $10,000 or so in the account. Very pleasing!

But then you got a shock when you looked at your statement in December and found that your account had suddenly shrunk as the stock market went down, and the value was back down to about $5,000. Recognizing that the account is worth what its worth is mark to market accounting. Whether you like it or not the value of your investments is what it is. If you're like me you may be pretty optimistic that the value of the account will go back up again over time; but there's absolutely no sense in trying to pretend the account is still worth $10,000. One of the oldest and simplest rules of life is that an economic asset is worth what someone is willing to pay for it, no more and no less.

Some people don't like that simple rule, so they lie to themselves. They tell themselves that their stock market account is still worth $10,000 even though other people in the market are only willing to pay $5,000 for the stocks in the account. Or they tell themselves that their house is worth $200,000 because their neighbor on the right hand side sold his house for $200,000 a couple of years ago, even though they just talked to their neighbor on the left hand side who has had his house listed on the market for six months and the best offer he's gotten so far is $160,000.

Pretending that your stock market account is still worth $10,000 or your house is still worth $200,000 under such conditions is fantasy accounting. It may feel good; but it makes no sense. It's nothing but lying to yourself.

Timothy Geithner and many of the other big heads down in Washington want to let your neighborhood bank pretend that the stocks and bonds and mortgage derivatives in its vault are still worth what they were worth in September. They want to let the bank lie to you and to its owners and claim that those stocks and bonds and mortgage derivatives are worth what they paid for them. Trust me, those stocks and bonds and derivatives in the bank vault are worth what the bank can sell them for today, just like your retirement fund stocks or your house are worth what you can sell them for today.

The big heads claim that the banks need to pretend because there is "no market" for the mortgage derivatives that many stupid bankers bought and put into their vaults. But that too is a pernicious lie. I can assure you that there is a market for mortgage derivatives because I myself am ready to go to any local bank and inspect the paperwork and make an offer for some of their securities.

I'll go further and guarantee that I'm willing to buy a random selection of the mortgage derivatives in the vault of Citibank or Wells Fargo Bank or even AIG even without the chance to inspect them with no more surety than a notarized letter signed by the person who selects the derivatives and the Chairman, Chief Financial Officer and General Counsel assuring me that the selection is truly random, and I don't know very much about derivatives at all.

Heck, I'm even willing to name a price. I'll pay a hundred bucks for ten billion of face value of the mortgage derivatives in the vaults of any of the banks whose stock is listed on the NYSE, sight unseen, under those simple terms - a random selection. So all you bankers with toxic assets; send me the letter and the random selection of derivatives and I'll send you the hundred bucks. If you don't feel comfortable trusting me for the hundred bucks, send me the notarized letter alone and I'll trust you. Even though I know you have a history of lying I'll send you the hundred bucks even before you send the random selection of derivatives.

Give me a few days to put together a team of a two or three folks who know more about mortgage derivatives than me and I'm very confident that we will be willing to pay more, maybe even a thousand or ten thousand bucks per billion of face value, for derivatives if we can visit the vault of Citibank or Wells Fargo or even AIG and pick the ones we're buying. So don't go on telling me there is no market for mortgage derivatives.

I don't expect to be offered the chance to buy mortgage derivatives at those kinds of prices, of course, because there are lots and lots of other people in the world with much more money and much more knowledge of mortgage derivatives than me. And lots and lots of those people already have staffs of people who can help them evaluate the derivatives on very short notice.

There is a market for the so called "toxic assets" of the banks; but the executives of those banks and the big heads down in Washington don't want to recognize that the prices that market is willing to pay is much less than what they are claiming on their fancy accounting statements.

Monday, March 16, 2009

This would be funny if Barney weren't still giving more billions of our money to AIG

Here's a proposal. How about Barney Frank going back to Massachussetts? His claims that he bears no responsibility for the situation is beyond preposterous. He's the Chairman of the House Banking Committee and his party controls Congress.

Why are Barney Frank and Timothy Geithner and Chris Dodd and President Obama giving more billions to AIG if it's conduct continues to be "outrageous"?

I wonder how big a kickback Barney and Tim and Chris and Barry get out of the billions of our money they give to AIG.

And here's some breaking news. At least we're getting some bang for our buck in the form of good relations and a better image for things American around the world. Germans find President Obama to be so "finger lickin' good"that a company there has started a new product as "a homage to the American lifestyle and the new US president." See the link below.

I checked but could find no data on whether sales of arbuse are up in Germany. Hey, don't go thinking I'm constructing a subtle message here! I'm only reporting on the bare facts, which is the least I can do lest Attorney General Holder should deride me as cowardly.,1518,612684,00.html

Incidently, the sun's still very quiet, which may or may not be good for German arbuse farmers.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Dinner at Delores W's and a stroll through Mr. Rogers Neighborhood

Linda and I just returned from a nice walk through the neighborhood. We took the walk after getting home from the excellent dinner up at Delores W's place in Sanatoga. The owl is hooting out there; but it didn't swoop down on us when we walked out and back in the driveway.

There was great food and great conversation up at Delores' place; the apple and peach pies were particularly noteworthy. But, as sometimes happens, one learns things one perhaps preferred not to know.

For instance, Sam and Marianne admitted that they regularly eat creamed chipped beef on toast. I wish I hadn't learned that. It calls into question everything I think I know about genetics. Sam and Marianne are not only Italians, they are among the last of the purebred Marche'Gians; and now I learn that they willingly eat shit on a shingle.

Sam and I met Charlie A, an 87 year old former B-24 engineer and gunner, in the parking lot. One of his jobs on the B-24 was to crank the ball turret down into position after the little ball turret gunner got into it. Uncle Frank was a ball turret gunner who flew thirty or so missions. The fact that once the ball turret was cranked down he was stuck in that turret with no way to escape until it was cranked up again by the guys like Charlie A in the plane may account for some of his quirks in later life. Charlie A also told us that his grandfather's name was John A.

What are the chances of wandering out into the parking lot of a retirement community and meeting an old fellow riding a little battery powered tricycle who used to crank ball turret gunners down into position and whose grandfather's name was the same as your father's name? Sometimes you get the feeling that you've wandered into Mr. Rogers Neighborhood.

Of course, strange things can and will happen in real life. For instance, I once met a fellow aboard the Enterprise whose name was also Sullivan A. He was a Filipino whose last name came down from Spanish ancestry, not too surprising if you do some thinking about the likely origin of the last name "A". I've always thought that a lot of former Roman legionaries came to be known by some variant of "A" as a last name in honor of their padrino when he arranged for them to get grants of land as a form of retirement pension.

That Filipino fellow and I may well be the only two Sullivan "A"s on earth, assuming he's still alive. What are the chances that perhaps the only two Sullivan "A"s in the whole world once found themselves serving on the same ship at the same time, even if the ship had a crew of about 5,500?

Lest you too quickly toss aside my conjecture about the rarity of Sullivan "A"s: all of the first thirty or so hits on a search for "sullivan a......." on Google refer to me, except for the mistaken hits that lead to folks whose last name is "Sullivan" and whose first name is "A". Go figure. There are apparently lots of people with the last name Sullivan who give their offspring the first name "A", which is interesting of itself; but people with the last name "A" apparently almost never name their offspring Sullivan.

Google did find one lonely reference to a "Gen. Sullivan A....." attending a fundraising dinner; and I've never been a general, so that isn't me. I looked pretty carefully for more references to a "General Sullivan A..." and couldn't find any. I think his name was listed backwards in that dinner announcement.

I think it's possible that there's another Sullivan "A" in the world who has dodged having his name appear on the internet; but I'd be willing to take a bet on very long odds that there is only one Alexander Sullivan "A" in the world. Linda and I didn't set out to do it but I think it's possible we created a new unique name in the history of the human race when we named Alex.

But back to the old bomber crewman on the tricycle; he told us his grandfather was Italian but that he came to this country from France. You should know that Charlie also told us he had forgotten to put his hearing aids in before he jumped on his tricycle for an evening spin, so all facts from our conversation with him are suspect. One thing's for sure. If his grandfather really was an Italian named John A who lived in France I doubt he ever ate shit on a shingle unless he was starving.

During the course of the evening we also learned from Deb that Mr. Rogers wore long sleeved sweaters made by his mother because he had tattoos on his arms from his time in the military. During his time in the military he won the Medal of Honor. That was while he was a Navy Seal.

Snopes has a problem with that set of "facts." Snopes says Mr. Rogers was never in the military, and didn't have tattoos on his arms. Snopes doesn't address the question of whether he had a nice little butterfly tattoo on his buttocks. Snopes also doesn't address the question of whether Mr. Rogers' mom made his sweaters. It does address and debunk the question of whether Mr. Rogers got into doing childrens television because he was assigned to do childrens shows as a result of a conviction for child molestation. Snopes thinks someone started that rumor because of the Mr. McFeely character on the show. It is just a tiny bit odd to our current suspicious sensibilities to have a character named Mr. McFeely on a childrens show.

Snopes says that Mr. Rogers named the character Mr. McFeely because his middle name was "McFeely." Would you trust your kids with a babysitter named McFeely?

But who knows whether Snopes can be trusted. If Big Brother is secretly running things he's certain to have taken firm control of Snopes. He may even have invented Snopes.

A couple thousand years ago Juvenal warned: "Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?" Several hundred years before that Plato also warned about the problem, but I couldn't quickly find his quote; and anyway Plato's quote probably includes characters I can't type here without installing a Greek language symbol pack, which I'm too lazy to do. For the record I couldn't have been sure of accurately quoting the Latin until I looked it up; but I knew the English to use on Google to find the Latin. You'll just have to do the reverse if you want to know what it means. Of course the quote may not be accurately spelled anyway since we only know the quote because it was copied over many times by monks who spoke church Latin that's pronounced very differently from Ceasar's Latin, or at least that's what I understand.

It's a little like that riff by Bert and Ernie on Sesame Street. "You say Tomahtoe and I say Tomato." Caesar said "Keyzzarr" and the Popes said "Seeser", which explains why the world has had Kaisers and Czars instead of Seesers and Seesirs.

But I have digressed. Back to Mr. Rogers, or rather Sam. I don't think Sam has tattoos on his arms either; but I'm not sure because he's always wearing Mr. Rogers type sweaters. This year Sam's been wearing his Mr.Rogers sweaters over a shirt that's just like the top of those old union suit long johns, which led to an unresolved discussion last night about whether Sam was wearing the bottom of the union suit as well.

Turns out I was the only one who remembered that the old union suit bottoms had a back flap which could be unbuttoned so as to make use of the outhouse easier on cold nights. That led to a discussion of outhouses. And that led to remembrance of the Redpeppers picnic since there was an old outhouse at the picnic grounds. That led to us remembering the time Matty drank a whole case of eight ounce sodas at one of the picnics. It also led to us learning that Dave M grew up on a farm that had an outhouse still in use, although the house had an inside bathroom. And I shared the fact that Aunt Mary and Uncle Chick's house next to ours in Norristown still had a functioning outhouse in the early 1950's. There is a picture of me and Medio playing next to the outhouse.

Again with the digressions. Back to Sam. Last year, when we shared a bathroom at Matty's, Sam didn't have tattoos on his arms, and he didn't have a tattoo of a butterfly on his buttocks; but I haven't seen his bare arms or buttocks since then, so only Deb can answer the question of whether he has tattoos on them now. Anything is possible in this Brave New World. I've known that since Joey R and Sonny started showing up at family gatherings wearing earrings.

Update: that giant horned owl is perched high up in the big silver maple down by the creek this morning, swivelling his head around ominously. I think I'll put up my hood when I muster up the energy to walk out the driveway and get the paper. If I had a battery powered tricycle I could ride out there.

This explains my recent losses at Scrabble

It also explains how David came to beat Kathy last week.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

You cannot make this sort of stuff up

Rocket scientists have almost perfected a laser system for killing mosquitos. Once they make it safe for humans and beneficial insects they plan to install it in African villages to help in the fight against malaria. I wonder how many opthalmologists Doctors Without Borders has available to treat blindness in the event there are some minor systems glitches.

I hope they're working on a version to target those nasty green biting flies at the beach. And I also want a battery powered version I can mount on my hat to eliminate those annoying gnats when I go out in the woods in summer. Come to think of it, such a system could also be programmed to protect cross country skiers from Great Horned Owls that swoop down. And wouldn't it be the bomb to have a system that hikers, bicyclists and cross country runners could wear to protect them from grizzly bears and mountain lions.

It would probably be good idea to program the system so it won't kill endangered species or else the environmentalists will have a problem with it.

Surely it would be okay for such a battery powered system to automatically target and kill those big fat tomato worms. Grandpop and Pop used to squish those worms between their thumbs and forefingers; but I have never been able to make myself do that. So I toss them as far from the garden as I can and the damn things probably spend all night crawling back.

Come to think of it, such a laser system could also be scaled up to protect the gardens of African villages from elephants and hippos, or it could be programmed to protect villages from marauders with machetes. Maybe the system could even shoot the machetes out of the marauders's hands the way Roy Rogers and The Lone Ranger used to shoot the guns out of the bad guys' hands.

Think of how many more useful scientific discoveries will be flowing out once President Obama's stimulus money hits the labs.

Update: I hope someone is keeping an eye on the spread of this technology. If some bad guy ever thinks of mouting frikkin' lasers on the heads of sharks those SOBs could attack people at the beach even if they aren't in the water.

And: in other related news, The United Nations has put Libya, Iran and Cuba in charge of the soon to start World Conference on Racism. That's like putting sharks with frikkin' lasers on their heads in the performance pool at Sea World so they can zap the spectators. I think we should install a laser system in New York and program it to fry anyone who comes out of the U.N. building.

I'm going to take my Prozac now.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

One more blow against starvation and waste

Many was the time back at Visitation B.V.M. grade school when the nuns patrolling the cafeteria told us that it was a sin to waste food while children were starving in India or China or Africa or on an Indian reservation. Generally they told us this when the cafeteria ladies had just slopped something particularly egregious onto our plates, like creamed chipped beef on toast.

The Irish kids would eat it, and the Germans could maybe choke it down; but there's never been an Italian in the history of the world who would eat that stuff. And, since at that time it was still funny to ask "Is the Pope Italian?" just after asking "Does a bear shit in the woods?" I felt myself to be in pretty good company and on pretty solid moral ground in refusing to eat it.

But there is sin and then there are the wages of sin. The nuns were pretty crafty, and very watchful, and very dogmatic on the subject of sin; but they would have had to actually have eyes in the back of their heads to get me to eat that white glop. Wait. . . wait. . . wait. . . Now! Into the empty milk carton with it while she's busy over there beating on Russell M.

Even if the Pope would eat it, dumping shit on a shingle while descendants of Geronimo and Hannibal and Ghengis Khan are starving certainly ain't a sin if you don't get caught. And neither is giving Russell M a broad smile and a little meaningful wave of the criminal milk carton as he's being smacked smartly about the head.

I'm reminded of this because for some time there have been complaints around here about my waste of flour when I make fish for dinner. I generally dump a couple of heap of flour on a big plate, dredge the couple of pieces of fish in it, and then dump the nine tenths of the flour that's still on the plate into the trash can. Having had a very thorough education in the practical fieldcraft of sin concealment, I generally put some newspaper over the evidence; but sometimes I forget in the rush to get dinner finished before Linda gets home if I've lost track of time while scouring the job market for leads or watching Fluffee videos or some such. On those occasions I get some variant of the old nuns' chastisement - sin, waste, shame. . . Oh, The Humanity!

So tonight I finally got smart. I dredged the fish in corn meal. Then I turned the leftover corn meal into polenta. So I can report with some pride that no children were wantonly starved in the making of our dinner, nor in the writing of this blog entry.

The polenta was quite good with a little drizzle of honey on it; and the corn meal crust on the fish was excellent. On the side we had creamed spinach that I picked up one time on impulse in the market when it was on sale. I don't know how long it's been in the freezer but it tasted pretty good and there have been no adverse effects as of yet. I warmed up a can of tomatoes, okra and corn for Linda to put over her polenta. She likes okra. As for myself, I seriously doubt they ever ate any of it up in the big house back in the old days down South. Naturally we had a salad as well. Tonight's was cucumber, red pepper, artichoke hearts, romaine lettuce, onions dressed with Aunt Mary R's specified mixture of two part olive oil to one part vinegar. Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Balsamic vinegar, of course.

Meanwhile if you haven't discovered Fluffee. . .

If you haven't yet discovered Fluffee you're missing the genesis of a major future star. The link below is the first of his videos I've found that can be posted on a family blog. If you watch other of Fluffee's videos I won't be responsible for what you may find; but I suggest that you not be drinking anything that may go up your nose when you laugh. The young fellow is a very acute observer of the human condition. A world that can produce such youth is probably not as bad off as we old farts generally think.

I'm proud to say that I found Fluffee all on my own. which probably means that I really do need to get a job.

Feel the Obamaness!

The other evening Linda and I went to Phoenixville to walk around and visit Wolfgang Books. While there we wandered into a very strange store that sells only eco-friendly and/or U.S. made goods. What caught our attention was the oddity of a store that advertises home cooking along with flooring materials and clothing on its front window.

We were greeted and given a little tour by a nice lady who was carrying a mug of arugula and mung bean soup or some such that she said was her dinner. I didn't notice whether she was wearing love beads and a mood ring, but I did notice that she probably doesn't restrict her dinners to one mug of soup every night.

After we departed to the street Linda said "you could just feel the Obamaness."

Until a few minutes ago I thought that Linda might have coined a new word; but after checking on google I find that there have been many prior uses of "Obamaness." There is even a youtube poster who says she is from Yemen who announced plans for a website named way back in February of last year. That poster never got around to doing more than posting "Obamaness - Coming Soon!" at the address. Would that The One had never gotten any closer to power than that.

It's interesting that the Yemeni obamaness youtube poster uses an image of a rather shapely thonged behind, presumably her own, as her avatar image. After spending a little while appreciating that image, purely for journalistic purposes mind you since one seldom gets to see what's under the chador, I'm now wondering if the modern day hippy lady who escorted us around in that strange Phoenixville store has a nice big tattoo of The One on her far less shapely posterior.

For those of you who can't get enough of images of your saviour the link below is to a website that got me started on this whole train of thought. If you click on the little circular symbol in the lower left corner of the page you can see as many paintings of Obama as you might want.

Jay Nordlinger of National Review's The Corner led me to the Obama paintings site. Clearly the Michaelangelo of the Age of The One has not yet been located although many of the paintings are quite good examples of the sort of paintings one finds when one has the misfortune to wander into a gallery of Socialist Realism works or when one travels through a train station sporting murals done by the artists who travelled around the country during the Great Depression when Roosevelt hired all the hacks to decorate such places so they wouldn't make nuisances of themselves in New York and Washington.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Chimpanzees are eating peoples faces and hands

Chimpanzees are eating people's faces and hands, great horned owls are attacking cross country skiers and Burmese pythons are multiplying in Florida.

But all that is trivial next to the fact that I lost both Scrabble games today over at Jas and Kathy's house. I managed to lose the second game against Kathy even though I scored all seven of my letters on my first turn.

The world is upside down. But at least we don't have eagles this smart living around here.

Watch the whole thing. The first goat he kills is a little one. Later they show him proving that he can also kill a full sized one. This video will forever change your attitude about hiking on trails near cliffs the way Jas and I did at the Grand Canyon a few years ago and Linda and I did in Canyonlands a couple of years ago.

It turns out photons are a lot like kids

Elementary particles are a lot like kids. They behave in very peculiar ways; especially when you're not looking at them.

"The stunning result, though, was that in some places the number of photons was actually less than zero . . . (when) Dr Yokota (and also Drs Lundeen and Steinberg) managed to observe them without looking. . ."

Presumably the three physicists crossed their hearts and hoped to die if they peeked. All three agree on what they observed while they weren't looking.

The important news (according to the physicists) is that this means the universe does in fact exist when you're not looking at it. What's more there is now no longer any need to wonder if that tree falling in the forest is making a noise when you're not there to hear it.

You'll have to read the article at the link below to learn more.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Metaphor doesn't get better than this

"Gordon Brown was hoping for a little more than: “I feel your pain. And have you ever seen The Wizard of Oz? It’s about this sweet little nobody who gets to pay a brief visit to the glittering Emerald City before being swept back to the reassuring familiarity of the poor thing’s broken-down windswept economically devastated monochrome dustbowl. You’ll love it!”

“Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn”? Oh, perish the thought. The prime minister flew 8,000 miles for dinner and a movie. But the president says he’ll call. Next week. Next month. Whatever."

You'll never see a more bitingly true metaphor than the one in the first paragraph above. It's Mark Steyn's imagining of the way President Barack Obama presented his recent gift to Gordon Brown when the British Prime Minister visited our national valley boy, the great Oz himself, behind the curtain down at the White House last week. On a whole lot of levels Steyn has it exactly right.

The second paragraph is a bit more abstruse. Steyn is again at his very best there, putting Rhett Butler's words in Barry's mind as he sees the Prime Minister off. Perhaps you can figure it out if you read the whole of Steyn's latest and perhaps greatest piece here:

Read the whole thing. Percy Bysshe Shelley himself couldn't have done better even though he did provide a metaphor for the eventual world reaction to Barry and the works of his Mighty Hand in his poem Ozymandias, written almost two hundred years ago, the work that inspired Frank Baum to conceive of The Emerald City, The Curtain, Dorothy, Toto and all the rest.

"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains: round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away

All of us over forty or so years old remember those boring classes where English teachers made a big thing about the similes and metaphors in the poems and novels written by all those dead old white guys like Shelley. Some of that stayed with me, so I always like to come across a good metaphor, just as I love the current smell of our European allies being napalmed in the morning by The One down in Washington who they thought was the answer to all their prayers, back before he was elected and consecrated as the anointed one and maximum leader of the free world.

Few things in life are quite so satisfying as seeing people get exactly what they ask for and thus richly deserve. It's one of the consolations of growing old.

For, as the old proverb goes. "If you sit by the river long enough you will see the bodies of all your enemies float past."

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Billions, Three Million and a Trillion

A long time ago in a galaxy far away a Senator named Everett Dirksen famously said, "a billion here, a billion there, pretty soon you're talking about real money." Back then in the 1960's McDonalds was still bragging about a couple of million burgers served, so a billion bucks was a lot of moolah.

A bit after that, in late 1970 or so, a Supply Department Ensign I had gotten to know asked me over breakfast aboard the Enterprise if I could help him out with a little task he had to do preparatory to our departure from Norfolk to go around the Horn to San Francisco. I said "sure."

Shortly I found myself with a .45 on my hip, the first I had ever worn a pistol like an old west gunslinger. I did have some prior experience shooting a .45, although never very accurately after the first shot taught me how violently that sucker was going to kick back each time I pulled the trigger. Later, when I stood in port deck watches alone in Seattle aboard a reserve fleet Destroyer Escort, I again wore a holstered .45, but for all I know that gun wasn't even loaded. We were so blase' about the Navy aboard that ship that I never checked it when it was handed over to me for the watch, and my reliefs never checked it when I handed it over to them.

Anyway, outfitted like Audie Murphy, I joined the Supply Department Ensign, also sporting a loaded .45, and two Marines carrying loaded M16s in a Navy car headed for the a local bank off the base. He went in and was soon followed out by two guards carrying three big suitcases between them.

There followed a somewhat comical loading of the car which ended up with the other officer and me in the back seat weighed down and immobilized by a suitcase on each of our laps, our .45s inaccessible. The Marine in the right front seat was also immobilized by a suitcase on his lap. The two M16s were propped barrel up between his legs, wedged between the suitcase and the dashboard. So much for the security detail of the three million dollars in small bills that we had just picked up. Thankfully organized crime was not very efficient in Norfolk in 1970, so we reached the base alive and still with the suitcases, which we carried aboard the ship without incident.

I carried one of the suitcases up the gangway, so I can attest from personal experience that handling a million dollars in twenties, tens, fives and ones is very much comparable to handling a fifty pound sack a potatoes, quite a few of which I moved around at Harry's Potato Market before I became an Officer and a Gentleman. Both at Harry's Potato Market and in the East End of Norristown I occasionally came into contact with people who would not have spent much time wondering what to do if confronted with four nearly helpless minders in a car carrying three million Simoleons - three thousand Large. Train robberies and bank robberies have been carefully planned and carried out for less.

The Supply Department Ensign who planned that little evolution obviously grew up in a very different kind of neighborhood from the one where I grew up. Also, after a little conversation with him, I realized that he simply didn't think of what was in those suitcases as the kind of money someone might want to steal. To him it wasn't money, it was payroll. A few weeks later he was amused when I showed up at the disbursement window with two beefy petty officers to pick up a trivial little tuck under the arm package of bills that I needed to pay the amounts that the 200+ member Deck Department had requested in cash when we carried out our one and only payroll payment at sea. He just couldn't understand why I might think there could be one sailor among the five thousand in Enterprise who could be both smart enough to observe the parade of officers picking up cash and tough enough to hit one of them over the head for perhaps twenty grand or so.

So much for history. In the realm of current events tThe link below will give you a very good graphic idea of what a trillion Benjamins look like. Barry and his Homeboys and Gals in Congress have spent more than that in the past couple of weeks.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The bad news, the worse news, the sad news, and the good news

The bad news is that your retirement savings are probably shot to hell, at least temporarily. The worse news is that if the thieves and idiots down in Washington don't get a clue we all may end up broke and eating tasteless mush in a nursing home. The sad news is that even Bill Gates and Warren Buffet will probably end up eating tasteless mush in a nursing home, even if it's a somewhat more plush nursing home than you and I will be warehoused in; so there's really no helping that problem.

The good news is that a rock didn't land on your head the other day with the force of a thousand nuclear bombs and solve all your problems in one fiery moment.

I tend to make dentist appointments for 8:20 in the morning; so for years I've been in the chair every few months having my teeth cleaned (much as beluga whales have their teeth regularly cleaned in the better aquariums, I might add) at 9:00 AM when a certain radio station plays the great song you can listen to at this site.

So quicherbellyachin! I think that's the way the joke sign at Mash's Luncheonette spelled it. I've always remembered that sign. Even as a kid I was sure it was Mrs. M who posted that sign, because John was always belly aching. It didn't do him any good. They're buried side by side down at St. Pat's, not far from where Grandmom L was laid to rest after several years of telling us that her next trip would be "up 202."

In other news, I won both games at yesterday afternoon's Scrabble encounter with Jas and Kathy, and I scored "Declined" to use all my letters in the first game. There's still some residual processing power in the old bean. And, last night Linda and I managed to successfully practice the first four moves of the West Coast Swing that Jas and Kathy taught us last Sunday, so there is still some liveliness in the old gams. Finally, tonight is dance lesson night at the Ballroom on High, and I understand there's a group of twenty or so signed up for Jas and Kathy's beginner/intermediate Waltz session. Life is not only far better than the alternative right now, it's downright good.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Move along folks, nothing to see here

The month of February recorded the worst stock market performance since 1933.

Barack Obama took office on January 20th and he's been franticly getting congress to pass huge half baked spending programs since then. To pay for part of the cost of his schemes he plans to implement the largest tax increase in human history. To pay for the rest the Treasury will print money.

I've been assured by an Obama voter that the first fact above is completely unrelated to the second, third and fourth facts above. So move along folks.

Incidently, are the seas receding yet?

March came in like a pretty toothless lion

It's no doubt hard for you young people to imagine, but there was a time when eight or ten inches of snow would nearly paralyze this area. For one thing there were a lot fewer plows, and the back roads took much longer to be cleared. For another thing very few people had mechanical aids like snow blowers and such so sidewalks and drives took much longer to be cleared. For yet a third thing, there were a lot fewer working people who enjoyed the option of simply staying home and working more or less remote. And finally, if you've never driven a rear wheel drive car in snow you can have no idea how badly they performed relative to today's nearly ubiquitous front wheel drive cars.

Yesterday I plowed our driveway and found the roads nearly dry by mid afternoon. A similar snow twenty or thirty years ago would have snarled things up for days, not least because rear wheel drive cars would have been stuck half in and half out of every roadside ditch. The good old days were very often a real pain in the ass, and never moreso than when one would face the prospect of driving after a snow like we had yesterday.

Meanwhile, where's the global warming? Last year we had our first crocuses blooming outside the front door (it's a warm microclimate) by the end of February. This year the crocuses next to the front door were barely starting to poke their green stems above the surface before the snow covered them on March 2nd.

Monday, March 2, 2009

A little light reading, especially for young people

It's hard to believe that I've never before read the entirety of one of Warren Buffet's letters to shareholders in Berkshire Hathaway even though I've often read praise of them. Having read his 2008 letter (just released with the annual report) I now know that the praise has been well deserved. If all business executives acted, talked and wrote as straight as Buffett the world would be a much better place. If any one politician ever did the same we would all have to pinch ourselves to be sure that we hadn't died and gone to heaven.

The 2008 letter to shareholders is complicated but by the time you're done he's explained a lot of things about markets and investing very clearly. As a bonus he does a great job of explaining derivatives and their risks. It's also worthwhile to click on the "owners manual" and read that.