Monday, September 29, 2008

Yiddish lesson

Mensch =

He acted in more than 65 movies over more than 50 years, drawing on a physical grace, unassuming intelligence and good humor that made it all seem effortless.

Yet he was also an ambitious, intellectual actor and a passionate student of his craft, and he achieved what most of his peers find impossible: remaining a major star into a craggy, charismatic old age even as he redefined himself as more than Hollywood star. He raced cars, opened summer camps for ailing children and became a nonprofit entrepreneur with a line of foods that put his picture on supermarket shelves around the world.

Ok fine fine - I know he left his first wife for Joanne Woodward...but then proceeded to clock FIFTY YEARS with addition of course to the his honor, I'm watching some of his old flix and discovering some gems. CHECK OUT THESE LINES from "The Hustler" -- and we think people were repressed back then? ah no....

Bert Gordon: Sure you got drunk. You have the best excuse in the world for losing; no trouble losing when you got a good excuse. Winning... that can be heavy on your back, too, like a monkey. You'll drop that load too when you got an excuse. All you gotta do is learn to feel sorry for yourself. One of the best indoor sports, feeling sorry for yourself. A sport enjoyed by all, especially the born losers.

...and, while you gotta see the whole Minnesota Fats scene to appreciate this one fully, it's still worth quoting given its broad applicability:
Bert Gordon: I don't think there's a pool player alive shoots better pool than I saw you shoot the other night at Ames. You got talent.
Fast Eddie: So I got talent. So what beat me?
Bert Gordon: Character.

We remain our own worst enemies

When the market nearly free-falls as it did today, the last thing we should be is glib or take any delight in being "right." So hopefully it is with sorrow rather than smugness that, in light of Congress' decision today, I can't help but recall my earlier posts on how to approach key moral dilemmas, and the psychology of risk/reward:
Members of both parties, doing a quick political post-mortem, said those who voted no had encountered too much hostility for the bill among their constituents, and were worried that a vote in favor would be political suicide.

Are our members of Congress exercising, to use Richard Foster's terms, "creative" or "destructive" power? Is that a rhetorical question? :-p

Friday, September 26, 2008

Truth is stranger than truth

I used to be a sucker for Bill Clinton...even after all that impeachment stuff...but I think the charm has officially run its course. Can someone get him offstage now.... please?

Mr. Clinton also went out of his way to praise Mr. McCain’s running mate, Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska. “I come from Arkansas,” he told reporters, “I get why she’s hot out there.”

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Stu Sutcliffe...Pete Best...


Stu and Pete were "5th Beatles"....and Hubert: the "3rd Googler"??? Be sure to watch the video - freaking hysterical!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Geeks marketing to geeks

Maybe it works?

I love press releases

“We are pleased that given our longstanding relationship, Warren Buffett, arguably the world’s most admired and successful investor, has decided to make such a significant investment in Goldman Sachs,” Mr. Blankfein said.... Mr. Buffett, also in the statement, called Goldman Sachs an exceptional institution.

The thing that makes Buffett so admirable is that he adheres to that timeless market adage:

  • Buy low.

  • Sell high.

Ergo, I don't doubt Buffett's statement for a second; in a market transaction just about anything can be exceptional depending on the price. I can also see why Blankfein used a word like "pleased" vs. an effusive word such as "exceptional."

Monday, September 22, 2008

And now for something completely different

Tonight I'm not going to hide behind political or macroeconomic forces. 

A brief review of my past 2 months of prolific blogging leads me to a very micro exercise: revisiting posts that have contributed to my well-being in special ways....why pay for therapy when you can blog????

Note: the above topics are listed alphabetically and thus do not betray my own weightings of value assigned thereof.

* someone pointed out this is actually a recurring theme here...hmmmmm....
** actually this is only a slight variant of denial 
*** actually this is only a slight variant of escapism

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Kant, Hobbes and Wall Street

Some excellent Q&A in the NYT on the latest epic morphing of Wall Street elucidates the ongoing relevance of timeless questions such as "the individual vs. society"..."is inaction better than negative action"....etc. Excerpts below, with certain emphases added, and one more pitch to go to - go there.

However, in lieu of solving such intractable problems, I'm focusing my small brain on tackling things like: given the fact that everyone will now be working for a bank*, will we all now be VPs and work "bankers' hours"? Take me now.....

Q. So is it fair to say that Americans who are neither rich nor reckless are being asked to rescue people who are? ...

A. Yes, you could argue that people who cannot tell soybean futures from puts, calls and options are being asked to clean up the costly mess left by Wall Street. To make the bailout palatable to the public, it is being described as far better than inaction, which administration officials and members of Congress say could imperil the retirement savings and other investments of Americans who are anything but rich.

But it is a good bet that the negotiations between the administration and Capitol Hill will include ideas about ways to help middle-class homeowners avoid foreclosure and perhaps some limits on pay for executives....

Q. How is it that the administration and Congress...can now be ready to come up with $700 billion to rescue the financial system? And is it realistic to think that the parties can reach agreement and get legislation passed in a hurry?

A. ...As for rescuing the financial system, elected officials in both parties became convinced that, while a couple of venerable investment banks could fade into oblivion or be absorbed by mergers, the entire financial system could not be allowed to collapse.

*What will these new banks be called? My mind gravitates to Steve Martin's "Fred's Bank" embedded in one of his best works

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Sometimes I actually encourage denial

Not only is it so much more alluring than reality....but I'm finding that in certain cases, it may yield positively for society!

1) "Sen. Barack Obama has widened his lead over Sen. John McCain, according to CNN's latest "poll of polls." - yeah, while this may not be the case in November, this is TRUE as of 9:18 a.m. EDT, Fri September 19, 2008 so I'm sucking the marrow out of it and snuggling it close as long as I can so I can be in my happy place if only for just a little while longer.

As promised, the following two cases of denial may actually yield some real, positive societal results:

2) “I’ve got to be honest with you,” Christopher Gruber, a vice president who oversees admissions at Davidson College, told me. “I’m not spending a ton of time navigating those student-driven sites. It’s too much to manage. My sense is that the traditional big players, like Princeton Review, are the major sources for online information too, in part because those are the names that parents still recognize.

Don't stop believin', Christopher. We won't go into the fact that parents aren't the only market segment, and they're certainly not the

3) "“SVG support is something that we have been evaluating for some time,” Microsoft said in a statement. “We recognize the demand for vector graphics from Web developers, and realize this is a high-priority demand.”

As Matt said...

“We recognize the demand for vector graphics from Web developers, and realize this is a high-priority demand…” but we just don’t care.

...and thank Someone for that: perhaps MSFT's resistance to creating usable products will, in fact, finally be met by justice, and Apple in fact wasn't so wrong to exclude IE in its MobileMe strategy???

Microsoft's IE market share drops again

September 3, 2008 (Computerworld) Microsoft Corp.'s Internet Explorer lost nearly a full percentage point in market share during August, the browser's biggest drop in three months, a Web metrics firm said today.

IE's rivals -- Mozilla Corp.'s Firefox, Apple Inc.'s Safari and Opera Software ASA's Opera -- all extended their shares at IE's expense last month...

....IE's August drop was the second largest for the year, lower only than May's 1.1-percentage-point fall.

"I can't really explain what happened," admitted Vince Vizzaccaro, Net Applications' executive vice president of marketing. "Perhaps there was some relationship with the launch of IE8 Beta 2. If users are looking at IE8, maybe they're looking at other browsers at the same time, trying to decide which one to use."

Vince, I know you're a marketing guy and have to say that - and that's great! Don't stop believin' either!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Innocence by association

I am thrilled to report that I am

Economic Left/Right: -3.75
- and -
Social Libertarian/Au
toritarian -2.00

.... on http://www.pol

Delightfully close to Gandhi & Mandela and mercifully far from Thatcher.... Hitler...W....

ya gotta just read it

'cuz I have nothing to add: the article is even more compelling than the title!:

By Jonathan Haidt

JONATHAN HAIDT is Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Virginia, where he does research on morality and emotion and how they vary across cultures. He is the author of The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

I thought that word had a negative connotation

Sure this is yet another of a myriad of moral hazard tales of late. But the differentiator to this specific story is how yet again, my hometown continues to engender a special kind of pride.

Alan R. Mulally, the chief executive of Ford, was even more upbeat. “It was a great day,” he said. When a reporter asked what Mr. Mulally might say to people who viewed the loan guarantees as a bailout, he replied in a chipper voice, “I would characterize it as an enabler.*

* DB: emphasis added

Just say no to implosion

For as bad as macroeconomics can get, they sure make life feel light compared to the despair that results from excessive self-absorption. Frida Kahlo's exhibit at the SFMOMA is a cautionary tale of the futility of remaining trapped in one's immediate experience. My friend Melissa remarked how about 90% of her work was self-portraits.

Given how important it is to have outside perspectives to ground you in reality, it is no wonder she was enmeshed so long with her near-canine partner.

"Sin Esperanza" (above) drives this home most poignantly in both image and title.

A lagging indicator, but the best we got (barring Roubini)

In Monday's post I lamented regulation as an inadequate step to curtail the excesses of human nature. Since then, we can add WaMu to the mix of flailing financial institutions and point to regulators' scramble to stem the hemorrhaging. Of course, hindsight IS always 20/20 but I also recognize that regulation - like any law - is effected in hindsight and can certainly help stem the degree of vice it's intending to address. My tired brain's analogy: while a guardrail may not obstruct the most reckless vehicle, it can hopefully curtail the ensuing damage.
Then again, if only we'd listened to (I'm in my honeymoon phase - leave me alone for now)

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Nouriel to the rescue

I timed out yesterday because I knew I was missing something...banks have quarterly earnings and short-term rewards but aren't crumbling in the same way other financial services institutions are...Roubini cuts to the chase as to why so much of our financial services sector is crumbling...and what the implications are...:

The problem, he says, is that broker/dealers use the same model as banks --
borrow short and lend long -- only they borrow on even shorter timeframes, use
more leverage, and don't have the kind of government backstop banks enjoy.In the
wake of Bear Stearns' demise, which showed how brokers are vulnerable to a "run on the bank" if they can't get overnight funding, the Fed temporarily
opened its discount window to brokerage firms
. But making that option
permanent means submitting to the same kind of regulation and capital requirements as banks; that, in turn, means a very different business model -- and much lower profitability -- for Wall Street firms, whose current business model
is "not viable," he says.With U.S. financial giants like JPMorgan, Citigroup, and Bank of America dealing with internal issues, the most likely buyers are international financial firms or sovereign wealth funds, Roubini says. But unlike in 2007,
foreigners are not going to settle
for preferred shares, and non-voting
rights next time around.That raises the questions: Is America ready for (true)
foreign ownership of major financial institutions? And do we have a

Monday, September 15, 2008

While Rome burned

Today the Dow dropped 544 points on the heels of the Lehman bankruptcy, Merrill's sale to BofA and AIG's scramble for cash ....if that weren't enough to signal a crisis, the co-founder of the Blackstone Group/former head of Lehman/secretary of commerce in the Nixon administration resorted to using to out-of-caricature language such as ''My goodness." This must be extraordinary.

So naturally, I did what any Series 7 licensed financial services professional would do: I escaped to the gym to furiously spin to - I can't believe I'm admitting this - The Scorpions, among other songs of note.... (note to everyone: you must see my new favorite movie, "Burn After Reading," to appreciate the intellectual stimulation of the gym environment, among a plethora of other things pertinent to life as we know it).

As I've long attested, there is nothing like a little '80s rock to get the neurons firing (lest you accuse me of rationalizing my shallow need for win). Nevertheless, it was on the bike that I:
  • Reaffirmed my sense that our financial system as fueled by publicly-traded institutions is positioned for vulnerability to behaviors incented by short-term rewards structures (read: speculative, opportunistic balance-sheet manipulations are rewarded in the quarterly business cycles).
  • Underscored the tension of "moral hazard" that exists when institutions yield such a powerful influence across a wide range of society, leading to impunity for reckless behavior in the name of salvaging the assets of a broader swath of the population.
Is further regulation the answer to these 2 issues? As my new hero*, economist Nouriel Roubini put it, "“You either nationalize the banks or you nationalize the mortgages,” he said. “Otherwise, they’re all toast.”" That said, I'm never one to advocate regulation as a panacea for human shortfalls (and economic activity is merely the product of human behavior). All regulation does is transfer accountability from one entity - the private sector - to another human entity - the public sector. With enough time, the players always find a way to circumvent the intended structures put into place.

Of the two steps already being considered - (1) the Fed lending against more assets, including stocks, thus providing an additional cushion for a troubled firm; and (2) the banks setting up a facility to buy assets from troubled firms in the future; - the first doesn't address the moral hazard issue; and the second will only be as good as the banks will eventually allow it to be used.

Hearken back to nearly 100 years ago, when, per the NYT, J.P. Morgan purportedly called the heads of all the trust companies to a meeting in his library and "demanded that they agree to put up money to stop the bank run at another trust company. The bankers did not want to do so, in part because they would need that money if the panic spread. Morgan locked the door, and kept the presidents in the library until morning, when they finally gave in. No such coercion exists this year." (aside: looks like my quest for character it entails making noble choices when under pressure.. is timeless...).

In light of these bleak realities, can we at least hope for the prevailing of the Nash equilibrium (yes, that Nash that most Americans associate with Russell Crowe), which purports that "The incentive to defect is overcome by the threat of punishment, leading to the possibility of a cooperative outcome"??

Dunno - I just timed out. Time to blogroll Bourini!

[*who is, btw, my hero not only because he is an economist - the smartest human beings alive who can also never be wrong ...see, smart!... but also coined a phrase that captured my heart: “delusional complacency” - yes!!!]

Friday, September 12, 2008

I'm tired of being flabbergasted

I feel like i've filled my quota of audacity and indignation over the past few months.

But the McCain campaign just doesn't seem to care. They keep mercilessly bringing it on.

Earlier in my life, I coined an expression: "If you think it can't get any better than this, it won't." Thanks to events of late, I'm quite sad to report that the complementary corollary is also true. That is, "If you think it can't get any worse than just might." Yes, the same country that elected W only to reel from it 8 yrs later just might...set the bar lower? Is that possible?? (pssst: rhetorical question).

This is a marathon that will test the limits of our cynical endurance. I'm trying to laugh between tears (THANK YOU John ...FOLEY!!!):

See more funny videos at Funny or Die

Thursday, September 11, 2008

I hope that two wrongs make a (sob) "right"

So if both the Prez & VP are impetuous and impulsive....

I didn’t blink then even when asked to run as his running mate.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

I KNOW we should care.

...but the scandal the fact that our public servants took kickbacks...or what they chose to take as kickbacks?

....the report alleges that eight royalty-program officials accepted gifts from energy companies .... including ...paintball to a Toby Keith concert, a Houston Texans football game and a Colorado Rockies baseball game.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Because I want the biz buzz to last

A few encores:

Denny: for providing the FUEL for the evening that fed my outlier-proportioned propensity for taking center stage and propelled us into the wee hours.

Thanks also to Manny, Tino & Leslie for providing the pre-euphoric tunes.

Ching: who gave me my very first gift of the weekend on Friday, unsolicited (I don't even know him but the rendezous was very fitting for the occasion...details available ONLY upon request!!!)

Birthday Weekend, Part III: The Final Lap

ssheeewwww this mirth is hard work. Gotta give it up to the illustrious John Cheng and Leslie Eileen Brock ...and Jessica herself ...for the unabashedly BEST partay a girl could ask for. One thing of which it proved was that music can easily take the place of sleep in my life. Good music, that is.

(if you can guess what the pose of me on the floor is, leave a comment. Hint: '80s dance film...the word "maniac" is involved....)

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Birthday, Part II: thanks Melissa!

...'cuz she wrote "it's all about ME" today. And only last night we were bashing Twitter for being so utterly narcissistic if people really CARE what second-by-second play-by-play someone is experiencing ("5:45pm: in line for toll bathroom..." whatever...).

But today's my birthday so this blog is regressing into a little twitter-narcissism. Though not at twitter-like frequency. I will spare my vast readership to a mere perhaps 3 parts for the whole day. This is the 2nd: me and da homies at the Ferry Bldg. to snag some fresh, locally grown fruit. Japanese Delica macrobiotic cuisine. Serious caffeinated bevvy from Blue Bottle coffee. Yummy dark flourless chocolate. Jewelry. Outrageous eye makeup. And girly love. Awwwwww!

Resting up for Part III: John Cheng's SOMA Lair!

Birthday, Part I: bring it ON

Ringing it in at Jon R's rooftop hot tub in the Outer Mission, with views of the SF cityscape that rival Medjool's. Not sure how it can get better than THAT! But it just might. We still have today.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Conundrum defined

George Ellis, who hasn't lived in my place for several years, just got a postcard in the US Mail today:

Dear Valued Customer:
In a few days you will receive a survey from us asking your opinion on how well the Postal Service has been serving you over the past 30 days.

Thank you,
Delores J. Killette
Vice President and Consumer Advocate, U.S. Postal Service

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Hometown legacies - part 3 -

Eureka! There IS more than failed mortgage payments and fugitive financiers to speak of when Detroit comes to mind!

DETROIT — Kwame M. Kilpatrick, the charismatic mayor of Detroit who has been embroiled in legal problems stemming from a sex scandal since the beginning of the year, pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice and resigned his office Thursday morning as part of a deal with prosecutors.

He agreed to plead guilty to two felony counts of obstruction of justice and to plead no contest to a felony count of assault on a police officer; to pay restitution to the city of $1 million; to surrender his law license, forfeit his state pension to the city and be barred from elective office for five years; and to serve 120 days in the Wayne County jail, followed by five years’ probation....

....Later, referring to his guilty plea, he said, “I lied under oath.”

oh please oh please

In ascending order of gravity:

1) Let the legacy of my very own hometown of Farmington Hills, MI be more than Bill & Sue Nebe's struggles to make their mortgage payments per John McCain's speech tonite. Viva Farmington Hills!

2) Let Roberta McCain's gene pool live on in John! All 96 years of her actually bolted out of her chair on cue tonite (and I couldn't see an audio aid could you?); and

3) Let the character demonstrated by McCain so many years ago - truly the Hemingway protagonist 'grace under pressure' definition of character in line with Gretchen's definition in the post immediately below - prove true .....should he need to have it.....

Like a dog & a bone

The latest development in my tenacious quest to define character: interestingly, Gretchen, our creative arts director, just elaborated on this in her Labor Day sermon (check out the 8/31/08 one once it's posted here).

I've taken Gretchen's classes on "Story" (adapted from the infamous Robert McKee beautifully mocked in "Adaptation"...but I digress...) - all that to say she gets storytelling and used this to elaborate on what CHARACTER is. Specifically as distinct from "characterization":

- Characterization is what we can glean about people from their observable traits: mannerisms, looks, habits, words, voice, outward appearance.


- Character is ONLY revealed by the choices a person makes when under pressure.

It all leads us to a great reflection question: "What do our choices reveal about our character?"

Gretchen drove home the point by referencing another film hero, Steven Spielberg, who apparently screens movies by leaving out the SOUND. This filters out the 'noise' (literally and figuratively) to enable him to get at the core of the characters revealed by what they DO vs. what they say (or perhaps for us, what they write, text, etc. as well....).

So if someone were watching our life as if it were a silent movie, what would they say about us? In essence, who ARE we (as distinct from what we may say or think we are)?

The Hebrew mindset is dead-on here. It's all about ACTIONS. Jesus the Israeli said, "Where your treasure is, there your heart is also."

Words words words. Maybe I should blog less.

Another ingredient in the recipe for survival: Andy Borowitz

In another depressing election year, you have to LOVE this man....sigh.....

Levi Johnston’s Convention Diary
Exclusive Blog from the Presumptive Vice Son-in-Law

Dear Dude,

There is some seriously WEIRD FUCKIN SHIT goin on up in here!!!

So I get off the plane in Minnesota and the first thing I know some creepy old dude who smells like my grandma is gettin up in my grille. I am totally goin to give him a righteous beat-down and then I see it's that John McCain dude from TV who's always approvin his fuckin message.

So I give him this look like, "Don't get in my face or I will SERIOUSLY fuck you up," and dude looks back at me like, "I've ate Viet Cong bigger than you for breakfast." So I like totally back off. Dude, if I'm gonna get fucked up no way am I gonna get fucked up by someone older than Larry King.

Things go from weird to fuckin WEIRD AS ALL SHIT as I get like the totally evil eye from Bristol's old man Todd who looks like he wants to shove an oil pipeline up my fuckin ass. Shit, I said I'd marry her, what the fuck is wrong with you, dude??? Back off or I'll fuck you up.

So I TOTALLY try to stay out of the way of Bristol's mom, who looks like she's gonna go medieval on my ass, like do me way worse than that trooper she got canned. For a minute I feel like I am TOTALLY GOING TO SHIT MYSELF, but than I think of thoughts to calm me down, like that time in middle school when I fucked that guy up who tried to fuck with me.

Dude, the one thing I don't like understand at all is why Bristol's mom even WANTS to be fuckin vice-president and all. Right now, being Governor of Alaska and shit, she could totally invade Russia if she wanted to. It's that fuckin close.

With all this crazy shit going on I didn't even like get a chance to talk to Bristol. I wanted to ask her how her summer was, shit like that, but every time I opened my mouth that McCain dude gave me another look like, "You say word one and I will rearrange your fuckin face you fuckin piece of hockey shit." So I don't say a fuckin thing.

Gotta go now. One thing's for sure, dude - when this week is over I am totally getting wasted!!!!!

Peace out,

L to the J

Wednesday, September 03, 2008


Good thing I didn't stay home to listen to Palin's RNC speech.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Sorry, you can't have it both ways, Maureen

I've always thought Maureen Dowd was a bit too snarky for my tastes. Her latest widely-distributed NYT post proves why: she professes to balk at Palin's nomination because of Palin's dearth of substance (perhaps correctly labeling it 'affirmative action'), and yet the bulk of Dowd's rebuttal effectively attacks Palin on non-substantive issues, using every stereotype available vs. facts to slam Palin. Dowd does our gender a disservice to "stay there" in attacks on Palin's looks and personal life rather than going for the real stuff - which is there - like her actual record (or lack thereof).

Definitely a missed opportunity Maureen ... but sticking to stereotypes is easier; it's just unfortunate that someone published in the NYT doesn't need to work harder. So, I won't even comment on her bio photo.

Some marketing advice

Can you suggest opportunities for improvement in THIS promotion??:

As a Gift for your Birthday, please accept 15% off on any services, procedures or supplements including colon hydrotherapy....

P.S. Don't eat too much cake and ice cream!

To quote Mr. Bill

"Maverick" regresses into meaning "impulsive" the strand of W! oh the agony!!

They didn’t seriously consider her until four or five days from the time she was picked, before she was asked, maybe the Thursday or Friday before,” said a Republican close to the campaign. “This was really kind of rushed at the end, because John didn’t get what he wanted. He wanted to do Joe or Ridge.”

More data to disrupt my idealism....

is it "Me" or....

...isn't one of the purported benefits of MobileMe integration with your office (as in CAPITAL "O" ....MS Office ...yeah, had to type it ugh) apps? You know, the Outlook calendar integration and all....but when I try to log in to MobileMe at work, it tells me I need to use Firefox or Safari.

Now of course we know IE is inferior as are most MS products but again, wasn't this kind of integration the benefit of MobileMe? Did anyone do a workflow analysis?? I propose AAPL start addressing that before going on to get a more serious name for the product.