Friday, October 31, 2008

The Brits always say it better

Today The Economist officially endorsed Barack Obama as President of the United States.

The endorsement touches on a number of factors which led to my own transformation, but of course, elaborates on them more eloquently because, well, it's The Economist.

A choice excerpt reminds me of one of my key (and favorite) posts illustrating my fitful morphing from McCain-to-Obama:

If only the real John McCain had been running

That, however, was Senator McCain; the Candidate McCain of the past six months has too often seemed the victim of political sorcery, his good features magically inverted, his bad ones exaggerated. The fiscal conservative who once tackled Mr Bush over his unaffordable tax cuts now proposes not just to keep the cuts, but to deepen them. The man who denounced the religious right as “agents of intolerance” now embraces theocratic culture warriors. The campaigner against ethanol subsidies (who had a better record on global warming than most Democrats) came out in favour of a petrol-tax holiday.
The stars keep aligning. What options are left for us to sabotage ourselves now?

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Is consistency a virtue?

Take Alaska, which is making some pretty consistent choices these days.

The state is not only allowing a convicted felon to run for Senator, but also to vote. Based, of course, on one condition:
The Alaska Department of Law on Wednesday concluded that (convicted felon Ted Stevens) would retain his voting rights until he received a sentence.
Idiocracy, Part 4. This series will be a long, painful one....

To quote a state GOP official: "The situation's the situation." Must be that proximity to Russia.

Idiocracy, Part 3

I know I've referenced this brilliant film twice in the past 2 months, but as the election thunders its way ever closer, I can't help but think of this movie on an increasingly constant basis.

Tonight's trigger? Obama's 30-minute infomercial. Can you count how many times words traditionally ending in "-ing" were pronounced ending in "-in'"? And identify what U.S. Senator omitted the "s" from the already-conjuncted "wasn't"?

I love Obama but I'm sad he and his communications crew aren't standing in the way of the demise of multisyllabic* diction:

*link provided for those ahead of me

Monday, October 27, 2008

Knowing more than we should - part 2

The double-edged sword of knowledge.

There's the element of knowing stuff in advance, the pros & cons of which are expounded upon earlier here.

Then there's the element of simply knowing what perhaps just isn't meant to be known.

I mean...ew....Taking "TMI" to new levels: at Pennsylvania State University, a professor of engineering has captured a cough on film. The image was created by schlieren photography which “takes an invisible phenomenon and turns it into a visible picture.”


It's a good thing when it leads to potentially better outcomes.

Nouriel "Nostradamus" Roubini, my current geek idol (his Global EconoMonitor ("RGE") is on my blogroll to the lower right). Roubini has been led the economic community not only in making predictions but also proscriptions with respect to the recent economic meltdowns, the latest example being among the first to call the hedge fund disasters (even my intellectual and aesthetic equal Liz Ann only nailed that today).

It's a little scary when
it leads to utter despair.

Example: Mike Judge, the genius behind
Idiocracy. While this masterpiece had (and still has) me in tears, they are bittersweet tears: the film uncannily portrays the lamentable trajectory of American history, illustrating how tragedy and comedy are 2 parts of the same phenomena (i.e. things are just not as they should be).

Luke Wilson makes me cry, and I'm developing a strong affection for him.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Rant refining and Rand renouncing

One movie, one webcast and one cocktail party later, I feel compelled to refine my previous allegations. Specifically, I'd chided our former Fed Reserve Chairman for using 40 years' prior experience as an excuse for his scandalous neglect of the U.S. economic system. But, you say, 40 years' experience sounds like a compelling reason to stay on the same trajectory? To that, I offer up three clarifications:
  • The "past performance is not an indicator of future results" truism can be gleaned straight from Statistics 101 (or is that 01?): when you flip a coin, it always has a 50% chance of being tails. Regardless of how many times it turned up tails prior. (brain refresher credit to "Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead" - fabuuuu kudos to Gary Oldman...sigh....).
  • AND: good economists must live by Mark Twain's wisdom that "history does not repeat itself...but it does rhyme". That is, while no two economic environments are exactly alike, overarching principles can be gleaned and applied to future conditions. In the current crisis, historical disasters amidst lack of regulation (but 2 examples: in the '30s up to Black Tuesday; in the '80s up to the S&L collapse) should have served as instructive examples (Twain quote credit to Schwab SVP Mark Riepe, who is emerging as one of my newer geek heroes).
  • I thus underscore my original charge: that Greenspan is a purist to the detriment of the globe. Specifically, his 40-year tryst with Ayn Rand led to a sorely misguided ascent to the unfettered rationalistic, meritocratic nature of humans, thwarting the rest of the world into the cataclysmic consequences of such distorted thinking. (credit to Haas mixer where I blurted this out in verbal form with only afterthought consideration as to whether other Rand-ists were present).

Yes, we have her to thank, too. "Objectivism" is an attractive philosophy not because it is true, but because it plays to our sense of pride. Why else would people eat up McCainistic lauds of "the American people" as being so virtuous when it was these people - not just corporate execs - who contributed to our current economic mess in living beyond their means (one example: embracing "Pick-A-Pay" negative amortization schemes...I mean, "negative amortization"??).

How much more roadkill do we need to accept that, when left to our own devices, we do NOT do the right thing?

Update on 12/11/08: my friend Jim just sent me an article which leads me to believe that Cardinal Ratzinger (aka The Pope) and I are somewhat aligned...

...and while I am not in 100% agreement with the entire article, I did find its assertion that "the market mechanism has a negative but not a positive function. The market cannot decide what innovations or practices are beneficial to society. It can only punish incompetence and inefficiency" to be incredibly thought provoking....I'll be gnawing on that one for a while....

Un-be-frickin'-lievable (or: the Post of Rhetorical Questioning)

Welcome to this highly evolved and erudite term - you saw it here first! - which I was forced to create because I've exhausted all other descriptors -- outrage (twice, even), shock, disbelief, audacity, indignation and flabbergasted(ness) .... even getting to the point of becoming "Blogless".

So, while Blogger really has saved on the therapy bills, we know that therapy only elucidates but does not transform. Hence the un-be-frickin'-lievability pounds on. In this case, the culprit: Credit Default Swaps were unregulated....???????? I mean, I could see how these new securities constituted uncharted territory (=they were "new") and, as such, the exposure they created for their holders wasn't fully realized* until it all unwound.

But....COMPLETELY unregulated????????

Free-market purists are so pure they fail to grasp human nature, which is not, of course, purely rational.

“I made a mistake in presuming that the self-interests of organizations, specifically banks and others, were such as that they were best capable of protecting their own shareholders and their equity in the firms,” Mr. Greenspan said. Referring to his free-market ideology, Mr. Greenspan added: “I have found a flaw. I don’t know how significant or permanent it is. But I have been very distressed by that fact.”

Our former flavor-of-the-Administration went on to subtly defend himself....:
“I have been going for 40 years or more with very considerable evidence that [this economic worldview] was working exceptionally well.”
But doesn't every Series 7 person know that 'past performance is not an indication of future results'? Reference my grasping to define character as being willing to course- correct....sometimes of course than can appear as waffling ;-)

I know hindsight is always 20/20 and it's easier to criticize retroactively than to formulate policy proactively. However, I'm being hard because, in this case being "wrong" has led to in, "tr"....of damage worldwide.

Somehow that adage of "asking for forgiveness is easier than asking for permission" just doesn't seem to cut it here.

*see #2, "Minute 14:40" reference in this post

Monday, October 20, 2008

Outsourcing has its limits

I finally get it. Sometimes it takes me a while.
Ergo Gitmo = parking lot for justice. The hallmark of the Administration's outsourcing of just one of its moral and legal failings (is "failing" adequate to describe the gravity?).

I thus remain outraged!!! Am I the only one?!?!?

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Integration -cntd.-

"Integration" heretofore referenced indicated "internalisation and incorporation of new attitudes and behaviours into everyday life." (sic).

As my newly-attained integration has now been published for the masses, I feel the weight of accountability for these new, behaviours*....which as you will see, are fortunately not onerous to undertake. Some documentation:

Requisite raw materials needed to redeem the nature of "banking": New Mexico registered voter phone list, iPhone, and my Amelie-esque ever-present Obama puppet.

Just one more thing for us parochial elitists is needed: a listing of Obama's stances on key "rural issues" such as agricultural policy, gun law, and meth...for reals.

Now that we're All Systems Go, we grab our urban, dark blend fair trade organic coffee from hipster Four Barrels cafe in SF's Mission District and hide out in the back alley to get to work.

...but despite being fully equipped, I still have some reticence about calling up Jose (qua Joe) in Albuquerque on a Sunday night. I guess integration takes practice. Good thing there's still two more weeks!

*Sigh. I just love those Brits. This movie provides just some of the reasons why.

The bliss of full integration

In August I lauded the attempts of my near-intellectual and aesthetic peer to graphically convey psychological phenomena. That specific example pertained to macroeconomic moods and ensuing trends; today, I've stumbled across a graph that depicts my very personal journey in the political realm:

Alas: after much contrarian hemming, hawing and zig-zagging, I'm at last "in." I'm "fully integrated."*

*though the photo at top might indicate "assimilated" ;-)

Saturday, October 18, 2008

What language are you speaking?

Ok, there's 'negative' ....and then there's NEGATIVE. Truly, is an attack on McCain's health care plan equivalent to character assassination?

God love the U-Wisc. Advertising Project, but it does demonstrate the degree to which I've always believed "social science" to be an oxymoron. Despite its best intentions, it usually does a great disservice by trying to quantify the qualitative.

(forgive the alignment on the illustration below - full graphic at this link also included above >multimedia popup on the left - which has proven elusive in posting directly here):

The New York Times
October 18, 2008
The Content of the Campaign Ads

Close Window

Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company
Print This Image

Friday, October 17, 2008

If perfection isn't enough...

Eloquent. Intelligent. Reasoned. Poised. Objective. Classy. Dashing. Cool.

And a freakin' standup comedian to boot?

Honestly, if this man is not elected, I may go into comatose hibernation for the next four (pleaseeeeee not eight) years.....

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

For the Cause

So I used to not like Obama because people followed him so cultishly....

Then circumstances started to change and it became a matter of not voting FOR Obama, but voting against McCain.

But now. Now. The koolaid is kicking in.

If supporting Obama means shaking your hiphop rappin' bootay the way we did tonite ... for reals... then I'm a lifer. Let's re-look at those term limits. I can't go back.

Let's just face it....McCain will never....never...have this kind of cool factor.

What is this? Why, my beloved Obama finger-puppet, proudly displayed as I "wave my hands in da air" to the evening DJ's rap-sody. I don't think Cindy & John are bringin' down da house in quite this you?

Friday, October 10, 2008

When ivory towers lead to barbed-wire fences

I've noted elsewhere how we as humans have our limits when it comes to outrage. Sometimes God blesses us with humor to let off the steam; other times, maybe it's just a reprieve from thinking about the issue.

When it comes to Gitmo, I'm rather sad to say the latter situation applies, and the reprieve is for tragic reasons. We simply don't hear about Gitmo because:

1) Other tragedies have grabbed our attention (economic collapse, campaign smears and the like); and
2) W...yes, we can add this to the 3,846* other tragedies left in his wake:

“It is part of a broader strategy not to make difficult decisions about Guantánamo and leave it to the next president.”

-- Vijay Padmanabhan, an assistant professor at Cardozo Law School who was until July a State Department lawyer with responsibility for detainee issues

I wonder if the detainees think of this "broader strategy" every morning when they wake up.

*count as of 11:39:43 PST 10 October 2008

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Laughing when you're not supposed to

Financial meltdowns. Political campaigns. Global warming. Laughter feels like a guilty indulgence. Or is my remorse stemming from the fact that some of the things that have made me laugh the hardest recently may prove offensive?

But share I must. So, if you are easily offended, please stop here and just scroll down to the end of this post to watch the video. For the thicker-skinned, I'm publicly disclosing 3 items which unfailingly tickle me to the core...regardless of how many times I view...and view...and view them....:
  1. This repulsive portrayal of the male fantasy world (watch the Ferrino Mizzoni clip). Why, then, as a female, do I relish watching it? A Rebounder's Delight (credit to my friend Amit - he's really quite talented don't you think??).
  2. This deliciously funny satire of Linden Labs' bizarre yet incomprehensibly popular Second Life virtual world. Don't get me started on how weird it is. I feel free saying this because all Second Lifers are IN Second Life and quite unlikely to be reading this "real" life blog. Of course, that means you readers out here in the real world have likely never ventured in to Second Life and will likely miss the humor... I personally only have because I interviewed there (I swear!).
  3. This I PRAY soon-to-be dated depiction of Sarah Palin's Facebook page. Every detail is exquisite.
  4. ADDENDUM FROM 8/3/09 (couldn't post as a video clip due to NBC litigiousness):
I thank God that the human species has been specially endowed not only with reason, but with humor. I also believe that, when we get to those infamous "ledge" moments, comedy can kick in beyond our control, overtaking us as an evolutionary survival mechanism.

Such subsummation by laughter is most perfectly depicted in one of my favorite scenes, appropriately (given this electoral season we find ourselves in) from "The Candidate"...if you have ADD, fast-forward to :45:

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Validation of my brilliance

In that lame, self-promoting spirit of "I Said It First" (recall I've never held back from shameless pandering): Liz Ann Sonders, SVP & Chief Investment Strategist at my beloved employer (and nearly as brilliant and beautiful as me), writes today:
Gov’t to pull a Buffett?
I also think the Fed may have to consider direct investments via preferred shares in banks; kind of like a mega-Warren Buffett, and/or allow financial institutions outside the normal banking system, like commercial lenders, to borrow directly from the Fed via the discount window, with appropriate collateral and with an oversight that those borrowings do indeed get lent out.
Of course, I noted this nearly 1 week ago which feels like eons in light of the unprecedented pace of change bemoaning the financial services industry. But who am I to shamelessly self-promote? I always give credit where it's due.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

The Weekend of Causing Scenes, Part 2

The ultimate Saul of Tarsus moment*: confessing to a room full of Obama supporters that you once supported John McCain. A sheep among wolves? Au contraire: these are progressives. Therefore, the response is rather this: a feigned intellectual curiosity seeking to cover up utter shock, disbelief and audacity.

My co-campaigner Chris managed to emote this quite well: note the seemingly focused, attentive gaze which all but masks the glimmer of terror further into the eyes.

*And when Saul was come to Jerusalem, he assayed to join himself to the disciples: but they were all afraid of him, and believed not that he was a disciple.

The Weekend of Causing Scenes, Part 1

My friend Tony clued me into an interesting phenomenon: "Improv Everywhere" - whose tagline is, "we cause scenes." Full deets at the site but for here, it's enough to know that the experience involved:
1) downloading an Mp3 but NOT listening in advance
2) procuring a balloon, an umbrella & wearing a green, yellow, red or blue t-shirt
3) syncing your watch/clock/timekeeping device of choice PRECISELY to their website
4) arriving at Dolores Park, SF locked & loaded at 2pm PST

I tackled items #1 & #4 on my own, and was helped by Tony on #2...but utterly failed at #3.

The result?

A tapestry of Monty Python-esque hilarity that tapped into the creative, free-spirited playful inner-child....undeniably the best way to spend a sunny fall day in the park 1/2 block from my front door.

Alas, the issue with respect to #3 did, however, lead to a slightly out-of-sync experience which itself was fairly revealing. It made me realize that some people actually live this way 24X7. Just a little bit off the mainstream clock. Which leads to all kinds of interesting behaviors and perceptions. Very enlightening. I'm not naming names.

Participants ready themselves to enter into the climactic, Monty Python-esque "EPIC BATTLE" as promised by the omnipresent "Steve."

BREAKING NEWS 10/20/08: the video has been posted and includes some of the music that really contributed to the hilarity of this experience. And, incredibly, apart from my 4 friends I attended with I also happened to "run in" to my co-worker Cory there - check him out at 1:48!:

Mp3 Experiment San Francisco from ImprovEverywhere on Vimeo.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Property of transference

High school geometry:

Wall Street asks for $700B
California asks for $7B

California/Wall Street = 10%
Diane/California = 10% (I'm having Sarah Palin run some models for me)

Ergo >>>> Diane asks the feds for $700M

I'm thinking that can buy a LOT more in Manhattan than it did last year and I'm willing to provide warrants to the feds for the equity increase over time.

See? Math is phun!!

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Trauma and ensuing recovery

my heroes

My friend - who is out about watching Fox TV - had to cancel dinner, which freed me up to witness in real-time what I sensed - horribly, in my innermost core - would be a trainwreck of gutterally epic proportions. My sense of dread was so great that I knew I couldn't be alone...I simply had to be among others to avoid being reduced to a fetal-positioned wet noodle by 6:05pm PST.

The strategy worked: I lasted until exactly 6:35pm PST!

But there is only so much a human can take. By 6:50pm I was alternating between fervent, assenting house-motions accompanying Biden's unrattled, experience-driven and germane remarks which addressed the questions posed, to barely dangling by a thread, head-in-between-knees babbling creature as Palin winked & smiled knowingly at the camera while she avoided the questions posed in order to spew out the sound bytes she'd invariably been fed in her boot-camp prep over the past week.

O Lord, thank you for that 30-minute extension of relative emotional health!

Dare I list all the infuratingly frustrating examples that sent me into such a nearly-frothing psychological ball of goo? That had me muttering under my breath and groaning "ooooooohhhh" the entire way try to seek solace with my neighbors who were listening to the time-delayed broadcast but knowing I couldn't bear to hear another subatomic particle of 'golly gee I really get it even if I don't know anything but that's not my achilles heel it's my strength' messaging lest I wished to remain a functional member of society.... last to enter my home, pop in some amazing rap and dance...REALLY HARD....

I have a whole sheet full of -isms, sayings, contradictions and the like which may be therapeutic to elaborate on...but on the other hand, such an exercise just might keep me down in that low, desolate place that has me wondering if we are no longer in a place to support a healthy democracy in this country.

So I'll weigh it out. Can't bring myself to even read the pundits' recap yet. All I know is that for now, there is hope. With some good music, I'm coming back.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Wall Street Morphing: Required Syllabus

As the markets unravel we can all reverse-engineer and wade our way to discern what, in fact, happened. A few sources that have proven invaluable lately are below.

Note that this list is hardly exhaustive. For example, more thoughts about how the banks became speculators and traders vs. service providers (and the impact that this 'derivative' tangent had) are floating out there somewhere & not captured here...:

1) James Cramer . Never was a big reader of his but this article - already a few days 'old' and pre-Buffett investment in Goldman - remains quite spot-on.

2) Princeton economists. Not ivory tower! These guys have the data and the reality to help us not only diagnose what happened, but prescribe a better future. Just a FEW references on some key insights (and I'm only 18 minutes in! I tried to capture rough time-markers....):
- Minute 6:30: the i-banks leverage was just the opposite of household leverage; that is, as asset values increased, so did the banks' leverage. The opposite happens at an individual household level (as your home appreciates in value, your leverage DEcreases). As a result, when the underlying, long-term asset depreciates, the ensuing death spiral accelerates at unprecedented, exponential paces than historically experienced (and...don't press me to explain beyond that ;0).
- Minute 12: This is big: the "maturity mismatch" snafu that happened when long-term assets such as homes were chopped up into short-term investment vehicles/products (call them what you will). This led to high volatility as short-term debt no longer could be rolled over when long-term values began to fall.
- Minute 14: 40: recommendation to measure risk and exposure systemically (i.e. don't just look at how Lender A connects to Lender B to assess the amount of exposure Lender A has - the exposure must be evaluated in light of the whole web).

...and again, I'm not even 1/3 of the way through...I SWEAR those economists are the smartest. I have nothing but geek love for them.

3) Roubini. Again. Nouriel. My hero. He started predicting hedge fund fallout last week. Bets?

Can we please read the fine print and learn?

A friend recently shared how her dad says that whenever things head south, there's always a way to make money. Enter poster child Warren Buffett.

Just days after buying $5 billion of Goldman Sachs ("perpetual preferred" stock...ah....), Buffett shows he has a soft spot for those kinds of shares and buys $3B more of GE's.
The perpetual preferred stock carries a dividend of 10 percent, and can be repurchased after three years, at a 10 percent premium. Berkshire Hathaway will also receive warrants to buy $3 billion of common stock at $22.25 within the next five years.
So when Americans becry a "bailout" I wish they could do some Buffett primering. Specifically, there are bailouts...and then there are deals. Congress needs to strike the latter. Unfortunately, these involve a bit more complexity than the average person has an appetite for (dangling preposition and all).


Isn't that the key to everything?

Last night my friend Tony noted the strength of the beta of real estate in NY. That is, as the markets go, so does real estate to a vast degree. Then this morning, his words are vindicated:
“This is the company town for money,” [Richard Lefrak, patriarch of a fourth-generation real estate family that owns office buildings and apartment houses in New York and New Jersey] said. “If there’s no liquidity in the system, it exacerbates the problems. It’s going to have a serious effect on the local economy and real estate values.”
Anyone have any liquidity to spare...purty please?....