Thursday, February 16, 2017

Big talk by...

Recently I have been reminded of one of my best neighborhood friends from the distant past.  He could talk in a stream of consciousness that was difficult to interrupt.  What he said was almost always transparently a stretch or completely made up.  He would start out with observed events that his listeners could identify with and then veer off into a riff that was preposterous.  He would turn from one tall tale to the next without catching a breath.  It was often riveting and hilarious. Even those a few years older would stop and listen, and laugh.

Bubba was six years old, but Donald Trump is 70.  Bubba was making people laugh while Trump is causing serious angst.  Bubba had no malice.  Trump is always in attack mode.

So why the memory.  What was in complete enjoyment at a very young age now seems to be the m.o. of the President of the United States.  Bubba grew up and became Bob, an upstanding citizen of my hometown. There is something seriously wrong with Donald Trump. This is not a joke.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

U.S. equity market rise feels perilous

It is both fascinating and frightening to watch the mind numbing rise of the U.S. equity markets of late.  Why?  The market feels fully valued and the uncertainty around the Trump administration's actions day by day is unsettling.  As said in a post last week, the sustainability of expected returns is a key component of stock valuation.  With so much that is up in the air at the moment, certainty on that metric seems difficult to gauge.

The concern here is that a correction will eventually occur, and that it will be ugly.  The possibility for something unexpected happening is always there, but it seems heightened now.  Once a downturn begins, it can become self-sustaining and irrational, aka a panic to get out by savers, pensioners, and unhedged fund managers.  Rebuilding after such an event is almost always tedious, and with 2008 still visible in the rear view mirror, a rebuild may be slow.  That would put pressure on the economy and consumer spending.  How an inexperienced President and his administration would react to this is worrisome.

On the positive front, Janet Yellen has been steady and straightforward over the last two days.  She has not been intimidated by some Trump inspired members of Congress who want the Federal Reserve to go silent and stop international contact while waiting for guidance from Trump.  That's not the way the Fed works, and she shows absolutely no sign of being intimidated.

In the midst of winter and an early dusk, more reassuring comments from market's smartest would be welcome.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Computer tech visits... results?

Today a highly recommended computer technician came to the house to install a new printer, fax, scanner.  It has been several years since we have had the experience of such a visit.  The memory of past fixes and repairs was slowly revisited as he mused in front of the computer, making adjustments and getting it set.

He looked assured and spoke well.  As he toiled away he seemed to be in no rush, and pleased with himself.  After a little more than hour it was ready and instructions were given, but the scanner did not work.  He did not know why.  He never figured out why.  It eventually was time to fix dinner, so he had to leave after sitting around pondering what to do and being in an online chat with HP that could have gone on until midnight.  The hours charged for labor were two and a half.  

The opinion here is that he was yet another laid off knucklehead from the corporate world who was marginally more knowledgeable than me if my inclination had been to go through the tedious process of reading directions and linking everything up.  That's is decidedly not a positive review of his work.

It's a price that is willingly paid here for a job well done, but not so happily for a mystified but well meaning technician.  For many who desired continuity without hard work, looking decent and being pleasant and well spoken were prerequisites for being invisible in the corporate world.  It's not a free pass elsewhere, or should not be.  He did well for himself today, and may even be unaware of my displeasure with his permanently corporatized mind.

With that observation, everything is ok.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Colbert and Fallon, are the tables turning?

With the election of Donald Trump, the world feels changed.  Even late night television is different. The two leaders of late night television shows, Jimmy Fallon and Stephen Colbert, may be changing places.  Fallon, on NBC, was by far the most popular in the last few years as he followed up on Jay Leno's reign.  He is a prodigious talent and his performances, imitations, dancing, singing, facial expressions, and quips reflect his skills and humor. Colbert is more restrained, for the most part, but an eager performer with a thoughtful side to his humor.  He is cutting when he chooses to be and at times he does choose.

Since the election, Colbert has been the one who is more precise in his comments on the election and Trump, and his humor has an edge that is purposeful but still packs a humorous punch.  For many, that is what is needed.  In a way that is a completely exaggerated comment on the two of them, hypothetically speaking, Colbert plays Lenny Bruce to Fallon's Milton Berle.  That comment is admittedly a stretch, but directionally speaking it speaks to Fallon's challenge.  He is a hard charging, hard partying, fun guy, while Colbert is more controlled and incisive.

It may be Colbert's time now for many viewers.  The opening of the program last night had a cartoon with Bannie putting Donnie to bed, reassuring Donnie that he could sleep well because everyone really did like him.  It was unexpected and perfect, not preachy or mean, just making fun of the way things really seem to be.  For those who have the misfortune to be up and watching television at that hour, try Colbert if you haven't done so recently.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Two interesting profiles of intense personalities

---Russell Westbrook --- Westbrook is the star guard on the Oklahoma City Thunder NBA team.  This year he could do what is next to impossible.  That is to average a triple double, for points, rebounds, and assists, for an entire season.  The February 5th Sunday New York Times Magazine profiles this extraordinary talent and an unusual personality, such that his teammates refer to him as "different dude", or "he's weird, yeah, bizarre, not normal".  The way he dresses, the way he thinks, and importantly the way plays basketball can be unpredictable.

A regular season NBA game is rarely watched here.  Toward the end of the post season, parts of a few games may be watched.  Still, reading about sports remains an interest.  This article is informative and reveals the story behind the meticulous and always intense Westbrook as he is playing in his first season after eight years of being paired with the more heralded Kevin Durant.   For anyone with basketball experience, this is worth reading.

---Anthony Bourdain --- the current edition of The New Yorker profiles the television personality, food writer, and non-stop traveler who over the last 15 years has hosted and obsessively planned food forays around the world for three different networks.  Now on CNN, his program is "Parts Unknown", which could refer both to the places and the food.

The article, written by the talented Patrick Radden Keefe, follows Bourdain's career through various Manhattan kitchens as he worked his way up in the restaurant business.  His break came in 1998 when he became executive chef of Les Halles, a brasserie and steak house on Park Ave. around 30th street that was popular and always full.  He turned that experience into a best selling book, "Kitchen Confidential" and has never looked back.  This is a typical New Yorker profile that is in depth and all over the place.  Bourdain is a personality that lives big, in an almost manic way.  That life is captured for a reader's enjoyment.

Postscript 2/11---Just noticed that the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Golden State Warriors, now home of Durant and Stephen Curry, will play tonight on ABC.  That may be worth a look for a quarter or so.

Thursday, February 09, 2017

Winter wins today

The forecast for today was not a concern.  With an expected temperature of 33 degrees, we simply looked for a messy day of wet snow.  When the snow did arrive at 4am, it was 28 degrees and it rose in the late morning to 31, and now is back down to 24.  Yes, there is significant snow accumulation and roads are for the most part without cars.

Our driveway has at least a foot of snow and our plow guy has not yet arrived.  He usually waits until the snow has stopped, and my hope that the snow seen now was just blowing around from rooftops and trees may not be correct.  It may still be snowing.  It is very fine snow.

One of the key attributes of the morning was missed.  Reading newspapers online can be done, but it is not the same as holding and flipping through the newsprint.  That is relaxing.  Sitting up straight in a desk chair and moving through the Times and Journal with clicks is different.  Habits!

We have everything that we need as we did have the foresight to stock up, fortunately not relying on my forecasting skills.  There are books to read, Facebook to waste time on, and financial websites to check on and manage investments.  I am at least marginally aware that days like this can lead to more trading than necessary, bringing the gambling response to the frontal lobe.  That can be exciting on a dreary day, but can lead to reversing trades a few days later.  That has been restrained today.  The only big move was a sell of Verizon, which despite its rich dividend does not seem like a well managed company that should be stayed with.

At the moment it looks like tomorrow will be a continuation of today, even as the snow subsides, since it will stay well below freezing.  By Saturday our local family market just down the hill will surely deliver.  By Sunday it will warm up into the low 40's.  That's winter.  We're fine, but surely trapped.  We do have the comfort of knowing that the post Sandy acquired generator is ready at any time.

Snowplows now passing by clearing our street and piling up snow in front of the driveway entrances. We need our plow driver soon so K's caretakers can have a shift change.

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Nordstrom attack by Trump

We are moving into the realm of ludicrous now.  President Trump attacked Nordstrom for not ordering the Ivanka Trump clothing line for the season.  They said it was not selling well enough.
Trump sent his own personal tweet and then forwarded it to the POTUS account.  This is blatantly mixing personal business with the Presidential office.  It is petty and immature.

One could guess that he needed to take a time out from attacking the judiciary.

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

"Want Not", an exceptional novel from Jonathan Miles

This book was published in 2013.  That was not a banner year here and somehow it was missed at the time.  His first novel, "Dear American Airlines", from 2008, had been a wonderful find then but Miles somehow fell off the radar screen until recently.  It was a treat to discover "What Not", even though late to the party.

Miles has a talent for both astute observation of our world and a way to look at it with finely tuned humor.  "What Not" details the lives of three sets of different people that are interacting with their surroundings in parallel ways, not remotely in the same way but thematically similar.  Talmadge and Micah are a young couple, squatters and dumpster divers on the lower east side of Manhattan, with vastly different backgrounds.  Elwin is a college professor of applied linguistics in a state of mid-life decline --- significantly overweight, deserted by his wife, trying to humor his dying father in a nursing home, and on a national task force that seeks to find ways to mark hazardous waste isolation sites that would exist for thousands of years.  Dave, Sara, and and their teenage daughter Alexis are a wealthy but dysfunctional family supported by a predatory debt collection business whose goals have to some extent been achieved but leaving the daughter completely frayed.

These stories become intertwined near the end of the book, but are linked throughout in their relationship to "stuff", what we own, store, save, hoard, seek, steal, hide, adore, and waste.  The story of Micah and her migration from an isolated upbringing in rural east Tennessee to India, San Francisco, and New York amazingly seems completely possible.  Talmadge's journey from Ole Miss frat boy to Burning Man burn out to the lower east side exists in this book as not improbable.

The other two stories had their own quirks, somewhat normal people leading stressful abnormal lives. To say it all comes together would be incorrect, but the direction is clear.  That's a preferred guess and up to the mind of the reader.

Sunday, February 05, 2017

Super Bowl coming up...

Today's big American game is coming up in just over an hour.  We will be tuned in to see what Lady Gaga does or says at halftime and what other musicians may join her, to see George and Barbara Bush handle the coin toss if they are able, to listen to the cipher in chief Mike Pence say something meaningless to whoever puts a mike in front of his face, and to check out the commercials, especially the ones in which small companies blow their annual marketing budget on one spot.  There is the added interest in seeing if any company's ads do anything to offend the hyper-sensitive Trump.

The game may be interesting if it is close.  Football is not followed closely here and to the extent it is done, it is by reading not watching.  The local, from the historic point of view of Long Islanders, Jets had a horrible year and are sticking with their failed coach and management, and the city fan's Giants teased but did not deliver.  If Atlanta gives us a chance to watch what would be an upset of New England, that would be nice but not necessarily enough of a hook to stay in front of the television consistently.

If the game entertains, we're with it.  If not, there is a near brilliant book being read that is 60 pages from the end.  It will be a good night.

Postscript:   The first half was watched dutifully here, a Honda ad especially liked, and then Lady Gaga was exceptional.  Took a break and spent time communicating with others on the computer and then rejoined the game at the end of the third quarter, luckily.  What a game by Brady and company. Flawless execution.  One observation --- the owner of the Falcons and his wife came down to the sidelines at some point in the second half.  He was extremely well dressed and clearly ready to be depicted as part of the victory.  As things began to fall apart his wife's concerned looks at him were telling.  What was he doing there, other than proclaiming victory too soon.  Everyone had to notice. As if Tom Brady needed more incentive and the Falcons needed more pressure to close, Arthur Blank chose to attract attention to his own misery.

Saturday, February 04, 2017

Peggy Noonan's straightforward look at the Trump chaos

Peggy Noonan's opinion column in the Wall Street Journal can at times be entertaining, but rarely is one agreed with.  Today's column is telling as it comes from this former Reagan speechwriter and highly connected conservative commentator.  She writes, "Last week's executive order on immigration continues to reverberate.  There was no Republican in Washington - not one, on the Hill or within the party structure - who did not privately call the order a disaster."

She writes about the chaos caused by Trump's multiple announcements, lack of coordination with agencies that  relate to whatever he is doing or saying, and his constant poor choice of words, such as the "go nuclear" advice to Mitch McConnell when pushing the Supreme Court nominee.  Says Noonan, "No president, ever, should use those words in public; the Senate should ban that hideous, he-man, drama queen of a phrase."

While viewing the nominee as qualified, Noonan viewed the announcement "in the august East Room as lowering, undignified, not right."  Despite that, attacking this highly educated and literate nominee in a knee jerk way by Democrats is a battle that will be lost, and should not be fought.  She did not say that exactly, but it is the thought here.  There have been many instances where justices have evolved once on the Court, and Neil Gorsuch has the seriousness of someone who could.  He is likely the best nominee that we will get from Trump, and completely alienating him from the outset is a bad idea.

On another front, Howard Stern, a long time friend of Trump who often was on his show, said two days ago that being president will be "detrimental to Trump's mental health.  He wants to be liked, he wants to be loved, he wants people to cheer for him."  Continuing Stern said that for Trump running for president was "a cool thing to do."  On Stern's shows Trump and Stern often talked pretty much like Trump's highly publicized conversation with Billy Bush, just not quite as explicit.  Stern more or less said that Trump did not expect to win but wanted the publicity for business purposes.  The fraying of Trump may already be evident, as twice yesterday in announcements Trump unequivocally said his word "bigly", aka big league.

So here we are. The craziness will continue.

Thursday, February 02, 2017

Trump, more than 1400 days...

It is daunting to think that we have more than 1400 days left for Trump to seek attention.  Some seem to think that what is going on now with the new administration is due to the transition and everything that is required.  The view here is that Donald Trump will look for attention getting opportunities each day and every day for the next four years.

He is addicted to hyperbole.  Everything that existed before him is a "disaster" and anything that he wants to change will be "totally destroyed".  He will "do a number" on Dodd Frank.  The disease is apparently contagious as Nikki Haley will "take names" at the U.N.  At the National Prayer Breakfast this morning he chose to talk about his great ratings on "Celebrity Apprentice" as compared to Arnold Schwarzenegger's "weak" ratings now.  He is addicted to bragging about himself, at a church sponsored celebration of prayer?

The media is trying hard to treat Trump normally.  In particular the cable news networks have added inexperienced panelists that are Trump supporters or apologists to almost every program. Newspapers and television would like to think that the chronic lying and the attacks on our allies are just something that he needs to be weaned from as he puts the campaign in the rear view mirror.  That is not going to happen.

In the true spirit of this morning's breakfast, should we pray for this incredibly needy, delusional, and isolated man who the voters chose to be Commander in Chief.  Or should we pray for ourselves?

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Equity market takes a necessary pause --- outlook uncertain

Given the strength of the U.S. equity market over the last two months, the decline on Monday and the continued pause today is necessary.  Investors should take a break and assess what's happening.  If markets get too far ahead of themselves, a fall can be more uncontrollable if it eventually comes, and it will.  A correction would be normal, a collapse would be damaging.

It is realized that the potential for corporate tax cuts, regulatory relief for certain industries, benefits for companies that have been hurt by foreign imports, and a more business oriented administration is credited for the ongoing creep up of the stock market after the election.  That may be, but it is also due to the fact that corporate earnings have stayed on track, credit issues in the financial system are minimal, and employment tightening indicates that small business is beginning to have a long awaited revival after the recessionary years.  All of that is due to Obama policies coming to fruition.

The hope that many investors have for the Trump administration is beginning to be tempered by a realization that there will likely be a negative incremental impact in the global markets if the Trump commentary on trade, protectionism, tariffs, currency manipulation, border taxes, and immigration all come to fruition.  Trump boasts about delivering on his promises, and he has got his hand on the throttle of turning his campaign words into action.  This is beginning to unfold in an incoherent way was no seeming overarching vision.  If it continues in this manner,  uncertainty will lead to a slow down in cross border activity and communication, a higher cost of capital in the U.S., and perceived higher degree of risk in international investment.

Both Trump and Bannon's unpredictable rants that have undertones of militarism and can be bellicose, and the "America first" refrain continues to reflect a nationalist throwback.  All of this is counter to what has led to a global economy that has over time led to global growth.  Global growth has led to a growing middle class in many countries, and that is good for world stability and trade.

When this uncertainty gets reflected in the equity market is not known, but if the pace of  incendiary Trump commentary continues it surely will.  Trump's tendency to insult other countries willy nilly as if his words can be taken back the next day with no consequences is bizarre, but we should expect no change.  He is uncontrollable and careless.

This is all being assessed by financial markets now.  The outlook is uncertain.  As difficult as it is to time markets, waiting to make new equity investments may be prudent now.

"Becoming Warren Buffett"

This program on HBO last night was an exceptional documentary.  It was a candid look at the famous investor's business and personal life.  It gives a picture of a driven and focused investor who has a self-deprecating sense of humor and an intellect's enjoyment of life.  It's a film that has personal lessons for all if they want to hear them.  His dedication to philanthropy as he got older and after his wife's death is a key part of his persona now that is covered.

It can be expected that the program will be aired frequently in the coming weeks and give more viewers the opportunity to see an interesting life lived with relentless but low key passion.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

The diplomacy of the new U.N. ambassador?

Nikki Haley made her debut at the U.N. yesterday with a splash, or a belly flop.  Speaking to reporters there, standing in her knee high black boots with stiletto heels, she threatened the world in American vernacular saying that the U.S. is "taking names" of anyone that does not "have the back" of the United States.  Nice start Nikki.  Did you go back to the playbook of your last home state extremist superstar Lee Atwater to come up with that?

Friday, January 27, 2017

Just the first week...

As the first week of the new presidency comes to a close, what can be said.  Was one day more cringeworthy or appalling than the next.  It seemed to evolved in half days.  There is no need to comment on the specifics.

Broadly speaking, Donald Trump and Steve Bannon seem to be laying the groundwork for an assault on the basic tenets of our democracy, already.  Freedom of the press and voting rights for all are the two clear targets now.  One could go on and on talking about Trump as a buffoon, narcissist, chronic liar, or megalomaniac, but that was well known.  That Bannon is a crude right wing nationalist and racist was obvious as well.  That said, honing in on their targets so soon, so obviously, and so aggressively was not expected.

One could almost think that Trump is becoming unhinged.  He is so accustomed to doing absolutely anything that he wants.  Walk  a half block down 56th street from Trump Tower to a fine steak house, spend a few days playing golf at one of his properties in Florida or Scotland,  fly to Kazakhstan or Chicago or wherever to look at a possible new investment, or just loll around in his gilded 80 foot long living room.  He has lived with few constraints.

Unlike in the campaign, he can no longer tell the press corps to go home and then slip out to a private room at 21.  He is living at the White House without Melania and his young son and likely without the servants who are most familiar with his every need.  Maybe Ivanka and Jared stop in from time to time, but apparently they have a life.  So is he just left to his non-stop television news watching and twitter sending for the night, trapped, and getting more wound up and paranoid.

This feels dangerous.

Saturday, January 07, 2017

Snow today

The expectation was that we would have from one to three inches of snow today, which would have been immaterial.  There must be at least a solid three or more for our driveway plow guy to show up. He will surely be here early tomorrow morning as it's likely that there are at least six inches on the ground tonight.  That's the perfect amount of snow.  It is not disabling but it is the real thing.  Winter wonderland arrives.

It is perfect for driving, something that has always been enjoyed.  Driving in the snow is a challenge and an adventure.  They say it's the other guy that needs to be watched out for and that is surely the case, and worth the risk.  Getting things done, doing errands, or visiting someone seems like an accomplishment, the routine becomes a reason to smile.

Tomorrow will be in the low to mid 20's all day so the snow will stay, children will be out sledding, and roads will take care. Monday it begins to warm up and by Wednesday it is expected to be in the 50's.  Enjoy while it lasts, and be glad that it wasn't a huge storm that created real problems.

Thursday, January 05, 2017

"Hold Still", a memoir by Sally Mann

This memoir is filled with photographs.  Born in Lexington, Virginia and firmly rooted there for much of her life, this widely known photographer reveals more than most would about her life, her family history, and husband and children.  It is an engaging book, and her family history was not at all as expected of someone growing up in a Shenandoah Valley town of 7,000 people, daughter of a country doctor.

As one part of the book, it as expected deals with the provocative photographs of her children on their farm in the late 1980's that drew praise as photographs from many in the arts but derision from many observers for the nudity that was shown.  Major publications like the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal drew attention to this and opined about the morality or immorality of it all.  The name Sally Mann became well known, but the bulk of her photographic work was not.

She meticulously details her work process, other focuses of her work, the allure of the South and its mythology and culture, and the network of artists that she cultivated.  Cy Twombly was a Lexington native that visited each year, a collaborator and supporter.  Other artists were in residence at Washington and Lee University in Lexington from time to time.  She regularly traveled to meet with others in New York and abroad.  Her commitment to her farm and family was pervasive, but she was not isolated.  The Southern nature of her writing definitely leads her to a fixation on tradition, nature, destiny, and death.  Her education at the prep school Putney in Vermont may seem to belie her southern roots, but, as sometime happens, it may have only made them stronger.

This is an exceptional family history.  In particular, her father and his family history could be a book on its own.  For a local doctor available at all times for all people, his experience in culture, art, and literature was broad.  His acquisitions of artwork that began the late 1930's were prescient and no doubt financially rewarding to someone, maybe someday.  They were certainly their own reward on the walls of country houses.

A connection was felt here simply because she lived in and participated in the same times, she and her husband were traveling in Europe and staying in hostels in 1971(same year for me and my friends), she was nurtured in the same state, she lived along the now I-81 valley corridor in Virginia that connects my paternal grandparent's family hometowns in Tom's Brook and Lebanon, and a photographer from my hometown, Emmet Gowin, was clearly an early influence on her work.  He was born in 1941 and not personally known to me.

Opinion here is that the writing is well done with interesting detail and humor when it works, but it occasionally borders on being a bit overreaching in more flowery moments.  The same could be said for some of the photos, but knowledge of photography as an art form is not a specialty here.  The many photographs in the book, both hers and many family treasures from the past, help make this book special.

This book was published in 2015, was a finalist for the National Book Award, and a winner of a Carnegie medal for excellence in non-fiction.  That recognition must have been rewarding, but in researching Mann for this comment it was learned that her oldest son Emmett took his own life at age 36 in June 2016 after years of struggling with mental illness.  Apparently she rarely leaves the farm now, and that is a sad end to this book comment.

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

"401(K) Pioneers Lament..."

A front page article in the WSJ today discusses 401(K) plans and how they have weakened retirement security for many since their genesis.  The much lauded 401K began in the 1980's as an enlightened method of saving for retirement.  Partially matching contributions by many companies enhanced the attraction.  The result was that they supplanted the traditional defined benefit plan in much of corporate America, something the corporates wanted as a cost saver.  That has led to more uncertainty for many retirees, and a feeling of less security.

There are several problems with 401K products, or maybe the word should just be "issues".  First, they must be capably managed by someone.  Second, the costs associated with that must be restrained. For many savers, investment management is not a skill that was required in their work life. As a saver ages, managing the increasing value of a 401K can become treacherous.  One downturn in the market at the wrong time could cripple a long thought through retirement plan.  Generally that leads savers to be too conservative and forego growth of one their primary nest eggs.

Another issue is that all distributions are taxable, as the money directed into a 401K is not taxed going in.  That can lead to a false sense of security, especially in states with high tax rates.  As at certain income levels Social Security distributions are also taxable, that can be a double whammy that limits the realization of a "comfortable retirement" contemplated by the middle class.  That's again especially true in areas with a high cost of living.

For those who have a defined benefit pension, which now is predominantly public sector retirees, it has become something more dear.  No need to worry about management of investment choices or economic downturns as long as the distributor is solvent.  Many boomers may share a similar experience of having a defined benefit commitment from the early years of their corporate work life when they had modest earnings to now having a much larger 401K value with the associated uncertainty.  With the general rise in life expectancy over time, the defined benefit now feels like a gem.  If inflation returns it could be seriously diminished.  Some seniors joke that by the time they are in their eighties their defined benefit payments could be just enough to buy a turkey sandwich with fries for lunch every day.

There is much to think about here, and for many it is the last thing that they want to confront.  Given the limited savings of many, this eventually(five to ten years out) could lead to a broad crisis that will make student loans look like a zit on an elephant and rival the 2008/2009 mortgage debacle.  Whether this will be primarily an economic event or turn into a significant political event is open to speculation.

This is one of the intuitively felt fears that led to the voters' choice in 2016.

Sunday, January 01, 2017

The holidays must be over

If only life were like that great William Bell song "Every day will be like a holiday...".  That was soul music at its best and love was the theme as almost always.  This holiday season, based on the calendar, is done.  Love can still be a theme.

Cards came in as usual, nothing surprising but all enjoyed.  The full story is often not told by a card, as the whole point is a positive wish and a pleasant greeting.  It's always nice when a card has a written note but few do these days. Photos of children are wonderful, and there are less of those now. This year most of the ones that we sent were without notes of consequence. Getting the carefully chosen cards out and mailed on time was the overriding goal.

Christmas visits from adult children were pleasant and enjoyed, but too short of course.  They are accomplished in their own unique ways and stay busy as we understand.  What we do have still here is enough sweet food and spicy snack food to last us a few weeks at least, some purchased to make sure we had enough for visitors and some sent to us as gifts.  In that way the holiday season will linger.

Some of the remaining special dinner food will be turned into a fine meal in a few minutes, as soon as the typing stops...

Saturday, December 31, 2016

"The agony of hope", the Holiday essay from The Economist

Catching up on magazine reading today, this article finally was read.  As it is the December 24th issue, newstands are not likely to have it now.  It is a six page review of and commentary on the Presidency of Barack Obama.  It is well written and allows the reader the room to have opinions. While it will probably not be liked by the obsessives on much of the right or the fringe far left,  it was a thorough and thoughtful review of a thoughtful but politically aloof president, or as much as can be done in six pages of the magazine.

It does not end on an optimistic note.  Obama was aware of the limitations of power and it is not clear that our country is at the moment.  The first family was a model of good behavior.  The coming change is already evident, and many are bracing for it.  The popular wisdom says that our institutions are much stronger than any one person.  That may be tested soon.

Happy New Year?   Yes, Happy New Year must be said.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

"Shoe Dog", a memoir by Phil Knight

This book is a history of the founding of Nike, originally Blue Ribbon, in 1964 until its initial public offering in 1980.  It is also a life story of the founder Phil Knight.

This is a straightforward and easily readable look back .  Knight is trying to both tell his story and the company's story, and it starts off a bit awkwardly.  The beginning details an around the world trip taken by Knight after graduation from business school at Stanford when he did not know what he wanted to do with his life. He discusses the many interesting places that he saw and lists the books that he read along the way.  This must be why in the positive comments on the book's back cover by Andre Agassi he refers to it as "literary".

After that beginning, the book starts the real story.  On that post college trip Knight began his quest to build a sports shoe company by visiting a few manufacturers in Japan.  When he returns home months later he works on an arrangement to import shoes from Japan and distribute them.  That start begins with no office, a lawyer, Knight's college track coach, and a couple of his friends selling on commission.  It advanced to a point of having an office/storeroom in a big room with broken windows to having a small core of employees, Knight, another former college track friend, a track devotee who became a paraplegic in a car accident, and a CFO, an in-house counsel, and a head of marketing each of whom weighed over 320 pounds, working for a fitness company.

It's the story of the culture of the company and the somewhat eccentric group that created it.  It would be a perfect airline or train read, not too intense, while interesting and informative.

While reading, I wondered about a co-writer or someone who helped shape the style.  There is no doubt here that Knight was the source of the book.  There is a continuity that suggests help and there was some.  In the acknowledgements section at the very end, Knight mentions J.R. Moehringer "whose generosity and good humor and enviable storytelling gifts I relied on through the many, many drafts of this book."  Moehringer played the same role with Andre Agassi for his book "Open".  Moehringer's own writing includes a highly successful book about a local pub about a mile away from here called "The Tender Bar".  It should be noted that Knight appears to have audited writing classes with a professor at the University of Oregon which suggests diligent preparation.

This book worked here.  It's definitely being sent to a former cross country runner who has three young children and no time to read it, but he will sometime.  Completely coincidentally I gave him five shares of Nike stock for a Christmas present many years ago, maybe when he was around 10 years old.

A beautiful pair --- Donald Trump and Don King

It was nice to see the President-elect and the former ostentatious boxing promoter/hustler outside of Trump's Florida resort for photos.  King, the of course widely admired, socially conscious, and honorable businessman, is certainly a voice that will be important during this busy transition period. As Trump said, pointing during one of his rallies in front of one his typical crowds during the campaign, "Where is my black man over there?"  Yesterday he was on his front porch.

Monday, December 26, 2016

"Tex McCrary", a life and a book of opinionated history, politics, relationships, and gossip

The subtitle of this rambling and entertaining book is "Wars . Women . Politics     An Adventurous Life Across The American Century".  It was published by Hamilton Books, a self-publishing company, in 2009 and written by Charles J. Kelly who became a friend of Tex in the 1990's when they were trying to draft Colin Powell to run for President.  Apparently Kelly, who is little known, thought that Tex should write his memoirs, Tex didn't want to focus on the past, and Kelly met with Tex many times to write the story himself.

Born in 1910, McCrary had a busy and active life as is detailed in the book.  It is in some ways a story of the old boy's networks that existed across the country and across borders in his era.  Born and living until his early teens in Texas, John Reagan McCrary went to Exeter and Yale and often stayed in Manhattan with the proverbial rich uncle.  He somehow early on became close friends with the much older Bernard Baruch.  Tex, nickname earned at prep school, became a journalist, a risk taking war reporter in World War II and in Korea, and between 1946 and 1951 an early days talk radio host and then pioneering television personality with his wife the model and actress(and Miss Rheingold) Jinx Falkenberg.  He was an early supporter of his former boss Dwight Eisenhower for President, and with his wife raising early funds and having the first major rally for Eisenhower at Madison Square Garden.

This part of the book, more than half, is fascinating even if not written like other history books.  An astute editor would have been helpful.  The rest of the book has Tex staying involved in politics and having contacts with major leaders, but on the periphery.  While remaining interesting, the book becomes a little bit of a "where's waldo" tale, with the writer always placing Tex in the middle of events.  It seems that he always was around them.  At 9/11 he was living in an apartment building at Battery Park in Manhattan and, when the planes hit, he at age 90 with his reporter's motivation went out on the streets to take photographs. When the first of the buildings collapsed he was blown into unconsciousness, and woke up in a hospital in New Jersey where the injured were taken across the river.

The interest in this book started with the unexpected death of my friend Paddy McCrary, Tex's older son, several months ago and a few day's before his 70th birthday.  The last time we saw him was in the town Rite Aid as we stood in line waiting for prescriptions, maybe a year ago.  We chatted with him and he seemed perfectly fine.  I have no idea what happened.

 He was my older daughter's first instructor at the area tennis academy, and went from being an acquaintance to a good friend around town. He had grown up at a house on the nearby Whitney estate.

This book is not for everyone, but it was enjoyed here.  The opinionated history was found to be refreshing even if not always agreed with.

Friday, December 23, 2016

This is just impossible...

When the President-elect talks on Twitter about upgrading nuclear warheads, it seems beyond the fringe.  After trying to back off and accepting what has happened, this man is no representative of a life that is known for my family.  What is this going to mean.  He seems to be intent on initiating his most extreme campaign positions.  Is there a reason to be afraid, as in the silly learn how to hide under the desks in elementary school.  That was more real than we knew.  What about this reckless man?

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Christmas coming...

As always at this time of the year, food is plentiful here, not too much as it can be spread out over the holidays, but definitely more than usual.  There are two boxes waiting to be delivered upstate, and there are more cookies around than we can eat at the moment.  They are wrapped so can wait.

Cards have arrived, more than last year.  Fortunately the card sending tradition here cannot stop, and almost everyone has been covered.  Still, each day's mail can arrive with a surprise or a news update.

Deciding on tips to those who provide services here is the usual source of angst.  Too little, too much, what a waste of mental energy.  It is unavoidable and should not be an issue.  The goal is to reward well but not ostentatiously.  Why should giving be difficult.

It is not that way with charities, but the research needed to decide is daunting.  That leads to fallbacks like MSF and local community funds in this town and hometowns.  That is still being decided. Certainly charity should not be driven by tax time, but the documentation of it is required.  Not a strong suit here so under reporting is a tradition as no problems are wanted.

Just a holiday note from here of little consequence...

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Ad selling on fake sites

The business section of today's NYT had a lead article about fake internet sites and ads sold on them. It is clearly a problem.  The bigger problem only tangentially focused on by the article is that some search engines seem to enable this knowingly.  Yahoo is the major culprit seen here.  For historical reasons it is a screen site here with various personal attachments.  There are no passwords or other secure data attached knowingly, but the site itself is rife with trash.

Their formulas for determining what should be seen here have always been wildly off base.  In the past golf stories showed up constantly for little reason.  Now the site is radically worse.  After a lead story or two that are legitimate, many items opened lead quickly to unwanted and unknown sites, without any action by the user.

Yahoo is not only fading.  It is corrupt.  Buyer beware.  That means that Verizon must continue extreme due diligence.  And, can we finally close the book on so many trying to make excuses for Marissa Mayer's abysmal performance.  She is surely attractive looking, but is that why the scrutiny of her management skills has been so lax.  Does the media go out of its way not want to penalize her for being attractive. It seems that she still gets a pass.  There should be no question that she has not done well.

While the stock has greatly appreciated from the lows that she created three years ago and we caught that move here, the firm is not attractive now.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016


A few crisis events here and there, in our home and around the world, and little has been posted here recently.  Last night, Woody Allen's "Cafe Society" was watched, which was an entertaining break. Jesse Eisenberg actually plays the Woody Allen role to a tee --- intonations, gestures, and body language that lead to the conclusion that the writer and director no longer needs to be on screen.  He has created his image.

Yesterday's terrorist events in Berlin and Ankara are beyond concerning.  Little events start big events unexpectedly.  The assassination of the Russian ambassador at a photography exhibit in a museum, an exhibit that was meant to highlight a connection between Russia and Turkey, was brazen madness on film for the world to see.  This does not rise to an Archduke Franz Ferdinand moment, but reminds us that something could.  The Berlin festival murders are more alarming, as the German right wing is already calling what happened to those festive shoppers "Merkel's dead".  Those types of pop up Christmas shops and food venues at Union Square and Columbus Circle were favorites here in Manhattan for many years.  Today they were no doubt fortified.

Meanwhile, back at the U.S. financial ranch, the news networks cannot get enough of the possibility of a Dow 20,000.  It's a news event and not a financial event.  It could easily happen this week absent any consequential news, and that will be followed at some point by the hedge fund shorts moving in later to wipe out the enthusiastic retail investors and the prospectus constrained mutual fund managers and drive the market back down.  So it goes.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Financial markets freeze

With the exception of some givebacks that were obvious and a few gains that were justified, the equity markets in the U.S. were stable today.  "Stable" is not a word that comes to mind to many investors whose worry is palpable.  The issue is, "where is the safe move?'

Some see the President-elect as a boost to the economy.  Even among those who doubt that, it is the ruling thought for the moment.  Go with it incrementally the market is saying, and there are few sellers now.  Everyone just sits.  Buyers just pick off weak bids for good companies that are out of favor.  That overall picture is not leading to robust activity, even as the robo-traders keep volumes up.

Here, gains are so obvious over the last three years that there are few losses to take for tax season. That's a welcome problem.  It's also a vexing one.  It is a reason for a pause, and a reason to what...

 A Trump presidency could be market destroying.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Nitpicks, or more

---Kanye West showing up at Trump Tower and looking somewhat miserable as he left with Donald Trump is explicable.  A serious talent, popular musician, and black entertainer who, by all accounts is psychologically troubled of late, is embraced by Trump in his lobby as a "very long time friend".  Put an adjective on this.

---Earlier here last year, Lester Holt was endorsed by this writer as a replacement for his egomaniac automaton predecessor.  Now he is a news reader automaton as well.  That was ok at the outset, but now he seems to be grasping at the opportunity in a way that would make his predecessors in the past gag. Not only does he read the news with no hint of understanding, he hosts a weekly show, Dateline, that highlights horrible murders, assaults, and grisly events.  The constant advertising is "Don't Watch Alone".  This persona would be anathema to the anchors of old.  If this is his price for being an anchor, he should be pushed out.  He is clearly not a serious person.

---There is an Alzheimer's Foundation that solicits donors.  We have been contributors in the past. The leadership of this organization should be investigated for their salaries and their governance. Needless to say, many people support their supposed mission.  As former donors, we now receive at least two letters each week, no exaggeration, requesting contributions.  The charity has a current fund raising television advertisement on nightly news programs, not cheap to pay for out of donations, saying "Be the first to benefit from a cure." Alzheimer's and the variations of dementia do not have a cure underway.  All reputable neurologists concur.  The onset of these diseases begins well before their acute manifestation.  For this "charity organization" to suggest that contributions could lead to a "Be the first" outcome is reprehensible.  They are exploiting this horrible condition for some benefit. That is the assumption here, and they should be watched. Their leaders salaries and benefits should be a focus. They have an easy target as their beneficiaries and caretakers want any good news and the researchers, as doctors, are presumed to be indiscriminate in their view of sources of funds.

---John Allison for the Fed?  Cato leader from North Carolina elites?  Born into a family of small town banking wealth and Ayn Rand self serving blindness.  This type of entitlement in the south is too well known here.  Opinion here is that he is not a person who has earned any position of government responsibility.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Books of the Year

The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and other publications have been in "book of the year" mode this week.  What is somewhat odd to see from this perspective is that fiction is completely overshadowed by non-fiction.  Really well done literate fiction is preferred here, but nothing stands out at the moment even as all of the lists are read.  There must be something being missed here.  Non-fiction is well represented by books that are entertaining, informative, or influential enough to be required.

Among those non-fiction highlights are "Evicted"(uncontested exceptional), "The Fractured Republic"(thoughtful for the most part), "Shoe Dog"(entertaining business story with interesting characters),  "Hillbilly Elegy"(both thought provoking and self serving but necessary to read given attention paid to it by so many), and "Dark Money"(as unfortunately expected, but well delivered).  Some of the broader fiction lists include "The Noise of Time", "The Sympathizer",  "White Sands", "Nutshell", and "All That Man Is", books read here with interest, but none of these knocked my socks off, so to speak.  A great fiction book of 2016 seems to be missing. There is not even a genre book that did the job completely.

Are these observations at all widely held?  Time will tell.