Thursday, March 22, 2018

Yesterday's comment on snow was premature

It continued to snow yesterday, slowly but consistently until the wee hours.  The plow guy came at 1am  to clean up the driveway and the walk to the front door.  There is a huge amount of somewhat damp snow on bushes and small trees in the yard.  Will there be some breakage?  That's possible.  It's a heavily overcast day now, with snow still flying around that is more likely from roofs and trees than the sky.  Who knows?  This was a morning surprise.  Will today's appointments be possible?  With effort, probably yes if parking lots are cleared.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Significant snow day not anticipated...

In talking with a friend from Virginia yesterday who inquired about the impending weather, my response was "it's not cold enough, only a slush storm that will not have much impact as recent mid- days have been in the high 30's."  Perhaps that was wrong. 

The snow is falling here at mid-day and the temperature is at 31 degrees.  The high is now forecast to be 33, and 12-18 inches of snow is the supposed expectation.  That I doubt, but my track record is deteriorating.  Today was planned to be a grocery shopping day to buy things that I wanted.  There is enough food here, but a surprising wrinkle developed.  Yesterday's dinner food was ordered from a pan-Asian restaurant that has always had reliably tasty food if one is in the mood for it.  It had been maybe a month since the last order.  Grilled steak and in the shell shrimp with mixed vegetables, brown rice,  pad thai, and hot and sour soup were excellent.  The portions were such that tonight's dinner and more were in the bag.  Then...

Last night I was climbing the walls on an hourly basis.  Sleep is never guaranteed these days but this was different.  Then the thought arose.  Could the sauce on the steak, shrimp, and vegetable dish have been cream of MSG.  That proclivity of the restaurant had been forgotten.  There is definitely enough food here, but choice is limited now.  The possibility of delivery from another place in this weather is unclear.

It does look like a perfect day to focus on tax returns, if there is ever a perfect day for that.  My father relished doing this type of project but the accounting enjoyment gene did not pass.  Still, after an hour or two of tedium all documents can be found(or deemed necessary to find), estimated tax payments totaled, charitable contributions added up, and the sum of village, county, and property tax payments done.  Will this get done, all bundled up and ready to hand over tax accountant?  Maybe... that's the intention.

Hmm... just looked out the front door.  The snow plow has come by already and piled up snow in front of the driveway entrances.  Does the Umberto's delivery guy have an SUV?

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Photographs on Facebook continue...

A February 17th post discussed the posting of photographs taking place at that time.  It continues.  With the extensive number of photos taken over the years when traveling or at events, it seems as if this is a way to digitize that past.  Who will ever look at the albums lining three shelves of a bookcase in the guest room and one in the den.  There may well be a better vehicle to do this than Facebook, but this is what is known here.  Photos could be sent individually by e-mail to those who might have interest and that has been done sporadically, but that would be a cumbersome and mostly ineffective approach.  For now FB seems to be it.

The fact that is has a limited reach to my desired audience is unfortunate.  Many close friends never latched on to FB.  At its beginning, it was driven by younger people.  Older age groups followed, but not in mass.  Some of my close friends tried it but were annoyed.  Who wants to make decisions about friend requests?   Why do I want to read trivia and everyone's opinion?  Who has access to this and how can it be used?  Each of those thoughts arose here, but joining in modestly was the approach taken.  Many long time friends had no time for it.  With the effort, or diversion, going on here, encouraging them to piggy back on to someone else's site and find the photos being posted is the best that can be done.

So as mentioned on 2/17, iphone now in hand and albums out, posts continue...

Saturday, March 17, 2018

A Saturday...

The morning newspapers did their job along with a few cups of Cafe du Monde coffee, the usual.  One notable article was the Barron's cover story, "The Costs of Caregiving".  This is nothing groundbreaking but it is a good summary of the possible emotional, physical, and financial stress of caregiving that may not yet have been internalized by many boomers.  Can only experience do that?  Are financial markets factoring in the ultimate impact of this on the broad consumer market?

 The NCAA tournament this afternoon offered no diversion as Villanova and Duke crushed weak opponents.  There was no spectacle like UMBC's win last night.  As they overwhelmed Virginia, the announcers rarely if ever mentioned the full name of the school.  UMBC?  That rail thin 5'7" guard ran the game against the big UVA team.

As has been usual in the last month or two, photo albums and books are being scoured and that leads to posts on Facebook.  This had rarely been my practice in the past, but it is now is a segue into what is already being done, and reinforces an activity that is almost like a treasure hunt.  It seems necessary.

Weekends are a time to assess financial markets and have led to commentary here.  At this point there is not a strong opinion about what lies ahead.  Is the recent volatility just a trader's short term dream, notice that I did not use a possible modifier, that belies a continued strong equity market.  That combined with almost Depression era level interest rates and the year and a half absence of vol suggests that there will be change.  The view here is that the equity market now will be driven by interest rates and foreign exchange, aka the dollar.  That is saying that overall corporate earnings will not be the issue but market valuation levels will be.  The thought remains here is that the market is more fragile that it appears.

Food coming from Misaki soon, a family owned Japanese restaurant  just down the hill that has been in town for 30 years now.  Salmon Teriyaki, brown rice, and New York roll(tuna and avocado) are on the way.  It is hoped that the basketball entertainment will be elevated for dinner.

And that's the story, Good Day.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament begins...

Some years this catches on here.  Lack of familiarity with many of the teams can be a problem, but if a few teams get on an unexpected roll, the excitement can build.  Upsets that would be liked here are Davidson over Kentucky, San Diego State over Houston, and UNC Greensboro over Gonzaga, the latter being the most unlikely.

Many of the usual basketball powers will be playing, but long time favorites Georgetown(went to college there) and Louisville(lived there in the 70's) are not.  Home area schools Virginia and North Carolina are clearly in the mix. 

Watched a bit of one of the preliminary games earlier and talent was not evident.  Time to check back in.

Sunday, March 04, 2018

Trump vs. Schumer, battle of the litens

The decision(aka intuitive personal reaction based on no information) by Trump to block further funding of the Hudson Tunnel infrastructure spending is unequivocally stupid.  This is the second time stupidity has reined here where parochial politics outweighs national interest---first time by everything wannabe Chris Christie blocking New Jersey's portion of funding two years ago.  Now traditional New York pol Chuck Schumer responds by trying to be the persona of Trump rejection.  His approach to negotiation in the first instance now is the press, the better to build his righteous stature.

While other countries have advanced rail systems and dedicated mostly commercial road networks, the stuck with 1950's innovation.  This can stay political but there is no glory on either side.  Long term programs so f'ing obviously need long term consistent commitment.  A vain idiot in the White House doesn't mean seeing this as a political opportunity.

Thursday, March 01, 2018

Trump implosion beginning...

---H.R. McMaster is out and now an executive for Ford Motors who did something in the Bush administration will become National Security Adviser.  He has no substantial background  This is the most dangerous thing to happen to date in the incoherent Trump foreign policy approach.  McMaster told the truth... another one gone..

---The tariffs are not only stupid but they are self dealing.  Wilbur Ross has huge interests in steel companies.  A trade war will damage the economy.  Something negotiated could have been reasonable, but a one off stance without talks is beyond comprehension in this global economy.

---Melania wants to get back to Mar-a-Largo for her spa treatment and nails.

---Market sell-offs can become self sustaining and could possibly lead Trump, who has zero understanding of financial markets(pure real estate hustler), to take some financial intervention that would make things worse.  His patsy Mnuchin is the worst self dealer in the cabinet and will agree to anything that lets him keep his job.

---Ben Carson's wife bought new office furniture as HUD trims multiple projects for the poor.

The true government unwinding is beginning...

"Unwinding" credit to George Packer.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Short riffs

--- Democrats are already talking about how they will win the mid-terms... Steny Hoyer... way too soon, making same mistake again... if the marginal voters in the U.S. are now open or closet hard right, nothing is certain.

---Georgia and Delta---outside of Atlanta and Athens, the state is just as illiberal and intolerant as panhandle Florida, Alabama, and Mississipi.  Delta is stuck although new slots can be rejected.  Stay away Amazon.

---Goodbye Hope Hicks... you tried to claim the ridiculous executive privilege on most things but the "white lies" comment could not be tolerated by the boss, after all he has done for you.

---Corporate tax cuts not spent on buybacks and one time bonuses, or investment spending, will obviously be spent on technology... leading to a one or two years boost in productivity at best, but after that more job losses.  Not just industry but the service economy has miles to go with increased automation.

---Trump talking about Billy Graham was nauseating on all counts.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Facebook photo assault

The photos being found and the iphone handy, Facebook is under attack, from here.  Joining Facebook in 2009 at the encouragement of a friend, it was not a natural affinity.  It was only sporadically used for many years, with occasional spurts of activity when financial markets were interesting or politics became especially newsworthy.  Photos attached to articles forwarded were regularly there, but rarely anything personal.  My "friends" list was and remains small by almost any comparison, because many of my friends are not Facebook users, never bit.

There are a variety of "friends".  A few are silent, some infrequent, there are the regulars, then the active, and finally the high intensity.  The "high intensity" are just unequivocally posting, at times multiple times daily.  There are four major ones here that come to mind --- two are driven by political opinions, one by a form of inside joke humor as he banters with close friends, and one by joke telling and extreme right antics that occasionally border on ugly.  Over time some "friends" have been deleted, aka unfriended, and that has likely happened to me at times as well, don't know as don't keep track.

The origin of these species is around three quarters hometown related.  They may live elsewhere but Danville was where they started.  Same here, first 18 years there.  Otherwise there are a few, meaning from one to four, from other places lived and worked --- college in D.C., Louisville, college in Arizona, and my job in Manhattan.  Add a few random special others and that's it.

It now feels like a comfortable place to post a few photos as they surface from albums, drawers, and files.  At times there is a self-conscious feeling, bordering on not wanting to get too personal.  Well, not really bordering, as some things remain unsaid.  How long this lasts is unknown.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Where have all the diners gone...

In 1980's Manhattan, diners were ubiquitous, block after block.  Almost everyone had a regular.  "My" diner was on the southwest corner of 2nd Avenue and 50th Street.  It was about 30 steps from my apartment on 50th, just two buildings east of 2nd Avenue.  The diner was mainly for breakfast, occasionally for lunch.  It was a loser move to eat dinner at this completely standard place with absolutely nothing unique and inedible cole slaw, as was the norm at the time in the mostly Greek owned diners.

There was another diner nearby on the east side of 2nd Avenue between 49th and 48th Streets.  This place was unusual.  The cooks were southern black men and the owner was a friendly quirky sort of white guy who always seemed to be there from 5am open to 8pm close.  They served grits with eggs, almost unheard of in the city, not the standard clumpy tasteless hash browns of the usual places. They had fresh fried seafood at lunch and dinner.  Real hamburgers that had taste. The cole slaw was good as was the potato salad.  But this being Manhattan, it was a block and a half away and only frequented when the crawl before coffee was served seemed manageable.  Dinner there at times was an affordable treat but not even beer was available.

Today, those types of diners have largely disappeared.  They have been replaced by more upscale eateries and stores.  If you happen to be at the Met on 5th at 84th and want to grab something quick at a diner while walking to midtown now, there of course will not be anything on 5th, never was, nothing on Madison, once had a few places, nothing on Lexington until you hit a dinosaur a block or two below 72nd, and  3rd Avenue, once lined with diners, has just a few over the 25 blocks.

Today on Facebook, I am posting a picture of "my" diner in 1980.  Why?  Since getting a new iphone two months ago the simplicity of posting photos has made me somewhat deranged.  An infrequent FB poster has gone almost regular.  Events here had already led me to the photo archives and that work is producing results.  There are now faces and not just opinions.

Monday, February 12, 2018

NYT baseball obits

The New York Times does an exceptional job writing obituaries of famous baseball players.  Someone there must remember baseball cards from those halcyon days of the sport in the 1950's and 1960's.  Today there was one for Wally Moon, St. Louis Cardinals and L.A. Dodgers from 1954 to 1965.  His "moon shots" at the first L.A. stadium were famous at the time, just high pop ups straight down the left field line from a lefty.  The stadium was built for his late swings.  Moon's Topps cards were not that easy to get but not so difficult either.  They were perfect trading cards.

Last week there was the obit for Oscar Gamble, famous after the card frenzy days but still a notable player.  The remembrance was more about his hair than his game.  Gene Michael's, a few months ago, was about his managerial career of course, not his time as a shortstop.  He was a focused baseball man every day of his aware life.

This nostalgia type reading about deaths can be refreshing in the morning with coffee.  That sentence does not sound right.  Is that from some film.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

What Monday brings --- opportunity to add or trim

Like many who watch the stock market, looking ahead at the coming week is a time to reflect.  All of the usual has been said by pundits regarding the drastic volatility of the last two weeks.  Is it a normal correction or a major reset, and all of that talk.  Most of the talkers are even afraid to make any projection at all, seeming pleased to show that they remember what volatility means after the last year or so.

Individual investor decisions are guided by individual needs.  How astute an observation?  For most it would seem that it is not a time to be aggressive on the buy side except in special situations.  Anyone who has never found an entry point into Google could watch now.  The problem with pruning a long term portfolio is that often the taxable gains can be substantial.  Yet stocks in the portfolio purchased in the recent past that have modest gains by definition were bought for what were intended to be solid reasons with a dose of intuition that has at times worked well.  Cut back on the new ones with little tax impact or cut back on the old ones with substantial tax impact.  The classic advice is to never make investment portfolio decisions based on tax.  That may often be good advice for institutions but for individuals following "never" is not always right.

The easiest way to cut back here is on index positions, pro-rata extended market, total market, and S&P funds.   Finger will held up outside the door tomorrow to see which way the wind blows.

This downturn is NOT over, no matter what happens tomorrow or in the coming week.  Reasons for a further decline are multi-faceted, from politics and governance, to usual and legal trader games now that there is volatility, and the existing overlay of global events.  The overriding reason is valuation.  The math mostly still works now on the ROE and cost of capital components, but longevity of returns due to Trumpian uncertainties is an overhanging question.  The benefit of the tax bill is done for investment analysis purposes, already factored in.

That's the "thinking out loud" for today --- not so compelling but it is a process.  That process is expected to begin tomorrow.  It may be bumpy.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

WSJ Review --- February 10-11

It has been said here before that the Wall Street Journal Review section on weekends is surprisingly well balanced and interesting.  They may not have the most distinguished writers or reviewers but the books and topics reviewed are well chosen. This week's issue is packed with reading entertainment, and the following are just a few highlights.

A review of "The Rub of Time", an anthology of Martin Amis essays from the 1990's and beyond(being read in pieces here now), is titled "Famous Amis".  That's worth the price of admission.  While there is not total agreement here with all of the self centered reviewer's commentary, that's fine. The effort is made and the book will attract knowing readers if not newbies.
On the same page is Sam Sacks' "Fiction Chronicle".  On the smart, cute, ugly, stupid spectrum, at times Sacks come in as cute and stupid, but at least his reviews are short and give a hint as to whether the books could be of interest.

There's a review titled "Existentialists and Expatriates" that comments on "Left Bank", a book about the famous writers, artists, and expats around the Blvd. St.Germain area in the 1930's to 1950's.  The book, writer, and reviewer are not familiar, but it does seem like something of interest.  The photo of Simone de Beauvoir at Deux-Magots works.  There's an article about a famous Matthew Brady photo of Abraham Lincoln and his son reading a book.  That was new here.  Lincoln was concerned that the book as prop might be mistaken for a Bible and the pose regarded as "a species of false pretense".  Times have changed since Honest Abe.

That's a sample.

Friday, February 09, 2018

White House chaos

It is clear that Stone Age chief of staff John Kelly knew about Rob Porter's inability to get a security clearance and the reason why.  It is also highly likely that, following rules of hierarchy, he told Trump about this two months ago and, in clipped military language, it was dismissed as an issue.  Porter's fealty to Trump was unquestioned, crossing off the most important criteria.  That Porter was efficient and from Trump central casting made this an easy call.  Decision made.  Next.

When information about wife beating became public, the White House speakers praised Porter's work, saying that his resignation was regrettable but understandable. They noted that his departure date was to be determined.  Then photos showed up and they panicked.  Sarah Huckabee Sanders apparently revealed that there is some limit to her well honed lying.  Her male assistant was front and center yesterday.  Ivanka Trump, having been moved from her center stage role by Kelly in recent months, was opportunistically appalled by the photos.  Porter's bags are now immediately being packed.  The story will continue...

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Trump wants huge military parade

Trump claims that he wants to emulate France and the impressive military parade that he viewed when there. That was on Bastille Day and the parade is an annual tradition in that country.  The truly massive parades of this type are in China, Russia, and North Korea.  They happen periodically but not on a set day each year.  One could say they are at the whims of their dictators.  Yes, I know that there is some pretense of an electoral process in China and Russia, but they are led by all powerful leaders.  North Korea's gulag approach to the family run business makes no attempt to be anything but what they are, other than promoting some strange spiritually ordained power.

What Trump wants is dictator classic.  It fits his style.  Anyone who questions this parade can be labeled as not supporting the troops and being unpatriotic.  An event of the type that Trump wants will be incredibly expensive and divert funds, resources, and attention from military preparedness to create pomp for the Presidential ego.  It seems obvious that such an event would lead to demonstrations by those Americans who do not support this cost and more importantly do not support the showmanship of preparing for war.  The United States has historically been reticent to sink to this level, maintaining the quaint notion that it is not necessary.  It is not part of tradition.  America's strength does not need to be proven.  That's the thought process.

In addition to demonstrations, such an event could be a magnet for aggressive and disruptive protesters, and even lone wolf or small cell terrorists.  The United States has avoided these types of incidents for the most part.  Why provide the target?  If something happened, how could Trump use it to harden his power?  He admires autocrats around the world.  He has a limited understanding of history.  From this opinionated perspective, underestimating the damage Trump can do would a mistake.  He is dangerous, and unfit to be President.  But he is and has the power.

The military parade prospect is unsettling.

Tuesday, February 06, 2018

Gowdy joins Comey in the Trump doghouse?

Representative Trey Gowdy recently announced that he would not seek reelection to his Republican House seat.  He is now standing up to the Trump crowd, and staying focused on the Russian election interference investigation rather than caving in to the compliant Nunes' released memo on the investigation.  If Gowdy's approach to the Benghazi hearings is any guide, he will not let go easily.

This is interesting.  A casual observer, as well as serious ones, could observe that the Gowdy led Benghazi hearings and Comey's on again off again investigation of Clinton e-mails were two key elements of Hillary Clinton's defeat and of course Trump's election.  In many ways, one led to the other.  In his awkward way, Comey continued with the Russia investigation in a non-linear but determined way, and Trump fired him for that specific reason.  One could surmise that the South Carolina Republican Gowdy now feels free to continue pursuing the investigation without undue political pressure. Trump can't fire a congressman.  He can't ruin a retiring ones chance for reelection.

South Carolina's politics can be quirky.  From Strom Thurmond to Lee Atwater, enlightened minds are not the first thought.  Still, there is a strain of state individuality that exists. They cannot be easily grouped with Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi.  The often quotable Senator Lindsey Graham uses humor to charm or cut, Senator Tim Scott is a right wing African American far to the right of Graham, among Representatives there's "you lie" Joe Wilson and the South American adventurer Mark Sanford.  They don't shy from the stage.

Now Gowdy has it, on a national level.  Could he do something important?

Friday, February 02, 2018

Financial markets wake up --- decline today

This was not a surprise.  It was an overdude due day, misspelling meant, am I loo loo loosing it,yeah mo mo money.  Days like this always jar investors because of their unpredictability and their precipitous nature.  In hindsight, this is minor and some would say necessary.  Hindsight... on October 19,1987 the Dow fell by 508 points, or 23%.  That was huge.  Today the market fell 665 points, or 2.5%.

The decline today did accelerate in the last hour.  Remember watching for those margin calls after 3pm in 2008 and 2009.  We just saw a touch of that.  Energy stocks, bank stocks, and mid-caps
 were hit hard for the most part. Small caps were mostly ignored. Among major technology stocks, Google and Apple were whacked while Netflix and Amazon rose. This is not simple.  High flyer Visa took a big step back and closely followed volatility king Freeport McMoran dropped 8%.  The questionable Sprint bet here was up 5%.  Vaunted BKB fell 3.75%, almost twice the Dow drop. Go figure.

This was a broad sell-off.  One earlier headline read, "Wall Street drops due to robust jobs data".  That's the "good news is bad news scenario" of potentially rising interests leading to inflation and a higher required rate of return for stocks. The so-called "elephant in the room" is a dysfunctional government.  Wall Street wants to ignore that and enjoy the tax cuts.  If there is a domino to fall on that issue it will be much larger and persistent, aka domino effect.  That is not expected yet.  "Yet" is opinion here but not acted on in any meaningful way yet.  How many times can that word be used in one paragraph.

More opinion ---  this was absolutely necessary.  A rising market is not guaranteed even in a stable economy.  Backtracking a bit more and setting a new base would be ideal.  For that to happen more fear is necessary, but please not too much.  No sleep disruption.  That's already taken care of.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

The State of the State address

Trump's entire speech was watched last night.  His preening pose displayed self-admiration.  The declaration of his "righteous vision" leading to "a new tide of optimism" was a line that he enjoyed delivering.  He gave us high toned history lessons that may have seemed like news to him.  Invited members of the audience were singled out as a testament to their suffering, presumably as a result of the laxity of government before the orange one appeared on the scene.  He no longer made MS-13 code for immigrants, he moved them up to being a visible proxy for those that have arrived here from other countries.  "Friends of America will receive our aid, not enemies of America", he said as did his turn left to pompously show and hold his profile.

Miraculously the television stayed on.  If not, the bizarre story of Sung Ho walking on his stumps "across China and Korea for the love of freedom", see Sung Ho in audience, would have been missed.  Clearly he survived.  The dramatic conclusion to the speech caused Stephen Miller to wet his pants so he modestly stayed seated as the applause rose for his speech.  It left some viewers wondering, "Is Mike Pence as authentically clueless as he appears?  Is that a Paul Ryan cut-out or is he real?"  Those were questions left to ponder.  As the Republican members of Congress chanted "U.S.A., U.S.A", one could fondly remember Sarah Palin rallies or Trump's campaign slogan "Build the Wall" echoing in empty chambers, human ones.  Dignity in the great chamber of Congress was vanquished.

Thinking earlier about what to write, mainstream media was no help.  "The Onion" was too shell- shocked to be clever.  Waking up to CBS this morning, the first news heard here was that 75% of viewers approved of the state of the union address.  "Union?".  After my head cleared it was realized that they chose they had cherry picked the highest measure they could find.  Now most of the media is officially terrorized by the "State".

I came upon this quote from a Martin Amis essay later.  "Change is the business of satire.  Satire is militant irony.  Irony is long-suffering.  It doesn't incite you to transform society; it strengthens you to tolerate it."

Writing about Trump is a challenge.  What is one step above satire, and more effective?  It is needed.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

"May It Last: A Portrait of the Avett Brothers", documentary from HBO

This new and engaging documentary was watched last night on HBO.  It was no bathroom break material.  Music can be an emotional experience and this could leave one in a shambles.  It was the history of this folk/country and hard to compartmentalize group, built around the recording of an  album in 2014.  Seth and Scott Avett are the key performers along with an amazingly tight band.  From their home areas in North Carolina to their recording studio location in the L.A. area, to performing at Madison Square Garden, and small clubs around the south,  familiarity with locations added to a personal attraction.  The phenomenon of this group was not similarly familiar.  They are an original force, or so it seems after watching.  Radar alerted.  Google shows that the father of the Avett Brothers, Jim, was at times a performer at Union Grove, NC.  That was a time.

The film is about dedication to their art, family, and the impact of major life events.  All of this is intertwined with their music and the heartfelt songs they write to share their experience.  Here, it airs again tonight on HBO 2.  How many stars are there?  It is recommended.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Grammy's once again

Looking back over comments here, the last time a Grammy awards program was the subject of a post was 2013.  That was probably for good reason, due to lack of familiarity with much of the music.  Yet, with that limitation, plus missing a middle portion of the broadcast, comments will still be ventured, as follows:
---Bruno Mars did well, but he did well in his first appearance in 2013.  He's pretty exceptional, but what has changed since then.
---Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee, unknown here, were a hoot.  The accompanying dancers seemed a bit risque for a family show.  I did not mind.
-- For so long it has been hip to be a fan of Dave Chappelle.  He made three short appearances during the show and did not disappoint those fans as he seemed to make no effort at all, looking like he would rather be at an ATM.  Now that's cool.
---Lady Gaga gets attention.  She has a unique style that works.  In fact, it is the strong and nuanced voice that is the real attraction.
---The white boy crooners trend began with Justin Timberlake years ago.  It lives on. Doing old standards plus new whiny ballads advances nothing.  There were several of these singers whose voices were fine but where's the risk?
---Elton John and Hannah Montana liked being together.  She's settled into a less crazed role and he will begin his three year final tour.  From his looks and the hunched way he walked, one could guess this 70 year old wants to go down on the road.  Got it.
---Speaking of Miley, Cardi B seems to be all the rage now. She performed with the more talented Bruno Mars.  Being the female rap crotch grabber was toned down by Cardi for this duo performance, just as it was by Kendrick Lamar in his two appearances. He kept passing by but restraining himself.
---Reading the comment here on the 2013 Grammy's, there were hot tributes to Levon Helm, Bob Marley, and the New Orleans sound at that event.  The tributes in 2018 to Fats Domino and Chuck Berry by Jon Batiste and Gary Clark Jr. were meek, reverential but nothing remotely like the spirit of Fats and Chuck.  That was a missed opportunity to shake up this show.
---The Argentina song by Patti LuPone was painful to watch, but it was small reminder of what she had been.

As for the #Metoo and anti-Trump inspired points of the show, they seemed rote.  That's not meant to discount how heartfelt they may have been or correct they are.  The protests of successful entertainers could be made clear while being less aggrandizingly overt.  Choosing Hillary Clinton for a cameo was questionable.  Remember, she lost the election more than Trump won it.  She was complicit.

This is opinion from the sidelines, no doubt signing off none too soon.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

"The Largesse Of The Sea Maiden", Denis Johnson short stories

These are excerpts:

"I mean it's like I get that glass as far as just touching against my lower lip, and the next thing I know I'm on the Ghost-Bus to Vegas."

"I put down one foot on the Road of Regret, and set out on my journey."

"remember, 1967.  Pets and children wandered loose in the streets.  Respected citizens threw their litter anywhere."

"The daughter of Japanese immigrants, Liz, a black haired beauty even now in her sixties, had become in recent years a physically quite tentative and cautious person... But she stayed serene and cheerful, and greeted everyone, whether a lifelong acquaintance or a brand-new face, with a hug and a smile, saying, Hello Stranger."

"Manhattan in the 1980's had a pulse, heady, potent, but like a wound's.  Do you remember?  Death-camp homeless.  Guerrilla vendors.  Three-card monte.  Trash all over the streets.  How I survived this attack on multiple fronts, I can't imagine."

"The next morning I turned on the news and learned of the death, the previous night, of Elvis Presley... and my mind snapped, my soul sickened, and I went to Memphis.  It was either that, or kill the dog."

"Anybody could turn up at the Chelsea---the next morning, for instance, I stepped into the small doubtful elevator by myself, and on the fourth floor I picked up Peter O'Toole... he listened to me closely, in happy surprise, as if he'd never heard of these movies before, or even of himself... At the moment, I was heading anywhere at all for breakfast, but when I heard the desk clerk's radio playing news that an aircraft, I assumed a sightseeing plane, had struck Tower Two of the World Trade Center, I decided to jump on the number 3 subway, half a block west, and go have a look."

These are not so random quotes from the five short stories in "The Largesse of the Sea Maiden", a book completed shortly before Denis Johnson's death last year at age 67.  Johnson was a unique talent whose books could be uneven, singly or within the pages of each one.  Whenever he published something, it became of interest immediately.  There was a distinct edge to his writing that could lead sentences to jump off a page, paragraphs to be mind bending, or story lines to build momentum quickly.  Whether everything always hung together was irrelevant.  The punch was in the writing.  If there is such a thing as poetic short stories, this may be it.

Clearly, I have no balanced approach to commenting on Johnson's work.  Some of the short stories in this book deal with his usual down and outs, while some cut closer to home.  Whoever the characters, they are often a template for some truth just around the corner.  A National Book Award winner, Johnson was an American voice who used the hip, grittier, or troubled areas of our world to speak broadly.  And he had a sense of humor.  Quite a combination.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Property tax assessment game time

It's the same every year.  The mailings have already been coming for two months.  Tax Correction Agency, Zapmytax, Property Tax Reduction Consultants, Assessment Review Consultants LLC, Maidenbaum Property Tax Reduction,  these are all names of vendors who will file a tax reduction grievance for homeowners in Nassau County.  There may be others, who specialize in other neighborhoods, towns, or villages here.

Presumably these outfits have accountants or attorneys associated with them, or maybe not.  They boast that they will never charge a fee for their service if not successful.  NO REDUCTION = NO FEE is their commitment.  In fact, three of these five agencies have the same exact words on their promo literature.  Most list the streets on which homes in an area have successfully filed.  Since this is publicly available information there is no way to know if the agency represented these claims or if any agency did.

When house values began to decline here in 2001, filing was done without help.  The County does not make it easy, with assessed value being some derivative number that has nothing to do with the value of the property in question.  Everything the County provides is basically inexplicable.  Could the obfuscation be deliberate? The trick is simply taking their inexplicable number and looking online at filings for comparable homes in an area.  If a house and property is bigger or better than yours and their "tentative assessed value" is lower, point that out.  A form can be found online to file a grievance, when the system works which is sporadic.

Everything about this suggests collusion, a word of the year, between the tax reduction agencies and the political hacks who run the County.  BUT, if these hoops are jumped through, filing can work.  From 2002 through 2012  a reduction was achieved here every year.  As house prices were on the rise, a reduction was denied in 2013 and not tried for in recent years.

The filing is again being completed.  The ability to physically examine comparison houses is limited now, so online information only will be used.  As before, the application will point out that there has been not significant renovation to this house. NOT EVEN MARBLE COUNTERTOPS.

Here's the deal with these tax reduction agencies.  Their fee is, depending on the firm, 40% to 50% of the reduction achieved in the first year plus miscellaneous expenses.  The first year the reduction is applicable in the 2019-2020 fiscal year for the county.  The 40% plus fee is due 60 days after notice of success.  SO THE FEE WHICH COULD BE SUBSTANTIAL WOULD BE DUE IN MID-2018 BUT THERE WOULD BE NO BENEFIT UNTIL A YEAR AND A HALF LATER.

Not only is this system set up for corruption.  It also has elements of a scam.  If the fee is not paid immediately, all rights are waived in the agreement if the reduction firm sues the homeowner for immediate payment.  The payment due will be charged interest at usurious rates.  SORT OF LIKE A VIG.

Read the fine print.  Don't be elderly.  Know who you're dealing with.  AND DO IT YOURSELF OR USE YOUR OWN ATTORNEY OR ACCOUNTANT.

NOT THESE POSSIBLE PREDATORS.  These property assessments are the benchmark for most local taxes and all school taxes.  This is not trivial.  FILE BEFORE MARCH 1.

Postscript:    More mail.  Property Taxbuster Inc. wants my business.  "We only charge 33.33% of first year's savings."  What happened to honor among thieves? 

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Market rise continues

Despite the comment here on Saturday, the equity market continues its upward move.  The highly, hmm, select group of followers of ENS, self-selected, did not rattle others, or ignored what was written. Good for them. Seemingly misunderstood accounting changes related to repatriating overseas earnings made possible by the tax bill are regularly kicking some large stocks down a notch or two on days when they report large write-offs of formerly expected tax reductions, a stock price change that will be recouped within a few days all things being equal.  When various banks and other large global companies report this non-cash charge, even with a cautious approach now I still buy a little extra on the mark down as I did earlier today with JNJ.  These actions do add to market exposure but otherwise seem like easy money.  To reassure anyone who reads here, a regular trading asset was sold today, AOI, to wait for the next opportunity.  Overall market commitment slightly declines.

This is becoming a bit boring.  Big things considered in recent months like ROKU and NVDA were regrettably missed through being overly deliberate, a bad trait in this market.  The most exciting stock watched today was chosen for portfolios years ago, sold here last year but not in one daughter's portfolio, that's Netflix.  Good for her.

There is "an eerie kind of calm" in the market, as a mutual fund and ETF comment in the NYT noted two weeks ago.  The article was every bit as ambivalent is what is being written here... on the other hand...

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Too hot to touch?

Caution/Warning.  Diving into the equity market here in spots might work but staying put, or raising a little more cash, may be wise.  No fuddy duddy here, but this rally is now driven by short memories or none.  On either the short or long side of  many having this discussion, our future is not on the line.  For those with smart hopes getting into this, be careful.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Equity market on fire...

The close today in equity market averages was alarming.  Instead of a back-off on the last day of the week, stocks were stoked until a short pause at the end.  Writing here often has noted the solid, now moving to average, fundamentals of the market and the contrary indications of a dysfunctional political scene.  This week's move showed no concern.

There is the concern here that a correction is near, or maybe that is a wish for a healthy market that needs reality checks.

An example of the out of kilter benefits of investing in equities now is this.  Nike, NKE, never bought before because of always feeling behind the curve, was added here in early August after it took a dive  It was bought at $58, then 56, next 53, then 51, not doubling down, call it 20 percenting down each time.  The analysis had been done and it ran the book.  "Analysis" is a stretch. Looked at the solid financials and decided that the stock was way oversold. Maybe it is not now the only urban sneaker of choice but this logo is global.

With the equity price now at $67 it worked.  This kind of five month turnaround in an investment is not normal in large caps, even if the investment is well researched.  Investors who do their work can stay with this but may be hurt.  Investors with little perspective could soon be scalded.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Amazon's second headquarters --- Philadelphia or Nashville?

Today Amazon announced the names of the 20 finalists for its second headquarters.  There were applications from 238 cities looking for the projected 50,000 jobs that would be associated with this site.  In concept that sounds wonderful, but that would be a massive number of new jobs for any area to absorb successfully when factoring in not just the talent needed but also the infrastructure.

Austin and the North Carolina research triangle area(Raleigh) are of course on the list.  They are already tech centers, but one could wonder if they are somewhat saturated.  Boston would be a likely choice given its educational resources but that is a densely populated area that may not be compatible with the type of campus Amazon must envision.  Areas such as Columbus, Ohio and Indianapolis, Indiana could be questionable as places that would be attractive to live, but putting the infrastructure in place could work.  From that perspective, Washington, D.C. seems to be impossible but Northern Virginia and Montgomery County, Maryland would both cover that base.  Still, why would Bezos want to get even closer to politics.  His Washington Post ownership already does enough of that.

Wild guess here is Philadelphia.  That's meant as the Philadelphia suburbs, perhaps with an executive building in the city center.  The academic resources are there in that once great city and some of the suburbs such as those in the Bryn Maur, West Conshohocken, and Valley Forge(home of the Vanguard complex) area are attractive and have development areas available.  Major highways are in place.  Access to both New York and D.C. is easy.  Add to that, helping redevelop Philadelphia would be a feather in the cap of Bezos.  Great things are there, such one of the most exceptional museums in the country, a legacy of prior wealth.

This is the long shot choice --- Nashville.  There are only 650,000 people in the city but the metro area totals over 1.5 million.  Vanderbilt University is a highly regarded academic institution and the city has professional hockey and football teams.  Don't forget about the Grand Ole Opry.  Some of positive comments may seem to be a stretch, but Amazon could, in its way, own this city, redefine it as a tech mecca in the middle of the South.  The company would avoid some of the travails of older northeastern cities while finding an eager work force in a region tired of just being known for car assembly.

Sorry Denver, Dallas, and Los Angeles, the thought here is that Amazon will choose to have the balance of an area east of the Mississippi.  This is a completely biased comment.  Other suggestions are welcome.  No prizes are available.


Wednesday, January 17, 2018

GAC Motors coming...

This morning while going through my morning routine, CNBC was on.  An interesting advertisement came on.  It showed attractive scenes from various places around the world with people commenting, their distinct alphabets writing words on the screen.  No products were clear.  Could this be a new Apple ad?  Finally the answer, a hazy then focusing car and a name, GAC Motors.

This was the first ad ever seen here for a Chinese car company.  They are launching in the U.S. in 2019, maybe late this year.  Speculation is that they will be sold through Fiat Chrysler dealers.  Guangzhou Automobile Corporation is a state owned company, meaning owned by the Chinese government.  Get this! Their passenger cars in China are sold under the Trumpchi brand, their SUV's Gonow.  It is said that they will change their passenger car brand for the U.S. market, but even with that Don Jr. and Eric are probably pining for a lawsuit.  Daddy said sue so much they thought they had a sister.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

NFL playoffs --- brief minimally informed observations

Over the weekend, parts of each of the four NFL divisional playoff games were watched.  In total, viewing averaged about a quarter for each of the games, with part of the fourth quarter watched in three of them.  There was no reason to watch the fourth quarter of the Patriots/Titans game.

For the sole reason that I tend to like all things New Orleans related, the game just ended was disappointing.  The New Orleans pass defender decided to make an inexplicable high school style, that's styled, tackle that was useless and could have been a sure tackle, before what would have been a tough field goal.  The supposed tackle did not even touch the receiver and even seeing it was hard to believe.  Darn.  On top of that, memories of personal and business trips to Minnesota are dreary.  Not football criteria of course.

Philadelphia's victory over Atlanta was welcomed.  It was another last second win.  Philadelphia needs this.  The Jaguars were the only wild card team to survive the weekend.  That was also a positive.  Why?  The former NY Giants coach Tom Coughlin has a senior operational role with that team now and he has somehow made a difference.  Despite being a humorless soul, he brought two Super Bowl championships to New York in his tenure and got along well with Eli Manning, a favorite, a Giant from a New Orleans tribe.  Reasons for fandom here are tenuous.  And then there are the Belichick and Brady led Patriots --- tweedle dum and tweedle dee --- humorless does not go far enough to describe the coach and can anyone really know who Brady is.  They are in lockstep and in another league, or League.

The best Super Bowl, Brady vs. Brees or grimness vs. NOLA life, will not happen.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

"The Chi", pilot was well done --- plus a comment on Starz

This past week Showtime has been airing the pilot of The Chi, a drama set in southside Chicago.  Interesting that the multi-year Showtime hit Shameless is also located there.  One is in a white low middle class to poor ghetto while the other, The Chi, is in a distinctly tougher black ghetto with the same economic mix.  While called "a pilot", there are nine more episodes coming on Sundays at 10pm.  Guess it could also be called the first episode.

The program is engaging and the setting is realistic.  Like many programs of this type, it appears to be an ensemble cast, and which members are determined to be the one or two main characters is not yet known.  The strange part about this initial show is that one of the most interesting characters was murdered.  Already done.  One can wonder whether it will be like Abby in the past season's Ray Donovan, who died early but showed up in flashbacks and Ray's dreams or nightmares throughout.  Or is that long haired 16 year old Chi character just now gone for good.

This will be watched.

While on a cable network program discussion, here in part of the New York area the Starz programming is off the air.  They apparently could not come to an agreement with the Cablevision network, the near monopoly viewed here.  Starz is running full page ads in the New York Times reminding us that we are missing "Power" and "Outlander".  That is absolutely no issue as Power was viewed as an on the edge of tasteless pornograpy and overly thuggish crime drama, for the most part unwatchable, and Outlander was a mystery whose attraction was never understood.  Of the 17 Starz channels now gone only one  is missed.  That was channel 347 which generally had solid programming, some routine but also some recent foreign films that were unexpected and some creative indie films.  Channel 346 also had some films that shared that vision.  If Starz views its bargaining chip as Power and Outlander, they are not in a strong position.  They are nowhere close to being a match in competition with HBO and Showtime solid original content.  They are not even comparable to the advertisement laden AMC.

Enough on this.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

"Vanishing New York, How a Great City Lost Its Soul"

Even writing the name of this book is annoying.  It is written by a Jeremiah Moss, who seemingly is an arrogant, self indulgent drama queen ranting in a way that is way off point.  This book was purchased after reading some incredibly positive book cover style blurbs and a book review in the NYT that was mixed in its opinion, haltingly positive while acknowledging some discomfort with the tone.  What I expected was an interesting history of New York institutions and landmarks and how they have changed, looking at the impact of encroaching gentrification  This book of attacks is not what was expected.

As an example, Moss laments the closing of the Howard Johnsons restaurant in midtown.  He apparently liked to eat there and sees that as indicative of losing the city's soul?  Dude, there is one Howard Johnson's left in America, in upstate Lake George, New York.  There were two but the Bangor, Maine one closed early in 2017.  Having arrived in New York in 1993, he writes about the "legendary" Mars Bar on lower east side where he once sat at the bar with a not too well known poet.  "Legendary"?  It opened in 1984.  Is he mistaking it with with McSorley's.  Who knows.  Any change whatsoever upsets his anal retentive perspective.

He writes about the loss of CBGB's and the Mudd Club.  Max's Kansas City must be in the book somewhere.  Done those here, but they were of their time.  In a vital city they disappeared as they should have.  Different eras have different places.  A better use of Moss's time would be to look for those places that will become markers of his generation's time rather than lamenting the loss that those who experienced it do not feel.

 This is a rambling book of whining.  The hope that it would provide some interesting history was only intermittently satisfied, and often done with the opinions of this guy who is just repeating what he has read elsewhere.  At times the book veers toward the incoherent.  The fact that the "Village Voice" could write that "no one takes stock of New York's changes with the same mixture, snark, sorrow, poeticism, and lyric wit as Jeremiah Moss" is ridiculous.  Who wrote that?  The "Voice" always had its quirks.

Oh well, enough on this.  Manhattan is changing.  It has not disappeared.  Brooklyn changes.  It is still there.  Some of this change is hard to see, some could be viewed as regrettable, some is just obviously inevitable, but it will all evolve in its own way.  New York City has never been about corralling the past.  It is not a museum like Venice.  Moss can lament change as his job.  He seems to enjoy it, and is crying all the way to the bank.