Saturday, June 17, 2017

Amazon and Whole Foods

Everything that can be written and said about this acquisition is probably already out there in the media and blogging world.  Two cents here...  it IS a big deal, but it should not substantially affect Walmart and Costco.  Why?

Walmart is by now a global company that is growing.  When a friend is vacationing in Mexico and mentions walking to Walmart to shop that is not trivial.  Walmart's distribution system is more extensive than Amazon and more local.  Costco is a unique experience, a place that is known for unpredictability as well as value.  The stores are destinations, not routine grocery outlets.

Target is more in danger from the combination as their stores have lost their once unique cachet, no matter how hard they have tried to recapture it.  The various "dollar stores" could be at some risk as well.  With all of the talk and reality in the market of retail contraction already,  this transaction was timed to get attention.  It did.

Watching golf

There were times when watching golf on television was somewhat entertaining on a lazy day.  That is seemingly no longer possible.  These anonymous chunky white men in their similar apparel with no apparent emotion are beyond boring.  It may be that trying to watch today before the closing holes on the final round is flagging the enthusiasm here, or it may be that golf is only an entertaining game when actually being on the course playing.  It can be said with certainty here that physically being at a tournament and watching is the ultimate torture, but in the past lying on the sofa and watching was relaxing.  No more.  Now it is just irritating.  It is on in the den now with an aide choosing to watch and care for K.  At least the volume is low.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Equity market too stable

It's hard to trust the U.S. equity market now.  That's not because there is any distinct trouble visible. The issue is the ongoing creep up that has no catalyst.  This past Friday, some of the major tech stocks and the Nasdaq broadly took a significant hit.  By Tuesday of this week all was well although less than half of the decline had been clawed back.  The decline had been accepted as normal, and in the context of the last year it could be.

For example, after years of loving Amazon the company but never finding another entry point since a short stint of ownership in the late 1990's, in early September 2016 I jumped in with both feet.  As of Thursday of last week before the next day's slide, the position was up almost 25% in the nine months since purchase.  How could there be any concern about a decline that had no determinable reason other than an institutional thought that these big tech names had gone up too much in an uncontested way.  Everything else in the market was behaving in a relatively normal way.

That all leads to the thought that the next two days could be interesting to watch.  Are we beginning to move back into the strangely stable market behavior that we have had over the last two months, or is there a reassessment underway that will lead to more volatility.  Today's notable events were weakness in small caps and many mid caps with stability in plain vanilla large caps.  Apple retreated somewhat more, while Walmart, Costco, and Target continued to edge up nicely despite huge market concern about overall retail sales.  They are in fact part of the ongoing reason that niche retailers and mall anchors are challenged.

As always, some pundits tried to turn the rate hike today into news and a Vice News reporter tonight surprisingly painted it as a controversial and ill advised move.  It is a necessary move to try to build some management flexibility for the Fed if a day comes when some unexpected dire event requires the Fed to demonstrate its might.  That's all this is.  There is little major impact expected.

Stay tuned, but in Trump time, sort of like dog years, every day can bring unexpected change quickly.  Somehow it is expected that the next two days will not be boring.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

The departure of Immelt from GE was overdue

The industrial conglomerate GE is a sprawling behemoth of valuable and productive businesses.  The financial asset GE is a stock that has been a laggard for years.  Jeffrey Immelt inherited a tough situation from the highly regarded, hard charging egomaniac Jack Welch.  He became a custodian of the company more than a disruptive or energizing leader.  His major action was to remove GE from the financial services business but he did so in a way that reduced risk substantially while not creating any significant value in the disposition of those businesses.

Immelt clearly enjoyed his 16 years as CEO.  He became a major public figure and a sought after spokesperson for industry.  He devoted considerable time to public service and to charitable organizations.  Now GE is in need of a major overhaul from the perspective of many shareholders who have stayed the course due to GE's strong balance sheet and healthy dividend.

The new CEO will be John Flannery, a 30 year veteran of the company who has wide business line and international experience.  Is it possible that a hopeful comparison can be made to the succession of Satya Nadelli to CEO of Microsoft three years ago after Steve Ballmer's languid tenure.  Microsoft stock is up 60% since Ballmer's overdue departure.  That is the hope of investors who pushed GE's stock up 3.4% yesterday after the announcement, but backed off more than half of that gain today as Flannery's pure GE persona was focused on.  Can he shake up this conglomerate in a way that creates investor enthusiasm and reinvigorates businesses?  Is GE's capital might required for all of its huge businesses, or can some be broken out into still large stand alone companies that are more competitively focused?

That's the question.  A few shares were added here early yesterday to an already full position as a reflection of some optimism.  This change could be extremely positive.  We will see.  

Monday, June 12, 2017

Trump's cabinet meeting --- a bizarre one for the ages

Today, Donald Trump had a televised roundtable of required comments from each of his cabinet members and others attending the meeting.  He began by praising his own leadership and its historic significance, and then "graciously asked" everyone there to comment.  They did, and one at time praised Trump.  Priebus called it "a blessing" to work for him.  Pence, Sessions, Haley, DeVos,  Chao, and Price were each embarrassingly obsequious.  In fact, the unanimity of the group, many of whom were "thrilled", "honored", or "privileged" to have the leadership of Trump, was astounding.  What a surprise!  Only one member of the cabinet, one, maybe McMaster but not sure, said that he was benefiting from the team he inherited.

Maybe Trump is running the country like a business.  In 2001 when the company that I worked for was acquiring another company at a price that made me cringe, the Chairman decided to go around the table of executives and ask everyone attending what they expected the stock price would be after the deal was announced the next morning.  The stock was at $55 that day, and the Vice Chairman to his left who knew better started by drawling that it could go to $100.  Around the table the comments were exceedingly positive with only a few voicing some mild caution as they looked for only a small gain at first.  When my turn arrived, reflecting my less powerful role, I said that "we may not see the benefit immediately" and no more.  My boss the CFO followed and knew my extreme discomfort with the price.  She tried to echo my concerns with low key and politically cautious commentary. When the stock opened the next day it immediately went to $45 and did not reach $55 again for seven years.

That was then and this is now.  The dynamic is familiar.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Sunday dinner, a melange from the frig

Tonight's meal will be a mixture of good food, some leftover and some purchased on Friday.  There will be a side order of Gino's linguini marinara not touched two nights ago, with three veal and pork meatballs from Cippolini Pronto, all with some Rao's pasta sauce added.  Microwaved on medium heat, longer but better.  In addition there is teriyaki salmon from North Shore Farms that is a staple of our diet weekly.  From last night's Pita Station dinner there is Greek rice and grilled vegetables, as well as a tomato, beet, feta, corn, and walnut salad that is large and never finished in one night.

Kathy will prefer the rice to the linguini, but will certainly try the meatballs as they are made her way. Pasta will be my focus for better or worse, and the meatballs will be my major source of protein as opposed to the more healthy salmon.  There's plenty of that for tomorrow.

That's an update from here that does not mention Trump...   darn, he slips in.

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Comey's testimony tomorrow --- live television event

Former FBI Director Comey's testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee will be widely broadcast tomorrow beginning at 10am.  While some of the media and political commentary of late has likened the current investigations into Trump's clumsy attempts at obstruction of justice as similar to Watergate may be exaggerated or at least premature, the attention that this hearing will receive is a reminder of the days in 1973 when a congressional hearing was television that had to be watched by many.  It will be interesting to see the tally of viewers during the panel.

It will be necessary for viewers to choke through the self serving questions posed and commentary made by some of the various Senators on the committee.  This is clearly their chance for national exposure, and rarely has anyone accused members of the Senate of being shy when it comes to publicity.  Still, the approach that they individually take will be interesting to see, especially relative to party line adherence and the states that they represent.

Stay tuned.

Thursday, June 01, 2017

Trump's withdrawal from Paris climate accords is now a fact

Decisions made by Donald Trump fuel his need to build his ego and reflect his power more than any thoughts of substance.  Many people know that.  After the usual appallingly obsequious introduction by Pence, Trump first praised his own management of the economy and stock market, as the lawn full of sycophants applauded politely.  Then Trump moved into his Make America Great Again and America First themed campaign comments.

His speechwriters, primarily Bannon it is presumed, had given him a litany of "facts" about the negative consequences of the Paris accords.  The source of these facts was one "institute" of unknown regard, and from whatever grab bag of sources that had been handed to him.   He repeatedly claimed that the largest polluters were not contributing to the accords while the burden largely fell on America.  Have his advisers shielded him from the fact that the U.S. is the second largest emitter of carbon dioxide emissions, after the much larger country of China, and roughly tied for the third largest emitter were India and Russia, both at around one/third of U.S. emissions.  How could his remarks essentially deny this?

After his comments that were mostly a list of either unsubstantiated or out of context claims about the agreement, Trump introduced the improbable head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, an unabashed climate change denier.  Pruitt picked right up from Pence's opening, expressing his gratitude for being able to serve the President and his admiration for him.

This was difficult to watch, but it feels like a necessary chore.  Once again Trump may be surprised at the country's reception to this.  He ignored the entreaties of many influential corporate leaders and their voices will be heard later today and tomorrow.  More activism is coming.  The majority of millennials are serious about this subject.  Many will speak up.

"Lion", a film

This is a well done and touching film that follows the life of a young Indian boy.  He gets lost when he is five years old and ends up in Kolkata alone.  The first half of the film covers the harrowing early part of his life until he is adopted.  The second half finds him as a 25 year old man, successful and educated, who is seeking his past.  While occasionally a bit plodding, the story evolves with the goal of bringing out the tissues of viewers.  It works, and it is based on a true story.

While this is an Australian film, it does follow the Bollywood formula in which both films and actors are based on successful templates.  "Lion" is clearly a derivative of "Slumdog Millionaire" in many ways.  At times that is almost humorously obvious even though the actual stories are very different.

Its recommendation for an academy award was clearly a longshot, but the recognition as a nominee seems to have been deserved.  Multiculturalism encouraged at that show is a good thing.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

"Between Them", non-fiction from Richard Ford

This short book is subtitled "Remembering My Parents".  It is Richard Ford's first foray into published non-fiction.  He is the well established Pulitzer prize winning author of popular and directionally literate fiction, with his most successful novels such as "The Sportswriter" and "Independence Day" published in the late 1980's and the 1990's.

The book is in fact two memoirs.  The first in the book is about his father who died in 1960, and it was written in 2015.  The second is about his mother and that was written shortly after her death in 1981.  The two memoirs are intertwined by facts, and by the story from the perspective of their son the writer, now 73.

It is a thoughtful personal story.  The title can be thought of as reflecting Ford's relationship with them, or also the strong relationship between his parents.  Both ways of looking at the book work well.  From this perspective, Ford's experience as an only child resonated throughout as did the phrase "alone together" which has a universal aspect to it.

Each reader will relate based on their own experience certainly, and it could be time well spent. Ford's perspective opens up the memories.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

"Being Charlie" a film

This movie was an unexpected gem.  A teen is going through rehabs at the direction of all adults concerned, suggested or mandated.  It is not working for him.  Sounds interesting, or of course not necessarily.  Rob Reiner directs this on the spot depiction of the topic.  There is hope and despair. More people will be interested in this film than would initially be expected.  It is extremely well done and was liked here, worth watching.

A loss unexpected, an obit found, Victoria

Scanning websites in a way that is infrequent but when done once a month or two is obsessive, I looked up a friend from the 90's, Victoria.  We had a unique friendship for a year or two.  That is said because she was like one of today's models, tall, slim, attractive, and not shy about it in the way that she dressed.  That's not to say anything there was blatant, just that what would look normal on most women trying to look good would look stunning on her.

In the atmosphere of a bank, Victoria stood out to many who as one who needed to be shielded but to some as one to be voyeured, if that can be a verb.  Somehow we met.  My role at the company led to busy days and when I found time to go down to the expansive second floor cafeteria at 270 Park, others always wanted to talk to me about the stock market, which had been my job all morning before a chance to grab lunch.  Others always wanted to approach Victoria and interrupt her chance for a break with their charm, so we had an unspoken agreement to have lunch together in the cafeteria regularly.  No one bothered us. Rarely did anyone approach.  She was engaged.  I was married.  Was anything going on?

She was smart and a pleasure to talk with.  She knew the business and she understood my role at the company.  Sure, being with Victoria made me look good to some and I was aware of that.  But given the pretty girl status that others thrust upon her, it was not at all bad for her to be seen with talking about business with me.

It was a sad moment here to see that she had died several years ago.  She had a family and a place in the community of Greenwich.  It had been at least 25 years since I had seen her, but this post seemed to be required.  In a completely appropriate way, we totally connected and enjoyed each other's company, maybe adored each other.  It felt special.  Nothing happened except a special friendship.

I have made an obvious effort here to underscore the propriety of our relationship, so that when I say that it was special no one will misunderstand.  That may be old fashioned of me, but it may need to be explicit to some readers.   Now done, loss just noted.

Last Week Tonight, John Oliver

An April 27th post here touted Vice News as the news program that is most insightful.  Change that. When he chooses to be focused, John Oliver's Last Week Tonight is the most telling and satirical cut on the abysmal Trump reign.  His Sunday night show on HBO on May 21st, constantly repeated during the week, was profoundly absurd.  That can still be watched today and his show will not be back until June 4th.  Based on the program still airing, it is unclear whether a half hour can contain his reach.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

New television

A new television is being installed here today.  What a commotion.  The choices required, furniture moved, and and new systems being learned is a bit daunting.  Not all members of our generation are tech savvy.  Those who are not want things that work, not projects to figure out.  What is almost completely intuitive to our young adults is not to us.

There is a humongous 20 year old 32 inch Sony television in the basement rec room that still works well, hard to see how it was ever lifted down there, and is rarely used. There is a 10 year old Toshiba upstairs that has what may be 21 inch screen or smaller. The one being replaced is a 30 year old 27 inch Sony, best ever at the time with a state of the art sound system that still sounds that resound in the room that sound real, that was on a major decline.  In the last six months the picture has faded, colors are off, and it is the opposite of crisp.  It was dying, and now is being replaced by a 42 inch flat screen LG.

The timing of television acquisitions in the past was notable.  The one being replaced was bought one month before the birth of our first daughter, as was a Volvo station wagon.  The second one, in the basement, was bought when we moved into our current house, a larger one than our compact bungalow two blocks from town.  The Toshiba was bought by my father when he moved into an assisted living apartment complex, and was inherited for here.  The only notable aspect of today's purchase is necessity.

The installer is completing his work now.  Passwords have been remembered.  We have finally entered the present and will have access to Amazon, Netflix, and other sites on the big screen.  The next few days will be ones of learning.  More to come.

Monday, May 22, 2017

The effort to be positive

On Google blogspot, aka, cycles continue.  Three or four obvious takes on the coverage of the delusional Trump will diminish using old language about what we are trying to define and lead to three or four posts of comments on books or films as a diversion.  It's trying to balance out the dread and the potentially uplifting.  It is a stalemate not of the attention of others but a stalemate of my own sanity.

Each day there is too much to comment on in Trump world.  Still trying to digest yesterday, we look at Iran's young people voting in mass to strengthen ties to the West with Trump speaking to an assembly of royal dictatorships villifying Iran as a country.  The price of a Boeing contract?  As previously suggested in a post before the trip, he is being treated as a potentate and, to add an additional thought, this will be the last time. Other countries cannot remotely risk being seen as this type of adulatory pawn to their voters. Trump has been insulated from this by the immersion of his American devotees into the television culture.  When he comes back he may find that he has cut the cord.

There are no complete answers here. Obvious.  His exposure on the international stage is embarrassing to this country no matter what the strained comments say in the now threatened American media.

"Bright, Precious Days" the latest from Jay McInerney

It had been a very long time since a book by Jay McInerney was picked up here.  With his first book in 1984, Bright Lights, Big City, he lit up New York City storytelling for his generation at the time. Reading from it to my office mates one morning, everyone genuinely laughed.  What I did was not particularly normal at a bank.

One or two subsequent books from the library were tried in the late 80's and early 90's, but did not have the same appeal.  Several weeks ago his 2016 book was in my hands.  Could it be worth reading.

It was, to my surprise.  While it is primarily a story about faux literate and upper middle class and wealthy Manhattan and Hampton's residents, and their personal relationships set in 2008 and 2009, there were observations ranging from astute and humorous to glib and uninformed that pulled the story along in fits and starts. Following the locations in Manhattan was the glue here.  Like many writers of his generation, just pulling together enough places and things is essential.  In this instance, with "Bright, Precious Days", the personal journey through all of the streets and destinations was enjoyed, since almost all were known well but not visited in the recent years.

McInernay is talented, but he is a huge notch below Yates, Updike, Cheever, and their generation's best writers.  At this point, a week later, much of the story is not compelling enough to be remembered in any detail but I did enjoy the few days of reading and looking back. The Manhattan backdrop was compelling.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Dystrumpia seeks overseas attention

Perhaps Saudi Arabia will treat Donald Trump with the respect that he feels he deserves.  He absolutely will get gold plated treatment.  For a day or two he may not miss his palatial three stories at Trump Tower.  Middle Eastern culture suggests that extended pleasantries are necessary before any business, professional or personal.  Extended can mean days not hours.  Trump's visit to Saudi Arabia will be kowtows for him accompanied by pre-arranged accomplishments.

After that comes Israel where his serious attention will be required, serious people there.  He will be treated well and in a way that they think will be in their best interests, rightfully so.  Then on to Brussels with a NATO meeting.

At that point the reporters will begin to have their feast.  Trump spent the great majority of his primary and presidential campaigns always flying home after a day of campaigning.  Home was primarily 725 Fifth Avenue, and at times his Palm Beach compound.  Trump has limited diet preferences. He has limited and constant television preferences.  He could easily be going through habit withdrawal mid-trip.

In Brussels the security will be stifling.  Car attacks there and in Paris will be on the minds of security without question, but also on the minds of the public.  Trump will be engaged in supposed diplomacy with NATO members.  They will be attuned to his weaknesses. It will be awkward and Trump will be tired.  He has not needed Melania or his young son but he does need his own bed.

Then off to Sicily and, since presumably like most New Yorker's his one dietary necessity is Italian food, he may be revived.  Then again, the Group of 7 will not all be pushovers.  They will fake their for respect him and laugh behind his back.  They will not fold.

He will be overjoyed to return to his home and even be more focused on his dystrumpian vision for this country.  He will once again need his side tracked extreme nationalist Steve Bannon.  Reince Priebus will be fired in a week or two, an unwitting casualty of  Trump's misery abroad.

Just some thoughts...

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Whiner in Chief evokes "history"

"This is the single greatest witch hunt of a politician U.S. history".  That's from an early morning tweet today by Donald Trump.  Talking about himself yesterday in his graduation speech at the Coast Guard Academy, he said "No politician in history --- and I say this with great surety --- has been treated worse or more unfairly."

This is from the man who whose knowledge of history led him to suggest that Andrew Jackson was alive at the time of the Civil War.  Trump exists in a bubble of self regard, irregardless of facts.  The troubling comments per day are accelerating.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Wall Street finally acknowledges Trump implosion

The metaphorical Wall Street has blinked.  After more than 100 days of ongoing chaos from the Trump administration and the "maestro" himself,  the last ten days have been a storm of continued dysfunction.  Investors capitulated today, and what comes next is unclear.  A further decline may well happen, or a modest bounce back could reassure for a day or two.  What is clear is that Trump is imploding.  There is no control mechanism for his narcissism and immaturity.  He will not last as the President for four years.  His every move seems to compound White House problems.

With the huge amount of power that our system gives the President, there is always the possibility that he could do something rash, or even unthinkable.  That's a big concern.  He has surrounded himself with so little quality leadership that one must wonder where sound advice might come from. Melania has no role or cares to have one.  Ivanka and Jared are already hugely compromised. Tillerson would leave the cabinet if he could come up with a good excuse.  Pence is a pathetic syncophant,  more frightening than most imagine as a possible successor who is waiting patiently with the hope of inflicting his extreme "values" and narrow mindedness on this nation.

When all of this is fully digested by investors here and globally, the outlook for the Republicans passing their vaunted agenda of lower taxes and a more stern society is in doubt.  The lack of a coherent vision of the future is not comforting to smart long term investors.  The strength of the U.S. markets over the last six months has been more relativist than rational.

We await with interest to hear Trump's comments on a market move that he will not jump to take credit for.

Monday, May 15, 2017

"Hacksaw Ridge", a Mel Gibson film

Awareness of this film here came while watching the Academy Awards presentation.  It seemed that Mel Gibson was being accepted back into the Hollywood fraternity.  Hacksaw Ridge was nominated for five or six Oscars and won two.  It was recognized at other award ceremonies as well.

The true story of a conscientious objector in WWII who served with extreme valor as a medic in the battle of Okinawa, it begins with a first half based on the life of Desmond Doss, the objector.  He grew up in the Blue Ridge Mountains countryside in the vicinity of Lynchburg, Virginia.  The development of his faith in less than ideal circumstances is the storyline and his decision to volunteer for the Army was one based on fairness, the need to contribute to the war effort while still following his beliefs.  It was a challenge.

The second half of the movie is in the battle for Okinawa.  At this point it becomes unequivocally a Mel Gibson film.  The war scenes are gruesome.  It is more like the type of battles that have been described in the Civil War, with troops of both sides running headlong into battle and at times almost certain injury or death.  Hand to hand combat with knives and bayonets is part of the scenes.  Some reviewers have described these scenes with great praise, and if blood and guts is what is required the film delivers with abandon.

It was certainly a diverting film but not one that was groundbreaking.  The combination of unshakable religious faith with extreme violence may be intoxicating to some, or could be viewed as troubling by others.  By all accounts, both financial and recognition for the film making, this movie was a huge success for the formerly embattled Gibson.

Hacksaw Ridge did tell an amazing story.  That Desmond Doss grew up in territory well known here, woods walked and gently rising mountains climbed with my father and grandfather, gave me the illusion that I had insight into the Doss that the film was trying to explain.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

"The Sense of an Ending", comment redux

This book by Julian Barnes was read here five years ago and a comment was written on September, 19th, 2012.  Writing with some caution about the Man Booker Prize winner of that year, the post was focused on the positive and routinely noted the fine writing.

Read again now, and only minimally remembered from earlier, the book is almost solely about memory, and the stigma that the passage of time can place on events and "learning the new emotions that time brings".  Barnes continues, "Discovering, for example, that as witnesses to your life diminish, there is less corroboration, and therefore less certainty, as to what you are or have been."

Barnes writes about the process of forgetting parts of the past, and whether that is much of an issue or just a focus of those who are older that exaggerates the concern. He is not writing about dementia or Alzheimer's, but simply mislaid facts that can resurface in an hour, or a day,or late at night.  He notes that in the midst of a concern about memory, "your brain, your memory, may surprise you.  As if it's saying:  Don't  imagine you can rely on some comforting process of gradual decline --- life's much more complicated than that."

While there is a somewhat linear story line of relationships, the look at memory, aging, and understanding of the past is the theme and the story seems to not be the purpose of the book in any important way. Then at the end, improbably, the unexpected resolution of the book's relationship puzzle puts the story line back in control.  The ending not only underscores the lack of memory's insight but also opens up the possibility that more understanding is possible.

In the prior comment on "The Sense of an Ending" this was hinted at, and during this second reading now five years later, it at first seemed to diminish the impact of a major part of the book.  Stepping back once again, the point may be that those late night examinations of events may yet lead to something.

Jason Bourne, the film

The television premiere of this fourth film in the Bourne series with Matt Damon aired last night.  It was released in 2016 to theaters and did well in the box office while it was received by critics with mixed reviews.   It was watched here with a combination of interest, confusion, and tedium.

The tedium came from the extended action sequences of car crashes, motorcycle chases, and fights with fists, guns, and knives.  It was frenetic as in the precious films and, if memory serves, a little more biased toward car and truck crashes.  It is assumed that piecing together the story line from the past was part of the attraction of the film to many devotees, and it was part of the effort here.  Yet, when an actual story line was followed, the film delivered on capturing the attractive aspects of this series.

Poor Nicky Parsons of the prior films was killed off early on, and the female lead became Heather Lee, played by a smartly photogenic and even tempered Alicia Vikander.  The assassin in the Bourne Ultimatum met his end here as well, eventually, after being an easy to dislike menace throughout. Tommy Lee Jones' role as the aging rough faced and corrupt CIA director also was completed.

This is the first Bourne film since 2007, which is not counting a weak substitute in 2012 with Jeremy Renner.  The story line also advanced ten years, as Bourne is pulled back from an off the grid life by Parsons, who lures him back into the spy game to deal with corruption at their heritage agency.

The development of this film suggests that another sequel is already in the mind of Paul Greengrass. Damon's co-star will surely be a more highly promoted Vikander   It will be watched whenever it comes out but one could wonder if these films can sustain their profitability given what must be substantial production costs related to the many film locations and the number of stunt men required.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

"A Brutal Bunch of Heartbroken Saps", new crime series from Nick Kolakowski begins

This new crime fiction novel should get some attention.  It hearkens back to the era of paperback crime novels that could fit in your back pocket and make a bus ride pass quickly.  At the same time it is completely current in observant references to time, place, and style of criminal activity .  While the True Crime Series reprints much of the older crime fiction and some genre extenders of today, "A Brutal Bunch of Heartbroken Saps" is much more than a regurgitation of the old model, while at the same time being an homage to it.  It is published by Shotgun Honey, an imprint of Down & Out Books.

Around ten years ago a journey through crime fiction was experienced here.  Of the veterans, Donald Westlake and his pseudonym Richard Stark were the unequivocal favorites.  For newer writers at that time a favorite was Jason Starr.  In recent years the genre has been neglected as the feeling was "I get the idea and have now read the best".  With Nick, a friend from the younger generation, now writing, it was necessary to dive back in.  It could be said that it was worth the effort, except that it was not an effort.  An exaggeration could be that it was noir crime poetry, and in fact the writing is compelling. There were a few nits noticed, noticed only because there were so few.

One location was surprising.  A main character would "sit with his chosen tailor in a cubbyhole of an office off Madison Ave.. who bemoaned  his dying art..." as he sat "in a hot and windowless shop." That shop is known here or one similar as an investor client who could buy anywhere recommended it to me years ago.  The finest fabric was not chosen but the fit of the suits made from scratch was exceptional and the cost was no more than basic Brooks Brothers.  That the fitting room was the size of a broom closet could be tolerated.

The book itself becomes somewhat frenzied as a doomed character morphs into a gun toting Elvis impersonator.  Don't ask... just read the book.  This is crime fiction that evolves into inevitable chaos and then ends in amiable uncertainty.  Always, always, I try to look for metaphorical or allegorical meaning in this genre, but it is not called "hard crime" for no reason.    

Brazen and bizarre --- the firing of Comey

Donald Trump's firing of FBI Director Comey is transparently self-serving.  The timing can be explained in only one way and  the rationale is clear.  First, Comey did not back up Trump when he claimed that Obama had him wiretapped during election, which was something Trump "learned" when listening to the neo-fascist broadcaster Alex Jones, and second, and more importantly, Comey stated clearly in Congressional hearings that the FBI was investigating Russian involvement with members of the Trump team during the election.

The Trump assertion that the firing was due to Comey's mishandling of the investigation of Hillary Clinton's e-mail is ludicrous.  Trump had praised Comey for his intrusion into the election and almost all opinion across the spectrum of political beliefs suggests that Trump benefited from Comey's clumsy efforts.

Much of the world was speechless at first, and remains stunned.  Bannon may be in the background but this move has his fingerprints all over it.  His surrogate Stephen Miller was most likely involved as well.  Did they tell Trump that this would be overlooked?  Did Trump with his bluster initiate this on his own?  There were multiple opportunities to fire Comey after the election if Trump's explanation is true.  The timing now is appalling.

Monday, May 08, 2017

Undisguised self dealing by Trumps and Kushners

It's as if they have no shame.  The only good thing that can be said of the self dealing for financial benefit coming from the White House is that it is transparent.  Today's NYT described a Kushner Companies road trip to Beijing and Shanghai to sell shares in a New Jersey real estate project that is building 1,500 luxury apartments in two Jersey City towers.  In the advertising, they have a picture of President Trump.  Much of the pitch details U.S visas that can be obtained for investments of $500,000 or more.  Coming out of the gate, they are using Jared's position for financial gain. Especially in China connections are viewed as crucial, and they are clearly touting them.

Meanwhile back at the ranch, George Packer was on a panel this week on Bill Maher's weekly show. They were discussing the Trump administration, and there was a suggestion by Maher and one of the panelists that at least Ivanka could be moderating the President's view.  The always balanced and insightful Packer rejected this thought in a polite way, saying that the pose by Ivanka and Jared is not consistent with their actions in the family businesses.  He suggested that they already are using their newfound influence for financial gain.  Packer noted that Ivanka could be "the H.R. Haldeman of the Trump administration".

The amazing thing about this is that they seem to have no idea that this could be seen as inappropriate and more importantly as demeaning to the Presidency and its integrity.  They don't care to know.

Sunday, May 07, 2017

A weekend of favorites here, Derby, Jazzfest, Fair

Historically speaking, a usual weekend of personal favorites is coming to an end.  The significance of this weekend began in 1973, my first year living in Louisville on Kentucky Derby day, or should it be week.  That year was the year of Secretariat, and with friends visiting from Chicago we were on the infield.  At that time the infield was not remotely as crowded as it is now, and getting a spot near the rail was not difficult.  Of course, we only saw a brief major snapshot of the race being at ground level, but it was remarkable.

Remarkable too were a few parties that were attended during that week.  It has become a ritual to watch the race since that time, in person, on the infield when living there and once in the stands as a guest, and in 1982 or 1983 when K and I attended from New York as at the invitation of friends who had great seats.  Seated just below us was ZZ Top.  All dressed up in blazer, tie, and shades, I lost money on every race, every one!  My smile occasionally wilted.  Still, it was a fine day.

Another ritual of this weekend began in 1976, my first visit to a lightly attended event, at that time, called the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.  After hearing about the event from me, my parents began their many uninterrupted years of attending that event that they loved.  My return was not until 1981 after moving to New York and having enough money to return.  For more than half of the years between that time and 1999, I was there with my parents, plus K or children or Louisville friends or Danville friends or all of the above.  The last visit was 2008, the highlight of which was the completely revitalized and lively Frenchmen Street.

This year and last, the NOLA torch has passed to our younger daughter, a frequent traveler who is attracted to great events and attends with friends from Austin as they are within a reasonable driving distance.

The last significant event of this weekend for many years was the local SCA fair, an event to raise money for school programs.  It is by far the best event of the year in this town of 8,000.  A large school playground is visited by a traveling carnival with rides both for little children and daunting ones for all, activities, and those wonderful games that reward with sawdust stuffed animals. There are also local food tents, hot dog stands, ice cream trucks, a large tent with donated yard sale items including a large array of used books, and a bandstand for aspiring bands and singers among young people in the community.  Everyone was there.

From 1989 with children mostly, at times without, that was a place to be if not in New Orleans.  With almost juvenile enjoyment, the goal every time was to win one of the big stuffies, two were usually needed, at the basketball hoops that were too high and too small or at the softball basket toss which was eventually mastered.  At times the basketball shot was won easily, not too high and just over the front of the rim, and at other times far too many dollars were spent at the effort.  The last win was six years ago when younger daughter was still with us and I wanted to bring something back to the house for her, for old times sake whether she wanted it or not.

There were lines for two baskets which were about ten feet from each other.  It was clear to anyone watching and the vendor on my line that I was past my basketball prime.  After five or six shots were missed, most of which hit the rim or backboard but not in a way that was promising.  One last shot... it was too high and to the right but it hit the rim, caromed sideways, and swished through the adjacent basket.  The attendant laughed and handed me the big prize of my choice.  Game over.

This year the Derby was watched with interest on television, no bets possible.  Traffic around the SCA fair slowed a trip to the grocery store.  A photo sent from Jazzfest today by Alex was viewed with great interest.  But that's it.

Saturday, May 06, 2017

"A Man For All Markets", personal experience from Edward O. Thorp

This book is subtitled "From Las Vegas to Wall Street, How I Best the Dealer and The Market".  From the title it is obvious from the start that this is not going to be a work of self-deprecation or an especially balanced autobiographical study.  After adjusting for that in the first chapter, and taking a pause for a week before picking the book back up, it was mostly an engaging read.

Thorp tells an interesting personal story which describes his life long skill in math, his career in academia, his successful hedge fund, and his wholesome and well meaning life.  The arc of his career is well told and interesting.  Whether it is gambling analysis or investment analysis, Thorp gives detailed descriptions of his systems of risk mitigation while making money.  At times, this detail can be tedious but understanding every nuance of what he writes is not necessary to enjoy the book.  With gambling, breezing through without taking the time to understand everything, as if I could, was easy to do while enjoying the ride.  In the financial investing portion , Thorp details all of the significant financial crises from the late 1960's until recent years and much of what he writes is an accurate understanding that many reasonably astute investors would have.  There is no groundbreaking information here but it is well done.  It could be used as a textbook that would be much more interesting than a standard recitation the market events described.  The investment advice that can be gleaned here is sound.

In its own way this was a fascinating book and kept my attention throughout.  Sometimes these days, that alone would be a great compliment.

Trump free zones

After watching the white male Republicans in the Rose Garden yesterday with their high fives and shallow goofiness have their celebration of the narrow passage of their so called "American Health Care Act", it feels necessary to create Trump free zones during the day.  That means no cable news during most of the day except for checks on the market during weekdays on CNBC.  Network news needs to be limited to the specific evening time slot.  PBS news to some extent and Vice News definitely still make the cut. Newspapers will be read thoroughly but not dwelled upon.  Editorials will be limited to reading headlines unless there is someone especially notable writing.  Periodicals will continue to be limited to the usual suspects.

This agitation withdrawal is meant to be healthy and lead to more productive days.

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

Andrew Jackson and the Civil War, Trump's view

We have a real problem here in this country that is becoming more obvious and more pronounced, if that were possible. Donald J. Trump, President of the United States of America, does not know fifth grade history.  From my hometown as the proclaimed "Last Capital of the Confederacy" it was first grade history but that is another story.

In one of his constant interviews and commentaries yesterday, he viewed Andrew Jackson, seventh President of the United States, as someone whom he admired and who opposed the Civil War and wanted to stop it.  This is simply bizarre.  That is mixing different eras.  Mixing all history is the same mush as mixing health care initiatives, foreign policy practices, the history of other nations and on and on.  President Trump is an illiterate man by the standards of any basic education.  His resentment of others with any view of his particular dysfunction is viscerally hostile some could say, but his way of using this as a way of identification with his base has worked, whether that is brilliant or just an intuitive identification with a television dulled culture is for others to decide.

There is no simple answer.  Maybe just one.  His election had absolutely nothing to do with political parties, congressmen or congresswomen, senators, or major ad campaigns.  It was simply a gut check reaction by many who felt that they were abandoned or had nothing to lose.  The abandoned can include a portion of the immensely wealthy who feel the never requited need for personal confirmation of their worth, like Schwartzman for good reason, and to some of the middle class and borderline lower middle class who are exhausted with their decline. The "nothing left to lose" are those whose cultural identity has been eroded to the point where the once and still voter substantial  "white middle class" had begun to seem like a loser term in their lives. Their station in life has been diminished, everything from their local prejudices, regional ambitions, social networks, and philanthropic leadership have been wiped out by a wealth hierarchy in all but the smallest of towns.  All of this is complicated, but the "left out" is simple.

Growing up in a modest sized town that was petri dish where every strata of society was visible and for the most part either embraced or accepted and, while not being at top of it, I have always felt that all of this society can evolve and be understood.  The election of Donald Trump throws that into doubt.  He is "reinforcing the negative" with his unseemly description of  "American carnage" in his inauguration speech and the graphic tales that he provided on the steps of the Capital.  Any "accentuate the positive" only deals with himself.

Calls to action on issues like climate change and women's recognition and the importance of scientific facts are laudable, but Trump must adapt to the real world or go. See Evan Osnos in this week's New Yorker on how that, however unlikely, could happen.

HRC is unstoppable

Hillary Clinton is back and talking, more than ever.  She is not the future.  She is not even the present. As said in a post on April 7th, she should never have been in such a vulnerable position in early November.  Her self-centered unfocused campaign sacrificed the issues that many support to her personal whims. Listening to her out of touch young campaign manager Robby Mook above all else, she displayed her need for obsequious help.  Now that she is becoming more outspoken about the reasons for her loss, it is becoming clear that there was no good outcome available in the election. Trump is a dangerous man, but with Hillary there would have been no direction known.  She too would have been scrutinized for competence.

Just as Donald Trump could ultimately destroy the Republican party if its adherents don't eventually stand up to him, Hillary Clinton could destroy the Democratic Party by persisting in representing herself and her husband as the avatars of the Party.  At the moment Tom Perez and Keith Ellison have no clout or significance, but others could rise up, and they will if a normal progression is allowed. Just a strong opinion here, but she must step back.  She is not just "an activist citizen" as she said today.  She is an activist self promoter with a minimal core following.