Friday, September 25, 2015

Family visit

It may be pope day in New York City, but here our older daughter visited from far off Brooklyn. Could, as a parent, it be said that she has no idea how important this visit was.  She is smart and observant, but intuiting what we are thinking is unlikely.  Knowing what K is thinking is completely personal territory.

It was a joy to have her here for the evening.  She was with her caretaker from those years after her birth when both K and I were working demanding hours.  They keep in touch, and we had sponsored her as a citizen.  She is now a well known interior designer.  There was Indian food from a favorite restaurant and mostly just time to let conversation wander wherever it wanted.

Older daughter took one of the cars for the week, so she will be back on the next weekend as well. That will be an important time to discuss annoying subjects like assets and estates.  It is necessary.  It is welcome.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Heat wave

On 9/9 there was a comment about the change of seasons.  The change seemed to be felt in the morning air, and that was beginning to precipitate as well a seasonal change in personal outlook.

How premature was that comment?  The humid heat of the oft mentioned Indian summer has already set in.  In this small town today,  there apparently were aficionados of the season all around.  That was not expected or recognized before.  The summer months in the merchant area of town are dominated by the young.  Now they are away or home doing school work.  Right now, this day, the most noticeable group of people in town were men from their mid-fifties to late sixties hanging around in their favorite laid back stuff, whether t-shirts or caps or shorts or sunglasses, they were in Indian summer heaven.

In line at the local variety store was a  distinctly rough skinned sunburnt Irish guy with his Myrtle Beach cap, baggy shorts, and his flip flops, moustache and face wet with sweat, looking to all the world like he was on the road to 18 again.  Another in the parking lot was an obviously happy man with a reduced Art Garfunkel hair look who had his swim pants hanging low and some kind of colorful 60's shirt on, band not able to be read from a distance.  There was this guy with his low slung slim black jeans, combed back longish grey blond hair, and faded red Quiksilver t-shirt lounging on the one bench under shade in parking lot area.  There was more...

Get out there. Take back the street for a few days.  Watch out for the cops.  It seems to be one of those ticket giving, revenue raising days.  Even here, they love being stern, at best.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Is Saudi led coalition attack on Sana'a just taking a page from the playbook of Bashar al-Assad

The Saudi coalition's apparent indiscriminate bombing of Sana'a residential neighborhoods and the old city is disturbing.  As with Bashar al-Assad's forces in Syria, it may not just be indiscriminate but instead precisely planned acts of terror.

The Saudi led Sunni coalition is supported by the U.S.  Why does the U.S. need to be attached to this effort?  Sana'a had long been the capital of Yemen until the Houthis pushed out the corrupt yet supposedly legitimate government, pushed them to Aden where the Houthis will likely defeat them again over time.  The Houthis are Shiites based in northern Yemen and have built their disciplined forces over years on their own.  They are independent and strong like the Kurds in northern Iraq. They had restored order to Sana'a once they moved in.

The Saudi led coalition that the U.S. supports sees the Houthis as proxies for Iran.  They may be getting aid from Iran now but they have always been known in the region as rugged fighters and Iran did not make them into what they are today, and does not direct their strategy.  They are the only forces in Yemen that dare to directly take on al-Qaeda, other than the U.S. from the safety of their drones.

That the Saudi led coalition focuses it efforts on a non-terrorist anti al-Qaeda segment of Yemen's conflict and not on the Sunni based ISIS in Syria is telling.  Who is the bigger threat to the region? The answer should be obvious but the Saudi use of U.S. weaponry suggests that they have a different point of view.

Is this yet just another U.S. foreign policy blunder in the middle east?  Will the Obama run military ever get anything right?  Big question here is whether they have actually followed through on arming the Kurds in a significant way and directly, as Obama finally said that they would two months ago, or is the U.S. still holding back as they pretend that a unified Iraq is a possibility.  Obama should have listened to Biden six years ago.


Monday, September 21, 2015

The unscrupulous Paul Krugman

While Paul Krugman's column in the New York Times is rarely read here, today was different.  Even though it might seem that his opinions should be rational and egalitarian, they are not.  Often they are self absorbed resentful rants.  The column "Rage of the Bankers" today was no different.

On the surface the column was about the Fed's decision to not raise interest rates last week.  Krugman was supportive of the Fed's decision, that's his call, and that is not the subject of this comment.  To support his unfolding column Krugman intially cites a Swedish economist who wrote about economics more than 100 years ago.  Of course Krugman must be right if he refers to such a righteous source, but of course it is just Krugman's usual patronizing intellectual posturing.  Everyone knows that economic theories are directional and none are set in stone.  They are interesting and informative but citing them does not mean that they right, or that Krugman is right in a situation one century later.

Krugman's main point in the article is that bankers, yes hideous bankers, who as Krugman chooses to note "have excellent tailors", were the main segment of the economy that wanted this rate hike. Bankers did want the tiny rate hike but they were far from the only members of our society that did. Heaven forbid if rates were hiked and pensioners began to receive a smidgen of interest, what if savers for retirement or college funds could receive some return on their funds without feeling compelled to participate in a stock market that they might not understand or worse yet buy annuities that provide neither liquidity nor a good return and, God help us, what if bankers did see the rate hike, however small, as a chance to step up lending to small businesses.

It is hard to believe that the NYT continues to publish Krugman.  His comments are not constructive or honest.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

The Making of Asian America", a history

This certainly is a history book, newly published and written by Erika Lee, an accomplished professor at the University of Minnesota, whose specialty is immigration.  It is a timely book for those wanting to have a perspective on the U.S. immigration issue.

That is not why it was ordered here.  There are specific facts that were wanted.  This is a comprehensive book, ultimately college textbook, with over 80 pages of notes at the end.  It is well written, meaning that it flows well.  As a history book it will serve as a reference book here, and it would be a handsome addition to a bookcase if there were any space available.  Now there are stacks in most corners.  In all likelihood it would not have been purchased a few years ago before Amazon became such a bargain seller with such prompt service.

There were two primary areas were of interest.  First, K's parent's immigration in 1949 and second, K's mother's successful efforts to bring so many of her family members here after China reopened in 1979.  In this well organized book, it was easy to find.

As to K's parents, there was "a small group of 5,000 Chinese students who were stranded in the United States after the 1949 communist revolution in China."  They were two of the 5000.  At that time there were few if any legal opportunities to immigrate to the U.S. from China.  The year and reason for their inclusion was known here, but the number was not and the fact that there was little to no immigration from mainland China at that time.  Hong Kong and Taiwan, in limited numbers, were the source of Chinese immigrants.

Concerning the successful efforts to bring relatives to the U.S. in the 1980's, it was an especially propitious time.  President Reagan was not an opponent of immigration and longstanding Chinese residents that had been successful in their communities gave significant help, even some political clout.  In the dining room here there is a picture of K's mother standing with Jimmy Carter.  Her parents were not shy participants in the democratic process.

The $18 that was paid for this book was well worth the access to this information.  It can be passed down if books are still used in the future.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Shopping at Zingerman's

Internet shopping for gifts is a treat.  The focus here is food.  Who can not like good food delivered as a surprise?  There are no complementary put backs expected here.  That is not the point.

Once it was Balducci's, the famous New York store on 7th avenue in Greenwich Village.  They sent wonderful boxes of food to my parents and others, at my bequest.  Unfortunately a second or third generation tanked the company with unfounded ambition.  Now the go to place is Zingerman's in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  You call and actually talk to people who seem interested and even willing to talk about themselves.  It's like the 1950's.

Yesterday was a day of mailings.  With the Jewish holiday, they now have their related baked goods including the amazing rugelach that they make.  K grew up in a Jewish neighborhood where her family was not, and in fact Chinese.  She grew up with all of the Jewish holidays and food.  The traditional walnut, currant, and apricot rugelach was ordered for here as well as the new chocolate and raspberry.  Random gifts were sent to friends that may have included some spices.

It's all to be mailed on Monday.  It's an inexpensive way to keep in touch with good friends.  Part of our batch will be given to our wonderful Polish housekeeper who sewed up my last white windbreaker just yesterday, which those of you who know me well can see me in since the age of 11, different variations but not to be discerned by most.  That is definitely worth some rugelach.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

"the schopenhauer cure"

This book by Irvin Yalom was referenced here on September 4th as his book "Creature of a Day" was the focus of a comment.  "the schopenhauer cure" is certainly not of the stature of Yalom's other major novel "When Nietzsche Wept".  That was a brilliant work of historical fiction published in 1992 that could make the reader feel as if late 19th century Vienna was alive now. With that said,  "the schopenhauer cure" still is an exceptional book.  It is set in the early 2000's Palo Alto area and was published in 2005.

There are three parts to this book that are interwoven.  One is the story and thoughts of psychiatrist and therapy group leader, the 66 year old Julius, who learns that he has terminal cancer and maybe only a good year to live.  Then there is the seven member group itself, run by dexterity and serious thought by Julius, the only part of the book that can become a slight bit tedious. The other piece is an ongoing view of the work of Arthur Schopenhauer, a predecessor of the thought of Neitzsche and Freud.

The book begins with the thought from Neitzsche that one should live life"in such a way as to be willing to live the same life eternally".  That seems like an opening for an afterlife but that is never the message of this book.  One of the main characters laments " why can't I do what I really want to do?", rather than fall into a pattern of addiction(take your pick, sex in this instance) that is all encompassing.  When that doesn't work out, he falls into his hotel bedroom reading, relaxed and for once lets it pass.

There were many personal aspects of this book.  I quote, "Though everyone agrees that life is one goddamned loss after another, few know that one of the most aggravating losses awaiting us in later decades is that of a good night's sleep.  Julius knew that lesson all too well.  His typical night consisted of tissue-thin dozing which almost never entered the realm of deep, blessed delta-wave slumber, a sleep that was interrupted by so many awakenings that he often dreaded going to bed."

One could wonder "why read such a book?".  For this reader it was an amazing source of insight. That does not mean happiness, but it does mean a great sense of relief.  It helped with the understanding of past compulsions.  It highlighted the role of "consequences" to all actions.

For those with the time, patience, and maybe the pathology required, this book is exceptional.

The comment on this book is by no means complete.  There is so much there.  Each to his own.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Recap of today

--- It was a relief to see the U.S. equity market close up on the weekend close as opposed to doing what it has in recent weeks, as in ramp down.  As in most closes, it was on light volume but up, and it is welcome. No expectations here, but staying the course while taking portions of gains from a few long term positive equity positions to build up liquidity for better opportunities to come.

--- The video of the tennis star James Blake standing in a place in what is a completely familiar location and being body slammed to the ground is disturbing.  That's right in front of the Hyatt on 42nd Street near Vanderbilt in broad daylight, the usual crowds on the sidewalk.  There was no approach of conversation or warning. The video shows this cop thug just attacking without provocation.  What a joy for the predatory cop. What a life disturbing event for the admired James Blake.  The cop should be fired and charged with a videoed crime of assault.  Enough is enough.

---Serena William's loss in the U.S. Open today to an unseeded veteran Italian player was a shock. What it shows is the drain of her previous match with her sister Venus.  Those sister pairings have often been derided as rote, but whoever has played their sibling, their best friend, or their long time doubles partner in an important singles match knows that the stress is immense, and the required politeness demands an abnormal restraint of emotion.  Serena was mentally worn out.

---September 11, 2001 remains as a straightforward sad memory here --- an afternoon of terror downtown and midtown, one good friend lost, a score of other business contacts as well, and a sense of relief that was exceptional when soot covered and exhausted ones from downtown showed up in our offices to hug their friends and spouses.  This may seem like a too often never ending remembrance to outsiders, but to some memory is not required.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

"The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared"

This Norwegian film puts an end to the thought that all Scandinavian films need to be either brooding thought pieces or tales of vicious and unthinkable crimes.  The 100 Year Old Man is a humorous story of completely directionless proportions.

Not only does the 100 year old man climb out of his retirement home window and disappear, one could cheer, he inadvertently ends up dragging around a suitcase full of money, teams up with a man not much younger who was living in isolation rather than go into a retirement home, and ends up being chased by an inept motorcycle gang.

The film takes the opportunity to flashback through many parts of the 100 year old man's life, including his participation in the Spanish Civil War, the time he saved Franco's life, his meeting with Stalin to discuss the Manhattan Project, a drunken lunch with Harry Truman, and his time as a double agent between the KGB and the CIA, planting lies on both sides.  Most of the history is suspect.  He goes through all of this like Chance in Jerzy Kosinski's "Being There", effective but almost unaware. He lives in the present.

An elephant in a van, car wrecks, and ending up on the island of Bali take this story to an end.  It is preposterous, totally without subtlety, silly, mostly full of smiles and chuckles, and entertaining at the end of a long day.  In the old and maybe still Hollywood vernacular, it is a madcap comedy.

The woeful state of high speed rail in the United States - the infrastructure crisis

In the doctor's office today the most recent magazine was a June 15th Fortune and it was a lucky find. First there was a compelling analysis of Union Pacific(UNP) and three months after publication the boat has not been missed.  With a 2.5% dividend, strong balance sheet, and a reliance on oil and gas shipments for only 4.6% of its revenues, it looks interesting.  There is still time.

Of greater interest was an article on high speed rail in the world with an amazing chart.  The chart cannot be reproduced here on this low tech blog, but the global comparisons that follow here are worth seeing.  The statistics are of  "miles of high speed rail, existing or under construction", in the listed countries.  Here goes.  The U.K. --- 70;  Saudi Arabia --- 342;  The U.S. --- 456;  Italy --- 651; Turkey ---719;  Germany --- 1,130;  Taiwan --- 1,130;  France --- 1,735;  Japan --- 2,139;  Spain ---2,376;  and China --- 11,622.  Other countries were listed in the Fortune chart that can be googled with a little effort.

Another word for "high speed rail" could just be "new".  The huge China number is not a surprise. With its GDP surplus, limited protections of property rights in the face of development by the government, and vast expanses of territory to connect, the world has watched China's build out in many areas.  The test over time will be whether the money invested is spent for productive purposes or if much of it spent on corrupt projects that will never pay back the capital invested.  The track record, pun not intended, on that in the real estate sector is already looking shaky.

What is obviously of concern is the lack of activity in the U.S.  That Spain, with its troubled economy, would have a number of miles more than five times the U.S. total is almost beyond comprehension. That little Taiwan has two and a half times more is stunning.  Everyone knows that France and Japan were the leaders over the last three decades in developing and implementing high speed rail, but Turkey and Italy ahead of the U.S.?

This is indicative of the lack of infrastructure spending in the U.S. that is on the verge of becoming a crisis.  At this point, the U.S. is far behind just on maintenance of its existing infrastructure of roads, bridges, airports, water systems, levees, rail lines, and more, such that the thought of actually building new infrastructure of consequence seems in the distant future.  The country prides itself on being a consumer driven economy, with 70% of GDP sourced from consumer spending.  Much of that spending is not, in an infrastructure or long term development sense, productive.  A focus on investment is needed desperately for a future that builds the capacity for good jobs and continues to attract capital and talent from around the world.

Politicians could address this, but unfortunately it would fall under the category of raising taxes.  That is not necessarily true at all, as there are many ways to finance projects.  Public/private partnerships should be considered, and these do not need to be like the financing of sports complexes. They can be legitimate business structures and not giveaways.  All of that is almost too difficult for a politician to articulate in a sound bite, and of no interest to the broad American public, one third of which can apparently be infatuated with Donald Trump.

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

The seasons turn

The calendar says that it is still summer, and today will still feel like it is.  Irrespective of today's outlook, on this morning the coming change in seasons seemed imminent.  At 6:30am it was still mostly dark and outside there was a damp coolness.  School buses were rattling by on their way to get positioned for their routes.

Morning temperatures are expected to be in the low 60's for the remainder of the week.  There will be big rains coming tonight and all day tomorrow.  The real summer is coming to an end.

As the transition takes place and we begin to head away from the light and the warmth, a brooding reflective time can take hold.  That is both positive and negative.  It's a time to take stock and assess the outlook, but it can also be a time to slip into a period of unsettled dysfunction.  Navigating this particular change of season has always been a conscious effort here, one that may well be a result of the early ingrained back to school syndrome, back to a boring grind.

It's also back to "market" time, and there may be reprieve beginning for these diminished financial markets.  Even a hint of that is refreshing.  Would that it could be part of this year's change of season?

Monday, September 07, 2015

"Two Days, One Night"

This straightforward and on the surface simple film packs a slow punch.  Marion Cotillard plays a young mother who returns to her factory job after a leave of absence due to a bout of depression.  She is immediately put into a difficult position by her foreman, who gives the other workers in her department a choice of getting annual bonuses of 1000 euros or keeping her on and losing the bonus.

Her effort is to convince the other workers, a few of whom are solidly behind her, to vote for her to keep her job and thus forego the bonuses.  Her husband and two young children support her, but she is on the edge of a depressed state and using prescribed Xanax to cope.

What is especially interesting is that if there were American films that were this honest about the world we now live in, the theaters would be empty.  What is also interesting is that some facets of the U.S. economy today are so prevalent in a country like France, as this film clearly is depicting some truth about that country.

The factory workers, who make solar panels, are earning lower middle class wages and most are barely getting by paycheck to paycheck,  even in most cases with both husband and wife working. It's easy to think of France as a place, with its considerable economic transfer payments, its tendency for strikes, and its strict government enforced work rules, where a middle class life is almost a birthright with any regular job. With the stagnation in Europe today, that is no longer the case, and just as in the U.S. being employed by no means implies a secure situation.  Some of the shortfalls that exist in the U.S. economy today reflect what is going on in much of the developed world.

This was not a political film, and the comment here should not give that impression.  It is simply a well done depiction of real life.  Cotillard is exceptional in a convincing low key role.

The U.S. role in the European migrant crisis?

The continuing and increasing numbers of refugees and migrants is a challenge that is being addressed in an urgent but ad hoc manner by the European Union.  What was probably obvious to those who were close to the issue is being addressed as an unexpected event.  The overwhelming entrance of these migrants(term to be used here although it is realized that there is word parsing among the informed) to Greece and to a lesser extent Italy is not remotely sustainable without some broader and more comprehensive plan.  As these migrants all seek to reach Germany or the Scandinavian countries in particular, there ultimately will not be enough room, and certainly not enough jobs of any quality given the stagnation of much of the European economy.

The allocation of placement within the E.U. is being debated and negotiated.  The role of the United States in this is unclear.  America has been a major choice of migrants from all over the world for a century and a half, but has received and accepted just a few of those surging into Europe from Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Libya, and  multiple other countries in North Africa.  The world community will expect the U.S. to play a role, both as a model for others and as an acknowledgement that the country's actions in Iraq, Libya, and Afghanistan, as well as its lack of any leadership to deal with the debacle in Syria have been a contributor to this problem.

On "Meet The Press" yesterday, there was a discussion of the overall crisis, and it was suggested that that a U.N. analysis had determined that countries outside of the E.U. and Middle East should receive 130,000 migrants.  Of that it was said that the U.S. should accept half of that total, obviously 65,000 which is a large number. How those numbers were calculated is unknown, but they are out there in the world of choice and consideration by some.

This will become an issue, without a doubt.  How the U.S. government will react is completely uncertain.  Once some action is discussed or proposed it will enter into the jaws of the nascent but already highly active presidential campaign.  That will be interesting.  Will some candidates oppose accepting any migrants out of fear that they cannot be assimilated and that somewhere among them there could be Middle East terrorists?  This has the possibility of becoming a contest dividing issue, one on which some candidates could stumble or fume with bombast, and maybe most discuss in high minded but completely opaque terms.  How many candidates will support turning their back on the rest of the world?

President Obama and his administration cannot duck having an opinion on this, and proposing a course of action.  It should be meaningful.  Congress will no doubt get involved.  Stay tuned.

Sunday, September 06, 2015

Back to a favorite local restaurant

For many years, our favorite restaurant in the area had been Diwan, an Indian restaurant in a nearby town that matched just about any top Indian restaurant in Manhattan.  There was, in fact, at one time a Diwan run by the same family on East 45th St. between Lex and 3rd, prime mid-town business lunch territory.  There was also a popular take-out spot on a small street near the Stock Exchange downtown.

In the last couple of years we rarely ordered food from there for a variety of reasons, the primary one being that they are not that close and they don't have delivery.  Another almost inexplicable reason is that they are a bit more expensive than other restaurants that we also like, and also their portions are so large that even after two meals there is still much more left over that can be wasted, never a thing we like to do.  Too few mouths to feed I guess, as our grown children are rarely here and out of town guests are less frequent.

"Inexplicable" was said as last night's take-out food was exceptional.  We ordered Tandoori Salmon, Chicken Tikka Masala, Aloo Ghobi(potatoes and cauliflour in spicy sauce), and Chana Masala(spicy chick peas with a few potatoes).  Of course we ordered two house made Naan, rice was included, and they, as remembered when we opened the bag at home, had also included crispy chips with two sauces, a green one and a reddish one, whose names don't come to mind at the moment.  The green one has always been a favorite.

Everything was fine but the two vegetable dishes were the best.  Also, we had seemingly almost forgotten how tasty freshly cooked and spiced rice from a good Indian restaurant is.  As expected, we had more than enough food so Labor Day tomorrow is taken care of for another fine meal, good thing since this area truly shuts down during this holiday every year.  It was a surprise that K liked the naan so much as, except for half a piece of toast and jam in the morning, she has been on a starch strike recently, not really a good thing.  She ate half of a large naan with her dinner, and asked to have it for breakfast with her eggs as well, something that definitely was not forgotten this morning.

Bobby and Margaret, who have always owned and run the place, Bobby cooking and Margaret front of house, were once good local business friends.  During the internet stock craze Bobby pinned me down at every visit to talk about his ideas. According to Margaret that did not end well, but they seem to be doing well now, having pared down their restaurant holdings.  Their biggest money maker has always been Indian weddings and other celebrations.  They will cater these huge events where everyone related to everyone shows up, as their culture requires.

We did not interrupt their dinner hour work last night to talk.  Maybe next time we will.

Saturday, September 05, 2015

The muddled political situation in the Middle East

Nothing is completely clear about the Middle East political situation, at least from a traditional western perspective.  Take Yemen as one prime example.  The U.S. and the Saudis both support the supposed legitimate central government based in Aden now and not in the former capital.  That central government is composed of Sunni believers and secular opportunists.  Their two main opponents are the Houthis, which control the recent former capital of Sana'a, and Al-Qaeda of the Yemen Republic.

The Houthis are Shiite based and are reportedly backed by Iran but they refute that. The Houthis have their own powerful fighting force and control major parts of the country as well as their native northwest part.  They are the major challengers to Al-Qaeda in the country, while the central government has traditionally accepted that Al-Qaeda can control much of the eastern part of Yemen, or as news reports call it, "the hinterlands".  The central government doesn't want to battle another adversary, especially one of Sunni origin.

The U.S. is filling the vacuum of attacking Al-Qaeda through drone attacks.  Saudi Arabia and a few other Arab allies are actively using their U.S. built airplanes to attack the Houthis.  The Shiite controlled central government of Iraq that is sponsored in a major way by the U.S. is not involved, but the contradictions grow with every sentence.

Let's complicate things.  Militias from Iran have arguably been more helpful to Iraq's defense of itself against ISIS than the U.S, as they are on the ground and not just up in the air.  The U.S. has finally begun to allocate funds and resources to the Iraqi Kurds directly as they are the only rigorous fighters against ISIS within Iraq.  Whether that statement at long last made less than two months ago by President Obama is backed by actual facts is unknown.  Turkey is using U.S. sourced jets and money to attack not only ISIS but the Kurds in Turkey and those on or over the border into Iraq.  That's in return for allowing the U.S. to now use Turkish airbases to attack ISIS in Syria.

Major U.S. ally Saudi Arabia supports a Taliban style justice system for the masses, but that clearly does not apply to the ruling House of Saud dynasty.  The Sunni Saudis are vehemently anti-Iran, yet with all of the aid that comes their way from the U.S., the large number of House of Saud members who have been educated at major American schools, and the many House of Saud leaders who have a huge footprint in London for their investments and their secular lifestyle, Saudi Arabia has recently confirmed that they support the pending Iran deal.

Then there is Syria which is committing genocide on its own people in many areas.  President Assad of Syria would like to think that he is a friend of the West, as he and his supporters are as much secular in their beliefs as religious, live a Western lifestyle, as well as being key fighters against ISIS, at least in Assad's limited mind. Russia supports Assad, Iran supports Assad, and Saudi Arabia does not.  The U.S. does not support Assad, but has for all practical purposes done little tangible to show it.

All of this ramble is simply meant to show how complicated the Middle East is, and is not meant to be understandable. The Middle East is a region whose various relationships between countries are ruled by age old relationships or animosities, much of which seems to have no logic.  President Obama's 2009 speech in Cairo seeking a more stable relationship within the region and with the U.S. was at best well meaning but immensely naive, at worst completely thoughtless self promotion after he used the same speech making tactic to win election in the U.S.  He has never had any grasp of what to do in the region, almost having a "let Biden and Kerry handle it" attitude.

Of course, finally there is Israel that cannot help but be relieved at the moment by all of the chaos among their various Arab neighbors.  Why wouldn't this have been an opportunity to cut back on the continued expansion of the settlements and make some real effort to control the more extremist elements in their country.  What a coup it would have been if during this chaotic time they could have made some progress in relationships with their more moderate Arab neighbors and with the Palestinians. Under Netanyahu that certainly has not happened, and whether there is or was any opportunity the world will never know.

This is a dangerous region for the world as everyone knows.  Simple solutions do not exist, except perhaps in the minds of some minimally informed and policy blind U.S. politicians.

Friday, September 04, 2015

"Creatures of a Day"

Almost always concerned about running out of books to read, small inventories are often built.  One espionage book away from reading "Being Mortal", commented on here almost two weeks ago, I reached into the serious pile and picked up "Creatures of a Day" by Irvin D. Yalom.  The book had been ordered in a search to determine if Yalom was still alive, still practicing, and still writing.  Yes on all counts, and at 81 he had just published a new set of stories related to his psychiatry practice and his patients, all carefully disguised and also done with their permission.

Two of his books with the same format as this collection had been read here but not in the recent past. "When Nietzsche Wept", his great 1992 novel, had been read more than 15 years ago and remains on any top list of books that could be created here.

There could hardly be a better follow up to "Being Mortal" than "Creatures of the Day", if one's mood can take it.  His writing style in this type of non-fiction is conversational and few words seem wasted.  Yalom has always been focused on existential therapy that looks at meaning and purpose in life, and now much more clearly the inevitable end.  At 81, he sees life through the prism of his age. The stories are each different and interesting, but the search remains the same if perhaps more immediate and vivid than in the past. This relatively short book was worthwhile and somehow for the most part entertaining.

Being short, that quickly led to a next book and after a brief flirt with Jonathan Franzen's new book "Purity",  Yalom's one other novel, "The Schopenhauer Cure" then took center stage.  Obsessional reading sometimes works, and this book almost immediately entranced.  How can a world famous Stanford professor emeritus of psychiatry have written novels the are compelling and have hooks at the end of most chapters which make stopping to fix dinner hard to do.  This book was published in 2005 and much more reading of this lengthy book is looked forward to, so far with pen in hand.  It probably will not match up to "When Nietzsche Wept", what could, but that is yet to be seen.

Surely "Purity" will be returned to soon.  Franzen's style requires, at least here, uninterrupted periods of significant reading, at least at the beginning.  That will happen, but not at the moment.

Thursday, September 03, 2015

Friday expected to be another volatile market day

It is not expected that Friday's payrolls report will be anything of note by any long term measure.  In the short term, as in tomorrow, any variation from the expected results or even just meeting expected results will be watched and acted on, especially if the report comes in even a smidgen on the downside.  This is a defensive market.  That's unfortunately not news.

One troubling report by JP Morgan research released today suggests that activity by quantitative market trading funds looms over all trading.  The analyst suggested that $100 billion in stock remains to be sold at those funds in the next couple of weeks. How he knows this is not clear. Is it just a guess or is it based on prior knowledge of trading plans by firms. In any event, these trading algorithms are completely price insensitive and not conducive to a market based on fundamental analysis.  That is why the word "troubling" was used.

Going into a three day weekend will likely exacerbate any negative sentiment if that is what the jobs report gives the market.  The risk is that the market will react by letting their fear take over, with the thought that they can always buy next week and not worry about what Asia and Europe will do on Monday.  Then again, the real analytical investor market could decide that they want to get ahead of the end of what most of us view as summer, and buy opportunistically.

No tarot cards here.