Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Another Donald Trump on the horizon? Tilman Fertitta?

Is Tilman Fertitta already there?   CNBC has a large advertisement on page A5 of the New York Times lauding their program "Billion Dollar Buyer" with Fertitta as its star.  Apparently there were a few episodes of this show broadcast last year, and now it is back with an expanded schedule.

Not familiar with Fertitta.  He owns Landry's restaurant chain and four or five smaller ones with well known regional names.  He owns casinos in Las Vegas and elsewhere, the Golden Nugget.  His Wiki page can explain all of this, but that can be managed and it seems to be, some might say manipulated.  A May 1997 feature story in the Texas Monthly seems to be a much more honest version of Fertitta's path to success, and he is certainly a success, a hard charging highly competitive businessman with a blunt demeanor.

Sometime in the mid-nineties Fertitta began to be noticed in a national sense, and not just in Texas, Louisiana, and Las Vegas.  I asked the CEO of a Texas bank at that time if he did business with the firm, thinking that would be something to strive for.  His reply was straightforward and his words were more or less "we don't do business with people like that."  He added other information sparingly that led me to believe that all was not on the up and up with Tilman.

Reading now I see that his family and some relatives with Sicilian roots were associated with a mafia like syndicate in the Galveston, Texas area in the middle part of the 20th century.  They controlled many parts of commerce, some legal and some not, in that area and it was generally speaking good for business and the parts of the community, based on what is read here.  How that was accomplished was not detailed.

That said, Fertitta does not seem to have ties to any such organization although he would clearly have made contacts with those who had in the past due to his family ties.  Like Trump, he purportedly leads a healthy lifestyle, but it surely includes red meat.  Unlike Trump, he and his wife do seem to be documented contributors and participants with multiple charities.  His political views were once liberal on issues like poverty, the minimum wage, and healthcare, and like so many high rollers in the late '80's and the 90's, he was friends with Bill Clinton.  He now may be more comfortable with the Republicans based on some current associations.

While the Democrats and the Republicans may be short on bench strength, the phenomenon that elected Trump may not be, as it could have a 59 year old successor waiting in the wings.

Postscript comments, 11/30:  Not included at all in Wikipedia is the fact that Fertitta had a close call in his finances in the late 1980's.  His aggressive expansion and use of leverage was not an approach that fared well in that period.  This is not unlike Trump during that period.  They both recovered, using legal settlements to minimize their debt and government programs to support their recovery.

Unlike Trump, Fertitta does not appear to be one who favors over the top extravagance in his lifestyle.  He does live large for sure, but gold leaf is not on everything.

It is certain that many others have much more knowledge about Fertitta than is known here.  This was written on a whim, initiated by the aforementioned advertisement.

Monday, November 28, 2016

"Patria O Muerte: Cuba, Fatherland or Death"

This HBO documentary was watched here earlier tonight.  While it is a portrait of a land of despair, it is also somewhat invigorating.  The people are real.  Their needs are striking but their plight is somewhat endearing, and that thought is not meant to be patronizing.  They say,"We are not just any country, this is Cuba."  That suggests not only a strong sense of identity but also the severe limitations of their lives.  Cuba appears as not just a step back in time because of its cars.  The step back in time pervades everything.  In the words of one of the participants, a writer, it is a country as a mausoleum.

This film was worth every minute of the time watched, although that may not be saying much here. One could think that if life in that country gets a chance to improve, the resilient residents will thrive. They undeniably have suffered but some of what they missed may have been worth missing.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

More comments on the election...

Most of the ongoing news related to the election and the transition has become tiring.  At times it seems like watching a car crash in slow motion.  So apologies for making more comments here.

The question now has become, "who is the spokesperson for the Democratic Party?"  That more or less falls to Barack Obama, our outgoing  President who is already in closing out mode.  His time spent with David Remnick of the "New Yorker" recently makes that clear.  He is working on making the best of a bad situation, the transfer of power to Trump.  That is certainly not easy.

Bernie Sanders came from out of nowhere in 2016 and was the beneficiary of being in the right place at the right time.  He became a political celebrity during the primary.  His reach to a broader population is unlikely to grow.  The Clinton's are now moving off of the stage whether they like it or not.  John Kerry is doing the same.  Younger stars have not been nurtured as this election result was not anticipated.  Tim Kaine did not make a major impression nationally, and in his one debate he followed the Clinton team advice and seriously diminished the best qualities of his personality and approach to politics.

On the Republican side of things, Mitt Romney now looks like the desired player by the moderates of the Republican Party, if there is such a thing.  Even more bizarrely, Kellyanne Conway is openly campaigning against him on social media.  Rudy Giuliani is campaigning for himself intensely. Secretary of State is an important job, and this is difficult to watch.

One could wonder if Trump is already feeling some cognitive dissonance.  He wanted to win, he loved the attention, and now he needs to make something work?  He cannot manage the presidency in an "out of control" manner like he did in the campaign, so the concern is that someone else will.  Will it default to the at times delusional extreme right wing funder Robert Mercer's hired hands of Bannon and Conway?

Friday, November 25, 2016

Facebook overload

Not a big user of Facebook here although it is followed every other day, more or less.  During the rush to the election there were five or six posts from here, before that maybe five or six over the prior six months.  Now when I check in, the flow to me is overwhelming.

Everyone is forwarding everything to everyone.  This experience over the last few days is not an exaggeration.  To find a reaction to an interesting post read the prior day may take many minutes of scrolling.  Perhaps this is the desire of many users or of FB.  Whether this lack of algorithmic choice is good, or chosen, or if it does not exist, may seem well and good to Facebook users who want to see their name spread widely.  Admittedly, most people have a touch of that.  But, but, never start a sentence with "But", what is going on is becoming incoherent.

My two cents of expertise is that the company, FB, has a choice.  That is continue to expand exponentially and drive away non-obsessive users who may have money or put some limit on the forwarding, like no second uncles.  Non-obsessive users may be their best choice for advertising.  I am a non-obsessive user, so this is completely biased territory.  If they are reluctant to go to Facebook because so and so and so and forwarded an old friend's perfect Thanksgiving floral arrangement or long ago acquaintance's family photos, or a photo from a tennis friend of the past of him with Vitas with twenty people in different photos, then they are not there for the targeted user.

That concerns me about Facebook.  I have no need to invest in FB or to sell it.  I was there at the beginning after the big dip from the IPO. I am seriously in.  Still, this is a stock with potential. Selling FB in any major way would be like selling the future, an awkward sign like endorsing Mike Pence as an alternative.

There was a post on FB from here wishing the few friends of mine who choose to be on Facebook a nice Thanksgiving.  With so few friends, my response rate of "likes" was around 20%. How nice. Could have been a player statistically?  No looking back  Hope that your leftovers are as good as mine, almost always better.  It's no stress eating.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Equity markets shed no light

Today's U.S. equity market was stable.  Now, just before the Thanksgiving weekend, accepting that there should only be modest trading on Friday, there was no sign of short selling or short covering in balance.

Lilly was hit big on its trial's failure with an Alzheimer's drug, and was a buying opportunity later in the day.  Small caps settled down.

Heavy eating was anticipated, one could guess.  No thoughts here, but observant and less than reassured.

Diverted by books being attempted

Recently, there have been books that are not finished, mostly for good reason.
 --- "His Final Battle" is a non-fiction account of the last year of Franklin Roosevelt's presidency.  It is informative to a fault.  The writer, Joseph Leyveld, is a former New York Times writer who has done thorough research.  If a project on Roosevelt were underway here reading would be continued, but the detail is overwhelming for this reader at the moment.  It's fine, but will remain bookmarked for a return later, maybe when snowed in at some point.

---"Island of Vice" is the story of Teddy Roosevelt's effort to clean up New York City in the early 1900's as its police commissioner.  It may still be read on some intensely sunny day.  Unfortunately the copy received from Amazon has such small print that no amount of light in the bedroom is sufficient for a relaxed read.  Later... somehow.  Richard Zacks is an exceptional writer of history.

---"A Voice in the Night" is the latest detective novel from Andrea Camillera.  Once his books were a source of relaxed pleasure.  Now one could wonder if he is still the writer.

---"The Sellout" by Paul Beatty won the Man Booker Prize recently.  That is amazing.  Try as one might, almost halfway through it could not be continued.  It is a lame book.  How it won a prize can be explained but that will not be done here.  There is some humor to be found, but it is difficult with the every sentence attempts at sophomoric laughs.  If this is an attempt to recreate Ishmael Reed's wonderful 1970's "Mumbo Jumbo", it fails.

New books are in hand.  They look like opportunities to get lost in good words again.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

U.S. equities at highs but...

Comments about the equity market's resilience continue.  After a one night Trump win related dive on November 8-9, stocks have been, in the aggregate, on a consistent rise.  Looking at SPY, the S&P index fund, it is well above an all time high.  Short interest is at 26%.  Then looking at QQQ, representing the Nasdaq, it has just this week passed its all time high which was set in the early 2000 tech bubble.  Short interest is at 16%.

These "all time high" numbers are somewhat misleading.  They do not take into account inflation and they do not take into account the comparative cost of capital at various periods.  Nevertheless, they are interesting benchmarks.  They do reflect basic proven valuation analysis if one believes in a market that is relatively efficient over time.  So prices measured by return on equity, the cost of capital calculated based on interest rate levels and perceived risk, and the expected longevity of current returns are all factored in, theoretically speaking that is.

The most subjective aspect of this type of analysis is the length of time the equity is determined to be able to maintain its competitive advantage.  Determining this is complicated by the environment in which a firm operates.  Currently the market is projecting that Trump as president will benefit business as regulations are modified, corporate taxes reduced, and penalties for repatriation of profits relaxed.  For the moment, the market is ignoring other concerns.

Those concerns are related to the stability of a Trump presidency and the coherence of his policies. They relate as well to his appointments that are ongoing.  These will affect the valuation of the market no matter how well firms are doing today.  How long will the market do well if Trump doesn't settle down and show a predictable management style?  If the market is discounting a six or seven year continuation of global competitive advantage that may be fair now, but will it be generally viewed that way six months from now.

There are doubts here, and that view leads to the thought that the market is due for a significant correction.  When is unknown, but stable investors will not view unstable leadership as a positive for overall valuation.  The coming weeks and months could see the indexes strong levels at risk.  The shorts are there for a reason, and the market seems too high to have much of a short covering rally. What is the risk/reward here?  It may not be attractive.

We will watch with caution.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

"Vice News tonight"

This recently started HBO news program at 7:30pm each weekday night is watched here.  After a month of it being on, it is finally remembered most nights.  The half hour program makes no attempt to cover all of the day's news events.  It chooses a few relevant topics and digs in.  At times the choices of news to highlight are what might be mentioned here on ENS as well, not that there is any regularity here.

While PBS Newshour is still on at that time, that reliable program has been using more and more panel discussions that seem to have recurring panelists, sometimes with little of interest to say. There is still great news on PBS when they choose to or can afford to cover it.  Vice News offers an attractive alternative.  Choice is good and the program is well done.

Friday, November 18, 2016

"The Economist" cover

The issue of "The Economist" received here today(November 19th-25th) has an exceptional cover titled "The New Nationalism".  It leads to a connect the dots editorial about the world that is hopefully more alarming than prescient. This is not completely insightful news, but with Trump, Putin, and Farage on the cover it is more of a worry than just a laugh.

Trump delivering appointments that the voters wanted...

The appointments by Trump are beginning to cascade into something that is hard to keep up with, just like the many threats and falsehoods that came from his ever changing mouth during the campaign. The latest are:

Senator Jeff Sessions for Attorney General --- a senator from Alabama who is anti-immigration in almost every form, an opponent of free trade, openly against women's rights, and homophobic and, on top of that, has a past of overt racism, in both words and actions, as a judge in that state.

Lieutenant General Michael Flynn as National Security Adviser --- beyond ISIS concerns which he shares with all, he takes that to anti-Islamist extremes and backs Trump's threats of a Muslim registry and any immigration from Muslim countries.  He claims that Shariah law is already practiced in the U.S.  He had been a capable senior Army officer, but has apparently always been one to create facts, known by those under his command as "Flynn facts" according to what is read here, so he is surely someone that Trump is comfortable with.

Representative Mike Pompeo of Kansas --- three terms in the House and he is now nominated to be head of the CIA.  He was one of the two most strident members of the Benghazi hearings that focused on Hillary Clinton.  He is close to Fox News and closer to the Koch brothers political extremism.  While well-educated, he wears bias on his sleeve.

Individually each of these appointees presents problems.  As a group it can make one wonder whether this is a set-up to really indict Hillary Clinton for the e-mail controversy.  With every appointment, every pronouncement, Trump is underscoring his campaign views.  Will that extend to an effort to convict his main opponent for the Presidency?  Will this country be reduced to third world behavior?
It is not hard to get concerned.

Sessions is the nominee that is completely outrageous.  The other two have backgrounds and education that give them a pass from a pragmatic political point of view, not one held here but that's a fact.  The Alabama senator is compromised on political, ethical, and personal fronts.  Anyone who has spent time in Alabama knows who he is and what he stands for, which is the 1950's.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Nikki Haley for Secretary of State?

That was the rumor late today.  Is this the Trump method of making Giuliani or Bolton look like accomplished statesmen?  Haley's credentials as a core right wing Republican are not in doubt, so this may be a precursor of her appointment to another cabinet post.  Her main qualification for the State Dept. job seems to be her birth as an Asian Indian in South Carolina. She has no foreign policy experience.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

A few political comments for what it's worth...

---Many are hoping that Donald Trump will moderate his tone and plans now that he is President-elect.   They will be disappointed.  With the floating of Secretary of State candidates in the press, those "many" should be alarmed.  Rudy Giuliani and John Bolton are no more qualified to be Secretary of State than Trump is to be President.  His priority seems to be to stay in good company. A Secretary of State is in effect the primary diplomat to the world for this country.  Neither Giuliani nor Bolton have ever been accused of being diplomatic.  Giuliani has no meaningful foreign policy experience and is a self absorbed attention seeker, not the personality that would work.  Bolton has significant experience in international relations, but he is by nature confrontational, and right wing doesn't adequately explain how extreme his nationalist views are or his history of twisting the truth or making it up to support his agenda.

---Trump's awareness of the conflicts of interest that arise with this presidency seem to be minimal.  He has named three of his adult children to the transition team and is reportedly seeking "top secret" security clearance for each of them.  In addition he has said that he will have no management control over the Trump Organization and all control will be with Ivanka, Eric, and Donald Jr.  While he has suggested that this counts as a blind trust, that is not remotely the meaning of "blind trust".  Some could view this as a family kleptocracy in the making.

---On the Democratic side, the choice of a new DNC head is on the front burner.  Now to risk saying something may be viewed as politically incorrect.  Representative Keith Ellison is seen as a leading candidate for this post.  Does the Democratic leadership think that appointing an African American Muslim to head their party will broaden their base?  By most accounts Ellison seems to be a capable and serious congressman.  He would articulately represent a more leftward leaning segment of the Party.  Is that the way forward after this loss?  The point is to win again in congressional and state races two years from now, and not to make an effort to educate and enlighten the American people. Whether that is a lost cause or not, the goal is to broaden and not narrow the party, one could think.

Usually posting here is meant to add something to the conversation.  These comments may not have done that but some comment seemed necessary.


Monday, November 14, 2016


This unusual book is a first novel by Ottessa Moshfegh, a writer who has somehow enchanted reviewers and critics in a way that seems unusual.  It was published in 2015 and so this comment is late to the game. It may not be as fawning as seemed to be required earlier.

This is the story of 24 year old Eileen.  Written in the first person, it is an interior monologue of a dark and sensitive life, one that seems completely abnormal to the narrator but may seem completely normal but not at all notable to an outside observer.  From bathroom habits and a finger licking ritual there is no routine ignored.  The reader can choose to see this as a metaphor for a life lived too deeply removed from others, or can follow the story line dutifully.  That means an early death for an alcoholic mother, living in squalor with an alcoholic father who she keeps in a stupor by buying his daily bottles of gin, and her life as a secretary in a horrendous boy's juvenile detention center, many of whose inmates are there for deadly serious crimes.

Has the fun started yet?  The story is so far fetched in its wretchedness that it becomes believable as a way of living that is rarely described.  Yet, as some reviewers noted over the last year, there is humor to be found in these pages somehow, if finely wrought cynicism works.  There are also observations in passing the are piercingly true("... the most dangerous individuals in prisons are not the criminals but the very people who work there.").

Opinions of the narrator can be indicative of cultural alienation that many are aware of as in "Those perfect, neat colonials that I'd passed earlier that evening on the way through X-ville are the death masks of normal people."  Or a thought about what we don't know about others, as in "I guess that is how those sick people get by.  They look like nobodies, but behind closed doors they turn into monsters."  That is not hard to believe.  "A grown woman is like a coyote---she can get by on very little.  Men are more like house cats.  Leave them alone for too long and they'll die of sadness."  That is not completely far fetched but could require a little more thought.

What is most redeeming about "Eileen" is that the writing somehow pulls the reader along.  It is well done.  Maybe digging heels into the turf, a reader comes out of the struggle and finally moves along easily hoping for an ending that is not too ghastly.  That is up to the aforementioned reader.

As is the case in many first novels of merit, the first half is easily superior to most of the second half( which has a major character or intruding phantasm that stays one dimensional), that is until a certain tension builds toward the end.

If chosen to read, be ready to finish it off in just a few sittings.  Read otherwise, it may not work.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Thoughts about a raucous Leon Russell concert

In November 1971, Leon Russell and Freddie King performed at a large warehouse like concert hall just outside of Amsterdam.  The space was full but not jam packed, moving closer to the stage was possible, no seats, and the concrete floor was sticky with spilled beer. The concert is remembered as being exceptional.

Russell's band was the complete deal with a horn section, female back-up singers, and multiple musicians.  Freddie did a Chicago blues set with his tight band, Leon did a set in which he at times just sat solo at a piano and sang, and then the whole gang came together and played for hours, what seemed like forever. Girls in the audience were jumping on stage and dancing with band members, especially Russell, and at one point a beautiful girl of those times was at the front of the stage spinning around and he put his finger on her head while she spun, she seemingly oblivious and he laughing hysterically.  It was a party on a stage.

Being in the audience did not have that level of frenzy, but everyone was moving and smiling. What a good memory to have on this day.

As we were leaving at about 1 in the morning, two girls asked if we would drive them to suburban Haarlem, which was somewhere a drive away, and my two friends said we needed to get back to the city where our hostel was.  My preference was to continue the night, and still wonder what further adventure would have been in store.  It would easily have been better, as in the traffic leaving the parking lot my friend Dickie rear ended another car which temporarily delayed us --- minimal damage to our already heavily dinged long term rental car and no one hurt, or at least could feel no pain.

What a great performer and musician he was, lucky to have seen him in his day.

Stock market this week could reflect real reaction to the election

What U.S. equity market investors think about the election will become more clear this week.  There has been a weekend to consider more than a short term impact.  With year end in sight, investors for visible portfolios(mutual funds, large pension funds, state run funds...) will be conscious of how the portfolios that they are assembling will look at year end.  Investors in general will be looking to build in areas that may benefit from a changed administration.

Bank stocks surged this past week.  That may be just the beginning.  Equities related to infrastructure building may also be seen as a store of value with little downside and look attractive to medium term investors.  The especially interesting area to watch will be the most globalized companies, many tech, to see if the market believes that trade barriers are coming, or whether that is seen as election posturing rather than something that will be implemented near term in any serious or widespread manner.

Volatility can be expected.  We are have not yet left the crazy zone of politicians and newly empowered officials making impromptu statements that aren't thought through.  The next few months could be full of that, and maybe the next four years if Twitter becomes a late night source of policy communication.

Emerging markets took a hit last week.  Skittishness there is likely to continue.  Bonds don't look like the best place to be.  This is a week to watch, pre-Thanksgiving week, post election trading that might make for a highly active market.

Friday, November 11, 2016

The downside of executive action

Due to the unwillingness of a Republican controlled Senate and House during President Obama's second term to pass almost anything proposed by the administration, he used executive actions to legally mandate many changes to the law.  That the two parties in Congress could not even agree to an infrastructure rebuilding plan underscores how divided the parties were.  Infrastructure efforts could not be dealt with due to the more right wing part of the Republican party being unwilling to find a way to pay for it, as any tax increases were off the table, as were many spending cuts.

 Areas most affected by Obama's executive actions were related to immigration and to climate change issues. There is no ability here to detail "actions" taken in many areas, but it is well known that the President used this authority widely.

Whether some of the lack of bipartisan legislation was due partially to Obama's unwillingness to compromise is unclear here.  With executive action available and the reasonable hope that a Democrat could again win the White House, this was the most effective way for Obama to achieve his goals.  Now his achievements may be in jeopardy.  What can be done swiftly by executive action and can be undone just as swiftly. Legislative accomplishments like the Dodd Frank bill and the Affordable Healthcare Act are much more complicated to unwind.

At times when politicians win elections, the voters wonder whether they will keep their promises. Now many American voters and tax paying residents are afraid that Trump will.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Tech stocks not part of post election rally

Few in Silicon Valley supported Donald Trump.  Not to suggest that Trump is a vengeful man, but one can safely expect no favors for big tech in the near term.  During the campaign Trump attacked Jeff Bezos and Amazon with belligerent lies and threats as the Bezos owned Washington Post did some investigative reporting that was not favorable to the candidate.  Trump's focus on domestic production led to swipes at companies like Apple that have a global production model. Additionally, tech stocks are not front and center of the type of industrial, fossil fuel, and infrastructure investments that Trump will support to stimulate the economy, so other areas can take center stage at least for now.

Apple, Google(Alphabet), Amazon, Facebook, Adobe, Netflix, and others have fallen sharply over the last two market days.  Trump's nationalism and his inclination to set up trade barriers are not friendly to these businesses focused on the future.  During the campaign Trump hearkened back to a past of industrial might without the huge employee reductions enabled by technology today, without the least thought of climate change and pollution, and without global supply chains. His plan to recreate the glorious past is completely unclear, but his verbiage fueled the anger of dislocated and wistful workers who have viewed their opportunity as diminished in the last 20 years.

These big tech stocks could represent a significant buying opportunity soon if their erosion continues. Trump can ruin many things but he can't turn back time.

The Equity market yesterday---measure of capitalism but not of civility

Anyone who thinks that free capital markets are the independent monitor of all that is right in the world can now be disabused of that notion.  Yesterday's U.S. Dow equity market index had a swing of over 1000 points from the lows of very late night futures trading to the late morning when things settled down.  The major equity indexes, Dow, Nasdaq, and S&P, all finished up by more than 1%. The market, while crazed, was measuring financial opportunity and that had nothing to do with the norms of civility and intelligence that were destroyed in this election.

Watching stocks followed here, there were significant gains in the equities of large banking stocks, pharma stocks, military related issues, and steel makers and fabricators.  During the primary season Clinton was pushed by Sanders and Warren into more rigid positions about financial "reform", and with that cloud lifted bank stocks jumped.  Drug stocks and to a lesser extent other health related stocks climbed as more regulation will probably be taken off the table.  With the former Nucor CEO as a primary advisor to Trump on trade, steel related stocks reacted to the potential for actual teeth in rules governing imports from China or Chinese surrogates like Vietnam. Stocks like Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Raytheon, and General Dynamics had 5% gains or more as military expenditures are seen as likely to rise significantly under Trump.

Since Donald J. Trump believes that climate change is a myth, energy related stocks, including coal, must be doing well but they are not followed closely here.  Rail related stocks followed here rose sharply, no doubt due to relief eventually expected for coal and energy related shipments.

The market opens in few minutes for today's session and more possibility of interpretation.

As an aside, and to put this in the past, from this perspective the two pivotal contributors to the Clinton defeat were the early on comment by her describing Trump voters as being "deplorables" that was heard by many and used to her detriment repeatedly, and the Comey pre-election meddling, Comey being a Bush Republican who wrote his college thesis at William and Mary on Jerry Falwell and was somehow appointed by Obama to ten year tenure at the FBI.

Friday morning --- Adding to that after so many post-mortems have been read, it must be said that listening to campaign manager Robby Mook rather that her husband and others about where to campaign and who to focus on was a huge mistake.  He was never impressive as a surrogate in media interviews, at times embarrassingly poor, and now I know why.  It was because he was not a real player who was given real responsibility.  It was Hillary's call.

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

The Election --- what happened?

Last night PBS was the station chosen to watch the election results here.  The choice was made to avoid advertisements and to avoid the Chuck Todd's of traditional network television, the muddle headed panelists on CNN, and the zoned out right wingers on Fox.

On PBS, the moderators and panelists became shell shocked as the night progressed.  David Brooks could hardly talk at times.  Judy Woodruff seemed off kilter.  Mark Shields stayed off point.  In fact everyone was transparently taken aback.  What was happening was not expected.  It was somewhat refreshing seeing newscasters act human.

A Monday post here reflected concerns a day before the election.  They reflected the different motivations of the Trump and Clinton voters and the ongoing impact of FBI Director Comey's interventions.  Over the last month, unsettling developments had been highlighted.  In particular, a post here on October 8th mentioned a concern about "closet Trump voters", something that was talked about here more than written about. Those were people who would vote for Trump as a private way of expressing their inner feelings without necessarily telling their friends or spouses that they were doing so.  Of course they would not tell pollsters, or interviewers at polling stations.  Whether that conjecture was right will never be known, but it might have been an election night changing phenomenon.  That's the thought here still.

There were some recent pollster projections that seemed wrong from the outset, and they were.  There were quotes on the news from political pundits suggesting that Georgia was a toss-up.  Have any of these people ever been anywhere in Georgia other than Atlanta.  Other than that city, Georgia is just an extension of Mississippi, Alabama, and the Florida panhandle.  Utah was mentioned by some as another close race in the making.  That Mormon state was definitely never going for Clinton.

North Carolina for Trump was not a complete surprise but it was a disappointment.  What was once the most open-minded state in the South, and today has major corporate headquarter's offices and the Research Triangle tech area, was a necessary and to some extent expected state for Clinton.  The Trump vote there was the beginning of a turning point in minds here.  The evening progressed and, with Trump taking the always solid union state of Michigan, the story was written.

Mentioned in that October 8th post was also a reminder of the Republican primary's concluding states, when Trump's vote totals began beating all projections.  It was momentum and it seemed to be viral at that time.  The virus continued yesterday.

It was hard to believe last night, and still a disappointment.  Trump could be dangerous.

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

"The Road to Little Dribbling", travel through Britain with Bill Bryson

This book was finished a few days ago, and it would have been more helpful if delayed.  Some humor on election day would have been a nice break.  While Bryson's humorous take on his travels is at times a bit less than subtle or wry, it can also be just a turn of phrase that works perfectly.  The Prologue has some of his least subtle and almost cute humor.  The remainder of the book is much better.

This travelogue is really a paean to Bryson's adopted country of 40 years.  Originally from Iowa, he married and put down roots in this somewhat eccentric country that he adores.  This could be enjoyable and informative reading for almost anyone, but some experience in that land makes it come alive, or one could think that.  While he is not afraid of laughing at or being critical of many things, his overall bias is that this is the most varied and beautiful country in the world.  Varied in terms of history, culture, terrain, and pubs, and full of relatively rational people. He even likes the food, including of course the ubiquitous curry.

He begins the book on vacation in the fine Deauville area of France, looking across the Channel at the English coast.  From there he crosses to the English southern coast and explores many towns, and then heads north through England and Scotland to the northernmost tip of Britain.  It is an entertaining journey.  To say more, it would be difficult to pick and choose what to highlight.  Thus this comment will stop here. This was welcome reading that should have been better timed.

Monday, November 07, 2016

Election tomorrow, finally

The title of this post is a hope that it WILL be final.  The two main candidates are still on the campaign trail. Polls show a modest lead overall for Clinton.  We are now at the point where anything can happen.

A vote for outrage and resentment is an unambiguous vote for Trump.  A vote for predictability and continuity is a reasoned vote for Clinton.  That dynamic leaves open the possibility of an unfortunate outcome.

Comey's comment on Sunday that all is ok on the e-mail front for Clinton was seen by the stock market as positive.  It is seen here as a further attempt to influence the election for two reasons. First, it put the Clinton e-mail controversy back on the front pages and at the beginning of every news report.  Second, it gives Trump and his surrogates the chance to say one more time that the election was rigged by the elitists.  If Roger Stone were a Democrat, he would surely say that this was a well planned conspiracy, with even an Anthony Weiner twist to titillate.  In fact, that does sound much like the work of Breitbart and Bannon.

Now we wait.

Sunday, November 06, 2016

A look at the past... Kathy and I meet

People who know us well may remember this story.  I was in New York for a "flyback", an expense paid visit to a company for a job interview, in early April 1980.  Manufacturers Hanover was a New York bank that interviewed me on campus, and there I was at the Waldorf Astoria across the street and two blocks down from the company.  Outside that morning there was one of those heavy city rainstorms that can be overwhelming, gutters turned into creeks, umbrellas folding upwards, and wind driven rain soaking anyone on the street.  It was time.

I did not have a corporate looking raincoat, had only one suit and tie, and going out was essential.  It was interview time. What I did have was a bright orange jacket length slicker(in the garage still).  It was the only option. I made it to 320 Park Ave., the human resources offices, on time, and went to the appropriate office. When I went in and introduced myself to the receptionist, she called Kathy.  My slicker was already off and as she came out my first words were "Could you please hide this?"  She did without a question.

The discussion with Kathy went pleasantly, and she then directed me to the next block and 350 Park Ave. to meet members of the business area that was interested. The rain had subsided.  All seemed to go fine, and after that the main contact with my human resources analyst became an effort to get my expenses reimbursed in the next month or so while back in Arizona.  There is no doubt that I was persistent as my funds were limited after paying for a master's degree program with borrowed money.

Kathy was patient with my harassment, and I was not blind to the fact that this was also an excuse to keep in touch with her.  She sent a job offer letter to me on April 30th, which occasioned more conversations as I accepted, and further questions and answers when I arrived to work in mid-July.

A month or two later she asked me out to lunch for a follow up on the company's dime.  Sure, I was interested.  We went to a nice but casual restaurant on Third Avenue near 52nd street.  We received our menus and the waiter hovered over us for a drink order.  I asked for a beer, she paused and asked for a cognac?  Little did I know that she rarely had anything like that.

The relationship had tentatively started.  As the calendar progressed we would see each other from time to time, and then often, and at almost every other weekend I would go out to her family home on Long Island.  At times I was close to insane as living in a studio apartment on East 50th Street was claustrophobic, with noise at night coming from the apartments above and on the side.  Being out of Manhattan was so welcome after a week of work, limited sleep, with the main relief being playing basketball at St. Barts gym most days after work.  On Long Island we rode bikes, swam at a large public gym, ate good food, and I slept soundly.

In the spring of 1981, Kathy and I decided to go to France together for two week vacation.  This trip was something I had dreamed about doing for years, since a sensational post college trip with two friends that took us all over Europe for three months in a rented Renault 4, manual out of the dashboard, not too big.  We had managed to travel well enough for us on an extremely low budget but the dollar went a long way then, and that was the extent of my overseas travel experience.  As we looped around Europe, Paris ended up on the itinerary twice, on arrival as we were late for our Icelandic flight to Luxembourg from JFK and ended up being put on an Olympic Airlines flight that had a first stop in Paris, and then again a couple months later as we were headed from Spain through France to get to Amsterdam and later England.  I liked Paris immensely, and the chance to go back ten years later was easily worth the price of working in the bank mines.

Relatively speaking, Kathy had extensive travel experience.  She and her sister had been in a summer school taking Chinese in Taiwan, she had an extended trip to a Swiss school arranged for a group by her prep school, trips to Hong Kong, Thailand, Argentina, and Italy with family members, and probably more.  She was definitely interested in travel.

It was an exceptional trip.  We stayed in Paris for the first five days at La Louisiane, a dump of a hotel on Rue de Seine that had much better reviews than it deserved.  We had a great time being tourists and seeing the major sights and museums.  We ate at bistros and brasseries that we had read about, among them Chez Allard and Brasserie Lipp.  Deux Magots and Cafe de Fleur were just a few blocks from our hotel.  Then we went on a driving trip through the Loire Valley, to Blois and to Vezelay, and on to the Mont Blanc area for hiking and touring.  Everything was minimally planned, and choosing places to stay, chateaus to see, and hikes to take was part of the adventure.  We returned to Paris after six or seven days, to stay at the Hotel Welcome, also on Rue de Seine, a much better small hotel, even clean.

One more thing.  For Kathy, shopping was part of a trip that was only minimally part of my prior European travel experience. We went to shops, and I learned to carry around a Herald Tribune or other reading material so I could sit in the shop chairs with something to occupy my time.  She looked at stuff for me as well, and bought a suede black leather jacket that I still wear occasionally today.  When we arrived back in New York, the first thing we did was go her parent's house for Kathy to spread out all of her acquisitions on the living room floor.  Her mother allocated --- this is for your sister, this for your brother, this for Auntie Anne, this for... all new to me but then I realized what was expected of her.

Many more trips would follow...          follow up here to be determined.


Friday, November 04, 2016

Could the election be close?

It is possible that this could turn into a nail biter.  To say what is expected at this point becomes mixed up with anxiety, and the irrational fear of a hex.

The various polls are showing a tightening of the Presidential race between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.  With the many unexpected turns in this election season that has been going on for well over a year, we just wait now.  It can't end too soon.  We need clarity and that will hopefully come on Tuesday.

With both campaigns now encouraging high voter turn-out in pivotal states like Florida and Pennsylvania, this will be an election with record setting vote totals in some states.  That should be good for our democracy, should be, but this election has been uniquely marred by a candidate that encourages hostility and questions the integrity of the election process.

More "news" will likely turn up in the final days, and it will not be pretty.  It is too late now for anything to be refuted.  What comes out will just hang there for voters to judge without verification. Comey's role still could tarnish the outcome.  Some major media outlets like the traditional television networks and big city newspapers will attempt to deal with any news, but they are no longer the trusted arbiters of opinion that they once were.

Hang on.

Wednesday, November 02, 2016

November 2, 2016 --- comments on a normal day --- election, baseball, food, TV --- what else could be asked for

---The S&P 500 and other U.S. equity indexes fell for the seventh straight market day, the longest such streak in five years.  While some attribute this to the heightened expectation of a rate increase in December, that is far from the major reason.  Traders have done their job with this issue in the last year, and traded around it for some volatility.  Now the overwhelming issue is the election.  In  the face of growing uncertainty, the market is simply wilting.  In such a tumultuous election year, uncertainty has been exacerbated --- uncertainty not just about the results, but about the reaction to results given Trump's incessant comments that demean our democracy, aka his "rigged election" charges.  The more outrageous Trump is, the more adrenaline that flows into his hard core supporters, and on the other side the reaction becomes more intense and creates the potential for the bitter Elizabeth Warren and her uncompromising compatriots to get edgier and more influential. While there are always opportunistic traders on Wall Street, at the moment it is unclear why anyone would start a buying program.  Lack of buyers is suggested here as a reason to wilt.  Wilting will probably continue and hopefully not move to limp.

---Tonight is the seventh game of the World Series.  I will watch or attempt to do so.  Once this year, seven innings of a baseball game was watched when exceedingly tired, and it was enjoyed.  Other than that, and an inning or two here or there, baseball has been sporadically followed only through the newspaper.  Growing up in a time when the World Series was almighty(at elementary school a television was set up in the library for the 5th and 6th graders to watch a 7th day game in 1960(date is a guess) and on the weekend then I went to our church at times to watch with our pastor and others in his office.  That seemed strange at the time, just cheering with the man from the pulpit, but there were no shenanigans in this Methodist church.) Tonight there are no favorites here, but after the first three innings of seeing the players, I know that my choice will be set. Like many, the inclination going in is to root for the Cubs.  At least I have been to Chicago many times, and have never had a reason to set foot in Cleveland.

---Rereading chapters of A.J. Lieblings  "Between Meals" at leisurely moments now, today there was this, "In the heroic age before the First World War, there were men and women who ate, in addition to a whacking lunch and a glorious dinner, a voluminous "souper" after the theater or the other amusements of the evening.  I have known some of the survivors, octogenarians of unblemished appetite and unfailing good humor --- spry, wry, and free of the ulcers from worrying about a balanced diet --- but they have had no emulators in France since the doctors there discovered the existence of the human liver."

---Reading another book about current day England by Bill Bryson, I came upon the following.  "Back at the hotel, I showered, then sat on the edge of my bed watching TV, waiting for it to be time for a drink, and wondering how many tens of thousands of days have passed since BBC One last showed a program that anyone not on medication would want to watch."  This devoted adopted Brit should go back to his birthplace in Iowa to see that medication does not help.

---Among our delivery order tonight from Gino's, there were two Grandma slices.  I looked at the receipt later and it said "Nonna" slice.  Lack of change can be wonderful.