Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Tonight, will Trump stay on script?

Trump is accustomed to making speeches or rants to large groups of people who are his followers. They are attuned to his every facial expression, attack on some group, uninhibited self-praise, and hyper-exaggeration, and they reward him with cheers, applause, and chants back.  He is energized in that situation and appears to love it.

He will certainly be tightly scripted in his speech to Congress tonight, but will he be able to stick with it. Can he retain his usual energy without total adoration.  Almost all Republicans will generally feel compelled to shower him with the usual partisan applause that exists for all Presidents in these events, and most of them will genuinely mean it.  In the Capital building, however, there could be times of silence as the audience awaits explanations of leadership and not examples of his bullyship("word" spelled as intended).

I guess it is required viewing.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

George Packer on Trump

While this Talk of the Town comment has been available for a week, it occurs to me that among my many unknown, or random, following on Google blogspot, some might not have had access to it.
The link is www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/02/27/holding-trump-accountable.

Packer is to the point and articulate as always.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Big talk by...

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

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

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

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

U.S. equity market rise feels perilous

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

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

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

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

Monday, February 13, 2017

Computer tech visits... results?

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

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

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

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

With that observation, everything is ok.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Colbert and Fallon, are the tables turning?

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

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

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

Friday, February 10, 2017

Two interesting profiles of intense personalities

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, February 09, 2017

Winter wins today

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Nordstrom attack by Trump

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

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

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

"Want Not", an exceptional novel from Jonathan Miles

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

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

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

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

Sunday, February 05, 2017

Super Bowl coming up...

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

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

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

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

Saturday, February 04, 2017

Peggy Noonan's straightforward look at the Trump chaos

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

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

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

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

So here we are. The craziness will continue.

Thursday, February 02, 2017

Trump, more than 1400 days...

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

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

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

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