Friday, December 29, 2017

Elliott Abrams, the next Secretary of State?

Last night on PBS News there was a lengthy interview with Elliott Abrams, the life long credential builder in Republican circles, former State Department undersecretary under Reagan and NSA senior staffer under Bush II.  He was tainted by the Iran-Contra scandal but never indicted. 

He was Rex Tillerson's choice for undersecretary of state but Rex was overruled by the Don.  It appeared that Abrams was too entrenched with establishment Republicans for Steve Bannon, who was the decision maker on "ancillary" issues at the time.  Now that Tillerson would obviously love to leave the job and Trump and his handlers would like him out, there is a need for a solution that would be palatable to Congress and hard to attack by the media.

In last night's interview, Abrams was bending over for Trump.  He defended or rationalized every Trump foreign policy position or action.  It was another pathetic example of opportunism in the mold of Treasury Secretary Mnuchin.  To see an educated man be reduced to this is hard to watch.  May his wishes come true so we can see the ongoing humiliation of a career sycophant. 

The fact is that Abrams could be better than most that are possible at the moment.  At least he has experience.  We will see.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

"Brooklyn Best", on PBS

Tonight on PBS 13 here, there was "Brooklyn Best", which was a half hour program highlighting what's there, what to be from Brooklyn means, and a history of the fabled borough of New York City.  It is a well edited panorama of a world famous place.  A daughter lives there and the guess here is that when she travels and says that she is from Brooklyn, it has more resonance than saying Manhattan and certainly Long Island.

In this short well done documentary, which could have been a promo, there are Bed-Stuy, Carroll Gardens, Greenwood Cemetery, Park Slope, Williamsburg, Greenpoint, Red Hook, Prospect Park, Coney Island, and many other places shown. The effort is to show the character of a Brooklyn neighborhood, of which there were once thousands just blocks apart from each other.  To some extent that character of the borough remains, although the thousands may now be hundreds.  That personal character was reflected by some good friends in my banking life here, where being from Brooklyn gave them a wider berth for offbeat behavior.  Brooklynisma.

We have been to many parts of Brooklyn over the years as visitors, guests, and at times tourists in our own backyard.  From a multi-ethnic city of sorts until the 1980's, it has now become a global place.  It attracts people who fit in.  It is different from another global place like Austin which is a youth hive of activity(younger daughter lives there and it works well for her).  Brooklyn is multi-layered and less overtly hip.

The short program seen tonight is worth watching if you get the chance.  It was produced by WLIW, the non-profit Long Island PBS affiliate that would welcome 2017 donations.  My editorial comment is just that.  Watch if the chance shows up on local networks.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

ByteFence --- malware protection that is itself malware

This product somehow installed its advertisements on my desktop about a month ago.  It was never sought or authorized.  It became a regular pop-up on my screen, exorting me to enable it as a protection against malware that they had already detected.  The ad was deleted each time it showed up.

Then three days ago what was presumed to be the ByteFence pop-up box came up just blank.  One eighth of the screen was taken up with a white box that had X no click.  Dealing with this type of issue is not my strength, far from it, but being agitated and annoyed is one of my strong points.  I clicked around the edges of the box, in various parts of the box, all futile and ludicrous.  The control panel was examined. No dice. The computer was shut down and turned off.  On reboot my white box was still there.  Argh.

Then the company and its product were looked up on Google.  It seems to be legitimate but there were several entries that gave information about deleting it.  The main one was contacting the company.  Last resort in my view, having no interest whatsoever in interaction with my computer predator.

Back to the control panel today before my coffee buzz became too accelerated, I did find bytefence tab.  Do I dare click on it.  Doing so, there was not option to deal with my dilemma.  Back on the main screen the white box was still there.  On my last post here, I had to stop at this point as the white box covered the bottom right of my page.  That probably helped my comment, forcing brevity.

After a long read and a short nap, I logged on again and was agitated to see the white box.  Control panel again.  I have no idea what was done right in my fiddling around, but the box is now gone.  The question now is how can one be protected from ByteFence malware?

Buying a beaten down stock? --- GE

At this time of year, a tradition that is year-end related rather than a holiday one is evaluating investments for tax losses and for bargain hunting.  Today a poorly timed buy last month of FNSR was sold as a useful short term loss.  It will be followed to determine if another look comes later.  A value buy that many investors must be looking at is GE.  The issues with that stock have been written about previously, so this comment is solely trading related.

A large position in GE was sold in pieces during the year, completed in October.  Since then the stock has declined further.  Sellers continue to see the value of taking GE losses to offset 2017 gains.  At the same time someone is buying the shares being sold as they must see the underlying value of the company. That is finally stabilizing the shares after being down 44% year do date, and 30% in the last three months.

Based on the most recent data available, of GE's top ten mutual fund holders, seven are index funds and three are funds run by Capital Management and Research in L.A.  They are a huge value and dividend focused manager.  Among discretionary managers other than Capital, there are Harris Trust and Northern Trust(long term private asset managers) and Fidelity(which almost has to own some due to its size and the breadth of its manager's styles).

If a long term belief in GE's components can be mustered, when is the right buying opportunity?  At some price, there is value.  At today's level around $17.50 it, on the surface, looks cheap.  Loss selling continues.  But what happens in early 2018.  Those sellers for tax purposes will go away.  That's good, right.  At the same time opportunistic thinking tax loss buyers now, largely retail, will go away as well.  The result is that the stock can begin to trade on its fundamentals.  There is no guarantee that the stock will bounce after the tax selling inevitably stops.

This week may be a good time to move back in cautiously and then look again in mid-January.

That is the thought process here.  Wish me luck.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Christmas Eve anticipation...

Anticipation was once a wonderful part of this night.  Cooking dinner tonight and listening to a Rounder recording of Tracy Nelson the mood here was more one of nostalgia than expectation.  That makes sense. As for the dinner, the baked chicken breast that had been marinated in barbeque and soy sauce plus a little lemon juice worked, the potatoes and peas did as well, and a salad with greens and thinly sliced pears all added to a good meal.  So we are fortunate if not exactly blessed this year.  Maybe some Van Morrison next will cheer things up.  Does Van do that?

By the time most people read this it will be time to say Merry Christmas, so MAY YOUR DAYS BE MERRY AND BRIGHT.   Snow is not in the forecast.

Saturday, December 23, 2017


Last month a "special offer" arrived inviting me to become a member of the Smithsonian Institution for $8 a year.  The effort to send in the check seemed to be worth it.  I had been there as a child on a trip with my parents, went to college in D.C., and spent time there with children three times, so had been to the museum often.  The membership would include information, free admission, and a magazine.  There was definitely nothing to lose.

Since then, the December and January-February editions of the magazine have been received.  Each has been well done and with an array of exceptional photographs.  The December issue had the 2017 Ingenuity Awards, focusing on "new ideas and the amazing people behind them".  The issue just received is titled "1968", subtitled "the year that shattered America".

On top of that, the advertising is some of the strangest around.  It could almost be "Grit".  What about Athena Pheromones, NoFat51, GetEnergy73, Brain Awake, Carnaval Faceted Emerald Neckless - 50 carats for $95, 3 Indian head cents for $4.95, or the World's finest eye cream.  It's all there, and strange.  The back cover does have a more practical ad for a Mitsubishi hybrid,but overall they reflect the museum to some extent with its eclectic content. That said, John Dillinger's member really is not there.

If this offer arrives in your mailbox, a subscription may be warranted.  Products advertised may not be.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Signs of a strange market?

Heading into an eighth year of a bull market that, through fits and starts, has risen consistently, what are signs that this era is stretched.  It should be logical to think that this performance cannot continue unimpeded, but market indicators do not exhibit irrational behavior.  P/E's are above average but not crazed, the economy is slowly growing, and aggregate consumer spending is healthy and not noticeably irresponsible.  Many things could go wrong, especially with an unpredictable President(kind description), but almost a full year of his reign has been survived.

In recent days a few strange things have been noticed, as indicators that the strings of this racket are becoming taut. TD Ameritrade, the discount broker, has been running television commercials promoting their options trading platform. The ad suggests that anyone can benefit from options trading with their "professional advice", as a broker talks to a client in a room with a pool table in it.  Another person enters and asks if the client wants to play pool and he responds "no, it's too complicated."  So a person too daft to shoot pool can successfully trade options?  Hmm...

Then there was the renaming of the little known company "Long Island Iced Tea", a firm that makes and sells non-alcoholic lemonade, iced tea, and the combination.  Any additional ingredient needs to be purchased elsewhere.  A week ago the name of the firm was changed to "Long Blockchain", and the stock went up 500% during the day, then settled down and closed the day up 275%.  They still sell iced tea but said they plan to make blockchain related investments. This is an efficient market?

Strange things are happening around the edges of this placid market.  That usually indicates some waves are on the way.  They''re unlikely to come next week but watch out commencing January 4th.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Trump's personal quid pro quo mob boss mind

As the tax cut bill is being passed, a number of companies have announced that they would immediately increase hiring and raise employee wages or bonuses as a consequence.  Those that have been public about this are ATT, Wells Fargo, Boeing, Comcast, and Fifth Third Bank.  Hmm, looking for a merger approval, regulatory relief, pricing power, or kiss up possibilities, and Trump gloats as companies give in to his need for respect.  Yes Don Trump, that's not Don as in Donald but Don as in Corleone, we will kiss your ring.

For companies to do this it must be embarrassing at some level, or should be, but they must think that with the crass Trump it actually works.

On the international scene, Trump's threat of retribution against Haley's list of UN "taken names" did not have any significant impact.  We'll see if the Don follows through on his words and makes some hostile moves based on personal pride rather than policy.  Revenge does not need to make sense.  There is little that is beneath Trump.

If there is a personality disorder for conflating reality with television personas, projections, desires, and fantasy, it has not been found here. There must be one!  It would be a way to understand Trump without concluding that he is constantly lying on purpose, or as the badgered media now often says "exaggerating".

In any case, it is not a sign of good mental health.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Regional counterpoints of self promotion, Christie and Curran

In recent weeks the New York metropolitan area nightly news programs have broadcast advertisements sponsored by the State of New Jersey offering help for opioid addiction.  Worthy effort one could say, but these ads feature outgoing Governor Chris Christie front and center with of a group of grateful advocates and former addicts. These are in fact obvious ads for Christie as he leaves office with less than a 20% approval rating.

Christie was one of the many candidates in the Republican presidential primaries and debates last year.  He could be capable with the quips and polls indicated that he was more viable than some others.  When his star began to fade he became a pathetic lackey for Trump, cabinet post possibly on his mind.  He is still angling for something, but using state resources to promote himself is transparently obnoxious.

In Nassau County on metro Long Island, the long standing practice of having the County Executive's name prominently on all signs for public parks and facilities has been discontinued. Not satisfied with just patronage, nepotism, and kickbacks, the Republicans wanted serious name recognition.  Laura Curran, the new county executive who was an unlikely Democrat winner here, has decided to do away with that approach to signage.  It's a welcome change. 

U.N. veto by Haley

Nikki Haley continued her Trump required vow of fealty when the U.S. vetoed a resolution approved by the other 14 members of the U.N. Security Council asking Trump to rescind his decision to put the U.S. embassy to Israel in Jerusalem.  It was not a complicated message from the majority of the Security Council.  It simply reflected the shared point of view that this would seriously complicate the peace process, a never ending effort that they want maintained.  Trump's move is widely viewed as an unnecessary provocation.

Haley always adds her own twists to the situation, turning a policy issue into name calling.  She called the proposal "an embarrassment" and any suggestion regarding the peace process "scandalous".   "Scandalous" is having a person with no foreign policy experience whose successes have been solely political representing the United States at the one global institution focused on maintaining peace and reacting to catastrophic regional conflicts.  Far from perfect, it is what we have and needs serious representatives with respect for the process.

Vote how you must Haley, but then shut your mouth.

Monday, December 18, 2017

"Homesick For Another World"

This book of short stories by Ottessa Moshfegh is a series of snapshots of grim lives.  Some characters may seem normal to others but internally they are clearly troubled.  Their reality is one of monotony, ceaseless striving leading to no change by some, accepted despair by others.  Some of these stories have familiar backdrops and some could by anywhere.  Some involve regular life situations and others concern dire ones of homelessness and street life.  As the stories are read, that difference becomes immaterial.

The title of the book is informative.  Whether a longing for death or a hope for unreachable change, the characters do yearn for an exit of their preordained lives.  Moshfegh's first novel "Eileen" was commented on here in November of last year.  It had similar strains of misery but had patches of dark humor that worked.  For the most part, these stories lack that humor.  To even mention the word humorous when discussing these stories is a bit far fetched, in fact humorous.  Moshfegh's mind is opaque.

Differentiating the quality of the writing from the content is difficult.  Enter the water at your own risk.

An NFL game that was interesting...

There have been a couple of posts here this fall lamenting boring NFL games.  Last night the beginning and then most of the second half of the Oakland vs. Dallas game was watched with interest.  Unlike the few prior games seen in part, most penalties called were a normal part of the game, not stupid mistakes. They did not disrupt the flow of the game unnecessarily.  The game was played in Oakland and the parts of the crowd seen at field level looked like true crazed Oakland fans, and not corporate types entertaining clients.  The game itself was played creatively, with unexpected plays, attempted trick plays, and some outstanding runs and pass receptions.  It went down to the final seconds for a close victory by Dallas, not the pick here but all seemed fair.

There may be some hope for enjoying the playoffs.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

A look at the past, Greece and Istanbul 1982, part II

On July 30th there was a post here about Kathy and me traveling to Greece and Istanbul.  It continues here.

Our next stop in Crete was Matala Beach.  It was a tourist area by that time but the little town itself was worth the visit.  Kathy on the cliffs created often looked at photos.  After that we drove back to the Athens area airport, turned in our car, and got a flight to Istanbul.  The Turkish airlines plane was first class even for our bargain seats.  The airport that we arrived in was new and architecturally stunning, a huge surprise.  Out taxi drove us in on empty new highways.

We stayed at a Hilton, reserved after concerns about where we should stay at that time.  For a first class hotel, it was inexpensive, cheap by dollar standards.  The view of the Bosporous from the room allowed looks up and down the famed passing between the Black Sea connecting to Mediterranean seas.  The top floor restaurant was elaborate, with haut service and exceptional food at less than what would have been paid at my diner at 50th street and 2nd avenue.  We were stunned by this.  Someone said to us that Turkish food is Greek food done right.

In the hotel lobby looking for directions, we met a Washington Post marketing executive who was in the country to sell advertising space, new type of job to me at that time.  She invited us to go out with her and her Turkish contact.  We agreed and later Kathy, Margaret, Tarkans, and I went to a superb local restaurant and then to some kind of tourist focused belly dancing joint.  We were way ahead of our diversity conscious times --- Caucasian, Asian, Turk, and African American hanging out together.

Kathy and I did our touring and photo taking of each other.  At one point we were in the main labyrinth of the ancient souk wandering around partially lost, a favorite state of mine at the time, when Kathy needed a bathroom. Turkey at that time was ruled by a right wing dictatorship and military police with major weapons were everywhere(like Penn Station on red alert these days).  With a language barrier and no one else to ask, we approached one of the soldiers and asked for directions to a bathroom.  He seemed to understand but did not respond, but moments later two other stern armed soldiers came and escorted K to a bathroom, presumably.  I waited for a few tense minutes, K returned with them, and all was well.

Other shopping was for carpets.  The shops and stalls were intriguing.  Unclear what was reputable we eventually went to a shop recommended by the hotel.  We both bought small carpets.  K chose one that had a twin and she wanted to buy it.  How we could get it home was unclear as she had a family tradition of not paying duty on purchases.  That had never been an issue for me, and realizing how difficult it would be to take a second one it was not purchased.  In hindsight, a mistake, should have paid duty and she would have had a pair.  At that time we were not thinking about our future at all, and whether it would be together.

We did see the required sights.  Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, Topkepi Palace, and Dolmabahce Palace were a history lesson that has become more valuable over time.  We took the ferry across the Bosporous to the Asian side of Istanbul but there was nothing there.  A few nice photos were taken looking out over the water.  We talked to other tourists on the boat who, like us to some extent, felt like pioneers for being there.  In fact, both my parents and one of my aunts and her bridge friends had been there a few years before.

We flew back to Athens to stay a few more days and connect to our round trip there.  We stayed at an aging large hotel near the main square, saw the sights, had dinners in the Plaka's winding steep streets, and took a day time tourist bus trip to see the Peloponnesian sights.  On the way back the claustrophobia of a tourist bus got to me and we got off on the outskirts of the city, then found our way back.  Kathy did not understand my reaction.  Tours never were my thing.

We returned on a fine Olympic airlines, playing spades and travel scrabble.  All was well.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Christmas cards 2017

Just a week ago there was no interest in sending cards for the holidays this year.  It's a waning tradition, and Kathy's endearing one of hanging up received cards on door frames began to fade in recent years as cards that came in were not plentiful.  Another thing... as we age there are less likely to be cards that show children's faces, on the card or photos inside.  Those cards were welcomed as recipients and relished as senders.  That's not our situation now, and not at the moment part of this more digital and less tangible social future.  Accepted.

Somehow interest revived a few days ago upon receipt of several cards, one particularly nice one from younger daughter.  The thought was, "why not send a few cards" to relatives still relevant.  Enjoying the catalogs of member organizations, this year it was the Met that got the call after numerous sequential years of MOMA.  Misreading the catalog, two boxes were ordered with the expectation of eight cards in each, turned out to be 15.  Oh well, they can be saved...

Then two days ago, cards on the desk and pen in hand, addresses and brief greetings on a few propelled the same on more, and the number expanded.  Today cards were sent once again.  The compulsion of sending cards to people with whom there was little contact was ended.  That can only be said with finality later in the week.  The spirit can obviously not be controlled.

It is suggested that the spirit is not one of religion or bonds of friendship.  Those can certainly be there but the spirit here is really one of tradition.  For some, guilty here, it is just a compulsion at holiday time.  Most cards were hand delivered to our small local post office(wanting the local postal stamp, yet another quirk), maybe a few to follow.  Some cards received and some cards leftover will be taped to door frames to continue K's tradition.  Removing the tape is always a ... but worth it.

The one missing ingredient here was personal notes on cards.  Those were always looked forward to from others(audacity here has been to be annoyed if there was not even a brief note) and almost always attempted on cards sent, some informative and some a bit banal as duty called.  The personal notes did not rise up this year.  Sending the cards was the goal, with a greeting and our names attached.  We are here was the intent along with a holiday wish.

Who knows... things can regress and then progress, verbs.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Cretin loses ... a reason to celebrate?

Roy Moore lost his race to be a United States Senator representing Alabama.  That he time traveled from the 1950's to miss being in the Senate by just 1.5% of those voting is more alarming than reassuring.  He is an obvious cretin with a wife to match.  Listening to them talk was like a bad joke, but real.  That said, for Alabama's voters to defeat Moore was a huge accomplishment, one that required dedicated work by many.  It was not expected.

From this distant perch, there are two people whose voices put Democrat Doug Jones over the top, Charles Barkley and Richard Shelby.  Barkley, the former Auburn and NBA star, committed to campaigning actively for Jones. Shelby, consistently viewed negatively here for good reason, took a stand against the fellow Republican and against the wishes of Trump.  In completely different ways, both are hugely influential in the state.  They strongly felt that Moore would be a stain on the reputation of Alabama.  A majority of voters agreed.

And that's good news.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Bitcoin and blockchain

Don't plan to learn anything from reading this.  The media and the market commentators have locked on to the bitcoin phenonenon in recent weeks in a way that is interesting but not especially enlightening.  It is unclear whether many of those talking have any complete understanding of this cryptocurrency and any impact on the bigger picture for financial markets.  Out of character, many acknowledge that they don't.

As a medium of exchange and store of value it is a digitized asset.  The purpose of this comment is to speculate on what this means for governments.  Central banks exercise their governmental functions to regulate and manage financial markets.  They create the facade of control and stability.  By their existence they suggest that currencies are backed by the "full faith and credit" of the governments that issue it.

Cryptocurrencies have value solely based on supply and demand.  The blockchain mechanism, not yet fully understood here, is supposedly an ingenious method that assures this.  So the question that arises --- If governments are not proxies for measurements of value, how significantly is their power and control diminished.  The territory being entered seems here to be another "brave new world".  It is a new and alarming market fascination.

If a crytocurrency unravels, what will stop a crescendo of follow on events.  This is an uncertainty that markets could face.  Shiver me timbers!

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Susan Sontag, a New Yorker commentary

The December 11th "New Yorker", just off the newstands, has a "Critic at Large" article focused on the late Susan Sontag.  She was the often provocative cultural critic and observer, a full time intellectual in a time that did not view that as a negative characterization.  A writer of both fiction and non-fiction, Sontag's essays were the foundation of her public persona. Her reputation building years were in the 1960's when she was in her late twenties and early thirties.  She was integrated into the cultural left wing community and viewed as influential yet unpredictable, and to many of the intellectual aspirant wing of the youth counterculture at that time she was a hero.

The title of the New Yorker article is "Acts of Attention" and is written by a critic named Tobi Haslett.  Unknown here, this apparently young and ambitious critic's style was off putting at first.  It seemed to be a precocious display of literary knowledge that was meant to be less about the writer being examined than about the virtuosity of the writer, Haslett.  In fact, halfway through the article on Friday it could not be continued.  Yesterday afternoon it seemed that it should be tackled again given the interest in Sontag here and the feat was completed.  Haslett seems to be an admirer of Sontag who may want to be the Sontag avatar in this day and time.  Too over the top to be there but that's today.

The article reminded me of Sontag's role as  first hand participant in what she observed.  She spent time in Hanoi during the Vietnam War and time in Sarajevo during the siege by the Serbs during the Bosnian massacres.  Audaciously she staged and directed Beckett's "Waiting for Godot" there while the siege was underway.

Despite some personal effort with this "critic at large", reading this was a welcome reminder of Sontag.  Her essays were read with interest and her book length essays such as "On Photography" and "Illness as Metaphor" were debated among friends.  The concept of  "an intellectual" has become a narrow term over the years and now in Trumptime it is considered elitist and out of touch by many.  Not here.

Article recommended for the like-minded.

Thursday, December 07, 2017

The ongoing Trump investigation, wearing out the broad public?

We know what Trump repeatedly says, and this is that there is no investigation of him.  We watch as his son is interviewed by interested parties, a member of his campaign staff has pleaded guilty to a crime, his short lived National Security Adviser Flynn who played a prominent role in his campaign has pleaded guilty to a crime as well, a campaign manager(Manafort) and an advisor(Yates) have been charged with crimes, and it continues.  Of course Trump is at the center of all of this.  While obvious, so far Trump is right that there is nothing pinned directly on him.

A concern here is that all of this may deflect attention from an unequivocal impeachable offense that will most likely happen given time.  Impeachment and then conviction would be a serious event for the country.  That is an understatement.  If attempts are made to step into that maelstrom with a case that is not precise and as completely indefensible as possible, the public's appetite for going through this could be wasted.  Mueller is persevering, but will his investigation fall short?  If so, does Trump gain an aura of invincibility?  That's a worry.

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

"Fortune" the Fall 1979 student directory for Thunderbird

Sorting through stuff is a regular job here.  We have accumulated lots and going through it can be tedious but at times rewarding.  Rewarding in the sense of "thank god that desk is cleaned up or that closet is now usable" or in the sense of "this is really an interesting find."  That occurred today when unearthing a directory from my time at American Graduate School of International Management, aka Thunderbird.

It's a book of student photos from 1979.  One of the things that has always been said by rote about Thunderbird at that time is that there were "800 students on campus representing 55 countries."  As I went through the directory today, the countries were not counted but that oft said statement is probably correct.  As I look, there's Amin from Sudan, the first student that I met there when arriving in June of that year.  Wandering around sweating profusely and lost, I approached Amin and he showed me to my room and told me how to turn on the swamp cooler.  That is not air conditioning, but some sort of blowing amplified humidity.  He remained a good friend.

Quickly turning the pages, many faces and names were familiar.  The school was not a big place and it was in an isolated location outside of Phoenix, a former army air force training base from WWII.  I looked in the directory for friends and recognized many acquaintances as well.  Many students from the Middle East attended and there's Mohsen from Egypt, now CEO of a food company in Saudi Arabia, Muhannad from Beirut, now co-CEO of a bank in Qatar, and Fady, a former Fatah fighter who was hard to have much of a conversation with, a man of little words and many cigarettes.  But, he had your back.

There are a few whose family names were recognizable, and they were connected.  For some U.S. students then, and many in the past, it was almost a "finishing school" for those destined to be head of private or closely held public corporations which had international operations.  Charlie was a nice guy who called no attention to himself and had a low key sense of self deprecating humor.  Another was in the fast lane, did little work, and lived well off campus, was not at all a jerk, just apart.  We played tennis at his apartment complex. Many of the foreign students were from wealthy backgrounds, coming from Indonesia, Korea, Taiwan, Cameroon, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Argentina, Nigeria, India, Ecuador, and many other nations, how else would they have ended up studying in Arizona at that time?  Most were not showy at all, and eager to integrate themselves into the campus community.

The largest country contingent of foreign students was from Japan.  They were primarily at the school to learn English and many socialized almost solely with each other.  They took courses that seemed designed to educate but with little rigor for language reasons.  Some of the American students breezed through by taking those tailored  courses in marketing and administration.  They studied constantly, and when some guys infrequently came to the campus bar, most would  immediately drink heavily and in an hour or two be helped out.  One Japanese, picture found, went by the name Steve, and totally melded with others as he already spoke English fairly well.  During Christmas break, he joined a cross country non stop car trip with myself and another who wanted to take his car.  Each of us drove, although I admit to never sleeping when Steve was behind the wheel.  His experience seemed limited.  The highlight of that trip was when we stopped one evening in Nashville.  He couldn't stop laughing about everything.  Really he was just having a wonderful time.

Of course, there were many other friends.  Susan, from Vancouver, was a close friend, guitar playing Leonard Cohen fan, not a finance whiz but she eventually became a child psychiatrist, now practicing in Albuquerque.  Anne, Laurie, Jenny, Andy, Sal, Jim, Kadry, and others ended up in New York banking, and stayed friends here for a few years.  Bruce started in banking in Chicago, but eventually became head of a small but well known hedge fund in New York.  Laurie eventually got a law degree and became General Counsel for Visa, the credit card company.  Jim and Judy were good friends in New York, tired of the city and moved on together, first to Indiana, then Florida, their respective home states.  Andy tired of banking and went into a foreign service career, which I had once aspired to, and served in various French speaking African countries but most recently in Kurdistan.  Niels was eventually U.S. ambassador to Madagascar, Cameroon, and other countries.  Larry from Spokane was at the school to learn Japanese, a very funny guy who did get his wish and ended up working in Japan.

This could go on and on, but no one is likely reading at this point, unless they were there.  Thunderbird at that time had enough good teachers if you wanted them.  It had a well run career center that attracted businesses who wanted graduates.  It was a social place, and had a Pub that was just about 1000 feet from my dorm room, where most nights people would eventually gather inside at the bar, in the courtyard, or around the foosball tables.  Almost every weekend there would be a country or region night party.  For some reason an African night is remembered, as students and former peace corps workers who had lived there danced in an intense crazed way endlessly.

Finding the directory brought this rant on.  As soon as the writing stops, another thought comes, another Susan who now runs an African relief project, but this is over.

Postscript:   One necessary exception to the "this is over" statement.  In writing about the many students from other countries, I forgot to mention those from Iran.  How many there were is uncertain now, but maybe as many as ten.  Some the most intense arguments that would take place in the dining room were among those students.  Some were pro-Shah and that tradition and others were vehemently anti-western.  This was hostage taking time, November 1979.  I had one Iranian friend on campus, but she was not part of the arguing men.  She was part of the Baha'i faith, a distinct sect that was disliked by other Iranians generally.  She was hoping to stay in the U.S. and not return there.  I do not remember her name, but she was a smart person and interesting to get to know.  Her picture may not have been in the book.

Postscript 2:   Two of the photos were of students, John and Mark, who found jobs in Manhattan but died there in 1984, caught up in the AIDS plague at that time.

Monday, December 04, 2017

Catalog time

It is most certainly holiday catalog time.  They reliably come in the mail each day and most find their way quickly into the trash.  Experience has taught us to not let them linger.  Some are entertaining, especially those that have nothing that anyone needs.  The best example is the Hammacher Schlemmer one, "America's Longest Running Catalog".  It has keeping America great for 169 years.

Looking for an "Indoor Flameless Marshmallow Roaster".  You're in luck, just $69.95 and it includes four stainless steel forks.  What about "The Remote Controlled Abrams Tank" at just $279.95.  200 additional pellets are only $6.95.  Those warriors 14 and over can play pretend Mosul assault anytime.  For warriors that are only 8 years old there are "The RC Wall Climbing Battle Tanks", remote controlled with infrared cannons.  If the holiday spirit really grabs you, what about "The 18 foot Frosty the Snowman Lightshow".  Passersby will look in awe, neighbors will hate you, a bargain at $399.95.  Less costly, there's the "Best Projection Clock" that will deliver an image on your ceiling of the time and temperature, why roll over if its only $89.95.  There are many more ways to throw your money away within this catalog.

The Sharper Image catalog offerings are, on the whole, a bit more practical.  Advertised as a "holiday must-have" is the "Ultimate Ultraviolet Shoe Odor Eliminator".  For the bargain price of $139.99 there will be no worry about doffing your shoes and sitting around the tree Christmas morning.  Are you constantly losing golf balls in tall grass or under shady trees.  The lightweight Golf Ball Finder glasses can be yours for $59.99.  They're five star rated.   Agitated at work.  The "Fantasy Jellyfish Aquarium" creates a sense of calm in your office.  Its maintenance-free habitat, featuring lifelike rubber jellyfish, is only $99.99 and you'll be the coolest character on the job.  More practical right.

Shopping for unexpected gifts here is easy, useful gifts maybe not so much.

Warning:  those with a ready credit card and a blood alcohol content of .08  or higher should not be allowed to read these catalogs near a phone.

Sunday, December 03, 2017

The case of the unread books...

In recent days magazines have been the main reading here.  There is somewhat of a stalemate going on in the book pile next to my living room reading chair.  What was interesting in the NYTimes today is now done(there was one exceptional "Times Neediest Cases Fund" article about an impoverished 16 year old girl, a talented basketball player named Chicken Barber who dreams of college and the WNBA, great photograph accompanies).  I read a Bloomberg Business Week "Remarks" editorial that is indirectly about the tax plan titled "Trickle, Schmickle".  It was well done until it fell apart in the final few paragraphs for no clear reason, actually the reason is obvious but inexplicable.

The books await.  There's a compelling one by Irvin Yalom, "Staring at the Sun", that is more than half done but I'm not in the mood to think about death on this darkening Sunday afternoon.  Al Franken's book is just one quarter read,  pretty funny to this political junkie(now trying to detox) but whenever it's picked up I begin to wonder whether that dance with a girl at the office Christmas party in 1985 was the right thing to do.  The Consumer Reports Buyers Guide for 2018 has just arrived but our acquisitory stage is mostly over, especially with a new television in the den that's always on.  The book "Vanishing New York" sits unopened, as it is looked forward to but needs an uninterrupted hour and a half to begin, the best way to start.  Parts of George Packer's over the top exceptional book from 2013, "The Unwinding", are being reread with pleasure, but that needs time as well.  Oh for a well written straightforward mystery or crime novel for a night or two, coherent and entertaining.  It's not there.

For now it will be "The Bloomberg 50"( The people who defined global business in 2017) that may distract me.  The book pile awaits and if it continues to be problematic the new issue of  "The New Yorker" should arrive Tuesday.

The case of the unread books must soon be solved.

Saturday, December 02, 2017

Dalio's look at wealth inequality

Ray Dalio, the hedge fund billionaire who runs Bridgewater Associates, has in the past always kept a low profile.  Little known outside of the investing world, he manages a  ton of assets and he does not seek attention, talk to the press, or advertise his fund.  Recently that has changed as he looks at his legacy.

He is speaking up about the danger of wealth inequality in this country.  His way of framing the issue is one of "the 40% who have and the 60% who don't."  Those in the 60% have little to no savings, significantly less education, and less access to regular health care than those in the 40%.  He sees the negative aspects of this inequality being magnified in future years.  There is nothing stunning in his view.  What is interesting is his public interest in this issue.

In its own way, this could more constructive than focusing primarily on the 1%, as has become common in the parlance on this issue today.  To not coin a phrase, the 1% have always been with us.  Today the wealth they control is as large as it was in the gilded age and in the pre-depression 1920's.  Yet the more alarming measure of this inequality now is the percent of people who are getting by as lower middle class, or those on the edge of poverty living from paycheck to paycheck with no savings, and those who are unequivocally poor.  The 60%.

Some could say that Dalio wants to deflect from the 1% as he is a prominent member of that tribe.  Why break from his silent norm to do that?  It is preferable to think that he wants to highlight the issue due to a belief that a long term healthy economy requires more balance and the maintenance of opportunity broadly, opportunity that includes access to the basics of food, healthcare, and education. 
Talk is cheap, as is this phrase, but the idea espoused needs to permeate our politics today.  It is a crucial time to speak up.  Trumptime needs leaders from all fields to stand up for intelligence and equity.  That is not elitist.  It is in everyone's self interest, and it is the right thing to do.  Remember Davy Crockett.