A nice way to stay in touch with loved ones, and a convenient way to share my opinions without having everyone just walk away...wait a minute, where are you going? I wasn't finished..

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

We're pretty happy.

I worked till nine last night, and had to get up early to catch a train to Chicago for a meeting this morning, so when the meeting broke up around 2, I felt entitled to bolt, which I did. I also felt entitled to stop on the way home at the Butera's and shop for stuff I like. I got some El Ranchero "mild hot" tortilla chips, a bag of chocolate cookies out of the cookie bin, hot dogs and buns, beer sausage and cheddar cheese for sandwiches and the piece' de resistance, a couple pounds of barbecued baby back ribs.

When I got home, Janett and I stood in the kitchen and shared tha ribs. I guess we were hungry. And we didn't get any dishes dirty. Lucky for me the ribs were lean and yummy, and Janett didn't say once "you're not saving money shopping at Butera's if we end up throwing food away."

Apologies to any vegan who drops in and finds things like hot dogs, sausage, cheese, and ribs really disagreeable. Alicia Silverstone is a vegan and I like her, Chad Pilcher is a vegan and I like him, but I think they are both a little too thin.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Post modernity

I was riding in my car listening on the radio to NPR and the guest on the show was California's poet laureate. He was saying tnat he never bought into the modern or post-modern identity which he found to be too dark. Modern, post-modern, generations x and why are we so self obsessed that every ten years we have to redefine ourselves culturally and philosophically?

Because in fact we are still in the existential period, and have fixated on the need to question who we are. So let's just call it that, existentialism, and forget all those other cliches. And let's try get over the self obsession. Self examination is OK, but need not and should not be so introverted as to reject anything larger than ourselves to meaure ourselves against.

Assuming there is a God, we can not assume creation was purposeless. The divination of and devotion to that purpose is enlightenment. Assuming there is not a God is foolish in light of the spiritualization of matter which has progressed through aeons and epochs. Clearly God is calling, pulling us toward him. Whether we try to hasten or impede or declare our indifference to the redemption of the world is the criteria which we best use to define our condition.

There, I hope that helps.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

The rest of the story

This morning's post was up to my usual high standards, timely, informative and richly amusing. But in keeping it pithy, I left out a little background information which would have helped to set the scene.

Have you ever heard of Municipal Bond Insurance? Don't feel bad. If you had it probably would have gone in one ear and out the other.

Say the water department in some little town in some unimportant state wants to build a new filtration plant for ten million dollars, they can issue tax free bonds (usually referred to as muni's, short for municipals)to raise the money. That is, the interest earnings are tax free to the buyer of the bonds. To give you an idea how that works I stole the following explanation somewhere:

"...Lets assume you are receiving a yield of 4% from a municipal bond and you want to understand the equivalent yield that you would need to receive from a treasury bond to compensate for the tax advantage that the munis offer. For the sake of the calculation, let's also assume you are in a 28% tax bracket. The calculation would be written as so:

Taxable equivalent Yield = .04/(1-.28) = .0555 = 5.56%"

So since the muni's equivalent yield is higher, this tax free status allows state and local authorities and agencies to finance projects more cheaply. Sounds good so far.

Well, for the issuer to get the lowest interest rate on these bonds, a rating agency like Fitch, S&P or Moodies' has to award them a AAA rating. To get their AAA rating the water department can buy insurance that if they default on the bond the insurer will pay off the bondholders That's easier on everyone involved than having the rating agency come out to the little town in the unimportant state and do a thorough audit of the water departments projected revenue stream and it's credit worthiness. Plus the insurance is cheap, I think it's been just a little over one percent of the insured amount. So everybody's happy.

The big insurers reported profits in recent years as nearly 50% of revenue. They began to feel so good about their abilities they decided to branch out and expand further into insuring - you guessed it - CDO's, That's right "Collateralized Debt Obligations" those big bundles of junk bonds and sub prime mortgages. Why would they do such a thing? Hubris and Greed. The Hubris: We're making so much money we must be really smart. The Greed: The CDO market is getting bigger than the Muni market and we can charge higher premiums.

The borrowers began to go south, and the rating agencies belatedly realized the insurers have inadequate reserves to cover the losses they were facing. Remember a couple months ago I wrote about counter party risk. Well, this is it. "I brought a lot of junk so I bought some insurance. Now I should be fine - unless my insurance is junk too". So the rating agencies issued a credit warning to the biggest insurers, and one agency lowered an insurer's rating to AA from AAA. Realistically these insurers should have their ratings lowered into the B or C range, but therein lies the rub. If the insurers ratings drop then the ratings on all the bonds they insure should also drop, and all the insurance companies, mutual funds, and pension funds that are required to invest only in "investment grade" securities (BBB or better: AAA AA A or BBB not BB or lower)would have to divest themselves of these bonds. Divest as in sell, but who would buy and for how much? Answer: I don't know but for a lot less than they were purchased for. So big losses are in the cards for the financial companies that pretended that they were investing only in risk free securities.

And then, of course, you've got the hedge funds. They'd buy crappy investments with triple A ratings, and use the crappy investments as collateral to borrow more money to buy more crappy investments, and then do it again, and again. They're so highly leveraged that a small drop in the market value of these crappy securities will have a multi fold impact on their liquidity. As the value of their collateral securing all those loans goes down they'll get margin calls and have to come up with more collateral, and they can't deliver. Pretty soon everybody will be selling everything except the furniture in their swanky digs which will have been repossessed.

So even though most of us could live our whole lives without thinking once about Municipal Bond Insurance, it will prove to be one more nail in the coffin of the economy that the Bushes, Clintons and Greenspan have shaped for us - but their friends at Goldman Sachs will probably be OK.

Anyway that's the kind of thing that's got Bernanke so nervous that he has one finger on the panic button at all times.

Fed Faux Pas

Last weekend the French bank Societe General discovered they had a problem. One of their employees had been making unauthorized trades, and had lost a couple of billion dollars in the previous two weeks. SG sold a lot of stock on Monday getting out of the losing investments and raising cash to cover the losses. Unfortunately for them it was a bad day in the market because Asian markets already had recorded big losses due to concern about a recession in the US. That's the way it is in a nervous economic environment. Traders in London get skittish about a down day on the Mumbai stock exchange. Big losses on the Mumbai? Please spare me big losses on the Mumbai. By the time S G completed their selling on Monday the two billion loss had turned into a seven billion loss Their selling, on top of the bad news from the Asian markets had driven the markets down 5% in Europe.

So Tuesday morning, everyone was all up in the air about where the US markets would open, It appeared they would open 5% lower, and continue down from there. Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke's phone must have been ringing off the hook with calls from Goldman Sachs, Citigroup and all the other "investment bankers", saying he had to do something big, so he did. He cut rates by 3/4%, the biggest cut in 25 years. The market rebounded, especially stocks in financial companies, which I happened to be short at the time. So he cost me a few hundred dollars, but that's OK, and that's not really the point.

The point is the Fed's mission is to control the money supply to avoid inflation, and cutting rates at a record pace is just the opposite of controlling inflation. Well, Ben would explain, the Fed also needs to insure orderly markets. Thing is, orderly markets sometime go down, and I dont guess Ben would have seen the need for intervention if the market looked like it was going to open up 5%.

The episode is embarassing for the Fed and may be recalled in the future as one of the institution's darkest days. (and there's a lot of competition for that honor).
The fed used the biggest arrow in it's quiver to deal with the consequences of some French guy losing a couple billion in unauthorized trading.

Two other observations, one amusing, one not so amusing. The European central bank knew what was going on at Societe General amd didn't respond with precipitous action. They take their job of controlling inflation seriously. They also didn't bother to give Ben a jingle and clue him in. Seems like that would have been the neighborly thing to do for a respected fellow central banker - which I guess he isn't.

The not so amusing part was the panic in the pits which prompted Ben's over-reacton.
Ask yourself, friends, don't brokers make money buying and selling? As long as they're getting paid why should they care if the market's going up or down? Well, it's because for trades to occur to earn commissions on, there has to be money in the market to trade. And market declines mean somebody is losing money, and they're afraid, very afraid, that some of their biggest customers, the hedge funds, are running out of money. Rumors circulated Friday of a big hedge fund in trouble. We'll wait till Monday to see. But a word of caution to Ben - you can only cut rates by 3/4% so often before you're paying people to borrow. Oh wait, when you factor in the real inflation rate, that's what we've been doing for several years.
Well anyway, you don't want to look any sillier than you already do.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Dana Jacobson, ESPN, and Jesus

Don't read this.

A couple weeks ago ESPN's hostess and commentator, Dana Jacobson, showed up drunk at a celebrity roast and continued to get drunker during the taping as she hit on a bottle of vodka she was carrying with her. Eventually she was booed off the dais and escorted from the premises, but not before she was heard to say "F__k Notre Dame" and "F__k Touchsown Jesus" and as reported by the website that first published a narration of the event "F__k Jesus". For a week there was a deafening silence from ESPN's headquarters in Bristol Conneticut. They had the only tape, and it was never going to see the light of day.

As reports of Jacobson's outburst began to circulate, ESPN announced Ms Jacobson had sent apologetic emails to Charlie Weis and Mike Golik, ND alumni who had been present at the roast, referring to her "inappropriate behavior" in the most general of terms. This week as the story gained wider circulation, ESPN announced that Ms Jacobson had been suspended for a week.

My interest in the story has less to do with my identification with the university than with my annoyance with the fact that a jewish person, a member of the media, representing a network at a public event can loudly and obscenely profane the name of our Lord - not just with impunity, but with the connivance of the network in the cover up.

Now here comes the politically incorrect part: for mentioning the fact that Ms Jacobson is jewish, I will probably be described as anti-semitic. Wouldn't it be more accurate to describe Ms Jacobson as anti-Christian? And, in light of the cover up, wouldn't it be legitimate to question whether the management of the network shares her bias?

But he answered and said unto them, ‘You see all of these things, do you not? Truly I say unto you, there shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down’” (Matthew 24:1-2).

At the time of his betrayal and execution Jesus prophesised the destruction of the temple. Within a generation the temple was destroyed, Jerusalem was laid to waste and most Jewa were expelled, many having been sold into slavery by the Romans.

With the temple destroyed the dispersed jews lost their connection to the Torah (what Christians refer to as the Old Testament) and became devotees of the Talmud, which is the writings of the very same scribes and pharisees whom Jesus had denounced for abandoning their devotion to God and promoting devotion to the law. The law having been handed down from Moses supposedly in an oral tradition over thousands of years, but just then being written down. Reportedly, the Talmudic writings as they were codified and expanded in the centuries following Christ's death were not kind to Jesus or his followers.

So I would hopefully suggest that this recent incident could provide an occasion for Ms Jacobson, the management of ESPN, and others who hold to the jewish tradition to soften their hearts, put their prejudices behind them, and grow in tolerance for the Christian community.

Monday, January 21, 2008

What's going on

I just was at the Notre Dame web page, Cartier Field. Not too much happening there, but one funny thing. Most of the comments about the Packer-Giant game focused gleefully on how uncomfortably cold Jimmy (the pork faced satan) looked. They're so immature, but they sure know how to hold a grudge.

The stock market is bad crazy. American markets are closed for MLK day, and around the world markets are plunging 5% to 7%. For the uninitiated, that's what you might call a bloodbath. 5% on the Dow would be like 600 points. Even my bear friends are gnashing their teeth. Expecting a bounce after last week's declines many took profits Friday and closed out their short positions. One of my gurus was so convinced there'd be a bounce he went long some indexes. Now they're sitting helplessly waiting for the market to open way down tomorrow, having missed some big profit opportunities, or in the case of the guys who got long looking for a bounce, facing big losses.

Me? I'm short Regions Financial and Capitol One Financial. Capitol One is the credit card company. Any day now folks are going to realize its even easier to stop paying your credit card bills than to stop paying your mortgage. Aside from trying to get you on the phone to question your inner core of integrity what can they do - garnish your unemployment check? And Regions, well they were my last mortgage lender, and they were annoying. Somehow, I don't think all those hurricaine/flood victims down on the gulf are hurrying to the mailbox every month with their loan payments.

Janett's doing really well with her computer graphic arts applications. There's some pretty trippy stuff at her blog site. And from there you can go to her UTube site and see other cool stuff. It's fun to read the really complimentary comments.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008


I went downtown today for a business meeting. I was in an office overlooking the northern portion of Grant Park. Lil Hizzoner has loaded that park with crap.
Maybe it looks better from ground level, but what part of "park" doesn't he understand.

All this talk about a mass transit funding crisis - hey, I paid $2 bucks for my six block ride from the train station. Seems a fair price. They ought to be able to scrape by on $2 fares. How come they're broke? Running buses at two o'clock in the morning with nobody on them? Sending specially equipped vans to handicapped peoples homes to take them where they need to go? Overpaying for supplies to politically connected suppliers? I don't know. But it did make me think of the street cars that used to run around town when I was a kid. They had tires and didn't run on tracks but they had poles on top reaching up to electrical wires overhead. Getting rid of them was Big Hizzoner's idea. I wonder how much they'd be saving on fuel and how much less they'd be polluting if they'd kept those things.

A comment on the financial markets: taking the same route forty years ago I would have passed a half dozen ground floor brokerages with electronic stock tickers in the window. Today I looked out the bus window for a brokerage with a market ticker in the window, just to see what the Dow or S&P were doing. Nada, not a one. Which tells me the retail trade is dead. People invest in mutual funds through their 401K at work, or an IRA through their bank. They're at least two steps removed from the action. Those old brokerage houses used to have a couple of benches where guests could sit and watch the action on big electronic tickers. Gave the old geezers sometning to do. Maybe it's a security thing, a ground floor retail office would make it too easy for an investor who just lost his job, his house, his kid's college fund and his retirement money to walk in and start shooting account executives.

I guess I'll have to learn how to get that kind of info off a cell phone, if I start carrying one.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

It sucks to be Omar

Omar Hunter, a big 4 star defensive tackle, from Georgia committed to ND last June. Then last week, a month before the signing date, he "un-committed" and is talking to Urban Meyer about a scholarship to Florida.
Urban Meyer was on the short list for the ND coaching job and he used that leverage to jack up his contract value at Florida where he was already secretly committed to go, because his wife likes Florida better than Indiana and because he "could win there sooner."
Well, Coach Meyer favors a recruiting method known as poaching. He waits until a recruit commits to another school, then a month or two later, starts "recruiting" the kid's best friend on his high school team. He has the friend start in on the desired player. "Hey, you ought to talk to these guys. They got a great program. And they told me some bad shit about ND you ought to hear before you finally decide." The appeal of this approach for Coach Meyer is that it's easier to lie about one school, than lie about a half dozen. Even an eighteen year-old would realize all those schools he thought he liked couldn't be that bad.

Anyway, Omar showed up for the Under Armor High School All Star game yesterday and had a very bad day, thanks to Braxton Cave, another ND commit playing offensive center for the opposing squad.

That's Braxton.

Thats Braxton spoiling Omar's day.

And when he came off the field he had to deal with Jamortis Slaughter, another ND commit giving him that "You'd best not even think about looking at me, bitch"

The 2008 ND recruiting class, currently the highest ranked in the country are vocal about how tight they are as a group, and how eager they are to make their presence felt at ND. I guess they didn't like Omar falling for Urban's bull-shit.

PS Omar's probably a really nice kid.

Thanks to BlueandGold.com for the snapshots.

If you got time on your hands

here's a link to a U Tube "friend" Of Janett's. He's likable and could be UTube's answer to Steve Irwin, except with border collies instead of crocodiles.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Obama Mama Jama

I would have preferred for Edward's and Obama's results to have been reversed in Iowa, but I;m glad Hillary took a beating. Obama will have another big win in New Hampshire, a big win in South Carolina, a big win in Michigan - by the time super whateve day comes around it won't matter what kind of money or organization she has, she's a goner.

I guess we have to wait and see about Obama. He doesn't have much of a record to judge him by. Senator Durbin of Illinois was campaigning for him in Iowa, and seemed sincere in his praise, and I like Durbin. Kucinich surprised me and semi-endorsed him in Iowa, telling his supporters to support Obama if they couldn't muster 15% at the caucuses. Right now he's riding a very big wave. It would take a big time scandal to hurt his momentum. I expect they'll dig up something, but I doubt it'll be enough.

The bad job numbers today removed any possible doubt, it's going to be a very bearish market for some time. If you own any stocks, sell them. If you dont own any stocks, borrow some and sell them.

I've got a nasty cold, so I don't have the energy to organize my thoughts very well. I'll talk to you later.