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..

Wednesday, February 24, 2010


"Prayer is not asking. Prayer is putting oneself in the hands of God, at His disposition, and listening to His voice in the depth of our hearts."
— Mother Teresa

“Prayer for others…. is the very beat of a compassionate heart. To pray for a friend that is ill, for a student who is depressed, for a teacher who is in conflict; for people in prison, in hospitals, on battlefields – is not a futile effort to influence God’s will, but a hospitable gesture by which we invite our neighbors into the center of our hearts. To pray for others means to allow their pains and sufferings, their anxieties and loneliness, their confusion and fears to resound in our innermost selves….It is in and through us that God’s Spirit touches them with his healing presence.” — Henri J.M. Nouwen

Are you like me? Do you wish prayer to me more pro-active? I don't pray to win the lottery, I don't even pray for world peace, or that a friend may be healed, but I like to think that in praying for others, I can ask God to send them grace, grace being in my lexicon an enabling gift. A gift of faith, a gift of comfort, a gift of wisdom. As we pray in the requiem, let the perpetual light shine upon them.

But these wise and holy contemporaries seem to be telling us that only we will be affected by our prayer, and that through our changed selves will God reach others.
Not much of a fast track, there, since I, at least, am able and willing to reach out to so few and not as generously as is needed.

But then we are reminded:
For you see, in the end, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway."
— Mother Teresa

Perhaps, I should try a little harder.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Is it appropriate to talk about

family on Blogger? I guess so.

Daughter Kim is moving to Las Vegas. So much is loaded into that simple statement. Excitement and happiness for her and husband Ross. The move is in order for Ross to take advantage of a very attractive job offer. (We'd all had our fingers crossed following an interview in Chicago last week, but Chicago did't pull the trigger and the Las Vegas firm did). And they'll probably get a ton of house cheap in Vegas these says, and the hot dry weather will probably ameliorate the symptoms of Kim's fybroid myalgia. I even imagine Kim completing her degree at UNLV as a day student, attending classes with little Remy strapped to her back.

Kim and Ross's moving away will leave a big hole in our lives, and little Remy won't even be born as of their departure date. I don't know how they expect to raise a child without my proximate support. I will so miss being involved. Although, that makes me consider another positive aspect: Ross's new insurance will cover any medical costs involved with the little one's arrival.

As I've mentioned here before Kim is the source of a lot of guidance for me. She can be disapproving in such a thoughtful way I can never take offense.

I always say, and really believe that Kim, of all the children, was destined to make her own way in the world, sometimes I expected with hardly a glance back. I rely on that sense to keep me from pining away, but that's not to say she is not a very loving child, and we'll miss her very much.

And I'll sure miss being able to suggest to Janett on those occasions when I've badly upset her, that maybe she should call Kim and talk to her about it.

Monday, February 15, 2010

My third post of the day

Tonight I watched the last three episodes of Friday Night Lights. It was a pleasant diversion with a happy ending, and I was lifted up a little bit. I was taking a break from worrying about all the things I worry about, largely at Kim's recomendation that I distract myself from my concerns.

As I enjoyed watching the show, the characters I've gotten to like over the last few years dealt with some pretty serious stuff, didn't handle things too badly and never once referred to politics or the economy. We all deal with the crises and rejoice at the beauty in our own lives, and ultimately trust in God that whatever happens, we'll find our way through with His help and guidance.

So then I pondered upon my inclination to grapple with the most portentious problems of our time, and decided that it was a touch maniacal. Maybe, driven by a need to understand forces way beyond my control, maybe to divine the root of evil that causes injustice and unhappiness in our world, but ultimately a symptom of an ego that has become unbalanced, and tilts at windmills that may be dragons. Even if they be dragons, there should be more productive ways for me to spend my energies.

And even if I felt that my insights were somehow special and needed to be shared, was I trying to give a helpful caution to those around me, or just being a self- important Cassandra? In any case I've spelled out sufficient dark scenarios that my family, friends, and acquaintances are well aware of my concerns. and now I'll try to relax a little, and maybe focus on more postive endeavors.


Quants; another 21st century vocabulary word you may have wondered about.
An article with passing reference to Purcell vs Mack at Morgan Stanley
And a post to move my previous post into obscurity further down the page :O)

'The Quants' Review: When the Money Grid Went Dark 1 comment
by: Sydney Williams February 15, 2010 | about: GS / MS / FIG Sydney Williams 13

Complex algorithms targeting minute market inefficiencies minted billions in profits, until the math no longer worked.

In June 2005, John Mack returned to Morgan Stanley (MS) as CEO, replacing his bitter rival, the staid Philip Purcell, a one-time McKinsey consultant and the boss of Dean Witter. Since his departure four years earlier, the firm's shares had collapsed 40 percent.

Shareholders—and many of the firm's directors—wanted a more aggressive leader. Goldman Sachs (GS), Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers (LEHMQ.PK) now followed a new market paradigm, and Morgan was not keeping pace.

Mack, a former bond trader, had been serving as chairman of the hedge fund giant Pequot Management. He acted swiftly, committing billions in risk capital to proprietary investing and trading. His objective: double revenues in five years while keeping costs flat.

By 2007, own-account trading was dominating the big Wall Street banks' banner profits. Morgan, like its competitors, was leveraged at more than 30 to 1, borrowing $30 for every dollar it owned.

Life was great. Mack and other Wall Street bosses were earning tens of millions of dollars, while their gargantuan firms controlled the world's capital flows.

And then the lights dimmed. It was August, and the party was ending.

In little more than a year, Bear, Lehman and Merrill Lynch would disappear. Morgan would come within days of collapse, and even mighty Goldman could not guarantee a certain future.

Scott Patterson's fascinating new book, The Quants [Crown Business, February 2, 2010], describes the extraordinary paradigm that catapulted Wall Street into the stratosphere, and ushered its sudden descent. "Quant" is Wall Street lingo for a mathematical whiz-kid, the nerd with the PhD from MIT or the University of Chicago.

For years, brokerage firms confined quants to backrooms, building models supporting front-line traders and research analysts. By the early 90s, quants were proving that their skills were much more valuable, though mostly at small hedge funds.

The big firms noticed, but did not commit completely to their labyrinthine models until after the dot-com meltdown. They were feasting just fine, thank you.

For all their size, Wall Street's mighty banks tend to focus their gambling on a handful of market activities, whether technology banking or proprietary trading—an ironic contrast to the mantra of diversification preached as they peddle their different products and services.

The tech bubble boosted profits, and bankers controlled Wall Street. Quantitative investing exploded from the ashes of the stock market collapse. Its breathtakingly complex strategies and their uncanny success lured billions of dollars from pension funds and endowments, not just wealthy individuals.

Wall Street's new titans were traders, wholly confident in the ability of black-box strategies to mint massive profits.

Character sketches
Using vivid character sketches, Mr. Patterson offers his reader a fast-paced narrative focused on quantdom's central figures. The godfather is Ed Thorp, a math genius whose books Beat the Dealer and Beat the Market became must-reads for the legions who followed him. Thorp devised a mathematical formula for card-counting, which he later applied to the markets as the pioneer of covertible bond arbitrage. Perhaps most important, he perfected a business model to sustain his strategy.

Other characters include Ken Griffin, the imperious founder of Citadel, with whom Thorp shared his trading strategy and business model; Cliff Asness, the hot-tempered founder of AQR; Jim Simons, the reclusive founder of Renaissance Capital; and Peter Muller and Boaz Weinstein, who orchestrated in-house hedge funds at Morgan Stanley and Deutsche Bank (DB).

Sometimes friends, sometimes rivals, these kingpins share an obsession for poker, and would live well as professional players, if not for the enticement of Wall Street's billion dollar payoffs.

They work behind glass doors, travel in private jets and pursue the Truth.

The Truth was the universal secret about the way the market worked that could only be discovered through mathematics. Revealed through the study of obscure patterns in the market, the Truth was the key to unlocking billions in profits.

—The Quants

Another one of Mr. Patterson's core characters is Eugene Fama, who, he writes, "connected the dots and put the efficient-market hypothesis on the map as the central feature of modern portfolio theory". Professor Fama's hypothesis presents the notion of market equilibrium, where the market's various participants in hunting for inefficiency collectively create efficiency and balance.

As the market bounces around, its returns fall along a bell-shaped curve. For quants, the Truth occurs in detecting small price variances caused by market participants continuously working towards an equilibrium, and knowing that small moves are more likely than large ones.

Their mainframe computers deploy rapid-fire, complex algorithms that hunt for microscopic price discrepancies. Leverage allows them to expand small gains into massive gains. For years, they sourced (borrowed) cheap (low-interest rate) Yen-denominated capital, paying it back with their outsized returns and keeping the profits, the so-called carry trade.

Mr. Patterson explains how each of the quants was becoming "part of and helping create a massive electronic network, a digitized, computerized money-trading machine that could shift billions around the globe in the blink of an eye, at the click of mouse". He defines this network as the "Money Grid", a machine with "octopuslike tentacles reaching to the farthest corners of civilization, yet it is also practically invisible".

Complex algorithms, the quants would learn, do not account for irrational human behavior, and once-in-every-10,000-years events can occur once every few years—or, even, every few days. The black swan—a term coined by quant-doubter Nassim Nicholas Tabel to describe unexpected events—does not just exist in Australia, it exists in every country on every continent.

Nor do they account for the dangerous concentrations of capital that form when copycat funds plow into similar positions.

New governance
Patterson avoids direct finger pointing, and does not portray quants as nefarious wrong-doers: rather as victims of miscalculated self-confidence. And while it's tempting to blame "hedgies" for collapsing the financial system, it would be wrong to do so.

The system itself allowed hedge funds to emerge and flourish. The irony of Mr. Mack concentrating and leveraging his firm's capital is that he nearly destroyed Morgan Stanley at the behest of his shareholders—or, rather, the core group which brought him back in 2005 to compete with Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns.

Mr. Mack and his CEO cohorts bear a considerable portion of the blame, as they lorded over the system that fed aggressive risk-taking. But they weren't alone. Government contributed directly to the financial collapse, with poorly crafted legislation and insufficient regulation, in particular rules creating and fostering the sub-prime mortgage market and poor oversight of mounting system-wide risks.

Patterson's book reminds us that Wall Street governance needs to change. Financial innovation is too smart and happens too quickly for any government regulatory body to keep pace. The only way for the system to find balance is for its participants to regulate their own risk-taking.

Clearly, the publicly-traded investment bank model does not work, at least not as scripted. Take basic accounting rules. Even though a firm possesses considerable "intellectual capital"—and, in fact, could not exist without this capital—accounting rules don't force it capitalize this expense and place it on the balance sheet.

Instead bonuses appear as an expense item on the firm's P&L, inflating returns. If firms capitalized employee bonuses, shareholders would view risk-taking much differently.

Ideally, a firm would seek to align itself more closely with shareholders, or government would encourage this. The simplest means for this to happen would be for the firm to scrap its shareholder structure altogether, and return to its original partnership model. Goldman only listed in 1999, and arguably has performed best for having lasted the longest as a private partnership.

Once risk-capital becomes owners' capital the dynamic changes. The dollar you gamble isn't just someone else's dollar, it's mine. So be careful.

For all their perfection, black box models are not perfect. They had survived various currency and debt crises, the spectacular blow-up of Long-Term Capital Management, and numerous other market spasms. The hubris of the narrow cadre of individuals controlling capital flows—investment bankers, central bankers, and government officials—was their belief that the models were indomitable risk-reduction tools.

No doubt, new models will emerge, likely featuring behavioral finance and more "qualitative" elements. Already, many experts are concerned that quant-driven strategies targeting dark pools and flash trading could destabilize the financial system once again.

Until the system itself gets smarter, don't expect smart models to abate volatility anytime soon.

Political crisis, or just a bad dream

While Senator Evan Bayh's announcement this morning prompts this post, I don't regret the withdrawal of Bayh as candidate for the Senate from Indiana, since I felt he had succeeded his father as a very biased supporter of the state of Israel in the senate. But I do refer readers back to my post of a couple months ago, half-heartedly defending President Obama as attempting to be a centrist, and apprehensively quoting the Yeat's line about the widening gyre.

I caution adherents of the extreme right and their corporate sponsors not to celebrate their successes too soon. The disintegration of the political center amd the inefficacy of political institutions eliminate the hope for solutions of critical questions of social and economic justice.

Federal subsidies will be employed at the local level to support police forces and teachers salaries, as bulwarks against social upheaval, but tens of millions of impoverished and disenfranchised will eventually react outside of traditional channels. As I've noted before, the most desperate of our population are comprised of racial and ethnic minorities, and as those minority peoples act out in anger and frustration, the white middle class will tend toward a reactionary response. Some students and intelligentia will allign with the minorities as civil rights are violated. Whether poor whites allign with the frightened middle class, or with the rioting mob will be a significant factor in this breakdown of social order. Conservative theorists may rely on a white backlash in support of social order, but I'm not sure that poor whites, outside the South, won't also join in violent confrontations against the power structure, due to their recent (over the last thirty years) social and economic deprivation. Neither organized labor nor the Democratic Party have identified in the last twenty years with the interests of the traditional working class, leaving the white working class without meaningful representation during this time of economic deterioration, leading to a diminution of hope that now approaches despair.

A couple of years ago, I posted a number of blogs beginning to explain my concerns about the development in our republic of a revolutionary environment. I didn't complete that analysis, hoping that the then growing tendency toward repudiation of the Bush administration would lead to a reappraisal of socio-economic trends, and maybe to a positive denouement. Obama's election was a hopeful sign, but subsequent developments, and Obama's own vaccilation have dissipated the energy of that moment, leaving me not very hopeful.

I do not consider myself a survivalist or a revolutionary, just a concerned observer.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Happy Valentines Day

Most of all to my beautiful wife Janett, in whom, from the first moment I met her has shone grace and dignity and wisdom and charm. How lucky I was she saw something in me worth holding onto. What a tragedy it would have been if either of us had let that coincedental moment slip away instead of resolving at that moment to be together forever.

Also to the other wonderful women in my life, my daughters and sisters, who, if not always keeping me on the straight and narrow, have kept me from sliding down the slippery slopes on either side of the path. And to my mother, who on earth and in heaven has protected me from the consequences of my own silliness.

Stephie emailed me a brief account of my grandmother DKT's earliest years which I'll copy below, which reminds us of how many devoted courageous women have preceded us to bring us to where we are today:

This is the story of Dean Knowlton Traynors parents Cecelia Adelaide Knowlton and Bernard Pitcher Featherly

Bernard Pitcher Featherly, married at Belgiun N.Y. Cecelia Adelaide Knowlton on Nov. 4 1860. Cecelia was 17 when they married and Bernard was 38. Bernard took his young wife to Albion N.Y., where he left her with his sister, Eliza Bailey, and he went at the earrnest solicitation of his brother in law, James H Thorn, who married Catherine Feathers, to Owosso Michigan, where he built a log cabin.

When their first child, Eliza Emily, born in the home of Eliza Bailey was 2 months old, Cecelia Adelaide followed her husband to Owosso taking with her, besides her infant, one son of her husband, Henri (10 years old). The other children had been taken by Bernards relatives and relatives of their mother, Cynthia. Bernard and Cecelia lived in the small log cabin until the summer of 1864. It was there that Bertie and Frank were born.

Bernard walked 20 miles to try and enlist in the Civil War. He was refused because he had 2 handicaps/ When he was a boy he had chopped a toe which had drawn under while healing, and that, he was told would prevent him from going on long marches. Also, he had lost the first finger of his right hand (the trigger finger) in a sawmill.

The parents of Cecelia Adelaide had moved in 1861, to Milwaukee, and Cecelia Adelaide being very lonely , and much afraid of the Indians that roamed the woods around Owosso and longing to be near her parents, early in the summer of 1864 took three babies and crossed the state of Michigan, from Owosso to Grand Haven, and took a boat to Milwaukee. She was only 21 but said that the journey was not difficult because fellow passnagers were kind and had helped her with the children. Henri (or Heri) had remained in Michigan. Lydie (Eliza Emily), then almost 3 years old, had been ill with malaria and was too weak to walk. Bertie, 16 months old, was sickly and could not walk; Frank was 3 months old.

About this time the cousin of James Monroe Knowlton visited Milwaukee and persuaded Bernard that Illinos was a better farming country than Wisconsin. Cecelia Adelaidewith her 3 babies, remained with her parents, and there Bertie died. Bernard built a small house in Crystal Lake Il, or Nunda as it was called then, and sent for his family. In that house was born Lillie, Cora, Charley, and Dean. The family moved from there to a larger home on 20 acres near Paynes Corner, towards McHenry. Four children, Nettie, Bernie (Bernard), Ollie (Olive) and Addie were born in this home.

From there the family moved to Kansas. After 2 years on a government claim in Kansas, during one summer in which there had been in invasion of grasshoppers and the other year a drought, destroying the crops both years, with little Ollie and Addie laid to rest under the sod, and the little blue eyed baby, Daisy, in Cecelia Adelaides arms, a return journey to Crystal Lake was under taken, one team driven by Bernard and the other by his wife

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

A couple of positive thoughts

"When I look back on all of the these worries, I remember the story of the old man who said on his deathbed that he had a lot of troubles in his life, most of which had never happened." Winston Churchhill

"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." -Jer 29:11 (Courtesy of Kim)