Saturday, January 14, 2012

On celebrating discontent................

Mat Honan writes:

There is a hole in my heart dug deep by advertising and envy and a desire to see a thing that is new and different and beautiful. A place within me that is empty, and that I want to fill it up. The hole makes me think electronics can help. And of course, they can.

They make the world easier and more enjoyable. They boost productivity and provide entertainment and information and sometimes even status. At least for a while. At least until they are obsolete. At least until they are garbage.

Electronics are our talismans that ward off the spiritual vacuum of modernity; gilt in Gorilla Glass and cadmium. And in them we find entertainment in lieu of happiness, and exchanges in lieu of actual connections.

To which Kevin Kelly responds:

But I celebrate the never-ending discontentment that the technium brings. Most of what we like about being human is invented. We are different from our animal ancestors in that we are not content to merely survive, but have been incredibly busy making up new itches which we have to scratch, digging extra holes that we have to fill, creating new desires we've never had before.

Ooops, sorry Dan........................

"Today’s young people, moreover, tend to regard craft work—plumbing, masonry, and carpentry, for instance—as unfashionable and dead-end, no doubt because they’ve been instructed to aspire to college. 'People go to college not because they want to but because their parents tell them that’s the thing to do,' says Jeff Kirk, manager of human relations at Kaiser Aluminum’s plant in Heath, Ohio. 'Kids need to become aware of the reality that much of what they learn in school is not really needed in the workplace. They don’t realize a pipe fitter makes three times as much as a social worker.'"

As excerpted from Joel Kotkin's essay about the growing
shortage of high-skilled manufacturing labor and the problem
it is, or soonwill be, presenting to the re-birth of American
manufacturing.  Full essay is here.

Opening paragraphs............

"Benjamin Disraeli's career was an extraordinary one; but
there is no need to make it seem more extraordinary than it
really was.  His point of departure, though low by the
standards of nineteenth-century Prime Ministers, was neither
as humble nor as alien as some people have believed.  It is
possible to overestimate the obstacles in his way and
underestimate the assets he possessed."

-Robert Blake, Disraeli

It gets so confusing...................

I am not a trained economist.......................

........but it looks to me like the problems in our economy could be
directly related to the "refinance bubble" of 2003.  An incredible
amount of  typically illiquid housing equity was turned into
spendable cash in a very short time period and then spent on stuff,
more real estate, or stocks.  We went from a nation of citizens
with significant financial reserves to a nation of citizens with very
little margin for error.  Message to my kids:  debt is a two-
edged sword, and one edge cuts sharper than the other.

This chart shows both the course of interest rates over the past
20+ years and the amount of refinance activity.  The big spike in
2003 is believed to be the self-induced-equity-reduction-by-
conversion-to-cash-and-debt phase of the process.The echo
boomlet of 2009 was probably to take advantage of lower rates
on existing debt with very little new debt added

double click to enlarge or go here

On trusting the really smart people in positions of power who are supposed to know things.........

The Calculated Risk blog offers some snippets from the minutes of the Federal Open Market Committee, a place were really smart people should be, if nowhere else.  At this particular place and time, the really smart people were being particularly obtuse.  If this doesn't make you feel better about your own comparable smarts, I don't know what will.  It is difficult picking out a favorite quote.  The history major in me finds these priceless.  Enjoy - or not.

The FOMC 2006 Transcripts
by CalculatedRisk on 1/12/2012 01:39:00 PM

The FOMC transcripts for 2006 are now online.  Binyamin Appelbaum at the NY Times is reading through them. A few comments from his twitter feed (most recent first):

Bies, cont. " However... let me just say that the bottom line is that overall mortgage credit quality is still very, very strong. "

Bies, Oct. '06: "We are also seeing in a small way increased predatory activity with loans..."

Yellen, Oct. '06: "Of course, housing is a relatively small sector of the economy, and its decline should be self-correcting."

Stern, Oct. '06: "The housing situation notwithstanding, I remain somewhat more optimistic about our prospects for real growth..."

Mishkin, Sept. '06: "The excesses in the housing sector seem to be unwinding in an acceptable way... I'm actually quite positive."

Warsh, Sept. '06: "Capital markets are probably more profitable and more robust at this moment... than they have perhaps ever been."

Geithner, cont. "If we see a more-pronounced actual decline in housing prices, will that have greater damage on confidence and spending?"

Geithner, Sept. '06: "We just don’t see troubling signs yet of collateral damage, and we are not expecting much."

Guynn, stepping down from the FOMC: "I’m counting on all of you to protect the buying power of my hard-earned retirement savings."

Lacker, Sept. '06: "I’m still fairly skeptical of large indirect spillover effects on employment or consumption.”

Minehan, cont. "So it is hard actually for me to see that residential investment will be that hard hit that long."

Minehan, Sept. 06: "Buyers should recognize housing [is] more affordable & resume purchases, perhaps w/out further major price declines."

Yellen, cont. "Houses [in Boise]... are now being dressed up to look occupied... so as not to discourage potential buyers."

Yellen, Sept. '06: "The speed of the falloff in housing activity and the deceleration in house prices continue to surprise us..."

Fed staff, Sept. '06: "We are not projecting large declines nationwide in house prices."

Fed staff, Aug. '06: "We forecast single-family starts will bottom out at annual rate of 1.43m units." //Actual low (so far): 445k in '09

Bies, cont. "...rather than being a drain going forward and that will also get the growth rate more positive."

Bies, June '06: "So I really believe that the drop in housing is actually on net going to make liquidity available for other sectors..."

Geithner, June '06: "We see a pretty healthy adjustment process under way... The world economy still looks pretty robust to us."

Guynn, June '06: "...Of greater concern to me, however, is the inflation outlook."

Guynn, June '06: "We are getting reports that builders are now making concessions... even throwing in a free Mini Cooper -- [LAUGHTER]."

Fed staff report, June '06: "We have not seen—and don’t expect—a broad deterioration in mortgage credit quality."

Bernanke, March 2006: "Again, I think we are unlikely to see growth being derailed by the housing market."

Good news....................


This word for the day is brought to us by Mr. Webster and the
Third Edition of his New World College Dictonary:

agley         adv.              awry

as in:

The best laid plans of mice and men often go agley.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Opening paragraphs.......

On a snow-swept January evening of 1991, Jonathan Pine, the English night manager of the Hotel Meister Palace in Zurich, forsook his office behind the reception desk and, in the grip of feelings he had not know before, took up his position in the lobby as a prelude to extending his hotel's welcome to a distinguished late arrival.  The Gulf war had just begun.  Throughout the day, news  of the Allied bombings, discreetly relayed by the staff, had caused consternation on the Zurich stock exchange.  Hotel bookings, which in any January were low, had sunk to crisis levels.  Once more in her long history Switzerland was under siege.

-John LeCarre, The Night Manager

On preparation............

Scott at the Live Your Legend blog offers 32 lessons learned
from 2011.  I suspect some of these lessons have taken me more
than one year to learn, and some haven't quite been internalized
yet.  Still, its a good list worth keeping handy.  A sampling:

27.  FOCUS is the most powerful skill in the world. Stop
distracting yourself. Know the top 1-3 most important things
to you and put everything else on a list for later.

28.  Preparation trumps everything. There is no excuse to
show up and not be ready for something. That’s in your
control and it’s often the easiest way to beat an opponent.
We used to run stairs for hours on end in the weeks leading
up to Jiu-Jitsu tournaments. Then we’d get on the mat and
often be able to beat our opponent on endurance alone. It
takes massive discipline to be truly prepared.

29.  Preparation creates confidence! That is priceless.

While practically fearless, very few of these things will I be attempting this year......

thanks sipp

Now that's entertainment.............

Michael Wade reminds us of the glories of William Powell and
Myrna Loy and the Thin Man series - here.

If you liked that, don't forget this, this, or this highlight reel.


This word for the day is brought to us by Mr. Webster and the
Third Edition of his New World College Dictionary.   Actually,
to give credit where credit is due, the word for today comes from
the reigning wordsmith par excellence at Sippican Cottage who
used it recently in a post and made me go look it up.

syncretism   n.    a combination, reconciliation, or coalescence
                          of varying, often mutually opposed, beliefs
                          principles, or practices, etc., etc., etc.
                          syncretist   n, adj.

as in:

"Visionaries deserve credit. I hope I just gave Harry J. some. But practical syncretists are just as important. They generally don't require any extra credit, as they are sitting on piles of money and hate to reach down to receive their praise."

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Some advice from Dad.............

Randy Travis..........................Don't Ever Sell Your Saddle

Daddy should'a been a preacher man
'Cause everybody loved to hear him speak
He didn't always follow his own advice
But we got a sermon every week
He'd say trouble always starts as fun
And broken hearts will always mend
Tough times don't last, tough people do
And nothing breaks if it can bend.

Don't ever sell your saddle
Never owe another man
Watch where you spit on a windy day
Don't use words you don't understand
Find the Lord before you need him
And never lose your pride
Don't ever sell your saddle
'Cause life's a long, long ride.

Daddy never ran from anything
Always took his share of the blame
Had a heart big enough to fill a valley up
But hard enough to stop a train
He said only fight when you have to
'Cause there's always a faster gun
And you'll know a hero from a coward
When you see which way they run.

Don't ever sell your saddle
Never owe another man
Watch where you spit on a windy day
Don't use words you don't understand
Find the Lord before you need him
And never lose your pride
Don't ever sell your saddle
'Cause life's a long, long ride.

Daddy left me his old saddle
The day that he passed on
And these words are etched into my mind
Just like they were in stone.

Don't ever sell your saddle
Never owe another man
Watch where you spit on a windy day
Don't use words you don't understand
Find the Lord before you need him
And never lose your pride
Don't ever sell your saddle
'Cause life's a long, long ride.

Don't ever sell your saddle
'Cause life's a long, long ride...

'Cause there is always a faster gun....

Ben Casnocha on feeling intellectually outmatched,  full post here.
Excerpt here:

"Feeling intellectually outmached also forces me to think harder about my unique combination of abilities--where I have a comparative advantage in the specific situation. No one is smarter than you in every possible way. Smart is very context specific."

On giving and receiving............

Thanks Jessica

Stuck in a time warp.............

Any Major Dude with Half a Heart is a very cool blog
dedicated to music and musicians. Do go visit.  He recently
posted his top 21 songs from 2011.  This will come as no
surprise to my kids, but I recognized only three of the artists
and was familiar with only one.  I'm sure I would do better is
the list was from, say, 1963-1979.

Opening paragraphs............

One of the good things about being a woman in my profession
is that there's not many of us, so there's a lot of work avail-
able.  One of the bad things is figuring out where to carry the
gun.  When I started as a cop I simply carried the department
issued 9-mm on my gun belt like everyone else.  But when I
was promoted to detective second grade and was working
plain clothes, my problems began.  The guys wore their guns
on their belts under a jacket, or they hung their shirt over it.
I didn' own a belt that would support the weight of a handgun.
Some of them wore a small piece in an ankle holster.  But, I'm
5'6" and 115 pounds, and anything bigger than an ankle
bracelet makes me walk as though I were injured.  I also like
to wear skirts sometimes and skirt-with-ankle-holster is just
not a good look, however carefully coordinated.  Carrying
the thing in my purse meant that it would take me fifteen
minutes to find it, and unless I was facing a really slow
assailant, I would need to get it out quicker than that.  My
sister Elizabeth suggested that I had plenty of room to
carry a gun in my bra.  I have never much liked Elizabeth.

Robert Parker, Family Honor

Aging gracefully...................


This word for the day is brought to us by Mr. Webster and the
Third Edition of his New World College Dictionary:

vespertine             adj.        of or occurring in the evening

as in:

Watching our parents share one cocktail when Dad got home
from work was a vespertine ritual my sister and I enjoyed
while growing up.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Jehovah, a wrathful god....?

For those of us who like to think that History, while maybe not
exactly repeating itself, does have a certain sense of rhythm,
comes this beauty from Fred Schwed's 1940 classic, Where Are
the Customer's Yachts?

     The good old days of the twenties are gone, no doubt
forever.  If this conclusion sees too tragic, ask yourself a
couple of questions:
            1.   Are you quite sure that you would care to see all
                 those people who had big money have it again?
            2.  Just how grand was the grandeur that was Rome,
                at its grandest?
     In the later twenties there was very little poverty, at least
among the white collar and stiff-collar classes, and that was
dandy.  There was also very little grace, taste, or humility. 
We had practically achieved the goal of a chicken in every
pot, and were well launched toward a loftier cultural
achievement.  This was a hangover every Sunday morning for
everyone, obtained at the country-club dance the evening
before.  Then, after a brisk Bromo-Seltzer, out into the great
outdoors to play golf (originally a Scotch game), for fifty
dollars a hole, with carryovers.
     In 1929, there was a luxurious club car which ran each
week-day morning into the Pennsylvania Station.....Near the
door there was placed a silver bowl with a quantity of nickels
in it.  Those who needed a nickel in change for the subway
ride downtown took one.  They were not expected to put
anything back in exchange; this was not money - it was one
of those minor conveniences like a quill toothpick for which
nothing is charged.  It was only five cents.
     There have been many explanations of the sudden debacle
of October, 1929.  The explanation I prefer is that the eye of
Jehovah, a wrathful god, happened to chance in October
upon that bowl.  In sudden understandable annoyance,
Jehovah kicked over the financial structure of the United
States, and thus saw to it that the bowl of free nickels
disappeared forever.

Similes for life.........

In case you want to know what life is like, Nicholas Bate has
dipped into his archives and shares his wisdom.  here.  Enjoy.

On the difference one man can make......

Watched the movie Braveheart with my young son the other day.
While the true story of what exactly happened more than 700
years ago is illusive, I was curious enough to search the book
shelves to find D. J. Gray's William Wallace:  The King's Enemy.

An excerpt:

    Among the entertainers in the market-place was a local champion, offering to let anyone give him a blow from a bucket-pole on payment of a groat - a painful way, one would have said, of earning a living.  Wallace handed him three groats, gave the fellow a tremendous wallop and sent him, sprawling.  A number of soldiers on duty, delegated to keep order on market day, on hearing the uproar at once made for Wallace, and in the ensuing fight several were killed.
   The excitement of seeing a lone Scotsman taking on a troop of English soldiers must have set the rooftops of Ayr ringing.  Heads would appear at windows, catcalls and cheers resound, the braver would take the opportunity of pelting the English with refuse, and in the midst of it, Wallace would be dashing for the edge of the wood where he had left his horse, and vanishing before a pursuit could be organized.
   The exploit had been witnessed in a crowded market-place and carried by word of mouth before the day was over.  The talk of the alehouses, the gossip conveyed by peddlers and carters to the next town, must soon have identified the tall, good-looking young man as William Wallace of Elderslie.  The realization that a flame of rebellion still burned in a people bullied into submission by Edward of England must have spread with joyous rapidity.


What a great country..............

thanks Jonco

Reading the Hammock Papers everyday....

A truly wonderful blog is here.

On doing.............


This word for the day is brought to us by Mr. Webster and the
third edition of his New World College Dictionary.

syndesis     n.      the state of being bound, linked, or
                                 connected together

as in:

With the ratification of the Constitution, the 13 separate
colonies achieved the illusive syndesis the Founding Fathers
had long sought.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Worried about Asia overtaking the U. S. of A.?

What, Me Worry?

WRM says fear not...................

"But this latest news from New York Times makes it official: Asia’s decline has begun. Asia’s biggest companies are sending their brightest executives to American style MBA programs."

Full fun mini-essay is here.  Clincher is here:

"The next step? We need to sell them on the need to build law schools. Lots of them."

On the proper way to be depressed.....

On smiling...............

"People smile when they are happy, but they also feel happier because they are smiling.  The effect even works when people are not aware they are smiling.  In the 1980s, Fritz Strack and his colleagues asked two groups of people to judge how funny they found Gary Larson's The Far Side cartoons and then rate how happy they felt, in one of two rather bizarre circumstances.  One group was asked to hold a pencil between their teeth, but to ensure that it did not touch their lips.  The other group supported the end of the pencil with just their lips.  Without realizing it, those in the 'teeth only' condition had forced their lower part of their faces into a smile, while those in the 'lips only' condition had made themselves frown.  The results revealed that the participants tended to experience the emotion associated with their expressions.  Those who had their faces forced into a smile felt happier and found The Far Side cartoons much funnier than those who were forced to frown."

-Richard Wiseman, 59 Seconds: Think a Little, Change a Lot

In case you missed it the first time......................

Believing in the importance of full disclosure blogging: please be
advised that this blogger never even came close to taking a
statistics course.  Thank you.


".......the power of decision is the power of change.  Again, it's true that we can't always control the events of our lives, but we can control what we decide to think, believe, feel, and do about those events.  We must remember that every moment we are alive, whether we admit it to ourselves or not, a new set of choices, a new set of actions, and a new set of results are merely a decision or two away.  Ultimately, it's our decisions, not the conditions of our lives, that determine our destiny."

-Tony Robbins,  Notes from a Friend

Opening paragraphs......

     "The first thing they always did was run you.  When big league scouts road-tested a group of elite amateur prospects, foot speed was the first item they checked off their lists.  The scouts actually carried around checklists.  'Tools' is what they called the talents they were checking for in a kid.  There were five tools: the ability to run, throw, field, hit, and hit with power.  A guy who could run had 'wheels', a guy with a strong arm had 'a hose.'  Scouts spoke the language of auto mechanics.  You could be forgiven, if you listened to them, for thinking they were discussing sports cars and not young men."

-Michael Lewis, Moneyball


This word for the day is brought to us by Mr. Webster and the
Third Edition of his New World College Dictionary:

oeillade       n.     an amorous or flirting glance; ogle

as in:

He gave his sweetie an oeillade as she walked into the room.

Monday, January 9, 2012

A Call for Help.........................

Ray Visotski, the not-so-simple-village undertaker, is looking for
some support.  Please check out his post about the NYC
fire fighting veterans of 9/11.  Support them if you can.

I'm a happy boy............

Michael Lewis is one of my favorite writers.  Blind Side, Coach,
The Big Short, Next, and The New New Thing have all graced
my bookshelves.   His latest effort, Boomerang, arrived today. 
My guess is that excerpts will be posted over the next few
weeks.  Stay tuned.

The tunnel seems to be getting lighter....

thanks Bill

Top workplace trends for 2012..............

The SecondAct blog checks in with ten workplace trends for the new year.  "The old saying that the only constant is change aptly describes the American workplace in 2012."   While most of the ten trends could be a re-run from 2006-2010, number seven below caught my eye.  Truth be told, I could use some help.  Full post is here.

7. Reverse mentoring:  Along with traditional mentoring programs, some businesses are establishing reverse mentoring arrangements where younger workers do the teaching, helping older workers master software, social media and other modern workplace skills.

Lessons learned along the way............

"Lesson learned…never underestimate the power and
memory of the written word."

Jeff re-visits a treasure trove of old e-mails and prints them
out.....because "sometimes you really do appreciate more
what’s in front by looking back.."  Full post is here.

On change...............................

Had an idle moment this weekend and so re-read the adventures
of Sniff and Scurry and Hem and Haw in Spencer Johnson's
cautionary tale about change,  Who Moved My Cheese?
Here are the Cliff Notes:



This word for the day is brought to us by Mr. Webster and the
Third Edition of his New World College Dictionary:

rodomontade       n.     arrogant boasting or blustering;
                                        ranting talk.

as in:

He quickly changed channels to watch a re-run of NCIS
rather than be subjected to the rodomontade that passed for
insight and punditry on the Sunday morning news talk shows.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Hamilton v. Jefferson..............

Another interesting excerpt from Edward J. Larson's
A Magnificent Catastrophe: The Tumultuous Election of 1800,
America's First Presidential Campaign:

"Ever since they has served together in Washington's cabinet, Hamilton had viewed Jefferson as a dreamy idealist who could neither effectively lead a government nor restrain the radical egalitarian and potentially violent elements within the Republican Party.  Further, Hamilton despaired of Jefferson's ideals.  Hamilton wanted a strong central government to foster commercial development; Jefferson idealized individual freedom, states' rights, and the family farm.  Hamilton also feared that Jefferson's ardent anticlericalism, if made national policy, could destabilize the social order by dissolving the glue of civil religion that helped to hold the country together."

Sunday's verse..........

"It is hard to understand what 'The Kingdom of Heaven is within you' really means.  This is because it is not understandable to the ego, which interprets it as if something outside is inside, and this does not mean anything.  The word 'within' is unnecessary.  The Kingdom of Heaven is you.  What else but you did the Creator create, and what else but you is His Kingdom?  This is the whole message of the Atonement; a message which in its totality transcends the sum of its parts.  You, too, have a Kingdom that your spirit created.  It has not ceased to create because of the ego's illusions.  Your creations are no more fatherless than you are.  Your ego and your spirit will never be co-creators, but your spirit and your Creator will always be.  Be confident that your creations are as safe as you are.

     The Kingdom is perfectly united and perfectly protected,
     and the ego will not prevail against it.   Amen."

A Course in Miracles
Chapter 4: III Love without Conflict:1

On spiritual makeup...

     "The Lord hears the cry of the poor.  When the armistice with self-hatred is signed and we embrace what we really are, the process of liberation begins.  But so often we are afraid to do so because of the fear of rejection.  Like Quasimodo, the hunchback of Notre Dame who thought he was hideous, we daub cosmetics and spiritual makeup on our misery and supposed ugliness to make ourselves appear presentable to God.  This is not our true self.  Authentic prayer calls us to rigorous honesty, to come out of hiding, to quit trying to seem impressive, to acknowledge our total dependence on God and the reality of our sinful situation.  It is a moment of truth when defenses fall and the masks drop in an instinctive act of humility."
-Brennan Manning, Reflections for Ragamuffins

Good for borrowers.......not so good for savers

We didn't seriously start our real estate investing career until
1983, so we personally didn't enjoy the thrill of paying 18%
interest rates.  The only good news about that era was that it was
mercifully brief.  Since 1983 we have slowly and steadily acquired
investment real estate, always with borrowed money.  As the
linkage between interest rates for adjustable rate commercial
mortgages and T-Bills is fairly direct, you can imagine the relief
that this trend line provides.

thanks Mark

But, it is a nice T-shirt.................


This word for the day is brought to you by Mr. Webster
and the third edition of his New College Dictionary:

hebdomadal      adj.       Once every seven days, weekly

as in:

At 8:50 this morning, he set off for his hebdomadal visit to
St. Luke's Church.