Tuesday, March 31, 2009
Now anyone who knows me or reads this blog from time to time would probably think that I think the Duggars are nuts. Well, I do. But having said that, I also think they're incredibly nice and likable. What's more, they seem genuinely happy. And they also seem to be making this crazy life of theirs work. Whatever else you can say about them, they are doing something right. So if I was wearing a hat (here I go with the hats again), I would take it off to them. You go, Duggars!
If you don't like mark-to-market accounting, you shouldn't be a publicly-traded company. Buy back all of your shares and function as a private equity firm or a hedge fund.
But this morning Pat Buchanan wrote a piece about it that has me thinking. In it he says:
Pope Benedict has yet to be heard from. But on his visit to the United States, he declared that any appeal to academic freedom "to justify positions that contradict the faith and teaching of the church would obstruct or even betray the university's identity and mission."
So the faith and teaching of the church supersedes academic freedom? Is this what Notre Dame stands for? There's more:
Chris Carrington, a political science major, regards the opposition to Obama's appearance as un-Catholic: "To not allow someone here because of their beliefs would seem a little hypocritical and contradictory to what the mission of the university and church should be."
The obtuse Carrington has stumbled on the relevant question: Is Notre Dame still a repository, teacher and exemplar of eternal truths about God and Man, right and wrong, whose mission is to convey and defend those truths in a hostile world?
Or has Notre Dame joined the secularists in their endless scavenger hunt to seek and find truth in the marketplace of ideas?
Monday, March 30, 2009
Saturday, March 28, 2009
Friday, March 27, 2009
Thursday, March 26, 2009
As a recovering hedgehog, I can appreciate this. It's a common human tendency to adopt a worldview from which to order the universe. It's comforting to have a framework in which everything fits neatly. It's also intellectually lazy. Most people would rather massage the facts than rethink their ideology. It's just too unsettling; they'd have to scrap their worldview and start all over. So rather than reconsider their assumptions, they continuously force square pegs into round holes. As a result, the pursuit of truth takes a back seat. Alan Greenspan is one notable exception. After a lifetime as a laissez-faire economist, he recently admitted that some of his assumptions were flawed. I give him enormous credit for that; he should be an example for all of us.
Monday, March 23, 2009
Howard Dean joined the CNBC crew this morning as a contributor, whatever that means. I always thought he got a bum rap in the 2004 election. Dean was the only Democrat I know of that had the cojones to come out against the Iraq War in 2002 and '03. You know, the war that just had its 6th anniversary and shows no sign of ending any time soon. I assume Dean must have been abrasive or arrogant in person because people like Tim Russert didn't seem to like him personally. That never helps a campaign. Dean was the front-runner until Al Gore endorsed him and Jimmy Carter sort of endorsed him; that was the kiss of death because he was no longer seen as an insurgent. His popularity never recovered and he lost the Iowa caucus to John Kerry. His detractors made much of his famous scream that night but it was already over by then. Kerry was the safer choice and went on to lose to Bush narrowly. I wonder if it would have been better to nominate someone like Dean and have him lose but at least go down fighting. Oh well, he looks prescient on Iraq, did a great job as chairman of the DNC and will probably see his favorite issue, health care reform, become a reality under Obama.
Sunday, March 22, 2009
March Madness continued as Duke beat Texas last night and earned the right to play No. 3 Villanova next week. Jon Scheyer had thirteen points and made a nifty play late in the game to save a ball from going out of bounds. I'll be rooting for Duke, of course, not least because I can't stand any place that calls itself 'Nova. Where I live that's a type of lox.
There was a good article in the New York Times magazine today by Roger Lowenstein about a possible bubble forming in Treasury securities. It raised the issue of exactly how risk-free Treasuries are and reminded me of something I read once. On the eve of World War I in 1914, the government bonds of Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Russia were considered among the safest investments on the planet. Four short years later, however, when the war ended in 1918, the Hohenzollern, Hapsburg, and Romanov Empires had all collapsed and their bonds were essentially worthless. Now I don't think the U. S. is in danger of defaulting, but I do think the Treasury's strategy will be to continue to devalue the currency in order to pay back the debt with cheaper dollars. George Will seemed positively shocked when he considered this a few weeks ago on This Week with George Stephanopoulos. He shouldn't have been; the dollar has been depreciating for decades. It's always been in the borrowers' interest to pay back debts with cheaper dollars. So they're really not risk-free after all.
Finally, Guy Fieri would be proud of me. A couple of weeks ago my son and I went to Dell Rhea's Chicken Basket on the old Route 66 in Willowbrook, Illinois. We got there at about 7:00 and were told that the wait was an hour. What were we to do? I drove about 45 minutes to get there and wasn't about to turn around and go home. I didn't know any other spot nearby so I was positively flummoxed as to what to do next. Then, just like a deus ex machina, I noticed that people at the bar were eating and there were spaces available.
"Can we eat at the bar?" I asked.
"Sure," said the owner.
"Can my son sit at the bar?"
"As long as he doesn't order a drink."
Why didn't you say so; I'm not even going to order a drink. So we bellied up and ordered their signature fried chicken baskets with french fries and home-made biscuits. Unfortunately, they were out of their macaroni and cheese that was featured so prominently on Triple D. It was all very delicious, though, and we even got to talk to some interesting people at the bar. I don't think my son realized that you could make casual conversation with strangers like that in a public place. But on the way home I realized that the broasted chicken behind my house was even better, a lot cheaper, and only a two minute walk. It's at a place in Glenview called Goode & Fresh Pizza Bakery and has been around since 1983. Pizza is obviously their specialty but I'd put their broasted chicken up against anyone's. I also went to a place in Morton Grove this weekend called Mr. Zee's on Dempster. The BBQ chicken was quite tasty and the rest of the menu looked good as well. I think Guy Fieri should pay a visit to both of these spots. Moral of the story? There's no reason to leave the northern suburbs of Chicago for good chicken.
Saturday, March 21, 2009
Could marijuana be the answer to the economic misery facing California? Democratic state assemblyman Tom Ammiano thinks so. Ammiano introduced legislation last month that would legalize pot and allow the state to regulate and tax its sale — a move that could mean billions of dollars for the cash-strapped state. Pot is, after all, California's biggest cash crop, responsible for $14 billion a year in sales, dwarfing the state's second largest agricultural commodity — milk and cream — which brings in $7.3 billion a year, according to the most recent USDA statistics. The state's tax collectors estimate the bill would bring in about $1.3 billion a year in much needed revenue, offsetting some of the billions of dollars in service cuts and spending reductions outlined in the recently approved state budget.
The article doesn't even mention the potential savings from the costly War on Drugs and the effect legalizing pot would have on crime. Have you noticed what drug lords are doing to Mexico? It's worse than Chicago during the Roaring Twenties. Let's put aside all the hysteria and have a grown-up discussion about drugs in this country. How can it be, for instance, that executives making over $250,000 working for firms that take TARP funds can be taxed at 90% while all those associated with the $14 billion marijuana industry in California pay nothing? And that's just California. Is it any wonder that one of Roosevelt's first orders of business in 1933 was the repeal of Prohibition? Has anyone ever said we should revisit that decision?
After singling them out in my blog Thursday I have to give props to Siena for knocking off No. 8 Ohio State in double overtime Friday night. The Saints will take on No. 1 Louisville on Sunday.
Western Kentucky upset my home state favorite, Illinois, on Thursday and will now play Bing Crosby's alma mater, Gonzaga. Another Big Ten team getting beat by a school I know nothing about! How can that be? So I did a little research on WKU. It's in the town of Bowling Green (why do so many colleges seem to be located in towns called Bowling Green? And where did they get that name from anyway?). The web site lists its leading alums. This ought to be good, I figured. Among them was Jim "Big Ick" Weaver, from the class of '28. Apparently he was the first Hilltopper to play professional sports. It doesn't say how he got that charming nickname and frankly I'm not sure I want to know. Just as I was moving into Full Smart Aleck Mode I noticed that Cordell Hull was an alum. He was secretary of state under FDR in the period leading up to and including the first few years of World War II. He also drew up the charter for the United Nations and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1945. I always figured he was a classmate of Roosevelt's from Groton or Harvard, especially with an aristocratic-sounding name like that. But Hull grew up in a log cabin in Tennessee and graduated from law school before he was 21! Donald Kendall is also an alum. I'd heard of him, too. He was chairman and CEO of PepsiCo when it became one of the 25 largest corporations in the U. S. He started out in sales and ended up marrying some European baroness. Cool! Duncan Hines also went to WKU. I trust his name rings a bell with most people. He got his start by including in Christmas cards a list of 167 outstanding restaurants. After popular demand, he turned his list into an annual edition. I guess that was his era's equivalent of a blog. The list goes on and on and made me wonder if Illinois had as many distinguished alums.
Finally, I noticed that the women begin their tournament today, also. And I have to ask, does anybody really care? Does anyone besides the players' parents watch these games? Does the tournament really merit coverage in the New York Times or is this just political correctness run amok? Couldn't the average boys high school team beat pretty much any of these teams? And speaking of PC, I think Don Imus did the Rutgers team a huge favor by making his comments a few years ago. It got him canned but got the Rutgers women's basketball team more publicity than did winning the tournament. Would anyone have known that they were the national champs otherwise? Reality check: who won last year's women's tournament? Don't know? Don't worry, nobody else does, either.
Friday, March 20, 2009
Face it folks, we're all guilty. We've all been living beyond our means since Ronald Reagan said we could have it all. No wonder he crushed Jimmy Carter. Americans hate limits; they love to hear that we can do anything we want. Cut taxes, raise spending, and balance the budget? No problem! John Anderson was right. How do you do that? It's easy; you do it with mirrors.
Thursday, March 19, 2009
Reminds me a little of the University of Nebraska. Before they shortened it to Huskers, the teams were known as the Cornhuskers. Maybe this didn't sound scary enough. I don't know; I don't care for either one of them. But I do know that they are both an improvement over their previous nickname, the Bugeaters. I'm serious; you can look it up. Oh, and before that they were known as the Old Gold Knights, the Antelopes, and the Rattlesnake Boys.
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
Sunday, March 15, 2009
The paragraphs are numbered, so let's take each one at a time. Number 1 includes the sentence, "Afraid we'll be asked that very uncomfortable question: 'Mom, Dad...did you do drugs?' " I have a better idea. Let's ask Mom and Dad if they currently use drugs, i. e. alcohol, and why.
Numbers 2 and 3 address the issue of honesty. They mention correctly that if parents aren't honest they might "risk losing credibility if their kids discover the real story from a talkative uncle at a family party." I'll go you one better. Be honest out of respect for yourself and your kids.
Number 4 includes the hysterical "no need to reveal you smoked marijuana 132 times!" How many people who smoked pot more than once or twice can tell you how many times they got high? Can you recount how many times you got drunk? What planet are these people living on?
Number 5 mentions that drugs are "expensive." So is golf! What does that have to do with anything? The only person that that's going to deter is me.
Numbers 6 through 9 talk about why you did drugs, what you've learned, how it was a mistake, and how dangerous drugs are. How about referring back to numbers 3 through 5 and being honest about your experiences. And maybe telling your kids that the subject is more nuanced than that. First of all, kids aren't stupid. They already know it's nuanced. So respect their intelligence and be honest. Some drug experiences are good, some are not so good. Going to a concert high can be great, driving home can be downright dangerous. Drinking beer until you puke is your business, drinking too much liquor too fast can cause liver failure and sudden death--it seems to happen at least once a year on some college campus. The important thing is to show concern for their safety. After all, these are your kids.
The last section, number 12, has probably the best sentence on the whole page. "So even if you're nervous, don't put off having the conversation." I agree. And while we're at it, let's talk about all the booze in the house and what that's all about. It could be constructive for Mom and Dad to talk about their pain, too.
Saturday, March 14, 2009
I watch CNBC more than most people (I hope) and I think for all its faults it's actually a good network with a lot of serious journalists who are interested in pursuing the truth. I also think that anyone who watches it as much I do should quickly realize that it's really infotainment. That is, aside from providing the viewer with the latest economic numbers, earnings releases, and other breaking news affecting the markets, it's a show meant to entertain as much as to inform. It reminds me a lot of the political shows I watch or the football pre-game shows my son watches. They are just for people who love the subject and can't get enough of it. But I wouldn't recommend you betting on the football teams these ex-coaches and players recommend any more than I would advise you to invest based on anything you've heard on CNBC. For another example, I watch more political shows than any normal person should and predicted that Mitt Romney and Hillary Clinton would get their parties' nominations in 2008. Morale of the story? Watching these shows doesn't make you any better at predicting the future. So take what you see and hear on CNBC with a large grain of salt.
On the show Jon Stewart made a number of assertions that need to be addressed. The first is that CNBC is "in bed with corporate America." This doesn't square with my experience. As I mentioned, the reporters on CNBC are serious journalists who are after the truth. They are also after a breaking story and would have no trouble reporting bad news. In fact, they would be thrilled because it would be a boost to their careers.
The second is that the reporters on CNBC should have "seen this coming." I don't think anyone saw this coming, except maybe Nouriel Roubini, and I've already voiced my skepticism about him. (Did he put his money where his mouth was? Was he short the last year or so? I wonder.) Jon Stewart ridiculed the notion that this was a "once-in-a-lifetime tsunami." But it was. Any year that the most successful investor in history, Warren Buffett, is down 60% is probably an anomaly. In fact, if you had told anyone the events of 2008 they would have found them hard to fathom: Bear Stearns and Merrill Lynch being sold at fire-sale prices; Lehman Brothers going out of business altogether; AIG, Citigroup, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Bank of America and others being bailed out by the federal government; and the stock market losing 50% of its value in a year. This was the equivalent of a "one hundred year flood."
Another assertion is that Wall Street somehow did all of this with our money and at our expense and got away with millions. Granted some, like Stan O'Neal at Merrill, presided over the demise of his firm and walked away with a fortune. But others, like James Cayne of Bear Stearns and Dick Fuld of Lehman, watched their wealth go down with their firms. Sandy Weill, who built Citigroup, is no longer a billionaire. "Cry me a river," you might say. But there is a lot of hurt on Wall Street as well as Main Street. And no one, least of all the money men, wanted the market to crash and the party to end.
Finally, Stewart claims that Wall Street is in conflict with the public. He shows clips of Cramer discussing ways of manipulating the markets to make his point. But this is a false choice. There are two tiers on Wall Street, but they don't necessarily operate at cross-purposes. There is the hot money crowd, the insiders, the dealers who compete with each other. This is who Cramer was referring to when he talked about spreading rumors or marking the futures down. The second tier is the public, who should be investing for the long-term like for their kids' college education or their retirement. The two should rarely intersect. If Cramer spreads a rumor about Apple or sells futures to protect his short position, this should only influence the market for a short time. He's trying to beat other hedge funds and fast money types, not you or me. The public, i.e. long-term investors, shouldn't even pay attention to these short-term gyrations in the market. They should have their eye on the big picture. And the big picture says that over the long haul equities should outperform all other investments. If you need your money in the near future you should have it in fixed-income securities or cash. Which brings up the subject of Stewart's 75-year old mother. Why is she watching Cramer and why is she still in the stock market at her age?
Friday, March 13, 2009
So Chicago's still a great city--very affordable and very livable. If only we could do something about these horrible winters! At least in Minneapolis they spin it with "I like the cold winters here; keeps the riff-raff out."
THE alligator crouched on a bank in the Okefenokee Swamp and leered its tight-toothed grin — a sphinx daring travelers to pass.
My canoe measured 17 feet, and this refugee from the Jurassic Age looked about half that size. Even so, it seemed that a flick of its thick tail, as jagged as a buzz saw, could send the boat (and its unnerved cargo) reeling. Instead of a thump or a bump, though, the alligator slipped indifferently away, nosing beneath the dark water, until just a few bubbles marked its passing.
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
Crude oil may have found a bottom. If so, this could be bullish for the stock market. Do you think we'll look back on these days and kick ourselves for not buying Citigroup at less than $2 a share?
And finally, let's stop pretending that Ann Coulter is good-looking. She's thin and has long blond hair but that's it.
I hate lemmings. Be an individual; be original. Think before using the latest "fad" word. You've heard of "noise pollution?" This is kind of like "conversation pollution."
Monday, March 9, 2009
And yet, I can't help remembering that this is the same guy that was responsible for the death of a young campaign worker, Mary Jo Kopechne. The same guy that has never paid a price for that. Can you imagine getting away with what he did? "But it cost him the presidency!" Kennedy admirers would say. Boo-hoo! It should have cost him at least his senate seat and his career. Anyone else would have done jail time.
Sunday, March 8, 2009
Saturday, March 7, 2009
No, I wouldn't ask Jindal about The Speech. Nor would I ask him about his teenage conversion to Catholicism (kind of like volunteering to be drafted by the Detroit Lions) or the exorcism he apparently participated in at Brown. (Jindal is not a Jesuit or even a lowly diocesan priest; Bill Maher said that it must have been like a citizen's arrest or something.) I would be tempted, but wouldn't ask, how a biology major who turned down medical and law schools at both Harvard and Yale could support the teaching of intelligent design in public schools. No, and I wouldn't even think of asking him why he signed the Sex Offender Chemical Castration Bill authorizing chemical castration of those convicted of certain sex offenses. I don't even know what "chemical" castration is and I'm sure not in any hurry to find out. Sounds like something out of a Quentin Tarantino movie.
No, what really interests me is why he chose to call himself "Bobby." You've probably heard the story. He got it from the youngest brother on the "Brady Bunch." But why Bobby? Why not Greg, or at least Peter? (Barry Williams, who played Greg, came down to the Merc floor once. Way cooler than Colin Powell, George H. W. Bush, or anyone else for that matter.) He could have picked Mike, the father's name. Or even Sam, Alice the housekeeper's butcher boyfriend. But Bobby? Why name yourself after that little twerp? Forget the rest of it; that alone should be enough to disqualify Jindal for higher office.
Friday, March 6, 2009
If the economy does recover, however, they're in for trouble. The Republicans are already the party of Southern, white, Christian males--not exactly a growing demographic. But, hey, unless you have a better answer I'd say it's your best bet.
If you ask me, the reason the stock market has been breaking is that the economic fundamentals are horrible. Housing has yet to find a bottom since the bubble burst, several major banks are essentially insolvent, and companies have shed almost 2 million jobs in just the last three months. How could this possibly be Obama's fault? This crisis was years in the making. I wouldn't even blame Bush and I think he was one of the worst presidents in the modern era. Could Obama's critics be just a little biased? Here's how you can tell: if the economy recovers at all in the next four years take note of how many of these ideologues give Obama any credit. Can you imagine seeing a story in the Journal about the "Obama Recovery?" I can almost guarantee that you never will.
Tuesday, March 3, 2009
Monday, March 2, 2009
And yet, when I think of the three largest budget deficits in U. S. history (World War II, the Reagan years, and the Bush years) none of those fears came to pass. In each, interest rates and inflation remained well under control. So I'm a little skeptical when I hear people talking about the inflation that is sure to follow the Obama deficits. Besides, in a world where everyone is enacting stimulus packages the dollar shouldn't lose its relative value. If anything, I think the dollar will continue to strengthen as it is seen more and more as the world's reserve currency. To put it politically incorrectly, the dollar is the world's tallest midget and should continue to be. After all, where would you rather put your money, Russia or the U. S.? Based on what we've seen in the past, the Obama deficits should not result in inflation or higher interest rates.
Now this isn't to say that deficits don't matter. At some point they surely must, but I don't think we've ever seen that point and I can't imagine what it must be.