Saturday, March 28, 2009

Five Dollar foot-long

1) The grocery bill was way higher than $5.*
2) It's not even a foot long.
3) Prep and clean-up took way longer than a trip to the Subway.
4) It wasn't as good as a Subway.*

*if I prepared such a sandwich everyday I could bring down the unit cost and improve quality. But that would be such a boring diet for every day.

Next time I'll just buy one.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

The Firestorm has just begun (h/t Paul Kedrosky)

The importance of this Rolling Stone piece is not so much what it says (thought it says a lot), and not how breathlessly it's said, but the fact that it exists at all where it does and the traction it will get among its readership. This will in turn will inspire more pieces like it and re-awaken the msm to the fact that their only salvation is to draw blood.

Every dying magazine out there will heave a hail Mary pass like this one, but they will get ever-more desperate for a kill and each in its turn will scatter the body-parts further onto the landscape. These pieces will then awaken recriminations and backbiting in Congress whose angry constituencies will be waving a Rolling Stone in one hand and a pitchfork in the other. The appetite for this kind of journalism on this subject is insatiable, people want to know where their money went. This firestorm has only just begun--and THAT's the story here.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Who stole my lunch?

Until very recently the counterparties to the AIG CDS's that were settled with the bailout money were kept a secret. The first person to call attention to this publicly was Paul Krugman and shortly after he did so we learned who those counter parties were. Or did we? The AIG bonus thing was not a secret before this week, it simply came to our attention recently. Complexity and jargon pick up where secrecy leaves off.

This thing in its fullness has not yet hit that famous fan. How will our government behave when at least two of the three branches are completely covered with the digested waste of Goldman Sachs et al and the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act?

They will try to protect each other for as long as they can, but the truth will prevail and it won't be pretty. This is a LOT bigger than Watergate.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Pollyanna's Puzzle

This post is a rewrite and expansion of a comment I left on Paul Kedrosky's Blog.

CNBC faces a conundrum and an impossible task; bearish news drives away advertisers. No where on the front page of their website is there the slightest indication that there may be another shock and another leg down in the market. So are they grasping at straws or is luck with them this time? I'm sure that buried somewhere in the articles they've hedged their bets and have warned that this may not be over.

I myself have been decrying the lack of confidence in the messages from the White House and Treasury, a bearish message from there is a self-fulfilling prophesy... So what's a cheerleader to do?

Friday, March 13, 2009

The Stewart-Cramer Thing

This post is a compilation/digest of several comments I left on Paul Kedrosky's Blog.

I watched Cramer's Mad Money Show daily for over a year around 2006 and have read two of his books. I have had mixed results with his picks but I also did learn much. Jon Stewart needs to continue throwing pies at CNBC. They are less culpable than many but did not do enough to expose sleazy Wall St. practices and were indeed occasionally (isolated, and by individuals) in bed with the enemies of "truth, justice and the American way". Cramer in particular I think plays both sides of the street and knows more dirt than he will admit. I do think he is honest and will do the right thing in the end.

CNBC bills itself as financial news and opinion and sometimes they do that very well. And occasionally they are a forum for the worst kind of hucksters, they probably would have booked Bernie Madoff as a talking head before his arrest if he were available.

Just because others were guilty doesn't mean that CNBC shouldn't be held to high journalistic standards. Yes, I think it was their job to get to the bottom of this scandal before the others, that's their duty and if they didn't do it they need to be held to account.

I have watched a *lot* of CNBC at all hours and have read books by the personalities that appear there and I do like them. I have affection for them because I spend a lot of time with them and most are likable people. And so I have a responsibility to them to offer my constructive criticism when that opportunity arrives.

I also want to thank the people at CNBC for the fine work that they do, I know that just like the rest of us they strive to improve.

(later) I just watched a segment on PBS's News Hour about the Stewart/Cramer thing, and the point was rightly made there that many stories about the coming disaster were published or broadcast by many media outlets and they were dismissed and ridiculed. Cramer himself very famously ranted and later advised people to get out of the market. Unfortunately journalists were as conflicted as the rest of us about this and mixed messages were sent. Those who doggedly pursued a bearish line were dismissed as cranks.

Journalism's mission is to tell us what has happened, not to predict the future. But most people seek investment advice specifically because they are concerned about the future and so investment shows that are not just infomercials should take a greater responsibility.

Cramer, I think is honest but is also a charming scamp, and that is much of his appeal as host of his show. All of us are chastened by our experiences of the past year but those who give advice certainly have greater reason for introspection.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Where is Twitter Going?

Twitter's versatility is amazing and that's why so many people are using it and why it has reached a tipping point where everyone will have to at least have tried it and have an account. Where it really shines is during a national or global event when you really want to connect with all those people you've come to know on Twitter.

Different users use Twitter differently, yet it seems to work for most. Sometimes I feel like I'm evesdropping on an IM comversation, other times I feel like it's a chatroom and then it becomes a newsfeed or a series of blog posts. And there are many functions I haven't touched upon...

The search feature will certainly develop more capabilities so once the index becomes large enough it will be a powerful search engine that can rival Google in many (but not all) circumstances. I've just tried to elaborate on that and have realized that it's an area of prognostication too complex to even begin.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

The Cobwebs of Academia

Ivory Tower Unswayed by Crashing Economy

“before we’re certain of what the answer is, we’re unlikely to think in terms of changing the curriculum,” Mr. Reny added. “That’s very serious. The responsible thing to do is wait until we have some understanding of what went on here. ”
This is very interesting. I'm curious to know what the first day's lecture will be. "ummm... we'll be teaching last year's curriculum, but as I'm sure you know everything is different now."

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Cramer responds to the White House

I am not a Cramer fan but I absolutly must be on his side in his fight with the White House. I voted for Obama and Cramer says he did too. I did have some fears that Obama's economic policies would be bad for us, and I was sure right about that.

We had a banking crisis coming into this regime, but now every area is in crisis. Each day is worse than the previous one for this miserable economy and while Obama's champions cite the stimulus plan, it's really just a hodgepodge of old Democratic pork and will not create nearly as many manufacturing or service jobs as we hoped. China's stimulus plan is the model; ours is the parody.

The whole article is here.

I voted for Obama knowing full well that his policies would create a lot of poor people for him to help and I positioned myself accordingly. Cramer on the other hand voted for Obama trusting that the Mad Money audience would be helped. What a gigantic bait and switch, ya think?

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Trouble with Economic Models.

This was a problem first recorded by Aristotle: A category becoming a member of itself. In this case the category is a model of the economy or some part of the economy.

To what extent do economists climb inside their own models and contaminate their results? A social science equivalent of the uncertainty principle, examining the model changes it. But more prosaic since the disturbance may consist of some human being trying to use the model to game the system. The thought can't be original with me and my formal training consists of the three typical undergrad courses--macro, micro, and stats--so I'm definitely in way over my head but I do find this fascinating.

As soon as a functioning economic model escapes the laboratory it affects behavior in the real world and once a model is within itself it needs modification beyond the capabilities of its maker.