Monday, March 30, 2009

Let Us Now Praise Famous Men - Matt Harding...

Rough Fractals has posted about Matt Harding before. Here is his latest - a talk for "This I Believe" on National Public Radio. Below is the transcript and below that The Famous Video which I have not yet tired of watching - a friend suggested focusing on some of the other dancers - pick someone out - there are some real characters in the groups. There is something awfully nice about this guy.

Contributor: Matt Harding
Location: Seattle, WA
Country: United States of America

Connecting to a Global Tribe

As heard on NPR's Weekend Edition Sunday, March 29, 2009.

I believe globalization is forcing our brains to evolve.

I've had the privilege to see a lot more of the world than anyone my age could reasonably hope to. A few years ago, on a backpacking trip, I made a video of myself dancing terribly in exotic locations. I put it on my web site. Some friends started passing it around, and soon millions of people had watched it. I was offered sponsorship to continue my accidental vocation, and since then I've made two more videos that include 70 countries on all seven continents. A lot of people wanted to dance along with me, so I started inviting them to join in everywhere I went, from Toronto to Tokyo to Timbuktu.

Here's what I can report back: People want to feel connected to each other. They want to be heard and seen, and they're curious to hear and see others from places far away. I share that impulse. It's part of what drives me to travel. But it's constantly at odds with another impulse, which is to reduce and contain my exposure to a world that's way too big for me to comprehend.

My brain was designed to inhabit a fairly small social network of maybe a few dozen other primates—a tribe. Beyond that size, I start to get overwhelmed.

And yet here I am in a world of over six billion people, all of whom are now inextricably linked together. I don't need to travel to influence lives on the other side of the globe. All I have to do is buy a cup of coffee or a tank of gas. My tribe has grown into a single, impossibly vast social network, whether I like it or not. The problem, I believe, isn't that the world has changed, it's that my primitive caveman brain hasn't.

I am fantastic at seeing differences. Everybody is. I can quickly pick out those who look or behave differently, and unless I actively override the tendency, I will perceive them as a threat. That instinct may have once been useful for my tribe but when I travel, it’s a liability.

When I dance with people, I see them smile and laugh and act ridiculous. It makes those differences seem smaller. The world seems simpler, and my caveman brain finds that comforting.

I believe my children will have brains ever so slightly better suited to the vast complexity that surrounds us. They will be more curious, more eager to absorb and to connect.

And I believe when they look into eyes of strangers, what they will see before the differences are the things that are the same.

Matt Harding’s videos of himself dancing in locales around the world have drawn more than 20 million viewings on YouTube. He is working on a book about his travels titled “Where the Hell Is Matt.” Harding lives in Seattle with his girlfriend and dog.


Economic policy debate as I read it:

1. Obama administration. Geitner, Obama, Summers, seem to be saying that we need to re-capitalize and restore the existing banking and investing system by writing off the bad bets on mortgage backed securities and all the other "toxic" losses coming out of the era of credit default swaps, but with better regulation. This is the do-over approach. We screwed up the last 15 years or so, completely intertwined banking, investment banking, insurance, real estate, and leveraged the system into total collapse. All we need is to re fund it, be more diligent and less greedy, and we can move on. At the same time, we need to grease the wheels by stimulating the economy with massive spending.

2. Republican Response: The Republican response seems to be that we don't need to stimulate the economy with spending, and we don't need to bail out anybody. If we give corporations and rich people tax cuts they will be so happy, they will create jobs, and spend us back to prosperity. It is not very technical, but it is simple.

3. Krugman: Krugman, representing the “left” or statist critique of Obama, seems to be saying that we need a much bigger program of spending and, at the same time we need to nationalize the banks. If we are going to try to federally intervene on this scale to re-start the economy, let's do it without the bankers and investment companies that got us here. Let's just do it as a public enterprise.

Is there another way? Can any massive intervention work without major unforeseen side effects?

Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Fractal Universe - The Colors Of Infinity (lecture # 1)

Some readers have noted that changing the name Rough Fractals to Oracle On The Hudson and back again is a kind of fractal pattern in itself - a kind of spiral growth pattern: no name becomes name 1 which becomes name 2 which becomes name 1 (NB in mathematics, the Fibonacci numbers are the following sequence of numbers: The first two Fibonacci numbers are 0 and 1, and each remaining number is the sum of the previous two thus:1+1 =2 / 1+2 +3 / 2+3 = 5/ 3+5 = 8 / 5+8 = 13 and so on and so on... 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34. One of the many remarkable aspects of this mathematical fractal is how common it is in nature, from the human body to snowflakes and even (some suggest) the stock market (as a kind of collective indicator of economic growth). Even bunny rabbits reproduce along a Fibonacci pattern (start with 2 bunnies and given food and shelter you can predict how many bunnies you will have in say, six months with amazing accuracy).

Below is the first in a series of Lectures on Fractals presented here at

(This first lecture is a little slow in parts but introduces a lot of amazing and important concepts that, in true fractal fashion, will be revisted again as the lectures progress...)

Saturday, March 28, 2009

The Way My Mother Was When She was Young...

I stumbled upon the below passage which I found at I was about to stop reading it after a few sentences but for some reason kept going. Maybe its just me but I think it's brilliant.

"I didn’t know what I wanted from life, but I often thought that I did. I wanted to read books all day. I wanted to knit a sweater. I wanted to live in the middle of nowhere, just me and the birds and my love. I wanted to fly. I wanted to be a porpoise, or a shark. I wanted to get lost (and be lost) in a city and I got that particular wish. I wanted to be brilliant. I wanted to be a published author—I still want this. I wanted to be an artist, and still do, but it’s unclear for the moment what I might make (what mightn’t I make?). I wanted to teach. I wanted to take photographs and give them too. I wanted to have babies. I wanted to die young. I wanted to be buried in the sweater that I wanted to knit.

I wanted to live in Japan, solve land use quandaries by day and walk home down quiet streets to my cubbyhole apartment by night. I wanted to ride my bike all over the city (which city? Any one will do.). I wanted this print and that one and that drawing I saw the other day to hang on my wall and remind me of what I could be doing but am not (are my reasons good? When will I know?). I wanted a cat. I wanted to make a quilt, and my own clothes, and a kitchen table. I wanted to be a girl with a clean apartment. I wanted to work in television. I wanted to be on Oprah, and Martha Stewart, and The Daily Show, before such a thing ever existed. I wanted to be famous, and look warily into the camera. I wanted to be a pretty, pretty princess. I wanted a magic carpet and a monkey and a dark and dangerous past.

I wanted to be black. I wanted to be petite. I wanted to be a boy. I wanted to be thinner than I am, and fast, and able to leap tall buildings at a single bound. I wanted to be the best 400 runner Maryland has ever seen. I wanted to hurdle. I wanted to do a lot of drugs. I wanted to live in San Francisco in the 60s, before that wave ever broke and rolled back. I wanted one night stands and terrible dates and to sleep with girls. I wanted to believe I was gay, and then I wanted to believe I wasn’t. I wanted a mimosa. I wanted to know about coffee, and beer, and chocolate. I wanted to like red wine, and not just sangria. I wanted to bake and tattoo B A K E R on the knuckles of my right hand. I wanted the left hand to read C R A F T. I wanted to be someone’s muse. I wanted a muse of my own. I wanted the boys I thought I loved to love me back, or at least to think they did. I wanted the girls I thought I loved to love me back too. I wanted to be a good storyteller.

I wanted to take art class seriously. I wanted to love school, or to think so little of it that I couldn’t muster hatred. I wanted to get married. I wanted a scooter and the lifestyle that goes with it. I wanted to have parties, lots and lots of parties. I wanted to be pretty, then I wanted to be plain, then I wanted to be beautiful. I wanted to wake up on a beach in Hawaii with my love curled sleeping by my side, a warm breeze off the water and the sun about to come up (is this meteorologically and geographically possible?). I wanted to be efficient and skilled and responsible and organized. I wanted to be a personality with a letter and a type.

I wanted to sing in a band but I would have settled for tambourine. I wanted to climb mountain after mountain. I wanted to be photogenic, to have nice teeth and a warm, natural smile. I wanted to part my hair so it fell alluringly across my cheek. I wanted a better nose. I wanted to be another mystery, to keep men at a distance, to keep them guessing. I wanted to be a child, bored on a Sunday in October. I wanted to farm. I wanted to punch Scarlett O’Hara and tell her, “Your curtain dress is ugly.” I wanted to turn Japanese. I wanted to be so good at ultimate people would describe me as “dangerous.” I wanted to be a landscape architect, then I didn’t. I wanted to do 500 pushups in a night like John Baldwin. I wanted to get along with everyone’s parents. I wanted to hate the people I loved, and that at least kind of worked out. I wanted to be a vegetarian, then a vegan, then an out-and-out carnivore. I wanted to be in therapy, in case it helped me become someone I was not. I wanted to disappear. I wanted to put my finger down my throat and throw up lunch. I wanted red hair.

I wanted a mentor and got several (though their motives were primarily ulterior). I wanted to make people laugh. I wanted to say whatever I thought and have it be ok, and it was, until it wasn’t. I wanted Bill Watterson to go back in time and give the speech at my graduation. I wanted not to cry at graduation, even though Corrie was leaving for Alaska that very minute and I knew I wasn’t going to see her again for a very long time. I wanted to be a good daughter. I wanted to be a good friend. I wanted another cup of coffee and to feel less jittery. I wanted to clear the cobwebs from my head. I wanted dreadlocks. I wanted to feel breezes and leaves on my shaved head. I wanted to stop shaving my legs. I wanted to hide my legs in boots for a winter. I wanted to be better than everyone but settled for just acting like it because the people I knew were too good at whatever it was they did or were. I wanted ex sex and to be remembered fondly. I wanted to lose my virginity to less of a loser. I wanted to feel like less of a loser. I wanted my face to hide my thoughts, not broadcast them.

I wanted to continue to be The Sultry One. I wanted to make mean food, as in, “I make a mean chile con carne.” I wanted to make breakfast for people. I wanted to be allowed in the kitchen. I wanted to be awake and outside before everyone else but the guys coming off of the night shift, to speed through the crisp grey light exulting at my freedom and the newness of the day. I wanted someone to watch over me while I slept, his eyes and heart full of love. I wanted to read comic books. I wanted to go to shows and scream and throw underwear on the stage, or maybe water balloons and sheep, none of which would go over well in any venue I can think of. I wanted to go to Burning Man confident that it would not depress me. I wanted to grow my hair so long I could sit on it. I wanted to be popular, the way my mother was when she was young. I wanted to be like my mother, in so many ways and for so many reasons, but was always disappointed to discover that I was more like my father. I wanted my brother to leave me alone, and I wanted him to like me. I wanted to be the center of attention. I wanted sympathy and admiration. I wanted not to hate myself for wanting things so badly. I wanted to cut in line at the post office.

I wanted mail every day. I wanted a bookshelf the size of Manhattan. I wanted to be loved, like the Muppets. I wanted people to describe me as “laid back,” never mind that it sounded like a euphemism for “high all the time” or “lazy.” I wanted to play in the ball pit without worrying that I was too old or that some other kid had pooped in it. I wanted so badly not to resent my brother for using a battery-operated toothbrush, but couldn’t help myself because that was the year I hated everything he did without hating him. I wanted to Bat Mitzvah-ed. I wanted my feet not to turn black from wearing flip-flops. I wanted to stop wearing shoes for a year in high school and was overjoyed to discover that this was de rigeur in college. I wanted to like college. I wanted to sleep with a grad student and to pick his brains of architectural lore. I wanted to be in the first quintile but was relieved to be in the third. I wanted not to think people are stupid when their English isn’t so good. I wanted paper dolls. I wanted a longer attention span. I wanted jury duty and I wanted to be the eighth juror.

I wanted to experience tragedy until I realized how tragic it actually was. I wanted Greek plays to thrill me (only The Bacchae complied with this wish). I wanted to be an unsung hero. I wanted to be a wolf and have a long and terrible face and howl at the moon. I wanted a helicopter ride. I wanted to have a problem with authority. I wanted to swim across a near-frozen river on the back of a bull reindeer. I wanted to think I invented sarcasm. I wanted to be a gospel choir. I wanted a beautiful yellow dress and a bunch of yellow roses. I wanted to love flowers more than I did. I wanted to maximize my potential. I wanted praise. I wanted people to stop looking at me. I wanted to work hard and breathe easy. I wanted more late nights and early mornings. I wanted to ride rollercoasters and scream for more. I wanted to stalk a whirling dervish. I wanted a Winnebago so I could say the name over and over under my breath like an invocation. I wanted to climb the Big Rock Candy Mountain. I wanted to be a Sioux warrior. I wanted to live abroad. I wanted to learn my limits.

I wanted to embrace strangeness. I wanted stories to tell of my colorful past. I wanted to shoot the sheriff (that bastard). I wanted to wait until I wanted to stop waiting. I wanted to make my own decisions and stand by them. I wanted to do a headstand. I wanted to see the Invisible Cities all around me. I wanted to know the truth. I wanted to focus on the small things but after a while it seemed so… small. I wanted to love my family the way they should be loved. I wanted to take David Byrne to the river and drop him in the water. I wanted to study about that good old way. I wanted to wear the starry crown. I wanted to sing for joy. I wanted to bide my time until my time finally came."

Friday, March 27, 2009

Blog Bail-Out

Earlier today we received the following letter from Timothy Geithner, Secretary of The Treasury:

Dear Oracle On The Hudson (formerly known as Rough Fractals):

It has come to my attention that you recently changed the name of your blog. We understand that while this was not necessarily your doing and that you have been doing your best to implement this change, it simply does not sit well with the blogging public. The President has said to me that this name change, in his words, "defies common sense" and he has asked me to look into every legal remedy available to us to claw back your former name.

Accordingly, I must ask you to change the name of your blog back to Rough Fractals and I hope that you will do so by 5:00 PM Monday. You should also know that Andrew Cuomo has informed us that if you do not change the name he will release your home address to the public as soon as he has completed a security check.

In addition, Congress has begun hearings into the matter of your name change. Chuck Schummer, senior Senator from New York, has stated that "if you do not change the name back, we will change it back for you". I do recognize that under the First Amendment of the Constitution you might view your choice of name as a matter of free speech. However, a number of Congressmen have drafted a bill that they believe passes constitutional muster. That bill will retroactively apply a 90% restriction to the free speech rights of Rough Fractals.

One last thing, the name "Oracle on The Hudson" makes you sound like a nut.

Very truly yours,

Timothy Geithner
Secretary of The Treasury

We have replied to the Secretary as follows:

Dear Secretary Geithner:

We are proud of everything we have done for this blog - we were in no way involved in — or responsible for — the name change of Rough Fractals to Oracle On The Hudson.

You and I have never met or spoken to each other, so I’d like to tell you about myself. I was raised by bloggers. My hard work earned me acceptance to Blog U. which generous financial aid enabled me to attend. I had fulfilled the Bloggers Dream.

I and many others at Rough Fractals feel betrayed that no one has stood up for us in the face of untrue and unfair accusations from certain members of Congress and from the press over our name change while we have continued to post on our blog 10, 12, and 14 hour days.

So what are we to do? There’s no easy answer. That is why we have decided to donate 100 percent of the effective after-tax proceeds of any google ad sense revenue generated by Rough Fractals (approx. $1.46) directly to organizations that are helping so many struggling bloggers from the pressing issues bloggers face in these difficult times. Once all the money is donated, you will immediately receive a list of all recipients.

This choice is right for Rough Fractals. We wish other bloggers luck finding peace with their difficult naming decisions.


Rough Fractals

EGG vs. WALL...


a loyal reader wrote:

Dear Oracle, why would you defend and support the egg against the wall, if the wall were Just and Good, and the egg a despicable crook or murdering egg? This defense of the "weak" leads to patronizing policies that hurt everyone, especially the eggs.

Dear Loyal Reader,

Haruki Murakami who made the above quoted statement when he received the Jerusalem Prize for the Freedom of the Individual in Society could have easily omitted the phrase "no matter how right the wall or wrong the Egg". So why did Mr. Hurakami include it?

Here is what he said:

"Why? Because each of us is an egg, a unique soul enclosed in a fragile egg. Each of us is confronting a high wall. The high wall is the system which forces us to do the things we would not ordinarily see fit to do as individuals."

Mr. Murakami went on to say:

"I have only one purpose in writing novels, that is to draw out the unique divinity of the individual. To gratify uniqueness. To keep the system from tangling us. So - I write stories of life, love. Make people laugh and cry."

Or as the Oracle might say: Uova Ergo Sum - I am an egg therefore I am.

The Oracle very much appreciates your question and considers it to be a very central question and may even put its finger on the fulcrum that divides so much of discourse, political, ethical and otherwise.

The Oracle also wonders if whether when a high and hard wall is Just and Good its not a wall - it's an egg.

Hat tip to Ben Casnocha at who brought Haruka Murakami to the Oracle's attention and to another reader who pointed out that Mura means wall in Italian.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

What's In A Name...

You will note that Rough Fractals has changed its name and its description. Our new name, Oracle On The Hudson, reflects our aspiration and our geography. Our new description reflects our affection.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Fatal Flaw In The System

I may have to move to an isolated island somewhere - I cannot stand even thinking about politics and politicians anymore. The fact that Cuomo would use the threat of releasing the names of the AIG bonus recipients as a way to pressure them to return the money is repulsive to me. It is using the coercive power of the state to accomplish his desired end (exactly apposite to the very core of the Constitution which, at its heart, is built on due process). The fact that no one - not senators, not congressmen, not the President, not even opinion makers has stood up loudly against Cuomo's' threats is really troubling to me. Those bonuses may have been wrong (I personally doubt it - I think they were needed to keep people working there most of whom were not the cause of the problems at all) but no one decided to actually look into the facts - I guess facts don't matter when the mob rules. No one - not left or right -has seen this debacle for what it is: evidence of how petty and small minded human beings are - especially human beings in positions of power. We the people are eggs smashing against the brick wall of our politicians' exercise of their authority. I do believe in our system but have realized it has one fatal flaw that it cannot overcome - it is run by humans beings.

Monday, March 23, 2009

The G-Man Plan

The Policy Review Committee of Rough Fractals is somewhat split on the state of the world (if you are not confused about what is going on in the world then you have a screw loose) but I think we can say that we basically like the Geithner plan because it is elegant and probably works and is politically more palatable and probably more workable than any other. We just think that the hedge funds and private equity firms are probably getting too good a deal - why only 3% down payments at risk? Everyone says that players need to have skin in the game - at 3% there is no skin.

I also like it because it really starts to address mark to market (not completely but a good start) and mark to market was the single dumbest stroke of bad legislation to come down the pike in a long time - only thing dumber is the AIG bonus tax.

By the way if you chart the dow you will see that it was at a high the day before mark to market became law (October 2007) and has declined ever since (until maybe now) interestingly just as mark to market is being undone.

Someone should write a book on it. Why did we enact mark to market? Who backed it, who opposed it? What were the politics and did it have the impact I think it has on the current economic mess.

Think about this - there have been very few real defaults - so how come the whole economy tanked because of AIG credit default swaps that only pay when there is an actual default? CDF's do not pay just because a mortgage is underwater - they only pay when there is a foreclosure. There have been a lot of foreclosures but nothing corresponding to the trillions of losses across the whole world.

The one thing that has caused trillions of recognized losses on balance sheets - mark to market. Because all the credit defaults have been marked to zero - because no one will buy them (that is why they are called toxic). Now they will be bought by hedge funds and private equity because the risk is only 3% on the downside and the upside is huge - unless you think every house in the country is going to default.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

bashing Obama

Let's all bury Obama. He has been president for almost two months. He is obviously incompetent. Maybe impeachment is in order. Let me ask all the geniuses, Krugman, Dowd, the GOP, and all the fiery populists, what should he do? Nationalize the banks? Let them fail? Cap all financial worker salaries? Set up a Soviet State? Pray that if he does not save the banks, we have an economy at all? Come on all you geniuses, you be president now and come up with your perfect plan for this fiasco.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

unleashing anger

Political anger fed by a rabid press can have dire consequences, much graver than the scope of the instigating event. Those of us who have studied any history know that there is no safety net when it comes to mob mentality. We move forward, hoping that we have passed out of danger, that the threat of Fascism has passed, or that a great depression has been systematically prevented. But as we survey the landscape, and hear talk of trillions of dollars of toxic assets, see the rising anger and the demand for retribution, however emotionally justified, we can see echoes of past dark ages. Let's hope there is a light at the end of this tunnel.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Flux-Ridden...

"Have a father whose own father lost what was there. Have a father who lived up to his own promise and then found thing after thing to meet and surpass the expectations of his promise in, and didn't seem just a whole hell of a lot happier or tighter wrapped than his own failed father, leaving you yourself in a kind of feral and flux-ridden state with respect to talent."

-- David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest.

long view

Daily, election style coverage of politics in the US is a destructive and distracting diversion from thoughtful and necessary analysis of what the hell is going on. Who cares if Obama is up or down, or is using up political capital? He is going to be president for a while, and as we have seen, we have no idea where we will be in six months, let alone come next election. The issue for this country is how can the administration have a positive, restorative impact on a reeling economy. The issue that is covered is how this effort is playing, not how effective it is. One thing I trust about Barack Obama and his core team is that they have a long view. I think they know that daily shifts in popularity are irrelevant. Obama will be completely on the hook for the direction of the country in a few months, and I think he is prepared for that. If he cannot have a positive impact on this economy, if it is beyond help, or if his prescription for help fails, he will become less popular. If he can move us beyond a downward cycle, into a recovery, he will remain popular. If there are international events that he manages well, or unites the country behind, he stays in office. If he is overwhelmed by some crisis and is incapable of managing it, he will be vulnerable. But these are circumstances that will take months and years to develop.

Ignore daily analysis of popularity; of political capital; of who is up and who is down; it makes no difference. Where we are going, and how this president can shape that journey will take a long time to develop.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

AIG Bonuses

ROUGH FRACTALS does not often post in reaction to the specific day's news but the justification we heard today for the latest AIG bonuses to AIG Financial Products employees is just plain wrong. The rationale - that if these bonuses are not paid the employees will leave the company. Hello? - anyone still at AIG who is any good (and can get a job elsewhere) is going to leave as soon as they get these bonus checks. Why would anyone who is good (and can get a job at a live company) stay at a dead company except in order to collect these checks? So either way - the good people are leaving.

Why not put these bonuses into accounts that will be paid out at up to 150% of their face amount if certain benchmarks are met and the employees stay for say, 3 years? If they are fired or let go before the 3 year retention period has expired then they get paid what they would have gotten. If they leave of their own accord before the 3 year retention period they forfeit the bonus. That provides incentive, benchmarks and retention. Paying them now will not enhance retention it will simply accelerate the process of the talented rats leaving a sinking ship.

Alternatively, the bonus money could be used to hire new people who have lost jobs and would gladly work hard -like any number of the 50,000 recently laid off financial services workers or retired men and women with financial backgrounds who now need work because of losses in their retirement accounts.

Another red herring is the contract argument. Any law suits that might be brought on contact claims could be settled for a fraction of the face amount of the bonuses and, if done right, suits will be avoided because most people will sign up for the 3 year plan and sign releases.

Andy Borowitz of The Borowtiz Report got it right:

"MARCH 15, 2009
In New Terror Video, AIG Demands Huge Ransom from U.S.
Shadowy Group Seeks Bonuses, Golf Retreats

American intelligence experts are analyzing a new terror video from the American International Group (AIG) in which the leader of the shadowy organization demands billions of dollars from the United States.

In the four-minute tape, which surfaced over the weekend and caused deep concern among U.S. officials, a man believed to be the chairman of AIG says that if his organization is not paid its ransom, "chaos and destruction will rain down on the American economy."

"If we are not paid billions more in bonuses and corporate golf retreats, America will be made to suffer," the man threatens.

Intelligence analysts said that the man, AIG chairman Edward M. Liddy, appears to be speaking at a luxury beach resort that offers few clues as to his exact location, although there is "good intelligence" pointing to the Ritz Carlton in the Cayman Islands.

"We have some reason to believe that he and other AIG executives are there, based on a series of intercepted room service orders from the all-day dining menu," one analyst said.

Reacting to the video, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano raised the nation's terror alert level to orange, meaning "taxpayers are about to get reamed again."

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner also released a response to AIG's latest demands, but intelligence experts said they would need several weeks to decipher Mr. Geithner's response."

Photographs Of The Day...

hat tip to Neatorama and Mental Floss.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Inner Life of the Cell

Germain's recent post on the flu reminded me of a video I watched in Cell and Molecular Biology my sophomore year at Bates. This video was made at Harvard university:

While the colors are added for drama, the organization of the cell and the structures are based on actual models. (The full video from Harvard is 8 minutes and narrated, but I posted this version because I think the music is great).

It was only 50 years ago that Watson and Crick discovered that the structure of DNA is a double helix. It is amazing how far we have come since then. We sometimes take for granted that all of the mechanisms depicted in this video work. However, having studied our molecular mechanisms for the past four years at school, it is truly unbelievable that everything that must happen for us to survive happens so consistently.

One Page At A Time...

A friend recently wrote to me that someone he knew told him that "writing has a positive effect independent of the content, so just the act of writing is healthy."

I think he is onto something and it brings to mind (in some round about, not sure why way) the list of things one learns in drug rehab (and by writing?) that David Foster Wallace wrote that I have copied below.

Or, as Anonymous Yoda might say, "One page at a time, positive and healthy, it is."

"That certain persons simply will not like you no matter what you do. Then that most non-addicted adult civilians have already absorbed and accepted this fact, often rather early on.

That no matter how smart you thought you were, you are actually way less smart than that.

That sleeping can be a form of emotional escape and can with sustained effort be abused.

That you do not have to like a person in order to learn from him/her/it.

That loneliness is not a function of solitude.

That cliquey alliance and exclusion and gossip can be forms of escape.

That there is such a thing as raw, unalloyed, agenda-less kindness.

That 99% of compulsive thinkers' thinking is about themselves. That most Substance-addicted people are also addicted to thinking, meaning they have a compulsive and unhealthy relationship with their own thinking.

That it takes great personal courage to let yourself appear weak.

That you don't have to hit somebody even if you really really want to.

That having sex with someone you do not care for feels lonelier than not having sex in the first place, afterward.

That, perversely, it is often more fun to want something than to have it.

That if you do something nice for somebody in secret, anonymously, without letting the person you did it for know it was you or anybody else know what it was you did or in any way shape or form trying to get credit for it, it's almost its own form of intoxicating buzz.

That everybody is identical in their secret unspoken belief that way deep down they are different from everyone else.

That AA and NA does not apparently require that you believe in Him/Her/It before He/She/It will help you.

That sometimes human beings have to just sit in one place and, like, hurt."

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

ideology and crisis

The current economic crisis, coming, as it does, at the end of the dogmatically reactionary Bush administration, is opening the door to a new dialogue about the nature of capitalism, and the role of the state. Not since the sixties has there been the opportunity for such a far-reaching and essential look at our social arrangements, our economic system, and our political process. Since Reagan, who brilliantly took the country so far right that centrist democrats like Clinton looked like progressive visionaries, a truly progressive agenda has been totally on the margin.

Taking up the mantle of reaction, Bush postulated the perfect, in-itself, connection between democracy and capitalism. Free enterprise and political democracy were meant to be one in the same system. Any attempt to move the economy in a more compassionate direction was transformed into a challenge to democracy. As long as the economy, at least on the surface, was marching forward, this democracy is free enterprise and free enterprise is democracy formulation held sway. The collapse of the banking system, not from a socialist revolution, or a natural calamity, but under its own weight, is a wake up call to even the most jaded observer. The old saws, now being hoisted up absurdly by the House Republicans, that all we need is less taxation, less spending, is just not going to fly. People losing jobs and houses and health care and pensions are not convinced that these very real hardships are being caused by too much spending on social programs or raising the tax rate a few points. They know they were screwed by people who got rich at their expense, with the blessing of the government. This is not a marginal, radical opinion, everyone sees it.

How do we constructively engage this new situation? For all his fits and starts, I still am encouraged by Barack Obama and his willingness to put all the issues on the table. He and his financial team do not have an answer to the banking debacle yet, and there may not be one that is not without a lot of pain. But he is still laying out his vision on education, and health care. While the chattering class calls this over-reaching hubris, I think he is absolutely correct to say that these issues are all related, and that we cannot move forward without addressing them all on a macro level. This is truly daunting to the entrenched interests and they will fight back with all they have, and in every arena. It will get ugly. We need to support the full and far-reaching vision that will be necessary to get us out of this hole, and to a more viable society.

The (Avian and Other) Flu Virus - A Major Medical Development...

A few weeks ago most major news services reported what appears to be a very significant medical breakthrough. I first read about it in the New York Times which stated that according to a study conducted at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Harvard Medical School, the Burnham Institute for Medical Research, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an experimental treatment made from human proteins neutralized a wide variety of influenza germs, including the H5N1 avian flu, the 1918 pandemic virus and some seasonal forms of the illness. The National Institutes of Health funded the work.

Dr. Ruben Donis, chief of the Molecular Virology and Vaccines Branch at CDC, one of the studies authors, stated that "Our human monoclonal antibody protected mice from the lethal H5N1 virus even when injected three days after infection."

“This is good news, but many antibodies can do this. What surprised us is that the same antibody protected mice from a lethal infection with a very different virus such as the H1N1 subtype that causes seasonal human infections; this is really remarkable."

Dr. Donis declared that "These antibodies have an important therapeutic potential and also pave the way for generation of a different kind of universal vaccine."

If I understand it correctly I believe this is a significant breakthrough because the newly developed antibodies cause changes to the virus that make it unable to attach itself to host cells and these changes seem to occur to not just any one specific strain of virus but to viruses generally. Thus, because it can be effective against various strains of flu it could be more effective as an annual flu shot (allowing plenty of vaccine to be made in advance of flu season without having to see what this year's variation will look like) and it could combat a breakout of a new virulent forms of virus (such as bird flu) thus averting a possible pandemic flu.

I do have a few questions:

1) How is this antibody different in approach from current flu vaccines? Does the current approach not produce those blue things that are shown in the video? If not then how do the current anti body based vaccines work?

2) Was this new treatment discovered by accident or did someone theorize that it might work and then conduct experiments to confirm the hypothesis?

3) What other virus spread diseases could this possibly cure (or is prevent a better word?), if any, and could it possibly cure (or prevent) the common cold?

(Maybe if Doctor Donis sees this he would be kind enough to post an answer to these questions).

Here is the video that explains this medical development (Even though its short (under 2 mins.) I had to watch it a number of times.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Bill and The Earth Room...

I asked permission to post the video that I have posted below. Since it's already published on line at You Tube I guess technically I did not need permission to post it here but since the video is about Bill and I know Bill, I did not want to just post it without checking with him first to make sure he did not object.

So I e-mailed Bill and said that I was "sort of, maybe, thinking about posting it but like not definitely or anything" (I did not want to be pushy) and Bill wrote back and said:

"You can post that Earth Room web movie about me if you also say something about you, your experience of the Earth Room, about how you visited almost daily for a year...and why."

Well that sort of stopped me dead in my tracks because that is such a great reply to my sort-of-kind-of-maybe-request and also really hard to do. So I really thought about why I visited the Earth Room almost daily for a year (which, by the way, I think is a slight exaggeration but I did go a lot) and Bill (he is the guy in the video) did tell me that in the Earth Room annual report that year I was mentioned as having visited more than any other person and that my record still stands which was really nice of him to do and Bill had also given me a poster of the Earth Room which I framed and have at home.

So why did I visit so much? Well for one thing it's really pretty impressive to see 280,000 pounds of earth in a loft in Soho, not arranged or anything - just there - spread 3 feet high over the entirety of the floor except for the reception and viewing area. For another, the exhibit is funded by the Dia Foundation in perpetuity which is great and strange and expensive and the combination of the dirt itself, the location (prime NYC real estate) and the funding just seemed so strange and extraordinary and yet so accessible and right there - you just ring the buzzer downstairs and walk up to the second floor and I started bringing people up with me to see it and no one could quite believe it and no one I brought had ever seen it or even heard of it before (maybe one or two had heard of it but none had seen it) yet it is so much dirt in a NYC apartment and so odd how could we not have heard of it before and it has been there for about 30 years and, since it's funded in perpetuity, it's going to be there forever (at least that is the idea).

And then when I ran out of people to bring up (I am guessing I brought around 20 or so people) I just kept coming up by myself because I had gotten a little sense of Bill and how far ranging and well read he is and fun to talk to (I think if Bill were to do something else he might be a scientist - he has that kind of mind (not that he acts like a scientist or anything just that he is real curious and thoughtful and I would say doesn't jump to conclusions, if that makes any sense at all) and he (Bill) has an inviting manner and so I guess one of the main reasons I kept visiting was because I felt like Bill had invited me even though he never specifically did invite me but whenever I showed up he seemed really fine about me being there and sometimes I stayed for just 5 minutes and sometimes I would stay for two hours and people would come up to see the exhibit and Bill would answer their questions and add them to his visitor book and I had this really strong desire to substitute for him sometime (like if he got sick or had to do something and couldn't be there) but I did not ask him if I could because I didn't want to put him on the spot or make him uncomfortable and I figured that it was probably not cool to just let someone substitute for him.

Anyway, I kept visiting and it was really fun and I would say a kind of highlight of my week or day or if not the highlight certainly up there and something I looked forward to and I kept visiting Bill and the Earth Room and I really do not know how to describe it any better than that except that I can say that it made a strong impression on me, Bill that is, and the Earth Room, and I wondered a lot about the artist who did the original installation, Walter De Maria, and I did a little reading about him and some of his work and some other similar works done by other installation/environmental artists and that led me to one in particular that I developed an interest in whose name is Andy Goldsworthy. Another person I know had mentioned him (Goldsworthy) to me in connection with my interest in the Earth Room because Goldsworthy builds sculptures out of leaves or sticks or shells or icicles or out of drift wood or delicately balanced rocks that take forever to build and then are washed away or melt in almost no time and I saw a documentary about him called Rivers and Tides that is really terrific and when I saw it I thought - "wow this guy has really figured out how to be in the moment in a really profound way" (though I watched the documentary a couple of times and I decided on second viewing that there are some moments in the film where he seems distracted and that was slightly upsetting to me but I guess no one is perfect).

And that all was going on while I kept visiting Bill in the Earth Room and then one day I just stopped going and did not go again for about 4 years and then I was in the neighborhood again just a few weeks ago and I just stopped up and saw Bill and spent about an hour there and Bill and I got caught up and we talked about a John Updike poem that we had both recently heard read on the News Hour the day John Updike died and were both really taken by the poem and by the demeanor of the guy who read it because it was quite moving and not at all messed up by being read from a studio and broadcast but really very natural and beautiful and I had found the poem on line and told Bill I would send it to him, which I did, and Bill sent me a poem back and I think the poem he sent me answers as well as I possibly could the question I started to try and answer that Bill had asked me which is why I visited the Earth Room almost daily for a year.

Here is the poem that Bill sent me:

By Italian poet Salvatore Quasimodo:

Ognuno sta solo sul cuor della terra
traffitto da un raggio di sole:
ed ‘e subito sera.

Everyone stands alone on the heart of the earth
transfixed by a sun ray:
and suddenly it is evening.

Friday, March 6, 2009

The Song Of The Day

I listened (again) to this short tune on youtube this morning and felt like reposting it (originally posted here on MONDAY, FEBRUARY 9, 2009)

Thelonius Monk said:

"Stop playing all those weird notes; play the melody."

"The inside of the tune is what makes the outside sound good."

"You got it! If you don't want to play, tell a joke or dance but in any case you got it!'.

"A Genius is the one most like himself. "

In 1973 (or there abouts) a band based in western Massachusetts called Real Tears played a lot at the Rusty Nail in Sunderland, Ma. Something about the keyboards/organ (Kit Walker) Tim Moran's sax and Jim Bridges on guitar. Just perfect.

Kit Walker and his (1958) Hammond B3 are still playing...

Thursday, March 5, 2009

There Is A God...

I was given a $65 parking ticket in NYC on 12/24/08. I submitted the following written statement as to why the ticket should be dismissed. I received a ruling on my plea today and have posted it below as well...

Submission Date: 12/27/2008 07:24 AM

Your hearing request was for the following item(s):

Agency Item
------------------------------ -----------------------------------
PVO 7894519133

Your statement why the ticket should be dismissed:

I am a respectful and modest user of public parking in NYC and of the Muni Meters which I consistently pay for with a credit card. On 12/24/08 I had a medical appointment at 25th street and 5th avenue. I pulled into an available space in front of 213 7th avenue and got out of the car to use the muni meter. I think it's somewhat relevant, for reasons you will see soon, that it was not only cold but, raining.

I do not usually have enough quarters with me to pay cash for the muni meter which is why I use my credit card. I went to the muni meter nearest the car and attempted to use the aforementioned credit card which was accepted but after attempting to contact the bank the machine indicated via its LCD display that there was a "communication errror". Ok, its raining and I am getting wet but I try again - same deal, no dice.

So now I am running a little late and getting pretty wet but I want to pay so I go to the next block to use the muni meter there and - you guessed it - same deal - "failure to communicate". I try twice.

Now I am unhappy, wet and longing for the good old days of old fashioned parking meters and even though you needed coins for them at least I could go to a bank and keep a roll of quarters and if the meter was broken then usually no ticket was issued because anyone can see the meter is broken and you could put up a sign that says "broken meter" and out of politeness and fairness no ticket was issued and sure enough the next day the city had already fixed the meter.

With the muni meter their is no way to tell it's broken but let me tell you they break all the time and the idea of standing in the cold rain, fiddling with a machine and a credit card and an LCD display and getting wetter and colder and later for the appointment and frustrated and its Christmas Eve...

Well after trying twice again at the second meter I stormed off to my appointment and I mean give me a break, I went to two muni meters in the rain and the system was down and going to yet another block in the cold rain until I found a working muni meter receipt dispenser struck me as semi, if not completely, crazy.

So in the name justice I ask you to see past the technicalities and agree that I am NOT GUILTY (which is true when this incident is viewed through a human lens and not just from the glow of a muni meter LCD display) and I feel so strongly about this that if you do find me guilty I ask that instead of a fine you sentence me to whatever you deem the appropriate amount of jail time because I say "ENOUGH".

Enough cowering to the unthinking and unyielding technology that everyday diminishes our humanity...

Enough of muni meters that seem to laugh at us as we fumble in the rain with our credit cards while it takes its time, makes us wait and then taunts us with its dim LCD response, "communication error"...

Enough with a system that demands individual responsibility and accountability but accepts none for its own broken, uncaring, one size fits all parking rules and regulations.

For all those reasons I ask you to dismiss the ticket or send me to jail where I will do my time and in so doing wash away the guilt that I acknowledge - GUILTY AS CHARGED...

Guilty of being a human being...

Guilty of caring...

Guilty of wanting my children to stand up tall and proud knowing that the world is in fact not a one way street with no parking unless you ask permission, rather it is a four lane highway crossing the vastness of our lives through a landscape where men of honor are in the driver's seat. No more "system down - communication error" humiliations. I would rather go to jail and suffer a few days or a weekend or whatever the jail time is than simply pay this un-just ticket and suffer more for my tacit agreement that I deserve this ticket (which I do not for the reasons I have already explained).

Thank you for your consideration.

In today's mail I received the following DECISION AND ORDER, CITY OF NEW YORK DEPARTMENT OF FINANCE, dated 2/18/09:

"Respondent claims that the meter was broken at the time the summons was issued. This is an affirmative claim wherein the burden of proof rests with the respondent. Respondent's claim is supported by persuasive testimony.

Total Amount Due: $0.00

Retain this record of your hearing for 8 years and 3 months."

economic ethics

I met a major hedge fund baron a while ago, and in his confident, self satisfied way, he said some of the most telling things. His perspective was summed up in his utter contempt for the notion of pensions. He felt that they were "undeserved". Unions, pension, health benefits, were evil and needed to be fought at all costs. This view of how capitalism should work: that there is no obligation for companies to provide workers with a decent standard of living, has been the base line economic ethic since Reagan. Brilliantly, this elite, anti worker, anti union, value was transferred from the privacy of the boardroom to bedrock conservative ethic, and many working class people bought into it. Unions, and the idea that workers have a right to a decent wage, pensions, health care, safe working conditions, had become a ridiculed, antiquated notion, from a different time. We were now in a new economic order, ruled by financial wizards who needed complete freedom from ethics, social responsibility, environmental responsibility, to create enormous wealth that would raise all ships. This view of super free enterprise, of pure economic activity divorced from any ethical imperatives had won the day. It is dead, and I am happy to bury it. The same people so sure that we need pure economics, that we needed to be free from the quaint idea of working people making a decent living, who railed against raising the minimum wage, against progressive taxation, regulation, environmental standards, have driven our country into so deep a hole, we cannot see a way out. No one will ever take CEO's and their royal pomposity seriously again.

Where do we go from here? It remains to be seen. But a country that values work and workers, that values education and children, that is a force for peace, for sharing resources, for protecting the planet, might be a good place to start. We can argue for these values with the confidence that those who ran our country with diametrically opposed values failed miserably.

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Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Stock Market and Politics

How closely, and in what relationship, does the stock market reflect the overall health of the economy? And, going further, does the economic and social policy of the administration in power have a direct, linear, impact on prices? I am not an economist; I do not know the technical answer to either question, but I am willing to venture into conjecture. My guess is that the current price of stock has little to do with the Obama administration's financial policy. The WSJ today tried to tie the current drop in stock prices to Obama's alleged anti-capitalist tendencies. This seems totally ludicrous to me. I do not believe that if the value of stocks were inviting that the current class of brokers and analysts would keep out of the market because they don't like Obama's attitude towards capitalism. Conservatives are going to look anywhere to attack Obama, and the fall in stock prices in his six weeks in office is easy pickings. My guess is that low stock prices are based on the clear understanding by the investing class that there are real questions as to the reliability of the balance sheet of any company, and that there are real questions as to the prospect for quick recovery, due, not to the policies of the new administration, but to structural flaws in the current world economy. Obama is very generous to banks, and committed to the survival and health of capitalism, albeit with a human face. My guess is that the stock market would be exactly where it is if McCain had won, if not lower, and that the WSJ would have a very different explanation for the low prices.

Travel Assignment...

1) Arrange with a friend to go somewhere remote during Easter week.

2) By remote I mean far flung, inaccessible, distant, isolated, god-knows-where, obscure and outlandish. By arrange I mean do little more than buy a cheap airplane ticket on

3) Arrive and spend first night in random hotel in random town at least 3 hours from airport. Begin right away to realize how much you like your friend.

4) Next day find someone who will rent you a car to drive to remote place which must be at least 8 hours from hotel. Consider getting a map.

5) Arrange to have car (which must be at least 8 years old) left for you in hotel parking garage and get keys from concierge (if that is the right word).

6) Let friend drive. Get in car, shift to reverse and back into cement column breaking tail light. Friend begins to realize how much he likes you.

7) Begin 8 hour drive but stop en route to buy used tail light and install so that rental car company (if company is the right word, rental car guy is more like it - in fact I think it was his car) does not charge for new tail light. This can only be done if the most unlikely person on the planet turns out to care about you. (This is somewhat, but not entirely, within your control). This person is unlikely because she is an old woman working in a run down used car parts store in a crummy neighborhood and does not speak your native language. Nonetheless you and she seem to laugh a lot for no discernible reason other than fact that replacement tail light for 8 year old Datsun was in stock which is, you gotta admit, pretty amazing.

8) Get kiss from woman in #7 before you drive off.

9) Drive 8 hours, arrive in small town at dark, find someone to talk to about accommodations who does not think you are insane.

10) Sleep in shanty, shed or shelter with electricity provided by car battery connected to a light bulb.

11) Wake up next day and bring video camera.

12) If you do not know how to use iMovie, learn and make video of no. 11 above. Have no idea what anything on your video is all about.

13) Post.

AIG - Behind The Scenes...

Since AIG is constantly in the news I thought I would submit this. My name is Dan Lowman and I work at AIG. I joined AIG in 2003 and am an analyst - I work in a cubicle surrounded by hundreds of other cubicles - we call our floor at 90 Pine Street, NYC - the Hole. I build financial models. A lot of people are wondering just what it is that got AIG into such trouble. That is a fair question and I try below to answer it.

It worked like this - say a Hedge Fund, call it Pagan, Inzano, Gotcher, Gall and Yanko or ("P.I.G.G.Y.") run by Mr. David Nutt wants to borrow $50 million dollars to invest in participation note revenue bonds issued by pachinko parlors in Japan called "Overseas Opportunity Participations" or "OOPs"). SEE FOOT NOTE 1.

FOOT NOTE 1: It wasn't just Pachinko parlors or just AIG - global insurance balance sheets of many companies were used to provide capital support to all sorts of projects, i.e., hydro electric plants in Columbia, airline ticket receivables in Peru, hotels, apartment investment funds, bonds with interest rates based upon the number of hurricanes in Florida, nationwide car dealership give-away contests based on snow fall accumulation on Christmas Day, any pool of any mortgages whatsoever or any other collateralized debt obligations of any kind such as credit card and auto loans ... and a whole host of other risks and projects all of which were grouped under my business division - "AIG Structured Solutions" or "ASS" (now referred to as "Structured Underwritten Products In Decline" or "STUPID").

Anyway, Mr. Nutt goes to its bank, "The Dumay National Bank" and is told that the cost of borrowing the $50 million will be 12% interest with a bullet payment due in 3 years because, after all, its a new business and Dumay does not quite understand the pachinko parlor business which it considers to be high risk. SEE FOOT NOTE 2.

FOOT NOTE 2: Pachinko parlors are big business in Japan - pachinko is a gaming device not unlike a pin ball machine - the amount the player wins in cash depends on which slots each ball falls through. Pachinko is as common in urban centers in Japan as Starbucks are in NYC - the parlors themselves are divided into two sections, a gaming center in front and the back is devoted to the sale of pornographic magazines and sex toys. Sake happy hour specials generally draw big after work crowds.

"Arrghhh" says Nutt - 12% is a really high interest rate - anything I can do to borrow at a lower rate for OOPs?" "Sure", says Dumay "just get an Insurance Company like AIG to guaranty the loan and since, if you do not pay, they will (AIG was rated triple A by S & P which means "sure to pay") we will lend you the money at 7%. SEE FOOT NOTE 3

FOOT NOTE 3: Hedge Funds borrow money for all of their deals - the idea is that if you make a dollar on ten cents your IRR (internal rate of return) would be much higher than if you put up all the cash. Hedge Fund Managers are paid from two pools - generally 2% of all the cash given to them by their investors (this pool was called "Pizza Money") plus 20% of the IRR (this pool was called the Incentive Fee) and together they were referred to as "2 and 20"). SEE FOOT NOTE 4.

FOOT NOTE 4: Under existing IRS rules Hedge Fund and Private Equity execs pay income tax on their Pizza Money but pay the much lower cap gains rate on the Incentive Fee because the IRS (after much lobbying by Hedge Fund and Private Equity donors to Congressional Campaigns) ruled that the Incentive Fee is not earned income but rather "return on capital". This is sometimes called the Bernie Madoff Rule.

So Mr. Nutt, looking to better deal the bank rate, goes to AIG and meets with the President and Vice President of AIG Structured Solutions, Mr. Hyram (Hy) Jeenyus and Ms. Mytee Vinegar, and pitches the pachinko parlor business. Now if Jeenyus and Vinegar do not close deals they do not get large bonuses - so, anxious to earn a healthy bonus, Hy and Mytee convince themselves and the rest of us working in the Hole at ASS that pachinko parlors are the next best thing since sliced bread and they build a really complicated business model on an exel spread sheet showing that it is impossible for P.I.G.G.Y. to lose money investing in OOPs. Jeenyus proposes to Nutt that AIG guaranty the loan to P.I.G.G.Y. in return for 2% of the loan amount plus 10% of the equity of OOPs (this was called "2 and 10"). "And here's the really genius part", said Jeenyus. "We do not have to put up any reserves since this is a guaranty not an insurance policy so its not even looked at by the Dumay regulators." "Pure genius, Jeenyus", exclaimed Nutt while Hy and Mytee slapped each other a high five. The caption under the photo in that week's AIG newsletter, the Daily Undewriters Herald or ("D.U.H.") was "Nutt does deal with Hy Jeenyus - OOPs."

Now there is a catch or two - Dumay Bank doesn't like to keep loans to P.I.G.G.Y. on its books - it prefers to "securitize" them (securitization was invented way back in 1963 by Richard Fuld, a then obscure junior associate at a firm known as Loeb Rhodes Hornblower. Update to present - Fuld is now serving time in a Federal Psychiatric Facility after strangling Elliot Spitzer who he ran into in the lobby of the Washington DC Mayflower Hotel in June of 2009. Fuld was apprehended at the scene, unshaven, reeking of alcohol and muttering to himself).

Back to our story: In order to securitize the pachinko parlor loans, the deal had to be rated by Moody's or Standard and Poors - what to do? Moody's does not really understand the pachinko parlor business but it does understand that the fees it gets for rating deals are, shall we say, lucrative, and since it knows how strong a company AIG is it figures - "oh, what the hell, lets have a look at that pachinko parlor exel spread sheet". So the Moody's senior executive in charge of ratings studies it. The model makes absolutely no sense to him but since AIG (which is too smart and too big to fail) will guaranty the Dumay loan he rates the deal AA+. A deal term is added that requires AIG to post collateral in the unlikely event AIG is ever downgraded. SEE FOOT NOTE 5.

FOOT NOTE 5: The likelihood of an AIG downgrade was shown on the exel spread sheet model as a 1 in 100 year occurrence. The model came up with these odds after running a "Monte Carlo simulation" (MC simulation being the name given to an an actuarial based computer program used to asses random event probabilities based upon thousands of computer generated possible outcomes.)

So the OOPs deal closes, Moody's gets its rating fee, AIG gets a Guaranty fee, Hy Jeenyus and Mytee Vinegar get their year end bonuses and Dumay Bank securitizes the P.I.G.G.Y. loan and sells it in tranches of $100,000 par value bonds to other hedge funds, banks, 401K's, money markets, and pension funds of large automobile companies.

Fast forward 12 months: turns out that in Japan the only pachinko parlor businesses that make money are ones with connections to the Mob who skim money from the machines in return for "protection" - their was no Mob Payments Calc Cell in the Monte Carlo simulation (When the Dumay Bank Regulators asked about this the Risk Manager at AIG, Dean Pisch, said - "Listen you Dumay Bank Regulators - we said low risk - not no risk". The pachinko parlor business failed, Dumay demands repayment, AIG has to pay. Moody's calls up AIG and says - "We have to downgrade you" (it wasn't just the pachinko business, it was also low airline ticket sales in Peru, a drought in Columbia, Hurricanes in Florida, plummeting mortgage values, defaults on auto loans and credit cards and, to top it all off, it snowed on Christmas Day requiring AIG to pay GM to give away 5,000 cadillacs to the lucky winners). AIG says, "Whoa, if you downgrade us that will trigger collateral requirements in all our deals." Moody's asks, "how much collateral would a downgrade trigger?" AIG says, "$20 billion, no $40 billion, no $85 billion" ... and the rest is history. (David Nutt and Hy Jeenyus were fired but were given hefty severance packages and use of a recently redecorated office at a now bankrupt but formerly very large financial institution - Mytee Vinegar and Dean Pisch are still employed at AIG).

Post Script: In the year 2012, after having contributed over $500 billion taxpayer dollars to AIG, newly elected President Rush Limbaugh instituted a national jobs training program for unemployed investment bankers, insurance execs, and rating agency analysts in an effort to support real estate prices in Manhattan and East Hampton which had fallen to 5% of their 2008 values and distributed gasoline coupons giving NY residents the right to buy gasoline for one year at the discounted price of $25 per gallon (50% off). Meanwhile AIG continued to hold its annual Lollapalooza Insurance Conference at Aspen Colorado. Invitees spend a day engaged in trust and morale building exercises. Mytee Vinegar organizes catering, Dean Pisch is in charge of the obstacle course relay race and I supervise the Shoshoni Indian totem pole climb. The event always gets a good write up in the Daily Underwriters Herald. The headline last year read, "Lollapalooza: It takes Pisch and Vinegar to Run Obstacle Course". I was not mentioned.

My name is Dan Lowman and I was Lowman on the totem pole.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Hush The Hurt...

I found the paragraph below posted anonymously on a blog site for writers helping writers and it struck me as an intimate and beautiful (to me) statement of loss, regret, guilt, forgiveness and friendship - a love letter. I am not at all sure what it's about (except the different possibilities one conjures up reading between the lines) but somehow I imagined that the author cried when he (or she) wrote it....

"You are kind. I have been trying to be your muse and all along you have been mine ten times more - and not just about getting some writing juices flowing in me but to help me actually think better and maybe start over... But listen - here's the thing, we see in each other who we are and who we want to be - you are the great admitter of truth and the one with the warrior strength. And to be able to share with you and talk to you about my daughter, the young, sad, lovely girl - my zephyr, whose unceasing sway is the aeonian bullet I cannot stop but you see it and probably at some level seek to stand in the line of fire as if that might hush the hurt in you too. So, yeah, maybe as we keep carpentering away (at who we are) we kind of work together well on that because I loved my daughter more than I love myself and maybe when she was trying her best I said just one thing wrong and if I could try again and maybe say the right thing to you I will forgive myself (or at least pretend what could have been). And maybe you saw that in my face (or disposition) and you want to have someone try hard to say the right thing to you on your terms and/or forgive when I don't (or at least pretend what could have been)."

Monday, March 2, 2009

social policy in a financial crisis

Obama's budget is a tour de force, from what I can glean. He redirects massive resources towards health care, education, the environment, and other progressive agendas. He is ready to openly change tax policy, raising the rate on the wealthier, and lowering it on the middle class. He is willing to put all the defence budget on the books, so the country can see the vastness of the defence appropriation, and is looking at actually bringing it under control. All this would be hailed by progressives as a triumph, and as the most significant change of social policy since the New Deal, if not for the financial crisis. The requirement of the new president to try to shore up the world financial system creates tremendous drag on the new vision. The simultaneous effort to put the resources of the federal government on the side of working people is contradicted by the massive transfer of resources to the bankers who have so callously dragged us into this abyss. Our gut says let them fail, close them down, bring these so called financial geniuses to justice. But our most progressive president in 60 years is not willing to let the banks fail. There must be a reason, and the consequences must be very dire because, by attempting to rescue these institutions, Citi, AIG, etc. Obama is liable to fail, and fail big. Without this emergency, even in a slow down, or a normal recession, this new budget, this new agenda would be a clear and breathtaking step forward. But the countervaling attempt to save the very institutions and arrangements that were at the heart of the ruthless, anti labor, expliotation of our wealth for personal gain, creates ideological and political confusion. It is too bad, but as smart as Obama is, and he is very smart, he must believe he cannot let the banks fail. By attempting to save them he is putting his mandate, his progressive support, and his presidency on the line. There is something noble about it.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Healthy Eating: A New Approach

Last night I experimented with an idea for healthy eating with pretty good results.

First, here's the background (which is not really directly related to the healthy eating idea so you can skip this part if you want although towards the end this part does come back around to the point).

We were invited to a friend's house for dinner last night. Four couples - (two of whom we had not met before - all shrinks except for me and one other guy who is a pediatrician). At first I thought I really missed the dress code memo because one woman was wearing a black skirt and had on dark stockings with like a design thing going on and a red cashmere sweater and her husband was wearing an olive colored suede sport coat kind of thing. But my wife was wearing jeans and so was I and so was another woman. I also had on a black turtle neck which was a little dressy that I had bought right after Christmas at Nordstroms when they were practically giving stuff away (I also bought two winter coats at the same sale for $90 at the "two for one" rack and have even gotten a compliment on the jacket). But I had worn my slippers because I rushed out of the house and they were comfortable and then shortly after we arrived I felt self conscious having shown up in slippers so I took them off and was just in my socks for the rest of the night. I imagine people noticed but no one said anything. (I was glad I did not wear my second choice shoes - my son's really beaten up Timberlands which are a size and half too big for me but I think look really cool and he says chicks dig them but they are really beaten up and are splattered with paint and I correctly at the last minute figured they were not appropriate for a dinner party so went with the slippers instead).

At dinner people compared notes on movies though no one but me had seen Lars and The Real Girl or Waltzing With Bashir which are the only movies I have anything to say about at the moment but I did explain the historical setting of Bashir to the woman in the fancy stockings who said she wanted to see it. There is only so much you can ask a shrink about their work and when I say I am retired people inevitably ask, " Well, what do you do?" and to me that is like asking, "Tell me in detail, everything you ate this week." (I mean I do not recall exactly what I eat in any week but I know I ate). I am not even sure how to answer the question, "Lets see... the last few weeks have been pretty busy because I read a friend's screenplay in progress a bunch of times as closely as I could as he sent successive drafts plus I have been reading a lot of fiction, and I met with a friend who wanted some financial advice and between schmoosing with him and what not that took a whole afternoon and the plumber installed a new water heater because the old one broke and since it broke on a Saturday it was not easy finding someone to replace it right away and that took a day, not to mention current events which is like "Whoa, what is going to happen today", etc etc".

One guy at the dinner takes photographs as a hobby and has been in a photography show and has a web site with his pictures and he showed us the site during a lull and I thought his stuff was really, really good but ever since digital cameras were invented photography has really gone down hill in my opinion because almost anyone can produce something so terrific now that its all like so what unless maybe you use a primitive pin hole camera which would impress me a lot and I think would be interesting and challenging. But, as I said, his stuff was very bold and abstract and strong and in a sense seemed to be a pretty good expression of his personality (to the extent I could tell what he is like because, as I said, this was the first time I had met him.) Anyway, as I was leaving he said to me, "Hey, since you are not doing anything maybe you would like to be my rep." And I said, "What is a rep?" and he said, " Present my work to galleries" and I said, "Are you being serious?" and he said, "Yes" but kind of looked a little sheepish which I thought meant either he was joking but realized I did not get the joke or he was serious and realized I was confused and I said, " Well, I am generally open to stuff but I am not sure that is my thing but let me look at your web site some more." but I decided on the spot that I hate sales and this sounded like sales to me and I do know a photography gallery owner in the city and thought of making an introduction but decided that was not a good idea because knowing a gallery owner socially does not qualify me to recommend anyone to her.

So here's the food healthy eating idea: (I had gotten this idea because at one point in the conversation we were talking about driving fast and how many speeding tickets people have gotten and where they get them and how what a racket that is and how much over the speed limit you can go without getting a ticket and maybe showing a cop your special PBA card but what exactly do you say when showing it to him and one guy is very into sports cars and his wife said if he gets one more ticket his license will be suspended and he said that was not true because speeding tickets only stay on your record for 39 months (that seems like a very specific thing to know off the top of your head) and they used to have a really souped up mini cooper but for some reason they got rid of it and now they have some sort of hybrid that is out of production and I thought their interaction about how many tickets he has gotten was endearing in a Jackie Gleeson Honeymooners kind of way and I decided they remind me of Alice and Ralph Kramden because they seem to buy odd cars and are thinking of selling their house (at the worst time in history to sell a house) and, I don't know, it all kind of put in my mind something Ralph would come up with and Alice would reluctantly get caught up in until she pulled Ralph back down to earth (at one point I lost track of what everyone was saying because I was making these parallels but no one noticed that I was lost for second and I got back on conversational track pretty quickly) and anyway my friend, the pediatrician, commented on how slowly I drive (I am a really slow driver although I have started to drive a little faster lately which he, my friend the pediatrician, also mentioned) and all this talk about speed gave me this idea about eating slowly and I realized that if I ate at my usual pace I would be finished eating before anyone else and would then help myself to unnecessary seconds and/or also be kind of stuck with nothing to occupy my hands at the table so instead I challenged myself to eat way slow, I mean, way slow. One bite, fork down, small bites to see if I could not only finish last but finish last by a lot and see if anyone noticed how slow an eater I am. Well, it went really well, I put down my fork after each bite and I became pretty conscious of the flavors of the food (great home made Indian food - really good) because I knew it would be a while until I put another bite in my mouth so I made each bite and the flavor last. Also, because I was involved in this slow eating contest with myself my mind was focused (or maybe "anchored" is a better word to describe it) in the contest and the food so my thoughts kind of stayed on the food and I was maybe out of the 8 people there number 1 or 2 from the bottom in terms of saying stuff and when we left I felt like I had left something on the plate, so to speak, which was a good feeling...

So my new idea about healthy eating is to see if I can eat more slowly.


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