Monday, June 29, 2009

My Happily Missed MJ Opportunity

Since the hoopla about the death of the self-proclaimed "King of Pop" refuses to die down, I will add my own personal story of how I did not see Michael Jackson at the Super Bowl in 1993.

The Super Bowl in 1993 was held in the Rose Bowl, and a group of friends and I from Buffalo ventured out to Pasadena for the third attempt by our Bills to win a Super Bowl. We had tickets in several different places, so I was sitting with my friend Greg among a bunch of complete fucking morons....ooop, I mean Cowboys fans.

When you go to the Super Bowl, they put a seat cushion on each seat. The cushion has a pouch with a bunch of goodies in it, at least it did the year I was there. There was a radio to listen to the game, a pack of trading cards, and a few other things. Also included was a colored card, which we were expected to hold up so we could participate in MJ's "Molesting the Children of the World" half-time show. I quickly ripped that up and threw it away, having no interest whatsoever in being a part of that kind of bullshit.

When the half-time whistle blew, it seemed to Greg and I that we had 2 choices: stay in our seats and watch the show, or go out and take a leak and get a beer and a hot dog (only $ 1993 the super bowl was already charging 2005 prices!). That didn't seem like a very difficult decision, so off we headed, able to beat the crowds who wanted to stay and hear "Beat It".

Here's the funny thing, and it shows you how the NFL really only cares about the TV audience. The Rose Bowl is an open stadium, with the concession areas on uncovered walkways outside the main bowl of the stadium. Which means that while getting out beers, we should have been able to hear the music from inside. But we couldn't. I expect this is because it wasn't played at concert volume (and was probably lip-synched), but at a low level. After all, it was all just a show for TV, and those of us who'd dropped a couple hundred bucks to watch the game were merely there to be props.

So, I never saw Micheal Jackson perform. And I can live with that. I just wish I also hadn't seen the Bills lose to sports second most evil franchise by 500-2, or whatever the gruesome score was.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Dialing for Obama

Wednesday night I was part of a group of about 45 people in Denver who watched Obama health care discussion on ABC for a research company, with a dial in hand. Someone wanted to know how we felt about everything Obama said, so we were given a remote box with a dial that went from 1-100. Starting at 50 being neutral, we turned it up if we liked what he said, and down if we didn't.

Did I like it or not? I was astounded that there was no one in the room (the one with Obama, not the one I was in) who thinks our health care system needs no change (but then, ABC picked the people in the room). My problem with Obama is that he is failing the audacity test. Our health care system doesn't need minor changes, it needs to be blown up completely and re-started. It is costly, inefficient, ineffective, and unfair. It SUCKS!!!

The problem is, Obama is trying to get everyone on board, which means, just like the "climate change" legislation, it will be watered down with goodies for special interests who are currently getting rich of our stupid system. Therefore, we will get some lame changes that will be politically palatable to enough people to pass, and not fix the problems. The only good thing is that it is pretty impossible to see how any changes that occur could make our abortion of a system any worse.

As a side note, I had dinner with Fiona before I went to this thing. I did not know what I was going to do at this "research thing", but we did end up talking a bit about health care. She said her dad, who is 84 and starting to become a bit senile, recently had knee replacement surgery. How crazy is that! But the doctor who talked him into it gets a nice chunk of change for wasting our tax dollars.

Please, Mr. President, show us some of the "Audacity" when it comes to this issue. Politics as usual, won't work. And there is no use trying to be bi-partisan, since the GOP just wants to stop anything from happening. Tell them to shove it, and fix this mess. (Obama does read my blog, doesn't he?)

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

What is this, Crazy Day?

I think these 2 crazy events are unrelated:
1) The US beats the #1 team in the world, Spain. And not Spain's D team, the real guys, the guys who all play on the best teams in the world. Bravo USA. Don't miss the rematch against Brazil on Sunday.

2) And the news comes out that SC Gov. Mark Sanford was not hiking the Appalachian Trail, he was visiting his girlfriend in Rio. This is the ultra-conservative guy who rejected stimulus package funding in an effort to forward his presidential credentials with the GOP far right (is that redundant?). Now his career is as dead as the late-great Ed McMahon. And if Ed were around he'd say "HIYOOOOOO"!

This day is so crazy I can't wait to see what animals might be doing to each other on the ranch across the street.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Cool, or maybe really nerdy, Economics blog

Fiona sent me an email about a blog this morning that was somewhat interesting, but in it was a link to a blog called ECOCOMICS that I really thought was neat. Alerted my students immediately, and will now add a link to this page. I particularly enjoyed the discussion called "The Justice League and Comparative Advantage"....but then, no one ever accused me of being cool.

Why isn't the price of oil skyrocketing?

Remember last year at this time, and for the quite a while before that, when our crazy dictator friend over in Iran would say something nutty? The price of oil would shoot up about $4 each and every time he insisted he needed nukes, or that Israel had no right to exist, or many of his crazy pronouncements. The market was sure there was going to be trouble, so they bid up the price. When the trouble didn't come, the price never dropped until the peak price late last summer. And anything crazy from our other nutty friend in Venezuela would have the same effect, as would the mere mention of a tropical storm.

Thus my question at the top of this post. Why, now that Iran is having an uprising that threatens to turn into a revolution, is the price of oil not going through the roof? This conflict is certainly not going to increase oil production. And Nigeria is near civil war, and the workers in Venezuela are threatening a strike because they have not been paid. What gives?

Some ideas:
1) The market was sure the hawks in the Bush Administration were sure that Iran would be attacked any time, while they know that Obama has no interest in starting a war with Iran.
2) The market fears a decline in oil consumption based on the worldwide recession as much as it does a disruption due to revolution in Iran.
3) Many of the speculators, particularly hedge funds, who were in the oil market last year, perhaps using borrowed money to buy futures, lost their asses when the oil price plummeted, and are gone. Those who are still around are less able to borrow or use other leverage to speculate.
4) Some combination of the above.

I don't have an answer, just a bunch of hunches. Anyone else have an opinion?

Monday, June 22, 2009

I talked to a "green shoot"

Everyone is looking for "green shoots"....signs that our dreary economy is starting to turn around. Well, I spoke with one over a beer a few hours ago.

I was enjoying a beer on the patio of the Pearl St. Pub on a sunny day in Boulder, and I was talking casually with a guy doing the same thing. He installs tile for a living, and said he was expecting to be laid off, but that business has picked up recently, so he is not going to be laid off.

Hey, it ain't much, but it's something.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Brazil-Italy or Egypt-USA?

What a dilemma. As a patriotic American soccer fan, I am stumped. Do I watch our American boys, who I have followed for many years, play Egypt in today's Federation Cup match, or world powerhouses Brazil and Italy, the beautiful Samba Boys v the negative Azuri, rooting for the flamboyant Brazilians to prevail? Both games are on at the same time.

Easy call. Brazil v Italy. When the 2 most successful sides in the history of international football square off, you just have to watch.

So, Americans don't want more government in health care?

Every time I see a discussion of health care reform on TV there is a Republican parroting the party line that Americans don't want the government involved in their health care. That, of course, is because we are all enamored of the fair and equitable treatment we receive from our insurers when we actually get sick and need out coverage to cover us. And, you wouldn't want a government bureaucrat deciding what treatment you get, because it is much better to have an insurance company bureaucrat, who income depends on not paying for your coverage, to make that decision. I think that is the GOP argument. If I'm wrong, please correct me.

Well, it looks like the GOP and Fox News are not getting the propaganda job done. Take a look at the NY Times/CBS poll in today's times. Americans want a government program. Even among those identifying themselves as Republicans, 50% do.

I think what this says is that Americans know our system is so screwed up that even the government can't make it worse.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Who Drives American Cars

Now that I am an owner of GM, I am a bit more aware of what kind of cars are in parking lots. Go to the King Soopers where I shop in south Boulder, and it's not likely you will find anything built by the former "Big Three" unless it is an SUV or truck. But yesterday, I saw a parking lot where about half of the passenger cars were GM, Ford or Chrysler. Can you guess where I was?

If you guessed the Longmont Senior Citizen Center, you are a winner. Apparently the retirees in Longmont are the last folks buying US passenger cars. So, as a nation, we had better provide these folks good health care and keep them alive and driving. They are our only customers.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Is Jim Tracy a Genius, or is Clint Hurdle a moron?

The Colorado Rockies have won 11 in a row, and are 13-4 since Jim Tracy replaced Clint Hurdle as manager. They have gone from second worst team in the NL to now being in the race for the wild card playoff spot. What gives?

Was Hurdle that dumb? Did he players hate him? It's not like he played his catcher at shortstop. Or is Jim Tracy some kind of wizard, suddenly waving his magic wand, causing the Rox starting pitchers to throw strikes and concentrate?

How about this: the high volatility of small numbers. The Rox started badly, and maybe it is Hurdle's fault that they seem to do that every year. A poll I saw at the beginning of last year among Sabermetricians had Hurdle as the worst manager in baseball, after he had piloted the team to their miracle World Series appearance. And most people thought they had more talent than they were showing. But the change to unbeatable will likely revert to the mean rather soon.

If the Rockies continue to improve, and compete for a playoff spot, it may become obvious that Hurdle was the wrong man for the job for some time. Or maybe, change is just needed every once in a while to get a team going. Either way, there is no doubt that someone is going to seriously consider hiring Hurdle as manager in the next year, because that is just what sports teams do.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Kissing the Cup

As I watched Sidney Crosby kiss the Stanley Cup this evening, if occurred to me that there is no cooler moment in all of sports than that. Every Spring, the captain of the cup winning team hoists the storied trophy over his head in jubilation, then kisses it, goes for a short skate, and passes it to a team mate who does the same, until everyone on the team has had their turn. There is no other trophy, or end of season ritual, that comes close to this. That moment is what every hockey player has worked and suffered for his whole life.

The last time the Colorado Avalanche won the cup, Ray Bourque got to kiss the cup. Real hockey fans here in Colorado will remember that moment forever.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Voca People Embedded

Yesterday I quickly posted a link to an amazing video by a vocal group called the Voca People. Fiona sent me the link to the YouTube video. So, here is is below, embedded. Incredible stuff.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Amazing Vocal Stuff

Sorry I couldn't embed this, but if you want to see a demonstration of an amazing vocal group, go here right now and enjoy. Thanks to Carol for sending this along.

Monday, June 8, 2009

The 200 Moving Average

Want to see something interesting? Go find a chart of the S&P 500 for the last 10 years. Then, have the 200 day moving average laid over the chart, which can be done simply on just about any financial info service like Yahoo or WSJ. Notice anything?

The index consistently bounces as it hits, or slightly crosses this line. 10 times in the last 10 years, the index hits the line and then bounces back to continue the trend it was in. Only 3 times does it cross and keep going, and when it does, it does so for a long time.

Why do I bring this up? The rally in the market that has taken place since March has put the index at the 200 day moving average. Will it go through, and establish an uptrend that should become a several year bull market? Or, will it bounce down, retest the lows of March, and possibly even continue lower? Hell, if I knew the answer to that question, you'd have to pay to read my blog!

Ritholtz of fixing Financial TV

I probably shouldn't steal from Barry Ritholtz again after using his excellent time line of the financial crisis last week. He appears on a lot of financial TV shows, and today he has a great list of how to fix financial TV news. I think a lot of it would be a good outline as to how to fix news in general. Can we get this guy in charge of CNBC? I particularly like #1!

1. Stop Yelling. Stop interrupting. Stop Talking Over Each Other: This is not Jerry Springer, its serious business. People’s retirement and investments are at stake. Please treat it that way.

2. Bring us People We Don’t Have Access to. What various FinTV channels do really well is when they bring us long, thoughtful interviews with the likes of Warren Buffett, WIlliam Ackman, David Einhorn, and others. People we wouldn’t ordinarily have access to. Example: This morning, CNBC had on James Rickard. More of this please.

3. S - L - O - W D - O - W - N

4. Risk: All traders must appreciate the potential downside of trades. So too, must FinTV. Explain stop losses. Understand Risk/Reward. Recognize there are periods when Buy & Hold is a jumbo loser.

5. Lose the Octobox. Fire whoever came up with the Decabox. ‘Nuff said.

6. Separate the Signal from the Noise. Understand that most of the day-to-day action is simply noise. Look at a long term chart, you can barely see 9187 or 9/11. If those major events get lost in the long term trend, what does the intraday jags, kinks and reversals mean? Very little. Recognize that not every data release, slice of news, or rumor is at all significant. Stop treating them as if they were.

7. Fact Check: An awful lot of things on air get stated with authority and confidence. Much of them are little more than junk or pop myths. Why is it that the more dubious a proposition is, the greater the confidence the speaker seems to muster? Consider fact checking as much of the statements that are made on air as possible, and making frequent corrections.

8. Accountability is important: I am astounded at some of the money losing hacks that are various shows again and again. These are the “articulate incompetants” to use Bennett Goodspeed’’s phrase. Why not keep track of the records of guests — and let the viewers know how their past few calls have been. Are they Perma-bulls or bears? Are their stock picks awful? Are they reliable money makers? If not, let us know. (Of course, the better question is, if not, why even have them on?)

9. Bring Back Louis Rukeyser: Not the man, but rather, his style. Wall $treet Week — Rukeyser hosted it from 1970 to 2005 — was plain-spoken, thoughtful and accessible. Quiet, contemplative, discussions, with intelligent market participants, revealing helpful information. The investing public would appreciate something of that sort — again.

10. Sound FX: What is with all the bizarre sound effects every time a screen changes? Its financial news, not a video game. Kill ‘em.

11. Embed your video (on your own website or YouTube) instead of using WMP. At long last, thank you.

12. Investigative Pieces: David Faber seems to have a monopoly on deep, long thoughtful analyses. Be they on Wal-Mart, the credit crisis, whatever, his long format work is a highlight of CNBC. More of these, please.

13. Most stock picks are losers. That’s normal, but the audience does not realize this. A big part of the challenge is informing the viewer that finding the biog winners is a low probability, high outcome event. As in a baseball, a 350 hitter is a star. Explain this to your audience.

14. Stop the Bull/Bear Debate: This is a vast over-simplification of the market, and often does not serve the audience well. There are nuances and variables that get lost when you reduce everything to black and white.

15. Partisanship: Leave your personal politics at home. Viewers don’t care what most of you think.

16. Respect the Audience: We are adults. Treat us that way.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Old Jews Telling Jokes

Not much time to write today, but my college roomie Gordon sent me this site, and it definitely needs to be shared with the world. It's called Old Jews Telling Jokes, because that's what it is. You should enjoy, life is short.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

One Ugly Picture

Barry Ritholtz, author of The Big Picture blog (link on the right of this page), and now of Bailout Nation, his new book about the financial mess. I haven't got hold of the book yet, but I plan to. However, Ritholtz put this chart on his blog, that he calls "Anatomy of a Crash", which is from the book. If you can enlarge it enough to read it, it is an interesting time line of the contributions everyone made to the crisis.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

More on Moronic Ethanol

The Wall Street Journal's editorial page is about 80% utter right wing craziness. That is a shame, because the Journal is an otherwise excellent newspaper, and occasionally even the the Opinion Page contains something intelligent. An example is an editorial today about the costs of ethanol. Besides the taxpayer subsidy of $.45 per gallon to the industry, the editorial points out:

The Congressional Budget Office reported last month that Americans pay another surcharge for ethanol in higher food prices. CBO estimates that from April 2007 to April 2008 "the increased use of ethanol accounted for about 10 percent to 15 percent of the rise in food prices." Ethanol raises food prices because millions of acres of farmland and three billion bushels of corn were diverted to ethanol from food production. Americans spend about $1.1 trillion a year on food, so in 2007 the ethanol subsidy cost families between $5.5 billion and $8.8 billion in higher grocery bills.

A second study -- by the Environmental Protection Agency's Office of Transportation and Air Quality -- explains that the reduction in CO2 emissions from burning ethanol are minimal and maybe negative. Making ethanol requires new land from clearing forest and grasslands that would otherwise sequester carbon emissions. "As with petroleum based fuels," the report concludes: "GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions are associated with the conversion and combustion of bio-fuels and every year they are produced GHG emissions could be released through time if new acres are needed to produce corn or other crops for biofuels."

So the question is, do the corn farmers in this country have photos of everyone in Congress in bed with a 14 year old and a goat? How else to explain our farm policy

GM trading on the "pink sheets".

Turned on the TV yesterday morning to the news that General Motors was officially being taken out of the Dow Jones Industrial Average. Despite my belief that GM has been a badly run company that deserved to go into bankruptcy, the idea that it will no longer be in Dow's list of the 30 biggest US companies is quite an eyeopener. It really pounds home how fleeting the existence of anything or anyone is here on earth. So many companies that were considered juggernauts when I was young....GM, Kodak, Xerox, AT&T...have changed to the point they barely exist.

I was going to write this yesterday, and got distracted. This morning, I hear the CNBC guys mention that GM now trades with a new symbol on the "pink sheets", the listings for companies that don't meet the requirements of the big exchanges. My how the mighty have fallen!