Sunday, March 22, 2009

Derivates Primer

Every once in a while, you see an acknowledgement that the secret way in which fantastic returns can be had with derivatives really revolves around the practice of borrowing money to invest, in some fashion or other.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Slam Backfires with Me

Obama fans, I don't recommend you check out this link. Obama disparagers: it's not that good, you can skip it too. Furthermore, it is a mix of humorous and serious slams. Should be one or the other. And, actually, I don't know why he is being slammed for saying,

“I did think it might be useful to point out that it wasn’t under me that we started buying a bunch of shares of banks. It wasn’t on my watch. And it wasn’t on my watch that we passed a massive new entitlement — the prescription drug plan — without a source of funding. And so I think it’s important just to note when you start hearing folks throw these words around that we’ve actually been operating in a way that has been entirely consistent with free-market principles and that some of the same folks who are throwing the word ’socialist’ around can’t say the same.”
About the prescription drug plan: I remember thinking it was unfunded, something that absolutely no one at the time, politician or journalist, seemed to be talking about. Folks, that had a lot to do with Bush getting elected; running on that campaign promise was brilliant from a political strategy point of view indeed. Fact is, it was a betrayal of a certain degree of fiscal honesty that had been established. And fact is, Obama was making sense when he made this statement.

Sunday, March 8, 2009


Someone found the lines and I now have them:

Credit to Prof. Prokopovicz, author of Did Lincoln Own Slaves? and Other Frequently Asked Questions about Abraham Lincoln
, for finding them:

Act IV, scene ii. King Henry is talking with two soldiers (John Bates and Michael Williams) the night before Agincourt. They don't recognize him in the darkness. Henry points out that the king's cause is just.

WILLIAMS That's more than we know.

BATES Ay, or more than we should seek after; for we know enough, if we know we are the kings subjects: if his cause be wrong, our obedience to the king wipes the crime of it out of us.

WILLIAMS But if the cause be not good, the king himself hath a heavy reckoning to make, when all those legs and arms and heads, chopped off in battle, shall join together at the latter day and cry all 'We died at such a place;' some swearing, some crying for a surgeon, some upon their wives left poor behind them, some upon the debts they owe, some upon their children rawly left. I am afeard there are few die well that die in a battle; for how can they charitably dispose of any thing, when blood is their argument? Now, if these men do not die well, it will be a black matter for the king that led them to it; whom to disobey were against all proportion of subjection.

The reviewer mistakenly attributes this speech to Henry. It does however make sense that Lincoln would be keenly aware of this scene, as the responsibility of command bore heavily on him.

Blackened Heavens

I have promised a few folks a review for the new play, The Heavens Are Hung In Black by James Still. Here 'tis.

My brother Forrest and his wife Linda accompanied Sue and me. They've really got Ford's Theater fixed up nicely with the new renovation, evidently adding some space from what must have been taken from a nearby area to make a nice lobby, new bathrooms, etc., in addition to fixing up the old interior. The stage, though, still admirably had the original (quite stained) hardwood flooring. BTW Sue only agreed to go in and take her seat after Forrest promised not to jump over the rail of the balcony yelling sic semper tyrannis! if it turned out the play was a polemic against the South.

All kidding aside, I too was a bit concerned that the playwright would just be some dufus endowed with a shaky Pop History notion of the war, and proceed to show all he knew about it was that Northerners were supposed to be the good guys and Southerners the bad guys. But everyone seemed to enjoy the show with agreement that the author and the production took great pains to be quite authentic, willing to show even a bit of clay feet peeking out beneath old Abe. Overall, the evidently intended purpose of creating a sympathetic character who was having a terrible year was pulled off quite nicely.

It impressed me that the production was so concerned about getting the details right, bearing in mind I'm not an expert on Lincoln and furthermore apparently loaned out a Q&A type book on Lincoln which I planned to use to check out some facts. But I am well read enough on the Civil War to pick up pretty quickly any egregious errors or at least raise an eyebrow if something didn't seem quite right. For example, I believe they got Lincoln's voice right, it was a bit squeaky and unimpressive overall; I'm pretty sure that is supposed to be right. Furthermore, Lincoln definitely comes off somewhat as an Illinois/Indiana/Kentucky backwoodsman in his mannerisms, an idea about authenticity that could easily have been discarded. The show, though, just seemed to be about nailing these things down well.

Now all this is in spite of the fact that the program guide advises that the play is "an historical fiction ... [that has] stretched, rearranged, or even changed some of the facts." So I couldn't argue with anyone who might object in some way to this particular portrayal of Lincoln, but would just say that surely we have to grant the license to do so and accept that pretty standard method, if such a play is to be possible at all. Again, I for one did not come away shaking my head at any fictions, but instead was impressed by the overall seeming accuracy of the portrayal. The idea for the play is that this year probably was extremely difficult for Lincoln. He loses his son Willy to disease, having to simultaneously deal with the effect this loss has on his wife. And the war is not going well. Lincoln interacts with a whole host of characters, dead or alive. Stanton, Chase, Jeff Davis, to name a few. John Brown has several appearances; the vehicle for including such as Brown (or Jeff Davis for that matter) is to have them show up in what would appear to be either while Lincoln was dreaming or in reveries of near-madness brought on by lack of sleep and anxiety. Lincoln in fact is shown to have trouble distinguishing between what is real and what is not in such moments; he meets an old Springfield friend while out on one walk in the middle of the night and later tells someone about his amazement at meeting him, only to be told the man had died some time ago. Now I don't know if I've heard any stories that old Abe was getting that crazy in those days! But this type of play, reminiscent maybe of ghosts appearing in Shakespeare or Dickens, has always been a type I like and this one carries it off quite successfully in my opinion. I'd say there is an excellent chance the play will be shown in other venues, perhaps even on TV.

Certainly we were interested in the play as "Civil War Buffs", and found it satisfactory from that point of view. Authenticity sufficed, and such buffs as ourselves just like running into and identifying the various characters too. We ran into one mystery none could solve: in the first act, set in late Spring 1862, Lincoln rails about McClellan (who takes a real beating in this play) failing to cross the Potomac because pontoon boats turned out to be constructed too large to get up the C&O Canal. An internet search turned up this. McClellan describes a failed operation whose purpose was " ... to open the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad by crossing the river in force at Harper's Ferry" It's certainly easy to believe McClellan placed little priority in this from what we know now, and a good vehicle for showing how Lincoln was getting so frustrated with that general. I would judge this to have been the most obscure item brought out in the play.

Everything else is pretty well known, certainly to Civil War buffs. I was pleased to see that the production did not try to change facts about the reality of what the conflict was about. Nor was any decision made to shirk from the reality of Slavery's role. It was a nice balance. Above all, it was surprising and satisfying to see Lincoln voice the opinions he had in those days about Abolition and Racial Equality. Lincoln, Stanton, and Chase have various debates during his reveries that quite frankly express concern about what to do with newly emancipated slaves, and Lincoln flatly expresses to Hay that he is quite mistaken if he thinks the new president's opinions against Slavery mean that he is for Equality of the Races. John Brown, Stephen Douglas, and Dred Scott have some success pointing out contradictions in some of the stands he has tried to take. And we didn't see ordinary Northerners pop in and claim the populace was all for Negro suffrage North and South all along, etc., what was he waiting for? just these other well known characters we knew had those kind of thoughts radical for their day.

The most poignant moment for me was when Lincoln shows up at a Shakespeare play's rehearsal that Edwin Booth was doing with some other actors. Sue thinks it was Henry V. Lincoln surprises the other actors by knowing some of the lines. The actors all fall silent in surprise as he then does a Soliloquy: the lines are those of a King who ponders the terrible effects of war on people, the death and destruction, and ends by declaring that any King who wages war had best be able to justify to those dead and their families that a just cause was involved. Of course I don't have the exact lines and couldn't find exactly this in searching an online version of Henry V. I might have missed it of course, and it is also possible the lines were Lincoln improvising, but in any case it was quite effective and touching.

Bottom line: all Civil War Buffs or Lincoln Admirers see this play if you ever get a chance.

Apologies to RSS folks, I don't seem to be able to put stuff out without going back and doing fixes.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Attn Nieces and Nephews

You are hereby notified that I have made arrangements for my bill collectors to contact you in the case of my departure. Information you need here.

Monday, March 2, 2009

OK, Cancelling My Plans to Buy A Laptop

A video. Just when you think it's getting boring, stay tuned.


It says:
We intentionally created conditions in which the Li-ON battery pack would explode inside a generic portable. The results are dramatic. There are numerous conditions where these fires can occur in real life. Faulty battery packs (driving the recalls), faulty protection circuits inside the PC, exposure to excessive heat, and blunt force are some of the major ways that this could happen to you.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Buffet's Newsletter

I got a kick out of these remarks from that newsletter to his clients:
Mr. Buffett was just as scathing on the subject of derivatives, which he had likened to weapons of mass destruction long before they started eviscerating the balance sheets of banks around the world.
In his letter, Mr. Buffett explained that the danger of derivatives was not merely the difficulty in assessing their value; rather, it was the “web of mutual dependence” they create among financial institutions. Derivatives contracts keep various parties entangled for years, which, as he vividly explained, can create real hazards once those assets start deteriorating. “Participants seeking to dodge troubles face the same problem as someone seeking to avoid venereal disease,” he wrote. “It’s not just whom you sleep with, but also whom they are sleeping with."
Source Link

PS: from the link within the block quote:

Throughout the 1990s, some argued that derivatives had become so vast, intertwined and inscrutable that they required federal oversight to protect the financial system. But the financial industry lobbied heavily against such measures, and won backing from important figures, including Alan Greenspan, chairman of the Federal Reserve from 1987 to early 2006.