Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Sandra Lee's Kitchen

Oh. My. God. Nothing on this planet should be that pink.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Obama Live Blogging

8:01PM - Obama gets right to it. He's warning us all that there isn't a quick fix, and it's going to take a while.

8:04PM - Hmm, interesting framing of the budget, as something that will build a stronger foundation but avoid the illusion of wealth. He really wants people to know that he's working on cutting the deficit.

8:06PM - He mentions the AIG bonuses, and chooses the middle road: Wall Street has to realize it can't gourge itself on the public dime, and the public needs to not demonize anyone who's ever worked on Wall Street.

8:08PM - First question was a softball question about the new regulatory authority Obama's requesting for non-bank financial firms. Even if it's a softball, it still points to an obvious point: if it walks like a bank and quacks like a bank, it should be regulated like a bank. Part of why AIG got so bad was that there weren't any regulations governing it.

8:10PM - Second question is harder: is Obama asking the right people to sacrifice, and why is he cushioning the blow for the executives? Obama (rightly) replies that they're working on the executive thing, and to give him some time. With regards to the American people, he says they are sacrificing now, and that his budget priorities will pay off for the American people later.

8:13PM - Just a random thought. Before the Q&A CNN had a word-cloud up on their wall to illustrate Obama's prepared remarks, but the shortness of the speech pretty much eliminated any usefulness it had.

8:16PM - Will Obama sign a budget that doesn't include a middle-class tax cut or cap-and-trade? You know, I hate these 'gotcha' questions, which are designed only to get a soundbyte and nothing else.

8:26PM - You know what? This actually isn't that interesting. I'll read the transcript tomorrow.

Obama Prime-Time Primer

Obama's doing a prime time address, so it's time for live-blogging! And tea. But before the festivities start, I suppose it's only fair to put out what I think about the economy and the banks.

The AIG Bonuses
Mostly neutral, I guess. Almost everybody is mad about them. But almost everybody that I know doesn't actually know what they are. These are not "bonuses" as most people understand the word: they are not hey-you've-done-a-great-job-here's-a-million-bucks. These were agreed on in 2007, when most AIG analysts saw the writing on the wall and thought "I don't need this, I'm outa here!". AIG probably couldn't have functioned if all of its employess exodused en masse, and so AIG made a deal with them: stick around for another year and we'll pay you some extra cash at the end of the year. Some accepted, some didn't. And those that accepted are now seeing the shit hit the fan. Yes, the fact that some execs are getting million dollar bonuses is outrageous. The fact that some mid-level analysts are getting a few extra thousand is perfectly fine.

TARP II
Geithner's new plan is to offer (forcibly if necessary) the banks a way to get rid of their toxic assets by putting those assets up for auction, where private investors will bid on them with leveraged government money. Most of the criticisms of the plan are from the left: that the investors will get most of the profit while the government will accept the risk which will lead to inflated prices; and an argument that basically boils down to 'enough already and nationalize!'. I don't agree, for a couple reasons. First, if the assets really are so bad, the government is going to lose a lot anyway. And if the assets are good, then the government would have unnecessarily absorbed the banks. Which brings me to my second point, which is that nationalization really should be a last resort.

Monday, March 23, 2009

I Can Haaz a Maddoff Emailz Pleez?


The Bernie Maddoff trial is wrapping up, and the prosecutors decided to give the judge a collection of emails from Maddoff's victims to give the crime a more personal price. Not a terrible idea, in of itself.

However, if you're going to do it, you probably want to have someone with a modicrum of common sense screen the emails. Via TPM, one of the emails the prosecutors submitted was from a very rich Congonese national who fled from Africa to Dubai and who's looking for a safe place to store his millions while he makes his way to America. If you would be so kind as to wire him your account numbers so he can make the deposit, he'd be ever so grateful.

Some poor staffer is about to (deservedly) get an extremely unpleasant phone call from his or her boss.

The Laws of Physics are No Match for my Cat

Seriously, how is it that Lucy, who takes up less than a single square foot of space when lying down, always finds a way to spread herself across the entire bed while leaving no blankets for me?

And why on earth am I, a far more massive creature than she, deathly afraid of reprisals if I should be foolish enough to try to move her?

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Gym Woes 3

1) I'm getting fairly good at proglonged low-impact aerobics. Short-term bursts of anaerobic activity continue to be bad.

2) When Todd and I finished our workout on Sunday and went down to the locker room to get our stuff, we observed what appeared to be a kernel of cooked corn laying on one of the benches. Seriously, neither of us could come up with anything else it might be, and we were NOT about to touch it.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Monday, March 09, 2009

Amazing Discovery of the Day

Those little Tide bleach pens actually work! Ain't technology great?

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Sunday = Funday!

Just a reminder: today (actually last night) is Daylight Savings Time. Clocks jump ahead, and we lose an hour of sleep :(

Usually I hate when we lose an hour and I'm sure I'll feel it tomorrow when I get up for work ... but oddly enough, today I just didn't feel it. All the other years I'm definitely aware of the lost hour, and always look at the clock and think "how can it possibly be that late?" Today was just the opposite, I kept looking at the clock and thinking "gee, it feels later than what it really is"

So what did I do with my perceived extra time? I took a walk! And not just any walk. I took an impromptu seven and a half mile walk down a road I've never walked or driven on before, and discovered some great places in the process.


A few miles west of 195 on Grove there's a great little group of shops and cafes that I had no idea even existed; reminded me a lot of Kennybunkport, where my family went on vacation when I was younger. Definitely going to take the parents there next time they're down.

And then, at the intersection of Grove and Three Chopt, there is an absolutely GOOOOOORGEOUS Episcopal church. I took a picture with my phone, but that comes nowhere near to doing it justice, and there's a whole courtyard behind that walkway. It's just absolutely beautiful.


And finally, while walking back on Patterson, I got the chance to read some store signs that I normally just drive past. One in particular caught my eyes: "Dental Arts". Figuring out exactly what this might be is left as an exercise to the reader.

A Special Gift, for a Special Someplace

You know that person who has everything and who's impossible to buy for?

The OhMiBod Gspot:
OhMiBod Gspot vibrates to the beat and rhythm of your favorite music. Its hot pink curves, satin finish and chrome detail is designed to hit that magic "G" note in all of us.
...
Explore the possibilities.

And Republicans say Obama is taxing the innovation out of our economy.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Interesting Fact of the Day

Taco Bell serves more than 35 million people in the US every week. Is it really the case that 1 out of 9 Americans eat at Taco Bell once a week? I know I've seen one around somewhere, but I don't really know where there's one in Richmond.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Starbucks People Watching, Part 1

You meet weird people at Starbucks.

Today I was behind a young (teenaged) couple. He was tall, she was short, but was one of those people who have a really long neck that can twist and turn like you wouldn't believe. She was standing beside him, but every so often she would crane her neck around so she was face to face, without moving the rest of her body.
"Do you like muffins!?!?!"
"You know what I like!?!?! Krispy Kreme, with the cream inside!!! Buttercream!!!"
mmmm... delicious buttercream...

Monday, March 02, 2009

Wendy Richard; 1943 - 2009

Wendy Richard, who played Miss Brahams on the absolutely fabulous British comedy Are You Being Served? died Thursday, Feb 26th from cancer. She was 65.

We'll all miss you Miss Brahms!! :(

Happy Birthday Dr. Seuss!!

Today is a day to put aside worries,
And celebrate a guy who wrote lots of stories!

He wrote many books, both big ones and small,
About right and wrong, about winter and fall!

What can we do, to honor this man?
We can play music, banging pots and a pan!

We can sled down the hill, build some grand forts,
Pretend make-believe, play games of all sorts!

So have fun today, go on, act like a goose!
And make sure to say, Happy Birthday Dr. Seuss!

Google celebrates in its own special way:

Meanwhile, the principled conservatives at The Corner, in a post titled The Lorax and His Lies, use the occassion to complain that the Lorax is actually anti-capitalist screed:
Regarding your comments on the Lorax, you are surely correct about the story's intention to malign capitalism. I have, however, found an alternative (and far more palatable) interpretation that I use when reading the story to my son.

The Once-ler's actions make total sense if it is impossible for him to acquire property rights to the Truffula Trees. Any moderation on his part in cutting them down merely leaves an opportunity for another Thneed-maker. Furthermore, the climactic reveal of the last Truffula seed reinforces this interpretation, as the protagonist is implicitly given those property rights (setting up the potential for responsible Truffula harvesting).
So remember, the next time you sit down to read The Lorax to little Johnny or little Susie, you are obligated to take a few minutes at the end to explain how the real lesson of story isn't that you should care about the environment, but that the Once-ler's actions were perfectly reasonable given that property rights to the Tuffula trees weren't well defined at the beginning of the book.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Rational Despondence Taking Hold

It might surprise people to know that, despite my extremely dry and sarcastic sense of humor and my reflexive criticism of new ideas, I'm really an optimist at heart. I honestly think everything's going to work out just fine and we're all going to be better off when it's all over (whatever it happens to be at the minute).

I have to say, though, that my optimism is starting to show a few cracks. I freely admit to being one of Paul Krugman's irrational despondence believers; aka those who think that a combination of margin calls and mark-to-market valuation (neither of which, mind you, are bad ideas) are artificially driving CDO asset prices down lower than what they're really worth. They may only be worth 50%-60% of what the banks originally paid, but the banks are being forced to value them at something like 15%-20%, which is causing problems, and I mean, c'mon, there's no way they're that worthless, right?

Well, as it turns out, they really are. Gillian Tett of the Financial Times did some digging on just what exactly all those CDOs are worth, and the results aren't pretty. Key pieces:
From late 2005 to the middle of 2007, around $450bn of CDO of ABS were issued, of which about one third were created from risky mortgage-backed bonds (known as mezzanine CDO of ABS) and much of the rest from safer tranches (high grade CDO of ABS.)

Out of that pile, around $305bn of the CDOs are now in a formal state of default, with the CDOs underwritten by Merrill Lynch accounting for the biggest pile of defaulted assets, followed by UBS and Citi.

JPMorgan estimates that $102bn of CDOs has already been liquidated. The average recovery rate for super-senior tranches of debt – or the stuff that was supposed to be so ultra safe that it always carried a triple A tag – has been 32 per cent for the high grade CDOs. With mezzanine CDO’s, though, recovery rates on those AAA assets have been a mere 5 per cent.
This isn't just bad, this is like freakin armageddon. $300 billion, about 2/3 of what used to be the banks' most prized assets, are performing so badly they're in a formal state of default. And when the banks do their best to recoup the losses by seizing and selling the underlying assets, they're getting about 20 cents to the dollar. And remember, all these things were supposed to be virtually risk-free!! Something close to $80B of assets the banks all thought they had are simply gone, *poof*, like that. But you can bet the $80B in liabilities that financed those assets haven't gone away.

~~~~~

This is hitting pretty close to home, and not just on the optimism front. I studied this stuff in college and seriously considered working for Wall St before I fell in love with CapitalOne. Heck, I probably know (and partied with) a bunch of people who designed and worked on these things. Maybe they know something that I don't, but I keep asking the same question: what happened? I mean, there's a reason they're called asset-backed securities; they're backed by assets. If the security doesn't perform, you seize the assets, liquidate, and recoup most of your loss. And yet it's pretty clear that's not happening. Was my entire Masters of Engineering degree all based on a gigantic lie?