Monthly Archives: September 2008

Francis Bacon and the representation of grief


Enough blogging about money. Instead, I want to point out a great post in Looking Around – Art – Architecture – TIME on a new show at the Tate Britain museum. It’s a retrospective of one of favourite artists, Francis Bacon. While it his fifth retrospective, it is apparently a great one.

But I think this one passage is an interesting one, especially in light of the attention that artists like Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst have been getting lately

“To see this many Bacons gathered together reminded me again how rare it is to see new art that attempts, much less achieves, a genuine tragic dimension. Irony you can find in any gallery these days, also low comedy, puerile cool and industrial strength enigma. But in a time that has its share of tragedy — have you noticed? — where is the art that even tries to strike an equivalent note. What we have almost no language for anymore, at least not in art, is acute pain.”

While Hirst draws on Bacon, you get no sense of any great depth of emotion that Bacon has. He has dark representations without the feeling.

Instead of “I have nothing to say and I am saying it”, it is more “I have nothing to feel and I am painting that”.

Traders have missed the revolution that has occurred in the stock market

Reading this, Markets Soar, but New Rules Upset Traders – NYTimes.com, it appears to me that the people who are complaining about what has occurred this week (e.g., restriction on short selling) have missed what has happened. Someone needs to tell them: you have messed up too badly; the rules have changed;  you are no longer in control.

And people can argue all they want for this change and that change, but after hastily making an enormous commitment to keep things alive in U.S. and global financial markets, the U.S. government likely has more important things to worry about than whether or not trading software can handle the new rules or

Some quotes:

  • “Some of my clients are literally closing their books and going on their vacation for two weeks — they can’t operate in this environment” (That might help.)
  • “turning a football game into badminton.” (Actually, its more like a bloodbath than a football game, but either way, badminton is preferable.)
  • “If you took the week off … you didn’t miss anything.” (uh…yeah, sure, pal, business as usual, things are back to normal. 🙂 )

Things may have calmed down, but going into next week, there is no more “normal”. That burned to the ground last week.

…and don’t do this either!!!

Just go see. It’s incredible. Really.

Insane skatingboarding

You don’t want to take this guy on…

…when it comes to trick basketball shots. If LeBron James can’t, you can’t either!

(tip to transbuddha.com)

(A much better) thought for the day

Thought for the day

Oil returns to $100 per barrel, or why it is all relative

After the meltdown on Wall Street this week, the news that Oil Prices Return to $100 Territory seems like a ho-hum announcement in relation to that. The high price of oil is still significant, and likely will have at least as big an impact on the world economy as the meltdown, but it can’t compete with the sheer terror of seeing the global financial market seize up to the point that the U.S. government needs to swoop in and buy up hugh chunks of the financial market in a fire sale.

The Metropolitan Opera Remember Pavorotti …

…in a very fine way: with a free concert of Verdi’s Requiem conducted by James Levine, who is recovering from serious illness but who managed this with gusto. Bravo indeed. It must have been a great night.

See The Met Remembers Pavarotti – Review – NYTimes.com

Quote of the day

From the globeandmail.com

‘Living with a teenage daughter is like living with the Taliban. Mothers are not allowed to dance, sing, flirt, laugh loudly or wear short skirts.’

Australian-born author Kathy Lette

Open Source Genetics

Can a wiki cure cancer? Can a crowds hack genetic disease? Over at the blog, Bits, they are speculating why “Google co-founder Sergey Brin on Thursday disclosed that he carried a genetic mutation that gave him a higher-than-average risk of contracting Parkinson’s disease.” Their speculation is that Brin might be thinking that it…

“…could be useful to have one’s DNA code open to the public, where it could follow a sort of open-source model. If his data was public, he said, doctors — or anyone who was interested — could look at his results and make suggestions about how he should handle them, offering treatment suggestions if it showed he might be susceptible to a disease.”

That would assume that there is information that is decentralized and unshared, which of course, is a category that the DNA of individuals falls into.

But would people share their DNA? I think they would, for the same reason that they share so much on the Internet now: the risk is very low and the reward is not insignificant.

It is only a small posting, but the post, Why Sergey Brin May Have Disclosed His Risk for Parkinson’s at Bits Blog on the NYTimes.com is interesting.

More things to keep the financial crisis in perspective

When do you think this cover is from? 2008? Nope, 1972. The quote that goes with it?

“The nation is not running out of money so much as it has misallocated its resources so badly that it now faces a staggering bill for the public services that citizens have a right to expect. Tax and governmental reforms can and must apportion that bill more fairly; to the extent that the taxpayers’ revolt is a protest against inequity, it is only too justified.”

From Time Covers Wall Street – Photo Essays – TIME

Good blogs: Looking Around – Art – Architecture – TIME

There are so many good blogs these days, it impossible to keep up with them all. The nytimes.com has more than a dozen, all of them filled with lots of great material.

TIME has it’s share, too, including one by Richard Lacayo called Looking Around, that covers art and architecture.  Worth adding to your bookmarks or feed reader if you are interested in those subjects. And unlike me, his posts on people like Damien Hirst are based on actually talking to the artist. So there’s that… 🙂

He highlighted something sad. Namely, the damage done to the Farnsworth House, a work of Mies Van der Rohe. Too bad Mies didn’t put it on stilts: it’s been hit with seven big floods since it was built. 😦 Not good.

(photo actually from the site The New Modernist).

Words for the wise today on Wall Street

From the good folks at The Poster List

On why I find the current worldwide financial crisis fascinating

It seems every hour news is coming out in reaction to the financial
devistation that is occurring. It appears to be just the U.S., but the
effect will be felt worldwide. It is similar to the World Wars of the
20th century, in that, while they were initially European wars, they
soon were fought across the world.

And the financial crisis is as significant as the world wars, I
believe. No one is saying that yet, but in time, they will. And while
it may not be as terrible as the Great Crash and the Great Depression,
it will be very tough on Americans for some time to come. Because all
of this money that is going to used to bailout the banks is money that
will not be bailing out the people with failing mortgages and failing
savings.

For more detail, see Vast Bailout by U.S. Proposed in Bid to Stem Financial Crisis – NYTimes.com

P.S. See the people in this photo by Brendan Hoffman of the New York Times? They don’t know what is going to happen either, although they have to act like they do. That’s Nancy Pelosi speaking with Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson on the far left and Ben Bernanke, the Federal Reserve chairman and apparently an expert on the Great Depression, on the far right. I have no doubt that Bernanke has history in mind with everything he does.

So you are ready to retire and run a vineyard in France? Here’s your chance

If that sounds appealing, check out this page: O’Vineyards Winemaker Associates – Buy a vineyard in the south of France

You are responsible for doing your own “due diligence”, of course, not me. 🙂

But yes, it does sound appealing to me, and yes, it is certainly something to dream about as you spend two hours in some boring-as-watching-paint-dry meeting you may be in sometime today!

If you are a conservative investor, read this


If you are a conservative investor, you may have a significant investment in money market funds. If you do, you may have been shocked  by what has been happening with them over the last few days. While money market funds are much lower in risk than other funds, there is always a risk when it comes to money, even if you lock it up in a safety deposit box or tuck it under your mattress (then the risk is inflation).

If you are worried, I recommend you read this article: Your Money – Money Market Funds Enter a World of Risk.

It’s a good article, and there are some reassuring things you can read and consider.

Finally, remember: there is always a risk. If you are a conservative investor, you simply want to minimize that risk and still profit from the money you do have. Money market funds are still a good way to do that.

(Photo of an old vault door from Daniel Leininger’s photostream on flickr)

The 15 Cars with the Best Gas Mileage

If you are thinking of buying, leasing, or even (like me) renting a new car, the question that will come to mind is: is it good on gas? And if you want the answer to what is best with gas, see this: The 15 Cars with the Best Gas Mileage from BusinessWeek.

While some are dead obvious (Toyota Prius), others surprised me (Ford Escape Hybrid). See for yourself, at businessweek.com.

Oprah goes on to become more powerful

Oprah appears to be going from the being the most powerful woman in American media to the most influencial woman on the planet. And why not? She has a universal appeal that transcends cultural barriers. And she has the means – her TV show – to reach people all over the planet.

For people who think Oprah is too mainstream for their liking, I’d like to point out this one key quote in this article,  Saudi Women Find an Unlikely Role Model – Oprah,

“In a country where the sexes are rigorously separated, where topics like sex and race are rarely discussed openly and where a strict code of public morality is enforced by religious police called hai’a, Ms. Winfrey provides many young Saudi women with new ways of thinking about the way local taboos affect their lives — as well as about a variety of issues including childhood sexual abuse and coping with marital strife — without striking them, or Saudi Arabia’s ruling authorities, as subversive.”

And that may be the most subversive thing about Oprah. It certainly allows her to be highly influential.

You can do 100 pushups

For people who like a fitness challenge, there is always the marathon. However, if for whatever reason that doesn’t appeal to you, the folks at the site one hundred push ups have a strength challenge for you (I think you can guess).

They have a clean, straighforward site and an easy to follow program that is challenging but achievable.

They make a good case for the program too. Check it out.

P.S. Interestingly, they just tweaked the program. I think this will make it even better. C’mon! Wouldn’t you like to be able to do 100 pushups? With this site, it’s possible.

The financial crisis gets worse…

…based on this story of a $12B money market fund (Putnam Prime Money Market Fund) closing up. As the Washington Post says,

“The Putnam action is likely to increase concern among investors about the safety of investments in money-market funds, traditionally viewed as basically comparable to bank accounts. Investors pulled an estimated $80 billion from money-market funds yesterday, according to Crane Data, which tracks the industry.”

People in risker investments expect and are told to expert downturns. People with money market funds do not. As well, if money market funds are in taking a hit, no type of investment is safe.

More here.

The Ghost Map: a book on a 19th century to help us in the 21st

Not only is this book good, but there is a very good web site for it here: The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson.

It is a book of many subjects and many ideas conveyed along with a strong narrative. I’d highly recommend it, just for that.

The ideas are not idle, however: though set in 19th century London, I kept thinking about the listeria outbreak and the SARS epidemic the whole time I was reading it. I also thought of a recent comment by an expert on cancer who spoke of how our current approaches many not be right to deal with cancer. This reminded me of the experts in this book who struggle to deal with cholera without any of the ideas of disease that we have. Perhaps in 20 or more years, people will look back and see how we struggled with dealing with cancer. To them it will be a disease that is  will be as straightforward to deal with, just like we deal with cholera.

If you get an opportunity, pick up the book. At the very least, check out the web site. Either way, you’ll get lots of good ideas that will get your thinking.

Fall is all about harvest and colour

Like this:

The blog  oliveloaf design has more great photos to inspire your senses, too.

The history of California Chardonnay and why you drink what you drink

Slate magazine uses the topic of a new film, Bottle Shock, to go over the history of California chardonnay. It is ironic that after beating the French at their own game, California chardonnay evolved away from that taste and towards the oaky, buttery, non-acidic wine that most people love, save the author of this piece (and those of the ABC crowd: anything but chardonnay).

As for me, I think there is a time and place for everything, and there are times when I like that rich taste of those wines. But I like to go with the ABC crowd too and find other varietals and other styles to try, whether it is Viogniers, Reislings, or Chenin Blancs, to name a few (though I tend to avoid Pinot Grigio).

See the article here: The last great California chardonnays. – By Mike Steinberger – Slate Magazine

CNN explains the AIG bailout

If you are one of those people scratching their head/worrying about this, check out this:

AIG bailout might work out well for taxpayers – CNN.com

Notice the word might.

Next U.S bank on the chopping block: Washington Mutual

See here: Washington Mutual Is Said to Consider Sale – NYTimes.com

You can also see who the players are that are in a position of strength: Wells Fargo, JP Morgan Chase. In fact, the nytimes has a great graphic here that shows the major financial companies and who is/was in trouble. (It’s alot!)

How much has been lost in the last year? Only 4 trillion, give or take a few billion.

Two things to look for in banking: predator banks and nationalized banks

Signs of that can be seen in this article in the the Globe and Mail’s reportonbusiness.com: Banking crisis crosses Atlantic.

First, smart banks, like Lloyd’s, are going to take advantage of this crisis to snap up banks that they have had their eye on for some time. Bank of America did the same thing. If you start to see mergers over the next few weeks, it may not be so much that both parties are desparate; rather it may be that one party is the wounded prey and the other party is the stronger hunter.

Second, you may see the concept of “national” banks come to the fore.  Just like countries subsidize agriculture and airlines, you may see countries subsidize national banks, as well. It would be an extension of a country’s central bank, but it would be a commercial enterprise with restrictions. (For example, they may have a mandate to do a certain percentage of banking within the country they reside in.)

This is merely a prediction, but not an unlikely one, given the way things are going.

On the other hand, Chinese banks could come along and just swallow up a good portion of American and European banks, and that would be that. I am betting on the former, but we will see.

“The Great Crash: 1929” by John Kenneth Galbraith


Galbraith writes well, and he writes particularly well on the subject of the Great Crash of 1929. If you don’t know much about it before reading his book, you may be surprised to read that the Great Crash was something of a prolonged affair. Indeed, throughout the crisis, there was more than one occasion when people thought and hoped that stability had been achieved, only to see that hope destroyed.

You can find Extracts from “The Great Crash: 1929” by John Kenneth Galbraith (First Published 1955; 1961 Reprint) at Lachlan Cranswick’s Personal Homepage.. I recommend the book. If ever there was a time to read it, this week would be a good one.

(photo Brian Snyder/Reuters)

Why U.S. Banks will continue to decline for years to come…

…is best captured in this quote from this article, Morgan Stanley Considers Merger With Wachovia:

“executives like John A. Thain, the chief executive of Merrill and a former Goldman executive, say investment banks will need large bases of deposits to shore up their capital for times of trouble.”

The problem is, capital is moving across the world, to China and India. It’s the Asian banks that will have more of the capital as the years pass, not the American banks. The Asian banks will be the ones that grow in the near future, provided that they can run their affairs wisely.

6 Food Mistakes Parents Make and why you should make them anyway

When I read this article (6 Food Mistakes Parents Make) I thought: I do just the opposite of many of these things. And for good reason! I tried following some of these rules, and found when I did the opposite, I got a better result. Results trump rules.

As a parent, it helps to have guidelines, especially when you are uncertain. But you should always do what’s best for your child, not what may work for children generally.

Some good news as well this week (I hope): Zimbabwe Rivals Sign Power-Sharing Agreement

While it remains to be seen how well this works, news of Zimbabwe Rivals Sign Power-Sharing Agreement (at NYTimes.com) should halt the downward spiral that Zimbabwe had been in and perhaps reverse the direction of the country. If things go well, Zimbabwe could be a great nation. Sometimes things do work out for the best: let’s hope that happens here.

AIG gets a pass

Why? According to TIME:

“Its collapse would be as close to an extinction-level event as the financial markets have seen since the Great Depression,” wrote money manager Michael Lewitt in Tuesday morning’s New York Times. There’s also the fact that through its insurance policies AIG touches far more regular Americans (and consumers around the world) than Lehman Bros. did.

It astounds me that businesses are aloud to be this toxic and get away with it. There was also this quote:

Plus, AIG’s insurance businesses make so much money that they could conceivably pay off the cost of the bailout within a few years.

What will be interesting for me is whether or not this actually happens. I suspect, instead, that the U.S. taxpayers will get stuck with the bill and then some other company will swoop in and take the assets.

Why the Government Won’t Let AIG Fail – TIME

Move over Al Gore! John McCain helped create the BlackBerry!

Now, this is news to alot of us Canadians in the IT business. And to be fair to John McCain, it’s likely news to him, too. But not to his advisor, Douglas Holtz-Eakin, who perhaps got a bit too excited in his praise of his boss.

See here for more details: Adviser calls BlackBerry ‘miracle’ McCain ‘helped create’ – CNN.com

It’s all fun and games on the campaign trail. Well, not all fun and games, but this certain is.

Next up in the financial meltdown: AIG

As this Slate article puts it, All Eyes On AIG today. This article is good because it has a rundown of what all the business press is saying. Read it now and get the scoop on everyone else.

Bonus: it mentions Damien Hirst at the end! 🙂

Hockey Moms against Sarah Palin

This is funny:

No, I don’t think they are really hockey moms. In fact, it’s a great poke at the political ads that crop up like weeds on U.S. television (and now the Internet).

Whatever your thoughts on Sarah Palin, pro or con, her ability to bring juice boxes to a hockey game is not really one that should be considered in assessing her as a candidate. 🙂

(tip to andrewsullivan.com)

Remember, in a worldwide financial crisis, no one knows anything

If you read articles in the nytimes.com, wsj.com, or other places, you will see people predicting this or that. The key thing to remember anytime you read such an article is: no one even remotely knows what will happen. What everyone — especially the man in the photo above — is trying to do is prevent the worst from happening and trying to make the most of a bad situation. That’s all you know. That’s about all they know, too.

In the meantime, read Wall St. in Worst Loss Since ’01, Despite Reassurances From Washington – NYTimes.com

It’s going to be a busy — and bad — week.

(Photo of U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Last Damien Hirst post – on his charitable work

I blame the nytimes.com for such good articles such as these, Damien Hirst at Sotheby’s – Thinking Outside the Dealer.
It had this nugget in it:

“This isn’t Mr. Hirst’s first foray into the auction business. A charity sale of works by 100 artists that he and Bono organized at Sotheby’s in New York in February raised $42 million for AIDS relief in Africa.”

Hirst goes big regardless of what he is doing. Good for him.

Damien Hirst Update

While the financial world was suffering, Mr. Hirst did well today, bring in $127.2 million at the first session of his art being auctioned at Sotheby’s. Remember, unlike Van Gogh, the artist is alive and well. Very well, financially.

However if you fear that everything is sold and there is nothing left, fear not. For the article said that:

‘One of his more macabre works, “Devil Worshiper,” a canvas with dead flies, didn’t sell. And neither did “Theology, Philosophy, Medicine, Justice,” which featured four bullsharks floating in two tanks.’

So there is still time. For more details, see Damien Hirst’s Mammoth Art Auction Attracts Plenty of Bidders, Despite Financial Turmoil – NYTimes.com

Some good advice to take away from the meltdown on Wall Street

As I am reading about the meltdown occurring, there are lots of complex terms and ideas being used that discourage  people — like myself — from believing I could understand what is really going on. But you don’t have to understand everything to know when things are going wrong. I thought of that when I came across this nytimes.com blog that said this:

“It was a couple of years ago that we learned AIG had sold, and bought, so-called finite insurance to manipulate financial statements. At the time, the predominant reaction among Wall Streeters was amazement that Hank Greenberg would do that when AIG was so strong without it.

I thought, but don’t think I ever wrote, that perhaps we should wonder if the strength we thought we saw reflected other games that we had not recognized.

Lesson: If you find out management is willing to cut corners in the financial statements, you should flee.

I put the lesson in bold, because the smart money does flee when it sees things like this.

Cat vs Printer (yes, here, too)

You will likely see this in many places on the Internet, but just in case you haven’t, here is the very funny Cat vs Printer

Stormpulse: THE way to track hurricanes and other storms

Stormpulse is THE place to check if you are want to get all the details on hurricanes and other storms. It has alot of detail and great mapping.

As someone from Nova Scotia, I also appreciate the inclusion of Halifax and Sydney, N.S. on the map. 🙂

As we get hit with Gustav, Hannah, Ike and more, you want to check out Stormpulse.