08 November 2010

A little crowing about crows (and ravens!)

I still get asked about the symbolism of crows.  Here's a good reason why they make me happy.  I can't imagine a dog or cat figuring this out...

Wild crows inhabiting the city use it to their advantage
(David Attenborough - BBC wildlife)

03 November 2010

Fall into Fall

The days after Halloween can be very sad.  So I cheer myself up each year with the fall collections from Emporio Armani.  ;-)

30 October 2010

For the Great Pumpkin, on Halloween

Dear Reader,

I'm going to share with you something that's very important to who I am, and that I haven't shared in many years, nearly 20 actually. When Sable Crow was a boy, Halloween was always his favorite time. It was a time when that little gay kid could be--for just a night--a little closer on the outside to who I was on the inside. Of course I see that now; at the time I thought it perfectly natural to decorate my bedroom and plan my costume, and escape from this shabby, brutal world for a while.

As you might imagine, Dear Reader (and you've seen it too, I bet) others could see this enthusiasm, and bore witness to the birth of this individuality. And something very magical happened one year, which carries me into my adulthood now. It also was the birth of my writer. For you see, I wrote about this in 1992, when I was 14. The result, which you'll read below, was published in the local paper.

It meant the world to the woman for whom it was written. I have lost her, and I have never found out what happened to her. I assume she is dead, and probably has been for many years.

Anyway, it was the first time I was published. Actually, it was the last time I was published, too.

And on this most sacred of holidays, when the darkness is so close and the other world is so near, I invoke the spirits to send this story into those shadow realms. I call on you, spirits, to hear my tale, and to remember.


Another Halloween day was slipping by. It was proving to be a good day, even for the beginning of the week. The October air was crisp with the chill of autumn and the excitement of the coming night. Lunch had just ended, and my class was filing in from the playground. It was the fourth grade, and the classroom I was in was alike to probably hundreds across the country. Thirty-two desks arranged in eight equal rows, all facing the green chalkboard, with the room, although spottily decorated with black and orange (and the occassional pumpkin or skeleton), on the whole unremarkable.

I thought that the day was going to be a regular Monday, enhanced only by the fact that it was my favorite day of the year, All Hallows Eve. Little did I know that this would be a day that I would remember for the rest of my life.

After lunch came math, a subject which made all but the hardiest of fourth graders cringe with terror. My teacher that year I had also had in the first grade, and she and I had become friends. She knew, perhaps, better than anyone else, that this was my day; that I loved Halloween even more than Christmas.

"Okay everybody, get your math books out," instructed Mrs. B, as I called her then and continue to call her now. As she said this, she strode to behind her desk and picked up a brown paper bag. I watched with growing curiosity as she brought the bag over to my desk.

"Someone said to give this to you," she said, with a smile I took to be kind curiosity but now know was barely concealed mirth. She handed me the bag, smiled, and said, "Happy Halloween."

As the rest of the class wearily dragged out their math books, I opened the package. Inside was a green which on a broom, the kind that is hung in kitchens for good luck when baking. There was also a card in a bright orange envelope. I opened it with the joy of a child opening a Christmas present. It was a peanuts card with Snoopy on the front in a Dracula costume. On the inside was the phrase that said it all, "Happy Halloween." The card was signed with an inked-in orange pumpkin with crooked teeth and triangle eyes. It was the seal of the elusive Great Pumpkin, whom I knew even then to be Mrs. B. With a smile, I glanced up at my unforgettable teacher, who smiled back, knowingly. The Great Pumpkin had struck again.

Even as I recall this incident, I can feel a bit of the joy and happiness it brought. It was a simple gift, the monetary value of which has been given to me thousands of times in the gifts of my family and friends. However, it was this simple present, given for simple reasons, that I will remember for all of my life because it made me feel special. Mrs. B., in her own magical way, had recongized me as an individual with individual likes and individual wishes. She had not treated me like part of a class, nor as a student. She had treaded me as a feeling person. Yet, the gift she had given me was no only the little green which with a pinched-looking face. She had given me the far moire important gift of self-worth.

We, as humans, all have our likes and dislikes, our hopes and fears. They are what make us unique, they are what make us who and what we are. Also, as humans, we need these likes and dislikes to be recognized so that we feel that someone cares. Looking back, I see that Mrs. B. had given me the feeling that someone did care, and the gift she gave me continues even today. On this lonely ball of rock spinning through space, such fulfillment is rare. Yet every person needs these boosts in self-confidence to continue in life.

Last Halloween, five years after receiving the little green witch, I got a Halloween Peanuts card signed with Mrs. B.'s seal of the Great Pumpkin. The moment I opened that card, something inside of me smiled, and it continues to smile today. Inside everyone there is a child, a child who needs to be the best, who needs to be cared for, who needs to be seen as an individual. Every person needs to have that child in them recognized, the child that waits for the Great Pumpkin in the pumpkin patch on Halloween night.

-(c) 1992-

Times have changed, Mrs. B, wherever you are. We use microchips to tell the stories that paper and ink once held. And those stories can be seen all across the world--this lonely ball of rock has gotten smaller in these two decades.

She hangs in my kitchen to this day.

But know this, my Great Pumpkin. The lessons you taught me were the beginning of a great journey--a night-time pumpkin patch as wide as a lifetime, and as deep as a dream.

And Mrs. B., wherever you are, please know that you are a light in that darkness, and that when this Sable Crow at last sees that Great Pumpkin rise up against the harvest moon--he will think of you.

15 October 2010

The Lowly Penny

I often mock the lowly penny, and frequently leave them behind on counters, or just drop them in the street. But this new design is really cool! And I think kinda a good excuse to get you thinking about our currency. It'll be a subject of discussion here, once I defend selfishness and capitalism.

Some facts:
The penny is 2.5% copper and 97.5% zinc. In 1857, it was 88% copper and 12% nickel.

The penny has been a part of our circulating currency since 1793.

At that point, based on inflation, it was worth more than a dime is worth today (today you'd need $0.1245 to buy what a penny bought you in 1793)--suggesting we could get rid of both the penny and the nickel.

The 13 vertical stripes on the shield of the new design represent the 13 colonies--so our currency is clearly not triscadecaphobic.

The image of Lincoln on the "obverse" or heads side has been used since 1909.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

07 October 2010

On Capitalism, A Debate

I warn you, Dear Reader, this post is LOOOOOONG.  But it's worth it; Sable Crow promises.  In fact, I take some pretty heavy hits, and it's good reading..  First, some context.  One of my friends (The Instigator) on the Book of Faces posted the video below.

As often happens, a string of comments was born (after the video).  But they quickly became something greater than that tired Democrat v Republican prattle.  What emerged was one of the best conversations I've had about the nature of capitalism, selfishness, entitlement, and obligation.  Naturally, this ragged crow has removed names, and substituted archetypes instead!  My hope is that the conversation can continue here, and that we can create a forum for this discussion... 

So picture it, Dear Reader!!  And be prepared to join the fray.  No one gets a pass in this.

An Academic, an Actor, and a Capitalist (played by your Sable Crow) walk into a Facebook bar...


The Everywoman: 
I'm voting republican because Obama is muslim and trying to kill my grandma (also because If we let let the gays marry than people are gonna want to to marry farm animals. because that's what Larry Craig, Roy Ashburn, George Rekers, Eddie Long, Troy King, Richard Curtis, Ted Haggard, Glenn Murphy Jr., David Dreier, Bruce Barclay, Roy Ashburn, Ed Schrock, Robert Allen and Jim West say. And their not gay, just "heterosexual with issues." And they asked God to forgive them, so it's all good).
Monday at 7:40pm
The Everywoman:  ‎
Monday at 7:51pm
Sable Crow: 
I'm voting Republican because we have an unsustainable set of obligations and entitlements, and because the Republicans are the best of two sorry options to fix the problems we're going to face in the next 5-10 years. I'm voting Republican because the Democrats are happy to take our money (I gave to Obama's campaign fund) but the Dems don't care at all about actually delivering on their promises to the LGBTQ community--they play us for our cash, and that's it. The longer they take, the more we have to give. I'm voting Republican because our "progressive" tax policy is a sham--most people don't even pay taxes, and how can you expect a populace to make reasonable decisions on tax policy when a good chunck of them have no investment in the outcome. I'm voting Republican because very soon the gay issue will be over, will no longer matter to the political parties, and I'm getting ahead of the curve.
Tuesday at 8:48am
The Instigator:
I couldn't agree more about the Democrats being all too happy to take LGBT money but fail to deliver on their empty promises to the community. I can't say I think the Republicans are the best equipped to fix the economic problems of the next 5-10 years as I think they were a huge part (thought not the sole cause) of the reason the economic collapse occurred to begin with. But, Sable, I find very interesting what you said about the "gay issue" being over soon and you being ahead of the curve.

I started my political leanings nearly 20 years ago as a Republican because I was drawn to a platform of smaller government, lower taxes and more localized control. However, it didn't take but a few years for me to realize that the Republican party had mostly lost its way on their original principles of individual liberty and freedom and they had been completely hijacked a generation earlier by the religious right.

The fundamentalist, zealous Bible-thumpers had/have such a vice-like grip on the GOP nutsack it made voting for them unpalatable and untenable. But, if you're right (and I both hope and think you are) then I can foresee a time in the near future where I could again embrace the GOP. After all, without the use of divisive social issues like gays, they'll have little other choice but to refocus their platform on original founding principles and the issues that REALLY matter to Americans: taxes, limited government and individual liberty.
Tuesday at 10:16am
A Commentor:
As much as you like to bash the Tea Party, that's precicely what they stand for: lower taxes, limited government, and individual liberty. The GOP and the Dems have completely lost their way. They're both bloated on power and our tax money, and it's time for a change.
Tuesday at 12:36pm
The Instigator: 
@Commentor, the Tea Party OSTENSIBLY stands for lower taxes, limited government and individual liberty. But ask just about any one of them what their position is on marriage equality, the use of medical marijuana, or abortion and you'll learn just how limited their view of "individual liberty" is. There may be some educated, reasonable voters among them but they are, for the most part, little more than a thinly veiled radical faction of the aptly named GOP "base."
Tuesday at 12:47pm
The Everywoman: 
@Instigator, don't forget religion- if you're not the "right" kind of Christian, you too are the enemy!
Tuesday at 1:11pm
The Academic: 
‎@ Instigator--you nailed it. Recent survey of TPers makes the case pretty clearly.  In short, there is a lot of overlap with the christian conservative right. Though there is probably a "revolution in the revolution," i.e. elements that actually have some radical propositions (most of which seem like adolescent fantasies of Ayn Rand), for the most part these are just angry middle class white people who are riled up at the fancy black man living in the Masta's House. It would be nice if there was a democratic alternative to this madness--i.e. an actual leftish/liberal alternative. But for now the dems seem to think that they will be able to carry the election based on the fracturing of the right. Time will tell...

As for Sable Crow's claim about the "unsustainable set of obligations:" horseshit. The deficit is a long term problem, but the CBO numbers people cite to promote doomsday scenarios project the debt being catastrophic in something like 2070--and that doomsday # is based on sclerotic growth of 2% or so--or about half of the average growth rate for all of US history. In other words, if they are really a problem, the problem isn't the debt per se, but the fact that the CBO predicts we will have a completely shitty economy for the next half century or more. If that is true it demands a creative solution now rather than the lame brain neoliberalism we've been fed for the past thirty years. The idea that "lower taxes, smaller government" is somehow a novel solution is completely ahistorical: the tax rates have fallen to an all time low--and to say that almost no one pays taxes anymore, therefore we should lower taxes seems completely contradictory. Why not get the people who don't pay taxes (i.e. the people in the top 1% that get 34% of the income in the country) to actually pony up some cash in exchange for their free ride on our country's future?

If only someone in the party in power had the balls to do something about this, to make a passionate argument in favor of countercyclical spending and a progressive tax code (much less the no-brainer of repealing don't ask, don't tell), we might actually get some traction among the truly angry and left out in the country. Instead we get platitudes about the founders and empty promises of "liberty." What good is liberty if you can die of unemployment, starvation, and treatable diseases in the most prosperous country in the history of the world? Is it really freedom if the only thing you are really free to do is pay up or die?
Tuesday at 1:22pm
The Actor: 
The GOP as you knew them ain't comin' back in your life time or mine and I'm not sure ever really existed. At what point in their political history were republicans more ready to embrace LGBT concerns let alone pass LGBT friendly legislation than democrats. and this newest mutation least of all.

My God this kind of take your ball and run across the street every time you don't immediately get your way is exactly why progressive poitics as a whole is shambling hot mess we see today. It also shows a startling lack of clarity on how our democracy is supposed to work and a disheartening lack of patience, foresight and conviction. These are the hallmarks of the liberal progressive poitics as a whole and special interest causes like yours, and my own to be fair, in specific. Fuck! I know you're frustrated, I'm frustrated but what has slinging loyalties back and forth between political parties( or threatening to) done for your cause in the last forty years but postpone it's realization. We'd all be better served picking and sticking. Figuring out out the poitics of the time and the current administration and work the levers that exist. Until they don't you'll get your chance to work through the other guys soon enough and good luck with that. Did you forget 2000-2008. the period I like to call the dark ages. You want more of that only crazier and less competent then by all means vote your fucking heart. The Dems are still the best avenue toward any progressive change in this country LGBT or otherwise and it's about time we all grew up and realized this as incredibly dissatisfying but ultimate truth. As far as the republicans being the road back to responsiblility, truth and individual freedom? Stability, economic or otherwise? and this particular crop? You must still be thinking of the fantasy GOP, the fun one that everybody talks about but has never really seen like a big pally Sasquatch. If it ever existed which I doubt Regan put a bullet thru it in the eighties and buried it with the rest of the fairy tale somwhere near Barstow.
Tuesday at 1:27pm
Sable Crow:
@ The Academic:
There are two things to respond to. 1) obligations, and their unsustainability and 2) income tax.

Let's address #2 first.  That ought to do.

If you'd like to raise taxes, be my guest. But raise taxes on the half of the population that isn't paying anything, and it's not the "top 1%". What's good for the goose, is good for the gander. People need to have a stake in their taxation, or of course they'll always vote to tax the other guy.

Now on to #1. First, I'm not talking about future deficits. I'm willing to leave it aside, imagining we reelect Obama and we have a balanced budget (two unlikely scenarios). Last year, the US collected about $2T in tax revenue. We owe nearly $13T last time I looked. At a reasonable interest rate, let's say 3%, on short treasuries a year from now, that $13T will cost $390B a year in interest only, or roughly 20% of our annual tax income. That's a fact. The only thing preventing that from happening now is the Fed's insane quantitative easing. Not that I'm surprised. If you could lower your rates on your pile of unsustainable debt, you would too. Come to think of it, that's exactly what we're trying to do with the underwater homeowners--just make the debt cheaper. It won't work. If you were paying 20% of your income to your interest only, without touching the principal of your debt, I'd say you were unsustainable, too.

Next, I recently sat in a presentation by non-partisan Vanguard, who did a study on non-discretionary spending growth. Their annuity and financial planning businesses depend on accurately assessing the risks of ageing costs. Social security is not likely to grow as a percentage of GDP (5% or so), so changing the retirement age makes little difference (a surprise to me). But health spending is another matter, doubling as a percentage of GDP by 2050. So SSI and Healtcare spending reach 20% of GDP by 2050. Only half of that is the effect of ageing (an older population). The other half is very expensive treatments for very sick, or dying, people.

So we are absolutely on an unsustainable arc with our entitlements, and that's before you or I ever retire, or need those entitlements. I've left out unfunded pension liabilities, which are another $1T problem. And our lack of infrastructure spending, yet another $1T problem. Calling something horseshit doesn't make it go away, sadly.
Tuesday at 2:21pm
The Everywoman:
I am a white, straight, single woman with a Master's degree. Last year my income was about $14,000. I live with my mother and spend just over a 3rd of my income on medical expenses (no insurance), and most of the rest goes to student loan payments. AND YET...I would be willing to pay MORE in taxes if it meant helping someone less fortunate than me, because despite the above qualifications, I consider myself LUCKY! At least I have a mother willing to help out. I know I'm not the only who thinks like this. Tiny case in point: my mother is a CPA, and of her clients, the vast majority of those in the middle to lower class (yes, lower class...we have sheep for a reason) give a far greater percent of their incomes to charitable organizations (yes, churches count) than her upper-middle to upper class clients. Why is it with those with less are willing to give more? Not that I'm naive, I know I am not in the majority, and the bottom line, is Jason is right. We're fucked, unless we stop with the fear mongering bullshit and start acting like the country our forefathers envisioned...a country where ALL HUMAN BEINGS are treated equally, regardless of RACE, RELIGION, SEX, SEXUALITY, ET AL. TRUE FREEDOM IS FREEDOM FOR ALL. If we'd quite bickering about bullshit and acting like 5 year-old's, maybe this (and future) administrations would have a chance. Is the question of gay marriage really more important than health-care (and by that I mean it is ridiculous for our representative waste time fighting AGAINST something that should clearly NOT be a government issue. We should have the right to marry who we want. Period. If you have a problem with that, fine. But keep it out of the political arena)??? IT'S CALLED SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE FOR A REASON!! It makes me SICK how we, Americans, are viewed by the rest of the world. We have gone from the land of opportunity, to the land of the oppressed. We are ruled, not by logic, but by ignorance. And that ignorance breeds fear. I don't even know what my point is anymore, other than to say open your eyes, look deeper...yes, I'm disappointed in the administration, but I am more ashamed by the opposition. They have gone so far beyond appropriate it's not even funny.

Rant over. Sorry Instigator :/
Tuesday at 6:04pm
The Actor:
Sable Crow, it's not your numbers that are full of shit if you get my drift. Everywoman don't be sorry I'm of a mind to thank him for giving me a chance to rant AND I think he enjoys it. Oddly, plugged back into this conversation while sitting here watching Rachel Maddow (who runs one of the absolutel smartest not to mention funnest political shows I've ever seen.) Don't know what relevence that has to the previous notes but I know it has some. I read Sable Crow's second post and understood it like this, thoroughly rational, analytically relevent and wholly despicable.

It seems to me a microcosm of the argument as a whole. We can all see the problems but we come to very different conclusions about what it takes to fix it and indeed what this country this democracy and this government is really about, not to mention what it means to be a active citizen thereof. A teacher of mine recenly put it as succinctly as I've ever heard it. There are those of us who believe in love thy neighbor, it takes a village and we're all in this together, then there are those bastards who think it's every man for himself. "Those bastards" were pushing that theory for a long time before Reagan gave them their wings. 40 years later, now that it's cool to be callous it's actually promoted as a socio/political/economic way of life. One that has to go.

So the post seemed to me the same Uncle Milty (Friedman) Masters of the Universe school of thought thinly frosted with an I'm really a nice guy ultrarational beancount. The poor, the sick and the dying!? Jesus. Oh yeah, those freeloaders. Aside from all the numbers it seems to me we in this country have to answer some simple questions about who we are and want to be moving forward. Chiefly do I give a shit about anybody besides myself, my family and my immediate socio/economic/ peer group (in any order, beginning with myself). Or do I understand that no matter who I am I have a fundamental responsibility to my fellows in particular and especially those less fortunate than I. If you do not you are a probably a republican by nature and had no business voting for Obama in the first place and as such I have zero sympathy for any disappointment you may feel and less for any positions you hold dear like continued tax relief for the wealthiest amongst you ( I say you because they obviously aren't amongst the rest of us.)
Tuesday at 7:27pm
The Academic:
@ Sable Crow: Yes, horseshit. You read that 50% of the households in the country make less than $50K a year and what you notice is that they don't pay income tax? I think it's a bit more astounding that the median *household* wage is $50K. Half the country's households--moms, dads, kids altogether--make less than $50K. The tax breaks Obama is talking about is for the people making over $250K a year--or the top 3%. The top income tax bracket has been cut to a third of what it was at midcentury (used to be close to 90%, now closer to 36%; if you are a hedge fund bozo, closer to 15%). That the top 10% pays something like 73% of the taxes should come as little surprise since they get something like that proportion of the income pie as it is--not counting wealth, capital gains, etc. And since the census data stops counting at something like $250K per household (and we have no idea how much money people have socked away in offshore accounts), this is really just the tip of their iceberg.
Their share of the income pie has grown exponentially over the past thirty years, while wages for the middle to bottom quintiles have stagnated--and the real value of those wages has begun to go down. In other words, the top 1% pays no where near the taxes they should--they are, after all, the ones who have benefited the most from this insane resurgence of class power known as neoliberalism. Free trade, free movement of capital, death to the unions, Volker's "the american standard of living must decline," privatization, deregulation, blah blah blah (Will seems to have this one wrapped up): all this was supposed to make our economy stronger, more dynamic, you name it. Yet all it's done is make us more unequal, decimate our economy, and thrust our poverty rate into territory it hasn't been in several generations. I'm sure many of the people in that bottom 47% would gladly pay income tax--if only they had some income on which to pay it.

Since the article explicitly says these people pay payroll taxes (and all of them likely pay regressive sales taxes among others) all this is basically a smoke screen since you say the big problem is healthcare (i.e. they pay medicare taxes, for what that's worth). That in itself seems to be a lame excuse since it could have been fixed if anyone wanted to end the ridiculous, overly expensive system of private/public health care in this country and institute single payer like every other rational industrialized country has done. SSI is paygo and I'll bracket the current account deficit since, large as it is this year, that is also the fault of the system that was supposed to let the freewheeling market deliver us from evil. I'd argue that the deficit is nowhere near as large as it should be this year. Most estimates say that the kind of jobs stimulus we needed to get us anywhere close to out of this ditch needed to be four times the stim-pak. All the numbers you cite are basically a smoke screen (calculating pensions as unfunded liabilities to the point of infinity is shifty math since they are also pay-go): the basic problem of our economy needing to grow and people needing to have money to buy things to make the economy grow looms much larger in the short term.

Which brings me back to the horseshit. Your entire position is one big self fulfilling prophecy. It says that we've basically evicerated the economy with this neoliberal bullshit (I know--so much shit!) but now we don't have any money to pay for the stuff that the advocates of the neoliberal bullshit hated and wanted to kill from the very beginning. Eliminate the state, drown it in the bathtub, etc. Every man for himself and make the poor work off their debt to society in the debtor prison--or send them to the colonies (Iraq, Af-Pak). That line of horseshit must be called exactly what it is. And no cloud of numbers spun to infinity will convince me that there isn't another way to organize society in the long term than to leave it in the hands of the people (and the ideology) who've just fucked us over (yet again). We have enough stuff, we have the knowledge, if not the means (thanks to your ideology's contribution to deindustrializing our economy) to make more stuff when we need it. We have good doctors, teachers, civil servants, technicians, and if we'd give up the fight to keep a large portion of our workforce in proto slavery (i.e. "illegal immigrants") we might be able to replace the aging workers as they retire.

The big loose end is fossil fuels, which we have to import, but if replacing that system were part of the goal, well, we might just be in business. We are nowhere near Greece or any of the PIIGS in terms of deficits or debts and have much bigger problems to deal with before either of those become priority 1. Since our treasury notes are still doing swift business on international markets, it seems even your favored oracle would agree.

Aren't we supposed to be creative and highly developed as a country? Why do we keep beating our head against this wall? And why do you want to help us to continue to beat our head against this same, damn wall?
Tuesday at 8:37pm
Sable Crow
Academic, Actor, and Everywoman:

Actually, when the top marginal rate was last 91% (in 1963) it applied to income over $400,000. A quick glance at an inflation calculator makes the modern equivalent $2,772,870.43. You want to raise the income tax on THAT bracket, be my guest. Not on individuals making $200,000. It's no cooincidence tax rates spiked after the Depression (afterall, SOMEBODY had to pay for all that government largess), but they were on income levels in excess of $1,000,000 (and those were 1930's dollars). Today, it would take income of $15,468,912.73 to be equivalent.

It's disingenuous to bemoan that "the top income tax bracket has been cut to a third of what it was at midcentury"'; without inflation adjustment it's just not relevant.

Besides, "tax break" or "tax relief" are absurdisms. They rely on the underlying belief that what we earn as individuals by rights belongs to the government. It is not a "tax break" to steal less. It is not "relief" when it was not the government's (or, by extension, yours) to begin with.

I would be deeply wary at a group dinner with adherents to your ideology. In such an ideology, when the bill came they'd smugly pay what they could "afford", regardless of what they ordered, and pass the bill on to somebody else, shrouded in self-righteousness. Talk about an entitled and selfish ideology. Talk about "despicable."

I'm unlikely to compell an articulate critic of intellectual property (and, it seems to me, the concept of ownership, per se), but ultimately I think our division comes down to something along these lines: I believe each of us acts in accordance with our own self interest, and earns the right to control the capital produced by our labors. I think what Will and SJA are saying is that you feel justified in taking from others to pay for your beliefs about what is right. Hey man, if that's not self-interest, I don't know what is. In mine, people are given the individual responsibilty to make rational decisions on their own. I'm no fool--many will not, and the consequences are dire.

Of course "I understand that no matter who I am I have a fundamental responsibility to my fellows in particular and especially those less fortunate than I." I also act accordingly in my community. Do you? It is humbling, heartbreaking work, and I would do anything--including engage in conversations like this, to ensure that I have the resources to do it, and that they are not stolen from me by well-meaning "altruists". To Lori's point, I also imagine that if you looked at what the lower brackets gave as a percentage of income, and what the upper brackets give in charity AND taxes, you'd find the numbers are not that far off. Taxes reallly do affect how much money people have to do with as they see fit, including philanthropy.

But ultimately, as Everywoman implies, compassion is an individual, self-interested choice. If you believe strongly in ending hunger, then apply your own resources to solve the problem. Compel others through rational arguments to use their own capital (human, social, economic) to do the same. Beware the person who would take it through the tax man, at the point of a gun (and make no mistake, that's where you'll find yourself if you don't pay taxes). As for me, I would rather we supported the Trevor Project, and prevent LGBTQ kids from killing themselves. But it's your money--I have no right to tell you to do otherwise with it. The corrollary is likewise true.

Where we do align is on immigration (we need the labor to right-side the lopsided pay-go pyramid), and fossil fuel use (there's a good place to raise taxes, as behaviors dramatically change at $4/gallon). We obviously don't align on more stimulus (it has dubious returns, and doing more of it would be unlikely to produce a different result), and on the cause and cure of healthcare cost-increases (if consumers of healthcare are protected from actual prices, then free-market forces won't drive prices lower, and of course costs will rise).

We also agree that we are a creative and developed country. But we disagree on where that creativity comes from, and on the conditions that will be needed to foster it going forward.
23 hours ago
The Academic:
Glad there are some points of agreement, but obviously we'll have to agree to disagree about the whole tax as theft meme (you've done your homework so you probably know the longer argument here). You'd like to have a government that protects private property but you don't want to pay for it. And if you have to pay for it, then you'd like for everyone to have to pay equally for the protection of that private property, even if the majority of people don't really benefit from that protection. To retain political legitimacy in the long term, your 'negative' rights will inevitably bleed into 'positive' rights. If the government is "for the people" but really only protects a small minority, it is likely teetering on being a failed state. It's messy business (far less elegant than your oversimplified pablum about paying through charity to keep people from going hungry, but a reality nonetheless); in case you haven't noticed we actually live in a different century than John Locke and it is much harder to send people to debtors prison (otherwise known as the government's gunpoint used to enforce the debt other people owe you--a handy apparatus the attorneys at your finance firm have likely employed a number of times.)

I wasn't being disingenuous about the tax brackets: I'm perfectly aware of the reality of inflation and would be more than happy to have incomes over $2million taxed at something approaching rate--and it seems pretty reasonable to do so for people making $15 million. That's pretty much what I'm talking about. The $250K cite was just to point out how high in the income brackets that number falls (top 3%). I don't think people who make $250K think of themselves as being in the top 3% and they really should.

I also think you're being disingenuous. You seem like a pretty wealthy guy (VP of a capital management firm) and I imagine that, if you and Everywoman or Actor were pals, you'd be perfectly happy to have them pay what they could afford if you all went to dinner (especially if it was at a restaurant you chose). But in any case, that's not what any of us are asking you to do. In fact, no one here said they wanted any of this for themselves. What's despicable is the fact that you imagine everyone scrambling for a handout from you as opposed to simply working hard and finding themselves in a bind. I know right now it's hard to imagine, but the way social insurance works is that if you one day found yourself in a bind, it would be there for you as well. You pay for car insurance, but are probably a pretty safe driver: do you resent the fact that other people who buy the same insurance have wrecks and this indirectly effects the rates you pay?

The people who do the bulk of the work in this country--or hell, just the bulk of people in this country--get paid far less than they need to be, particularly when you factor in things like health care and the enormous pension funds that have been such amazing playgrounds for capital groups like your own. Their wages and rights as workers have been decimated by decades of propaganda by class warriors like yourself. The largess these top income earners have received since the 1970s is a vast redistribution of wealth from the middle to the upper class. This is not about "robbing" them, but about retribution for the pilfering that's been done. You can talk all day about your find ideals of liberty and freedom, restate your von Mises and your Hayak in as folksy terms as possible, but when you do so looking down your nose at the highest poverty rates in half a century, as if that is none of your concern, it is pretty clear what those terms mean for you. The sooner the Tea Party people realize they are being led to support an ideology that is ultimately responsible for the hardship they face now--an ideology that is ultimately not in their best interest, the better off that movement will be.

As for the rest of us, it would be good if we finally recognized that the other two parties are basically different versions of that same ideology, and the entrenched interests of finance like it that way. Why you'd support the GOP when they are so completely repulsive on gay rights, and when they basically only pay slightly better lip service to your libertarian convictions, is beyond me.
22 hours ago
The Actor: 
Whew! Glad you guys are still here and the great debate of our age continues...on Facebook...oy.

Sable Crow, let me first say this has been a great discussion and I really appreciate you taking the time to post your thoughts also your candor and willingness to engage. I think, as I 've said, we're debating what I believe is the great question of our generation.

That being said... Sable Crow! You facist bastard!

kidding! I kid! Well, maybe only a little.

If you can peer over your reread of Ayn Rand the Classics long enough to look around. Dude, you are not alone. See those large bipeds out there? Those are your fellow human beings. Yes even the ones without the identifying Armani suits. You should get to know a few. Noooo, a few who make less than 50 grand a year. I'd say start with 30,000 (I know, preposterous) maybe a father of three or a single mom or something. They don't talk like your talking, for a reason. They can't afford to. It's funny I didn't google you or anything but even before The Academic let the cat out of it's proverbial bag I kept thinking finance guy. Gotta be, Serious education, well spoken writes well, possible ivy league creds, loves slinging those numbers and the only other people that detached are rocket jocks and brain surgeons. Not to mention finance people are probably the only people with any liquid cash lying about to brag about. Or worry about being stolen. I won't even get into the absurdity of the notion of any one engaged in finance accusing any one else of stealing after what just went down.

I would do anything to ensure I have the resources and make sure they weren't stolen...by freakin altruists. Do you have any earthly idea what you sound like? Capitalist is not strong enough by a long shot. When people talk about ultimate power corrupting..they're talking about you my fine Field Marshall of Finance my Sultan of the Subprime.

Check me if I'm wrong here Sandy but when you're talking about your self interest and your money aren't you talking about your self interest and somebody elses money? I've been reading about you guys. Class of 80, 90 something? The brilliant ones. Sun gods one article called you boys n girls. Bar none the best ever produced. Oh, also the ones completely unhooked from the kinds of ethical and moral hinges that kept their predecessors from doing naughty things like creating subprime mortgages or selling stocks and finance products made of purest shit then betting against them. To other countries no less. Very naughty indeed. How bout it? Am I talking to a Sun God Sable Crow? You're sounding an awful lot like one. Certainly nothing you said in the last post lead me to believe that you were any saner than you were yesterday. And Yes absolutely I do believe this obsession with self interest is a kind of insanity. A sociopathy. Ascribing self interest as the guiding principle for all human behavior simply ends up being a self fullfilling ever constant excuse for doing exactly what ever it is you want to do when ever you want to do it and to whomever. Sans moral hazard and now thanks largely to the finance industry sans legal jeapardy. What of the unimpeachable self multiplied and completely uncoupled from it's connection and commitment to the realities of the community at large ie country/planet/species even in the form of say a tax responsibility or the ten commandments or laws that make it a crime to steal or kill or a simple code that says as a boy it's bad to hit girls or make a product that doesn't work then bet on it's failure. ( that used to be a law but a bunch of finance guys got together and changed it) I for one believe we have already witnessed it in the calmities of the period between 2000 and 2008 ending with the Near Death Experience of our economy. Now Sable Crow you probably can't personally be held responsible for that collossal fucking disaster nor, probably, can the company you're with. you're probably a decent guy who towed the line and stayed the fuck out of subprimes and all the garbage specifically designed to suck all the money out of my country and give nothing back ( and I'm praying against all hope here that that is the case) but if rank self interest gone the way it always ALWAYS goes, which is completely insane, wasn't at work there I will be damned.

It's an old argument, age old used primarily by those with power in order to keep power. Fear is at the heart of it. It says You are utterly alone. If you believe that and should you manage to obtain and maintain a modicum of wealth, privelege, power then you can stand with the gods and proclaim. Why, look there was only me. I CREATED this with my bare hands. Look ye and adore. You will stand apart ( read above) your fellows and woe to those should try to filch from or otherwise fuck with your mighty stash. This of course is coupled with a kind of original sin concept atached the character of those who have not managed to achieve this status. It's automatic. Fuckin freeloaders.

You will look and feel and sound...well a lot like Sable Crow.

While Atlas was teaching you how to shrug I was reading a different piece of science fiction. In it a kid gets this awful test. With a poison tipped needle at his throat enduring excruciating pain he has to learn to do something very hard. It's his first lesson on his hero/warriors path if you read Joe Campbell if (you don't SC you might) and without it's knowlege he can't become what he is destined to be. He must learn to subsume his self interest, his animal instinct, for it's higher alternate the interest of the community. The whole. In the book he could not even be considered a true human without that knowlege. Look, as we struggle out of the Picean into the Aquarian we need only look back on what the Me people have wrought to chart our course for the future. this is a failed and ultimately self destructive philosophy. When I say self I mean the whole self. If you like Star Trek the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one or few. This is not a choice Your species depend on it.

One of the reasons I'm loving this conversation is that you're being about as candid with these ideas as anybody I've talked to literally since Reagan was president and this sort of rank hostility, toward the poor especially, was being proudly and loudly reignited as more than just a wedge issue for a fall election.The argument back then against the poor( not to mention the sick, the mentally ill, the handicapped, the black, the brown, the red ect.) was simple.

They are stealing your money. It hasn't changed.

I gotta say though Sable you gave me my first big laugh of the day with your description of the dinner party. You, obviously, are not an actor. It's not despicable, it's saturday night in LA. But since you brought it up I'd say it was a fairly apt highlighting of our differing philosophies and a great illustration of the great argument. I am an actor (sneer if you can't help it) and having lived in such a system ( giggle) for many years let me tell you, and I'm being perfectly frank here, it works fine nearly every single time. Sooner or later what comes around goes around. It may take time but I've never been let down on either end and I've been in both positions several times.

And again i thank you I was actually afraid I'd be home too late and the posts would be gone. But thanks for staying engaged believe it or not it helps.

24 September 2010

Giorgio Armani's Partnership With Lady Gives Designer Creative Edge - WSJ.com

Giorgio Armani's Partnership With Lady Gives Designer Creative Edge - WSJ.com: "Armani Hitches Wagon to Gaga"

Fashion and Armani and Gaga in the Wall Street Journal! Oh my!

Diabolina has been talking about this for quite a while. It's nice to see a designer as staid (I didn't say stale) as Armani get on board.

For some more Armani--in this case my beloved Emporio--check out Gaga's Alejandro video below!  The military/bondage inspired male dancers are in Armani.  I have to say, since Emporio makes up the bulk of my wardrobe, that business and fetish wear are really not that different.  In each, personality and individuality creates tension within the context of specific rules (context is important in both business/fetish wear).  In both, customization and tailoring are key elements.  Funny how life immitates sex.

23 September 2010

Sable's new music: The Avett Brothers

Loving "Kick Drum Heart" right now, by The Avett Brothers. Hope you enjoy!

And "I and Love and You". Heartbreaking...if this old capitalist crow still had one, that is.

Disney's Halloween Treat

Sable Crow loves some nostalgia. It's fall now, so the decorations can go up. The holiday is coming.

22 September 2010

Crow's Nest: New Feature

Hello Dear Reader,

You've probably noticed that I've been posting a lot of dour news about the economy lately.  And politics.  Necessary to all of us, but boring to some of you.  And certainly no fun for me. 

But this blog isn't just Finance; it's Fashion also, which to me means aesthetics in a broader sense.  And few things in this world capture a crow's aesthetic imagination like a nest.  So today I'm introducing "Crow's Nest" where I'll talk about houses.  When the time comes for my own nest, this is where I'll squawk about it.

Now, please know that this ragged crow is obsessed with homes.  Lately, this one is my favorite.  10,000 square feet of modern lovely, it soars above West Hollywood in contemporary splendor.  It was recently featured in a design magazine, and I vowed to find it.  Lo!  It turns out it looks down on my therapist's house!  I got a good sense of its location by triangulating with my car's GPS.  Then when I saw it from another friend's pool deck recently, I realized it was calling me.  So I convinced B to take a drive with me, and we stalked it, top down in the car so we could see it better.

Told ya:  obsessed.

There was an architecture tour recently that featured it!  Alas!!!  Sable missed it.  So you and I can enjoy vicariously through the pictures.  Tell me what you think!  I miss comments.

Curbed LA : The Los Angeles Neighborhoods and Real Estate Blog:
Studio Pali Fekete's Bird Streets Oberfeld Residence

This past weekend the AIA/LA held its first fall home tour of the year (there'll be a second one in October). Join Curbed as we gawk at the pretty architecture of the Hills, from Hollywood to Coldwater. Here's SPF:a's Oberfeld Residence.

Click the link above for the whole walk-through.  It's worth it!!

16 September 2010

Style Change

Everyone needs a refresh from time to time, isn't that right, Dear Reader?

So at the request of a Reader, I changed the text color to make it show up better against the black, particularly from mobile devices.


15 September 2010

On Housing...(Once Again Dear Reader)

Dear Reader!

Sable Crow is in San Francisco, but it's not just good food (dinner last night at Foreign Cinema--OMFG I recommend that if you like food).

Yesterday I listened to PIMCO'S Vice President of Municipal Bonds, Stanford's endowment chief and Mr Charles Schwab talk about the the state of the market, where we're headed, and what we money managers should be doing to prepare.

Oh, the arcane secrets I've learned, Dear Reader. I really wish I could tell you, but the pact is that I mist remain silent.

But don't worry! Your Sable Crow squawked over lunch with my investment peers, and they peppered me with questions like I was an oracle. So stick around, 'cause I may just be on to something.

And in the meantime, an article from Bloomberg News on my favorite subject: the housing market. We are by no means done with price drops there.

Bloomberg News, sent from my iPhone.
U.S. Home Prices Face Three-Year Drop as Inventory Surge Looms

Sept. 15 (Bloomberg) -- The slide in U.S. home prices may have another three years to go as sellers add as many as 12 million more properties to the market.

Shadow inventory -- the supply of homes in default or foreclosure that may be offered for sale -- is preventing prices from bottoming after a 28 percent plunge from 2006, according to analysts from Moody’s Analytics Inc., Fannie Mae, Morgan Stanley and Barclays Plc. Those properties are in addition to houses that are vacant or that may soon be put on the market by owners.

“Whether it’s the sidelined, shadow or current inventory, the issue is there’s more supply than demand,” said Oliver Chang, a U.S. housing strategist with Morgan Stanley in San Francisco. “Once you reach a bottom, it will take three or four years for prices to begin to rise 1 or 2 percent a year.”

Rising supply threatens to undermine government efforts to boost the housing market as homebuyers wait for better deals. Further price declines are necessary for a sustainable rebound as a stimulus-driven recovery falters, said Joshua Shapiro, chief U.S. economist of Maria Fiorini Ramirez Inc., a New York economic forecasting firm.

Sales of new and existing homes fell to the lowest levels on record in July as a federal tax credit for buyers expired and U.S. unemployment remained near a 26-year high. The median price of a previously owned home in the month was $182,600, about the level it was in 2003, the National Association of Realtors said.

Record Supply

There were 4 million homes listed with brokers for sale as of July. It would take a record 12.5 months for those properties to be sold at that month’s sales pace, according to the Chicago- based Realtors group.

“The best thing that could happen is for prices to get to a level that clears the market,” said Shapiro, who predicts prices may fall another 10 percent to 15 percent. “Right now, buyers know it hasn’t hit bottom, so they’re sitting on the sidelines.”

About 2 million houses will be seized by lenders by the end of next year, according to Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody’s Analytics in West Chester, Pennsylvania. He estimates prices will drop 5 percent by 2013.

After reaching bottom, prices will gain at the historic annual pace of 3 percent, requiring more than 10 years to return to their peak, he said.

“A long if not lost decade,” Zandi said.

Variances by Market

The national declines likely will be weighed down by more troubled markets. Working through the inventory depends on variables such as local employment and the amount of homeowner debt, said Sam Khater, chief economist for CoreLogic Inc., a Santa Ana, California-based real estate and financial information company. Nevada has the highest percentage of homes with mortgages more than the properties are worth, while New York state has the lowest, according to CoreLogic.

Douglas Duncan, chief economist for Washington-based Fannie Mae, the largest U.S. mortgage finance company, said in a Bloomberg Radio interview last week that 7 million U.S. homes are vacant or in the foreclosure process. Morgan Stanley’s Chang said the number of bank-owned and foreclosure-bound homes that have yet to hit the market is closer to 8 million.

Sandipan Deb, a residential credit strategist for Barclays in New York, said prices will drop another 8 percent -- to 2002 levels -- before beginning a recovery in 2014.

“On a national level, you have never seen a decline of this sort,” Deb said in a telephone interview. “I would caveat that by saying you also have not seen an increase on a national level like we saw from 2002 or 2003 to 2006.”

Likely to Sell

In addition to the as many as 8 million properties vacant or in foreclosure, owners of another 3.8 million homes -- 5 percent of U.S. households -- said they are “very likely” to put their properties on the market within six months if there is improvement, according to a July survey by Seattle-based Zillow.

“This has the potential to create a sawtooth pattern along the bottom,” Stan Humphries, Zillow’s chief economist, said in a telephone interview. “Homes begin to sell and a few sidelined sellers rush into the marketplace and flood the marketplace.”

If the market doesn’t fall to its natural bottom, price gains in the next five to 10 years won’t keep pace with inflation as the difference is made up “on the backend,” said Barry Ritholtz, chief executive officer of FusionIQ, a New York research company. Price increases that fail to at least match inflation are the same as reductions in value, Ritholtz said.

The Obama administration’s effort to help mortgage holders, the Home Affordable Modification Program, or HAMP, is another source of future inventory as owners with new loan terms re- default, Ritholtz said. About half of the modifications done in 2009 were behind in payments by the first quarter of 2010, according to the Treasury Department.

‘Day of Reckoning’

“The belief has been: if we stimulate sales with a tax credit and delay foreclosures with modifications, the market would stabilize,” said Ritholtz, author of “Bailout Nation.” “We’re just putting off the day of reckoning and drawing out the pain by not letting the housing market hit its bottom.”

Government policy contributed to a recent stabilization in prices that may have been an “illusion,” said Zach Pandl, an economist at Nomura Securities International Inc. The S&P/Case- Shiller index of home prices in 20 U.S. cities rose 4.2 percent in June from a year earlier. The measure is a three-month moving average, which means data in the month were still influenced by transactions that may have benefited from the tax incentive.

Even if modifications fail, keeping foreclosures off the market is worth the risk of a delayed recovery, Pandl said.

“It’s too painful and too damaging to let it happen all at once,” Pandl said from New York.

Underwater Homeowners

Owners of about 11 million homes, or 23 percent of households with a mortgage, owed more than their property was worth as of June 30, according to CoreLogic. Another 2.4 million borrowers had less than 5 percent equity in their houses and probably would lose money on a sale after paying broker fees and closing costs, CoreLogic said Aug 25.

In Nevada, 68 percent of homes were underwater in July, with mortgage loans statewide totaling 120 percent of home values, according to CoreLogic. Only 7.1 percent of properties in New York state were underwater, with the total loan-to-value equivalent of 50 percent, the company said.

‘Stuck’ in Home

Brandi Miner, director of marketing for the Georgia Association of Realtors, is holding back on selling her one- bedroom condominium in Atlanta’s Buckhead district because she has an underwater mortgage. She paid $155,000 for the property in 2005.

“I’m stuck,” Miner said. “I thought it was a stepping stone to a house.”

Miner pays about $1,100 a month for her mortgage plus $225 in condo dues, a higher price than she would spend for a three-bedroom house in a good Atlanta-area neighborhood at today’s prices, she said. Selling now would cost her $10,000 to $15,000, Miner estimated.

“I’m not $200,000 in the hole, thank God,” she said. “But the quarter of the country that’s underwater -- that’s me.”

Detroit, Las Vegas and Fort Myers, Florida, will take until at least 2020 to return homeowners to positive equity, CoreLogic said in a March report that compared prices in 10 metro areas. Atlanta, Dallas and California’s Riverside and San Bernardino counties will need until 2016. The Washington, D.C., area will take the least amount of time, with negative equity disappearing around 2015, CoreLogic said.

Time to Buy?

The slide in values and record-low interest rates may offer some bargains for property hunters. Prices have returned to historically affordable levels, said Karl Case, professor emeritus of economics at Wellesley College in Wellesley, Massachusetts, and co-creator of the S&P/Case-Shiller index. He estimates a bottom for prices in six months.

“It doesn’t take a tremendous number of people to turn the housing market, because only about 5 percent of the stock trades in a given year,” Case said in a telephone interview. “There’s still a lot of people who are employed, many of whom have been looking for the opportunity to buy.”

Case is an example of a homeowner waiting to sell because of low demand. He’s seeking to sell the A-frame on 15 acres near Cooperstown, New York, that he bought for $190,000 in 2005.

“I want to keep it if I can’t get what I want,” he said. “It’s a terrific little getaway and I’m not going to give it away.”

Pending Sales Gain

Some indicators show the real estate market has begun to turn a corner. Pending sales of existing houses increased 5.2 percent from June to July, the National Association of Realtors reported Sept. 2. Economists had estimated a 1 percent decline, according to the median of 37 forecasts in a Bloomberg survey.

“The market is starting to show some signs of stabilization,” Nicolas Retsinas, director emeritus of Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies, said during an Aug. 31 interview on Bloomberg Television’s “InsideTrack.” “But a robust recovery is a long time away.”

The number of U.S. homes in default or foreclosure fell to 7.04 million as of July 31 from a high of 8.12 million in January, Lender Processing Services Inc., a Jacksonville, Florida-based mortgage servicing company, reported Sept. 2.

Defaulted mortgages as of July took an average 469 days to reach foreclosure, up from 319 days in January 2009. That’s an indication lenders -- with the help of the government loan modification programs -- are delaying resolutions and preventing the market from flooding with distressed properties, said Herb Blecher, senior vice president for analytics at LPS.

“The efforts to date have been worthwhile,” Blecher said in a telephone interview from Denver. “They both helped borrowers stay in their homes and kept that supply of distressed properties on the market somewhat limited.”

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone4, which sucks balls.

13 September 2010

Wayfare Tavern, San Francisco

So I checked into my hotel, then hopped down the block for a quick dinner at Tyler Florence's Wayfare Tavern. Yum!
With my favorite surgeon, Bone Cruncher.

Jolene at work on our deviled eggs--we dubbed them Sympathy for the Devil

Burrata and fig, courtesy of Jolene. Bone Cruncher says: "I want to pet it and name it. And then devour its heart."

Magic kitchen

Just for the...wait for it...halibut.

Mac and Cheese for dessert.

This is topped with $600/lb pepper. Not bitter, nor harsh, just beautiful. Just...pepper. Weird and wonderful.

Such a dinner!!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone4 (which sucks balls)

10 September 2010

Free Market Diplomacy? The Virtue of Heresy

Carne Ross: An independent diplomat Video on TED.com

Dear Reader!!

This is one of the best videos I've watched on TED so far. In fact, for me it connects two concepts that I've never previously connected:
1) the role of the state in negotiating international relationships, and;
2) free-market style innovation, competition, and creative destruction.

I can't recommend this video highly enough.

He even touches on the supra-national agents that are the power-holders for the 21st century--including NGOs, political groups connected by ideology instead of geography, and even multi-national corporations. In a way, it's a road map for how the world might look without nations.

Is that a funny thought? Does it make you nervous? It's both for me. And then I ask: Should it be so unthinkable or laughable?

Why are nations any more sacred than kingdoms, or ancient empires? And how are nations any different than, say, all the customers of AT&T versus all the customers of Sprint? (Except of course, that they have armies--but I'm talking just the concepts, not the expression of their power.) We're accustomed to customer populations (and, to hear these customers argue, systems of belief) overlapping, and interacting. Why not political power? In a world where we can connect technologically, why are we bound geographically instead of ideologically? How would that look when translated to a physical world? Who are the advocates under such a system, and who are the holders of power? And what does that power take?

This will certainly affect us 50 years from now, or even 10 years from now. Which means it affects the decisions we make now, for how to orient ourselves (or our investment portfolios) to be flexible and adaptable to such creative destruction.

I've been thinking lately about the concept of heresy. This came about as I began to explore the Sufi poets, particularly the 13th century poet Rumi, who's love poems extolling his male partner are the source of great controversy. In his poems, Rumi suggests that all progress comes from heretics, and--to grossly oversimply--that the "objective" of religious thought should be to become a heretic. I love this idea.

It seems no different to me than creative destruction and competition in the capitalist world. Why not apply such progress to religious thinking? Can you imagine where we'd be with religious thought if we adopted such a view? Might we have progressed much farther in the 5,000 years since the ancient Egyptians? Look how far such creative destruction, and innovation, has brought us with computers, or transportation, in the last 150. Imagine what wonders we might see, in such a spiritually rich, heretical, universe...

07 September 2010

Debt Deflation

My boss in my last job used to say, "It's the age of capital."

In fact, I think he erred a bit. It has been, for about a generation, The Age of Debt.

But now, the wheels have come off that Age, and we have a new era ahead of us. Here's the best article I've found so far on the subject...


Until we address the issue of debt, I don't think we can get past this economic malaise.  The challenge is that, much like cancer, debt is fatal if left undiagnosed and untreated, or if a well-meaning hack uses Keynesian homeopathy to treat a maglignant tumor.

01 September 2010

Today's Image

I saw this in a Christie's ad in the WSJ, and it utterly capitvated me.  Some lucky private party bought it in June for $2.8MM.  It's HUGE, measuring 7.5 feet x 5 feet.  Sigh.

By the way, not to be too weird, but...um...this Christ is pretty sexy. I'm just saying. That's gotta be deliberate, right? Those shoulders and arms? The abs? The look of...uh...religious...ecstasy.

And does anyone else find it strange that his mother is his age? That's a very confusing image. I'll hand it to Christianity--they have the sexiest prophet of the major religions.

27 August 2010

Arnold Schwarzenegger: Public Pensions and Our Fiscal Future - WSJ.com

Arnold Schwarzenegger: Public Pensions and Our Fiscal Future - WSJ.com: "Public Pensions and Our Fiscal Future"
Few Californians in the private sector have $1 million in savings, but that's effectively the retirement account they guarantee to many government employees.

Hello Dear Reader!

Sable Crow is getting warmed up with the finance stuff! So I thought I'd share my latest finding with you. There's a great Opinion piece today in the Wall Street Journal. We have a major problem Dear Reader, which needs to be addressed.  Take a look at the graphic:

I fully support Arnold on this effort, while acknowledging the challenge he faces. Public entitlements, on both the state and Federal level, are the major problem of our generation. This isn't a moral argument--I'd love to get something for free, too. This is simply mathematical reality--there's no way to pay for all these promises.

We are about to set up a class structure in the US that will be very difficult to unwind. We will have the working class, and the retired class.

The retired class will be composed of entitled Baby Boomers who lavished themselves with promises, over-leveraged the economy, jerry-rigged their last years of employment to juice their already-swollen retirement benefits, and then retired early.

The working class, regardless of income level, will be those of us left holding the tab. It's like going to dinner with a big group (doesn't this always happen?) and someone is drinking cocktails, orders a bottle of wine, the most expensive thing on the menu to eat, brags about their latest international vacation, and then says at the end, "Shall we just split it evenly?"

I hate group dinners for that reason. My political feelings are identical.

26 August 2010

John Maynard Keynes - Wikiquote

John Maynard Keynes - Wikiquote: "When the accumulation of wealth is no longer of high social importance, there will be great changes in the code of morals. We shall be able to rid ourselves of many of the pseudo-moral principles which have hag-ridden us for two hundred years, by which we have exalted some of the most distasteful of human qualities into the position of the highest virtues. We shall be able to afford to dare to assess the money-motive at its true value. The love of money as a possession — as distinguished from the love of money as a means to the enjoyments and realities of life — will be recognised for what it is, a somewhat disgusting morbidity, one of those semi-criminal, semi-pathological propensities which one hands over with a shudder to the specialists in mental disease ... But beware! The time for all this is not yet. For at least another hundred years we must pretend to ourselves and to everyone that fair is foul and foul is fair; for foul is useful and fair is not. Avarice and usury and precaution must be our gods for a little longer still. For only they can lead us out of the tunnel of economic necessity into daylight."

I've been hammering a lot at Keyenes lately, but he's not all bad. This quote above demonstrates his prescience. My problem with his concept of economics is how tempting it is to meddle with the economy. And centralized meddling begets centralized meddling, so it's a nasty slippery slope.

25 August 2010

Hope for Housing? - CNBC.com

Hope for Housing? - CNBC.com

ARG!!! Lower rates are NOT the solution to the home mess. That's been tried, and it's what got us here to begin with. The solution is plain: LOWER PRICES.

Consumers have gotten wise to the rate-game. Giving them credit cards with lower rates isn't as good as lower prices. Same goes for housing!

24 August 2010

On Market Manipulation, and plastic surgery versus angioplasty

Hello Dear Reader,

And by that I mean, "Hello to the four of you who follow me, and who will know that I've posted."

So I often find myself posting things on the Book of Faces that I probably should write about here. But my distribution is so much bigger on FB, and it's so much easier to link an article to FB than to link it to the blog, and with Mercury in retrograde it's really not a very good time to be trying this stuff anyway...but I digress.

First, here's an article for you.

I was recently asked by a couple of friends to defend the free market, and also to justify the bank "bailouts" (I hate that term; it's reductive and simplistic, like calling the United States a "democracy"). I will address the latter, first.

First of all, a "bailout" is like GM or Fannie/Freddie--it's an unlimited and undefined government intervention/takeover of a business, usually for political ends ("job retention" or some such). Crucially, there is no repayment in a bailout, since the business would have theoretically died without government intervention and so it is unlikely to receive one's capital back, or to realize any gain. I wholeheartedly oppose bailouts. They create and enable market inefficiencies, and I'm not one for inefficiency (don't get me started on farming subsidies).

In contrast, the capital injections into the major banks at the peak of the crisis had a couple of things keeping them from being bailouts. Primarily, they were deliberately designed to be paid back. Most of the major banks HAVE paid them bank. JP Morgan, Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs, etc. Citi and BofA have not, I believe. Second, they were compulsory, even for the healthy banks that would have survived without government action (like JP Morgan and Wells).

You can hardly call something a bailout when you don't need the money. If my parents came to me and forced me to take a bunch of cash because they were bailing out my brother, that hardly constitutes a bailout of ME. And that's exactly what occurred when the Treasury insisted that ALL banks be painted with the same foul brush as the bad actors.

As a philosophical ethic, I do not believe in government intervention in the market. Let me restate: I believe it is a moral hazard of the first order to interfere with the market, as the consequences of such action are routinely miscalculated, causing unintended consequences, and rewarding unjustly the people who caused the mess in the first place. Sometimes (often?) these consequences are worse than the original problem. This was Greenspan's problem coming out of the dot-com bubble, where he dropped rates so low that it created a private debt bubble--the consequences of which we are living with today, as we shift a private debt bubble into a public debt bubble.

Now let me make a distinction for those of my Readers who like absolutes better than nuances. I disliked the capital injections on philosophical terms. In the same manner, and to a greater degree, I dislike the ongoing manipulation (so called Quantitative Easing) that the Fed is engaged in to force rates lower. However, one of them is best likened to angioplasty, while the other is more like plastic surgery. One is life saving, the other is elective.

The Treasury's decision to make capital injections in the banking system was akin to angioplasty on a heart attack patient (I'm stretching my metaphors here, doctors, since I am a lowly investment manager, not a doctor). It was done in a surgical manner (specific amounts and with set terms of repayment). It was probably life-saving. Like all heart-attack patients, I'm sure we would love not to have eaten all those high-cholesterol foods. But that's done, and is a whole 'nuther post.

Again, most of the majors have repaid these mandatory funds, and those who have not (Citi? BofA?) probably should have failed. I have no problem with that. They would have been absorbed by other banks, creating even bigger banking behemoths of the survivors, but that would have been fine with me. I think it's something like 188 banks that HAVE failed during this crisis (another six or so were shut down just this last Friday) so let's not suggest that banks aren't getting shuttered--it's just not the top 5.

Quantitative easing, on the other hand, is plastic surgery. It's not necessary--it allows government to interfere with normal market behavior, disenfranchising authentic market participants (who would otherwise transact except for the market distortions). Here's my beef: rates should be higher, and prices lower, to reflect the actual conditions we're experiencing in the marketplace. Instead, the Fed is actively engaged in trying to get people to borrow (by manipulating rates) to spend more.

With consumer debt levels at 122% of incomes, that's like making alcohol cheaper for an alcoholic.

The corollary (screw the spelling if it's wrong) is that prices on debt-supported assets (some companies and most houses) are woefully (and willfully!) inflated. Since this effect is knowable, this has the effect of shutting down the market, as seen with the housing numbers today (inventory now stands at 12.5 months, where 6 months is a balanced market). No buyers, because sellers have unreasonable expectations of sales price. Why? Because the value of homes is being distorted by Fed action on interest rates. Why? For political ends because foreclosure is unpopular to elected politicians, and it turns out the Fed isn't so "independent" after all.

Here's the kicker, dear Reader: the market always wins against the government. That's just the way it goes.

It's late dear Reader, and I usually save you from reading my economic rants. But I had a commenter try to draw a connection between the bank bailouts and rate-manipulation and I needed to respond since I like him very much.

And since I'm defending capitalism...

Sticking one's head in the sand (socialism) is not a viable solution. Capitalism has brought us the greatest advances of mankind. And I'm not just referring to transportation, medical advances, standards of living, and networks of information. Capitalism and republican democracy go hand in hand. Why? Only because they're the two systems we have that respect the individual. The what? The individual, that Enlightenment age realization that each of us has intrinsic value beyond our use to the greater community. Socialism does not share such a belief. It is fundamentally anti-individual, and relies on the belief that each of us is entitled to the possessions of the other. Such thinking, as it might be called, goes something like this: "I'm entitled to your X because I deserve Y. My need is equal to your efforts." From such a bitter tree springs all the fruits of anti-individualism: unjust power (centralized or otherwise), "majority rule", stagnation and decline.

If capitalism has failed (itself an absurd assertion), then what of socialism? Let's ask the Soviets. What? The USSR collapsed? Then let's ask the Chinese people. What? They're censored by their centralized socialist government? Oh.

The naive fantasy of enlighted socialism is just that--a naive fantasy. No system is enlightened. We are human beings. We are dirty, mean, and short-sighted. How do you balance that? Well, I would start by admitting that I'd much rather have a neighbor who is intent on creating his own success than one who is intent on robbing me of the fruits of mine.

Ok! Whew! That's intense. Since it's so late, I will blame fatigue for the many lapses in logic that I've allowed in this piece. I've done my best, and I'm happy to keep plugging away to clarify things (or defend myself) as they come up. Now I'm going to bed, where I'll no doubt count sheep (or their market value) to settle myself to sleep.

Goodnight dear Reader.

Sable Crow

26 June 2010

On Travel

So it's time for a little vacation. And on the way to the airport I remembered I had a blog.

LA at 5am is a wonderland. It's quiet, and cool. The streets are empty of our famous traffic. The hills that crown our city seem higher, while the promise of their mansions is less remote.

So I'm off to the East Coast and a week of adventure! Maybe even a little writing. On this new little iPhone 4, which is so beautiful and blindingly fast that I feel like I have to dress up for it and ask it to take me dinner first.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone4

08 May 2010

For the color Gray

I think perhaps Los Angeles has been my most significant relationship.

Wait, says my Dear Reader. You take months to write and THAT'S your opening line?

Yes, say Sable Crow. Hear me out.

So I was thinking today. (Picture it: top down in the car, headed west into a sunset on Sunset Boulevard, headed to a random party. Mercury is retrograde, and if I've learned anything from Mercury retrogrades, it's to go with the chaos--accept random invitations to house-parties held by record producers where their artists will sing a-cappella in a cavernous mansion. Go with it; let the world unfold.)

I've been in this city for 15 years. When I was young(er?), I used to have such a sense of possibility in this city. I looked at the hills above me and wondered what they contained. I imagined the different parts of the city, the apartments I would live in, the people I would meet, the things I would see and be asked to see. My imagination came to life in this city, filling its streets and alleys with possible futures and wonders and terrors. The city was magnificent in those days.

But as time has gone on, the possibilities I once saw have narrowed. Fantasy has been replaced with reality. And I wouldn't trade it for the world! I love the reality I've found, and the reality of this great city has woven itself into my heart. We are one.

And so I think this experience is analagous to falling in love: that in the beginning we fall in love with the potential--with the way our love object reflects our own desires back at us in pleasing form. But as time wears on--if we're lucky--we learn to love the reality behind that projection. Be it city or lover, we see beyond our fantasy, and we learn to love.

At the party I mentioned, I said this to a handsome photographer I met (his equally handsome boyfriend stood nearby). He loved it.

"You should write it," he said. "Do you have a blog?"

My Dear Readers will know...they always say that. "I did once," I replied with a smile. Busted! "It's been a while since I wrote anything."

"Well then, that's your next entry."

Later, I was standing with an angel in a long white dress and gold sandals, and the singer/songwriter who performed. His voice was ferociously good, and soulful. He sang about Los Angeles.

We were talking about cities with souls. We were talking about New York.

"New York," said the beautiful angel, "now that's a city with soul." The three of us stood huddled around a metal table, they smoking and I talking.

"What if," I asked, "What if that's the key to loving LA? That New York is a city with a soul and Los Angeles is a city always looking for its soul?"

"I love that!" exclaimed the angel. "Soul-searching is the soul of LA. It's perfect."

And so I think, more and more, that my most significant love has been LA. That it has taught me the most about loving authentically: without judgement; celebrating the good while working on the bad; seeing beyond the projections and fantasies. I may not be so good at that with guys, but I'm very good at it with my great city. My great Los Angeles. My home.

This morning, I was awakened from my sleep when all of the people in my dreams stopped what they were doing and began to sing. I was talking to my lover in the dream at that moment. He was making eye contact and I remember he had brown eyes in the dream. His face surprised me, but I knew in that dream-way that I loved him, and that he loved me back. And when everyone stopped suddenly, imagine my surprise when they began singing, in a great and loud chorus. It was a very strange way to wake: Have you ever, Dear Reader, been awakened because the singing in your dreams was so loud?

What did they sing? Well, I wouldn't let you miss it.