Sunday, February 28, 2010

40 years after " Bridge Over Troubled Water "

Bridge Over Troubled Water, Paul Simon & Art Garfunkel.

by  Rush Evans

It has been 40 years since the release of Simon & Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Water.

It was clear, however, that when Garfunkel was interviewed for this story that he felt as passionately now as any other time about the song and album by that name, and he was more than happy to discuss both with Goldmine.

The Bridge Over Troubled Water album turns 40 this year. What are your first thoughts looking back?

Art Garfunkel: It was a hell of an undertaking, I’ll tell you. I don’t want to sound inflated, but it’s a worthy album to look at, because it was a rich experience.

Does it hold up well for you?

I haven’t played the album in quite a while now. I doubt if I’d find any surprises if I played it. The whole way that the first song, “Bridge over Troubled Water,” [is] so slow and soft and so long in building, [and] therefore so daring as a first-song attention-getter. It’s like, “I’m going to enter your consciousness by creeping along at you instead of capturing you.” When that makes its transition into “El Condor Pasa,” and you hear these South American charangas, “doo-doo-doo” [singing], that transition into sort of ethnicity after “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” I thought was the cutest left turn. We were all chasing after The Beatles in those days, so I — like the whole rest of the world — was very enamored of Sgt. Pepper.

We all remember Billy Shears, and we all remember how that first song turned into, [singing] “What would you say if I sang out of tune” ... Ringo’s “I Get By With A Little Help from My Friends.” And there was that one-two punch at the top of that magnificent album. And even the sonics being somewhat flat, the second song being a little deeper studio echo, and how these sounds, these sonics, have feelings and imagery about them. These are the values that you’re aware of and you tinker with when you make one of these things. I remember the flow of our 11 songs, and I remember loving the flow and these transitions, moving from one song into the other. They were really choices made with care.

Was the confidence in that song felt in the studio? Were you recording it and saying, “Yeah, this is pretty much gonna be a classic, and we have to make it a single?”

We were three-quarters in the way in belief in it. We loved the third verse and how it took off like a rocket and the production gets kind of Phil Spector-ish. We thought that this is a big “Whiter Shade of Pale” kind of record, and it might be a hit as a single.

It’s daring because it’s so quiet and it starts so slowly; it’s unprecedented. Along came Clive Davis, who ran the record company, and he said, “No, fainted-heart faltering boys! This baby is gonna go all the way. I’m gonna get behind it, we’re gonna advertise it, [and] we’re gonna have full faith in ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water.’ It’s the title of your album, it’s the first cut on your first side, and it’s your single.”

I know the lyrics were inspired by gospel music, and with you and Roy Halee also being part of the production team on this, how did it evolve into the lush ballad that we know it to be?

It was a piano vocal song, completely, with two verses in it. When the two verses were recorded, it was supposed to be a build. I sing the first one gently and heartfelt, but the second one has more intensity.

It occurred to me that this is only the setup for some kind of magnificent third verse that transcends all of this. This is the set-up. I said to Paul, “Let us do the Phil Spector-production idea that we loved when we heard The Righteous Brothers’ recording of ‘Ol’ Man River.’” Spector has Bill Medley sing 98 percent of the song with just a simple backing, but in the final line of the song, Spector throws in the kitchen sink, and the record grows in dimension, about 12 times as big.

“I get weary and sick of tryin’, I’m tired of livin’, and feared of dyin’’ [singing]. At that point, Spector brings in, for the first time in the entire record, the full rhythm and maracas and a wailing, rhythmic, gospel-y kind of vamping fade-out. “But ol’ man river, he just keeps roll ...” [singing], and it became a fade-out, and Spector stays with that “Ol’ Man River,” and suddenly the record fades out, and that fade out is 12 times bigger.

And the idea that you save production for so late in the piece killed us. And we were always enamored of that idea, and so when I said to Paul, “Here you go, this is our chance,” we used that same idea. We changed that whole record from a piano vocal into a full band and strings and big highs and lows, full extension, an oil painting. And he said, “Right, let me write a third verse.” And he wrote kind of a transcendent lyric. “If you need a friend, I’m sailing right behind,” perfect for the production scope, you know what I mean?

So the song fully existed before, [with the line] “Sail on silver girl?”

AG: That’s right. There was never supposed to be a third verse. It was in the studio that we said there should be a third verse, and Paul wrote it. And then came the fun of adding the pieces. If there’s gonna be an augmentation with the orchestra, let’s let them all slip in one by one. So when the piano finishes the second verse, there’s a long 16-bar turnaround, which [keyboard player] Larry [Knechtel] and I worked out.

It ends up with the strings creeping in, and doing a long string pad, and there’s the first addition. Then we had Hal Blaine play his explosion drum ... You’ll love this one: way in the background on every other bar, on beat No. 2, you hear a cushy kind of an atom bomb, soft and kind of hushed but explosive, way in the back. It’s our backbeat, on the two beat of every other bar.

We took our tape, [and] we sped it up twice as fast so the whole “Bridge over Troubled Water” was running at twice the speed. We asked Hal Blaine to play his drums on every other bar, and on bar No. 2, [he] gives us his nice, fattest, mallet sound on his skins. And then we slowed the record back down to proper speed.

Everything fell back into place, except Hal Blaine’s impact of his drum hits. Now the cushiness of the fat mallet on the skins has a wider spread to it; it’s been slowed down. The rest of the record fell back into place! So you get a very interesting soft impact, almost atom bomb percussive, and you place that way in the background on every other beat. And it becomes a record beginning to take off: The bass slides right into the pocket, and the boys sing, “Sail on, silver girl.”

There’s Paul’s first entrance into the record, and we doubled our voices so we would both have more of a commercial sound. “Sail on silver girl, sail on by” [singing]. And now the whole thing is beginning to happen in your belly. There’s rhythm setting in, the drummer’s about to add to that backbeat. And that rumble of rhythm, which you feel in your gut, starts taking place somewhere after “Sail on silver girl, sail on by, your time has come to shine.” Somewhere right after there, you start getting this more turgid rhythm, and then the strings move in bigger, and the arrangement, and you get brass.

What fun it was to make that. So much is about mixing. You’ve got to credit Roy Halee for being such a fine artist and getting all these nuances of what’s going on with these instruments and bringing them all out so that a good listener can have a feast.

You have a solid production memory of all this, which is fascinating. Let’s talk about the other noteworthy song from the album: “The Boxer.” To me, “Boxer” and “Bridge” are the quintessential Simon & Garfunkel songs …

Thank you. You’re really responding a lot to care and labor and detailing. These things went way beyond normal budgets and anything that makes sense in terms of business. Expense and return, they’re just labors of love gone wild, both of those tunes.

When I heard “The Boxer” in 1973, it was an important moment for me, because it was the first song I ever heard where I realized that these guys were trying to tell me something. I realized that music can have a message, though I didn’t know what it was.

No, you have to be more grown up to have a feel for “I am leaving, I am leaving, but the fighter still remains,” which is kind of a world-weary, middle-life or later-in-life kind of “they’re killing me, I’m dyin’ here!” You have to know about that. A young person doesn’t get world weariness, which is where the song ultimately takes you.

Right. And for me, I realized then that music could be about something greater than, “My baloney has a first name, it’s O-S-C-A-R.”

You’re giving tribute to the folk tradition. When folk music joined rock and roll, you got a lot more goose bumps and intensity and thoughtful lyrics. That folk tradition which Dylan gave us — “’Hey, Mr. Tambourine Man" — he’s saying something, we don’t know what. That’s folk music intensity. It’s trying to use intelligence. It’s trying to be ironic. It’s trying to be bitter. It’s trying to wake you up to nuclear disaster.

What did you say to Paul when he brought this somewhat cryptic lyric? Did you say, “Who is this about? Who is this boxer?”

AG: No, our friendship doesn’t work that way. My sense of an artist at work does not allow for such feedback. I give him his province. If he’s the writer, he’s allowed to be inscrutable without me challenging him and saying, “I can’t sing it if I don’t know what I’m singing about!” Never mind that stuff. He’s a first-rate writer. I give him the right to be difficult or easy or whatever.

Bookends was more of a concept album than the more popular Bridge album. How do feel now about that album?

It does move. From song to song, it’s like a beautiful black-and-white drawing or painting. But then, neither of those records has anything quite like “Scarborough Fair.” That three-and-a-half-minute side we did on the previous album, which was the flowing-est, most naturally organic, sent-from-the-heavens-right-through-Paul-and-Artie piece of music we ever did.

By the way, I must tell you that my first record was Simon and Garfunkel’s Greatest Hits in 1973.

AG: I was so wildly in love with the making of those things. If you think they were fun to buy and collect, you should’ve made one. The day you finish it and then you listen in the control room at the console to your hard work over the many months, and you hear the whole thing from top to bottom, and you have fussed over every detail of every minute of all of the songs, and you go, “Okay, there it is,” and you love it, and then they send you the jacket, and you color approve it ... you know, "The greens are a little too bluish.” And you go through all this, [and] finally you get the handsome jacket, the liner notes are done, and you say, “Send me a box of 25 copies, so I’ll get ‘em before the retailer gets it.”

And you open the box, and there’s your hard work. It’s such a fabulous American invention, the record album.

One more Bookends question: That line in the song, “Bookends,” that says, “How terribly strange to be 70.” Seventy is coming, of course, to Art Garfunkel and Paul Simon. Any thoughts on that reality?

It’s a well-written line — a youngster [in] Paul Simon who can speculate on the future and get the right tone? Now that it nears, 70, “How terribly strange to be 70” is not a bad line. It’s a good line. He was ahead of his time. We didn’t know that in those days the number 70 was not gonna be that old by the time you get there! It’s gonna be middle life! Who knew back in those days?

We thought it was old! Now it seems just part of the middle momentum years.

The life of a song and an album: ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’
By Rush Evans

Album release date: Jan. 26, 1970
Title track single release date: Jan. 6, 1970
Weeks at #1 on the pop charts: Six, beginning Feb. 20, 1970
Weeks at #1 on the Billboard Album Chart: 10 (March 7 to May 15, 1970)

Number of recorded versions by Simon and Garfunkel: Five.
• Two from the studio (the original, plus a demo version on the album’s CD reissue)
• Three from live performances (Concert in Central Park, Live 1969, and Old Friends: Live On Stage, from the 2004 reunion tour, on which Garfunkel sings verse one, Simon sings verse two, and both sing verse three).
• Both Simon and Garfunkel have also recorded their own live versions on several of their solo albums.

Number of 1971 Grammy Awards: Six
1 Album of the Year
2 Record of the Year (the single, “Bridge over Troubled Water”)
3 Best Contemporary Pop Song  (“Bridge over Troubled Water”)
4 Song of the Year (“Bridge over Troubled Water”)
5 Best Engineered Recording (Non-Classical)
6 Best Arrangement Accompanying Vocalist(s) (the single, “Bridge over Troubled Water”)

Number of recorded covers of the title track: Hundreds, including noteworthy versions by Willie Nelson, The Jackson 5,
Eva Cassidy, Quincy Jones, Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Shirley Bassey, Charlotte Church, Johnny Cash, Buck Owens and The Buckaroos, LeAnn Rimes and Elvis Presley (whose version was heard by Paul Simon at an Elvis performance in Las Vegas, after which, Simon was reported to have said, “That’s it; we might as well all give up now”).

Short Selling Restrictions "A Great Indicator of Imminent Market Crashes"

Inquiring minds are investigating Fannie Mae's stunning $72 billion loss for 2009 as well as new short selling curbs. The two are actually related. Let's take a look.

Please consider Fannie Posts $72 Billion Loss for '09
Fannie Mae reported a staggering $72 billion net loss for 2009, underscoring the challenges that still face the nation's largest mortgage financier and offering more grim news for taxpayers who may ultimately pick up the bill.

The Washington-based company posted a $15.2 billion fourth-quarter loss and said it asked the U.S. Treasury for another $15.3 billion to stay afloat, bringing its total bailout tab past $76 billion. The quarterly results were an improvement from the year-ago period, when Fannie reported a $25.2 billion loss, but the annual loss surpassed the year-earlier loss of $58.7 billion.

While some analysts warn that efforts to modify loans are simply postponing foreclosures and delaying losses, Fannie Chief Executive Michael Williams said the company remained committed to preventing foreclosures. "Our overriding objective is keeping people in their homes whenever possible," he said in a statement.

The government took over Fannie and Freddie nearly 18 months ago as rising loan defaults burned big holes in the companies' balance sheets. The government has agreed to absorb unlimited losses for the next three years and up to $400 billion after that. So far, the companies have taken a combined $127 billion in Treasury support, making this bailout one of the most expensive from the financial crisis.
Short Selling Limits Yet Again

Proving that the SEC has learned nothing from history (I have a nice Fannie Mae example to prove it), the S.E.C. Moves to Put Limits on Short-Selling
The Securities and Exchange Commission voted on Wednesday to limit short-selling of stocks that are falling rapidly in price, The New York Times’s Floyd Norris reports. The rule was adopted on a 3-to-2 vote, with the two Republican members saying that no case had been made to justify any further action against short-selling.

The limits would apply to any stock whose price has fallen at least 10 percent during a day’s session. After that, short-selling would still be legal but not unless the sale was at a price higher than the best bid price then available.

The S.E.C. chairwoman, Mary L. Schapiro, said the rule would force short sellers to stand in the back of the line, unable to sell shares until all actual owners who wanted to sell had been able to do so.

“The reason this rule makes sense is because it recognizes that short-selling can potentially have both a beneficial and a harmful impact on the market,” she said in a statement.
The rule makes no more sense than putting buy restrictions on stocks that advance 10 percent. How many variations of this silly rule are we going to see anyway?

In July 2008, they put short selling restrictions on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. How well did that work out? Inquiring minds can tune into this real time play by play call.

Flashback Tuesday, July 15, 2008: SEC Panic - Shorting Curbs Placed on GSE Stocks
The panic at the Fed, the SEC, and the Treasury department continues. In an emergency action the SEC Curbs Shorting of GSE Stocks, Considers Limits for Wider Market.

Shorting Curbs Can't Help

Shorting curbs cannot possibly help when the problem is solvency not liquidity. In spite of the announcement, shares of Fannie and Freddie are down another 19% each as of 1:40 PM Central.

If the SEC intended to cause a short covering rally in the GSEs, it sure failed miserably. Indeed, the market response shows just how futile the actions of the SEC, the treasury department, and the Fed are.
When that action failed, the SEC restricted more financial short selling.

Flashback Wednesday, July 16, 2008: SEC Restricts Shorting 19 Financial Stocks
Big brother has now decided to step in and force the price of all financial stocks up with this SEC short sale order.

So now the SEC is issuing short sale restrictions on financials because Bernanke says it's important for them to rise.

I have news for Bernanke and the SEC. This won't work. China had short sale restrictions on and it did not stop the Shanghai index from falling over 50%. Insolvency cannot be cured by short sale restrictions and many of those companies are insolvent.

All these short sale restrictions are going to do is create a vacuum. Once the shorts are driven out these shares will plunge. And who wants to buy a bond or provide capital knowing or even thinking share prices were artificially inflated.
That action finally triggered a short squeeze. It continued for a week or so. I commented on it a couple days later.

Flashback Friday, July 18, 2008: Short Squeeze In Financials Continues
Fannie Mae is up another 25% today to $13.66 in the wake of Selective Enforcement of Regulation SHO and Bernanke's statement: "It's important for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac bonds and stocks to rise so they can keep raising capital and aid the mortgage market."

This move in financials is going to fail spectacularly once the panic buying ends, but for now the bulls are having a bit of fun.
Wow. I forgot that utterly stupid comment by Bernanke "It's important for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac bonds and stocks to rise so they can keep raising capital and aid the mortgage market."

Fannie Mae never did raise any more capital. That short squeeze was the beginning of a violent end. Taxpayers have now bailed out Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to the tune of $127 billion dollars. Recently Congress upped the taxpayer liability to infinity. Taxpayers are now on the hook for every penny of future losses.

How well did those short selling curbs work? History will be the judge.

As I said on July 16, 2008 ....

All these short sale restrictions are going to do is create a vacuum. Once the shorts are driven out these shares will plunge.

Interestingly,  earlier today with a very similar, but even more ominous comment came in from a friend.

"Short selling restrictions are a great indicator of imminent market crashes. The biggest market declines in history all happened shortly after short selling restrictions were introduced."

Don't count on that happening again, but if it does, you have fair warning.

Banks Out of the Woods? Maybe Not

A few items to consider in this article would be the fact that bank write-offs of these loans hit an all-time record high at 2.9% and that the reason why the commercial real estate bomb is taking so long to detonate is that many of those loans are for 7 to 10 year periods - offering banks additional time to extend and pretend.

Unless there is a sudden and massive turn in the fortunes of American business in general, that bill will eventually come due.

MORE than $1 in every $10 that American banks have outstanding in loans is lent to a troubled borrower, a ratio far higher than previously seen in the quarter-century that such numbers have been compiled.

Bad Bank Loans Soar

The problems are greatest in construction loans for single-family homes, where nearly 40 percent of the loans either are delinquent or have been written off as uncollectible. But they are also high in mortgage loans for single-family homes, where $1 in every $8 of loans is troubled.

The figures were released this week by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, as it announced that the number of banks in trouble had risen sharply, and forecast that the rate of bank failures would increase.

The report served as a stark reminder that the banking system remained in perilous health, despite large bailouts of major financial institutions. Many smaller banks are especially exposed to commercial real estate loans, where problems are growing.

The F.D.I.C. also reported that the amount of outstanding loans and leases at all American banks was falling, even after adjusting the numbers for loans that were written off. The total volume of loans and leases outstanding at the end of 2009 was $7.3 trillion. That figure peaked in mid-2008 at just under $8 trillion.

There are many reasons for the figure’s decline, and it is hard to know how much was caused by bankers’ seeking to husband resources to deal with future losses, and how much by a simple refusal to lend to any but the safest borrowers.

Some of the decline may have been caused by a reduction of borrowing by businesses and even homeowners who drew down lines of credit when the credit crisis was at its worst and have repaid them, confident that they will be able to borrow again if they need the funds. And some may reflect continued hesitance by American consumers and businesses to increase their borrowing at a time when the economy remains weak.

As can be seen in the accompanying chart, banks charged off 2.9 percent of the outstanding loans in late 2009. The F.D.I.C. said that was the highest rate since the agency was formed in 1934. In addition, 5.4 percent of all loans were at least 90 days behind, and another 1.9 percent were more than 30 days overdue.

If there is any reassuring news in the figures, it may be that fewer loans are now going bad. The proportion of loans that are 30 to 89 days behind in payments has fallen since peaking earlier in 2009, while the percentage of loans more than 90 days behind has continued to rise.

Commercial real estate loans are widely viewed to be an area of coming problems, in part because such loans are normally made for periods of seven to 10 years, in anticipation that they will then be rolled over into new loans. Many properties are no longer worth anything close to the amount owed, making such rollovers doubtful. Still, many such loans require payments of interest only, or of only minimal amounts of principal, so it is possible for borrowers to stay current until the loans mature.

At the end of 2009, 6.3 percent of such loans were either behind in payments or were being classified by banks as doubtful for repayment. That figure may be held down by a regulatory change. A bank owed, say, $4 million on a property now worth $3 million would previously have had to classify the entire loan as troubled. Now it can do that to the $1 million difference only.

Just how rapidly that becomes worse may depend on how many banks choose to “pretend and extend,” renewing the loan and hoping property values will recover.


Plentiful Of Little Dr. M's in EUland

Uh Oh: Europe is Starting the Old ‘Blame The Shorts’ Game

Memo to European "Finance Ministers" or "Directors of Monies" or "Dutchesses of the Royal Treasury":

The absolute WORST thing you can do when you're in trouble is blame the shorts.

I'm starting to see articles planted left and right, laden with anonymous sources, that attempt to shift the focus of the Euro sovereign debt crisis to an exposé of evil speculators.  Goldman Sachs this, George Soros that, John Paulson the other thing.
'Blame The Shorts' is the oldest and faultiest play in the Desperation Playbook.  Don't believe me?  Go ask ex-Lehman CEO Dick Fuld how things went after his public proclamations about "burning the shorts".  Go ask ex-SEC head Chris Cox how the financial sector fared in the immediate aftermath of his short-sale ban?

There are no puppeteers pulling the strings behind the slow-motion reckoning now rippling across European bourses - just huge, unsustainable debt loads and entitlement-suckers who refuse to view the "Account Balance" screen on their national ATM.
In short, Europe, you may be displeased with the fact that certain hedge funds and traders are seeking to profit from your misery, but they certainly cannot be said to have caused it in the first place.  Consider:
  • George Soros didn't tell the quasi state-run banks of Spain to be vigorous participants in a Florida-esque building orgy.  Nor did he tell them to conceal a great deal of their losses as unemployment rates made it obvious to the populace that there was ugliness beneath the surface.
  • Goldman Sachs didn't ask Greece to become a union-dominated, inside-out dystopia where institutions that should be government-run were privatized while the government itself became a competitive force within the enterprise markets of many industries.
So please, blame it on the rain, blame it on Rio, blame Canada - but DON'T blame the shorts.  It never works and scares the hell out of constructive market participants whose trust and respect you are in dire need of right now.

Friday, February 26, 2010

A 10 cents investment in 1939 - 1 m today - " 玩物丧志 " ?

Comic showing Batman's debut sells for $1m

Batman comic book cover
The comic book cover is one of the most famous of all time
A comic showing the debut of superhero Batman has been sold for more than $1m (£655,000) at an auction in Dallas.
The rare 1939 copy of Detective Comic No 27 was bought by an anonymous bidder from a seller who also wished to keep their identity secret.
The sale comes just days after an early edition of a Superman comic sold for $1m - only to be outdone by Batman.
Barry Sandoval, of auction house Heritage, claimed it was the biggest price on record for a comic book.
"It pretty much blew away all of our expectations," he said.
"We can really say that Batman has nosed out Superman, at least for now."
Mr Sandoval added that the cover of the comic - which was bought by the seller in the 1960s for $100 (£65) - is one of the most famous in comic book history.
According to experts, the debuts of Batman and Superman were always likely to be the first to break the $1m barrier, with both examples in excellent condition.
Shirrel Rhoades, former publisher and executive vice president of Marvel Comics, added that the two sales were likely to keep prices buoyant.
"We're probably seeing a little bit of a feeding frenzy," he said, adding that comic books are seen as a sound investment.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

What The Analysts Don't Know Can Kill You

" I often marvel at the sophistication of the reports that analysts put out - so much detailed research, such complex determinations of "market value". Invariably, analysts' reports contain all kinds of interesting information, and the best of them are well-reasoned, well-written, and quite convincing. But do you know what ? I haven't read one in man, many years. "

Chapter 8 - " What The Analysts Don't Know Can Kill You"

Trader Vic - Methods of a Wall Street Master by Victor Sperandeo  (John Wiley & Sons )

Americans have No Family Values ?

When I was younger, I have always been fed with the misinformation that Gwai Los are of of loose morals and they dispatch their parents to the old folks home or just feed them with dog foods. And at the slightest provocation, they will jump into bed and have sex with strangers etc.

I must say all these misinformations fed by my teachers/politicians/China ass kissers were slowly dismantled by some of the records I listened to during my formation years. Among one of them is this " Color Him Father" which was originally recorded and hit the top 20 by the Winstons. And this also turned up to be a great race relation records which also broke my other misinformation that America is full of KKK and Black Panthers. (that's another story for another day)

But my more preferred version of "Color Him Father " is by O.C. Smith (he of "Little Green Apples", "Sons Of A Hickory Holler's Tramp" and "Honey"). I first bought the album which includes this song from the corner record store at Templer Road's hawker centre (The Lou Hong area). I prefer Smith's version over the original is because Smith sings more  soulfully. And the horns and shouting style girls back singings are just so intense. Over the years, I hold it at my highest of esteems.

Go through the lyrics, there you would find Americans' family values are of NO difference from we Chinese'.

There's a man at my house he's so big and strong
He goes to work each day, stays all day long
He comes home each night looking tired and beat
He sits down at the dinner table and has a bite to eat

Never a frown always a smile
When he says to me how's my child
I've been studying hard all day in school
Tryin' to understand the golden rule

Think I'll color this man father
I think I'll color him love
Said I'm gonna color him father
I think I'll color the man love, yes I will

He says education is the thing if you wanna compete
Because without it son, life ain't very sweet

I love this man I don't know why
Except I'll need his strength till the day that I die
My mother loves him and I can tell
By the way she looks at him when he holds my little sister Nell
I heard her say just the other day
That if it hadn't been for him she wouldn't have found her way

My real old man he got killed in the war
And she knows she and seven kids couldn't of got very far
She said she thought that she could never love again

And then there he stood with that big wide grin
He married my mother and he took us in
And now we belong to the man with that big wide grin

Think I'll color this man father
I think I'll color him love
Said I'm gonna color him father

Banks are actually murdering Greece

Bets by some of the same banks that helped Greece shroud its mounting debts may actually now be pushing the nation closer to the brink of financial ruin.

The police in Greece pushed back against demonstrators on Wednesday as unions staged a one-day general strike to protest austerity measures by the government to reduce its deficit.

Echoing the kind of trades that nearly toppled the American International Group, the increasingly popular insurance against the risk of a Greek default is making it harder for Athens to raise the money it needs to pay its bills, according to traders and money managers.

These contracts, known as credit-default swaps, effectively let banks and hedge funds wager on the financial equivalent of a four-alarm fire: a default by a company or, in the case of Greece, an entire country. If Greece reneges on its debts, traders who own these swaps stand to profit.

“It’s like buying fire insurance on your neighbor’s house — you create an incentive to burn down the house,” said Philip Gisdakis, head of credit strategy at UniCredit in Munich.

As Greece’s financial condition has worsened, undermining the euro, the role of Goldman Sachs and other major banks in masking the true extent of the country’s problems has drawn criticism from European leaders. But even before that issue became apparent, a little-known company backed by Goldman, JP Morgan Chase and about a dozen other banks had created an index that enabled market players to bet on whether Greece and other European nations would go bust.

Last September, the company, the Markit Group of London, introduced the iTraxx SovX Western Europe index, which is based on such swaps and let traders gamble on Greece shortly before the crisis. Such derivatives have assumed an outsize role in Europe’s debt crisis, as traders focus on their daily gyrations.

A result, some traders say, is a vicious circle. As banks and others rush into these swaps, the cost of insuring Greece’s debt rises. Alarmed by that bearish signal, bond investors then shun Greek bonds, making it harder for the country to borrow. That, in turn, adds to the anxiety — and the whole thing starts over again.
On trading desks, there is fierce debate over what exactly is behind Greece’s recent troubles. Some traders say swaps have made the problem worse, while others say Greece’s deteriorating finances are to blame.

“This is a country that is issuing paper into a weakening market,” said Ashish Shah, co-head of credit strategy at Barclays Capital, referring to Greece’s need for continual borrowing.

But while some European leaders have blamed financial speculators in general for worsening the crisis, the French finance minister, Christine Lagarde, last week singled out credit-default swaps. Ms. Lagarde said a few players dominated this arena, which she said needed tighter regulation.

Trading in Markit’s sovereign credit derivative index soared this year, helping to drive up the cost of insuring Greek debt, and, in turn, what Athens must pay to borrow money. The cost of insuring $10 million of Greek bonds, for instance, rose to more than $400,000 in February, up from $282,000 in early January.
On several days in late January and early February, as demand for swaps protection soared, investors in Greek bonds fled the market, raising doubts about whether Greece could find buyers for coming bond offerings.

“It’s the blind leading the blind,” said Sylvain R. Raynes, an expert in structured finance at R&R Consulting in New York. “The iTraxx SovX did not create the situation, but it has exacerbated it.”
The Markit index is made up of the 15 most heavily traded credit-default swaps in Europe and covers other troubled economies like Portugal and Spain. And as worries about those countries’ debts moved markets around the world in February, trading in the index exploded.

In February, demand for such index contracts hit $109.3 billion, up from $52.9 billion in January. Markit collects a flat fee by licensing brokers to trade the index.

European banks including the Swiss giants Credit Suisse and UBS, France’s Société Générale and BNP Paribas and Deutsche Bank of Germany have been among the heaviest buyers of swaps insurance, according to traders and bankers who asked for anonymity because they were not authorized to comment publicly.

That is because those countries are the most exposed. French banks hold $75.4 billion worth of Greek debt, followed by Swiss institutions, at $64 billion, according to the Bank for International Settlements. German banks’ exposure stands at $43.2 billion.
Trading in credit-default swaps linked only to Greek debt has also surged, but is still smaller than the country’s actual debt load of $300 billion. The overall amount of insurance on Greek debt hit $85 billion in February, up from $38 billion a year ago, according to the Depository Trust and Clearing Corporation, which tracks swaps trading.

In a statement, Markit said its index was started to satisfy market demand, and had improved the ability of traders to hedge their risks. The index and similar products, it added, actually make it easier for buyers and sellers to gauge prices for instruments that are traded among players over the counter, rather than on exchanges.
“These indices have helped bring transparency to the sovereign C.D.S. market,” Markit said. “Prior to their creation, there was no established benchmark index enabling investors to track the performance of segments of the sovereign C.D.S. market.”
Some money managers say trading in Greek swaps alone, not the broader index, is the problem.

“It’s like the tail wagging the dog,” said Markus Krygier, senior portfolio manager at Amundi Asset Management in London, which has $40 billion in global fixed-income assets. “There is a knock-on effect, as underlying positions begin to seem riskier, triggering risk models and forcing portfolio managers to sell Greek bonds.”
If that sounds familiar, it should. Critics of these instruments contend swaps contributed to the fall of Lehman Brothers. But until recently, there was little demand for insurance on government debt. The possibility that a developed country could default on its obligations seemed remote.

As a result, many foreign banks that held Greek bonds or entered into other financial transactions with the government did not hedge against the risk of a default. Now, they are scrambling for insurance.
“Greece is not a small country,” said Mr. Raynes, at R&R in New York. “Credit-default swaps give the illusion of safety but actually increase systemic risk.”

Why Liberals and Atheists Are More Intelligent.

brainsThat's the title of a new study by London School of Economics management professor Satoshi Kanazawa just published in Social Psychology Quarterly. As ScienceDaily explains the professor's findings:
More intelligent people are statistically significantly more likely to exhibit social values and religious and political preferences that are novel to the human species in evolutionary history.  Specifically, liberalism and atheism, and for men (but not women), preference for sexual exclusivity correlate with higher intelligence, a new study finds....
In the current study, Kanazawa argues that humans are evolutionarily designed to be conservative, caring mostly about their family and friends, and being liberal, caring about an indefinite number of genetically unrelated strangers they never meet or interact with, is evolutionarily novel.  So more intelligent children may be more likely to grow up to be liberals.
Data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health) support Kanazawa's hypothesis.  Young adults who subjectively identify themselves as "very liberal" have an average IQ of 106 during adolescence while those who identify themselves as "very conservative" have an average IQ of 95 during adolescence.
Similarly, religion is a byproduct of humans' tendency to perceive agency and intention as causes of events, to see "the hands of God" at work behind otherwise natural phenomena.  "Humans are evolutionarily designed to be paranoid, and they believe in God because they are paranoid," says Kanazawa.  This innate bias toward paranoia served humans well when self-preservation and protection of their families and clans depended on extreme vigilance to all potential dangers.  "So, more intelligent children are more likely to grow up to go against their natural evolutionary tendency to believe in God, and they become atheists."
Young adults who identify themselves as "not at all religious" have an average IQ of 103 during adolescence, while those who identify themselves as "very religious" have an average IQ of 97 during adolescence....
One intriguing but theoretically predicted finding of the study is that more intelligent people are no more or no less likely to value such evolutionarily familiar entities as marriage, family, children, and friends.
Is it just me giving in to my confirmation bias, when I suspect that even higher intelligence will correlate with libertarian beliefs?
On a related topic, some may be interested in my 2004 analysis of eariler research showing that conservatism is pathological.

Ronald Bailey

Is AFG fiasco coming to a happy ending ?

I don't I know as I am not an Fengshui sifu. But looking at a new buy signal flashed  today, I would say , maybe. But then , this is just another one of my talk 3 talk 4 things.

KL Stock - ILB

The NYT Has Been Predicting Polar Ice Melt for 128 Years



Funny - the New York Times has been reporting on the Polar ice melt for over 100 years, and usually blaming it on man. The dumbest is the 1959 story of the ice disappearing - which was followed by 20 years of Global Cooling. From the Daily Telegraph (Australia), Eternal Melting:
From the New York Times, 128 years of looming polar doom:

• 1881: “This past Winter, both inside and outside the Arctic circle, appears to have been unusually mild. The ice is very light and rapidly melting …”

• 1932: “NEXT GREAT DELUGE FORECAST BY SCIENCE; Melting Polar Ice Caps to Raise the Level of Seas and Flood the Continents”

• 1934: “New Evidence Supports Geology’s View That the Arctic Is Growing Warmer”

• 1937: “Continued warm weather at the Pole, melting snow and ice.”

• 1954: “The particular point of inquiry concerns whether the ice is melting at such a rate as to imperil low-lying coastal areas through raising the level of the sea in the near future.”

• 1957: “U.S. Arctic Station Melting”

• 1958: “At present, the Arctic ice pack is melting away fast. Some estimates say that it is 40 per cent thinner and 12 per cent smaller than it was fifteen years [ago].”

• 1959: “Will the Arctic Ocean soon be free of ice?”

• 1971: “STUDY SAYS MAN ALTERS CLIMATE; U.N. Report Links Melting of Polar Ice to His Activities”

• 1979: “A puzzling haze over the Arctic ice packs has been identified as a byproduct of air pollution, a finding that may support predictions of a disastrous melting of the earth’s ice caps.”

• 1982: “Because of global heating attributed to an increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide from fuel burning, about 20,000 cubic miles of polar ice has melted in the past 40 years, apparently contributing to a rise in sea levels …”

• 1999: “Evidence continues to accumulate that the frozen world of the Arctic and sub-Arctic is thawing.”

• 2000: “The North Pole is melting. The thick ice that has for ages covered the Arctic Ocean at the pole has turned to water, recent visitors there reported yesterday.”

• 2002: “The melting of Greenland glaciers and Arctic Ocean sea ice this past summer reached levels not seen in decades, scientists reported today.”

• 2004: “There is an awful lot of Arctic and glacial ice melting.”

• 2005: “Another melancholy gathering of climate scientists presented evidence this month that the Antarctic ice shelf is melting - a prospect difficult to imagine a decade ago.”

More storms across the horizontal

Recovery Stalls

A flood of bad news plus Bernanke saying he will keep rates low sparked a mid-morning pop in equities. If you think equities are tracking recovery, think again - they are floating on easy credit going towards speculation, not investment. Consider these news items:

    * New home sales drop to record lows
    * Home prices fall again
    * Housing inventory (months of supply) rises again
    * Bank lending falls in sharpest decline since 1942 (!!)
    * Consumer confidence falls after it had been rising (double dip?)

Calculated Risk has a plethora of charts on this morning's announcement that new home sales (seasonally adjusted) fell to record low levels annualized as well as for a month, even below the prior record low of last January 2009, during the height of fear. You might think this a continued reaction to the end of the first-time homebuyer credit, but that credit was extended. Before the report Bloomberg reported that economists had expected a rise, so this report is unexpectedly bad - as bad as any period back before 1963, when the chart starts. Apparently the tax credit had already pulled forward new home buyers, so the extension has few suckers to pull in anymore. We should see a gap in demand for a while.

Lesson to be learned: gimmicks do create demand, they just pull it forward in time. The implications for recovery are profound, as no real recovery happens without new home sales.

    New home sales are far more important for the economy than existing home sales, and new home sales will remain under pressure until the overhang of excess housing inventory declines much further

Housing inventory had been falling as banks worked through the subprime crisis, but are now rising again, indicating the second wave for foreclosure and mortgage defaults is beginning:

David Rosenberg of Gluskin Sheff pointed out this morning that housing prices are falling despite what you may be hearing in the mainstream media :

The WSJ had a first page prominent article on bank lending falling, the sharpest decline since 1942 at the height of the war economy, which lowered private lending through industrial policy to retool for war. This too is really bad news, as it means banks are not lending but taking all the bailouts and cheap reserves and using it to buy financial assets (Treasuries, stocks).

The rebuttal to those Keynesian cheerleaders is that government stimulus freezes private investment, a phenomenon quite visible in the second half of the the Great Depression. Simple formula:

    Banks don't lend, business doesn't borrow, people hide their savings in Treasuries = economy is on government life support

Now we begin to have worries on retail. Retail numbers still seem to be improving, and Wal-Mart announced good earnings, but warned about declining store comps and deflation in prices, and now Nordstrom is warning about 2H10 results. When January numbers were announced, retail seemed to have normalized (see chart from The Capital Spectator), but we may be seeing a snap-back from distressed circumstances, not a return to recovery:

James Picerno had a sound conclusion to this news:

    No matter how you slice it, it's all about the labor market for the foreseeable future—and how the ongoing struggle to mint new jobs will impact spending. The next clue comes tomorrow, when the Labor Department updates the latest initial jobless claims. 


Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Alan Greenspan wins the Dynamite Prize for most blowed up economy

Greenspan wins Dynamite Prize in Economics
Alan Greenspan has been judged the economist most responsible for causing the Global Financial Crisis. He and 2nd and 3rd place finishers Milton Friedman and Larry Summers, have won the first–and hopefully last—Dynamite Prize in Economics.

In awarding the Prize, Edward Fullbrook, editor of the Real World Economics Review, noted that “They have been judged to be the three economists most responsible for the Global Financial Crisis. More figuratively, they are the three economists most responsible for blowing up the global economy.”

The prize was developed by the Real World Economics Review Blog in response to attempts by economists to evade responsibility for the crisis by calling it an unpredictable, “Black Swan” event. In reality, the public perception that economic theories and policies helped cause the crisis is correct.

The prize winners were determined by a poll in which over 7,500 people voted—most of whom were economists themselves from the 11,000 subscribers to the real-world economics review. Each voter could vote for a maximum of three economists.Fullbrook cautioned that not all economics and economists were bad. “Only ‘neoclassical’ economists caused the GFC. There are other approaches to economics that are more realistic—or at least less delusional—but these have been suppressed in universities and excluded from government policy making.”

“Some of these rebels also did what neoclassical economists falsely claimed was impossible: they foresaw the Global Financial Crisis and warned the public of its approach. In their honour, I now call for nominations for the inaugural Revere Award in Economics, named in honour of Paul Revere and his famous ride. It will be awarded to the 3 economists who saw the GFC coming, and whose work is most likely to prevent another GFC in the future.”
Dynamite Prize Citations

Alan Greenspan (5,061 votes): As Chairman of the Federal Reserve System from 1987 to 2006, Alan Greenspan both led the over expansion of money and credit that created the bubble that burst and aggressively promoted the view that financial markets are naturally efficient and in no need of regulation.
Milton Friedman (3,349): Friedman propagated the delusion, through his misunderstanding of the scientific method, that an economy can be accurately modeled using counterfactual propositions about its nature. This, together with his simplistic model of money, encouraged the development of fantasy-based theories of economics and finance that facilitated the Global Financial Collapse.
Larry Summers (3,023):  As US Secretary of the Treasury (formerly an economist at Harvard and the World Bank), Summers worked successfully for the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act, which since the Great Crash of 1929 had kept deposit banking separate from casino banking.  He also helped Greenspan and Wall Street torpedo efforts to regulate derivatives.
In total 18,531 votes were cast.

Sugar me

One short month ago, the sugar market was taking the commodity world by storm with prices soaring to their highest level in three decades. And, according to the usual "experts", the bullish waters were smooth sailing as far as the eye could see. 
And the government "withdrew" their subsidies because they were telling the people that they cannot take it anymore.
The news items from late January were telling you how and why sugar was bullish:
  • "Sugar Rises To 29-Year Peak, Upside Seen. Dealers predict further rises in the coming weeks due to hefty, pent-up demand from many importing countries." (Reuters)
  • "Sugar prices have powered higher due to expectations of a large global deficit this season... There's still quite a bit of tightness in supplies." (AP)
  • "Sugar futures scaled a 29-year peak. It sill looks bullish on a fundamental basis. There's no change in the trend so far." (Reuters)
  • "Sugar's caught in a perfect storm and the speculative money should keep pouring in."(Bloomberg)
YET -- in a matter of days, said "perfect storm" died away and sugar prices turned down in a powerful, unrelenting decline to the two-month lows.

Now, you can rest assure the usual sources will come forth with various "explanations" as why sugar tumbled and of course, they never see it coming until it was too late .

Fundamentals. What fundamentals ?

Fundamentals Take a Back Seat as Oil Prices Hover Near $80

Oil prices remain resilient, hovering near $80 per barrel, despite less than stellar fundamentals. Some of the recent gains in Oil were attributed to a refinery workers' strike in France, which sparked a run-up in Gasoline prices. Oddly, a refinery shutdown may actually be bearish for Oil prices vs. refined products, as Oil demand decreases due to the refinery shutdown. In the U.S., low refinery margins have refineries operating at levels well below capacity, curbing Oil demand from actual users of the product. Despite lower refining output, U.S. gasoline supplies remain more than ample. Traders are looking for U.S. gasoline supplies to have increased by between 500,000 and 1 million barrels last week when the Energy Information Administration (EIA) releases their weekly energy stocks report. The increase is expected despite expectations of lower gasoline imports last week due to the strike in France. Crude Oil inventories are also expected to show an increase of nearly 2 million barrels. Not even a rising U.S. Dollar, especially vs. the Euro, could derail the recent up-move. So what is behind Crude's strength? Looking at the most recent commitment of traders report, we notice large non-commercial traders (traditionally commodity funds and large speculative accounts) increased their net long positions by nearly 19,000 contracts for the week ending February 16th. This increase was before the last upsurge to $80 in the April contract. These traders tend to be more technical or trend-following in nature, and will add to winning long positions as prices move higher. Non-reportable positions (small speculators) decreased last week, as small traders continued to abandon their net-short positions as oil prices rose. So it appears that technical considerations, not fundamentals, are in vogue in the Oil markets lately, and until proven incorrect, large speculators will want to continue to add to their long positions as long as the up-trend remains in place and their statement balances increase.

"I'm NOT a racist " - says the Pig

"I'm NOT a racist. I just don't believe in mixing the races that way." - Keith Bardwell

He is a Justice of the Peace ( Yep, a JP. They have them there too in America) in Louisiana., explaining why he refused to grant a marriage license to an interracial couple. Bardwell added that 

he has "piles and piles of black friends." 

but believes the children of mixed race couples 'suffer'.

First, I sincerely believe he is NOT a racist since many of our very own Malaysian UMNO politicians also make similar claims citing the reason that they, too, have "piles and piles of Chinese / Indian friends." But then somehow, strange it may be, when I read Bardwell's "piles and piles", I am starting to get images of those brothers that ended up at KKK's burning heaps.

Oh well.  Bill Quigley, director of the Center for Constitutional Rights responded :-

" perhaps he's worried the kids will grow up and be President." 

Mr. Quigley is taking note that Obama is the product of an interracial marriage.

Women are at fault again ?

The Woman Behind Greece's Debt Deal

The architect of Goldman Sachs Group Inc.'s controversial 2001 trade with the Greek government is a top executive in the bank's London office with a yen for yoga and a command of Greek.

Colleagues say 46-year-old Antigone Loudiadis, who has a given name from classical mythology but goes by the nickname "Addy," was the woman behind the deal.

A complex and long-dated arrangement, the trade she set up allowed Greece to reduce its outstanding debt by converting the debt into euros and then restructuring the debt at more favorable rates. Undertaken privately, it helped mask Greece's true indebtedness until recently.


盛集團(Goldman Sachs Group Inc.) 2001年與希臘政府的交易充滿爭議﹐促成這筆交易的是該行倫敦辦公室的一位高管。此人是瑜珈迷﹐會說希臘語。

同事們說﹐46歲的安提歌尼•勞迪亞蒂絲(Antigone Loudiadis)是這樁交易的幕後策劃者。她的名字來自古典神話﹐不過有個暱稱叫“埃迪”(Addy)。






勞 迪亞蒂絲現任高盛旗下Rothesay Life保險公司的首席執行長。記者未能聯繫到她發表評論。高盛副董事長兼Rothesay公司董事舍伍德(Michael Sherwood)對她表示稱讚。他在一份聲明中稱﹐埃迪是一名完美的專業人士﹐聰明、考慮週到、十分重要。簡而言之﹐她是高盛歐洲團隊的關鍵成員。

勞 迪亞蒂絲在倫敦城外的高級私立女子學校──切爾滕納姆女子學院(Cheltenham Ladies College)接受教育﹐後來畢業於牛津大學(Oxford University)。她於1994年離開摩根大通(J.P. Morgan)加入高盛公司。據瞭解她背景的人士稱﹐她是英國公民﹐並在英國生活多年﹐但她還與許多地方有各種各樣的關係﹐例如她出生在尼日利亞﹐是希臘 後裔。

據當時在高盛工作的人士稱﹐通過銷售以債券等資產為基礎的衍生品和複雜產品﹐勞迪亞蒂絲很快給上級──包括1999年以前掌管高盛 全球衍生品部門的蒙塔格(Tom Montag)──留下了深刻印象﹐並成為一個重要的倡導者。她很快被提拔﹐負責倫敦的衍生品營銷﹐後來又掌管向全歐洲銷售證券的整個團隊。


上 世紀90年代﹐在勞迪亞蒂絲的引導下﹐高盛和希臘做了一系列貨幣“掉期”交易﹐使希臘可以用有利的匯率來記錄部分債務。到2001年這些匯率不再誘人時﹐ 勞迪亞蒂絲幫助希臘建立了一種不同的交易﹐使希臘政府可以繼續為會計目的而使用有利的匯率。知情人士說﹐高盛因為建立這筆交易和數年中的一系列相關交易﹐ 將最高3億美元納入了囊中。

如此成績讓勞迪亞蒂絲在職業道路上一路前行。知情人士說﹐這是因為這筆交易不容易脫手﹐並且涉及讓高盛承擔希 臘10億美元的信用風險。按當前的標準來看﹐這個數額已經夠高﹐而在10年前﹐其風險還要大得多﹐因為當時用於對沖信用風險的主權信用違約掉期市場規模要 比現在遠為單薄。這些知情人士中的一位說﹐這筆交易“非常容易搞砸”﹐高盛內部一些人士也認為高盛面臨的下檔風險太大。到2005年﹐勞迪亞蒂絲已成為高 盛歐洲部門一位忙碌的高級管理人員﹐這一年《華爾街日報》採訪她怎樣做瑜伽時﹐她把自己描述為“你們所說的典型的A類工作狂煙民”﹐“工作安排強度大”。 她說﹐瑜伽呼吸有助於她放鬆。

過後不久﹐她加入高盛子公司Rothesay Life。這是一家總部位於倫敦城外的公司﹐幫助企業在安排養老基金時考慮到壽命長於預期的投保人。有一款主打產品叫“壽命掉期”(longevity swap)﹐也是一種複雜衍生品﹐當被保險人的壽命超出持有人預期時就向持有人付費。

勞迪亞蒂絲還參與了關注發展中國家兒童教育非營利組織“閱讀空間”(Room to Read)。該組織首席執行長甘朱(Erin Ganju)通過電子郵件說﹐她是一位“慷慨的支持者”和“熱心的倡導者”。甘朱說﹐在為該組織工作時﹐勞迪亞蒂絲曾數次前往南部非洲。

在勞迪亞蒂絲離開高盛交易與銀行業務前後﹐高盛與希臘政府關係交由埃莉亞季斯(Harry Eliades)負責。埃莉亞季斯也是高盛駐倫敦員工﹐祖籍也在希臘。他是高盛的一位董事總經理﹐未回應置評請求。


Picture Me Gone

Back in the 60's, I first saw Madeline Bell performed at The Beat Club on our black & white TV. The Beat Club was then a very hip Germany TV show where they featured mostly US and UK pop/rock/soul artistes playing /singing their hits with many sweet young things in X short mini skirts dancing behind them. I did not know who she was then, but her "Picture Me Gone" was fused onto my mind forever. I think that could be the very first song that I have ever heard on how a woman turns militant and issue threats to her boyfriend !

It was until UK reissue specialist label RPM releases this CD and with the high recommendation of some of the British music mags that I bought this.

There at the very first track is her classic "Picture Me Gone" that brings so many spiritual orgasms to me. The clever lyrics is just superb. And dig those clashing guitars sudden stops and glorious harmonious back singing. (yes, the legendary Dusty Springfield was there singing) The song eventually becomes a sort of Northern Soul clubbing anthem. There are a few other tracks in this CD which I think are just out of this world. I especially fall for her "Last One To Be Loved" and "Didn't Have To Do It".

I think some of you may recognize her because she eventually became the lead singer of the Blue Minks who had many famous pop hits (Melting Pot , Banner Man, Good Morning Freedom and 17+ other top 20 hits) that spread over to Malaysia.

You can buy the CD from

                           Bell's A Poppin'  - Madeline Bell

 RPM (UK), 1967
Wonderful early work from Madeline Bell -- a great singer with a sound that's equal parts American soul and British 60s female pop! The recordings on the set are from Madeline's earliest years in the UK -- long before she achieved greater fame on crossover rock recordings, at a time when she was just stepping off an early career in gospel, where she'd crafted some great recordings on Vee Jay with Alex Bradford. The sound of the album is wonderful -- arranged to production by Arthur Greenslade, and produced by Johnny Franz with the same pop genius he brought to Philips work by Scott Walker and Dusty Springfield. The CD features the full tracks from the Poppin album, plus a number of contemporary singles -- for a total of 20 tracks that include "Picture Me Gone", "Beat The Clock", "Can't Get Used To Losing You", "Didn't Want To Have To Do It", "Soul Time", "I'm Gonna Make You Love Me", and "You Won't See Me".

Toyoda Family Recalled for Name Spelling Fault

Toyota Chief Overshoots Congressional Hearings by 150 Miles

Finally Stops in Colonial Williamsburg

WASHINGTON  – The reputation of the Toyota Motors Corp. received another black eye today as the president of the embattled company missed his scheduled appearance at Congressional hearings after he overshot Washington, D.C. by 150 miles.

Toyota president Akio Toyoda said he was having difficulties with the brakes on his 2010 Toyota Prius, which finally came to rest after crashing into a blacksmith’s shop in Colonial Williamsburg.

In a brief statement to reporters, Mr. Toyoda said, “I knew I should’ve driven my Chevy today.”

In yet another embarrassment, Mr. Toyoda, the grandson of the carmaker’s founder, realized for the first time that his family’s name is spelled differently from the company’s.

Mr. Toyoda said that all members of the Toyoda family would be immediately recalled to fix the spelling error.

Andy Borowitz

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Chinese old saying :-" 玩物丧志 ". Really ?

First Superman comic sells for $1m

The first edition of Superman
About 100 copies of the first Superman comic remain in existence
A copy of the first comic to feature caped hero Superman has been sold on the internet for $1m (£646,000).
The 1938 edition of Action Comics No 1 - which originally sold for 10c - was sold by a private seller to a private buyer, neither of whom was named.

Stephen Fishler, co-owner of the US auction website Comic Connect, said it was "the Holy Grail of comic books".

The sale smashes the previous record price for a comic book of $317,200 (£205,000) in 2009.

That was also a copy of Action Comics No 1, but in poorer condition.

Mr Fishler said the transaction happened minutes after the issue was put on sale at around 1030 local time (1530 GMT) on Monday.
He said that the seller was a "well-known individual" in New York with a pedigree collection, and that the buyer was a known customer who had previously bought an Action Comics No 1.

'A milestone'
"The opportunity to buy an un-restored, high-grade Action One comes along once every two decades. It's certainly a milestone," said Mr Fishler.

He added: "It is still a little stunning to see a comic book and $1m in the same sentence."

About 100 copies of Action Comics No 1 remain in existence and only two of those have a grading of 8.0 - very fine - including the one sold on Monday.

The previous record-holder had a grading of 6.0.

The cover of the rare issue pictures Superman lifting a car over his head.

What about fans like us ?

Wimbledon hopeful Simona Halep  wants surgery to reduce the size of her breasts.                                                                  
Halep is seen as one of the tennis stars of the future after winning a host of junior titles and a place in the final of the junior French Open last year.                                                                
But the  5-foot 5-inch Romanian tennis star said she thinks her 34DD bust is holding her back.                                                     
"This fall I'll have a breast reduction operation," Halep said. "The breasts make me uncomfortable when I play."     

"It's the weight that troubles me (and) my ability to react quickly," she added.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Italians are more dangerous !!!!

Italy a Bigger Threat to EU than Greece; Italian Derivatives Draw Scrutiny; Mundell Wants Cap on Euro Gains; Academic Wonderland

Robert Mundell, the man who laid the groundwork for the establishment of the Euro claims Italy is a bigger threat to EU stability than Greece.

Please consider Italy Is Top Threat to Euro, Columbia’s Mundell Says

    Italy, saddled with the euro region’s second-largest debt, is the “biggest threat” to the economy of the 16-member bloc, according to Nobel Prize-winning economist Robert Mundell.

    “Italy has got to be worried,” Mundell, a professor at Columbia University, said today in a television interview in New York. “If Italy became a target then this would create a big problem for the euro. Whatever is being done to Greece, possibly to Portugal and maybe Ireland, has to also save Italy from that problem.”

    Italian officials have tried to prevent Italy from being lumped together with some of the euro zone’s smaller economies - - Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain -- that have drawn investor concern about their ability to control deficits and debt. Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said Feb. 10 that those nations were doing “much worse” than Italy and that the “markets have given us their faith.”

    “It would be very difficult if Italy got tarnished with the same problem,” Mundell said, referring to the risk the European Union may need to provide financial assistance to some of its members. “It would be very difficult to bail out Italy.”

    Mundell won the Nobel Prize in 1999 for research that helped lay the foundation for Europe’s single currency.

    Italy’s high debt level would create problems for the entire euro region if rising financing costs make it difficult to service the country’s borrowing, Mundell said. Italy has about 1.8 trillion euros ($2.5 trillion) in debt, more than five times that of Greece and the equivalent of about a quarter of the euro zone’s debt.

    If markets were to lose confidence in Italian public finances, then the European Central Bank would have its hands tied by the Maastricht Treaty, which says the central bank must orient monetary policy exclusively toward keeping inflation under 2 percent.

    “The Treaty of Maastricht puts a straight jacket on the ECB,” Mundell said. “Monetary policy itself would have to bend a little if a country as big as Italy got into trouble.”

Italian Derivatives Draw Scrutiny

Inquiring minds note Italian derivatives draw scrutiny as Greece tensions heighten

    With tensions heightening over Greece's past use of currency swaps, attention turned Thursday to potential problems with local public finances in Italy stemming from the use of derivative contracts, currency strategists said.

    Italy's Audit Court late Wednesday warned that derivative contracts used by Italian municipalities could magnify debt and imbalances over time, potentially forcing authorities to "wring sacrifices from future generations for 20 or even 30 years," Dow Jones Newswires reported.

    Jane Foley, research director at, said fears that Italian municipalities may have significant derivatives exposure have dragged Italy's government budget under the spotlight.

    "While Italy appeared to be running a healthy primary surplus in the years ahead of EMU (economic and monetary union), its huge public debt points to years of poor fiscal management," she said. "Whether or not its budget was enhanced by the use of derivative operations does need to be clarified."

Mundell Wants Cap On Euro Gains

Rounding up out trio of Italy concerns about please consider Columbia's Mundell Says EU Should Put Cap on Euro Gains: Video .

    Nobel laureate Robert Mundell talks with Bloomberg's Sara Eisen about the euro. Mundell, a Columbia University professor, said the European Union should cap gains of its currency so that it doesn't exceed $1.40. Mundell also discusses Greece's fiscal problems, the dollar and European monetary policy.

Click on previous link then click on the "Video" Tab to watch the Bloomberg interview.

Academic Wonderland

Mundell is yet another Nobel prize winning economist in academic wonderland. Japan has proven time and time again that currency wars never work.

Here is a brief summary of academic wonderland.

Krugman wants a weaker dollar, Mundell wants a weaker Euro, Japan wants a weaker Yen, and everyone wants a stronger Yuan except China.

It is impossible for everyone to get what they want: a weaker currency vs. everyone else hoping to stimulate exports.

Academia is never concerned with such details.

Mike  Shedlock

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Investment Experts Make You Poor

You Can't Trust the Experts with Your Investments

Investment Experts Make You Poor

In a complex world we increasingly have to rely on experts such as lawyers, doctors and scientists to guide us. We expect them to get things right most of the time and we sue the hell out of them if they don’t. In the world of investment, though, we get something different. They get it wrong most of the time, are never held accountable and generally argue that they actually didn’t get it wrong anyway and, if they did, it wasn't their fault.

Meanwhile people listen to these “experts”, take their advice, almost hero worship them at times and mostly get poorer while they make money at our expense. Who are the smart ones in this relationship?

Political Misjudgement

Remarkably there don’t seem to be any studies carried out on misjudgement by financial experts but there is a set of research covering a similar area. It’s been undertaken over two decades by Philip Tetlock (1) on the subject of political misjudgement.

His results demonstrate a set of pervasive human errors that won’t come as any surprise to behavioural psychologists and are uncannily similar to those we see in investment circles. Predictions in politics and investment are closely related anyway – both are complex areas, with no easily predictable outcomes, and are subject to unexpected events.

So, just as the pundits were predicting South African apartheid to be unassailable it collapsed. Just as investment analysts were extrapolating dotcom earnings to the stars the sky fell in. Just as the hegemony of the Soviet Union over Eastern Europe appeared unshakable the Berlin Wall came down. Just as collateralised subprime mortgage lenders were forecasting ever rising earnings the world’s financial system imploded.

It’s like any system with human beings as part of its wiring – short-term prediction isn’t so much difficult as impossible. We’re the grit in the gears.

Systematically Wrong Expertise

What interested Tetlock wasn’t, necessarily, that the experts got things wrong. It was that they got things wrong a lot and that they got things wrong in a systematic and predictable fashion. Do you find any of his conclusions familiar?

1. Experts weren’t any better at predicting outcomes than non-experts . If anything they were worse. It turns out that a little extra knowledge might improve forecasting but lots make it worse. Back to the monkey with its dartboard.

2. The more famous the forecaster the more wrong their predictions. High profile commentators are expected to provide headlines – consensus views are of no interest, so it’s in their interests to be controversial rather than right.

3. Experts assessed new information differently depending on whether it supported their views or not. They were quick to accept new data that backed up their theories but applied much higher levels of proof to anything which opposed them. So not very expert at all, really.

4. Mostly, experts failed to remember their predictions – they claimed, with hindsight, to predict much more successfully than they actually did. When right crow loudly, when wrong deny everything.

The experts came up with lots of explanations for why they were so bad at prediction including that they were nearly right, but for unforeseen last-minute circumstances that couldn’t possibly have been predicted. Which sort of suggests that prediction is impossible and we shouldn't bother but, strangely, none of them pointed that out.

Best of all they sometimes simply denied they’d got things wrong and then got very cross indeed when shown that they had.

Consistency and Commitment Tendency

Many of these mistakes were predictable. In his speech on The Psychology of Human Misjudgement to Harvard Law School in 1995 Charlie Munger covered a whole range of such issues. High on his list was bias from consistency and commitment tendency:
... the human mind is a lot like the human egg, and the human egg has a shut-off device. When one sperm gets in, it shuts down so the next one can’t get in. The human mind has a big tendency of the same sort.
Applied to investment experts these traits ought to be familiar to us. They’re dealing with a chaotic world in which short-term events are simply unpredictable. Just as political experts can’t really know what the world will throw at them, neither can investment experts. The variables are too great, the possibilities too difficult to judge, the complexities too mindbogglingly complicated to predict.

Judgement Driven Experts Aren’t Very Expert

Unfortunately we’re trained to listen and believe in experts. If you’ve got a gut ache you go to the doctor. If you need to sue someone you go to a lawyer. And if we want to invest we go to an investment advisor. Only an investment advisor isn’t a proof driven expert like a doctor or a lawyer. They’re a judgement driven expert like a political advisor.

Let’s simplify this. They’re guessing. With our money.

Political advice is important mainly when given to politicians who, heaven help us, we hope are well enough trained to tell the difference between fact and judgement. Well, some of the time, anyway. Hopefully.

Investment advice, though, is doled out to us, the masses, who aren’t trained at all. Mostly we can’t tell the difference between someone who really knows what they’re talking about and someone who doesn’t. Usually the experts can’t either.

Cautious Experts are Best but the Right Experts may be Wrong

Tetlock also showed that the best judgement was exhibited by the experts who were least certain. They drew on lots of different data sources, weighed their evidence carefully and came to cautious conclusions. Unfortunately these are likely to be the least popular experts in public circles. The media doesn’t like caution, it deals in certainty and the fact that yesterday’s certainty is different from today’s matters not at all. So the most prominent investment commentators are the least cautious – and likely to be the most wrong.

Even more difficult is that experts may be wrong today and right tomorrow. Tetlock has shown that what appear at one stage to be incorrect judgements may turn out to be correct – so, for example, an expert who suggested that the Soviet Union would implode by 1985 looked stupid in 1986 but brilliant in 1990. Similarly you’d have looked an idiot for recommending Amazon in 2000, but pretty smart in 2005.

In reverse, Tetlock makes the point in a historical context:
We should recall that the same Winston Churchill who, as early as 1933, was uncannily correct about Hitler’s aspirations attributed almost equally malign motives to Gandhi and his independence movement. In short, good judgement may sometimes be the product of fortuitous coincidences of slowly changing preconceptions in a rapidly changing world.
Or, to paraphrase, even a stopped clock is right twice a day.

Trust the Crowd Not the Expert

We can’t rely on the experts who advise us on our investments. It’s not that they don’t know, it’s that they can’t know. We can’t distinguish between the rare real thing who’ll make us rich and the rest who won’t. Meanwhile today’s investment superstar may be tomorrow’s subprime black hole.

Almost the entire world of mass market investment is built on experts but if we can’t rely on their judgements then we need to operate differently. If you stood a better than one in two chance of your doctor getting a diagnosis wrong you wouldn’t take the first opinion offered. Yet as far back as 1906 Francis Galton noted that the averaged guesses of a crowd estimating the weight of an ox gave a result uncannily close to the correct one even though the majority of guesses were way off.

For most of us, in the random world of investment, the wisdom of crowds may be as good as it gets.