Friday, December 19, 2008

Now THAT Is A Friend

I'm out at the beach with Scottish Lass attempting to get over the cold that everybody in the country seems to have gotten this week.  A few minutes ago, there was a knock at the door and a delivery man holding two bags.

It was a Christmas gift from my good friend Grubzilla, who sent me a metric fuckton of my favorite gin in the world, Hendricks.  Grubzilla rules!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

More Proof of Neurological Damage from Viral Infection

The Misanthrope has had a fairly stressful last few weeks and he has responded in his usual style - by getting very sick.  I put up a fight yesterday to keep working, but by the end of the day I was done in by a sore throat, fever, aches, chills and some pretty evil congestion in my chest.  Making matters worse, sleep was nearly impossible as I would wake up every time I (a) swallowed or (b) turned over.  So today was spent mostly asleep in a bundle of warm blankets.

At any rate, I rebounded this afternoon and was trying to get some work done when I was overcome by a desire so evil, so inexplicable, so taboo that I shudder to disclose it on this blog.  For, you see, about midway through the afternoon I became obsessed with the desire to listen to It's Hard, the last album released by The Who in their Kenney Jones configuration.  For years, I have echoed Roger Daltrey's comment that this should be called the "contractual obligation album" as it was pretty much delivered only because the band owed Warner Brothers another record.

The desire grew out of a bizarre dream I had in my feverish sleep.  I had placed an ad on Craigslist to start a Who cover band that would only play material from the two Kenney Jones albums (Face Dances and It's Hard).  We were holding auditions, but the horn section hadn't learned any of their parts...wait.  Maybe that last part actually happened to me.

At any rate, I gave the record a spin today and confirmed my diagnosis of neurological damage from viral infection.  For the first time in my life, I listened and thought, "There's a great record in here, struggling to break out from horrible drumming and terrible production choices."

If anybody needs me, I'll be checking myself into the psych ward at Bellevue tonight.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Puppies...Is There Anything They Can't Do?

Puppies save small child from freezing to death.

The Best and the Brightest

I'm not usually a fan of Frank Rich, who really should have stayed in the Arts section of the paper.  In today's Times, however, he has a long Op-Ed that really strikes at the the heart of my concern over Obama and his coming Administration.  In a nutshell, Rich reminds readers that David Halberstam was not being complimentary when he described the brilliant young minds that got us into Vietnam as "The Best and the Brightest."  It's very appealing to imagine an Administration filled with wunderkinder, but sometimes these very bright folks lack the wisdom that comes with real experience.

That's always been my gripe with Obama.  No question he is a bright guy (although I doubt he is any brighter than any number of people I know and I don't want them to be President either).  But he's never run anything and he has no record on which we can judge his wisdom or lack thereof.  Just being bright is not enough.

People made much of the fact that Abraham Lincoln was similarly inexperienced when he became President in a time of national crisis.  What most people forget is that Lincoln's first few years in office were almost unmitigated disasters.  The much-vaunted Team of Rivals was mostly a Team of Annoying, Back-stabbing Distractions that ate up much of Abe's time.  His management of the Civil War was horrible and Union armies were getting their asses kicked all over the place as Lincoln dithered with a succession of generals who did nothing but bring disaster.  It was not until Vicksburg and Gettysburg that Union fortunes began to change.  And if Sherman had not delivered Atlanta in 1864, it seems pretty certain that Lincoln would have been a one-termer.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Revenge of the Nerds

Joe Satriani is suing Coldplay for copyright infringement. 

Frankly, I can't stand either of them.  Satriani is among the biggest offenders from the Guitar for Practicing Musician wank culture of the 1980s and Coldplay writes songs that are so dull they make me want to go on a three state killing spree.

Still, I just love the idea of Chris Martin secretly listening to Satriani somewhere, probably on a cassette in his old car.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Gear Acquisition Syndrome

One common affliction in guitarists is the belief that he or she desperately needs some new piece of gear.  The new gear is obsessed over and lusted after for months.  Then, the guitarist breaks down and buys the equipment only to discover that they are the same guitarist they were before.

The Misanthrope is no stranger to this disease and his growing collection of guitars is a testament to his weakness.

This time it was the Gibson ES-175.  As a young player, I had always thought of true hollow body guitars as nerdy, dorky instruments.  Even though one of my favorite players, Steve Howe (pictured here on their 1973 World Tour) played an ES-175 for most of his career with Yes, I still never had much interest in them.

As I got older, I moved from solid body guitars into my first ES-335, which is just a fantastic sounding guitar.  I've played it almost exclusively for the last 5 years and it is set up to my exact tastes.  Still, I felt no urge to take the next step and go for a full hollow body.

When I started listening to a lot of jazz players like Grant Green, Wes Montgomery, Herb Ellis, Tal Farlow, I really started to appreciate the deeper tone that they were getting from their instruments.  At the same time, my ears have, frankly, gotten a bit tired of the sharper sounds that can come from an electric guitar.  

So, I started looking at hollow body electrics.  I didn't like a lot of the body styles I saw, like the Gibson L-5, but I found myself coming back again and again to the ES-175.  Today, my new ES-175 arrived.  I ended up getting the Steve Howe Custom Shop model, mostly because 2008 Custom Shop instruments have their frets done by an incredible machine called a Plek and also because I liked the tobacco sunburst finish on it more than the vintage sunburst that they offer with the standard ES-175.  It's got some different things on it to replicate Howe's guitar, but it is overall very beautiful.  And I got it brand new for a huge, huge discount from list and retail by searching on eBay, the world's greatest guitar shop.

When I plugged it in, it was, hands down, the most beautiful sounding electric guitar I have ever played.  If only I had know when I was younger!  The tone is just what I was looking for all these years.  Deep and mellow but still clear and ringing.  With just a touch of overdrive on the amp, the bridge pickup sings.  Amazing.

I'm going to spend a little time with it, experimenting with different string gauges, before I take it in for a do-over by my guitar guy at Peekamoose.  I'd like to put .013s on it or maybe even heavier.  I can't imagine what the tone will be like with that much string pushing air.

But, of course, I am still the same player I was yesterday and I still can't play jazz properly.

Black Watch

ScottishFest '08 continued last night as Scottish Lass, Scottish Dad and I went to St. Ann's Warehouse in Brooklyn to see "Black Watch."  The show is a production of the two year old National Theatre of Scotland (Motto - "Hae a wee dram and a drama, ye crabbit get") and it is simply one of the best things I've seen in the theater in New York.  It is the story of the Royal Highland Regiment, known as the Black Watch because of its dark tartan and its mission to "watch" the Highlands, and its final mission as an independent regiment in Iraq.

The acting is superb.  In fact, it is so seamless that I kept forgetting that these weren't real veterans on stage.  The direction and music took full advantage of the possibilities of live theater. And the story itself was moving without being maudlin or polemical.  Scottish Dad, not the type to display emotion openly, was clearly a little snuffled up at the end when the bagpipes started.  (I can't blame him.  Bagpipes, like church organs, go right to my heart and make me weepy almost instantly.)

The show is on until December 21st, so if you can swing a ticket do not fail to go and see it.  

Friday, November 14, 2008

WHAT THE $^&%*(??????!!?!?

Check out this story from Nebraska.

No, I'm sad to say it is not a hoax.

Guns Are Just Tools - Unfortunately, So Are Investment Bankers

A lot of friends have been asking me to explain what is going on in the financial markets lately.  It's not an easy subject to condense, but this article by Michael Lewis, the author of Liar's Poker, is a pretty good summary of the way that Wall Street built the bomb that destroyed it.  The subject is mostly restricted to Wall Street and the way that repackaged subprime loans spiraled out of control, but it is a great read and well worth the investment.

One thing you have to bear in mind is that until the 1980s, most investment banks on Wall Street were private partnerships.  That constrained the amount of capital they could put to work, but it also meant that each partner was taking financial risk with every strategy they pursued.  After they all went public, that risk was borne by public shareholders, leading to a pretty significant shift in risk appetite at the management level.

When I worked at Goldman, Sachs in the early 1990s, it was still a private partnership.  I will never forget one of the partners saying to me, "I lie awake at night and think, 'Some 27 year old is betting 10 times my net worth on some strategy I don't fully understand.  It's terrifying."  That fear disappears when the company is owned by public shareholders.  It's the not the root cause of everything, but it is symptomatic of recent Wall Street, where so many were paid so much and yet took so little personal risk.  It's recipe for disaster.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Armistice Day

Today is the 90th anniversary of the end of World War I, which ended on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918.  The Great War, the war to end war, is better understood by another name by which it was called at the time - The Meat Grinder.  Although the gruesome effects of modern weaponry had been seen as early as the American Civil War, the Great War brought insane body counts and casualties to a peak never before seen in human history and, God willing, unlikely to be seen ever again.  The Battle of the Somme in 1916 resulted in 1.5 million casualties over four months.

Veteran's Day, which is today, commemorates the end of that war.  For many years after the war, in many of the countries that had sacrificed entire generations to the Meat Grinder, everything stopped at 11 AM on November 11th each year as a memorial.

In the U.S., Veteran's Day has been largely supplanted by Memorial Day as the primary military holiday, but it is still a Federal holiday and older Americans will remember the symbolism of the 11th hour.

My father's step-father lied about his age in 1917 and joined the U.S. Expeditionary Force to fight in France in the last year of the war.  When I began to study history, I tried to ask him about his time in battle, but he would only give me one answer, "That was a long time ago kid."  He was gassed at one point and described to my father the sight of the low cloud of mustard poison creeping across the field in the late evening light.  Ninety years later, one of the companies I work with in my professional life is working on a potential treatment for mustard gas exposure in a terror attack. Amazing to think about.

At any rate, take a few seconds today to listen to this recording  (link to the clip is at the end of the article )of a battle in the last days of the war.  Chilling stuff.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Potvin Sucks

The Scottish Parents are in New York for three weeks on an extended holiday.  As Scottish Lass and I were discussing last night, it's hard to have her parents in Australia as any visit has to be quite long to make the 24 hour flight in each direction worth it.  One great thing about her parents is that they are obsessed with New York and love it, so having such a long stay to wander around is a real treat.

Last night, Scottish Dad and I went to the Garden to see the Rangers beat the Lightning, 5-2.  We were joined by my own Dad.  Now, bear in mind that Scottish Dad has a thick Glaswegian accent and can sometimes be difficult to understand.  And my own father has a fairly noticeable New York accent.  It's not quite Goodfellas, but let's just say that the words with a pronounced "r" sound at the end are few and far between.  This made for a fascinating listening experience as Scotsman and New York got on like a house on fire.  It kind of sounded like this:


Cavalier Dad:  Dollah Yawk Dollah Yawk Dollah Yawk

Scottish Dad, a former hockey player, got a solid NHL experience.  We got a decent fight about 5 minutes into the first period, a hat trick out of Chris Drury and an even better fight in the third started by Tampa Bay's goalie.

And, of course, Scottish Dad got to hear the immortal chant, "Potvin Sucks."  Hearing this over the course of the night reminded me of the days when my Dad would take my brother and me to Ranger games as kids.  He had a connection that sometimes got us great seats (back then, the red seats) and sometimes got us nosebleeds (the blue seats).  I think I learned more about swearing in the blue seats than I learned anywhere else in my childhood.  And I will never forget the enormous open air urinal that was 32nd Street between 6th and 7th after every game.  Literally hundreds of people would just wander into an abandoned lot and deposit the remains of their watered-down, overpriced Budweiser.

So I have to admit that I got a little nostalgic as I watched my Dad, now approaching 80, get himself up and down the stairs to his seat.  He's got some knee problems now and his gait is much slower; certainly slower than his high school days, when he was called "The Gazelle" as part of his New York City champion high school soccer team.  I also look at his hands, now starting to curl a bit from rheumatoid arthritis, and remember how comforting they were when I was a kid.  

I remembered one game when I was very young, maybe 8.  The Rangers were playing the St. Louis Blues and we had great seats behind the bench.  Between periods, my Dad walked us up to the glass as the teams were filing back in from the locker room.  Suddenly, one of the St. Louis players said to me, "Hey kid, you want a hockey stick?"  Then he handed me a stick he had broken at the end of the previous period.  I was excited, to say the least.  We got back to our seats and the game began again.  I think it was a playoff game or a late-season game to determine if the Rangers made the playoffs.  The Garden was packed and rowdy.  At some point, the Rangers scored a goal and the entire arena went apeshit.  I was still small and the noise scared the hell of me.  I started to cry.  (Give me a break, I was tiny.)   At any rate, my Dad put his big hands on my shoulders and I felt totally safe in the midst of the screaming crowd.

Dads are awesome.  Call yours today and tell him you love him.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

This Is Going To Kill New York

Bloomberg is being honest about his plans to raise taxes in New York City.  I admire the fact that Bloomberg is not sugar-coating the situation and that he is taking action now.  

Unfortunately, the proposed increase in the income tax will absolutely destroy this city.  I already have the pleasure of paying an additional 3.7% on top of my nearly 6.85% New York State tax just for the pleasure of living in a city with horrible public schools, decaying roads and insane cost of living.

Few people love New York more than I do.  It's my birthplace and my home and I get a little crazy if I am away from it for too long.  But if the income tax goes up here and Obama raises my federal taxes and my payroll taxes, I am really going to be forced to leave the city and possibly the state.  The most realistic possibility is New Hampshire, where there  is no income tax but where I can get to Boston and New York with relative ease.

I have long defended New York's insane costs as the price of the city's amazing vibrancy, but I think we have reached the tipping point when I am paying over 11% of my income just to be here.  I wish I were just speaking hyperbolically, but I'm afraid that I have already started to look into where I would move.  It's just too much after a while.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008


Now that Obama has been elected, the Iraqis are saying, "Please don't withdraw too fast, Mr. Obama!"

During the campaign, I had to endure many Obama supporters telling me that the Iraqis wanted us out as soon as possible and Obama would withdraw immediately.  When I told them that was not at all what opinion polls showed about the Iraqi attitude, that they wanted to be independent but they knew that they needed the U.S. presence for security, they scoffed.

You can't make this stuff up.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Congratulations to Obama

With Ohio gone, there is no real chance for McCain, so Obama is President.  Congrats to him for running a brilliant campaign.

I do believe that the voters have made a grave error in choosing such an unknown, inexperienced man to be President, but now we get to find out what he is going to do.   According to what his supporters have told me, the world will now start loving America, all of our mortgages will be paid and we will be sharing the wealth.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

To Quote Obama...

...this is not the Led Zeppelin I thought I knew.

I think we can agree that Page and John Paul Jones with Bonham's son and some replacement singer is not the same as "Led Zeppelin."  I'm kind of surprised because Led Zeppelin must surely go down as one of the best managed, if not THE best managed, bands of the 1970s.  They didn't get screwed by the record company.  They didn't stupidly sign away their publishing.  They didn't put out crappy filler albums or novelty singles that diluted their brand.  When Bonham died, the shut it down and managed their legacy with care.  (Unlike, say, The Who, a band whose stature was badly, badly tarnished by poor management and endless efforts to cash in on the back catalogue.)

So what the hell is Jimmy smoking?

Some Good News

I haven't written about Satan P. Cancerbeagle, aka "Maggie," in quite some time, so here's an update.

First of all, Maggie's 7th birthday was on Saturday.  I confess I didn't have much hope in the spring that she would live to see that milestone.  I was, however, completely wrong.

The tumor was mostly stable during the summer and the only bad effects were caused by the immunosuppression from the chemo.  We adjusted the regimen and she has done very well.

Three weeks ago, we tried a new chemo drug, an mTor inhibitor, and the results came this morning at Maggie's echocardiagram.  For the first time ever, parts of the tumor have actually shrunk.  It's an amazing result because saromas are extremely difficult to shrink with chemo.  

More importantly, Maggie has been totally normal.  We were out on the beach on Sunday afternoon and she was tearing up and down the sand at full speed.  Aside from the hair loss on her snout, you'd be hard pressed to imagine that anything was wrong with her.

I don't want to get too excited because, realistically, chemo rarely kills sarcomas entirely, but we have gotten nearly a year of very high quality life  so far and I am thankful.

New Line of Work

Friday, October 24, 2008

Pure Tone, Pure Desmond

I've been enjoying a record called "Pure Desmond" for the last few days.  It's a recording from 1975 with Paul Desmond (alto sax) and a Canadian guitarist named Ed Bickert.

The album was recommended to me because Bickert plays a Telecaster, which is, to say the least, a pretty rare guitar to find in jazz.  I had mentioned to a jazz fiend that the Telecaster seems to be an odd choice for jazz because it is known for its trebly, biting bridge pickup.  Boy, did I underestimate what that little guitar can do!  I urge any fans of the venerable Tele to listen to this record to hear what it is capable of in a jazz setting.  Bickert's tone is just amazing.  When he is holding down the chords, his guitar is so rich and majestic, it sounds like there is also a keyboard player behind him.  In fact, his chord playing is more out of a keyboard player's playbook than a guitarist.  Absolutely amazing stuff on a record that is all about tone.

Another revelation (to me, at least) is Paul Desmond's tone.  Desmond is probably most famous for playing sax in Dave Brubeck's band for years and for playing the famous sax lines on "Take Five," a tune  he also wrote.   One of my big blocks with jazz has always been that I really dislike the sound of most brass.  Always have.  And that's like trying to enjoy rock when you don't like the guitar.  But Desmond's sound is more like an oboe, which happens to be one of my favorite instruments.  So listening to this is a joy.  And Desmond's spare phrasing and fluid style are also a joy.

Definitely a recommended disc.  Go check it out.

Hugo's Problems

Oil drops below $65 a barrel, even after a 1.5MM barrel/day cut by OPEC.  I expect it to drop further.

Whom does this hurt?  Everybody's favorite jerk, Huge Chavez.  It will be interesting to watch him keep his grip on power when he cannot count on high oil prices to pay for his bread and circuses approach to government.  I'd say it's 50/50 he's thrown out within 18 months.

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Mystery

Somebody needs to explain to me why Colin Powell is a figure afforded such respect.  He did a good job running the Gulf War, but since then I can't really point to anything impressive in his record.  What's more, he was at the helm of State during the disastrous first Bush term and he was the one making the case that there were WMDs in Iraq.  So, help me out here, why are so many on the left excited about this guy?

I'm sure he's a decent fellow, but I cannot for the life of me understand the political respect he gets.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

When Worlds Collide

In my haste last night, I forgot to list one of the other highlights of the trip.  That was when we passed by "Squirelly's Pizza" just outside Shreveport, Louisiana.

There were so many things wrong with that place it's hard to begin, but here's a short list:

1) Pizza in rural Louisiana
2) Pizza made in a doublewide trailer that also serves as the dining room
3) The large Stars & Bars that was flying just next to the entrance
4) The word "Squirrel" in the name of any food business

Still, I hear the "Meat Lover's Surprise" is fantastic.

By the way, if you are ever looking for a vintage car to rehab, I recommend trawling the backroads of Latex (that's Louisiana - Texas).  Almost every other house had two or three El Caminos or old Plymouths mouldering in the front yard.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

I'm Back

I feel like I've been in Outer Mongolia for the last week, but the super-duper cross country trip is now complete.  I touched down in Linden, New Jersey tonight at about 6:50 PM after a 3 hour and 20 minute flight from Salisbury, North Carolina.  All told, I logged about 19 hours of flying time over the past six days and got my skinny white ass from New York to Shreveport, Louisiana and back all in one piece.

Highlights from the trip:

1) Hanging out with my nephews and playing Rock Band...and getting schooled by the oldest on "Won't Get Fooled Again" of all songs.
2) A pretty cool instrument approach into Salisbury, North Carolina in very low clouds.  There's truly nothing like seeing the runway end lights after you pop out of the clouds.
3) Staying up until 3:30 AM playing blackjack in some godforsaken casino in Shreveport.
4) Visiting Lead Belly's grave site outside Mooringsport, LA at the suggestion of my friend Glen.  Pictures to come soon.
5) Waffle House
6) Seeing the Shenandoah Valley from 7,000 feet from end to end
7) Seeing the Mississippi as it bends around Vicksburg from 6,000 feet.
8) Figuring out that a visit to Tony Alva in Hotlanta is pretty doable in the plane. 

I realized very quickly that I need one of these for such long trips.  Luckily, I discovered that the good folks at Gatorade make a generic version.

I'm pretty beat, but pretty much anything under 3 hours now seems like nothing in the plane.

Still, I want a faster plane.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

If You Are Not Busy Tomorrow

Last week I was out walking Wallace P. Sweetbeagle and Satan P. Cancerbeagle in the wee hours when I noticed a large white van on Jane Street with "" painted on the sides and back.  There were a bunch of photocopies of what looked like a 1980s fanzine stuck under the windshield wipers, so I took one.

It's been quite a while since I've seen a photocopy of newpaper articles and typewritten text glued on a page.  At any rate, the author believes that Stephen King killed John Lennon under orders from Ronald W. Reagan and Richard M. Nixon.  This seems like a plausible theory.

If you agree, he will be holding a protest outside the ABC television offices on the Upper West Side tomorrow from 9 AM to 7 PM.

I, on the other hand, will be flying to North Carolina to visit my brother and nephews.  From there I will continue on to Shreveport, Lousiana to visit a friend for the weekend.  At 2,300 miles roundtrip, it will be the farthest I have flown the Fanta Plane.  There's a huge cold front that is just passing through my route of flight, bringing showers and instrument conditions, but the upside is that there is an enormous high pressure system behind it.  That means that Friday's leg to Shreveport will be in sunny, clear skies.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

A Difference Emerges

After the mess of the earlier debate, I have to say there is no question that McCain mops the floor with Obama when it comes to foreign policy.  McCain is clear, he knows his subject and he indicates that he has a plan.  Obama is just all over the shop and his rhetoric, particularly over Pakistan, is just bush league and naive.  

And he has the weirdest habit of saying that he "put out a statement" as if it indicates that he took action of some kind.  In fact, that might be the metaphor for Obama's whole political career. No actual legislation or governance, just a bunch of statements he put out.

This round goes to McCain, no question.

Pouring a "light" bourbon number four now.

Oh Come ON

Obama claimed that he is cutting more in spending than he is proposing in increases.  I'm sorry, but there is just no way that is true.  No way.  I'm sure the Obama campaign will issue some press release "proving" that it is true, but only in the most lawyerly sense, but it's just nonsense.  

Oh, by the way, Obama is going to respond to the economic crisis by expanding the Peace Corps??  WTF?

Then again, McCain may have totally undercut his message of spending control with that insane proposal to buy non-performing mortgages.  

I am into my third bourbon.  No matter who wins, it's going to be a rough four years.

I Am So Depressed

The bullshit is flying thick and fast here.

What on earth is McCain talking about with a program to have the Treasury buy non-performing mortgages??  I get the general idea, but he talks about the subject as if the problem is that home values are dropping.  What does that have to do with your ability to pay your mortgage?  It has nothing to do with it.  It's just a more palatable way of saying we are going to bail out a bunch of jackasses who borrowed too much.

My head almost exploded when he said that.

And are we really supposed to believe the new, improved Obama the Budget Hawk??  Where did this come from?  Obama promises to review the Federal Budget line by line.  Does he mention that the President has no Line Item Veto?  And that the Democrats opposed such a veto power consistently?  And we are supposed to believe that spending is going to be constrained with Obama, Reid and Pelosi in control?


I really just hate them both now.  Neither of them has a clue.

Oooh, Pander Fest!

I am going to vote for the candidate who promises me a free iPhone and a $1,000 check.

Seriously, this debate has turned depressing very fast.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Yes, It Can Get Worse

Pretty crazy day on Wall Street.  Can it get worse?

Yes.  There is going to be a very large wave of hedge fund failures off of this and when those guys need to start winding down, the selling could get intense.  The fact is that there are just too many hedge funds and they can't all beat the market.  Too many of them have been taking on more risk than they admit in an attempt to generate excess return.  Their world is crumbling.

It is going to be very, very ugly soon.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Asleep at the Switch

The general consensus on the debate last night was that Palin cleared the lowered bar of expectations and, therefore, generated more political value than Biden.

I don't love the way Sarah Palin talks.  She was talking too fast and often got ahead of herself, leading to some extremely tortured syntax.  I don't think she is a dumb woman and I think her record in Alaska shows she is a skilled politician and can work the process.  That being said, it was hard to avoid the conclusion that she has not been engaged in national and international issues long enough to have a fully-developed worldview.  She is a quick study and I was surprised at some of the details she came up with, but we have to be realistic.  She is absorbing a lot, but that is not the same as having been focused on these issues long enough to have a coherent, well thought-out point of view.  In this respect, I do wish that she had been Governor for a bit longer.  So, at its core, you have to take it on faith that she will bring the same skills to the issues of the country as a whole that she brought to Alaska.  That's not a terribly compelling argument, but I think this image that she is some kind of blithering idiot is ridiculous.  She's also a weird contrast with Obama.  She actually has a record of governing but little engagement with national issues.  Obama has no record of governing, but he is clearly very intelligent and has been engaged with national issues.  They both have a big hole in their arguments.

On the other hand, I am absolutely dumbfounded as to how Joe Biden continues to get such a free pass from the media.  As I said below, he is very smooth and articulate and it is pleasing to listen to, especially when compared with the halting speech pattern from Palin.

But, my GOD, the guy just makes things up out of whole cloth and nobody says a word.

There was the usual political bloviating, like his reference to the people at Katie's restaurant in Wilmington, where the regular folk can be found.  Sadly, Katie's has, apparently been closed for almost two decades.  I don't begrudge him the bullshit populism, but, Joe, come on, at least reference something that existed some time recently.

That's just bad political style.   His policy comments were more bizarre and more fabricated.

For example, his comment that we spend more in a month in Iraq than we have spent in Afghanistan in seven years.  My ears perked up when I heard this because it sounds incredibly damning, even taking into account that Afghanistan is a more international conflict.  The problem is, it is totally untrue.  In fact, he is off by a couple of orders of magnitude.  Now, seriously, can you imagine the derision that Palin would have had rained down on her for saying such a thing.  How can the press not call him on such an outright falsehood?

And for a guy who is a 36 year Senator and a lawyer, he sure needs to re-read the Constitution.  Virtually everything he asserted last night about what the Constitution says about the office of the VP is wrong.  And his point, which was to bash the Cheney's interpretation of the role of the VP, didn't even make sense.

But the absolute jaw-dropper was his comment about how the U.S. and France chased Hezbollah out of Lebanon.  And that Obama, who had been a Senator for about three days when this happened, had called for sending NATO troops in to fill the power vacuum.  Can somebody tell me in what version of reality any of this actually happened??  It will certainly come as news to Hezbollah's leaders.  His defenders are saying that he meant Syria, but the problem is that it still doesn't make any of this true.  And are we now meant to understand that the candidates who feel we are overextended in Iraq and Afghanistan were in favor of opening up another conflict in the Middle East by sending in NATO (which, we all know, means US) troops?  Especially from Obama, who couldn't even bother to call his Senate subcommittee, which has oversight over NATO, into session once in his less than one term as Senator?  

How does he get away with this?  I was listening to the debate in the kitchen when he shoveled this out and I actually ran into the living room to make sure I was still watching the actual debate.

Will the media call him on this? Nope.  In fact, I have been reading about Biden's "mastery of the facts" all day.


Thursday, October 02, 2008

Gotta Say

Of all the candidates, the one whose speech pattern doesn't drive me crazy is Joe Biden.  I don't agree with everything he's saying in the debate and he's peddling some pretty specious arguments, but I can stand to listen him talk.  I honesty can't stand listening to the other three.

I have a weird soft spot for Biden. I don't think he should be VP (or, God forbid, President), but he's probably a pretty decent guy and he manages to talk in more than soundbites.  Sure, that leads him into some goofy monologues, but there is a weird charm to him.  Of all of them, he's the one I am sure would be the most fun to just get shitfaced drunk with at some dive bar.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

If McCain Knows What's Good for Him

There is a huge opportunity waiting out there for the smart candidate.  Obama is in the lucky position of having Pelosi, who must now surely ranks as the worst Speaker of the House in American history, do his dirty work for him by making it seem as if the Republicans, the minority party, somehow spiked the bailout.  Pelosi doesn't have the strength to get her majority party into line to pass the bill?  She's just so mind-bogglingly incompetent that it is hard to believe she is a national figure.  She's basically the Bush of the Congress, even though he has a higher approval rating.

McCain could really regain some of the momentum in this race if he stepped up with an easy-to-understand emergency plan of his own and then guided it through the House and Senate.  If he did it right, he would expose Obama as the do-nothing he really is.  Doing it right would be to offer a simple, 4 or 5 point plan that gave a little to all side, Wall Street and Main Street.  If he came up with the plan that passed, he would win the election in a walk.  If he doesn't, I'd say Obama is 80% likely to be the next President.

Will McCain grab this last opportunity to save his candidacy?  I don't know, but if he continues to allow Pelosi to play games he is going to drown with this millstone around his neck.

Friday, September 26, 2008


You guys enjoying this "foreign policy" debate?

Right now Obama is talking about bringing high-speed Internet to rural communities.  Huh?

The weirdest thing about this debate is the way both of these guys talk.  They are both Senators and it sounds like this is a debate for a Senate seat.  It's on both sides, but it is a curious feature.

Rat. Bar. Pellet. Pain.

Last night I went to see a triple bill of Meat Puppets, Dinosaur, Jr. and Built to Spill at Terminal 5.  I was really only going for the latter two bands, but I decided to check out the Meat Puppets set as I was not familiar.  They were okay, but not particularly memorable.  No offense intended to anybody who was a fan in their heyday.  I can see how it would have been fun when you were 19, but the music isn't interesting enough to hold up.

I've seen Dinosaur, Jr. a few times now and I cannot understand why I keep making the mistake of getting up close to the stage in front of J. Mascis without earplugs.  His rig last night was three Marshall stacks (i.e., three 4 x 12 cabs) and a small Fender pointed directly at him.  It's not a rhetorical question when I ask how he can possibly have any hearing left after playing 4 feet in front of that set up night after night.  I really don't understand how he can continue to hear with that much abuse.  I was probably about 15 feet away from the setup and my ears are still in pain this morning.  It's not just the loudness, it's the fullness of the sound.  I suspect he has each stack working a different frequency range (high, low, mid) so he can really tweak the sound.  The result is the kind of guitar sound that makes you weep, but it also causes permanent hearing loss.  If I go again tonight, I will be watching from the back of the hall with earplugs.

Dinosaur, Jr. are specialists at those kind of triumphal loud guitar moments that make your chest feel like it is filled with helium and the Mascis guitar sound is a major component.  I have to say that he was not on last night as far as soloing was concerned.  Maybe it's because I've been listening to so many jazz guitarists lately, where a tight rhythmic sense is essential to playing good lines, but I was really disappointed in how sloppy Mascis' playing was.  It was almost as if there were no drums.  He's always been a bit of a college rock Dickie Betts to my ears, but once he ventures out of smooth, straight eighth note patterns his sense of rhythm gets awfully shaky.  Maybe he was just having a bad night, but every triplet was too fast and every trill was unstable.  Weird, because I'd always enjoyed his playing.

After that sonic assault, Built to Spill hit the stage to play Perfect from Now On which is something of a masterpiece.  After the massive loudness of Dino, it was hard for BtS to establish a lower level for their intricate arrangements.  Unfortunately, the sound was a mess for the first two or three songs, which is a shame because the first two songs on the record are absolutely fantastic.  And the long breaks to tune between songs were pretty annoying and broke up the pacing of the set.  What is it with these guys?  I like to make sure that I am in tune, but I don't understand what is wrong with their gear if they are getting so far out of tune after one song that they need five minutes to tune up again.  It was very frustrating as there was a lot of waffling about on stage when the show should have moved forward.  On this front, the whole indie rock amateur hour aesthetic really gets on your nerves.  After the first song, one of the guitarists broke a string.  Instead of just switching to a back-up guitar, he started to fix it one stage while we all sat there bored.  Halfway through this, he decided to get his back-up.  I mean, you guys are supposedly professionals.  Have a clue.  This isn't playing in a basement in Idaho.

Ultimately, the sound got better and the band slotted into a groove with shorter breaks between songs.  By the encore, they had achieved some really gorgeous sounds and the audience of hard core fans was entranced in a beam of very positive energy.

Sadly, the band then squandered that moment with an excruciatingly long noise jam at the end where members of the Meat Puppets came on stage to swap instruments and join in the mayhem.  It's the kind of thing that probably seemed fun to the band, but after the beautiful songs that had come before, it was like stepping out into a cold winter day after having been sitting by the fireplace with a whiskey for an hour.  In a word, it sucked.  I really don't know why they did it.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Goldman Sachs Does Biotech-Style Financing

The deal that Warren Buffet struck with my old employer, Goldman, Sachs & Co made a lot of old biotech hands like me break out into a knowing grin.  Buffet just did a $5BB deal with the cream of the crop of Wall Street firms on terms that would normally only be found in a PIPE (private investment in public equity) in a crappy small-cap biotechnology firm.

For his $5BB, Buffet got a perpetual preferred stock with a 10% yield and 100% 5-year warrant coverage with an exercise price that was already in the money by over $10/share.  On a Black-Scholes valuation basis, that warrant alone is worth between $1.5BB and $2BB.  It's an incredibly rich deal.  In fact, I know a lot of small biotech companies with less than two years of cash burn who would have balked at such terms in recent months.  

Of course, the brilliance of Buffet's move is that he knows his investment is going to be protected by the U.S. Treasury with Paulson at the tiller.

When Goldman Sachs does financings on worse terms than a sub-$250MM market cap, money-losing, cash-burning, high-risk biotech would accept, you know that things are really bad down there.

I'm still shaking my head in disbelief.

Built to Spill/Dinosaur Jr.

The Misanthrope has an extra ticket for tomorrow night's show at Terminal 5.  BtS will be playing their album "Perfect From Now On" in its entirety.

Send me a comment or email if you are interested in the extra ticket.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

You've Got To Love Him

I actually kind of like Joe Biden.  He's a little like a slightly crazy uncle who is not terribly bright but has convinced himself he is a genius.

This one follows hard upon other hits like "Hillary would have been a better choice," "my helicopter was forced down over Afghanistan and "We should never have run that ad claiming McCain couldn't use a computer."

Just love this guy.  Can you imagine the coverage if either Palin or McCain had said anything so stupid?

This Is About Right


Sunday, September 21, 2008

Random Musings on a Sunny Sunday

1) I had planned to go flying today, but the U.N. General Assembly is in town starting tomorrow so the FAA has put up all kinds of temporary flight restrictions (TFRs) around Manhattan.  I was doing my best to interpret them this morning when I just said, "Screw this."  If you want to know why dealing with the FAA is so maddening, try to decipher the text of the NOTAM (Notice to Airmen) that lays out the TFR.

2) The crisis on Wall Street has barely begun to filter through the system.  I would expect a large number of hedge funds to go under in the next few weeks.  Some of these guys are holding ridiculous exposure in derivatives and they are going to get killed when the mark-to-market accounting they are required to use starts to spiral down.  I can't say that I feel bad for any of them.

3) I've gotten fat and it is disturbing.

4) Spent part of the week down in DC at a joint FDA/NiH conference on treatment for Acute Radiation Syndrome (i.e., getting nuked).  I really enjoyed the level and tenor of the discussion between the scientists.  While there are some egos, the whole thing is a pleasure to watch.  It's really amazing how much work goes into even the most basic questions in research.  I listened to one woman discuss the measurement of water consumption by mice when the water had antibiotics in it.  You'd be amazed at how much work they had to do just to ensure that it was not affecting their experiments.  Amazing stuff.

5) Haven't played guitar much lately, but finally started to break through on the jazz stuff.  The key was finding a player who thinks in the way I think.   Turns out that guy is Joe Pass.  He does a lot of solo arrangements of jazz standards, so I bought a book of transcriptions.  Working through them slowly, I could finally see the whole picture as he was playing bass, harmony and melody.  It's the same approach as classical guitar, so it all clicked for me.  I continue to be awed by jazz players, but I am starting to see where some of the basics are coming from.

6) Seriously, I need to lose some weight.  Those martinis are starting to add up.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Good Site

For those of you who dig polling data and Monte Carlo simulations, is the place to check out.  They update their simulations of the Electoral College daily with new data from statewide polls.  With Ohio and Virginia moving into the "McCain column and Pennsylvania starting to wobble, the map is starting to look like 2004 redux.

The Great Gig in the Sky

Richard Wright of Pink Floyd has died at the age of 65.

Friday, September 12, 2008

What He Said

Gerard Baker gets it right in today's Times (London).

An interesting side note.  The other day I was over at the Obama campaign website looking through some of his positions.  I scrolled through line after line of things Obama says he is going to do.  At the bottom of the page was a section headed "Obama's Record."  This is supposed to be the section of the web page where he shows that his record supports his ability to get these things done.

There were only 3 or 4 bullet points and some of them were references to legislation that passed the Senate unanimously and was not authored by Obama.  What does that tell you?

Like Clockwork

Obama gives in to the myth.

There is certainly nothing wrong with pointing out that McCain has been in Washington for a long time and this undermines his claim to the "change" mantle.  And McCain has not made this easier by courting the right-wing side of the Republicans in this election cycle so as to secure the nomination.  I liked the 2000 McCain a lot more. (Also, this opens the door to point out that Joe Biden has been in Washington since 1972, when Keith Moon was still alive.)

But making fun of the fact that he doesn't use email?  Weak.  This supposedly "new" and more "aggressive" approach looks more like a blindfolded Obama flailing at the Republican pinata.  I really do not think the McCain=Bush approach is the right one for Obama's campaign.  He was at his best when he was talking about how powerful he is as an agent for change.  When he was positioning himself to rise above the fray, he seemed strong and in control.  When he attacks he seems off-balance and defensive.

The problem is that his BIG IMPORTANT SPEECH schtick is too stale to deploy again.  

He's in a pickle.

UPDATE:  Jake Tapper at ABC's The Note makes the same observation.  (I love "Barack 'Isotoner' Obama."  Priceless.)

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

History Repeats

Here we go again.

I was sifting through a raft of articles today about how the Obama campaign is, among other things, taking on water, on its heels, like a tech stock bubble that has burst, etc., etc.  This is the result, according to the pundits, of the electrifying choice of Sarah Palin as McCain's VP.   While this is partially true, it is not the real problem.

The real problem, as I have discussed here before, is that Obama is falling into the trap of believing of one the Democratic Party's most enduring and cherished myths about its miserable record in winning Presidential elections.  That myth goes something like this:  The reason we never win the Presidency despite the fact that our ideas are so powerful and good is that we don't play as dirty or fight as hard as the Republicans (bonus portion: because we are so noble that we won't do that).

Barack, buddy, don't fall into this trap.  For one thing, it's just not true.  You know it and I know it.  Democrats play hardball just as much as Republicans.  Politics is a tough business and anybody who is honest knows that elections are won by swaying the opinions of masses of voters who are not reading your position papers.  So, please, just drop this silly notion.

The reason it is killing you is because your attempts to sound tough and fight back are drawing you into the biggest rope-a-dope this election season.  It's making you sound angry and confused and it is making you spend wayyyyyy too much time going after the VP pick on the Republican ticket.  You sound like Palin got in your head and rattled your cage but you are running against McCain

(Side note: You need to drop the McCain=Bush thing.  It just isn't working and running against Bush is a terrible strategy.  Running against somebody who isn't in the race is always a bad strategy.)

I was thinking about Bill Clinton.  Remember him?  The Democrat who won twice?  His brilliance was in playing just as dirty as the next guy, but always showing up with a smile on his face and his charm on full.  THAT is how you fight in a political campaign.  You can pick up some tips on this by watching Sarah Palin.  She's able to stick the knife in you and wriggle it around because she's smiling the whole time.  It makes it seem like she's saying, "Barack Obama?  Ha!  Come on.  Why would he worry me?"

By contrast, Barack, you sound like you are on the floor having a tantrum and screaming, "Why are they being so mean!!"

Shift gears.  Don't be Dukakis (too many to count)/Gore (Mr. Sigh)/Kerry (They're SwiftBoating ME!).  Those guys lost.

That being said, there is some hilarity in watching Obama flail about for a way to attack Palin and/or get back on message.  If he's elected, I hope he does a better job dealing with actual dangerous people, like Putin.

This Is The Issue

Federal Spending.  It has been out of control over the last 8 years.  The first six of those are the result of Republican malfeasance and absolute piggery.  Unfortunately, the Democrats have not fared any better, despite their promises.  

There is no bigger issue for me than this out of control spending.  As a taxpayer, I am appalled at the amount of money I am giving to the Federal government to waste on pet projects that have absolutely no place being funded anywhere other than the state level.

Whoever is the next Presdient needs to take on this issue first and foremost.  It is a rot that is destroying the government.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Wooing Women

Been doing a bit of reading about the impact of Palin on women voters in the campaign.  Obviously she has had a significant impact on the polls, closing quite a bit of the woman voter gap between McCain and Obama.  And the GOP base is now enthusiastic about McCain, somebody for whom they had not previously had much in the way of affection.  Many of them looked upon a McCain loss in 08 as positive thing for the party, forcing it into the wilderness for some purification.  Palin changes that dynamic substantially.

One argument that seems to be making the rounds is that Palin doesn't pick off Hillary voters because she is far more conservative than Hillary.  On its face, it sounds compelling and there is no doubt that hardcore Hillaryites are never going to vote for a Republican, pro-life NRA member.  But my sense from the polls is that Hillary had a lot of support from center-right women who were energized at the prospect of her becoming the first female President, just as many people will vote for Obama just because he is the first African-American president regardless of his politics.  They may have made up a small proportion of the 18 million who voted for her in the primaries, but I suspect that they are a more substantial percentage of the general electorate.  It's those voters who are likely to migrate to a McCain-Palin ticket.  Even a minority of these voters significantly changes the race.  What's more, women vote.  They actually show up on Election Day, middle-aged, middle class women in particular.  Since this election is really going to boil down to get out the vote, they are a big asset.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Chapter Five, in Which Misanthrope Gets His Oats

The Misanthrope has been emailing with a good friend who is a huge Obama supporter for the past few days.  He is a very intelligent guy and he made a reasonable case for why he is supporting Obama.  We've actually been talking about Obama for a long time.  Before he declared his candidacy, I was more neutral on him and thought that he could be an interesting choice if he just paid his dues and ran for, say, Governor of Illinois before going after the Oval Office.  Imagine if Obama were running with a record as Governor that he could point to.  It would make him unbeatable (assuming it was a good record, of course).

As I have gotten to know Obama more, I have been far less neutral on him and I really do not want him to be President.  That being said, my irritation with him has subsided substantially now that the ridiculous Messiah act has finally started to wane.

Unfortunately, what is left in its place is an Obama who is getting suckered into a horrible rope-a-dope by the Republicans.  He is responding to the electric Palin effect in a very short-sighted way.  Why on earth is the top of the Democratic ticket spending any time at all attacking the bottom of the Republican ticket?  He should just ignore her and stay on his own message.  Attacking her just makes it look like the race is Obama-Palin and all that does is diminish him.

What's more, Obama is showing his inexperience badly at this stage.  The interview in the link above is a case in point.  Don't get on the political talk shows and start talking about how you wish you had said something different a month ago.  It looks weak.  And the line about considering joining the military?  Come on, Barack.  We all know politicians pander, but good ones are not so ham-fisted about it.  The fact is you didn't join the military, so just move on and go to places where you are stronger.

Another bizarre strategic blunder is sending out Hillary Clinton to attack Palin.  All that does is remind people that you probably could have sewn this thing up if you had picked her, but you went with Joe Biden because you were insecure about your foreign policy experience.  I still cannot understand the Biden choice.  All it does is imply weakness for Obama, both in foreign policy and with white working class voters.  If Obama loses, this will be high on the list of bad choices.  And the notion that Biden, the 36-year Senator, is going to appeal to Joe Six-pack over Palin is looking awfully weak now.

I think we are starting to see the soft underbelly of Obama the Candidate; the man is very, very thin-skinned.  Steve Schmidt in the McCain campaign has managed to get deep inside Obama's head and Obama is starting to flail.  On Friday, Obama was at a fundraiser at Bon Jovi's house in New Jersey and he blustered that he would not be "bullied."  This is the kind of talk that gets donors fired up, but it is also the kind of talk that telegraphs "we are on the defensive" and Obama is at his best when he is on offense.  

As a side note, the Bon Jovi fund raiser also highlights one of the big downsides to Obama's reversal on accepting public campaign funds.  He is going to have to take time off from campaigning to raise money during the final stretch.  McCain is done with that and the RNC coffers are full, especially as the Palin pick has electrified a base that had not previous donated much.  There will be no money gap.  Obama made a bad choice on that front.  He gained nothing and handed his opponents a charge that he goes back on his word.  A bad decision driven by hubris.

The race is very close and the result will come down to ground organization in battleground states.  Obama is way ahead on this front and that is a tribute to some very smart strategic thinking early on.  Until Palin, McCain was probably stuffed on that front as the base was not very enthusiastic.  Palin changes that and, what's more, the excitement over her pick will still be fresh on Election Day.  Obamania, by contrast, has been going for a long time and, people being people, they tend to get a little bored.

It's going to be a very interesting two months.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Links We Didn't Bother to Follow

From Drudge: "Obama-backer Annette Bening pillories Palin."

Friday, August 29, 2008

First Impression

Wow, this woman is good.  She sounds fresh and doesn't come across as fake.  Her folksy talk is actually folksy, not a bullshit put on like it is with Hillary.

The speech was brilliant.  She digs at Obama by saying she never planned to run for this office.  She then lists her actual achievements, which is something Obama never does because he can't.  She hits what will surely be the major themes of the GE for McCain and she can point to things she has actually done.

She will absolutely destroy Biden.

Some Thoughts on Palin

1) Obama opened the door to this choice by going with Biden.  Once McCain knew that Obama had gone with a safe Washington insider over Hillary, he knew he had the opportunity to take the risk on Palin.
2) Unlike Obama's choice of Biden, McCain's choice of Palin doesn't point out any weakness that McCain needs to shore up.  Sure, there is the age issue, but that pales in comparison to "I've got absolutely no foreign policy experience, so I need to get somebody who covers me."
3) There's been a lot of talk about taxes in this campaign, but the real problem is spending.  The number one issue for me is the amount of ludicrous spending increases under Bush.  McCain has long been an opponent, even at the cost of popularity with colleagues in the Senate, of out of control spending.  Palin has the same missionary zeal about cutting pork.  She's the female John Kasich!  Neither Obama or  Biden have anything to point to on this issue.  McCain has his record and Palin has hers.  This is a major advantage and one they should hammer home for the next two months.  Not only is it good sense, it will appeal to the party base who have been appalled at the Republican pigfest in Congress.
4) Biden will have to tread lightly in the debates.  He's such an unbelievable pompous blowhard that he will almost certainly fall into the trap of looking like he is being a jerk to a woman.  That being said, I am concerned that Palin could be weak in the debates.  Then again, there is only one VP debate and it is not as well watched as the three Presidential debates.
5) This may not prove anything, but take a moment to compare and contrast the running of the VP rollout for Obama and McCain.  Obama put on that silly striptease for weeks on end.  Then the name just leaked out anyway on the Friday before the announcement.  The famous text message plan was a disaster - most people got theirs in the middle of the night after Biden's name had already leaked anyway.  And ultimately, the pick was Biden, a boring white guy who has been a Washington insider since the Nixon Administration.
By contrast, McCain kept a tight lid on the choice, prevented it from leaking during Obama's speech to avoid looking like an asshole and managed to throw everybody off completely so that Palin, who is an exciting choice anyway, was a complete surprise.  The Democrats don't even have her name on their "The Next Cheney" website (hat-tip - Jim Geraghty).  That's a pretty phenomenal job of blind-siding the opposition.  Does this prove anything?  Maybe, maybe not.  The contrast is pretty stark though.

Ever since Obama's Europe trip, the McCain campaign has been run brilliantly.  They took Obama's greatest strength, his celebrity, and hung it around his neck like an albatross.  They hammered him relentlessly about his lack of experience.  Obama took the bait and changed his game from the soaring speeches to the pedestrian effort from last night.  He got so concerned that he was exposed on experience that he chose Biden over Hillary, pissing off a great many and making all of us wonder just how smart he could be.  JFK and Reagan had the good sense to name their biggest opponents as their VPs and it worked.  It's the winning strategy.  Obama whiffed on that.

Palin is still an unknown quantity.  She could turn out to be a superstar or she could turn into a Dan Quayle gaffe-o-matic.  For now, though, McCain has just crushed Obama.


The Misanthrope really can't stand to watch political speeches.  There's just something about them, the silly language, the ludicrous exaggerations and oversimplifications, that just drives him crazy.  This goes for both sides of the aisle.  I can't stand watching either side give political speeches.

Knowing that I could certainly never stomach the annoying earnestness of Obama's speech in real time, I decided to read the text.  Truth is, it's not that interesting a speech.  I was pretty surprised at how much of it could have been said by any Democratic nominee for the last 20 years.

Obama certainly came out swinging against Bush.   Based on what I read, I am confident that Bush will drop out of the race  almost immediately.

As for McCain, it's hard to tell if Obama's attacks came off as strong or angry from reading the text.

But one thing really stood out for me.  When Obama says that he is ready to have the debate about whether or not he is ready to be President "any time," it struck me as very odd.  Obviously it's a little chest-puffing to make him look strong, but it seems to me that the final night of your nominating convention in front of a large crowd and uninterrupted national television coverage is probably the time to lay out your case for why you are ready.  The whole campaign is a big debate and Obama just had a huge chance to stage his rebuttal.  Instead, he simply said, "Aw, dude, this case for why I am ready is SOO sweet and you are going to be blown away when we debate it...someday."

The election is less than 70 days away, Obama.  The debate is already happening.

Also, is it just me or was telling McCain that you are ready to debate any time a bit of a silly move given that you turned down constant offers from McCain for town hall-style debates all summer?

Then again, the magic is in the image with these things, so I wonder how people thought it played on TV.  Did he look strong or angry?  Did he sound confident or shrill?  The speech is so boring on paper, it could really go either way.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Great Moments from Past Acceptances

I think we can all agree that John Kerry pretty much lost the election when he allowed "Dreams" by Van Hagar to be the song following his acceptance speech.  All the balloons in the world can't fix that.

If Obama accepts and then walks off to the intro to "Mean Streets" followed by "I'm the One,"  he wins in a landslide.

This Stuff Just Writes Itself

Obama to deliver acceptance speech in front of a faux Greek temple set?  He will step on a podium that will elevate him to where he is speaking?

Are the Dems going to just start sending the scripts of the ads over to the McCain campaign?  It would save a lot of effort.

UPDATE:  Advance video of the acceptance speech here.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

A Bad Pick

I thought about writing a long post about the poor judgment in going with Biden, but Hell must have frozen over because Kos beat me to it and wrote exactly what I would have written.  (This may be the last time in my life I link to the looney bin over at DailyKos.)

I totally agree with him.  The Biden pick is a story that will be written with the same lead over and over and over: "In an effort to shore up his gaps on experience and foreign policy, Barack Obama chose Senator Joe Biden of Delaware..."

All That Buildup for...BIDEN???

Seriously, that was possibly the silliest VP announcement watch in Presidential history.  All the hype would have been worth it if Obama had chosen somebody outside the box, somebody who was a real surprise.  But Biden?

Obama has chosen a guy who is only six years younger than McCain, so forget attacks on McCain's senior citizenship.   A guy who last year said that he didn't think Obama was ready and the Presidency is not a position for learning on the job.  A guy who has launched numerous Presidential bids that have gone nowhere.  A guy who ranks sixth in Senate seniority and has been in Washington for 35 years, so forget the "we need to change the way things work in Washington" angle.  A guy who is a bit of an egotistical gasbag and has a long record of bizarre off-the-cuff comments.  I mean, the Republican ads just write themselves.  Less than 12 hours after the announcement, McCain puts up an absolutely devastating ad in a campaign that is almost entirely about whether Obama is prepared to be President.

I had been impressed with Obama's campaign in the primaries, but it seems like the whole thing is running off the rails lately.  They have burned a record amount of money to achieve a tie in a year when Democrats are massively favored.  They have lost control of the message and seem off-balance follwing McCain's rather tame ads.  And they choose the most uninspiring VP candidate imaginable.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Is There a Point to This?

What is the point of all this delaying and delaying and winking over the Obama VP pick?  It was cute for a while, but it's becoming ridiculously childish.  Just make the damned announcement already.  I've never seen such an over-the-top journalistic circle-jerk over a VP selection.

When this most precious of secrets is finally revealed to the world we've still got 70+ days to think about it and get to know the pick.

So, enough already.

(FWIW, I don't think the story about the Obama-Bayh bumper stickers necessarily means anything.  In the past, campaigns have printed up a lot of phony posters and other stuff to throw people off the scent.  It costs very little.  Now, if you told me they were painting the campaign plane...)

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

It Went a Bit Better Than This

The Microdot show was a low-key affair and seemed to go off well.

It could have been much worse.

Monday, August 11, 2008

So Worth It

The Misanthrope was up until midnight last night despite having an early start this morning.  The cause was the 4 x 100m Men's Freestyle race in Beijing.  Having tried to get my fat little body to move faster through the water for triathlons, I have a real appreciation of just how incredible world-class swimmers really are.  And I like the excitement of watching Phelps go for eight gold medals.  Even though I like rooting for the underdog, I also enjoy watching real greatness at the top of its game.  This is why I want Tiger Woods to win every tournament he enters.

At any rate, the race turned into what might have been the most exciting and shocking relay in Olympic history.  Forget the trash talking from the French.  Forget the fact that the world record was smashed by five of the teams in the pool in one race - 24 hours after it had just been broken by the USA in the prelims.  Forget that Phelps has 2 gold medals down, probably his two toughest outside of the 100m butterfly, on his road to a record 8.

The story of the race was the final leg by Jason Lezak, the US captain.  I still cannot believe what I saw.  He overtook Alain Bernard, who led by a full body length with only about 30 meters to go and won the race by swimming the fastest 100m split ever recorded.  If it were an individual event, he would have the world record for the 100m with that swim by over a full second.

It's hard to really conceive how incredible his feat was.  Under any normal circumstances, Bernard's lead with so little pool left would have been totally insurmountable.  I can't even conceive how Lezak made himself a full body length faster over 30M than the world record holder in the 100M.  It shouldn't be possible, but it was.  The headlines have all been about Phelps and his 2nd gold, but the real man of the hour was Lezak.  I am in awe.

If you haven't seen it, go to the NBC website and watch it.  It was truly one of the greatest US Olympic moments.


Friday, August 08, 2008

Please God

Let this be Bob Costas' last Olympics.  The man is a disgrace.  His patronizing comments about the athletes from smaller countries during the opening ceremonies are embarrassing as hell for NBC and America.  

The man is an idiot. 

Please, fire him, NBC.

Well, duh.

Edwards admits he had the affair.  This doesn't really amount to much because he has been politically dead for a while now and I doubt McCain is going to go after him given McCain's less than savory history with his first wife/current wife.

You Have Got to Be Kidding

The Obama Salute?

Thursday, August 07, 2008

My God, That's One Tough Review

I was Googling the terms "German Heidegger ska band song" when I stumbled upon a remarkable piece of rock criticism.

If the review of your record starts of with a one paragraph reference to Hannah Arendt's famous observation about the banality of evil, you are in for a bad review.

Of course, the outrageous pretentiousness and faux intellectualism of the reviewer makes me want to hit him in the head with a cricket bat and stab the little fucker in the heart with a salad fork.

Damned Repuglicans...Wait...

You know, they are going to try to make you scared of me.  They are going to say he isn't like us, he doesn't go to our churches.

You stay classy, Tennessee Democrats.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

This is cool

A researcher at MIT has discovered a way to store power from solar cells efficiently.  

Thursday, July 31, 2008

What Happened?

Over the last week, the Obama to Win contract on Intrade is down almost 8%.  The current bid is now just below $0.60.  It started the week at $0.65.

Meanwhile, the McCain to Win contract has been surging (no pun intended).  It started the week at $0.325 and is now at $0.36, up 10%.

These are significant moves in such tight markets.  I'm not sure what is going on here. McCain was clobbered in the last news cycle with the glowing coverage of Obama's made-for-TV Europe jaunt.  I think his latest round of ads have been shrill and immature.  But something is happening to Obama.  My wild ass guess is that the "Obama is already President" shtick is starting to wear a little thin.  I certainly understand why the Obama campaign is pushing this strategy, but it runs the risk of making Obama seem massively arrogant and self-absorbed.  When the Top Ten list on Letterman is "Top Ten Signs Obama is Overconfident,"  it might be time to dial back on the chin-jutting-into-history playacting and stop treating the actual election like a formality.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008


Good read on the Obama economic program.

Monday, July 28, 2008

The Politics of Meaning

Does this mean anything?  No, probably not.  The polls bounce around all the time and this is pretty clearly a tight race, at least in the world of polling.  And one poll means nothing.

But it does represent an opportunity for McCain.  This is the first time since the beginning of May that he has led in a national poll.  He should be out there beating the hell out of this news.

Why?  Because even though we know that this is just, as the article says, statistical noise, the public perception of this will be that Obama is not as inevitable as he has been made out to be.  Most people won't think, "It's just one poll."  They will just remember, "Wow.  McCain is ahead of Obama??"  And that's powerful.

As I said below, McCain needs to start playing Obama's game, which is a sophisticated one to manipulate public perception.  Obama's whole campaign is structured around the conceit that he is, pretty much, already President.  Call it the "Resistance is Futile" strategy.  If McCain is out there pushing this, however, it starts to make Obama look a bit weak, especially as it comes so hard on the heels of his European PR extravaganza that was supposed to be the icing on the cake.

Cynical?  Sure.  But no more cynical than speaking to 200,000 foreigners in an attempt to make it look like you are already President.

McCain can put some dents in the public perception that Obama is unbeatable.  He needs to start now.

But he won't.

In Case You Missed It

AP reports the US is winning in Iraq.

This is Hilarious

A button company mistakenly prints up Obama campaign buttons with Larry Craig (R-Idaho), He-of-the-Wide-Stance.

That would be a hell of a ticket!

This Guy is Killing Me

McCain really needs to put some energy into his campaign.  As the polls clearly show, Obama is not unbeatable.  Kerry had much bigger poll margins in 2004 and he didn't have nearly the level of concern over lack of experience that Obama faces.

McCain can whine all he wants about the fawning media coverage that Obama gets, but let's not forget that the coverage of the European trip came about largely because the Obama campaign very wisely planned huge events that attract media coverage.   Is it admirable the McCain has consistently travelled to Iraq without much fanfare when Obama hadn't been in nearly three years?  I think so, but that's just not going to beat a well-planned and well-executed media event such as the Obama trip.  And his campaign stage-managed the hell out of it by leveraging Obama's good looks and youthful athleticism.

McCain's problem is that he is defining himself as just "that other guy who is against Obama."  That's not a winner in any election.  Just ask President Kerry.  He has thrown out some policy proposals, such as renewed drilling, but there is no coherent message behind these stories.  This is partly due to McCain's general demeanor.  He hates the kind of stage-managed campaign that Obama is running.  So do I, but McCain needs to get over it.  This is how elections are won in the current day and age.

McCain's best shots at making up ground are a good VP choice and the actual debates.  This is where Obama is, surprisingly, very weak.  Obama off teleprompter has a speech pattern that is appalling.  You have never heard so many ums, uhs, and ahs.  It really is like night and day with his scripted oratory.  This is why his campaign tries hard to minimize those moments.  It's also why they ran away from McCain's townhall debate proposals; they knew Obama would not sound like such a rock star in that format.

But this is all irrelevant unless McCain takes the initiative and sculpts a positive image of why he should be President.  When he has that, he can attack the general fluffiness of Obama and his campaign.  Until then, he is just the crazy guy in the parking lot screaming about the government.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

The Misanthrope Feels the Effect of Age

The Misanthrope loves the ocean.  Although he spent a lot of time on a lake in New England growing up, the ocean was always special and much more fun.  

I remember the excitement of our yearly vacation to Montauk.  Our family would rent an efficiency or a cottage at one of the hotels on Old Montauk Highway, directly across from the beach.  The drive out always culminated in a trip to the IGA in Montauk to stock up on food for the vacation.  The IGA is just over the dune from the ocean beach, so my brother and I would get out of the car and run up over the dune to get our first glimpse of the ocean and our first scent of the sea air.  It was always a very exciting moment.

That's why I return to the East End every summer.  I actually cannot stand a lot of the people out here, but the beaches are incredible.  This year, however, the beach seems to be in the process of reshaping itself in a big way.  Instead of a soft, sandy, gradually descending bottom, the shoreline has a quick drop and a lot of gravel.  In previous years, the break has been pretty consistent, so all you need to do is get out quickly, dive through a few waves and you are beyond the point where you'd get dumped by a big wave.  It's like having a net game in tennis; you've got to commit to going to the net or you get caught in no-man's land and you get crushed.

This year, the break is confused and all over the place.  Odd little sandbars pop up everywhere and make it hard to get out to a point where you are not going to be crushed.  More importantly, the rip current is much stronger than it has been in previous years.  I've never really been afraid of the current, but on Friday I went in for an evening swim and got myself to a spot where I gave myself a bit of a fright.  I managed to walk out beyond the break without getting clobbered, but in the middle of every set, there would be one or two waves where the receding water from the previous wave would suck me out towards open water with a lot of power.  I was out at a point where I could not touch bottom.  Normally, that wouldn't bother me, but I also noticed that I was having trouble getting back towards shore and I was starting to feel pretty exhausted.  

The moment passed quickly as I managed to swim onto the crest of a wave and ride it back towards the sand bar, but I was reminded that I am not 20 years old anymore and that I need to be careful with strong currents.  I haven't been doing any lap swimming recently either and those martinis are not helping my fitness.  It was frightening how quickly I got tired.  I know that if you are caught in a real riptide you should swim parallel to shore until you get out of the rip, but I was already pretty beat and the thought of having to swim downshore for a 1/4 mile or so was not appealing.

Is The Dam Breaking?

The Independent, a mainstream UK newspaper, is reporting on the allegations against John Edwards.  So is The Times of London.  (Coincidentally, the Times notes exactly what I noted in my earlier post:  the New York Times won't touch this, but it had no problems running thousands of words on its front page implying McCain had an affair with a lobbyist based on no facts at all.)

It seems the story is starting to seep out.  Edwards better get out on top of this or his political career is dead.  

Of course, Edwards has been a private citizen for 4 years now, mostly spending his time making a lot of money at private equity house Fortress and running another ill-fated Presidential campaign, so he has no seat to resign.  I don't really think that he was a serious contender for the VP slot with Obama.  He doesn't deliver any swing states.  He couldn't even deliver his own state for Kerry in 2004.  (Which reminds me of why Pawlenty is such a pointless choice for McCain - Minnesota hasn't gone to the Republicans in any of the last seven elections.  I doubt it will go Republican in the middle of Obamania.)  Most important of all, choosing the other Democratic candidate beside Hillary would not do much to fix Obama's problem with pissed off Hillary supporters.

So, Edwards does seem kind of politically pointless at this time and that does give the MSM some latitude to claim that there is no public interest in his private life.  Then again, we are talking about a guy who ran a competitive campaign for President and made a big deal of trotting out his wife and her medical condition for his political gain.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Dreaming of the Past

I'm still plugging away in the Presidential reading program.  Due to having a lot of work on my plate, I am a bit behind and am only now finishing Ulysses S. Grant. although I am scheduled to be on Garfield.  (Fun fact, his middle initial was not originally "s."  The clerk wrote his name down with the incorrect initial at West Point and he just decided to keep it.  The US later became synonymous with "unconditional surrender.")

At any rate,  the program keeps reminding me of the blessed days when candidates didn't go to the convention and it was considered unseemly to be perceived as actively seeking the Presidency.  In fact, for a long time it was considered unseemly to be seen campaigning even after being nominated.  Grant spent most of the campaign hanging out in "his home" in Galena, Illinois.  (It would be pushing it to claim it was really his home.  He rarely lived in Galena, had been a failure there in business and almost nobody in town actually knew him.)

As we enter month number 1,294,567 of the 2008 campaign, I think we can all agree that such times must have been pure bliss.

An Interesting Perspective

I was surprised by this Op-Ed in the New York Times this morning by Susan Neiman of the Einstein Forum.  Based in Germany, she claims that most Europeans are not particularly wowed by Obama and much of the supposedly laudatory coverage of him is actually hard satire, not praise.  She's just one opinion, obviously, but it is certainly a departure from the coverage I have seen in the U.S., where Obama is portrayed as having won the hearts and minds of Europeans.

Neiman makes a couple of observations that do jibe with my experiences traveling, doing business and living in Europe (or, at least, the UK) over the years.

"The mocking undertone that accompanies most descriptions of Mr. Obama in the European news media signifies a trans-Atlantic divide. George W. Bush made matters far worse than they ever were, but the neoconservatives who advised him were right about one thing: Europe is gripped by a world-weariness that resists American dreams."

This definitely matches my experience in talking about America and politics with Europeans over the last 8 years and more.  After igniting two World Wars and bringing us the horrors of fascism, Nazism and Stalin, Europe does feel world weary and this is part of the reason why Europe is so resistant to military adventures like Afghanistan and Iraq.  Americans are seen as naive optimists, something that is generally mocked as "unsophisticated" on the Continent and in the UK.  While Obama may be charming, his "hope" message is actually a continuation of a stereotype of Americans that is not going to change if he is elected.  And his personal popularity is highly unlikely to change European attitudes towards cooperation with the U.S. in places like Afghanistan.  

Polls consistently show that the vast majority of Germans oppose any increased German military activity in Afghanistan.  Obama is not going to change that, nor is Merkel going to risk backlash from her people to help Obama out.  Sarkozy might get more involved, but since he is pretty openly chummy with Bush, it's hard to argue that Obama is changing anything.  In the UK, I happen to know (through a close friend that worked for him when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer) that, despite some obligatory America-bashing to keep political face, Brown is an admirer of the United States and its energy.  In Italy, Berlusconi is already an ally of Bush.  So, politically speaking, what would Obama change?  The former Soviet portion of Europe is already allied with the US.

"Berlin, in particular, is in the middle of a very post-heroic moment. Its former bravado about its history now approaches indifference."

This is something I, too, have noticed in many parts of Europe.  Given the horrors of the 20th Century and the shame over 19th Century colonialism, most Europeans I have spoken to see their past (political and military, not cultural) as an embarrassment and prefer to look towards the future in a peaceful, united Europe.  This trend seemed to be particularly prevalent in the UK, where the legacy of the Empire weighs heavily.  And, again, this is a factor in why Europeans I have dealt with are so skeptical of the United States now.  Having been top dog at one point, Europeans have seen the massive destruction that power can do globally and they fear America is making the same mistakes.  I remember having lunch with a Swiss investor whose father was in the German Army and hearing him say, "I never thought I would see the day when America opened a concentration camp (i.e., Guantanamo)."  His analogy is absurd, but the mindset that sees things like Guantanamo as a step towards bigger evils is not at all irrational.

On the other hand, a large part of anti-Americanism seems to spring from a younger population, removed from the direct experience of World War II, that is sick and tired of hearing from Americans about how we saved their asses in 1944.  In Germany, this is compounded by a young population that is stuck with the shame of Hitler, the Nazis and the Holocaust but is too young to have any culpability.  So, I do get the impression that there is a certain joy at being able to lecture America after having been lectured to for so many years.  And having seen how often the American students brought it up when I was graduate school in the UK, I can't blame them.

Unfortunately, it also leads to some whitewashing of the actual history.  Neiman, like Obama in his speech, uses a strange interpretation of the Berlin Airlift.  In Obama's speech, he used the passive voice; the Berlin Airlift just "happened," and there is no mention of who organized and executed the actual airlift (hint: it wasn't the Europeans).  Similarly, Neiman writes:

"So when Mr. Obama reminded Berliners of their greater moments — the airlift, the destruction of the wall — he risked more scoffing."

Was the airlift a great moment by Berliners?  The Berlin Airlift is actually an example of what happens when Americans take action to protect a difficult cause.  The French declined to participate at first because they believed that Berlin was a lost cause.  They only came in later, when it was clear that it was working.  It wasn't Berliners flying those planes into hostile territory, it was the United States Air Force.  Yes, there was cooperation from Germans, but let's be real.  No USAF and Berlin would have been part of the USSR.  That Obama managed to gloss over that was not surprising.  As I said, Europeans are pretty tired of hearing how we saved their asses in the 40s. 

Neiman notes that the airlift proves you don't need to drop a bomb to be a hero, but this is a bit disingenuous.  The reason that the airlift worked was because it was backed by American military power.  If you had just sent in a bunch of French cargo planes, the Russians would have had no trouble shooting them down.

But these are minor quibbles.  The point that Neiman is making, that the divide between Europe and America is deeper than antipathy towards Bush, is an important one.  There is a pervasive myth that we had the love of the world after 9/11 and Bush squandered it.  It's total bullshit.  There was no shortage of "America had it coming" opinion in the European media the day after the attack or in the weeks to come.  I remember listening to endless hours of that line of argument when I was in Europe just after the attack.

The Obama Europe trip was only a PR stunt to make him look Presidential.  He is not going to suddenly close the very real divide in world view between America and Europe.  The difference in perspective is deep and difficult to bridge.

(Pre-emptory note: Before StinkRock cries foul over the fact that I am quoting something in the New York Times, I will remind him that this is an Op-Ed piece, not a reportage or editorial opinion.  Neiman doesn't work for the Times.)