Tuesday, March 24, 2009

It’s All a Mystery

We were away the last few days, visiting Ann’s friend in Tampa, Arlene, to celebrate her 70th birthday, and then my cousin Joan and family in Sarasota the next day and my dear friend, Martin (my former English professor) the following day in his new Sarasota “digs.” Meanwhile, the economic scene continued to go from mildly inexplicable to downright unfathomable during the same short period of time.

The Federal Reserve is now buying up to $300 billion in Treasury securities, and $750 billion of mortgage-backed securities using the “Supplementary Financing Program” which in effect gives it the ability to raise its own debt: “The Treasury has in place a special financing mechanism called the Supplementary Financing Program, which helps the Federal Reserve manage its balance sheet. In addition, the Treasury and the Federal Reserve are seeking legislative action to provide additional tools the Federal Reserve can use to sterilize the effects of its lending or securities purchases on the supply of bank reserves.”

Then, the Congressional Budget Office claims the national debt under the president’s budget could be $2.3 trillion worse than the White House estimates. This could result in a $9.3 trillion dollar deficit over the next ten years, which would nearly double the present deficit. All this depends on so many variables that it really is impossible to forecast what they (the deficits) will be. (It is rumored that in the 1960’s Senator Everett Dirksen once said “A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you're talking real money,” something he later said he was misquoted on. Still this quote has persisted until recently when trillion has become the “new” billion. How long will it be before “quadrillion” becomes the new “trillion?”)

On Monday, while driving back from Sarasota, the Dow surged by almost 500 points, a Pavlovian response to the long-awaited Geithner “plan” of creating an auction mechanism for removing the toxic assets from banks’ balance sheet “Essentially the Geithner plans creates a vehicle in which private equity accounts for 3%, public equity for 12%, and the rest is provided as debt by the public sector (through the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, FDIC).” The latter is from Eurointelligence, which also has a number of good links with views on this development as well as an explanation of the proposed auction formula. It seems like another excellent opportunity to privatize gains and socialize losses.

As a respite from this financial turmoil, I include a few photographs of our visit, first from Arlene’s 70th birthday party (the lady standing), her childhood friend, Arleen, on the left and Ann on the right.

Then we visited my favorite cousin, Joan, in her Sarasota home. As the unofficial family historian she gave me two photos, which I promptly scanned once I returned home. The first was taken in 1944 while my Dad was in Europe as a Signal Corps photographer. My mother is at the upper left, Joan is in the middle and my Aunt Lillian is on the right, while Joan’s mother, Marion, is seated on the left and our (Joan and my) grandmother is at the right.

The second photograph was probably taken on Long Beach, LI, in the mid 1920’s, with my Aunt Lillian on the left, then my father, my Uncle Phil, my Aunt Ruth, and then my grandmother and grandfather. I look at my grandfather and see a resemblance while my father has the same endearing smile he had as an adult. Joan and I speculate that her mother, my Aunt Marion, was not there as she was probably dating my Uncle Walter.

Enough for family history, but we concluded out Sarasota visit the next morning with my dear friend, Martin, my former English professor who is still actively writing poems and plays. Here we are in his new home in Sarasota.

Upon our return I checked some of my favorite blogs and was touched by my friend Emily’s mention of me in her “Your Blog is Fabulous” entry. Her words are humbling, particularly as I have a high regard for her writing abilities and the passion she brings to her love of literature. I worked with Emily and her husband, Bob, who is now a minister in Amish country. They were the kind of co-workers I admired the most, completely committed to excellence.

Her words made me think about why I do this and I responded in her comments section as follows: Oh, Emily, I am honored and humbled by your acknowledgement and more than slightly embarrassed by any notoriety, as my blog is such an unfocused botch of stuff. As I think I once said to you, I’ve always thought of myself as a jack-of-all-trades, master of none. I wish I could have lived many different lives, and among the ones I would like to have pursued, besides publishing which is the one I did out of economic necessity (but, loved nonetheless), is music (specifically jazz piano), writing, economics and investing (have always been fascinated by markets ever since I read Gustave Le Bon’s The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind in college – a pioneering work in social psychology -- which has applicability to “the market”), photography (I think of Diane Arbus or Alfred Stieglitz as role models). In fact, at one time I almost left the publishing business as I had developed a VisiCalc (the precursor of Lotus 1-2-3 which was the precursor of Excel) template to evaluate Convertible Bonds (best if you Wiki the term so I don’t have to explain here). Sometimes I feel like Mozart’s Salieri, having merely attained a measure of mediocrity. My on-and-off-again blog reflects my incongruous interests and of course, over the last year the historical presidential election encroached as well. So, I’m afraid your readers may be disappointed by the content. You have a central passion and your blog reflects that focus so well. Your blog IS fabulous.

Finally, my friend Bruce emailed me, “Did you read the Updike poems in the March 16th New Yorker? He writes these strange unrhymed sonnets. They are at times prose but become poetry on the strength of their emotions and concision.” I had not seen these but Updike mentioned his excitement about publishing again in the New Yorker in his last interview. I had heard that these new poems would be included in the collection Random House is about to publish, Endpoint and Other Poems, and some are about his final illness. I wonder whether this collection will include his 1990 masterpiece or others will match it in its stunning clarity about the mystery of life and death:

Perfection Wasted

And another regrettable thing about death
is the ceasing of your own brand of magic,
which took a whole life to develop and market -
the quips, the witticisms, the slant
adjusted to a few, those loved ones nearest
the lip of the stage, their soft faces blanched
in the footlight glow, their laughter close to tears,
their warm pooled breath in and out with your heartbeat,
their response and your performance twinned.
The jokes over the phone. The memories packed
in the rapid-access file. The whole act.
Who will do it again? That's it; no one;
imitators and descendants aren't the same