Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Market Report

The S&P was down 3.1% today as the market reacted to slowing growth in China, continuing high unemployment, and signs that deflation, not inflation, is the problem de jour. The 10-year Treasury Note now yields less than 3% reflecting that belief. New York Times’ Paul Krugman characterizes this as The Third Depression. John Hussman, the economist turned mutual fund manager, more mildly states that this is a resumption of the recession. Pain management stocks were up 2.4% in today’s down market.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Lack of Contingency Planning Redeux

It is a sickening feeling, helplessly watching the slow motion catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico, which is rapidly becoming a dead sea. Now we are told that the pipe that was sending warm water to eliminate the formation of hydrates was damaged by one of the remote subs and it had to be withdrawn for inspection and perhaps repair, sending tens of thousands more barrels of oil into the Gulf daily. Given the incredibly high stakes, how could there not be another such pipe ready for immediate deployment? Or an entire lower marine riser package cap? Where is the contingency planning and who is responsible, the government, BP, or is it Larry, Curley and Moe?

Saturday, June 19, 2010

A Reflection Beyond His Telling

My friend, Martin Tucker, is retiring, again. I’ll let him explain this redundancy and the occasion itself in the essay he wrote, How Difficult It Is To Say Goodbye (see below), from the 107th issue of Confrontation, a literary magazine he helped to found more than 40 years ago and has edited since. How many literary magazines can boast such longevity? Martin got things done through the force of his unique personality, a scholar/poet with an easygoing persona and playful sense of humor. Simply put, he is one of the kindest people I’ve ever known, compassionate and understanding. I count him among my few, but dear, life-long friends.

He was my teacher in college and I was his enthusiastic student in the courses he taught on contemporary literature. When I graduated and began working for a publishing company in New York I asked him whether he would edit a reprint series on English Literature, selecting the titles, commissioning the introductions and soon we were no longer student/teacher, but colleagues, trying to resurrect some of the best, forgotten literature.

And, indeed, in Martin’s usual modest way explaining his own success, he gives full attribution to his contributors, the writers: “without the writer, there is no book, no theater to open its door, no newspaper to appear at a doorstep and even in an impersonal age of communication like the web of the Internet, no summary to spread wireless reverberation.” So our friendship was founded on a love of literature and over the years, we worked on a multitude of projects, including the publication of his unique reference work on expatriate writers, Literary Exile in the Twentieth Century: An Analysis and Biographical Dictionary.

I like stories of serendipity and I can tell you one involving Martin. When my first marriage was ending, I was staying with my friend Jim in his East Village pad. To put it in temporal perspective, Janis Joplin was playing at the Fillmore East. Jim had a motorcycle and we decided to go to Fire Island for an early summer weekend, hoping to find a place to stay, but prepared to deploy our sleeping bags, someplace, anyplace. I knew a young woman in my office who had a house-share there and asked whether she might be there that weekend, hoping to crash at her place. She said it was not her weekend, although she was planning to arrive on Sunday as she was staying the following week for vacation.

As it turned out, Jim and I slept on the beach on Saturday night. Before we left the next day, I walked the beach looking for that young woman, Ann, who would later become my wife. I could not find her, but I found Martin on the beach with the woman who would later become his wife! After I was remarried, we saw them frequently until, sadly, they too were divorced. But over the years Martin and I always found the time to get together, in NY, Westport, or on our boat, and finally, we both found ourselves living in Florida, he on the west coast and we on the east, with still the opportunity for occasional visits.

The tables turned when I retired, as I became a consultant for Confrontation’s book publication program. Now I worked for him! But while our relationship will no longer be one of colleagues, I look forward to years and years of continuing friendship.

Martin once wrote a poem about a student offering him a New York street pretzel while crossing the campus to a class. I’ve forgotten the words, but never the feeling of the poignant relationship between eager student and admired teacher. Poetry has its way of capturing such truths and Martin has more to write in the future. His most recent poem in Confrontation, selected by him for this, his last issue as Editor, says it all:

A Chip off a Block, by Martin Tucker

A piece of stone
I chip at
and find a face
that is my own
yet distant like an object
held in hand
at arm’s length
telling me
to look.
but I cannot see
till the shape
overtakes me
my hand
my arm
my face
and the thing becomes
not me
but a reflection
beyond my telling.
A stone
The meaning of
within the stone
and I the onlooker
like anyone else.

Copyright © 2010 by Long Island University


How Difficult It Is to Say Goodbye by Martin Tucker

FORTY-TWO YEARS IS a long time to say goodbye to. It's probably the reason I've put off writing my "farewell" till the last minute, or the last minute before the printing press gulps down my words. Of course it hasn't been forty-two years that I've been saying goodbye, maybe two at the most. Forty years at a helm is a signal to pull into port. That's what I thought two years ago.

It takes time to slow down. Even the machines in a fitness room have a "cool-down" warning. Perhaps then it is a fitness-occasion now to say farewell.

Confrontation began, as many of its readers know, in 1968, the year of several confrontations that rocked the country. The editorial board of this magazine chose the name because it wanted to be a part of the country's spirit - the word was zeitgeist then -and to be inside the whirl of activities illustrating it. Our mission was less to choose sides, announce a winner of a contest, than to show the pluralities of life's arguments. There are always plenty of life's arguments to take issue with (which we did in assigning whole issues of the magazine to one blazing issue of the moment). Perhaps there were more confrontations in that momentous year than in the present moment. Such arguments with time and about the times can rarely be settled by figures, even of personal and mammoth size, but such figures are the stuff around which time takes its shape. And so we took up this banner called Confrontation.

Yet from the beginning - from its founding editors' approach to its most recent stance-we were more concerned with a two-faced look, a presentation of at least two ways at looking at a blackbird (or Hartford or poetry or even life insurance, for that matter). I suggested the name Confrontation after wanting to call the magazine Prism –initially. I thought our magazine, though it had firebrands on the staff, should be prismatic rather than confrontational. Fortunately or unfortunately, there was already a magazine called Prism, and so we opted for a second-choice title.

The history of a magazine is determined by its editors, for they select the good (or bad) writing that will distinguish it. When the magazine started, it had editors from the then-three campuses of Long Island University -the Brooklyn Center, C.W. Post, and Southampton College. Robert Donald Spector and I were chosen from the Brooklyn campus (I came to L.I.U. as adjunct instructor in 1956 in the English Department at the Brooklyn Center and rose to Professor and Chair of the English Department before moving to the C.W. Post campus 23 years later). Eugene Arden and Dan Levin were the editors from the Post campus, and Robert Umphreys and Steve Levinson represented the Southampton campus. Leading all of us with her vision was the founding patron of the magazine, Winthrop Palmer. Winthrop, who made the magazine possible through her generous financial contributions, and later endowment, possessed vast enthusiasm for all the arts, but particularly literature. Often meetings were held in her elegant apartment in Manhattan or her grand mansion in Center Island on Long Island's North Shore, where she fed us with substantial dinners and talk about the power of culture. Sometimes we engaged as well in discussion of the culture of power, and the discussions led to one of the thematic issues of the magazine - the morality of prize giving.

Like Mr. Chips, I watched as the editors of the founding moved on. Winthrop died in 1988 at age 88; her death-day is a quartet of eights, a rare date for a rare person. Robert Donald Spector, an important force in the history of Long Island University, as an educator, a representative of faculty interest, a writer, and as Chairman of the George Polk Journalism Awards, died last year. Eugene Arden, Steve Levinson, Bob Umphreys all moved away. The only remaining member of the original board, Dan Levin, remains teaching at the Post campus; he is now in his ninth decade.

Winthrop endowed the magazine and made possible its continuation without concern for financial exigency. A generous patron, a published writer of several poetry books and one volume of dance criticism as well as journalism and dramatic work, and a dedicated educator, she became for me a guiding light and a close friend. In one way, I said goodbye to Winthrop in her Center Island home the day before she died; in another way, I am saying goodbye to her now with this recounting, for her spirit has animated the magazine and guided me in my role as editor.


IT IS DIFFICULT TO say goodbye to all the other editors, assistants, consultants, student interns, and the administrators of the university who have contributed to Confrontation along the years. The history of the magazine should recognize the aid of Mary Lai, Cathy Seringer, Peggy Riggs, Virginia De Francesco, and others who steered the wheel of bureaucratic reports no less lively than the editorial matter of the magazine. I would like to say goodbye to two late good friends, Jeanne Welcher Kleinfield and Edythe Cecil; they were ladies of distinction whose efforts for the magazine need to be heralded, as well as the continuing support of Winthrop's daughter, Rosalind Palmer Walter.


IF A MAGAZINE CANNOT survive without an editor and Editorial Board and a Business Staff (or harried volunteer individuals trying to master the subscription list and sales data and Receipts Accountable), it can only survive on the base of its writers. It is, I admit, a tautological error to talk of quantitative survival. No one survives partway; we are all equal in survival, unless we don't survive, no matter how different we are after survival. Still, there is meaning in talking about qualitative differences of survival. Without the writer, there is no book, no theater to open its door, no newspaper to appear at a doorstep and even in an impersonal age of communication like the web of the Internet, no summary to spread wireless reverberation. Confrontation has been fortunate in having the support of writers, many of them famous and prize-winning, many of them unknown at the time of their publication in our pages, and all of them willing to accept our modest fees. We paid our contributors for their work from our first issue; the recompense was moderate, it has remained moderate, and it appears it will be doing so for the foreseeable future (of course the future is not so seeable, so such statements of measure should be taken with a measure of uncertainty). Some of the writers who have appeared in our pages since 1968 include eight Nobel laureates, among them LB. Singer, Nadine Gordimer, John Steinbeck, W.H. Auden, and Derek Walcott; some have been Pulitzer Prize and other Award winners, among them Arthur Miller, Cynthia Ozick, Joyce Carol Oates, Jerzy Kosinski, Iris Murdoch, James Jones, William Styron, and Jean Stafford; and some have been aspiring high school and college students. All of them graciously accepted our fees and some of them either refused to be paid or returned the fees as gifts to the magazine.

It is hard to say goodbye to that kind of giving.

We did say a kind of goodbye a few years ago to a policy that downsized big names and capitalized on lesser-known ones. We decided to try to discover new or unknown talent and emphasize such work unfolding from their pens and computers. The well-known did not need us; it was a gamble to see how much we need them on our covers. The gamble has worked well enough- attention is still paid to the magazine as it has paid attention to lesser-known writers. Certainly, any magazine is graced with the likes of an Isaac Bashevis Singer and Joyce Carol Oates fiction or a Cynthia Ozick essay, and occasionally we still publish a work by a talent of that size and recognition, but it is equally gratifying to know we have played a part in the burgeoning of a career.

Like many magazines that have become old –and 40-plus is old age in the literary journal field - we sometimes indulge in the memory of our youthful forays. I've said "goodbye" to the “scoop” method. We have had our share of them - we were the first literary journal to suggest, if not fully weigh, claims against the mistreatment of his wife by T.S. Eliot. I knew Eliot's secretary long after she resigned from her job at Faber & Faber, where Eliot was a senior editor. She still harbored affection for the great poet. Nevertheless, she revealed (after much argument from me) that Eliot’s behavior toward his first wife might be construed as unkind, if not hurtful. Such knowledge, while peripheral, was important, I urged on her, for gaining the fullest picture of the dominant poet of the modern age in the English-speaking world. Her memoir printed in our pages ignited both anger and applause, exactly the kind of prismatic – and confrontational -- look we were bent on achieving.


IT WILL BE SOMEWHAT hard to say goodbye to those familiar faces over the years who have stared at me in wonder as I passed through faculty halls and the university cafeteria. "But you retired fourteen years ago," they have said. "We gave you a big party. Everybody came." They do not say, "What are you doing here?" but I hear the words in my inner ear. It is hard to explain that I've been here these past 14 years after my retirement as a professor; that I've been working with a loyal and active staff - a skeleton staff if measured by the enormous body of work it performs. Sometimes these wondering souls have recognized me by the shopping bags I carry in one or both hands, the bags containing manuscripts to be read or letters to be answered. Sometimes, we smile at each other and sometimes the quizzical look does not leave their bemused faces.

I will miss those looks - they are a sign of good regards in my way of thinking - but I will not miss the weight of the shopping bags.

I will miss too the support of the administration, which for 40 years has not interfered with the editorial content of the magazine. I want to thank the present administration, and particularly David Steinberg, for its firm support. Other administrators over the years come to mind: Jeffrey Kane, Mary Lai, Edward Cook, Gail Stevens, Katherine Hill-Miller. And I will miss the friendship and aid of our Executive Director of the Books Program, Robert Hagelstein, whose advice was essential for our modest Press operations. In addition to being a colleague, Bob was once my student at the Brooklyn Center of L.I. U. Later he became President of Greenwood Press, which he helped to make the largest scholarly reprint publishing company in the U.S. I will miss too the close working association with our compositor/ designer John Beck, and our printing company, Thomson-Shore, each demanding deadlines of me as I demanded deadlines of them.


I AM SAYING GOODBYE to an ordered life which of course is disordered some of the time, but has recognizable time tables and furniture of many designs to remind one of his obligations. What awaits may be a less ordered life, one where the touchstones are seen more in the desire to find them and in the knowledge that they are to be constructed by self-discipline. Or what may await may be just as tempting - a landscape against which memory moves its moods into a basket for plucking all the things it has been hard to say goodbye to.


AND NOW I WOULD like to say hello to the new editor, Jonna Semeiks, who will take the reins with the next issue. Jonna has served on the magazine for close to a decade and comes with a background of magazine experience and a rich knowledge of modern and contemporary literature. She will be assisted by the new Poetry Editor, Belinda Kremer, and a new resource for our Internet age, Terry Kattleman, who will serve as Director of Publicity and Technical Information. It is a wonderful team, one I don't have to say goodbye to, at least for a year. I'll be staying on as consultant for the coming year.
- Martin Tucker

P.S. In writing this, I realize - suddenly - this is the last time I will have the last word on something I write. I will have to say goodbye to that, too.

Copyright © 2010 by Long Island University

Thursday, June 17, 2010

It's from an old familiar score

When I watched President Obama’s speech from the Oval Office Tuesday night, my expectations where heightened for a President finally laying out concrete steps and a timetable for the promised land of energy independence through a phasing in of natural gas, nuclear, and alternative energy sources. When he turned to the topic, my hopes which I’ve expressed frequently here were dashed. Just more presidential rhetoric. As Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne expressed so eloquently…

It seems to me I've heard that song before
It's from an old familiar score
I know it well, that melody…..
I know each word because I've heard that song before

But it took the genius of Jon Stewart to put this into perspective, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush II all mincing the same words. No wonder I had the sickening sense that I heard this song before. Why do we lack the national will to put these words into action?
The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
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Thursday, June 10, 2010

“Legitimate” Claims

By now we’ve all seen the $50 million media blitz by BP in which Tony Hayward articulates that all “legitimate” claims will be honored, as well the recent news story that it will pay these claims for "as long as it takes." There is a world of meaning in the word “legitimate” and in a first step to define it before BP’s legal army begins to mobilize, BP announced it would appoint an “Independent Mediator to review and assist in the claims process,” that person apparently yet to be appointed (again, by BP, not an independent authority). This “Independent Mediator” will make advisory decisions” on claims, with those decisions subject to the following:

* If the claimant feels the advisory decision is unreasonable, he or she retains all rights under OPA either to seek reimbursement from the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund or to file a claim in court.
* If BP feels the advisory decision is unreasonable, the company may choose not to accept it, but the claimant then may use the Independent Mediator's decision in claiming against the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund or in a subsequent court action

Note the reference to the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund as the first line of defense for BP. Congress created this Fund in 1986 to pay the claims of “any person or organization that has incurred removal costs or suffered damages due to an oil spill may submit a claim.” Supposedly it is funded at $2.7 billion. However, the Fund site says: “British Petroleum is now accepting claims for the Gulf Coast oil spill. Please call them at 1-800-440-0858.” So, back to you BP!

According to BP, “90 percent of the damages or income loss claims paid out so far had gone to individuals -- primarily fishermen, shrimpers, oyster fishermen and crabbers. The rest had gone to smaller businesses, and the company was also moving to respond to claims by medium- and large-sized businesses.”

No mention is made of the elephant in the room: state and local governments along the Gulf that depend on their revenue from property tax and sales tax. These are under stress to begin with and, now, with tourism disappearing, and properties along the Gulf going unsold (anyone want to buy a home near a beach with tar balls for an unknown period of time?), home valuations are plummeting, along with the associated property tax. Florida, which has no state income tax, is dependent sales tax revenue, a large portion of which comes from tourism with its beaches and water being the major attraction. And, with the Gulf Stream, no part of Florida is immune to the threat of oil contamination.

The ripple effects of lost revenue to small to large businesses, increased unemployment, plummeting home values and increased foreclosures, and finally to tax revenue, are large and long lasting. So, BP, what about the “legitimacy” of claims of state and local governments for the lost tax revenue, this year and perhaps years to come? Thus far BP’s track record, on promptly paying claims, truthfully reporting the scope of the spillage, going all out to save the precious wildlife and shorelines of the Gulf, is poor. This does not bode well for how BP’s legal team will finally attempt to define “legitimate.”


Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Vicious Cycle

While budget infernos sweep state and local budgets, government bureaucrats fiddle away at deficits by making minor cuts and taking the easy road of tax increases. I’ve used the microcosm of the local Palm Beach County budget activity to make this point before, as it probably reflects what is going on in some municipal and state finances throughout the United States. PBC’s “recommended” 13.4% increase in property tax rate is designed to “make up” lost revenue” from falling property values. A future stream of required higher tax payments just devalues property further, begetting yet more future increases.

On the other side of the ledger, the “tough” spending cuts include cremating indigents when they die, rather than burying them, “saving” $100,000 (this, mind you, in a budget of some four billion dollars). Other cuts, of course, are aimed at the people who need help the most. Meanwhile, more than $1 billion is earmarked for “general government, interfund transfers, other, and internal services.” Make systemic changes to the way the County operates? Not a chance.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Long-Term Thinking

This entry is a redirect to the site of the John Hussman, an academic economist turned mutual fund manager, who takes a long-term perspective and invests accordingly. He has been a frequent critic of the overall bailout strategy arguing that until we clear out bad loans, requiring those who made them to take losses, we are doing nothing more than applying band-aids to wounds that need major suturing.

It is amazing to watch the markets since late 2007 as governments around the world have gone into hock, writing blank checks to the financial sector. This has reengaged investors, driving up markets, and leaving risk-adverse investors with the option of getting no return or being forced into riskier investments. It is as if governments are introducing the same problem as a solution. We all get a sense that there will be serious long-term consequences and perhaps recent developments in Europe are indicative. In the U.S. we have time bombs of Fannie, Freddie, deteriorating state and municipal government finances, Medicare and, now, the economic consequences of an ecological disaster in the Gulf, which will linger for generations. How much longer can difficult, lasting solutions be deferred?

Meanwhile, investors can always follow Dilbert’s Scott Adams’ investment “advice” bearing in mind that in humor there is much truth, although he does carry the disclaimer “not to make investment decisions based on the wisdom of cartoonists.”

Here are some key points Hussman makes in his latest piece:

* The fundamental problem is that we have not, as a global economy, accepted the word "restructuring" into our dialogue. Instead, we have allowed our policy makers to borrow and print extraordinarily large band-aids to temporarily cover an open wound that will not heal until we close the gap. That gap is the difference between the face value of debt securities and the actual cash flows available to service them. The way to close the gap is to restructure the debt. This will require those who made the bad loans to accept the associated losses. By failing to do that, we have failed to address the essential problem faced by the world, which is that we have created more debt than we are able to service.

* When our policy makers insist on defending reckless lenders with public resources, we have to recognize that this is not free money. When the government issues a paper liability for real value, that real value gets directed to the recipient at the expense of countless other activities. Even seemingly costless interventions can be redistributions of wealth. For example, the strategy of dropping short-term interest rates to nearly zero as a way of increasing the interest spread earned by banks has the direct effect of impoverishing savers, very often elderly people who rely on lower risk investments for capital preservation


Friday, June 4, 2010

Spill, Baby, Kill

The first heartbreaking images of oil-soaked, dying wildlife are now reaching the media, a reminder of the Exxon Alaska disaster. When will we ever learn that technology is not a failsafe solution and we have no business drilling in 5,000 feet of water without ironclad contingency plans? And, now, this is in our own backyard. Indeed, we might as well have set off a nuclear bomb in the Gulf of Mexico, as the long-term effects will be similar. Barring a quick capping of the “spill” a wasteland waits, destroying the delicate ecosystem along our very borders, and inevitably to the promised economic recovery as well.

New supercomputer studies suggest it is "very likely" ocean currents will carry oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico around the tip of Florida and thousands of miles up the U.S. East Coast this summer. Perhaps Washington will finally get the message when the Gulf Stream delivers some of this oil to the Potomac River.