Dec 26, 2009

10 Things I Learned in Beirut

1. Depending on the quality of your Arabic one can pay anywhere from $1.25 to $10.00 to travel one kilometer by taxi.
I still can’t figure out which factions in Lebanon actually like the Druze population.
300 families control a country that “does not exist.”
It takes three people about ten minutes to accurately count $60,000 in cash.
Hello, merci, and mahraba are all acceptable greetings though one is typically preferred over the rest depending on who you are talking to and what part of town you are in.
Every person you speak to has a different vision for what the city is and what it should be.
Most buildings in downtown are either bombed out or rising in new luxury construction.
Over 90% of Lebanese born live outside of Lebanon.
I didn’t think any city could have more physical bank branches than NYC … until I went to Beirut.
10. Barbed wire and champagne.

Aug 30, 2009

Finance 101 for Art Swap

Me: A cynical, skeptical, and wily twelve year financial world veteran
You: A 2d visual artist seeking basic knowledge about corporate finance and world economics

My downtown Manhattan apartment or quiet public place

Because there are a lot of levers on this strange machine

Topics of discussion might include:
1. Efficient market theory: Are you smarter than the irrational collective?
2. Corporate finance 101: Equity vs. debt financing (stocks vs. bonds)
3. Commodities investing: How Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd cornered the market in Orange Juice futures
4. Demographics in finance: Forecasting tectonic trends in economic growth
5. Short term interest rates: A capitalist's volume dial (currently at 11)
6. Financial adviser/mutual fund fees: Sneaky, straightforward, and otherwise
7. Inflation and "real" yields: Swimming up a really strong current
8. Basic stock analysis: Present value = future expectations
9. The government debt death spiral: Why we might all be screwed
10. The mechanics of the banking system: As complicated as you think

*One thing we will not discuss is how I think YOU should invest your money. The goal of this likely multi-hour discussion is to answer questions and educate, not to advise.

Am I serious?

Please email with your barter proposal

Aug 17, 2009

Ten Favorite Midtown Manhattan Delivery Lunches

My location: High east 40s Manhattan

Meals listed In reverse alphabetical order by restaurant

*Chicken Salad Sandwich: Walnuts, roasted tomatoes, pickled red onions, and frisee on multigrain bread
*Mixed Organic Greens and fennel with lemon vinaigrette
*Peanut butter cream'wich

*Lunchbox special with spicy teriyaki chicken, assorted sashimi, and spicy tuna roll
^My vote for best lunch value for quality proposition in Midtown east

Sushi Tei
*Hot vegetable tempura soba
*Green salad
*Chocolate Pocky

*BBQ Plate: Grilled chicken, potatoes, and brown rice in bbq sauce

*Set A: Any 3 rice balls + soup
-Green Tea Salt Shrimp Tempura: Fresh shrimp tempura with green tea sea salt on top of soy sauce flavored rice
-Balsamic Salmon: Smoked salmon with balsamic vinegar, onion, and lemon peel on top of olive rice
-Chili Beef Ball: Deep fried chili ketchup rice ball filled with ground beef

Mambo Italiano Express
*Grilled chicken, mozzarella, and arugula sandwich on round whole wheat rosetti
*Pasta Fasoul soup

*Lava chili beef lunch special with papaya salad

Bread & Olive
*Shish Taouk Sandwich: Chicken cubes marinated in garlic, lemon, olive oil and tomato sauce
*Two mini spinich pies: Chopped spinach leaves, onion, sumac, and lemon
*Fasoulia: Giant Peruvian lima beans marinated in lemon, olive oil, and garlic

Boi to Go
*Chicken Pho: Star anise broth, flat rice noodle, shredded chicken, fresh lime leaf, cilantro, and scallion
*Curred chicken meatball rice bowl with red hot pepper sauce
*Black rice coconut bean pudding

Asia Grill
*Bo Luc Lac: Stir fried teriyaki steak cubes served over tomato, taro chips, and baby greens

Aug 8, 2009

Yoga Pop: Volume 10

Designed to play for the duration of a 75 minute vinyasa practice.

Song. Artist. Album
(Order is important)

1. The Observer. The Flaming Lips. The Soft Bulletin
2. A Mountain of Ice. Helios. Caesura
3. Silver Cruiser. Royksopp. Junior
4. Init One. Ben Klock. One
5. Invocation. Moondog. The Grandfather Paradox
6. You're Nine. Night Control. Death Control
7. Out My Window. Koushik. Out My Window
8. Water/Light/Shifts. Bell Orchestre. As Seen Through Windows
9. UK. Burial. Untrue
10. Rottura. Polmo Polpo. The Science of Breath
11. Borderlands. Tim Hecker. An Imaginary Country
12. Monday - Paracetamol. Ulrich Schnauss. A Strangely Isolated Place
13. Darling. Beach House. Devotion
14. Her Comes the Sky. Crocodiles. Summer of Hate
15. Foreground. Grizzly Bear. Veckatimest
16. Byen Driver. Under Byen. Det Er Mig Der Holder Traerne Sammen

May 23, 2009

Yoga Pop: Volume 9

Designed to play for the duration of a 75 minute vinyasa practice.

Song. Artist. Album
(Order is important)

1. It's Personal. The Radio Dept. Pet Grief
2. Changeling. DJ Shadow. Endroducing
3. Souvlaki Spacestation. Slowdive. Souvlaki
4. I Made a Tree on the Wold. Telefon Tel Aviv. Immolate Yourself
5. My Burr. Minotaur Shock. Amateur Dramatics
6. Bubbles. Ellen Allien & Apparat. Orchestra of Bubbles
7. Stork & Owl. TV on the Radio. Dear Science
8. Cherry Coloured Funk. Cocteau Twins. Heaven or Las Vegas
9. Rise. Doves. Lost Souls
10. A Nod on Hold. Ms John Soda. Notes and the Like
11. Said and Done. Engineers. Engineers
12. Headphone Land in the School of Old. Mice Parade. Ramda
13. You Only Live Twice. The Postmarks. By the Numbers
14. You Were There With Me. Four Tet. Everything Ecstatic
15. Emancipation. Helios. Eingya

May 4, 2009

A Sacrilegious Support Level

On March 6th, 2009 the S&P 500 Stock Index closed at 683, the lowest mark observed in nearly 13 years. The financial media hauntingly dubbed it as our "Lost Decade" after the similarly named period in 1990s post-real estate bubble Japan. While certainly fitting I thought a more accurate (and original) title would have been "The Lost Baker's Dozen." My title P.R. campaign has sadly since become moot. Two months and no less than eighteen sentiment shifts later we now find ourselves almost 30% higher from the early March lows, recapturing much of our previously lost baker's dozen.

But there was something peculiar about the price action on that lowly Friday in March. Previous to closing at 683 the index experienced maximum carnage only an hour before, bottoming out at the devilish 666 level. I am no hexakosioihexekontahexaphobic and as anyone who knows me is abundantly aware my capacity for entertaining claims of numerology, astrology, or religious soothsaying are nil. Notwithstanding this hyper-rational predisposition even I can appreciate the allegorical potential of such a culturally loaded anomalous occurrence. Why didn’t I receive any Evangelical email forwards, anti-Christ blog purports, or conspiracy theorist memorandums regarding this symbolic happening? Isn’t there some vaguely interpreted Nostradamus prophecy that foresaw this important sign? What is the Catholic Church’s view? Was recently reaching this level a sign that the end is near or was bouncing off it a signal that we have triumphed over the forces of evil and that the worst is behind us?

If anyone has any prophetic insight into this topic I would be very keen to see it.

Feb 20, 2009

Telegram to Barack Obama: A Suggestion for Curing Financial Ignorance

Dear Mr. President,

The ongoing economic turbulence has been both fascinatingly thought-provoking and deeply troubling. While I believe that more good than bad will ultimately result it's obvious that a public formerly in denial of its excesses will naturally underestimate the required depths of its impending catharsis. It’s my hope that the public and media will take a reflective deep breath and appreciate how long this healing process will take.

The list of problems we now face is lengthy and undeniable complex. Few economists would argue that our administration's first concern should be to buffer the dramatic free fall in output that has resulted from a multitude of factors: increased job losses, less availability of credit, deteriorating confidence, shifting demographics, a stronger dollar, and a higher propensity to save (rather than spend). The methods by which one cures this economic downward spiral are being debated across the globe in every media forum known to man. Rather than weigh in on this discussion I'd like to begin thinking about what comes next. Once aggregate demand is restored to a more palatable trajectory a different set of important societal challenges will emerge.

#1.) How do we dismantle the ideological trap doors that led us into our current state of financial chaos?

#2.) How do we recreate a financial system that aligns the interests of its employees with those of its shareholders, the financial system, and the public at large?

#3.) How do we empower individuals to better understand their own personal finances in the context of the increasingly complex and ever-changing global economy?

The purpose of this note isn't to delve into the lengthy discussions of challenges #1 and #2 though I would argue that the keys to their resolution lie in curing the ills of challenge #3. And while most would not consider challenge #3 as the most near term critical it's certainly an issue that is consistently and mysteriously overlooked despite its importance.

I applaud your administration for establishing a committee aimed at harvesting the public's collective knowledge for help in solving the endless problems we now face. It's this type of intelligent humility that consistently evades many of society's important interactions, most certainly at its own peril. In this spirit of knowledge sharing I would like to make a policy suggestion that I strongly believe to be imperative for solving the root cause of our current state. This administration should introduce policy requiring one year of mandatory student education on the mechanics of global capital markets and personal finance.

The multidisciplinary curriculum will avoid espousing one-track convention wisdom and focus on building a framework to understand our manufactured financial architecture from varying critical viewpoints. The class recipe would consist of these ingredients: three parts history, three parts corporate finance, three parts personal finance, two parts applied macroeconomics, two
parts sociology, one part accounting, one part comparative literature, and one part psychology.

The most basic assertions of modern economic thought will be stripped bare and discussed at length. What is Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and why is its growth synonymous with economic progress? What is inflation and how is its control crucial to our prosperity? What purpose do banks serve? Why is the stock market supposed to increase in value over time? What are the origins of credit and why have economies all over the world become so dependent on it?

While exploring the history of modern capital markets students will consider why central banks like the Federal Reserve were created and how they operate, gold backed currency versus fiat currency economies, and how monetary and fiscal policy levers are used to guide sustainable growth and moderate inflation. Students will examine the gears of our economic engine by following the money trail that begins in FDIC insured savings accounts and ends up as bank loans in the hands of small business. The role of banks as this crucial lending intermediary should provide another important centerpiece for lengthy discussion.

On the topic of personal investments we will begin by surveying the dense layer cake of financial instruments representing the incremental risk and potential return to which an individual can gain exposure. Students will think about what shares of company stock actually represent, under what
conditions they may increase in value, and how this investment differs from gold bullion, US Treasury Bills, farm land, corporate bonds, a barrel of crude oil, foreign currency, baseball cards, a cask of whisky, or a piece of art. They will read selections from Mackay’s Memoirs of Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds and Taleb’s Fooled by Randomness alongside more conventional investing canons like Graham & Zweig’s Intelligent Investor and Schwager’s Market Wizards. Academics, journalists, and financial practitioners will help source reading material from recent magazine articles, psychological studies, Wall Street research, Op-Ed pieces, and blogs. The class will undoubtedly require a module on credit, examining the purpose it serves, and the various implications of buying assets with borrowed money.

While the complexity of our financial system has been allowed to increase exponentially there has been almost nothing done to help society decipher the implications this has for its members. It has now become painfully clear that financial education deserves the same attention in schools as classes in science, math, social studies, and language. I urge this administration to rise above our country’s quick-fix mentality and set into place an educational policy that will make a long lasting difference for generations to come.



Jan 18, 2009

10 Things I Learned in Chile

1. One of the most prominent figures of Chilean separatism was an Irishman. Bernardo O'Higgins’s fa├žade is featured on the not-so-valuable 10 peso coin (1 US Dollar = 630 Chilean Pesos).
2. It's good to be the Chilean government when nationalized copper sells for $360/ton but not so good when copper is $125/ton.

3. The semi-precious blue ‘rock’ Lapis Lazuli, found in Chile and other places, was believed by the Romans to be a powerful aphrodisiac.
4. Quinoa is plentiful in northern Chile (lucky for me).

5. Chile is as tall as America is wide. It’s 2,900 miles from top to bottom but ONLY 260 miles at its widest point east to west.

6. From an airplane the topography of the Atacaman Desert looks like spilled coffee, a bank blueprint, and Da Vinci's Vitruvian Man all at the same time.

7. Flamingos like to hang out around salt.

8. The best racket in San Pedro is the one guy who sells camera memory sticks.

9. Almost all the Chileans I spoke with seemed cautious about expressing their political views on Allende vs. Pinochet. By my count the country is split right down the middle.

10. Rica Rica is an altiplanic medicinal herb reminiscent of rosemary with a citrus twist. The herb makes a fantastic base for tea or supplement to water and certain juices.

10 Things I Learned in Argentina

1. Antiques in Buenos Aires are dialed back 25 years and priced 50% cheaper than in New York.
2. Argentineans claim that their real currency is the US Dollar but mysteriously no one seems to keep track of the exchange rate.

3. Argentineans are PROUD of their European genealogy.

4. Mariano Cid de la Paz’s deconstructed empanada is not as good as the real thing.

5. Never trust an Argentinean Greek whose teeth are three-quarter rotted.

6. There is a political / financial calamity in Buenos Aires every 10 years.

7. The famed Argentinean parilla (grilled meat) isn't all it's cracked up to be.

8. I took street signs for granted until I walked through the outer neighborhoods of Buenos Aires.

9. MTA fare hike haters should move to Buenos Aires where a one trip is only 25 cents.

10. Everything I thought that was pronounced “ya” in Spanish is said with a “shhh” in Argentina. Pollo isn’t “poyyyo” it’s “posho.”

10 Things I Learned in Uruguay

1. Jack Johnson’s widespread popularity is troubling to say the least.
2. There are still places in the developed world where a pack of 16 year old girls can hitchhike at 3am.

3. The Spanish translation for “My hovercraft is full of eels” is “Mi aerodeslizador esta lleno de anguilas.”

4. Many Nightclubs in Punta Del Este OPEN at 2am.

5. In Montevideo housecleaners charge USD $1 per hour yet a 20km taxi ride in Punta Del Este will set you back USD $50.

6. Uruguayans think Argentineans are full of themselves. Argentineans think Uruguayans are unintelligent and insignificant.
7. I'd feel more convinced that Duty Free was a legitimate value proposition if the salespeople weren't the most attractive residents of their respective countries.

8. There are zero people of Far Eastern descent in South America.

9. Cab drivers ALWAYS wear their seatbelts.
10. Mario Irrarazabal’s LA MANO (The Hand) sculpture should be gifted to the Argentineans and re-named LA MANO DE DIOS (The
Hand of God) themed to commemorate Maradona’s fraudulent goal in the1986 World Cup quarter final match vs. England. Point #6 will likely prevent this from ever happening.