Oct

4

Triage TagOverheard at the deli last week, paraphrased to give you the gist of the conversation. Two local hospital administrators:

Hospital admin #1 "No, it's good these people are coming to us"
Hospital admin #2 "What are you talking about — they have no insurance"
Hospital admin #1 "Right, so AHCS picks up the tab"
Hospital admin #2 "Oh yeah, right"
Hospital admin #1 "And the state pays faster and never argues unlike those a$$h&les at Aetna, United and Pacificare"
Hospital admin #2 "Great"
Hospital admin #1 "You just triage them a little lower in the ER to keep the paying customers happy"

J.T. Holley responds:

Here's my neighbor's response; he's a ER doc here in a Richmond, VA hospital commonly referred to as the "Gun and Knife Club of Richmond."

Probably goes on, but it is illegal and if anyone had good data that this happens, then that hospital is at risk of losing every last Medicare/Medicaid dollar. Usually not worth that big of risk. EMTALA law forbids the ER triaging based on insurance status.

There are pretty straightforward criteria to triage patients based on vital signs, chief complaint, etc. It really isn't worth the risk to get you're a$$ sued or have an EMTALA violation for one or two "satisfied" customers.

Don't know who those admins were, but they sound like dumba$$es as well as unethical — both no big surprise.

Tom Ryan extends:

RaytheonIt's not about the healthcare, it's about the money. Healthcare is just a small microcosm of the bigger picture problem which basically boils down to this: Once you create a system where a substantially large portion of your population derives their paycheck either directly from the government (in my community that would be the University, the Air Force base, the Border Patrol, the list is endless) or say one degree removed (again, in my community one of our biggest employers is Raytheon), once that group gets large enough as a proportion of the total population, you reach a turning point from which there is no going back. That group will simply just keep voting in their economic interest and expand like a virus. More programs, more jobs, more money, bigger budgets, larger departments, War on Drugs, War on Immigration, War in Iraq, War on Terror — Now we will have a war on healthcare and a government sponsored healthcare industrial complex - the list is endless and expanding. It will never stop until we are bankrupted and have to show ID just to get across town. My friends who call themselves "conservative" are just as responsible for this expansion of government as the liberals. They may be "conservative" in a gods-guns-gays way of thinking, but in my book they are proponents of big nanny government just like the liberals.

Gary Humbert explains:

Rent-seekers become successful by rewarding special interests at the expense of the general public, since the amounts are huge to the special interests, but the costs are spread around over the general public.

Hillary's mistake the first time was to take on the healthcare industry as a whole.  She will not make the same mistake again. She will simply raise taxes to spend on a nationwide health insurance program, getting industry to agree by promising to spend a ton of money on them.

Oct

4

TowelsI just got back from my gym, in the Washington D.C. suburbs. It is premium priced to dissuade the riffraff from joining. And the concept worked for a long time. Families could go and not worry about their wives or daughters being propositioned. The facilities were clean and the members always considerate of each other.

Recently the owners signed a contract with the federal government. Now, we have federal government employees at the gym, with their membership dues being paid for by tax dollars.

They have a sense of entitlement and no recognition of the costs associated with running the facility. They take four or five towels when one or two will suffice. And they all do it.

The locker rooms are filthy now and the staff has given up on attempting to get these people to act responsibly.

Their hygiene habits are disgusting. There was a woman in the hotub a few days ago wearing her underwear and was indignant when told she had to leave because it was a code violation.

This evening I was in the dry sauna and looked over at a woman using some kind of puff-pad to exfoliate her entire body. When finished contaminating the area she just walked out.

None of them shower before entering the pool area even though there is a very large sign stating such is required that they can't miss. And the staff don't bother even trying to enforce it.

Needless to say, the paying members are all leaving for other exclusive facilities so they don't have to deal with the riffraff.

Oct

4

BioBusinessWeek
Is Your Town Toxic?
Wednesday October 3, 8:08 am ET By Maya Roney

Falling home prices may not be the only thing poisoning your neighborhood. Landfills, abandoned manufacturing plants, and leaking underground petroleum tanks sometimes lurk in the backyards of unsuspecting homeowners and home buyers, leading to serious health issues and spoiled real estate markets.

I work on similar environmental projects and a lot of these sites have been known and documented for years — it is really nothing new. Is the negative tone (and the "worst case" scenarios presented) designed to further strike fear into the potential real estate buyer? Why is it necessary to give a top 10 list of contaminated cities?
 
Most large real estate investors today still conduct a Phase I (initial environmental screening) and perform due diligence before buying a piece of property so that they do not unknowingly inherit or become partially liable for cleanup costs on a solvent or petroleum-"impacted" (contamination is a word that is avoided these days) property. EDR has been producing radius searches for 10 plus years — local and state agencies often keep databases that can give more information on particular sites.
 
Perhaps small home buyers are unaware and do not consider these things? Actually, even in Florida there are a few homes that have been built over small landfills from the 20s and 30s.
 
As far as public health goes, one of the main concerns is whether vapors from a plume of the constituents of concern (gasoline, solvents, volatile chemicals) are making it from the groundwater table to the surface — thus potentially becoming an exposure risk to the homeowner. Unless it is a very large plume and the concentrations are very high and the groundwater table is very shallow the chances of an exposure pathway being present are low. A risk assessment can be done to determine if their is a danger.
 
Often the push for cleanup in Florida is a function of the threat to the municipal wellfield or future water supplies — it is more of an economic reason rather than an environmental fear that plants or animals will be exposed to chemicals.
 
Jim McGNew Jersey was considered a very "contaminated" state because of the numerous sites it has, but another way of looking at it is that the state environmental agency has done a very good job of indentifying sites and enforcing stringent soil and groundwater cleanup levels.
 
An "underground lake" of gasoline, contaminants, etc.m sounds dramatic, but normally the contaminants are either floating on top of the groundwater table (gasoline is lighter than water) or sinking below the groundwater table (chlorinated solvents, heavier than water) and are found within an aquifer of water-bearing rock, sand, limestone, etc., so the image of a lake is not normally accurate (although you can get some cavernous porosity in limestone).
 
Also plumes do not normally extend ad infinitum. As concentrations decrease bacteria in the soil and groundwater begin to biodegrade the constiuents of concern. In some cases plants and trees can actually be used to accelerate the cleanup process (bioremediation) or compressed air can be injected into the aquifer through 2 or 4 inch diameter wells to strip (sparge) volatile compounds out of the groundwater and stimulate the bacteria.
 
There is a lot of science involved and many people unfortunately do not know where their water comes from or where their wastewater and trash go and how contaminated groundwater is assessed, treated, and cleaned. Without science and knowledge there is no way to accurately assess risk and you are at the mercy of the fearmongers.

James Lackey adds:

NashvilleNashville was mine central for phosphorous all the way back in to the 19th century. I saw the mines or, better stated, trenches and maps from the 50s on the Net. I called Sunbaked, the Spec geologist, and he warned me "ya never know" what could be backfilled in them. Of course we assume way back in the day all sorts of fun things were buried in the old trenches.

That wasnt my concern, foundation issues were. Bake said he would come out and take a look for me at any land that I wanted to purchase. I can't imagine what the cost would be for a guy like Bake and his firm to do a real geological study for, let's say, 100 acres.

I do see tracts of land for may reasons (not taxes or locale) that trade well under other tracts in the general Nashville area. I assume some of the open lands are old strip mines or near old factories and many DOD sites. I moved to a spot where there was "no doubt" yet I can't ever build a pool without TNT — bedrock two feet under my top soil.

Oct

4

Is there any way I can get my hands on the historical news feed from Bloomberg for any market, for a significant time frame, in discrete (30-sec, 60-sec, 5 min) packets? For instance, all the headlines for, say, the banking sector, over the past six months, in the Bloomberg format, with a very specific timestamp next to it.

Oct

4

Not directly market related, but Wally Wallington will cause you think about how you think about things…

Oct

4

I've been shorting stocks (intraday) most of this week, and it's notable that many stocks that weren't available to short earlier in the week, now are available. Maybe it's just my broker…

Oct

3

Guns, SailsDespite its grand sounding name, Guns, Sails and Empires: Technological Innovation and European Expansion, 1400-1700 by Carlo M. Cipolla, was a rather pedestrian recitation of the development, manufacture, size and weight of iron and bronze guns over the period. The stories about the huge guns the Turks made, with 24' barrels, that could be fired only once every few hours was interesting. The sparse comments on sail, compared to the much better book, Arthur Herman's To Rule the Waves, were notable in that Cipolla attributes England's rise to the harnessing of Nature's power in the sail rather than relying on manpower, and the ships' providing a floating platform for the big heavy guns which were otherwise unwieldy and mostly unusable on land. These two technological advances allowed the British to control the coasts wherever they wished. The Venetians, the Chinese, and other powers relied on human power, which lacked the leverage the British harnessed in the face of Nature. The idea of breaking away from human work and using Nature's power to leverage is what I found fascinating. The greatest feature of the capital markets today is they are the purest form of leveraging human intellect for productive gain. There is no other occupation that produces more benefit or greater reward for the amount of physical labor than speculating or investng in the capital markets. This is not to say it is without work, but in terms of physcial labor, it is barely lifting a finger — the blood, the sweat and the tears notwithstanding.

Vincent Andres adds:

LongitudeAnother important (and marvelous) technological advance is described in Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of his Time, by Dava Sobel. From Amazon's book description: 

Anyone alive in the eighteeth century would have known that "the logitude problem" was the thorniest scientific dilemma of the day — and had been for centuries. Lacking the ability to measure their longitude, sailors throughout the great ages of exploration had been literally lost at sea as soon as they lost sight of land. Thousands of lives, and the increasing fortunes of nations, hung on a resolution.

The scientific establishment of Europe — from Galileo to Sir Issac Newton — had mapped the heavens in both hemispheres in its certain pursuit of a celestial answer. In stark contrast, one man, John Harrison, dared to imagine a mechanical solution — a clock that would keep percise time at sea, something no clock had ever been able to do on land. Longitude is a dramatic human story of an epic scientific quest and Harrison's forty-year obsession with building his perfect timekeeper, known today as the chronometer. Full of heroism and chicanery, it is also a fascinating brief history of astronomy, navigation, and clockmaking, and opens a new window on our world.

Oct

3

Had J.R.R. Tolkien applied his talents to Middle America instead of Middle Earth, the result would have been akin to Satan's Bushel, Garet Garrett's 1923 novel, available as a 212 page pdf. Literally beautiful in its language, yet deadly accurate in its particulars, the work is a mystic's perspective on farming and speculation, on death and eternal love. It is worth reading for both its prose and its surprisingly relevant take on markets.

Adam Robinson adds:

FarmingFor those who want to read an uproariously entertaining book on the economics of becoming a farmer, I can't recommend The Farming Game, by Bryan Jones, highly enough.

Imagine Mark Twain giving advice to a city slicker (Green Acres is the place to be) who dreamed of becoming a farmer, and you'll have an idea of the book's appeal. Acute economic sensibility combined with trenchant wisdom.

There are only two copies of this overlooked classic left in stock at Amazon before they reorder (owing to slow sales, alas). You'll thank me later, and I can promise that if you start reading it over a weekend, you won't stop.

David Lamb interjects:

In the book "Satan's Bushel" is found a snippet on page 123 about
the dreaded financial life of a wheat farmer. Here is the quote:

The farmer was one who paid.The farmer certainly paid.
Everyone who touched him made him pay. What he sold he sold on the
buyer's terms. What he bought he bought on the seller's terms. One in
that situation was bound to be exploited.

In essence, the farmer takes the brunt end of the financial side of
the wheat business. My grandfather farmed wheat. He was always
complaining about everyone taking advantage of him; how he never got a
good enough price; how the prices of equipment are too high, etc. I
grew up thinking two things about this industry: One, I wanted no part
of it and, two that farmers were always poor and there was no way
around that.Then a few years later in life I came across the futures
markets wherein I found out about hedging. I am perplexed why more
farmers don't utilize the futures markets to hedge and, therefore,
protect themselves more. I am very naive and ignorant in this field but
I have included some numbers from the Census of Agriculture data that I
would like to understand. The latest year of available data is 2002.

Number of wheat farms: 169,528 Total number of acres: 45,519,976 Total number of bushels: 1,577,005,140

If one CBOT wheat contract is 5,000 bushels then the total number of
possible short contracts given the number of bushels yielded is
315,401.The average weekly COT data, on the short commercial side, for
the whole of 2002 was 59,996 short contracts. If these were held by
farmers, which I think we can assume so, then the number of bushels
being hedged is roughly 300,000,000, or 19%.If this 19% number is even
remotely close, why aren't more farmers using the futures markets?

Alex Ceresian attempts a reply:

Keep in mind that hedging with futures only protects the farmer from a small portion of the risks the farmer faces.

Futures protect against "price risk", the risk from fluctuations in the market price of wheat.

The farmer also faces "quantity risk", that is uncertainty about the
amount of wheat he will be able to produce. You plant X bushels of corn
but because of umpteen different reasons (mistakes on your part, bad
weather in your local area, pests) you only manage to produce Y<X
bushels. Futures don't help with this risk (and you cannot insure either).

Even worse, the two risks interact and complicate things. If you don't
know how many bushels you are going to produce, how many contracts
should you sell (for price hedging purposes) on the CBOT?

Oct

3

FailureIn The Logic of Failure Dietrich Doerner offers a process-oriented approach to complex problem solving. There are no simple solutions; we must be aware of what can go wrong with human thinking.  Avoid possible pitfalls like the king who offered the reward of doubling the grains on the chess board, or the engineers who designed the Chernobyl-type RBMK reactors, in order that we might be spared bankruptcy or a meltdown.

Steve Ellison adds:

One of my favorite examples from this book is a study done in Sweden of how a fire chief might optimally deploy 12 brigades to fight forest fires. The best approach depends on circumstances, such as the number of fires, the wind, the amount of water available, the present location of brigades, etc.

Quoting Dörner:

A fire chief thus encounters situations in which one strategy is called for and others in which just the opposite is called for. … Experiment participants who try to use general, deconditionalized measures in a system like this will fail in the long run. A rule such as "Brigades should at all times be widely distributed over the district" is too general to be useful, and measures based on it will be wrong much of the time. The rules for action that apply here have to be more of the type "If A and B and C and D are the case, then X. But if A and B and C and E are the case, then Y. And if A and F and C and D and E, then Z." (p. 97)

It is a very good illustration of why fixed systems do not work.

Oct

3

StallsSen. Pete Domenici Expected to Retire

Veteran Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) is expected to announce tomorrow that he will retire from the Senate in 2008, according to several informed sources, a decision that further complicates an already difficult playing field for Republicans next November.

The number of GOP retirements, and thus all-important open seats, is skyrocketing.

GOP Congressmen have learned that life is not much fun when you get only about 33% of the pork instead of the majoritarian 66%, so the stampede is really beginning to roll. I'm trying to mentally count the number of GOP open Senate seats: VA, NM, Widestance, Nebraska (probably a hold), CO… and Norm Coleman in MN is in for a rough ride.

Many other GOP senators are apparently going to try to defend vulnerable seats. Gordon Smith, who leaked to the press that Petraeus privately gave the surge a 25% chance of success (because Smith's newfound antiwar zeal matters more), seems to be committed to defending his seat.

The Dems seem set for 56-58 Senate seats, probably through 2014.

Oct

3

I'm walking in a charity event called Light the Night tomorrow night in the NYC location that goes across the Brooklyn Bridge. The cause is leukemia, lymphoma, and other blood cancers which is very close to my heart. I lost my father to Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia when I was a freshman in college, and 18 some years later it seems to be a wound that will never fully heal.

Oct

3

I tried Yahoo's new search engine in my professional field (infrastructure) and it generated good, useful sites and data. I am going to start using it to complement Google. If many others arrive at a similar conclusions, could be a problem for GOOG.

Oct

3

John HolmesNelson Freeburg, editor of Formula Research, did some studies on asset allocation and sector models with S&P and Russell moving average crossovers that looked promising. He does some limited testing of the ideas, but unfortunately makes the error of curve-fitting to make the maximum return going forward. We know that doesn't work. He fails to test the results statistically. For these reasons I do not recommend the newsletter. He does consider maximum drawdowns and time to recovery. Too bad I didn't save my issues, as there are some thoughtful ideas to test, submitted by various money managers, including some of the more illustrious Daily Spec contributors.

Kim Zussman investigates:

The quarter ending 9/30/07 SP500 return was about +1.5% and RUT (Russel 2000 small cap) was about -3%. Usually they dance together, but this time Mrs. Small and Mr. Big pirouetted across the floor, away from each other.

Looking at index quarterly returns 3/88-9/07, what happens in the next quarter if SP500 up and RUT down?

One-Sample T: sp_1, rut_1

Test of mu = 0 vs not = 0

Variable  N  Mean     StDev   SE Mean          95% CI          T      P
sp_1     8  0.04919  0.08826  0.03120  (-0.02459, 0.12297)  1.58  0.159
rut_1    8  0.03954  0.11686  0.04131  (-0.05815, 0.13724)  0.96  0.370

Both up insignificantly, SP500>RUT

What about the opposite, RUT up and SP500 down?  Next quarter ret:

One-Sample T: sp_2, rut_2

Test of mu = 0 vs not = 0

Variable  N       Mean     StDev   SE Mean      95% CI           T      P
sp_2     4  -0.04714  0.07524  0.03762  (-0.16687, 0.07258)  -1.25  0.299
rut_2    4  -0.03733  0.08112  0.04056  (-0.16641, 0.09175)  -0.92  0.425

Again insignificant, but this time both down, and again SP500 is the leader.

Kind of a bullish dance?

Oct

2

LeschetizkyA family member recently asked for my advice on piano lessons for her 3-year-old daughter. I devoted many years to piano studies and teaching, and have performed for most of my life. Specs might find my reply of interest, for children and perhaps even in other matters:

– Right from the start, realize that the most important thing is not what she can play but what sounds are in her mind. The ears are more important than the fingers. You don't "talk down" to her in conversation; don't do it with music, either, by limiting her aural intake to kiddie songs. Let her listen to great music performed by great artists. Have her listen to orchestral music, jazz, opera, choral music -– not just piano. No need to limit the genre of music — have her listen to jazz, classical, rock. But it should be really, really good. James P. Johnson for stride piano, Martha Argerich, Wilhelm Kempf, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Sviatoslav Richter, Arthur Schnabel, Frederick Gulda for classical. Take her to concerts and have her sit close up so she doesn't feel apart from the performers.

– Start by simply letting her experiment on the keyboard. Applaud her efforts. Play with her. Don't let anybody plunk her down on a piano seat and insist that she slog through one of those dreadful kid books. The music in those books is mostly really rotten. Furthermore, it is a very complicated affair to coordinate fingers, brain and ears enough to read a piece of music and perform it.

– The problem with most kiddie books is that they impose a five-finger regimen of "C, D, E, F, G" that is unproductive in building a good technique, as well as physically and mentally constricting. Let her apply the technique outlined in the Leschetizky method. He taught all the great 19th and early 20th-century pianists, and he knew what he was doing. One of his students wrote an excellent book on his technique.
 
– When she starts learning the system of musical notation, don't let anybody start her off with "C, D, E." No, no, no. Do A, B, C, D, E, F, G — like the alphabet. Then teach her the ledger lines: In treble clef, "Every Good Bird Does Fly" and FACE; in bass clef, "Good Birds Do Fly Always: and "All Cows Eat Grass." Let her discover the black notes. Somewhere in this, show her "middle C" – but if you start there, it could easily end there.

– Don't get just any teacher — attend a recital of students, see if they can play, evaluate their poise and the musicality they're able to project. If you can't sit through the playing without being bored or going crazy, why would your daughter benefit?
 
– It's crucial to help her learn an excellent piano technique early on so that she can reach a level of accomplishment that will allow her to enjoy music and get as good as her path allows. A poor technique will lead to an inability to express herself, even serious injury.

– Once she starts learning pieces, by all means make sure that her teacher is devoted to performance. She should have an opportunity to perform once a month in a big-deal recital where she can showcase her achievements to her peers and to you. When I was a girl, my teacher had monthly recitals that would include all his students, from the tiniest to the teen-agers. There would be a little musical dictation, a little talk about the pieces, and always be a big cake afterward. Somehow the excitement of competition, the joy of showing an accomplishment, the interest in observing other kids and the sweetness of the ultimate reward combined to make an atmosphere conducive to learning.

– Obtain the best instrument possible. If she is to develop an ear for sound and a fine technique, the piano must be properly responsive. If her technique is good and yet the instrument makes an ugly sound, she'll never be able to express ideas and to find the beauty of the piano.

– Don't let her become a little circus monkey. Make sure that she gets theory and musical coaching. Make time for her to learn about the lives of the composers and the history of music. Lessons should not be run-throughs of pieces while the teacher beatifically nods.

– A good piano teacher will include sight-singing and dictation as part of the training.

– Regular practice is key. It should be in a perfectly quiet environment, without distractions. Use a timer. A good teacher will send her home with a list of things to practice, to keep her moving onward. Don't sit with her — discipline is something that must come from her, not you. The discipline of piano playing will unfold into many beautiful qualities and gifts.

– Send her to music camp. A summer sojourn at a music camp is worth years of regular lessons. The chance to be with other musicians, play music together and learn more than usual is an expansive, life-enhancing experience.

– For heaven's sake do not let her think of piano as a career. It's just not possible these days to make a comfortable living as a pianist, if indeed it ever was. Pursuing a music career will ensure decades of financial weakness that could lead to an envious, malcontented existence. If by some misfortune she actually does make a career of it, she will spend two-thirds of her time on the road. Tell her that music is to be enjoyed, that the goal is to be able to play beautiful music both alone and together with other people, that the better she gets the more people will want to hear her. If, despite everything, she wants to become a great musician, then teach her to invest and trade so that she can support herself!
 
Recommended:
The Pleasures and Perils of Raising Young Musicians: A Guide for Parents, by Michelle Siteman (Vic's college girlfriend!) Her son, Benny, is now assistant conductor of the San Francisco orchestra. Michelle is a terrific writer and a smart mom.
 
Leschetizky's Fundamental Principles of Piano Technique by Marie Prentner. The teacher approved this book, written by one of his students.

Laurence Glazier adds:

CzernyI concur with Laurel's recommendation to follow Leschetitsky's teaching methods. He studied under Czerny, who was a pupil of Beethoven. There are still in most major cities pupils of pupils of Leschetitsky. That makes them, musically, great-great-grandchildren of Beethoven. They are worth seeking out.

Some of the Leschetitsky exercises I saw are straight out of ki-aikido, but invented long before. He reputedly had a sign on his door stating "There is no Method." Perhaps he was very responsive to each individual pupil's needs, giving rise over the years to differing accounts of the "Leschetitsky Method."

I spent a valuable hour with one elderly pupil of the great man. We looked at how to play a simple scale in great detail. "Listen to the sound," she said.

The pleasures of music can exceed the benefits of a secure income. Van Gogh was prolific though he sold only one painting. There are different kinds of capital.

With the advent of excellent music notation and playback software, there is an argument for piano lessons to be accompanied at an appropriate age by composition lessons. At this stage there are not many pianist-composers but the new technology suggests there will be many more in the future.

Alston Mabry writes:

I'm reminded me of a favorite anecdote, from Charlotte Joko Beck's book Everyday Zen:

Many years ago I was a piano major at Oberlin Conservatory. I was a very good student; not outstanding, but very good. And I very much wanted to study with one teacher who was undoubtedly the best. He'd take ordinary students and turn them into fabulous pianists. Finally I got my chance to study with the teacher.

When I went in for my lesson I found that he taught with two pianos. He didn't even say hello. He just sat down at his piano and played five notes, and then he said, "You do it." I was supposed to play it just the way he played it. I played it - and he said, "No." He played it again, and I played it again. Again he said, "No." Well, we had an hour of that. And each time he said, "No."

In the next three months I played about three measures, perhaps half a minute of music. Now I had thought I was pretty good: I'd played soloist with little symphony orchestras. Yet we did this for three months, and I cried most of those three months. He had all the marks of a real teacher, that tremendous drive and determination to make the student see. That's why he was so good. And at the end of three months, one day, he said, "Good." What had happened? Finally, I had learned to listen. And as he said, if you can hear it, you can play it.

Vitaliy N. Katsenelson remarks:

My 6-year old son is taking piano lessons. His heart is not in it. We try not to push him very hard and encourage his progress. I listen to a lot of classical music, some Oscar Peterson and Queen. My son loves listening to Queen, but my wife is concerned that he should not listen to rock music. My argument is that this is a closest crossover from rock to classical/opera music you can find. Well, she doesn't buy it.

Nigel Davies writes:

F & CI was born into a very musical family and my parents did everything they could to encourage me to play something. They had me on the violin, piano, cornet and clarinet and at school I learned the xylophone and the recorder. They had some early progress as I played the xylophone at one school concert and won a couple of prizes on the recorder at a local music festival. But I would later turn my back on music and turn to chess, which nobody approved of. One day I remember being forced to go out into the sunshine instead of sitting over my board. Of course there was only so much they could do with one small, stubborn boy.

Thinking back, it had something to do with the social dynamics of my family. My sister, a couple of years older than I, was a very good musician, certainly better than I was. On the other hand I was soon beating family members at chess, then family friends and then schoolmates. This had everything to do with early success, this was something in which I could win. I felt special, which provided the encouragement to do it more and be even more special.

Let's fast forward some 35 years. Now I'd really like my 5-year old son to play chess, and it's not because of any frustrated ambitions of my own. There are several compelling reasons: He has the right kind of mind/personality for it, I got a lot from the game myself (education, self-worth and many friends and associates) and it's one of the few things I can teach him with much authority. There's also the thought that if he gets to play chess we can go to tournaments together.

What's my method of encouragement? Well there are lots of chess sets around (both live and on computer screens), not to mention the garden-sized one which adorns my living room floor. And he plays around with it a bit and now knows what the pieces are called. I haven't tried to teach him any moves. The next step is to interest him in a DVD produced by Chessbase called Fritz and Chesster, which is a cartoon that familiarizes kids with chess concepts and moves. I don't have any plans beyond that, my intention being to play it by ear and see if it sparks any interest.

What I would never do is set him up for early competitive failure. Based on my own experience I believe success and self-worth are inextricably linked to the enjoyment of an activity. Music is easier — it's enough to listen to your child play (no matter what level) and pretend to enjoy it. With chess I might have to team with my son against the computer. I'll cross that bridge when we come to it. But I definitely want him to win a few games in his early attempts.

Oct

1

SprocketThe composition of an amateur cycling peloton is random. You find butchers, City Hall employees, doctors, dentists, real estate contractors and — why not? — financial advisors and traders. But the financial advisors and traders are greatly outnumbered by the others, because it is easier find new clients on a golf course or at the racket club than in a sweaty, panting bunch. In turn, it is one of the ultimate reasons I prefer bicycle racing to other sports. It allows you to get a fresh, new perspective on the motivations of folks, friends and, indeed. investors. Yesterday though, before the end-of-season race (the results will be delivered only under torture), I was eavesdropping on a competitor trying to capture valuable racing secrets (shame on me!). To my surprise though he was talking to a friend about trading tips, the tippee being a barber and father of fellow cyclist. The financial advisor suggested:

  1) Stay long commodities (Basic materials)
  2) The stock market will keep going up
  3) You can keep buying Fiat shares (mow trading  23, recent low  4.5 in 2004) because market talk has it at 30
  4) "For G-d's sake stay away from bonds"
  5) If you really need to go long interest rates, only monetary instruments will save you.

To these arguments the barber answered he totally agreed with him and he was about to unload when the green lights would start blinking on his broker's online screen. I had a bit of a shiver down my spine . Not for the race. The last time I listened to similar comments was during  winter holidays and few were talking about snow conditions or slopes, but almost everybody was into "buy media stocks and sell autos" chat. We were then at the end  of February 2001. Subsequent events proved that there were too many longs in the market and too high expectations of newly-born companies. I don't think we will  have a similar opportunity to 2001, but, still, one cannot be too carefull when investing clients' money, so I will add some bonds to my portfolios, just in case the rosy scenario described by the racing advisor proves to be a contarian indication of future economic activity.

Oct

1

MittBefore I discovered women, I had only one love — playing baseball. Back in the Pleistocene era in New York City, when I grew up, it was still possible to play almost every day, either at a pick-up game at the park or on one of the organized teams. Since our family moved seven times before I reached high school, I never had the luxury of staying with an organized team for more than a year or two; but it did teach me a great deal about coaching. The talent level on the teams was pretty much the same, but some were wonderful and some were terrible. The difference was the approach of the adult in charge. The coaches who had the patience to first let us play, to choose up sides and go at it just as we would have if there were no adults around, always had better records than the ones who had "organized" practices. The "lazy" coaches who simply stood and watched most of the time learned who their players were and what they could do well and what they did that needed improvement. Their coaching was limited to a few comments to individual players from time to time. The "organized" coaches, on the other hand, had a system for winning; and, by G-d, you would follow it or else. By the time Dad hit it rich and we moved to a big house in the expensive suburbs, almost all the practices were "organized" and there were very few coaches left around who were skilled and patient enough to be able to watch and then tutor individual players. Instead, there were endless lectures about the one right way to do things plus lots of yelling about "mistakes" (this, in a game where even Tom Glavine can sometimes only last 1/3 of an inning). It became as bad as school. What saved me was finding some "old guys" (who must have been, at most, in their mid-30s) at the nearby town who played weekday evenings in the park by the prison. None of them wanted to play catcher any more so I got to be the designated backstop for both sides. It was heaven.

Oct

1

Starry NightI have spent the day looking for knowledge I don't have, useful knowledge. I constantly run across material, facts, history, information that is more or less new knowledge, but it is not useful, not specific to my needs.

Discovery is a wonderful pursuit. Always on the lookout as a way of life can be satisfying, can be disappointing. Today it's disappointing.

No wonder folk turn to Sufism — something beyond what they know is known, what they figure is possible. Looking for the impossible, a fact that's stimulative.
 
Again, there's lots out there I don't know and I am the first to acknowledge this circumstance. But all that is not useful to me in specific ways, in assistive measures. Encountering all the non-assistive knowledge out there ends in ennui.

Maybe the lone miner, prospecting in isolated hills, looking for the single purest diamond in the known universe, this guy, he's feeling my feeling.

No wonder the sports stadiums are crowded, folks have been overcome with ennui, gave up hope, tired of the journey, the rattlesnakes across the trail, the endless sand, the scorching futility; desert of plenty in a sterile universe.

I'm bored with the stars; too many of them to be of use. Only need one bright star to stand on. Where is that telescope, the one that will locate my star? Where is the spaceship to take me there? I believe I'll find it, spent my life at this task, searching.

Oct

1

In my little town of Belpre, OH, lives a couple who now sport handicap tags on their mirrors 24/7. In Ohio you are supposed to remove them while driving. They both now have the tags, and I wonder why? The man broke his hip years ago and walks with a limp but I see him and his wife out doing yard work every week. Recently they both went to Africa and went on a safari! I feel doctors may be too quick to hand the tags out to anyone who asks for them. My mother is 86 and walks on a cane and has failing eyesight, but will use hers only if it's raining really hard as she moves quite slowly.

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