Posted by: stillironic | October 17, 2010

Beware of Bankers: Zombies in Disguise

What is it with all the finance geeks, government hacks, and media sluts? Why is it only a few geniuses around here understand who—or what—the true villains of the ongoing financial crisis are. Yes, ongoing. The weather may look sunny and clear. But the middle class continues to shrink. The fabulously rich continue to grow even more fabulously rich. And the political dialogue has been corrupted by truthiness. Which means the crisis will only end in a not good way.

 

zombie heads

The big 6 bankers in response to being compared to 3rd-world oligarchs

 

So who are the villains? They’re the banks too big to fail. The monster banks: Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs, and Morgan Stanley.

One of the geniuses, Simon Johnson, a past IMF chief economist, recently co-wrote 13 Bankers: The Wall Street Takeover and the Next Financial Meltdown. According to Johnson, the big guys who run these behemoth banks have the same effect on our country as third-world oligarchs have on theirs. That pretty much makes these guys zombies.

Now all the hip people out there think they know what zombies are. Besides not attending to their wardrobes and looking like shit, zombies are not copasetic with chatting and sharing feelings. They tend to attack and annihilate first and ask questions later. Except for the ask questions later part. And they’re fully prepped for the impending zombie apocalypse, whereby humans who escape alive are forced to roam the then-decimated countryside, eluding covert zombie assaults, and foraging for scraps even a dog would reject.

Sounds a lot like when your house is in foreclosure.

 

zombie

Head of JP Morgan Chase savoring a quiet moment

 

As only zombie aficionados know, escapees also ditch their names, taking on the names of their hometowns. Which isn’t so bad if you live in a cool-sounding place like Wichita or Tallahassee. But totally sucks if you live in Nimrod, Possum Trot, or Deadhorse. (Tip: If you happen to live in a locale with a cringe-worthy name, take my advice. Set up camp elsewhere now. Unless you won’t mind spending the post-zombie apocalypse answering to the likes of Intercourse, Lickskillet, or worse.)

At any rate, zombies are not to be toyed with.

The big 6 major league zombie banks, along with the banks they swallowed after the 2007-08 crash, at one time controlled only 16% of our country’s gross domestic product. That was in the mid-1990s. Now, these same banks control around 63% of our GDP. Hello!!! That means the nonzombie banks, along with all nonfinancial businesses, control a mere 37%! Where are the financial experts and government-official types who should be educating the public about the significance of this fiasco. And its similarity to earlier events in U.S. history. Plus its ominous implications for the future.

 

zombies

Heads of BofA & Citigroup. Notice lack of attention to wardrobe.

 

In the 1980s the financial services industry was only consuming around 15% of all U.S. profits. Right before the crash, major and minor league zombie banks were gobbling up 40+% of all profits.

Even Larry Summers says 40% is too high. Even individual CEOs of nonfinancial companies find this percentage crazy scary. But the business community stands tight with the zombies. As does the Chamber of Commerce, which swears on a stack of bibles that it represents small-business people.

 

riot

What we have to look forward to in the post-zombie apocalypse

 

Where are the media who should be digging into what’s happening, raising questions, and searching for answers? Out reviewing zombie movies? This is bullshit! There are real zombies out there on the prey.

There’s no good economic reason for these zombies to be so voracious. They simply refuse to control their appetites. The fatter and more bloated they get, the richer they are. And the harder they attack us taxpayers and pillage our homes. Forcing those of us from small towns to live out our days going by Toad Suck, Spunky Puddle, Big Beaver, and Dicktown. That’s if we’re unlucky enough to survive the zombie apocalypse.

Posted by: stillironic | October 5, 2010

Foreclosure Exposure

photo of a dickhead

Has the best job in the world

It’s time to look in on some of our big mortgage lenders, JP Morgan Chase, GMAC, and Bank of America. They’ve temporarily stopped processing home foreclosures. What’s the matter with these guys? Don’t they realize they have the best job in the world? For a dickhead.

I mean here’s a case of bankers pretending to lend people money to buy a house. Then when they can’t make the payments, dickheads get to seize the house back and say, “No! It’s not yours, anymore. It’s mine!”

beluga caviar

Beluga caviar ≠ following the rules

Like a two-year-old, a dickhead’s favorite words are “no” and “mine,” each followed by its own exclamation point. (If this is the only lesson you learn about high finance, you’re way ahead of the game.)

The reason foreclosures have been halted? These institutions haven’t been following foreclosure procedure. To foreclose properly and legally involves making sure the mortgage is actually in default!!!

chocolate eclair

Chocolate éclair Ø you from following rules

Following rules isn’t a top priority, though, for a person busy dining on beluga caviar or a chocolate éclair, or both—preferably not simultaneously—between sets of tennis or rounds of golf.

And if croquet’s your game, there’s also the extra time it takes to keep the lawn up to snuff—the rolling and brushing and raking, etc.

Perhaps it would have helped some if the government—pronounced, in true Reaganesque fashion, “govment”—had been a tad more specific about what it expected these lenders to do. Other than, of course, make sure the loans weren’t in fact actually, totally, completely paid up, in full.

croquet lawn

Croquet lawn takes high maintenance from rich people

Instead, the government kinda, sorta hoped lenders would evaluate the defaulted mortgage loans, modify them if possible, and, as a last resort, foreclose. The government also kinda, sorta suggested that lenders who didn’t make good faith efforts to avoid foreclosure would worry about incurring possible penalties.

Problem is the government only kinda, sorta suggested how the lenders should act. Anti-foreclosure efforts were made, in true Reaganesque fashion, voluntary. With penalties practically nonexistent. So, evidently, Chase and GMAC started robo-signing an avalanche of foreclosures (10K a month) without even any knowledge of the facts. (Robo-signing has an upside if you consider all those well maintained croquet lawns.)

pen

Pen the robot will use to robo-sign documents

robot

Robot ready to begin the day robo-signing foreclosures

The government should’ve been more specific, yes? On the other hand, why would government officials think to give orders to their past and future selves? Now that the government is an employment revolving door for the world of high finance and vice versa.

Friends don’t force friends to do stuff. Friends suggest.

Anchovies in a tin

The super filthy rich

I don’t know how you feel about anchovies, but I find one torn up on a slice of pizza to be quite tasty. But I don’t want to eat a whole tin. That would probably make me throw up. Which is kind of how I feel about the super filthy rich. One exceedingly rich person in the group spices things up. But a whole tin of them mashed together and smothered in anchovy oil is bound to test anyone’s gag reflex.

It wouldn’t be so bad if everyone in the U.S. had a fighting chance to become super filthy rich or just rich. Or even just almost rich. But ever since the 1980s, for a combination of reasons, the middle class’s standard of living has stagnated like a fetid pond. Meanwhile growth of U.S. income has become increasingly concentrated in the hands of the anchovies.dollar sign

According to Slate Magazine, anchovies (the wealthiest one percent of our population) took in more than 80% of the total increase in U.S. income between 1980 and 2005.

So during decades when the government failed to raise the minimum wage one lousy cent, the president and Congress—home to 237 millionaires—allowed? directed? sat by and watched while? wealth flowed like anchovy oil into the bank accounts of … well, the anchovies.

anchovies

Richest 10% of our population

According to the University of California at Santa Cruz, anchovies:

  • “at the top one percent of households have 38.3% of all privately held stock, 60.6% of financial securities, and 62.4% of business equity”; and
  • “at the top 10% have 80% to 90% of stocks, bonds, trust funds, and business equity, and over 75% of nonhome real estate.”

dollar sign

Pretty disgusting. What would such small fish with such large mouths do with all those trust funds? Filet them?

One anchovy

Anchovy swimming toward his trust fund

As we know, however, money equals power. This begs the question: is the U.S. turning into an anchovy republic?

Some say it’s turning us into a plutocracy.

Now, my high school may have been third rate—half my teachers were alcoholics is only a slight exaggeration—but I did learn about our solar system. So, using my stealth powers of deduction, I figured out that plutocracy would be government by Plutonians.

surface of Pluto

View from cold, dark surface of Pluto

Thing is, astronomers have pretty much decided that Pluto’s too dark, cold, and full of nasty methane to support inhabitants. Probably a good thing, too. Pluto’s been downgraded to a dwarf planet. Be quite a bummer for anyone living there.

pluto dog cartoon

Pluto with bone; happy from licking black spots off the pavement

Plutocracy could refer to government by Pluto, Mickey’s faithful furry friend. Now dogs may be known for their skills ruling a pack. So we can’t rule out their ability to lead and to govern. But in all frankness, they’d rather lick black spots off the pavement than wheel and deal behind closed doors. Can you imagine dogs figuring out how to circumvent campaign finance laws? They have no idea what “circumvent” means, for starters.

Besides, Pluto is from a cartoon. Could a cartoon character possibly respond to a natural disaster with this level of astuteness: “Brownie, you’re doing a heckuva job!”

On the other hand, living in a cartoonocracy would probably be a better deal for the middle class than living in an anchovy republic.

Posted by: stillironic | September 17, 2010

Derivatives or the lint in your pants pocket, Part 3 (the last)

Dick Cheney, Bedlam, and Feng Shui

We’ve cleared up what lint is derivatives are. Now it’s time to understand why we the taxpayers need to wrestle control of the gazillion-dollar derivatives market from the big investment banking firms. Of particular concern are Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase, and Morgan Stanley, which in 2008, as we all know, managed to edge out Dick Cheney in the greatest-forces-of-evil category.

Dick Cheney

Was edged out as greatest force of evil

First we have to give a nod to Congress. It recently passed a financial reform bill meant to remove the derivatives market from its current state of bedlam. I happen to think the application of feng shui worth a try. But what do I know.

More important, however, is how in the name of Mary mother of Jesus was this Congress able to do anything coherent, let alone pass major financial legislation? Drugs? Exorcisms? Tantric yoga? Mud wrestling? Or did some Congressperson threaten to read the Iliad, out loud, and in the original Greek?

But hectoring Congress, though entertaining, is fruitless. The battle is what’s important. And it’s over whether the U.S. derivatives market should continue to be the exclusive $300-trillion private clubhouse of Goldman Sachs et al. Or should it be regulated and democratized and lose its restricted access. So it can change from a private club to, say, an upscale restaurant open to the public.

In a private dining club, only a few top members know the cost of the food and beverages. There’s no inventory. Or menu. The diners make up dishes to suit their needs. Foie gras foam on thyme biscuits. Peacock tongues on a bed of watercress. Uni with raw quail egg. Payment is made by slipping wads of cash to the maitre d’. Two people can order the same dish and be charged wildly different prices; checks are printed in invisible ink.

If too many people order the same dish but the kitchen is out of ingredients, chaos ensues. Top members all play golf at restricted golf clubs with top government officials and captains of industry. Who say the club can’t fail. And make us, the taxpayer, bail it out.

In the restaurant, on the other hand, the day’s offerings and their prices are listed for all to see. Anyone who can pay can order. The check is presented, paid, recorded, and made public. Competition among diners keeps a small cadre of them from having exclusive access to the food and drink. The menu reflects what’s in the kitchen. If inventory runs low, the menu is updated.

Just to qualify for membership in the club, diners have to hold a billion or two or more of net capital. The golf-playing restricted club members argue that this restriction brings the club stability. Ha!!! That’s hardly what we learned from the crash. We who try to stay grounded on planet Earth.

On the restricted club’s side is much of corporate America. And for some bizarre reason the Chamber of Commerce. Funny that it bills itself as representing businesses of all sizes, 96% of which have 100 or fewer employees.

The reason all this craziness can happen isn’t just that practically no one understands the issue. Practically no one knows there is an issue.

Even the value of the derivatives market baffles the Earth bound.

The global market value is $600 trillion, give or take whole bunches of billions. That number is called notional value. It doesn’t really represent the worth of all the derivatives out there. That’s because notional means “existing in the mind only.” The minds belonging to the golf-playing restricted club members and their well-heeled lackeys. Ha!!!

What the $600 trillion represents is the value of the underlying assets.

Think of 5 fish in a lake spawning 8,000 eggs each. Each fish is worth $100. So the value of the fishes’ derivatives, the eggs, is $100 x 5 fish x 8,000 eggs = $4 million. But the 40K eggs come from only 5 fish. Those same fish, or underlying assets, are counted over and over again. And added up to create the notional—imaginary—value.

The true market value of the derivatives out there is something like $15 trillion, not $600 trillion. Just like the true market value of the eggs is only 5 fish x $100 = $500. But Goldman Sachs et al. can make billions and pay fines of hundreds of millions without flinching. All because of derivatives based on assets used over and over.

Who’s fighting for the U.S. taxpayer against the restricted club members? The regulators who already failed us.

Is there a chance in hell for reform? In hell, yes. Here on earth? Maybe.

The End

Posted by: stillironic | September 11, 2010

Derivatives or the lint in your pants pockets, Part 2

Options, Swaps, and Sweet Nothings

Options

deli counter at Zabar's

Over-the-deli-counter?

These guys are tricky bastards. They’re contracts giving you the right to buy the asset hiding behind the green door. Except you’ve got three green doors: the exercise your option to buy door, your trading the option out door, and your let the option expire door. If you want to do what most people do, you trade the option out or let it expire. But you’re not most people. You buy the option at the specified price and then lose a great deal of money. But that’s okay because you’ve listened to your derivative’s broker, coke addled though he may be, and only used your “risk capital.” (Hint: If you’re married and haven’t limited your speculation to risk capital, you may as well sign the divorce papers now.)

All is not lost, however. The beauty of options ensures that you can easily impress future spouses—and casual sex partners—by discreetly dropping options-trading lingo into your sweet nothings. As in “I love nibbling on your chubby little earlobes, dollface, right before I close my position.” “And tell me, snookums, if I exercise my option will you exercise yours?” Trust me, whisper options lingo to your honey and he or she will be putty in your hands.

kitchen counter

Over-the-kitchen-counter?

Swaps

There are two kinds of swaps, plain vanilla interest rate swaps and currency swaps and they’re both traded over-the-counter. Over what counter is unclear. A deli counter, a kitchen counter, the Chanel counter at Saks Fifth Avenue? Perhaps you have to join the International Swaps and Derivatives Association to learn. My question is if swaps are derivatives why does this group use “swaps and derivatives” in its name? Peanuts are legumes. Would it make sense if the legume lobby called itself the International Peanut and Legume Association? I think not.

Currency swaps occur when, for instance, a company from the Aquarius Dwarf galaxy needs dollars and a U.S. company needs ЖИШ∞∩s, the Aquarius Dwarf currency. In a plain vanilla swap, however, two companies trade cash flows based on the same dollar, yen, or ЖИШ∞∩ amount except that, for instance, Alcoa’s interest rate is fixed and the Kryptonite Company of Aquarius Dwarf’s floats. Swaps supposedly help companies reduce uncertainty. These companies evidently can’t follow my favorite path to reducing uncertainty: staying home and avoiding contact with other people.

make-up counter

Over-the-Chanel-counter?

Last: The battle over derivatives being waged right now between us, the U.S. taxpayer, and the forces of evil.

Posted by: stillironic | September 8, 2010

Derivatives or the lint in your pants pockets, Part 1

Let’s be frank here. We all need to know about derivatives. Derivatives are where the money is.

First of all, contrary to popular belief, derivatives aren’t exactly like the lint you find in your pants pockets. That’s because you can’t trade lint or hedge against lint’s decline in price—known as going short. Or going long. One of those. Speculating about lint is also dangerous unless you don’t mind your friends and colleagues—even your mother—calling you a moron.

lint in pants  pocket

The lint derives from the pants pocket

No, derivatives are highly complicated and risky financial instruments that only people high on cocaine get involved in trading. That’s why I recommend using a broker. Let the broker deal with the addiction issues.

As I’ve said, derivatives are called “financial instruments.” That there’s something sexy about this term is beside the point. The point is that not all instruments are of the music-making kind. There are also medical instruments, like lumbar puncture needles and brain drills, most often used on “House,” except on patients who have Wilson’s Disease or are infected by ticks. On “Grey’s Anatomy” most patients die because the doctors are all so busy having sex with one another or hallucinating that they’re having sex with dead people.

Hallucination and feeling compelled to read bad literature are just two of the many side effects people have reported after trading derivatives, successful or no.

Now, the three most talked-about forms of derivative are futures contracts, options, and swaps. Which form scores the most points in conversations with the sex—opposite or same—you’re trying to attract at parties is futures contracts. They’re the easiest to explain, especially when you start tearing off each other’s clothes. So let’s start with the form most likely to get people down to their underwear.

Futures contracts

A key rule in speculating in futures trading or any other derivative is never use your lunch money. However, you can enter into a futures contract that projects how much lunch money you will need to buy, say, nut clusters on some future date. You need to be a hedger, a speculator, or an idiot, to bet on nut clusters. But remember, nut clusters aren’t what the futures contract is all about. They’re just the underlying asset. The contract is about how much the nut clusters will cost.

Hedgers are trying to minimize risk. They’ll lock in today’s cost of nut clusters for the nut clusters they plan to buy six months from now. Speculators are increasing risk in hopes of a big payoff. They might bet that nut clusters will decrease in cost because they foresee a glut in the nut market. Futures contracts eventually end in liquidation, though no actual liquid is involved (so I’m told).

Next: Options, swaps, and sweet nothings

Posted by: stillironic | August 30, 2010

Dead Presidents as Theater

stacked billsI was thinking about money as theater the other day—I plan to add playwright to my résumé. In my research into money I came upon many profound statements, such as:

“Money is money.”

“Money is already money.”

“We can’t eat money.”

And my own personal favorite, “Interest rates are kind of like mood rings.”

Great dialogue material! I could hear my Willy Loman character uttering “We can’t eat money” and bringing down the house.

Then I came across: “The process by which banks create money is so simple that the mind is repelled.” It was by John Kenneth “Ken” Galbraith, a renowned but dead economist. A perfect line for my Marge Simpson. It certainly reflects Marge’s wacky wisdom. But then she would never use a phrase like “by which”—playwrights are sticklers for authenticity.

So, theme: money is like people; it can be easy or tight. That brings up an issue more playwrights should consider exploring: our monetary policy and who determines the availability of money. We the people through our elected representatives? Our duly elected government?  No it’s something called “the Fed.” I’d found my villain!!!

Federal Reserve

The Villain

Villains are murky characters, whose motives remain hidden till the end. The Fed (aka the Federal Reserve and the Central Bank) fills the bill because nobody can really explain what it is. Ken’s description of it as “an escape from reality” is pithy but adds little in the way of character development. The most important thing about this villain is its status as quasi-governmental. At some point Willy will make the audience gasp in horror with this proclamation: the Fed is government supported but privately managed. (If you leave out mythological and Shakespearean villains, and Glenn Close, I’d be hard pressed to find a more insidious evildoer.)

Cast of characters:

Willy Loman, a drug dealer

Marge Simpson, herself

The Fed, a mute villain

A Greek Chorus

Act 1

Willy: Yo, y’all, Wasup? Us fools be feedin’ the Fed. While a pack o’ rich mothers, drivin’ Benzes an’ playin’ golf at private clubs control our motherf*ckin’ monetary policy. Nomsane?

Marge: I get confused by such…colorful language.

Willy: I got your back.

Marge: You have your monetary policy and your fiscal policy. Fiscal is those gosh-darn government taxes and expenditures, pardon my French. Monetary is what?

Willy: F*ckin’ Interest rates. Flow of cheese into the f*ckin’ economy.

Marge: So it’s those golf-playing rich persons in private jets that control our money supply?

Chorus: Yes, they control how much money’s available. But don’t forget about bankers, who are also rich persons in private jets, who control the banks.

Willy: The reason for all this crap is the motherf*ckin’ Fed’s supported by the motherf*ckin’ government but controlled by private motherf*ckers.

Act 2

Marge: Didn’t we learn in school that most of the money is produced by the U.S. Treasury?

Chorus: As God is our witness, we learned nothing in school. Who produces most of the money? Banks do.

Willy: Mos def. Some smartass, motherf*ckin’ dude once said, “The process by which banks create money is so simple that the mind is repelled.” Nomsane?

Chorus: The mind is repelled. Know what we’re saying?

money shirt

Willy: Let me break it down. Motherf*ckin’ banks lend money out an’ in turn are paid interest on their loans. There’s no f*ckin’ “lending” going on here. Banks aren’t actually movin’ no motherf*ckin’ money into ‘nother account. Nomsane?

Chorus: They’re promising to pay out money they don’t have.

Willy: They’re sending a motherf*ckin’ ‘lectronic notice to the debtor’s bank that says the debtor’s account now has $10 Gs or $500 Gs or whateva motherf*ckin’ G the loan is.

Chorus: “And who’s to stop bankers from texting these messages while playing 18 holes at restricted golf clubs or flying their private jets?

Willy: A wack situation.

Act 3

Marge: Then there’s us, the people, the ones restricted from the fancy golf clubs.

Chorus: We are restricted. Unlike banks, we can’t make money out of air.

Bank

Willy: True dat. We take out the motherf*ckin’ loans an’ then hafta pay these mothers real f*ckin’ interest on our debts. The mortgage or whatever motherf*ckin’ check we send ends up removin’ real motherf*ckin’ money from our shitass account. Nomsane?

Marge: So the more we’re in debt, the more money banks make.

Willy: Def. The transaction may be ‘lectronic, but it’s backed by real dollars. Yo, y’all out there, the motherf*ckin’ banks’ transactions aint.

Chorus: They are not. And by law they can lend 90% more money than they have on hand. It’s called fractional-reserve banking.

Willy: Don’t care wha the f*ck it’s called. My ass ‘as never seen the inside of a motherf*ckin’ private jet ‘cept on TV. When I put my Benjamins in a savin’s account, wha the f*ck do I get?

Chorus: Your money never sees the inside of a bank. It’s banded and stacked in gym bags. Inside a “safe house.”

Willy: Shut the f*ck up, you motherf*ckers.

Chorus: Our bad.

Marge: When I opened up the kids’ savings accounts, the bank manager fell all over himself congratulating us. And explaining about the bank’s “generous” policy of interest compounded daily.

Willy: Compound all the f*ck you want. But unless you keep yo’ dead presidents in the motherf*ckin’ bank for 17 million motherf*ckin’ years, you may as well have yo’ money sucked into a motherf*ckin’ black hole.

Chorus: Dead presidents get sucked into a black hole.

black hole

Black hole full of money

Denouement

Willy: Yo, Marge, something tells me there’s a story behind the day-glo do.

Marge: Willy, you need to “listen to your heart and not the voices in your head.”

Posted by: stillironic | August 14, 2010

Simon, Garfunkel, and Me (Part 2)

Simon, Garfunkel, and me didn’t end with Paul calling me a nitpicker and me running home to cry in my bedroom. As I said, I was Paul’s muse, and in that role I would suggest things for him to write songs about. Though how my mental breakdown while driving across the Brooklyn Bridge in rush hour turned into that slaphappy “59th Street Bridge Song” I’ll never understand.

My only real disappointment occurred when I couldn’t get Paul to write a song about a woman who falls in love with a cheese.

Remember, Women’s Liberation was just getting off the ground. If the male was a cheese, just think of how that would boost the female’s clout in the relationship!!! A woman would meet the love of her life at a party. “He” would be Italian and pungent. She would call the shots and he would never complain. Or criticize her choice of restaurants or movies or friends. He wouldn’t leave any hairs in the sink, either.

“How about picking up the tab at pricey restaurants or buying expensive jewelry?” That from Artie.

“What are you implying?” I asked.

He shrugged.

Paul, who was in the midst of writing “America,” hit me in the head with a wiffleball.

Still, I suggested having Kathy travel with a Gorgonzola. She could keep him wrapped up in her raincoat pocket, along with her cigarettes. And she wouldn’t run out of ciggies so fast because Gorgy wouldn’t smoke!!!

“Explain something,” Paul said in the testy way he had that irritated both Artie and me. “How does a cheese hitchhike from Saginaw? Or count cars on the New Jersey Turnpike?”

Then Artie, who usually sided with me, piped up with: “This cheese, how the fuck does it go looking for America?”

Looking for America—or anything else, I had to admit—would not be Gorgonzola’s strong suit. But, but, but, I said, what about that rock and that island and that stuff in the pantry with the cupcakes? What about poetic license?

~~~~

No, the break came a few months later. Paul was mulling over another of my ideas: A boxer called Al marries Rosie, the queen of Corona. They settle down on Bleeker Street. To support them, she sells the diamonds on the soles of her shoes. They all wind up on the cover of the Village Voice.

“Newsweek,” Paul said, already toying with lyrics.

“Then everything goes to hell when Rosie’s ex, Julio, shows up,” Artie added. A direct reference to an old boyfriend of mine. A Brit, in town on tour.

“Mick and I are just friends and you know it.”

“How about a radical priest?” Paul said. A catch phrase that always broke up the tension. Our bridge over troubled waters, so to speak. As usual, it made us laugh hysterically. And think we would last forever.

Posted by: stillironic | August 6, 2010

Simon, Garfunkel, and Me (Part 1)

Not being able to carry a tune didn’t stop me from fantasizing that Simon and Garfunkel were really Simon, Garfunkel, and me. I mean Art Garfunkel was adorable. I loved their music. We as a threesome would not have violated the laws of physics. Technically, it was possible.

How we met isn’t important. What was, was I was drop-dead gorgeous with a voice perfect for harmonizing.

Yes, they competed constantly for my affection. Obviously, jealousy over me was really why they broke up. You can read about our sizzling chemistry and madcap escapades in scores of books. Of historical value is my role as the muse that inspired Paul’s genius.

Long before the break-up—and Artie and I ran off to the ashram—we had our artistic differences. One of our biggest squabbles was over herbs. Paul had this thing about bitteroot. Artie wouldn’t let go of lavender. Reminded him of his nana.

So Paul was all “Parsley, lavender, rosemary, and bitteroot.”

I was all “Gag me with a spoon.” That particular day, I was getting antsy about having time to dash home and wash my mop for my date with Artie. Paul and I were in the middle of writing “Scarborough Fair.” (Can you believe he originally wanted to call the song “The Cambric Shirt”?!)

Paul sang on: “She hearkened five vegetables and fruit.”

“Good nutritional advice,” I said, “and no doubt prescient. But obtuse as lyrics.” (They appreciated my frankness and facile use of language.)

Paul was all “poetic license!” Never knew anyone so protective of his imagery!

Meanwhile, Artie had spent weeks trying to reshuffle the herb order. But we couldn’t figure out something to rhyme with lavender, rosemary, or parsley. We almost settled for “She once was a girl who dressed sparsely,” but came to our senses.

Finally, someone, me, if my memory serves, suggested replacing lavender with sage. It was more in sync with the beat. And I got Paul to agree to do rocks, paper, scissors to decide the fate of bitteroot. My paper covered his rock. I refused to go the best of three.

It’s not true that I take credit for coming up with “thyme.” It occurred to Paul when his girlfriend, Fat Portia—he couldn’t have me, so he had to date someone—handed him a shopping list of ingredients she needed from the store. Thyme, besides tasting great in chicken broth, presented a goldmine of rhyming opportunities: climb, time—a homonym!!— sublime, mime, etc. To tell you the truth, I thought the insipid song was crying out for a mime image.

So I was all “She once truly loved a mime. It’s perfect!” They both looked at me like I was a cartoon. That belonged in a cartoon graveyard.

“She once was a true love of mine,” Artie said.

“But, but, but,” I said, “mine” doesn’t really rhyme with thyme.

Paul was all “Poetic license,” and “don’t be such a goddam nitpicker.” (Jealousy is an ugly thing.)

Posted by: stillironic | July 26, 2010

Key Lime Pie or Our Economy at Work

Key lime pie

Key lime pie chart

We have what is called a “mixed” economy. What it is mixed with is unclear, but economists need something to do, so let them figure it out. The reason our country doesn’t have a purely capitalist economy is because then WE WOULD ALL HAVE TO WRITE LIKE THIS. Which would be sure to make us a very cranky populace. We the people prefer the mixing of upper with lower-case letters. Thus, the mixed economy.

A successful economy requires boatloads of natural resources, which we have, including oil and minerals, fertile soil, and bagels and cream cheese. Keynesian economists are wont to add lox. Friedman and the Chicago gang include movie stars and sports teams. I think limiting it to Lindsay Lohan and the Baltimore Orioles will suffice. Now you’re starting to get why our economy is in such trouble.

gdp growth chart

Besides natural resources a healthy economy needs a hard-working labor force. Unfortunately, bureaucrats came up with the idea of calling labor “human capital.” This doesn’t even follow the rule of good writing: never use two words when one will do. Plus “human capital” just sounds stupid. It also makes people think, “If I’m human capital, why the fuck is my paycheck smaller than shit.” Even the father of modern capitalism, Adam “Invisible Hand” Smith, would agree that an angry, resentful workforce fosters bad economic karma.

A strong economy produces key lime pie along with other baked goods. Anyone with an ounce of sanity wants a piece of the key lime pie. (Who doesn’t love pie?) However, 10% of the population gets 70% of the pies on account of owning the ovens. And they don’t believe in sharing. They have the registered guns to prove it. They’re even prepared to vote Republican!!!

Well, occasionally the pie hoarders pick up some leftover graham cracker crust and throw crumbs to the bottom 60% of us. Although we bake the pies, we’re only rewarded with 1% of them on a good day. How did so many hands end up with so few pies, you ask? The consensus among economists who study pie recipes, baking, and distribution seems to be: “Shit happens.” A succinct answer, but somewhat uninformative.

Further digging, into the annals of the Harvard Business Review, reveals: returns on investment are random and wealth creation is a matter of luck. In other words, “wealth happens.” (Those folks at Harvard, what a sense of humor!)

Pareto chart

According to the Italian dude, Vilfredo Pareto, people whose investments go well will tend to accumulate more wealth than people whose investments go poorly. (Big duh, there.) And if you’re part of a network where money’s flowing, you’re more likely to make money, too. The upshot is: to accumulate wealth you need to be in the right network. But he doesn’t tell us how the hell to do that. Nice one, Vilfredo. No Key lime pie for you.

Great Thoughts in Economics

John Maynard Keynes (1883-1946)—“I really wanted to be a dentist.”

Milton Friedman (1912-2006)—“We have a system that increasingly taxes pie yet subsidizes pie filling.”

Adam Smith (1723-1790)—“An angry, resentful workforce is bad juju.”

Vilfredo Pareto (1848-1923)—“Please give me some Key lime pie.”

Little-Known Facts in Economics

Although Keynes longed to study dentistry, “maynard” means “economy-sized car” in Klingon. Loathe not to pursue his destiny, Keynes tried but failed to make a go of it as a car salesman. He then turned to economics, following Spock’s advice, to wit: “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one.”

Friedman, a closet Spock detractor, originated the aphorism, ”greed is good,” later championed by a class of business execs and traders now known as convicted felons. Rather than expounding on the free market to his disciples at the University of Chicago, Friedman preferred to lounge in rooftop bars in the company of tarts.

Smith was known as “Smitty” to his 18th century homeys. Tired of relying on entrails to interpret the production and consumption of goods and services, he invented economics. He later put his invisible hand to better use as a baseball pitcher for the Edinburgh Bagpipes (Career stats: Win-Loss 74-53; ERA 2.21).

Pareto, who loved telling tall tales, was always bragging about his skill as a sports car racer. Until sports car racing begin, in 1923 the year he died, no one knew what the hell he was talking about.

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