Books for Christmas

December 15, 2016

Nobody asked me, but here’s five recommendations for the avid reader on your list:

 

  • Liar’s Poker – Michael Lewis
    • I figured I would start strong. If this isn’t my favorite book as an adult, it’s definitely on the short list.  It is humorous, entertaining, and enlightening. There is just so much to get out of it:
      • A story of a guy’s first job out of college
      • A story of 1980’s Wall Street
      • A story about a company losing it’s culture as it rapidly expands.
      • A story demonstrating how investment banks initially made mortgages an item of speculation.
      • The book that established Michael Lewis’ career as a writer. (I saw Michael Lewis speak once and he mentioned a former high-school classmate (maybe Sean Tuohy) saying that the classmate remembered him as the doofus in the back row and couldn’t for the life of him figure out how Lewis managed to become a respected writer).
  • Under the Wire – William Ash and Brendan Foley
    • The story of a Texan who went to Canada to join the Royal Air Force in 1940 is action packed and worthy of a movie. After getting shot down and eventually captured by the Gestapo, Ash became a serial escape artist and rubbed elbows with many of the legends of World War II prisoner of war camp escapes.
  • Fever Pitch – Nick Hornby
    • Given how many soccer related books I’ve read in the past couple of years, there was nil chance of one not getting onto this list. The acclaimed novelist wrote about his life-long obsession with Arsenal Football Club.  Perfectly readable if you’re not a soccer fan, it is equally so if you are. Among other things, it captures a long period of top-level English football just before its scene changed dramatically.

 

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2012 look-aheads

January 1, 2012

In no particular order are some things I’ll be observing and commenting upon in 2012:

  • Jimbo Fisher and Florida State football   Happy days were here again…until there were five minutes left in the Oklahoma game.  A loss in a game anticipated unlike any other in years was followed by a disappointing, yet understandable given the circumstances, loss to Clemson. That, in turn, was followed by an incomprehensible loss to Wake Forest.   The season-salvaging effort proceeded acceptably until the Seminoles lost at home to UVA, thereby setting off another whole round of angst of whether Fisher will ever be able to return FSU to greatness.  The angst boiled again during the first half of the Champs Sports Bowl, only to simmer down as the ‘Noles improbably rallied to defeat Notre Dame.  The win, combined with the UF and Miami having an even rougher time of it than FSU, will pacify fans. Until the next loss.

 

  • NASCAR and IndyCar  Danica Patrick becomes a full-time NASCAR driver as the sport continues to recover from the popping of a bubble.  Will Danica-mania further sour the core fans? In IndyCar, what should have been the  beginning of a rousing revitalization of the sport begins on a sombre note.  The season opens under the peculiar circumstance of the previous season’s final race being cancelled due to the in-race death of star driver Dan Wheldon.  The shadow will persist through the Indy 500 as the race will be run without its defending champion.

 

  • The 2012 elections in Florida Early into the term of Governor Rick Scott, Democrats were salivating at the prospect of running candidates against an extremely unpopular figure.  Scott’s favorability ratings have since improved somewhat, rising from ‘Adolf Hitler’ levels to ‘Mussolini’.  In the race for the U.S. Senate seat, Bill Nelson will be called to account for votes of the sort that didn’t exist in his 2006 re-election.  In a state where everyone seems to be from somewhere else, establishment of political dynasties would seem unlikely. However, Connie Mack IV may be in position to regain the seat held by his father until 2001.

 

  • The new era of the Jacksonville Jaguars Will Shahid Khan bring forth the sort of common-sense popular changes to the team that are common to owners who come from a self-made business background, thereby keeping NFL football in Jacksonville?  Or will he merely do enough to keep the team in existence and bide his time until he moves the team to Los Angeles or St. Louis?  While we may get some clues very quickly, the rumors of a team move have persisted for a decade without any indication of a final resolution.

 

  • The 2012 hurricane season and “the Wilma streak”. Hurricane Wilma remains the last hurricane to make landfall in Florida. The dearth of landfalls in the state continues to confound a resolution of the debate over whether Florida’s hurricane history should be considered as active with abnormal periods of quiet or vice versa.  Wilma also remains the last hurricane to make landfall in the United States at category 3 level.  There will, of course, be another major landfalling hurricane in the United States in the future, but we cannot guarantee when. At one point, it seemed certain that Irene would be the streak-buster, but it was not to be.
  • Writing Although poor planning caused me to renege on a couple of promises to do so, I will write about a few games for the 800 Games Project. **  Also, the above subjects will be commented upon in this space over the course of the year.    While the promise of renewed writing has oft been unfulfilled, that will note be the case in 2012.  The new-found desire *** to write will persist.

** Peculiar scheduling has also played a part in not taking the plunge. Both the Jacksonville University at FSU and Princeton at FSU games would have been natural debut pieces, had they been played on a Saturday( rather than Friday). The Princeton game would have been especially poetic, since it was at that school that I first took in a college basketball game.

*** Reading The Language Wars has played a major part in rekindling my desire to be a producer of the written word.

– The branch of NCAA Division I football that had overtime first is I-AA.

– Sailors get rated on their physical fitness via the Physical Readiness Test (PRT).

– The first round of the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball tournament begins on a Thursday.

 

That is all.

Yesterday morning, Brendan Loy posted on his Friend Feed a story that has floated around various on-line outlets that centers around Representative Paul Kanjorski’s account of the events of September 18, 2008.  I seemed to remember reading about the day in question after the fact, but didn’t think much of it.

Today,  Brendan linked to a Conde Nast Portfolio post questioning whether Kanjorski’s account is true. Brendan’s comment made me interested enough to look into this:

Not just a fair question, but a crucial one. I don’t understand why the mainstream media isn’t picking up on this and investigating it. It’s perhaps the most important news story of the week. If some congressman revealed that, five months ago, he was told that, unbeknownst to the public, we were 3 hours away from a nuclear bomb going off in a major American city, the MSM would cover that, right? This is essentially the economic equivalent of that. So where’s the coverage?

Kanjorski’s account was recorded on C-Span’s Washington Journal program on January 28. In response to a caller’s question turned rant on the TARP he said the following (22:45 into the video):

Look, I was there when the Secretary, and the uh Chariman of the Federal Reserve came those days to talk to members of Congress about what was going on. It was about September 15 (September 18, to be specific-Charles).

Here’s the facts and we don’t even talk about these things. On Thursday at about 11 o clock in the morning the Federal Reserve noticed a tremendous drawdown of uh money market accounts in the United States to the tune of 550 billion dollars was being drawn out in the matter of an hour or two. The Treasury opened up its window to help. They pumped 105 billion into the system and quickly realized they could not stem the tide. We were having an electronic run on the banks. They decided to close the operation. Close down the money accounts and announce a guarantee of $250,000 per account so there wouldn’t be panic out there and that’s what actually happened.
If they had not down that their estimation was that by 2 o clock that afternoon 5 and a half trillion dollars would have been drawn out of the money market system of the United States, would have collapesed the entire economy and within 24 hours the world economy would have collapsed.

I shall attempt to smoothly cover the question raised by the CNP blogger and his commenters as well as review press coverage of the evening in question.

There is no doubt there were significant problems in money market accounts during that week (See Money Markets Funds Battered for an overview).  On the 17th, Putnam Investments closed a $12.3 billion money market fund, citing “significant redemption pressure”.  A citation inside an SEC rule states:

Between September 11th and September 17th, the assets of
institutional money market funds fell by $173 billion. See
Investment Company Institute, Money Market Mutual Fund Assets (Sept.
18, 2008), http://www.ici.org/stats/mf/mm_09_18_
08.html#TopOfPage
.

Unfortunately, the original citation is unavailable.  What is available from them is for the month as a whole:

Money market funds had an outflow of $145.16 billion in September, compared with an inflow of $28.43 billion in August. Funds offered primarily to institutions had an outflow of $148.87 billion. Funds offered primarily to individuals had an inflow of $3.70 billion.

Of course, those numbers are net; there’s no telling how much came out on the 18th before coming back in. In its story on Putnam, Forbes reported that $89.2 billion came out of money market funds on the 17th alone.

But, there is this account in the New York Post (emphasis added):

According to traders, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, money market funds were inundated with $500 billion in sell orders prior to the opening. The total money-market capitalization was roughly $4 trillion that morning.

The panicked selling was directly linked to the seizing up of the credit markets – including a $52 billion constriction in commercial paper – and the rumors of additional money market funds “breaking the buck,” or dropping below $1 net asset value.

The Fed’s dramatic $105 billion liquidity injection on Thursday (pre-market) was just enough to keep key institutional accounts from following through on the sell orders and starting a stampede of cash that could have brought large tracts of the US economy to a halt.

CNN did report 105 billion being put in by the Federal Reserve:

The Federal Reserve this morning, in three separate operations, has injected $105 billion into the financial system, into the banking system. This is a record amount in one day, even greater than the $81 billion that the Fed injected following September 11 after the attacks. So this — this is really a big move by our central bank to try to keep the wheels of finance turning.

I couldn’t find anything to support interpretations of the statement “They decided to close the operation”.  My interepretation was “The Fed decided to stop putting out money, because it wasn’t going to be enough to help” (in contrast to the CNP’s blogger’s interpretation that he was claiming funds themselves were being closed or withdrawals from the Fed were suspended).  One could read the New York Post account as suggesting that the Fed opted to stop pumping out money and instead leak news of the TARP.

A commenter questioned the $250, 00 guarantee.  I believe the reference was to the Guaranty program introduced by the Fed the next day. Otherwise, he’s badly confused FDIC insurance, which didn’t go up until early October.

Now, what we’ve looked over is the Congressman’s account of what was said in that meeting.  My search into this started with the article I thought I remembered reading about that day.  It was contained in a New York Times article The Reckoning:

Two hours later, Mr. Paulson and Mr. Bernanke trooped up to Capitol Hill for a somber session with Congressional leaders. “That meeting was one of the most astounding experiences I’ve had in my 34 years in politics,” Senator Schumer recalled…

…As the members of Congress and their aides listened, the two laid out their plan. They would begin offering federal insurance to money market funds immediately, in order to stop the run on money funds…

From a more contemporaneous NYT account of the meeting

As Senator Christopher J. Dodd, Democrat of Connecticut and chairman of the Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, put it Friday morning on the ABC program “Good Morning America,” the congressional leaders were told “that we’re literally maybe days away from a complete meltdown of our financial system, with all the implications here at home and globally.”

Mr. Schumer added, “History was sort of hanging over it, like this was a moment.”

When Mr. Schumer described the meeting as “somber,” Mr. Dodd cut in. “Somber doesn’t begin to justify the words,” he said. “We have never heard language like this.”

“What you heard last evening,” he added, “is one of those rare moments, certainly rare in my experience here, is Democrats and Republicans deciding we need to work together quickly.”

Although Mr. Schumer, Mr. Dodd and other participants declined to repeat precisely what they were told by Mr. Bernanke and Mr. Paulson, they said the two men described the financial system as effectively bound in a knot that was being pulled tighter and tighter by the day.

Most amusing was the account of the post-meeting press conference offered on MSNBC’s Countdown (emphasis added):

The meeting is over in Washington and so to the news conference. Leaders of the House, the Senate, the Fed, the SEC, the Treasury Department meeting at the Capitol. This on proposals to have the government buy up the so-called illiquid assets, in other words, endangered mortgages, mortgages no company wants to be responsible for. The head of the Fed, Mr. Bernanke, said it was a productive meeting, but there was actually nothing coming out of the session. Speaker Pelosi said she and the other Democrats and the bipartisan leaders who were present at the event are hoping for a proposal from the White House in hours and not days. And that was about it. You didn’t miss anything.

The interesting thing I noted when reading the various accounts of the meeting is that no one said anything specific beyond the level of  being told “Financial doom impending, film at 11”  (see LA Times’ Suddenly those bailout buckets looked too small for another example).  The lack of commentary/speculation in media channels on what was said is curious, in retrospect.  It was fun to find someone, a professor of finance at Northwestern, asking “What do they know that we don’t know?”:

All along I’ve been wondering what was said to Congressional leaders. Exactly what were they told and why haven’t we been told? It’s hard to assess the plan if you don’t know what’s wrong. I think there’s a good reason for the secrecy…

… then it’s obvious why Bernanke and Paulson could not explain everything. We still have to be afraid of widespread runs on financial institutions. Bernanke and Paulson wouldn’t announce that the financial system is insolvent for fear of inciting just such a run. Despite deposit insurance, we still have to fear bank runs (the Flow of Funds Account published by the Fed shows $2.4 trillion in time deposits exceeding $100,000 as of June — this is almost 30% of deposits). There was a run on money market funds earlier this month, stemmed by Paulson’s pledge of $50 billion in insurance. However, there are $3.3 trillion in assets in money market funds, so $50 billion of insurance could be used up in a flash. Widespread runs would be a disaster.

Indeed, it appears the Professor was on to something.

So, why doesn’t the media look further into this? Are they taking to heart the Representative’s words ” we don’t even talk about these things”? It’s fairly disappointing that a publication of the Economist’s repute tosses this story out there with I’M NOT even sure this makes sense, but it sure is dramatic! and little further comment.   While the specific issue of the money markets may be too esoteric for most reporters, it certainly should be within the grasp of the Economist or someone at one of the business networks. (Elizabeth McDonald, for some reason, comes specifically to mind).

LATER: Felix Salmon’s (the CNP Blogger) follow-up tries to put the story down, suggesting that this is Kanjorski’s story alone, backed only by the anonymous quotes in the New York Post article. However, note this in the Joint Economic Committee report Financial Meltdown and Policy Response

On Thursday September 18, 2008, institutional money managers sought to redeem another $500 billion, but Secretary Paulson intervened directly with these managers to dissuade them from demanding redemptions. Nevertheless, investors still redeemed another $105 billion. If the federal government were not to act decisively to check this incipient panic, the results for the entire U.S. economy would be disastrous.

Kanjorski was/is not a member of that committee.  If his account is mistaken, he’s not the only Congressman out there with bad information.

  • An “expanded 20th anniversary edition” of Liar’s Poker by Michael Lewis.  The book was an instant classic when it came out in 1989.  It remains an entertaining story of 1980’s Wall Street.  The book has recently taken on additional significance as it tells the story of  collateralized mortgage obligations.  Also, some interesting stuff has happened to a couple of the figures in the book.  John Meriwether was the head of the infamous Long-Term Capital Management hedge fund and Lew Ranieri went on to found a bank that failed in 2008. Also, the book was the start of a great writing career for Lewis.  Unfortunately, we are unlikely to see this book as  Panic (a collection edited by Lewis) covers some/most of this ground.
  • A continuation of The Nightingale’s Song by Michael Timberg.  This book is a story of how Vietnam shaped five graduates of the Naval Academy.  The people in question being John Poindexter, John McCain, Bud McFarlane, Oliver North, and Jim Webb.  As the book was written in the mid-90’s, it comes to an end after Oliver North’s failed Senate run in 1994.  12 years later, Jim Webb would run for and win the very same seat.  John McCain has had an eventful few years as well.
  • A  story of the collective Navy Individual Augmentee experience.  Thousands of sailors  have been integrated into Army or joint units serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.  (In 2007 the Chief of Naval Operations noted that there were more sailors on the ground in the Middle East than at sea).  Stories like that of hurricane forecaster Stacy Stewart need to be told.  I could see this taking the form of a prefatory essay followed by anecdotes of sailors broken down by various parts of the experience (Reservists receiving their mobilization orders, going through Army training, experiencing combat, coming home, etc.)  It’s a unique part of Navy history that needs to be recorded for posterity.

Daniel Drezner notes something that I was reflecting upon after last night’s game: The Super Bowls of late have been quite competitive compared to those of my childhood.  I recalled how one columnist referred to 1988’s Super Bowl XXII as “yet another Super Bore”  (the 42-10 win for the Redskins was the fifth in a series of blowouts).  To check my memory on this point, I went back and reviewed all of the Super Bowls going back to the first one I remember (Super Bowl XVII, 1983) and divided them in two.  Indeed, the games have been closer lately.

In the last fourteen games, only two were decided by more than 15 points. Both were by 27 points, and one of those (Tampa Bay over Oakland) was an upset. In the thirteen games prior, there were only five games decided by less than 15 points and there were as many decided by more than 27 points.

Year Margin of Victory Year Margin of Victory
2009 4 1995 23
2008 3 1994 17
2007 12 1993 35
2006 11 1992 13
2005 3 1991 1
2004 3 1990 45
2003 27 1989 4
2002 3 1988 32
2001 27 1987 19
2000 7 1986 36
1999 15 1985 22
1998 7 1984 29
1997 14 1983 10
1996 10

As far as rating the game, I side with those like American Spectator’s Philip Klein against the likes of Florida Times-Union’s Gene Frenette in believing that the game was good, but not the greatest due to the excessive number of penalties.  There’s something about 1st and 20 (due to holding penalties by the same guy!) that kills one’s enthusiasm .

Status

June 10, 2006

As mentioned yesterday, my weekend will be occupied by doing my part in  the struggle against tryanny, injustice, and alcohol-free beer.

The hurricane hunter goes into the area at around 2 this afternoon. Rely on the National Hurricane Center for the latest and greatest.