“Again, the white knight was the government. It turned out that Goldman’s conversion to a garden-variety bank-holding company offered an amazing advantage: Goldman now had access to incredibly cheap money. Exploiting its new status, Goldman became the first financial institution to sell $5 billion in government-backed bonds through the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, which allowed Goldman to start doing deals when the markets were at a near standstill. ‘Goldman was desperate for it,’ says a prominent Goldman alumnus. ‘Everybody knows it. Those FDIC notes they got were lifesaving because they couldn’t issue any debt. If it had gone on another week or two, Goldman would have failed, they would have gone the way of Lehman, and you’d be talking about Lloyd the way you talk about [Lehman CEO] Dick Fuld.’”—Joe Hagan in Tenacious G (via quotingthecrisis)
Will those age 65-plus have enough money to live on? And what about all those widows? What will happen to all the government pension programs around the world? What’s a good growth business to get into: geriatric-care management? Or perhaps a business retrofitting homes to make houses more livable — after all 90% of use want to age in place?
The 204-page report [issued by the US Census Bureau] provides no clear answers to those questions, but it does offer some interesting conclusions, the nub of it being this: Unless something changes, we are all — and we do mean all seven continents — up the proverbial creek without a paddle or adult diapers.
Ship captains spend their careers trying to avoid a collision or grounding like this. But for Habib, nearly every month brings a welcome disaster. While people are shouting “Abandon ship!” Habib is scrambling aboard. … [H]e’s the senior salvage master — the guy who runs the show at sea — for Titan Salvage, a highly specialized outfit of men who race around the world saving ships.
A final line of evidence has to do with the speed of our reactions and our conscious awareness of them. Our stress responses react so quickly that we often do not become aware we are reacting until after we have already started the process. We literally start running away from an aversive stimulus before we are even aware we are moving.
“The bottom line is that those who believe Zappos was forced to sell can probably find enough ammunition in yesterday’s filing to justify their view. But as with any filing, the interpretation is often in the eye of the reader, which is why reading these things is much more of an art than a science.”—The long woo between Amazon and Zappos… [footnoted.org]
“Unfortunately for Google, there aren’t many models for it to emulate. After the government initiated its case against IBM, the company spent two decades scrupulously avoiding even the appearance of impropriety. By the time the suit was dropped in the early 1980s, company lawyers were weighing in on practically every meeting and scrutinizing every innovation, guarding against anything that could be seen as anticompetitive behavior. A decade later, innovation at Big Blue had all but ceased, and it had no choice but to shrink its mainframe business. (It has since reinvented itself as a services company.)”—Why Is Obama’s Top Antitrust Cop Gunning for Google? [Wired]
“What is necessary, after all, is only this: solitude, vast inner solitude. To walk inside of yourself and meet no one for hours — that is what you must be able to attain.”—Rilke (via yvonnegeorgina) (via sometimesagreatnotion)
“Tiger got to hunt, bird got to fly; Man got to sit and wonder, ‘Why, why, why?’ Tiger got to sleep, bird got to land; Man got to tell himself he understand.”—
Another koan of sorts from Cat’s Cradle and the Bokononist religion (which phrases many of its teachings as calypsos, as part of its absurdist bent), this piece of doggerel is simple and catchy, but it unpacks into a resonant, meaningful philosophy that reads as sympathetic to humanity, albeit from a removed, humoring, alien viewpoint. Man’s just another animal, it implies, with his own peculiar instincts, and his own way of shutting them down. This is horrifically cynical when considered closely: If people deciding they understand the world is just another instinct, then enlightenment is little more than a pit-stop between insoluble questions, a necessary but ultimately meaningless way of taking a sanity break. At the same time, there’s a kindness to Bokonon’s belief that this is all inevitable and just part of being a person. Life is frustrating and full of pitfalls and dead ends, but everybody’s gotta do it.
“Perhaps a lot of the disagreement over healthcare reform, and maybe other policy issues as well, stems from the fundamental question of what kind of institutions a person trusts. Some people are naturally skeptical of profit-seeking firms; others are naturally skeptical of government. … I tend to distrust power unchecked by competition. This makes me particularly suspect of federal policies that take a strong role in directing private decisions.”—Greg Mankiw: Trust
Just when I think there’s little value in following unfiltered economist posturing and blog squabbling, one of them comes up with something thought-provoking that reminds me they’re the kinds of thinkers I appreciate.
“Why do people have to be this lonely? What’s the point of it all? Millions of people in this world, all of them yearning, looking to others to satisfy them, yet isolating themselves. Why? Was the Earth put here just to nourish human loneliness?”—Sputnik Sweetheart by Haruki Murakami (via dutyfreesins) (via isthisblood) (via datatimesemotion)
High-frequency traders often confound other investors by issuing and then canceling orders almost simultaneously. Loopholes in market rules give high-speed investors an early glance at how others are trading. And their computers can essentially bully slower investors into giving up profits — and then disappear before anyone even knows they were there.
High-frequency traders also benefit from competition among the various exchanges, which pay small fees that are often collected by the biggest and most active traders — typically a quarter of a cent per share to whoever arrives first. Those small payments, spread over millions of shares, help high-speed investors profit simply by trading enormous numbers of shares, even if they buy or sell at a modest loss.
Via numberwang. I have a feeling this one’s going to generate some conversation. We need a digital *stalkinghorse* to rail at if we can’t pin it on something human.
While most of the slides aren’t all that different from the earnings release, a few definitely stood out. We particularly liked slide #10, which showed a sharp (and scary) increase in 30-day delinquencies for so-called prime borrowers. At the end of June, that number was running around 9%, compared with around 5% at the end of 2008 — yet another indication that the rosy economic headlines lately may be a tad bit overstated.
We also liked slide #19, which had Chase’s card services losses approaching 10%. That sounds pretty awful until you look at the very next line which notes that WaMu’s card losses “to approach 24% by the end of 2009.” Let’s think about that for just a moment: does this really mean that nearly 1 out of every 4 people who had a WaMu card aren’t able to pay it back?
I just finished reading “Like I Was Jesus: How to Bring a Nine-Year-Old to Christ” by Rachel Aviv in the August Harper’s. It’s a story about the Child Evangelism Fellowship, but (relatively rare for Harper’s) it isn’t just another “ack! Evangelistic Christians are totally scary!” piece. The most interesting thing about the story is her look at how children conceive of religion and the supernatural. A few exerpts:
When I first met Joshua Guido, the twenty-four-year-old director of the Child Evangelism Fellowship of Connecticut, I told him I had been an uncomfortably religious child, vaguely Jewish but mostly superstitious. I had worried that the Lord would punish me for bad behavior by killing my mother. I was constantly apologizing to Him: for stepping on my own shadow; closing the sock drawer too abruptly; turning the lights off before the moment when I felt a sign […] With the help of a few prayers I learned in Hebrew school, I turned the childhood taunt “Step on a crack, break your mother’s back” into a religious worldview. It would have been a relief if someone had given me a rigid and alphabetized set of beliefs like those the Fellowship offers. (Instead, my parents sent me to therapy.)
She follows some of the CEF missionaries as they save children in a housing project. She returns a week later to interview kids about how they feel about their new life in Christ.
“I thought we’d start helping people,” said Lamar, a handsome twelve-year-old who wore a jersey so large that most of his chest peeked out through the armholes. “If someone was having a baby, we’d just take them to the hospital and leave. We’d want to be good.” He walked behind me and leaned against the tree. “Nothing changed.” When I asked him if he would consider going back to club to try again, he became plaintive, “I took my heart out for God. One time should be enough.” Scott was more hopeful about his conversion. He said that it made him feel “smart.” “I don’t know why, but I’ll get a feeling,” he said. “God, like, reads your mind. He knows your brain. He crawls up inside you.”
The most devout child I met at all the summer Bible clubs was Edwin Pareles, a tall, articulate nine-year-old with wire-rim glasses who lived in a public-housing complex in Hartford. He attended a Pentecostal church with his father, and he had already heard many stories about Jesus. Still, he called his conversion with Oscar [one of the missionaries], atop a rusted playground slide, “the most important moment of my life.” After the missionaries had left, I asked Edwin to reflect on his conversion. “I was pretending like I was at the beach with Jesus,” he said, sitting on the untrimmed lawn outside his barrackslike brick apartment. “There were some huge waves coming to me, but Jesus said, ‘Don’t worry about the waves, I’m here.’ I felt great because Jesus was with me. I felt I was a grown-up already. I was feeling like I was Jesus.”
Later Edwin tells her the Devil put a question in his mind. He forgets it at first, then the next day says it came to him in a dream.
“The Devil told me the story of Jesus rising is kind of like Goosebumps,” he said, referring to R.L. Stine’s popular horror novellas, Edwin’s favorite books. […] When I asked him what made the Bible feel different, he quickly explained away his anxiety. “Well, there’s something about Jesus,” he said. “Everyone talks about Him, and then you believe in Him. And when you see Him on the cross, then you really believe in Him.” Now he was on more stable ground. The afternoon sun reflected off his glasses, and he looked calm and studious. “Jesus died for our sins. All R.L. Stine did was make a book for us. That’s the big difference.”
The whole article is really fascinating. Well worth picking up.
July 1969, when the Apollo crew was on the way to the first landing
of man on the Moon, The New York Times finally printed a correction:
A Correction. On Jan. 13, 1920,
“Topics of the Times,” and editorial-page feature of the The New
York Times, dismissed the notion that a rocket could function in
vacuum and commented on the ideas of Robert H. Goddard, the
rocket pioneer, as follows:
“That Professor Goddard, with his
‘chair’ in Clark College and the countenancing of the
Smithsonian Institution, does not know the relation of action to
reaction, and of the need to have something better than a vacuum
against which to react - to say that would be absurd. Of course
he only seems to lack the knowledge ladled out daily in high
Further investigation and
experimentation have confirmed the findings of Isaac Newton in
the 17th Century and it is now definitely established that a
rocket can function in a vacuum as well as in an atmosphere. The
Times regrets the error.
Via Crossing Wall Street, from AstronauticsNow.com.
This reads like a horoscope or Meyers-Briggs profile to me. Figure out the Gen X population on Wall Street 12 months ago and then listen to generation-wide attributes. There’s earnestness underlying the argument but it rings generic to lump all Gen X as some kind of salvation.
“You can tell people they are wrong by a look or an intonation or a gesture just as eloquently as you can in words—and if you tell them they are wrong, do you make them want to agree with you? Never! For you have struck a direct blow at their intelligence, judgment, pride, and self-respect. That will make them want to strike back. But it will never make them want to change their minds. You may then hurl at them all the logic of a Plato or an Immanuel Kant, but you will not alter their opinions, for you have hurt their feelings.”—Dale Carnegie, via @ario
There are going to be some people who say that some of this stuff isn’t government subsidy so much as ordinary government contracting. After all, do we criticize Boeing for making airplanes or Electric Boat for making submarines during a war? If we don’t do that, then why should we be pissed about Goldman making a profit underwriting TARP repayment stock issuances, or Treasuries?
The difference is that Boeing and Electric Boat didn’t start the war. But these guys on Wall Street causesd this crisis, and now they’re raking in money on the infrastructure their buddies in government have devised to bail them out. It’s a self-fulfilling cycle — beautiful, in a way, but at the same time sort of uniquely disgusting. That they’re going to get away with it is bad enough — that they’re getting praised for it, for being such smart guys, is damn near intolerable.