Thursday, January 29, 2009
Over 26 years, designer Michael Beirut has filled 85 notebooks with professional material. Two are lost, one was recovered from the roof of a taxi that had traveled 10 blocks.
I use them in order. Tibor Kalman once asked me why I didn't have a different notebook for every project. I have to admit, this would be more useful. But I don't. I fill each one up and then move to the next one, the projects all jumbled together. Starting with the third one, every one of them is numbered. Except for two at the very beginning that used gridded paper, they have blank, unlined pages. I hate gridded paper (but not as much as lined paper.) There have been times when it's been really difficult to get unlined composition books, which I gather are oddly unpopular. One time I found a supplier who would only sell them in bulk and I bought a whole boxful. I thought these would last the rest of my life, but I gave a lot away, which I regret. Now they're gone.
Wednesday, January 28, 2009
The big reason why they would put the San Francisco operation at such a high classification level is to hide the fact that they're breaking the law and to hide the fact that they're breaking the NSA's own policy. It should be [the sort of project] that any NSA analyst should be able to walk in and have access to. But to cloister it away where only a few people know about it means that it's something they don't want anyone to know about. ...
Say we're doing that same sort of deal overseas against a foreigner. ... More than likely anyone in NSA could potentially have access to that information. It wouldn't be compartmentalized. So if we set up that same scenario, even covertly in some frame room in Bucharest or something, anyone at NSA with a TS/SCI clearance could potentially look at intelligence reports from information garnered from that particular collection point. So all of a sudden that same thing is being used here in the states and it's being put into a special SAP program -- Special Access Program. ... They're extremely closely held programs that are super-duper clearance nonsense. It's what I specialized for the last eleven years or whatever.
Q: So you're saying that San Francisco and this other room [in Bridgeton] reek of "super-duper" secrecy?
Tice: Yes, it reeks of SAP. Potentially. For NSA to do what they did ... it means that they knew that it was illegal and the reason they put this super high clearance on it was because they were protecting their own hides to keep anyone within NSA from finding out that it was going on. ...
Let me tell you, the biggest sweat that happened at NSA happened when John Kerry almost got elected president [in 2004], because they were concerned they were all going to be thrown in jail. They were all wiping sweat off their forehead when he lost. That's the scuttlebutt.
Tuesday, January 27, 2009
Monday, January 26, 2009
I'm reading the Robert Skidelski biography, which does a very good job of situating JMK in the late Victorian/Edwardian era. It's interesting that economists are always creatures of their times. Cannadine's Mellon, for example, was more interesting as a view of late 19th/early 20th century economic and industrial/scientific history than it was as a biography of Andrew Mellon himself. Keynes appears to have been much more of a character than Mellon was, however, and was surrounded by similarly colorful characters.
When I was 11, my father, a businessman who, in his day, took a dubious risk or two, gave me a key lesson in finance and life which I knew was meaningful without understanding it. “You’re not bankrupt,” he said, “until people know you’re bankrupt.”
Saturday, January 24, 2009
Friday, January 23, 2009
Way back in the 90's when we were messing around with glial injections for SCI, it was pretty clear that 1) it would take more than dumping fresh cells into an injury to get good results, and 2) you could get animal models to show some recovery far more easily than you could with humans; the dominance and sophistication of the corticospinal pathways, coupled with human CNS chemistry makes for a difficult path to recovery.
Thursday, January 22, 2009
Florian Kaps of the Lomographic Society and Andre Bosman of Polaroid, together with a team of process engineers, have acquired Polaroid's Netherlands plant and equipment with the aim of creating a new line of integral films. They call their company The Impossible Project:
'We've talked several times with Polaroid to ask them if there was any chance to keep instant film alive,' he tells [the British Journal of Photography]. 'They told us that there was no way to do it. They had run studies showing that it was very difficult to produce some of the components needed, and that nobody could do it now.' And then, by chance, at the Dutch factory's closing ceremony, Kaps was approached by a few former Polaroid employees. 'They told me that there were new ways to produce the components needed, and that there was a chance to rent the factory.
'Having secured the financing for one year of operations, Kaps went to Polaroid to purchase the machines that had been used to produce instant films. 'We looked at purchasing the machines, but we had to sign a contract with Polaroid that acknowledged the fact that we wouldn't be able to reproduce existing Polaroid films. We signed a contract that said we would be developing a new kind of instant film.'
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
My fellow citizens:
I stand here today humbled by the task before us, grateful for the trust you have bestowed, mindful of the sacrifices borne by our ancestors. I thank President Bush for his service to our nation, as well as the generosity and cooperation he has shown throughout this transition.
Forty-four Americans have now taken the presidential oath. The words have been spoken during rising tides of prosperity and the still waters of peace. Yet, every so often the oath is taken amidst gathering clouds and raging storms. At these moments, America has carried on not simply because of the skill or vision of those in high office, but because We the People have remained faithful to the ideals of our forbearers, and true to our founding documents.
So it has been. So it must be with this generation of Americans.
That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood. Our nation is at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred. Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age. Homes have been lost; jobs shed; businesses shuttered. Our health care is too costly; our schools fail too many; and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet.
These are the indicators of crisis, subject to data and statistics. Less measurable but no less profound is a sapping of confidence across our land - a nagging fear that America's decline is inevitable, and that the next generation must lower its sights.
Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America - they will be met.
On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.
On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics.
We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.
In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of short-cuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the faint-hearted - for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame. Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things - some celebrated but more often men and women obscure in their labor, who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom.
For us, they packed up their few worldly possessions and traveled across oceans in search of a new life.
For us, they toiled in sweatshops and settled the West; endured the lash of the whip and plowed the hard earth.
For us, they fought and died, in places like Concord and Gettysburg; Normandy and Khe Sahn.
Time and again these men and women struggled and sacrificed and worked till their hands were raw so that we might live a better life. They saw America as bigger than the sum of our individual ambitions; greater than all the differences of birth or wealth or faction.
This is the journey we continue today. We remain the most prosperous, powerful nation on Earth. Our workers are no less productive than when this crisis began. Our minds are no less inventive, our goods and services no less needed than they were last week or last month or last year. Our capacity remains undiminished. But our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions - that time has surely passed. Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.
For everywhere we look, there is work to be done. The state of the economy calls for action, bold and swift, and we will act - not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth. We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together. We will restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology's wonders to raise health care's quality and lower its cost. We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age. All this we can do. And all this we will do.
Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions - who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans. Their memories are short. For they have forgotten what this country has already done; what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose, and necessity to courage.
What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them - that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply. The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works - whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end. And those of us who manage the public's dollars will be held to account - to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day - because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.
Nor is the question before us whether the market is a force for good or ill. Its power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched, but this crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control - and that a nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous. The success of our economy has always depended not just on the size of our Gross Domestic Product, but on the reach of our prosperity; on our ability to extend opportunity to every willing heart - not out of charity, but because it is the surest route to our common good.
As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our Founding Fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience's sake. And so to all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman, and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and that we are ready to lead once more.
Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions. They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.
We are the keepers of this legacy. Guided by these principles once more, we can meet those new threats that demand even greater effort - even greater cooperation and understanding between nations. We will begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people, and forge a hard-earned peace in Afghanistan. With old friends and former foes, we will work tirelessly to lessen the nuclear threat, and roll back the specter of a warming planet. We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense, and for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.
For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus - and non-believers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.
To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society's ills on the West - know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.
To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds. And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to suffering outside our borders; nor can we consume the world's resources without regard to effect. For the world has changed, and we must change with it.
As we consider the road that unfolds before us, we remember with humble gratitude those brave Americans who, at this very hour, patrol far-off deserts and distant mountains. They have something to tell us today, just as the fallen heroes who lie in Arlington whisper through the ages. We honor them not only because they are guardians of our liberty, but because they embody the spirit of service; a willingness to find meaning in something greater than themselves. And yet, at this moment - a moment that will define a generation - it is precisely this spirit that must inhabit us all.
For as much as government can do and must do, it is ultimately the faith and determination of the American people upon which this nation relies. It is the kindness to take in a stranger when the levees break, the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job which sees us through our darkest hours. It is the firefighter's courage to storm a stairway filled with smoke, but also a parent's willingness to nurture a child, that finally decides our fate.
Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends - hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism - these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history. What is demanded then is a return to these truths. What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility - a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task.
This is the price and the promise of citizenship.
This is the source of our confidence - the knowledge that God calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny.
This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed - why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent mall, and why a man whose father less than sixty years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.
So let us mark this day with remembrance, of who we are and how far we have traveled. In the year of America's birth, in the coldest of months, a small band of patriots huddled by dying campfires on the shores of an icy river. The capital was abandoned. The enemy was advancing. The snow was stained with blood. At a moment when the outcome of our revolution was most in doubt, the father of our nation ordered these words be read to the people:
"Let it be told to the future world...that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive...that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet [it]."
America. In the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words. With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come. Let it be said by our children's children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God's grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.
Monday, January 19, 2009
Chicago only gets 1st runner up, but we were beaten by Paris, so I feel like we lost honestly. Beijing, Mumbai and Tel Aviv also get nods, so we're in good company.
Sunday, January 18, 2009
That link seems to be down. Here's the Italian television version.
How good it feels. Hooray for Pete Seeger. And hooray for Gene Robinson
A Prayer for the Nation and Our Next President, Barack Obama
By The Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson, Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire
Lincoln Memorial, Washington, DC
January 18, 2009
Welcome to Washington! The fun is about to begin, but first, please join me in pausing for a moment, to ask God’s blessing upon our nation and our next president.
O God of our many understandings, we pray that you will…
Bless us with tears – for a world in which over a billion people exist on less than a dollar a day, where young women from many lands are beaten and raped for wanting an education, and thousands die daily from malnutrition, malaria, and AIDS.
Bless us with anger – at discrimination, at home and abroad, against refugees and immigrants, women, people of color, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.
Bless us with discomfort – at the easy, simplistic “answers” we’ve preferred to hear from our politicians, instead of the truth, about ourselves and the world, which we need to face if we are going to rise to the challenges of the future.
Bless us with patience – and the knowledge that none of what ails us will be “fixed” anytime soon, and the understanding that our new president is a human being, not a messiah.
Bless us with humility – open to understanding that our own needs must always be balanced with those of the world.
Bless us with freedom from mere tolerance – replacing it with a genuine respect and warm embrace of our differences, and an understanding that in our diversity, we are stronger.
Bless us with compassion and generosity – remembering that every religion’s God judges us by the way we care for the most vulnerable in the human community, whether across town or across the world.
And God, we give you thanks for your child Barack, as he assumes the office of President of the United States.
Give him wisdom beyond his years, and inspire him with Lincoln’s reconciling leadership style, President Kennedy’s ability to enlist our best efforts, and Dr. King’s dream of a nation for ALL the people.
Give him a quiet heart, for our Ship of State needs a steady, calm captain in these times.
Give him stirring words, for we will need to be inspired and motivated to make the personal and common sacrifices necessary to facing the challenges ahead.
Make him color-blind, reminding him of his own words that under his leadership, there will be neither red nor blue states, but the United States.
Help him remember his own oppression as a minority, drawing on that experience of discrimination, that he might seek to change the lives of those who are still its victims.
Give him the strength to find family time and privacy, and help him remember that even though he is president, a father only gets one shot at his daughters’ childhoods.
And please, God, keep him safe. We know we ask too much of our presidents, and we’re asking FAR too much of this one. We know the risk he and his wife are taking for all of us, and we implore you, O good and great God, to keep him safe. Hold him in the palm of your hand – that he might do the work we have called him to do, that he might find joy in this impossible calling, and that in the end, he might lead us as a nation to a place of integrity, prosperity and peace.
In 2007, Carlson hosted a dinner for a group of the best chefs in the world. Then, everything went pear shaped.
The reservation was made by Charlie Trotter, and Carlson would have been tense enough had it just been the city’s most famous chef stopping by. Instead, Trotter asked to book the entire twenty-six-seat dining room for the evening and bring along Ferran Adrià, Heston Blumenthal, Thomas Keller, and the like, a collection of the greatest chefs on earth. “This was the Justice League, the Super Friends—Batman, Superman, and those guys,” Carlson says. “How can you say no?”
And so they came, the legends, to Carlson’s storefront restaurant, located in a nowhere, no-account Chicago neighborhood, directly across the street from an ornate tire dealership festooned with fake palm trees, the coconuts neon bright. “It looks like a gay Colombian nightclub,” Carlson says.
Pierre Hermé, pastry chef without peer, got o a plane from Russia, took a car directly to the restaurant, tried to remain awake. Keller, with multiple obligations, showed up only for dessert, but he was there. Wylie Dufresne, New York chef and sympathetic friend, briefly calmed Carlson by unexpectedly walking through the door. “One heavy hitter after another. I was hearing angels singing in the background,” Carlson says. He and his assistants decided they needed a drink, a glass of Trotter’s champagne. After that, they got to work.
Characteristically, Carlson refused to allow Trotter to pay for the meal—dinner for twenty-two on the house. Then, with the pressure of the evening o but the strain of his life increasing, he went on a three-day binge. Alcohol, cocaine, Ecstasy. He makes it sound like all three were in equal proportion, but his girlfriend, Rachel Brown, says, “Michael doesn’t drink much.” He canceled all pending reservations for the restaurant, announced he was closing, and disappeared from public sight. “I did not know true mental stress until that day,” he says. He lacked the strength—and the money—to go on.
It was heartbreaking, perhaps not up there with chef Bernard Loiseau’s killing himself when he doubted his guidebook ratings would endure, or the seventeenth-century suicide of François Vatel when his fish failed to arrive, but it was career suicide if nothing else. Carlson was 33, with a new baby. He was drugged out, exhausted, overwhelmed, broke, beaten down. He was done.
And that’s where the story begins.
Saturday, January 17, 2009
Friday, January 16, 2009
Wednesday, January 14, 2009
I'm writing a course proposal for a clinical professor slot, and wonder what people would like to know about the course-to-be.
Tuesday, January 13, 2009
Monday, January 12, 2009
Why did it make sense to send a telegram via pneumatic tube? It was a set of factors related to urban conditions in the 19th century. Cities with high population, heavy commerce and finance and urban congestion made good candidates for pneumatic tube networks. Moreover, in Europe, the pneumatic tube mostly relieved a communication boom caused by inexpensive telegraphy and saturated telegraph networks. Devised as an auxiliary to the telegraph, a medium that could only transmit 40-50 messages of 20 words per hour in 1860, the pneumatic tube network addressed the issue of rapid, reliable communication within the city (though telegraphy still made sense for messages sent over longer distances).
The accompanying images give me shorpy envy.
(via Cory, via Bruce)
Sunday, January 11, 2009
Friday, January 09, 2009
Tuesday, January 06, 2009
I'd referenced the bottled city of Kandor in writings as a symbol for alienation; it has a kind of Sylvia Plath-Bell Jar overtone to me. But I liked that it had the sci-fi element as well. I did a project in 1999 for a show in Bonn-a turn-of-the-century-theme show with a technological slant. So I decided to work with an out-of-date image of the "future." Kandor is a prototypical "city of the future." My idea was to link it to the technological "web space" of the Internet-and the failure of that "utopian" system to actually bring people together physically-where people can only connect virtually in a very alienated and disconnected manner. Some years later, I decided to go back and focus on Kandor as a physical object; in the Bonn show there were no bottled cities, only images of it lifted from Superman comic books and presented as collages, and a computer animation of various versions of the city morphing into each other. When I researched it, I discovered that Kandor had never been drawn the same way twice in the Superman comics. It was such an unimportant part of the Superman mythos that a fixed city plan was never developed. That interested me, because I was working on the Educational Complex sculpture-a model combining every school I had ever attended. I was interested in architecture as it relates to memory-how unfixed our memories of space are. I had been trying to draw architectural spaces from memory. My memories of floor plans were all wrong-big patches of space were missing. So I related that inability to remember such spaces to repressed memory syndrome. In the Jablonka exhibition I decided to downplay such references to focus on the beauty of the bottled cities as objects. I produced 20 different bottled cities based on images from the comics; they're all supposed to be the same city, but each one is unique. I thought that was an interesting paradox-that all of these different models were supposed to represent the same place. I only had time to finish 10 cities for that show; the remaining group will be presented at Gagosian Gallery in New York next year.
Monday, January 05, 2009
Ten years ago, against the rather sensible advice of my mother, I bought an island in the Swedish archipelago. I wasn’t really in the market for an escape from my primary base in London but a weekend with Stockholm-based friends, Christina and Claus, turned me on to the delights of endless summer evenings, chilly dips in the water, no air conditioning and simple, built-for-purpose houses.
...an architect friend alerted me to a house he’d heard about. But “it’s pretty much everything you don’t want,” my agent told me when I asked about it. “It’s on an island. It’s in the north archipelago. It draws brackish water from the sea.” Some days later I visited. Walking past the bald rocks, moss, rustling birches and the odd conifer, the house came into view. And, at first glance, it was perfect.
Yes, it needed work – an indoor bathroom and modern plumbing to replace the outhouse, a new kitchen, a new deck and some painting. But it was a modernist gem with the closest neighbours 300 metres away (on their own islands) yet still only a 45-minute drive and a seven-minute boat ride from Stockholm’s Arlanda airport. On the trip back to the mainland I made an offer and, eight weeks later, by the start of July, the house was ready to accept its first guests.
That same year my theory was put to the test again when I decided to buy an apartment in what might be the world’s most famous ski resort, St Moritz. ...what really sealed the deal was the idea of taking part in a perfectly formed world in miniature – the tiny hospital with the gleaming helicopter that landed on the roof, the hotels grand and petite, the butcher, the baker and, well, not so much a candlestick-maker but a shop selling a full range from scented candle manufacturer Diptyque. It was all my childhood play-days rolled into one finely tuned, rather pricey version of a giant train set. It was life-size Marklin/Hornby/Lego world.
und so weiter, und so weiter.
In a surprisingly under-reported story from 2007, Mark Holley, a professor of underwater archaeology at Northwestern Michigan University, discovered a series of stones – some of them arranged in a circle and one of which seemed to show carvings of a mastodon – 40-feet beneath the surface waters of Lake Michigan. If verified, the carvings would be roughly 10,000 years old – coincident with the post-Ice Age presence of both humans and mastodons in the upper midwest.
Sunday, January 04, 2009
They don't stop there, but recommend six important fixes, ranging from new capital requirements and CDS regulation to moving from firefighting mode to strategic thinking when considering regulation.
Saturday, January 03, 2009
- Block reductions, instead of "salami slicing" (which they also refer to as the Colin Powell "share the pain" approach), maintaining "full capability with smaller capacity".
- Reductions targeted at expensive programs, leading to a more cost effective force with most of its capabilities preserved.
- Maintenance of unique capabilities (night carrier, shore assault, close force support)
I wish, though, that someone over there would read some Edware Tufte. The slide designs give me headaches. I also wonder what the big unspoken problem is--whose sacred cow didn't make it up onto the butcher's table?
They've also nailed the one big consideration: what exactly do we want our military to be able to do? We have no coherent strategy on this, despite huge outlays. This lack of a plan encourages bad uses of our resources (see also: Iraq), and we must get this fixed.
How then do we account for that story that made the rounds in the summer of 2007? It concerns Goldman Sachs, the one Wall Street firm that was not, at that time, taking a hit for billions of dollars of suddenly devalued mortgage-backed securities. Reporters wanted to understand how Goldman had somehow sidestepped the disaster that had befallen everyone else. What they discovered was that in December 2006, Goldman’s various indicators, including VaR and other risk models, began suggesting that something was wrong. Not hugely wrong, mind you, but wrong enough to warrant a closer look.
“We look at the P.& L. of our businesses every day,” said Goldman Sachs’ chief financial officer, David Viniar, when I went to see him recently to hear the story for myself. (P.& L. stands for profit and loss.) “We have lots of models here that are important, but none are more important than the P.& L., and we check every day to make sure our P.& L. is consistent with where our risk models say it should be. In December our mortgage business lost money for 10 days in a row. It wasn’t a lot of money, but by the 10th day we thought that we should sit down and talk about it.”
So Goldman called a meeting of about 15 people, including several risk managers and the senior people on the various trading desks. They examined a thick report that included every trading position the firm held. For the next three hours, they pored over everything. They examined their VaR numbers and their other risk models. They talked about how the mortgage-backed securities market “felt.” “Our guys said that it felt like it was going to get worse before it got better,” Viniar recalled. “So we made a decision: let’s get closer to home.”...
“The question is: how extreme is extreme?” Viniar said. “Things that we would have thought were so extreme have happened. We used to say, What will happen if every equity market in the world goes down by 30 percent at the same time? We used to think of that as an extreme event — except that now it has happened. Nothing ever happens until it happens for the first time.”
Which didn’t mean you couldn’t use risk models to sniff out risks. You just had to know that there were risks they didn’t sniff out — and be ever vigilant for the dragons. When Wall Street stopped looking for dragons, nothing was going to save it. Not even VaR.
Friday, January 02, 2009
People with loose money still think we're the Hill. That's why all the loose change is moving into Treasury bonds. I mean, if you buy China, you're basically buying US Treasury Bonds anyway... Japan is old and gray and has no rate of return... Rich Europeans can't take Europe seriously. They're afraid it will turn into an actual empire instead of their toy trading bloc, so they're always parking their cash somewhere far outside their own legal jurisdiction...
So what does that leave you, if you've got a spare 50 billion? Brazil? Russia? India, for heaven's sake? What kind of rich person preserves his wealth in INDIA? You'd have to be crazy. Should you buy oil? Oil's got blood all over it and it's skyrocketing up and down.
So that leaves the Americans -- the global wealthy are clinging to 'em like a drunk to a lamppost. When Russia collapsed, every Russian with a shred of wealth shipped it to Cyprus and Switzerland. The Americans don't have a place to offshore their money. They can offshore their LABOR, that's dead easy, but their money? If the American dollar goes, finance as an industry gets the blue screen of death.
Annual SotW Thread on the Well
Since natural selection favors traits that increase fitness, it seems that populations should eventually become genetically homogeneous. But evolution isn't so one-dimensional: When researchers adjusted the color frequencies of wild guppy populations in Trinidad, they found that unusual variants — regardless of color — had higher survival rates. This is called frequency-dependent survival: selection favoring the rare and disfavoring the common, preventing a long-term homogeneity that — no matter how beneficial in the short term — might someday prove disastrous.
Nature's collection is in honor of the upcoming 200th anniversary of Darwin's birth.
Thursday, January 01, 2009
I have been trying to describe this syndrome to people for years, and never once met anyone who recognized it from my description; I've assigned it to a couple of characters in my books, including the child Sam in the Aegypt series. In my experience it's more odd a feeling than this, and more ambivalent: I feel (or felt, as a child, almost never any more) as though my hands and feet are billions of miles distant from my head and heart, but at the same time I am enormously, infinitely large, and so those parts are in the same spatial relation to my self as ever, or even monstrously closer.
I wonder of Carroll (Dodgson, rather) had this syndrome.