Friday, June 27, 2008

Pleasant Surprise

For a few years I got speakers for a financial club in Morristown--

It was useful for writing newspaper columns--

I'm leaving the club now because I left the newspaper--

Anyway, club members chipped in and bought me some expensive gifts--

In addition a generous supply of money, two bottles of wine--

I Googled them--one sells for $49, the other for $59--

Normally I spend $20 or less for a wine rated 90 or above--

It'll be a revelation to drink truly expensive wines!

And let me say that CFPs are truly generous people! (Along with the CPAs and lawyers and bankers in the group)

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

A Defense of Republican Thought

My own view is that many/most Republicans identify with the rich and powerful--and have contempt for the poor and downtrodden. Their biggest concern is maintaining their wealth and power. I'm sure that George W. thinks he, being a Bush, deserves special treatment -- the way Mr. Cheney felt that he didn't have to bother with the draft. ("I had better things to do.")

Someone writes to me, defending Republicans,

"The best way I can think of to explain the Republican attitude toward taxation for welfare programs is a college classroom. A student who earns straight A's shouldn't be asked to give up points to students who are earning F's so that everyone in the school levels out to a C. Granted, the F students need help, but what you offer is remedial instruction."

But the analogy is very misleading.

The rich in our society may have inherited their wealth. Or they may have been lucky in business. They may have come from families that gave them strong self-esteem ,and had schooling that also boosted their self-esteem, along with giving them excellent educations. They were off to a running head start.

Is Paris Hilton an A student? Are the many blacks mired in poverty and unemployment in crime-ridden ghettos F students? Weren't they given very different hands to play? If Bigger Thomas had been the offspring of the Hiltons, might he have had a more enviable life?

I tell people that if our society were fair, and if I hadn't benefited from an Ivy League education (no scholarship), and if I didn't have to work until I graduated from college, today I'd be cleaning men's rooms in Camden, N.J.

Besides, we're not asking A students to give up their As. We're asking the very rich to pay higher taxes (something established at the beginning of our country) and to help the D students lead decent lives--and to recognize that they got As, in many cases, because there wasn't a level playing field. And to recognize that D students, like many/most welfare recipients, got a shitty deal in life.

In short, the grading system doesn't reflect real life.

Real life is Paris Hilton pissing away her money while many Americans go hungry.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Googling Dixie Rainwater

Someone is selling, for $65, a pornographic magazine from the 1950s featuring Dixie Rainwater.

Dixie Rainwater

Whenever we graduates of Memorial High School in WNY, NJ, get together, we tend to talk about

1. Miss Luckings, our classy Latin teacher
2. Joe Coviello, the coach who managed our terrific football team in the 1950s.

When graduates of Public School No 6 in West New York get together, we tend to talk about

Dixie Rainwater.

Stunningly beautiful Indian girl.
Blue eyes, black hair, gorgeous skin.
Always in trouble.
Very unhappy family life.
Left school early, was working as an entertainer in a nightclub, died young--perhaps from drugs. Perhaps in her late teens.

My brother Roger told me: She is really beautiful.
So, being a jerk (and age 8 or so), I told Dixie.
She wanted to meet Roger.
Roger was so embarrassed that I had told her!
But she smiled a million-dollar smile.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Republicans and Dirty Tricks

Republicans are people who, for the most part, are out only for themselves. They have no sympathy for the poor and down-trodden, for illegal immigrants, for laborers, for any of the world's unfortunates. They themselves may have inherited their fortunes or made them themselves, typically through sheer luck. But they typically (1) think they're the cat's meow, that they sit on God's right hand, and (2) are terrified that anyone might take away their wealth and their privileges.

The only thought they goes through their heads is: I'm blessed and fuck the rest of you.

So having no conscience, no feeling that they should be upright and have goodwill toward men. they are perfectly willing to lie about John Kerry's war experiences and Barack Obama's religious beliefs.

What they lack is a sense of decency.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Sophisticated Investor

Some possible stigmata of a sophisticated investor:

Not overly reluctant to selling losers. Is aware of "loss aversion."
Tends to keep winners. Knows that, to quote Mr. Lynch, people tend to "water their weeds and cut down their flowers."
Doesn't buy a stock unless he or she has a LOT of good reasons to buy it. The stock has passed a variety of tests.
Doesn't buy on tips.
Is typically a value/long-term investor. But willing to pick low-hanging fruit.
Has diligently read Graham and Buffett and Fisher.
Sometimes practices a modest form of market-timing. (Eg, he or she lightened up before the 2000 massacre.)
Knows that the stock market "will always do whatever makes the greatest number of people look foolish." (Anonymous.)
Knows that in the world of the stock market, "water does not always boil at 212 degrees F."
Knows that, to quote a Harvard economist, "reasons you read in the paper about why the stock market went up or down yesterday belong on the funny pages."
Knows that, to quote Wm. Bernstein, "Stockbrokers service their clients the way Bonnie and Clyde serviced banks."
At all times has a ballpark figure as to what his or her asset allocation is.
Knows that while that fellow Buffett can safely own an undiversified portfolio, the rest of us -- recognizing our limitations -- should worship at the altar of diversification.
Avoid load funds. And whole-life insurance. Is skeptical of advice from stockbrokers. And analysts on CNBC.
Is aware of the important distinction between gambling as opposed to investing.
Knows how much fun gambling can be. And how costly a diversion.
Keeps up with the Value Line Investment Survey. And Morningstar Mutual Funds.
Doesn't believe in the absurd efficient market hypothesis.
Has done very well indeed in the stock market.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Trouble With Suze Orman

The fundamental problem I have with Suze Orman, the world-renowned financial adviser, is that a lot of her advice stinks. And the good advice she often relays may persuade people to heed all of her advice, including the advice that stinks—with regrettable results.
Am I just envious? Because she’s rich and famous and I’m neither? I don’t think so. Other financial writers are similarly unhappy with Suze. And I myself happen to be an admirer of Jane Bryant Quinn, who is also rich and famous—but deservedly so.
In the July issue of Money, you can see what I mean about Orman. Sometimes she says things that need saying. For example: She loathes variable annuities, especially those redundantly stuck into retirement accounts. She mentions the extra fees, the tax problems, the prepayment penalties. Okay, sometimes variable annuities make sense, but I wholeheartedly agree that for many people they are undesirable.
Next: How do you find an adviser you can trust? Her answer: They tell you “right up front how they make their money.” The additional advice she gives is also good.
But…these days she’s come out against index funds. She was once a big fan, but “today I think you have to be more active, and I like exchange-traded funds that let you own particular sectors, like iShares MSCI Emerging Markets, United States Oil Fund or the Metals & Mining SPDR.”
Now, most of her readers are not sophisticated investors like you and me. They’re average people, desperate for good, impartial advice. Telling them to avoid a diversified index fund and move into emerging markets, energy, and commodities – at this time, and presumably big time – seems reckless. Perhaps along with a diversified index fund, they might consider dipping their toes into other, riskier investments.
She also sneers at target-retirement funds—which, to my mind, may be the best investment idea to come along since money-market funds. They seem to be just what Aunt Sally and Uncle Fred need: a well-diversified fund that automatically grows more conservative—especially if the fund is offered by top families like Vanguard or T. Rowe Price.
But such funds offend Orman. “Give me a break! You should invest in bonds only when interest rates are going down.”
Actually, even a beginning student of investing knows that bonds can (1) provide regular income, and (2) dampen the volatility of a stock portfolio. Sometimes they even can perform better than stocks over long periods of time—like the entire decade of the 1970s.
As for investing in bonds only when interest rates are going down, give me a break. Has Orman never heard the classic formulation that there are two types of people in the world—1. those who don’t know where interest rates are going, and 2. those who don’t know that they don’t know where interest rates are going?
Orman’s advice, writes a Money magazine editor, is “always clear and generally unimpeachable.”
Occasionally dangerously impeachable, I myself would say.


Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Damn Subaru!

My damn Subaru (Forester 2003) keeps racing!
Not all the time—but maybe 10% of the time.

When I’m driving, the car wants to go faster. I have to apply the brake—hard. When I’m at a stop, I have to put the car into neutral. BROOM! BROOM! the car goes. Other drivers look around.

It’s as if something is being burned up. When it’s burned up, the car behaves normally.

I’ve brought the car over to a local Subaru dealer four times. Each time, the car behaved. Even when I took it out for a spin with a mechanic. The mechanics can’t find anything wrong. They’ve cleaned the carburetor. They’ve looked and looked.

But driving the car has gotten to be worrisome.
Can anyone help?



A fantasy: I've been invited to resume writing financial columns for the Daily Record. (I quit after the new editor, Flachsenhaar, killed my column because he thought too many people identified me with the newspaper.)

I'd think about it--and say no. Or maybe write just one column a week instead of three.

Forced to occupy my time in other ways, I see friends more less financial stuff (books, newspapers) and read more general stuff, mostly about singing (eg, a book about Verdi)....I started a movie club, took over a music club, giving a course on singers, running a course imitating one-day university...

A more balanced life--and who knew I was so music-oriented? OK, in high school, I took the Kudor preference test & was informed that I should be a music critic!...

As a friend once told me, a door doesn't close without a window's opening--not always true, of course--but if you're in a locked room and a window proves can be a blessing.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Book Club

My book club is reading HEROES by Paul Johnson--I volunteered to report on J Caesar--but after reading part of the book (simple-minded, shallow), I decided to not read the rest. Mae West a hero? Marilyn Monroe? Ronald Reagan? And no Ben Franklin, no Mark Twain, no Warren Buffett? Then I remembered who the author was: writes a column for Forbes. He's anti-evolution, among other things. It would take a nincompoop like Steve Forbes to find another world-class nincompoop to write a column for his magazine


Sunday, June 08, 2008

Burning My Past

OK, I'm 73. I have cartons upon cartons of articles I've written. For the Bergen Record, for Reader's Digest, for TV Guide, for the Daily Record, for Medical Economics, for Next, for Family Circle, and so forth. Thousands of articles. Since I began my journalistic career in 1957, with the Bergen Evening Record. For the Daily Record of Parsippany alone, I wrote around 3 columns a week for 10 years, ending last year. 1,500 approximately. In just 10 years. Assuming that I wrote 500 a year since 1957, that's 25,000. I'll estimate 15,000.

I'm culling them now, I have maybe 12 plastic boxes full. I'm going through them all, setting aside a few memorable ones, and burning the remainder. My whole life--well, much of it--passes before my eyes. Articles about Hetty Green, the Witch of Wall Street, about self-referential sentences ("This sentence ends abruptly"), about dollar-cost-averaging, about why blondes have more fun, about the next nuclear war (between India and Pakistan), about unusual houses--but mostly about investing. I'm happy to see that I've been consistent: Don't buy individual stocks, I was writing years and years ago.

A lot of what I wrote was ephemeral. This and that hot fund. Best money managers of the year. But I'm pleasantly surprised to see how lively and spirited my articles were. Good for you.

As a youngster, I thought I'd be the next Voltaire. But, as a psychiatrist once told me, we never make it as big as we had hoped. Or dreamed. I'm a bit proud to represent the modest cough of a conscientious financial writer.

In fact, I'm now writing a short ebook. Everything you need to know about investing.

Regrets: I didn't work abroad. I wasn't more adventuresome. I never wrote books I wanted to write--about rumors about the deaths of famous people, about Typhoid Mary, my own autobiography (it might surprise people).

But at 73 I can say: I'd give my life a B+. Especially considering my handicaps.

"You Don't Mess With the Kohan"

Adam Sandler reminds me of Sarah Silverman: disgusting but funny.

You Don

Friday, June 06, 2008

Lucine Amara

She spoke last night in Englewood--she's with a local opera company. She sang at the Met for around 40 years. Now 83, smart and fun. (She's in the classic Bjorling-De los Angeles recording of Boheme--as Musetta.)

On Pavarotti: Full of himself. Once clapped her on the face with both hands during a performance--hurting her. (She demonstrated on ME. I told her that I had enjoyed it.)

On Feruccio Tagliavini: Singing with him in Boheme, he put a log on the "fire" during her aria--and combed his hair! She complained--and he didn't sing again at the Met for 8 years.

Richard Tucker: I, I, I. (I myself once heard him interviewed on TV. How was he received in Italy? I came, I saw, I conquered, he said. The audience expressed its disapproval.)

Mario Lanza: During the filming of The Great Caruso, he arrogantly boasted that he was a better singer than Caruso. (She sang a bit in the film.)

Greatest friend: Judith Raskin. When she began moving toward the wrong side of the stage, Raskin, with her eyes, signaled the right way.

Franco Corelli: A good friend. But very insecure. Once, in Tosca, while he was on the floor, he whispered to her in Italian, how was my singing?

She never sang at La Scala because Rudolf Bing wouldn't let her accept an invitation.. She was never invited again.
(But Bing had hired her.)

Her daughter may be writing her biography.