Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Final Thoughts on the 2008 Election

Loyal pets, rich conversation, and comfortable shoes. Earl Grey tea and a nice, but affordable Médoc. Peets Coffee? Don't mind if I do. Reunions at Christmas, sleeping late, warm memories that may or may not have actually happened. A grandbaby.

Health, curry, and organic produce. Fresh bread - olive oil or butter? Tortellini with pesto.

Community, acceptance, forgiveness, and mutual respect. Relationships that survive time, distance, and disagreement. Visiting family / friends in Paris ... free lodging ... I SAID FREE LODGING IN PARIS!

Well ... acrylic or oil on canvas, sculpture, charcoal on paper. Rapidograph! Lots of Rodrigo, Rachmaninov and the odd Mozart symphony. Tom Petty, Bob Dylan, The Weepies, Augustana, Sufjan Stevens ... Andy Williams? Yes please. But in any event, art.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Requiem for a Canon SD200

I don't think I owned a camera before 2004 - maybe there was a 110 back in the 70s. But when digital cameras started getting small, I went out and bought the smallest, cheapest shirt-pocket Canon I could find: the SD200. It's pretty much traveled with me since then wherever I took my briefcase. I'm not a real photographer so the simplicity of a frame and a button suits me. And it's been gratifying to test the creative limits of that simplicity and to capture little pieces of those various destinations.

But lately I've begun to notice that the little guy is beginning to show the wear and tear of travel. The switches are less reliable, I have to hold it a certain way in order to upload photos, it randomly shoots video without my prompting. I will be sad when it finally gives up the ghost. But as a celebration of its workmanlike performance under stressful conditions, I'll try and stay current in posting its final works here at the end of days. It would want it that way.

Friday morning at La Défense ...















Sunday morning in Montparnasse ...

Friday, October 24, 2008

Done and Done

When the presidential campaign started lo these many years ago (I believe it was back in aught-1) my two favorite candidates were McCain and Richardson. They both had compelling resumes and seemed like honest fellows with good ideas. We lost Bill early in the process so my vote defaulted to McCain.

But over time that connection became diluted to the point where I began to seriously consider the other candidates. And in the end I took my ball-point pen and marked it as such:



















I wish Senator Obama had more experience. But given the choice between him and Senator McCain, I think Obama is the better option at this point in history. Here are my reasons:
  • Global Relationships. I am convinced that Obama will be a more effective global leader than McCain. The next president needs to rebuild the U.S. reputation abroad, restore a spirit of cooperation among allies, and pursue rapprochement with in-betweeners like Russia. This is critical to economic and national security. As Nicholas Kristof recently said, "you can’t fire cruise missiles at the global financial crisis." For the next several years, the U.S. president will need to work in a complex network of global relationships. Obama seems more suited to that future than McCain.
  • Financial Crisis. Now that we have partially nationalized the financial services industry, we will need a president who believes in government leadership. It would be a mistake to appoint someone with a "government is the problem" perspective (would you appoint Ellen DeGeneres CEO of Focus on the Family?)
  • Healthcare. Obama's healthcare reform plan has some problems, but it is viable and implementable. McCain's plan isn't either of those things - in fact, I doubt that even he takes it seriously. It's too much of a radical paradigm shift to get through congress and it's the wrong tool for the job (applying a financial market solution to a social problem).
  • Advisors. Based on recent evidence, I expect Obama to assemble a better team of senior advisors. Although, I should note that this was also one of the primary reasons I voted for George W. Bush in 2000 so my track record is spotty at best. See: Rumsfeld, Donald H; Cheney, Richard B; Gonzales, Alberto R; Brown, Michael D; Ashcroft, John D; Wolfowitz, Paul D ... [I'm tired of typing]
  • VP. Governor Palin just isn't up to it. Granted, Senator Biden has a serious problem with his mouth but he can do the job.

If It's Thursday ...

... there must be a protest in Paris. Actually, it would be more accurate to say, "If the earth is still spinning, then there must be a protest somewhere in Paris." This one inched its way oh-so-slowly through our neighborhood on Boulevard Montparnasse yesterday.

For an American, this is very novel behavior to observe because labor unions are so weak in the U.S. Here in France, labor unions are very powerful. They frequently stage demonstrations like this one including thousands of workers. And they aren't open-ended strikes. They just seem to be isolated and helpful reminders so that employers know that there remains a balance of power.

Market fundamentalists mock this arrangement while pointing and laughing at France for its lack of labor market fungibility. But democracy fans should applaud it for the "checks and balances" effect against unilateral power.

video

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Patriotism

Often when I visit colleagues in other countries, there is a social event where local adult beverages are served and people forget about work and clients for a few hours. In some cases, these are painful experiences where one excuses oneself to head back to the hotel and catch up on email. But some of them are very enjoyable and the conversation flows freely. In these cases, I usually look for an opening to ask for the local view of the U.S. It's usually a very interesting exchange.

This week, I was in Spain (the local beverage was Cava) and it was one of the enjoyable type events. I asked my dinner companion about Spaniards' view of the U.S. He gave me several positives: the friendliness of New Yorkers [sic], the beauty of San Francisco, the inventiveness of Las Vegas, and several other items. And then, "but ...." I am now used to the "but" in these conversations. It usually leads to comments about the Iraq War or U.S. foreign policy in general or President Bush. But this time the "but" was followed by, "Americans are too patriotic."

Huh?

Now, I realize that I haven't lived in Goveror Palin's "Real America" for a long, long time. Maybe I've lived in places where it just seemed like Americans had developed a healthy self-criticism. But "too patriotic?"

Pressing back on my colleague, he clarified that in Europe they had experienced the extreme pain and suffering that can follow from being overly patriotic and nationalistic. And that experience teaches a certain humility and balance. Since the U.S. has not experienced those extremes, we sometimes lack humility and balance.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Fall in the City Part Deux

More random Fall photos from around Paris. These are from last weekend, when Kate and Trinh visited us in Paris, and this weekend.

Lora, Junior, Kate, and Trinh on the Vélib. They call her Argyle on Wheels ...







































































Ah, the newlywed smile ...



















Another day, another protest in Paris. This one was a HUGE march by various unions in the education sector. Evidently, they were protesting job cuts and other assorted government policies. The advance estimates were expecting around 80,000 protesters but having cycled through the thing, I estimate that turned out to be low: there were easily 100,000 protesters. Lolly and I wondered what would inspire that size protest in the U.S. -- we couldn't come up with anything.

Down by the river ...











































Marching past the Sorbonne ...

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Fall in the City

Conventional wisdom says that Spring is the best time to go to Paris. But I think I'm partial to Fall. It seemed like the season turned overnight some time in September and all of a sudden it became Fall. We went to another Fauvist exhibition today - this time a Georges Rouault show at La Pinacothèque. For having never even heard of Fauvism before moving here, it's quickly become a favorite style.























































Then some random Fall shots from around Paris in October ...

La Madeleine from Cafe Fauchon:





























Shots from the Tuillierie Garden


























































































Wednesday, October 1, 2008

On Markets

It's been a little surreal to observe the turmoil in financial services from my new home here in Europe. There has certainly been some impact here too - HBOS, Daxia, Fortis, Irish full guarantees come to mind. But the real action is back home in the U.S.

I am a fan of free markets. And so I generally start with a bias of skepticism when governments intervene. But the magnitude of recent developments calls back to mind that markets have some important limitations.
  1. Transparency. In order for a market to really be "efficient" in the technical sense of that word, they have to be transparent. In other words, all players in the market need to have access to the same information. That's the only way buyers and sellers can agree on true market prices. That works pretty well in some cases like, say, large cap stocks. But in the case of mortgage-related securities, the opacity level was way too high. Case in point: how many people reading this post could explain a credit default swap or a collateralized debt obligation? There were a subset of quants who could explain them, but that doesn't make for a truly efficient market.
  2. The Right Tool for the Right Job. Financial markets are quite good at solving financial problems. Again, a good example is large cap stocks - if the problem is: how much should a share of stock in GE cost? Then the market is an excellent tool for answering that question. But financial markets are not very good tools for solving social problems. For example, one of the presidential candidates would like to shift the U.S. healthcare system onto a free market platform. This would likely not work very well because, while healthcare has a financial facet, it is fundamentally a social problem. And financial markets are not effective at solving social problems.
I'm sure there are other limitations too. That's just today's random post.