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Sunday, December 23, 2007


Musings for Post # 100!

Post # 100 - who'd a thunk it? Anyway, after two weeks, as you might imagine, there is more than enough political nonsense to comment on.

For instance - am I too paranoid, or is the "liberal media" giving too easy a pass to former Governor Huckabee and his ethically challenged tenure as governor of Arkansas, much in the Clinton tradition? On the other hand, Mayor Giuliani continues to be targeted for every ethical lapse, real or imagined. There is no doubt that the Dems and their supporters (about 90% of the media) want to make the run against Huckabee, second choice Romney. The one person they fear is Giuliani.

Personally, I think all the candidates from both parties have flaws, not surprising in a political climate where everyone's background is perused for every possible transgression. I have favored Rudy, but not without reservation. My second choice is McCain, despite my disgust concerning his campaign finance law. Of all the candidates in either party, McCain is the most honest, the most courageous, and the one whose moral compass seems to always maintain its polarity.

As if further evidence of this fact were needed, we now have Senator Lieberman's endorsement of McCain. I hope this is an indication that beginning in January 2009, the independent Senator will cross the aisle and caucus with the GOP. He doesn't owe the Dems in his state anything since he was basically cast out of the Party. He might have already made the move if it wouldn't have put the GOP in the senate majority. I don't think he felt right to do so without disclosing that possibility before the election.

On the Dems side, the media is enjoying the tightening of the race though it still looks pretty inevitable to me that Hillary can secure the nomination in the primaries. The real question is, who on the Dems side is a lock to win? Certainly none of the leading three candidates, particularly if they are up against Rudy.

Whatever happens, I think this is the election that convinces leaders and activists of both parties that they have to regain control of the nominating process and the conventions, and not leave everything to those few voters who show up for caucuses and primaries, including crossover voters, etc. If it went to the smoke filled rooms, the major consideration would be to pick a candidate who can win, and that should be the Parties' role. Imagine if a Huckabee or Obama came out of the primaries with the nomination, only to be inevitably slaughtered in the general election. Just like George McGovern.


But really, anyone who's tuned in here mainly wants to see the promised desert island music lists, and that's what's coming. Imagine being banished to some lovely tropical isle, with only a CD player and a lifetime supply of batteries. You are limited to a dozen jazz records and 20 records from the rock era. What do you take? Worse, what do you have to leave behind? Here are my lists - I expect a lot of outraged comments.


Ella and Louis - Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Oscar Peterson Trio - The great American songbook, definitively

The Tony Bennett / Bill Evans Album - Both at their peak

Time Out - The Dave Brubeck Quartet - Sax man Paul Desmond emerges

The Best of John Coltrane - John Coltrane Quartet - Included My Favorite Things, Naima, and the incredible Equinox

Giant Steps - John Coltrane - Not the classic quartet but a classic album nonetheless

The Ballad Artistry of Miles Davis - Autumn Leaves and some of the best cuts from the Cool Era

Remember - Pat Martino - Takes those great Wes Montgomery songs to the next level

Blues and Roots - Charles Mingus - I could wear out the replay button on Moanin'

Thelonius Monk with John Coltrane - Their only studio recording together is a knockout

The Quintet - The famous concert at Massey Hall in Toronto with Parker, Gillespie, Powell, Mingus and Roach playing Hothouse, Night in Tunisia, and a spectacular All the Things You Are

Max Roach/Clifford Brown - Jazz Masters 44 - Definitive compilation of this co-led group has all the really great ones. Brownie would have been the greatest trumpet of all, had he lived. Listen to Cherokee.

Sara Vaughn with Clifford Brown - The Divine One and an equally immortal band

Sorry to leave behind - Billy Holiday's Lady in Autumn, several others by Coltrane and Miles, the Benny Goodman 1938 Concert at Carnegie Hall, the Duke at Newport, Helen Merrill with Brownie, Bill Evans' Trio 64 and On Green Dolphin Street, Louis Prima (Collectors Edition), and John Pizzarelli's After Hours.

The Rock Era:

Greatest Hits - The Band - I would bring The Last Waltz if I could bring a DVD player

Abbey Road - The Beatles - Wearin' out the second side

Boston - (first album) - Gonna Hitch a Ride; Corporate Angst rock

August and Everything After - Counting Crows - Best album of the 90's, hands down

Bayou Country - Credence Clearwater Revival - Their first, Keep on Chooglin'

Money For Nothing - Dire Straits - Mark Knopfler's incomparable guitar

People are Strange - Doors - Their second album - even better than the great debut, Love Me Two Times, Babe

Blonde on Blonde - Bob Dylan - Two record set with sometimes inscrutable lyrics, never bores, amazing Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands

The Absolute Best - Al Green - Latest Compilation on two discs, all the great ones

Greatest Gospel Hits - Al Green - the alter ego, sings Ocean Blue(I'll Rise Again) and Straighten Out Your Life

Smash Hits - Jimi Hendrix - 'Scuse me, while I kiss the sky

Vital Idol - Billy Idol - with a Rebel Yell

Greatest Hits - Janice Joplin - Definitive Cry Baby, not to mention Piece of my Heart

The Motown Singles Selection - Why God invented box sets, I get 'em all, only counts as one

Time Piece - The Rascals - Love is a Beautiful Thing

Let it Bleed - Rolling Stones - You Can't Always Get What You Want

Aja - Steely Dan - Cerebral studio rock, almost jazz

Steppenwolf Live - There's a Monster on the Loose. Born to be Wild may be the best rock song ever.

John Barleycorn Must Die - Traffic - First side may be the best side ever

Everybody Knows this is Nowhere - Neil Young and Crazy Horse - Love that title song, plus Cinnamon Girl, Cowgirl in the Sand, etc. etc.

Sorry to leave behind - Santana, Vanilla Fudge, Beatles (Revolver), Richie Havens (Mixed Bag), Grass Roots (Greatest Hits), Carole King (Tapestry), Doors first album, Boston 2nd and 3rd Stages, Bob Seger, Tom Petty Greatest Hits, Norah Jones (Come Away With Me), Derek and the Dominoes (Layla and Other Love Songs).


The market continues to befuddle, and I continue to buy. On 12/12, it was 100 shares of Manpower (MAN) at 63.43. On 12/17, I bought 400 shares of American Dental Partners at 5.20, the severely depressed price occurring after a litigation defeat that I think might be reversed or reduced on appeal. Finally, on 12/19, I bought 100 more shares of Lowes (LOW) for 22.778.

Monday, December 10, 2007


Houston Afterthoughts and CIA Bungling

A Week ago Friday night, patrolling Houston's Main Street toward closing time (a memorable garbage run, in its way), I enjoyed a final set by a trio of enthusiastic young rockers. Refreshingly, they were playing their own stuff, not covers, and the tunes were catchy, under control, but with plenty of pop (i.e. volume + beat). Instinctively, I asked if a CD were available, and the lead guitar handed me one, no charge, though I was quite willing to pay.

I've actually taken the CD out to listen to, mainly to determine whether my enjoyment of the band was a function of their talent or my lack of sobriety. To my relief, it seems to have been the former. The CD, by a group called Southern Backtones and apparently named the same, has several really good cuts and reasonable production values. Though the theme of the recording, and quite a few of the songs have a Halloween feel to them, I can see why the bar was full until closing. I'm not sure where this CD can be obtained other than at some dive bar on Main Street in Houston, but I'm glad I asked for it.


Though in retrospect it was pretty comical, my trip home from Houston Tuesday was one of those times where every decision you make, even the most inconsequential turns out wrong. Of course it didn't help that a plane that seemed to be on track to come in early was forced to circle the area between Pittsburgh and eastern Long Island for an hour or more. Well, sometimes it turns out that not only is Murphy's Law an absolute but the great Irish philosopher was not nearly pessimistic enough. At such times, the best idea is to go with the flow and save the stories for future awkward pauses in conversations (or blog posts).


Speaking of future posts, the next one to this blog will be #100, and I am thinking about how to make it somewhat special. Probably I will update all the top ten lists and add a few more for starters. How about my desert island CD collection (don't worry, Southern Backtones will not quite make it)! Any reader suggestions would receive consideration - post a comment or send them to redwave72@yahoo.com.


The update on Iranian "intelligence" by the CIA is kind of strike 3 (Iraq WMD, the prior Iranian assessment being strikes 1 and 2). After all, as even the President was able to quickly figure out, why would this update, or anything we get from the CIA at this point have any credibility? Why should we be surprised when Joe Wilson are Valerie Plame are indicative of the mentality of the Agency's rank and file? The fact is that the CIA was dismantled after Watergate and again after Iran Contra and neither Congress nor subsequent administrations have done much to restore the Agency to its 60's prowess. I guess the need for really good intelligence was devalued as part of the post Cold War peace dividend.

The result is the Bush-Clinton-Bush administrations have been operating in the blind concerning foreign policy (the State Department is no help) so why is it any wonder that they haven't made good decisions for a generation? As this blog has stated before, if we had the CIA of the 50's and 60's, Bin Laden would have been eliminated within days following 9/11. It's time we restored that CIA, at least in terms of its capability if not its arrogance.

It's also amusing to see the Bush administration, the Congress, Presidential candidates and the Federal Reserve flailing around for a solution to the mortgage bubble fiasco. Unfortunately, there is little hope any of them will help matters and the real possibility they can make things worse. My experience tells me that once the money has been lost, it's gone, you don't get it back, so write it off and move on. It is sad for people who will be losing their homes, but in most cases they made very poor economic decisions to buy them. In the old days, it would make sense for lenders and home owners to achieve a work out plan to avoid foreclosure but that's harder once everything has been securitized. Hate to say I told you so, but I was never one to worship these capital market transactions. Anyway, the best that can be done for the homeowners would be to have the servicing companies work with them on a work-out plan and then try to trace the mortgage up the line and get security holders to go along. I'm not saying it will be easy, but the problem is not the interest rates, which are still low, it's the home values that are not even yet in full scale retreat.


Still, out of debacles like this comes opportunity for those with no debt, no silly capital markets securities in their portfolios and lots of dry powder. Obviously, my system seems to think I am one of those lucky characters - we'll see. On 11/28, I courageously (recklessly?) bought another 200 shares of Centex (CTX) at 18.60. Returning home, and finally getting a few minutes to review things, last Friday I bought 100 shares of Boyd Gaming (BYD)at 38.27 and 200 shares of my old favorite Books -A-Million (BAMM). Today, I was back for another 100 shares of Stiefel Financial (SF) at 49.61. All were value buys except Boyd, literally a roll of the dice.

Monday, December 03, 2007


Houston Musings

"Hi everybody. We're Archie Bell and the Drells from Houston, Texas and we dance just as good as we walk. In Houston, we just thought of a new dance called 'The Tighten Up' and here's the music we Tighten Up to..."

So began the first "really great" vamp record, "Do the Tighten Up," a huge mid-sixties hit that had no melody, and no particular lyrical message either for that matter. The record simply vamped along for about three minutes of well produced, almost funky dance music, narrated by that one hit wonder, Archie. In some ways, this could be seen as the first disco record, at least in concept, though minus the syncopation.

Anyway, as I walked the streets of downtown Houston over the weekend, I can see how that particular record came to be created here. This is a sprawling city with no discernible center, and a downtown that springs to life in short spasms of energy that alternate with long periods of dormancy. Most of the weekend, and even on Friday, there was no real traffic to speak of downtown and one could usually cross any street without waiting to get to the intersection (though the drivers need to be watched - traffic signals seem to be observed only in the breach and I was honked at by a driver for apparently crossing too slowly when I had the light at the corner and he wanted to make a right on red).

Outside the city, there is quite a variety of settings and the main shopping is away from the downtown area in the large malls. (The downtown mall was fairly deserted on Saturday afternoon!) And of course, there are places like Galveston within fairly easy reach that are serious attractions.

But for business travelers, the downtown area offers a mixed bag. The convention center, baseball park and Toyota Center are concentrated in a fairly small area pretty much within walking distance. However, for some reason, the natives do not encourage walking particularly at night. If you must walk, you are advised to "use Main Street" and this was a pleasant surprise since it was jumping with young people, rock music, Irish Pubs, etc. Friday and Saturday night until 2 AM or so.

As for jazz, what they call jazz here is really more like smooth jazz - I did not hear any boppers. The Sambuca restaurant is quite pretty, comfortably large, and with very good food, a little pricey, but the music was not jazz as advertised. The band played mainly rock covers with a smooth jazz approach in the shortest sets I have ever heard - about 15-20 minutes. The bar seemed pretty lively though.

A better bet is the Red Cat Cafe, certainly grittier and not at all laid back, with music that was basically jazz/funk. Very high quality musicians though, and a very friendly host, comedian Al Freeman. $10 to get in with a Louisiana style bar menu, and very friendly service. I was very comfortable there, and was impressed by the fact that unlike the very expensive NY clubs, the audience was racially mixed - it's a crime that in NY, only whites and Asians come out to hear what is essentially a Black originated idiom (jazz) live.

All in all, I have enjoyed Houston more than I thought, having heard very little positive from those who have been here before. Interestingly, this is one town that is not suffering from the housing debacle, since for the most part, home prices here really didn't bubble in the first place. This is one of the few cities in the country where home prices are actually appreciating now and the metro area is growing rapidly. Of course, how they will do if the overheated oil market recedes is anyone's guess.

One might forget that Houston, not Dallas, is the true Texas oil town, notwithstanding where Jock Ewing and Digger Barnes settled. I guess though, the TV geniuses figured it would be a lot harder to sell the story of those fictional feuding families if it were called "Houston."

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