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Monday, October 26, 2009


Chi-town and other stuff

My Chicago visit was blessed with good weather and I was able to revisit my favorite sites around State Street, as well as find a few new places to go back to.

The Irish Pub Fado was pretty much how I remembered it - that is, busy and entertaining regardless of the time of day, lots of football, baseball and soccer on the tubes, decent pub fare (including a "Full Irish" type brunch available at all hours), and consistently friendly bartenders.

You sure wouldn't know there was a recession on to visit downtown Chicago. Saturday night, I got turned away at three jazz clubs (well Chicago Blues is now more of a funk club), and there was over an hour wait for any kind of table at Chicago Chop House. Finally, just before midnight, I got in at Champagne Pops or whatever it's actually called on State and saw a delightful quartet for a set and a half led by singer Ava Logan. Besides having a nice voice which is unfailingly in tune, Ms. Logan has an extensive repertoire and knowledge of jazz tunes. She has a regular Saturday night gig at the place and I was told (accurately, it turns out) to get there early because she is packing them in.

On Sunday night, I visited tourist spot Andy's Jazz on Hubbard, which was having a surprisingly entertaining and well attended open mike night. It was so much fun, we went back Monday night and saw a group with several horns and a rhythm section that included a Japanese singer/pianist as leader, which made for some very amusing lyrics. Somehow, "Georgia on My Mind" became "Osaka on My Mind." Oh well, it was a very spirited and pleasing arrangement.

The blog is creeping toward 3000 hits, and I'm sure it hasn't helped that I am only getting to do 3 or 4 posts per month. It's not for lack of things to write about, that's for sure. The Obama administration and Congress are endlessly perfect objects for ridicule and there are always so many intriguing things going on. But that's what also makes it tough to put aside the time to post. I guess if it weren't for work, golf, bridge, the WSJ, jazz, etc. etc., I would post every day.

Speaking of my favorite paper, the WSJ is the only major daily that actually posted an increase in circulation the last quarter, and has surpassed even USA Today in pure count (forget the New York Slimes, long since dusted). The WSJ has an intensely loyal readership, and continues to produce consistent quality for the money, even under Rupert Murdoch's News Corp.

Today's Journal had a priceless column by satirist Joe Queenan, an acquired taste I'll admit, but one who is occasionally devastating. Titled "'Man Up, Obama' and Other Nonsense," it began thusly:

Earlier this month, New York Times "visual op-ed columnist" Charles M. Blow blasted Barack Obama for his refusal to stand "up for his convictions." The thrust of the article - an unoriginal idea if there ever was one - was that the president needs to heed those who "worked tirelessly" to get him elected and institute the reforms they were counting on. Ram through that public option. Clean up the mess in Iraq. Extricate us from the "quagmire" in Afghanistan. Rebuild New Orleans. Reform Wall Street. God almighty, you've been in office almost 10 months now. What's the hold-up?

I am glad I have a private office so when I laugh out loud at this stuff at lunch time, no one can hear. Anyway, I urge you to read the rest yourself, just go to WSJ.com.

Another interesting topic recently has been the question regarding What's Insider Trading, should it be a criminal offense, how does one separate it from legitimate research? The WSJ can always trot out some academic who puts forth the argument that insider trading is actually a good thing, since it makes markets more efficient. I'm not there. I think there is some clearly manipulative and illegal insider trading, but lots of cases do straddle a very vague line between what constitutes legitimate info versus illegitimate info.

I often think back to Oliver Stone's Wall Street, an indictment of Ivan Boesky style tactics, which like most of Stone's work is polemical, preachy, condescending, and downright sophomoric in its dialogue. Somehow, despite all this, Wall Street is an entertaining movie, probably because Michael Douglas is so good (and there are good supporting performances by Josh Mostel and Martin Sheen). However, I always thought that while there were clear examples of illegal insider trading and stock manipulation depicted, there were also some pretty questionable ones. For example, when Bud Fox trails Sir Larry Wildman around, watching him take a business lunch and then a plane to Pennsylvania, he and Gekko work out that Wildman is making a move on Annacott Steel. So Gekko establishes a position. Frankly, I don't see anything illegal there. They had no direct or explicit information that had yet to be made public. They simply watched what was going on and made the right inferences, without any guarantee they were correct. I think that was legal, though the methods may have been unconventional.

Another close call was the initial decision to trade on the Blue Star information about how the Street would react to the accident report Bud learns about from his union boss father. But was Mr. Fox simply repeating a rumor, or did he actually have information about that decision? How would he get it before it was made public? If he did, and he was temporarily an insider, he was breaking the law by passing the info to his son, a stock broker, and his son repeated the crime by passing it on to Gekko (who broke the law by confirming it and trading on the info). If it was merely an unconfirmed rumor, it could have been fair game.

Of course, gaining access to confidential legal files, and trading on that info, as Bud Fox did in another episode, is another matter entirely.

Well the Yankees overcame the Angels jinx this year, thanks to their own excellent play, some loose defensive play by the normally reliable Angels, and some friendly umpiring. Now they draw the suddenly hot Phillies, whose bullpen, their major weakness during the regular season, has revived. The Series will be played in two very hitter friendly parks, but the ball doesn't carry as well in the cold, so it should be a good series. Each team has a dominant player, Howard and Rodriguez who are both coming in hot, and each team has enough starting pitching to get by. I think the Yanks staff is deeper, their lineup is deeper, but the Phils have the confidence that defending champs on a roll get. So I think it's a toss-up, but as a National League fan, I'll be rooting for the Phillies, who I make a very slight underdog on the basis of the odd home game being in the Bronx. In case you haven't noticed, the Yanks are 5-0 there in the the post season.

On Thursday, I bought 300 shares of RBS preferred at 9.25. On Friday, I bought 8 shares of Allegheny Corp (Y) at 260.87. Today, I bought 100 shares of Flir Systems (FLIR), a new name at 29.28 and a zero buy.

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