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Friday, February 19, 2010


No, I did not give up blogging for Lent

Sorry for the delay in posting, but this week has been just filled with activity, and somehow that did not include much time sitting in front of this computer. Here's a partial report.

After the usual Friday night cavorting at the neighborhood pub, it was the Saturday card game, plenty of reading etc. On Sunday, we played catch-up on some statistician work related to my golf rotisserie league, and then it was a nice Valentine's Day dinner out with the spouse. We lucked into a neighborhood restaurant where the food was better than we remembered and there was also a quartet playing reasonably good renditions of some jazz standards (considering no cover charge, and local). Monday it was back to the bridge table with a pickup partner who was just shaky enough to keep us from having any realistic chance to scratch out any masterpoints. However, I bid and made a nice slam for a near top against former national champion Harry Stappenback (at 6'10", the world's tallest bridge master) so that pretty much made my day.

Tuesday was back to work, but then a late night starting with Bebop class, and then the second show at Jazz Standard, a really memorable quintet featuring Sheamus Blake on tenor, Bill Stewart on drums, and the outstanding Dave Kikowski on piano. Exhilarating.

Wednesday is always a late night, but this one was very pleasant, as I fulfilled my United Way pledge by taking co-worker auction winners out to the Penn Club. Tonight, I worked late then saw legendary Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck at Madison Square Garden.

Beck kicked off the show with a half hour set and I am sorry to say, I just didn't get it. Like a lot of performers at the Garden, he seemed to feel his group needed to be loud, louder, and loudest. Worse, they didn't offer much that was bracing, though they seemed to please the Beck loyalists in the audience. I found his playing slow, one-note tedious, and obsessed with his vibrato gadget. A cover of The Beatles A Day in the Life had nice orchestration but Beck simply played the melody line, no chords, no speed, and no improvisation. He did the same thing on Pavirotti's favorite aria, collapsing on his knees at the end in self - satisfied feigned exhaustion. You'd think he had sung the damn thing.

After that, the headliner went on, starting with some nice laid back blues tunes from a sitting position, then gradually picking things up. Clapton's guitar work, in contrast to Beck's, was sophisticated yet effortless. His voice is still serviceable and always in tune. Midway through the 100 minute set, he was joined by Beck for the remainder, and the presence of the master seemed to bring Beck's skill level up to what has been advertised. Together, the two set the place on fire, playing about half blues and the rest completely enchanting and uplifting rock of the highest order. Somehow, Beck's extravagances seemed to work alongside Clapton, and had the effect of making the latter's polished performance that much more enjoyable.

So it has been quite a week. I have not given up blogging for Lent. Just going through a phase, I guess.

Quote of the month, from a Middle East analyst: "Yemen is like Haiti with guns."

George W. Bush was notorious for making recess appointments, but he had good reason, since Democrats routinely prevented his nominees from coming to the floor for a vote. He was even able to maintain a UN ambassador hated by Democrats in the position for years under recess appointments. Under current rules, even one Senator can put a hold on a nomination, which surely represents some kind of tyranny of the minority. Now Mr. Obama is getting the same treatment from the likes of GOP Senator Shelby, so it appears that once the Senate recesses, he is going to jam some controversial nominees down GOP throats by means of recess appointments. I can't really blame him for that.

It is probable that our current President is as good as any we have ever had with a teleprompter, even Ronald Reagan. Though he has made countless speeches in his first 13 months in office, he has been much more reluctant to engage the press in the freelance atmosphere of a press conference. The impromptu one he called recently was his first since last summer.

Interestingly, George W. Bush, to me at least, was just as bad a speaker with a teleprompter as without one, that is to say, very bad. His father didn't like giving press conferences either. Best President ever without one in the TV era was clearly JFK, and he loved trading quips at press conferences, which were held often and televised during his tenure. FDR was pre-TV of course, but reportedly, also outstanding with the press. Strangely, most Presidents seem awkward at press conferences, they are not very good off script. In addition to Bush father and son, I would include in that class Ike, Nixon, and LBJ. Jimmy Carter was a walking train wreck in every respect, of course. And Bill Clinton was pretty good, with the unexpected personal mishap lurking behind every corner adding to the fun.
NY's unelected, hapless, and hopeless Governor announced this week that if the state runs out of cash as expected this spring, it might have to delay tax refunds for some appreciable period. I could be mistaken, but it seems to me that if you owe money that you borrowed or that was advanced to you, and can't pay it back when it's due, they call that bankruptcy. For states and municipalities, they call it Chapter 9.

I am going to hold off reporting this week's stock transactions until next week's post, given the hour and the bodily need for sleep. Let's just say we have had a very nice ten days in the market, the correction has ended, and we took the opportunity to raise some case. In particular, we sold most of the HDIX position to arbitrageurs, who for some reason bid the stock up to a penny above the takeover price. Don't they read the WSJ?


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