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Monday, February 23, 2015


On The Road Again

Given no post since December 16 (seems like yesterday) and the prospect of spending most of the next two weeks on the road, and another trip at the end of March, the urge to do a fresh post was compelling.  There certainly is no shortage of things to kvetch about. Our so-called President (the academic - in - chief) sees to that.  All this March traveling makes it most unlikely that I will be playing bridge at the Spring Nationals in one of my favorite seedy haunts, New Orleans. Another March trip, even a vacation type, seems out of the question.  I keep telling myself I will go to all these events when I retire.  But that doesn't really happen, does it? On the other hand, if my company keeps performing so ineptly, I may get a not so gentle nudge, since there won't be all that many of us they will be able to afford to keep paying, especially at my exorbitant salary (not to mention expense budget).     

However, if this assignment continues through the summer (summer, there's a blessed term), my travel schedule will take me to Chicago at the same time the Summer Nationals happens to be scheduled there, so I will get to play some sessions, possibly extending my stay.  Yay!  It sounds too good to be true, so something is likely to screw it up.  I won't speculate on what that might be.

Though this is not a blog that dwells on sad events (only stupid ones), we usually give just a quick, though sincere nod to those notables in the passing parade who left a mark worth commemorating.  In the last two months though, we have really lost some big timber.

Saturday night brought news. not unexpected, that the great trumpeter Clark Terry had passed  away at 94.  Clark was still appearing on the Birdland bandstand, as well as other international venues until a few years ago when his diabetes simply made it impossible to perform, let alone get around.  I was privileged to see him perform live about 4 or 5 times, at Birdland and at a great concert he led at Morgan Park in Glen Cove where he lived for a few years.  He always played with such enthusiasm and artistry, and this translated to the young jazz performers he usually surrounded himself with, and who were so thrilled to have the opportunity to share the stage with him.  Besides being one of the last connections to the birth of jazz, Terry was one of the idiom's great teachers.  His resume included long stints with the Ellington Band, the Basie Band, his own bands, and most familiarly with Doc Severinsen's NBC orchestra during the heyday of Johnny Carson's Tonight Show. One of their running gags was to play a game called Stump the Band, and when an audience member posed some school fight song or camp song, of course no one in the band would really know it.  Invariably, CT ( or Mumbles, his nickname) would pop up and say "I've got it" and go off on his famous mumbling, scatting style of singing to some vamp the band would cook up, leaving Johnny and Ed to do their patented break ups and the rest of the band in stitches.

With Terry's passing, only a couple of pioneers are left (most notably, drummers Roy Haines and Jimmy Cobb and guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli).  The idiom is in very good hands these days, largely because of the tradition passed down by jazz educators like Terry, Dr. Billy Taylor, and current educators Wynton Marsalis and Pat Martino.       
In the sports world, we were especially hard hit, losing Ernie Banks, Jean Beliveau, Billy Casper and Jerry Tarkanian.

Ernie Banks was baseball's counterpart to Terry, an eternal optimist who loved day baseball in Chicago, and who enjoyed a Hall of Fame career playing for a team that made losing into an art form.  A two time (back to back) MVP for a team that didn't come close to winning half its games, Banks was an anomaly as a shortstop who could hit and had tremendous power, unleashing over 500 home runs despite being a wrist hitter.  In the 1950's, when there were only 16 Major League teams, every team had boppers, but the winning teams had pitching and defense, two things the Cubs never seemed to have.  As a shortstop, Banks was, well, a hitter.  It was no small coincidence that the Cubs became contenders when Banks transitioned to first base where his talents constituted a more traditional fit.  With the slick fielding, much lighter hitting Don Kessinger at short, Glen Beckert at 2nd, Hundley catching and the passable Jim Hickman in center, the suddenly good up the middle Cubs were a legitimate favorite to win the 1969 pennant, and would have except they were simply outpitched by the Miracle Mets.  With Banks, Ron Santo and Billy Williams manning the corners, this was a really good team.   Nevertheless, through it all Ernie Banks, Mr. Cub, would chirp "Let's play 2" and everyone had to smile.

Jean Beliveau was among the most graceful and talented hockey players ever.  Even when "Rocket Richard" was considered the greatest of Les Habitants, hockey afficianados reveled in Beliveau's seemingly effortless style.  When he was on the ice, you just couldn't  take your eyes off him.  He had the good fortune to play his entire career on one of sports' greatest dynasties.  He had too much class to point out what everyone knew - he was as much the key to their success as any one else.    

When golf's Big 3 of the 1960's reigned - Palmer, Nicklaus and Player, - real golf fans knew there was one other player who belonged in that group and that was Billy Casper.  In fact, when healthy and playing well, he was the clear number 2 to Nicklaus.  Despite being allergic to almost everything under the sun, (famously, the Casper family van was stocked with exotic foods to suit his dietary needs while on tour) Billy Casper won a boatload of tour events, two U.S. Opens (at Winged Foot when he made seemingly every putt and then at Olympic when he overhauled Arnie who had a big lead on the last nine, forcing a playoff which Casper won decisively), and a Masters Title.  Among the top players, Casper was always considered the best putter.  That he was such a well liked guy was clear from the tributes that poured in the last few weeks.

Maybe not so well liked was Jerry Tarkanian, the college basketball Coach who was the model for Gabe Kaplan's character in the movie Fast Break.  Tark's skill was as a recruiter.  He saw college basketball for what it was and became - a big money sport.  Not for him was there going to be lip service to"getting an education" and all the other NCAA required folderol.  He simply recruited the best players he could find, no matter their academic standing or potential.  The result was that he brought winning programs wherever he went, even if a lot of the battle was staying one step ahead of the NCAA police.  Look, for my money, I think Division1 programs are all about exploitation of student athletes and fans for money.  So if it's going to be that way, you either despise it or you love it and anybody who calls the hypocrisy for what it is gets my vote.   That was Tark the Shark.
John Whitehead worked his way up to be CEO of Goldman Sachs when its name was synonymous for high ethical standards on Wall Street.  Yes, there was a time that phrase was not an oxymoron.  Whitehead was a Quaker who nevertheless led his platoon on its D-DAY landing, and late in life, led the efforts to build the memorial at Ground Zero in Manhattan.  A graduate of Haverford College, Whitehead went on to Chair its Board of Managers and contributed so much to the College that its Student Center is named for him.  I had the privilege of meeting him once, and he was so elegant, almost regal in disposition and carriage.  He had a most significant life.
Perhaps not quite so impressive as the above folks, but noteworthy for my generation was Leslie Gore.  As "Little Leslie Gore," her explosive breakthrough in pop music at the age of 16 with the song "It's My Party" in 1963 marked a sea change in how records came to our attention.  It all seemed to happen within a few days when Murray the K and Cousin Brucie raced each other to annoint the new Princess of Rock.  The new paradigm would extend to chart busting hits by the Chiffons (He's So Fine), Jackie Wilson (Baby Work
Out), and "Little Peggy March" (I Will Follow Him) that all rocketed to the top overnight.  These proved to be just a dress rehearsal for Beatlemania, which took hold in 1964.

Gore was determined to be more than a one or two hit hit wonder, and did have some 8 or 9 significant hit records, some of which she wrote,  and one (You Don't Own Me) which forshadowed women's liberation.  One of my personal favorites of her records is the little remembered California Nights which I thought was musically in a different league from the others.

In recent years, Gore had some comeback gigs and I think those gave her a lot of satisfaction.  Too bad she didn't have a little more time.

Before we get to the stocks, I just have to wonder if there is anyone on the planet who didn't see the recent Ukrainian cease fire talks as a repeat of Munich.  If Nevile Chamberlain had actually been there, he couldn't have made Putin any happier.  As for our President, as usual when important things are to be done, he wasn't there.  Not that he would have made any difference.  It's just that he's never there anymore.  What job does he think he was actually elected to do?  He has long since outgolfed Eisenhower, Clinton and Bush 43.  But he's as bad or worse on Iran.  And he's pissed that Netanyahu is going to speak to Congress about Iran!  Tell you what - he can be angry when he starts showing up.  Until then, I don't really care how embarrassed he is. 
Back to Ukraine, the "cease fire" never actually took effect as one side kept shooting and the other side started running, backwards that is.  This aptly demonstrated two different views concerning negotiations.  Democracies negotiate to get an agreement - folly to be sure.  Autocrats negotiate for time and advantage.  Their sole aim is to freeze their adversary, get whatever they can without hostilities, then resume hostilities to get whatever else they want.  When we start treating autocrats like autocrats, and realize what they want out of the negotiating process, then we might have a little more realistic view of how the world works.

The only reason to negotiate is to confirm the hard fought gains we make on the battlefield.  Otherwise, there is no point.  As President Kennedy often said, he would go the the summit, but only to sign an agreement already achieved.

There have been lots of transactions since December 16, and they are listed below.  For 2014, we gained 4.95 %, which is all in (commissions, dividends, etc.).  We underperformed the S&P, but that is to be expected given we keep 20% in cash, and have lots of gold, preferreds, TIPS and municipals.  So at this point, we expect to underperform in up years and outperform in down years.

Date             Symbol         Shares            Price          Comments

12/17              GHM          100                26.67          Value Buy
12/29              ALGN          50                56.57
1/2                   GLD            20               112.49
1/2                   GNE           400                 6.15        
1/6                   WOR          100                28.74     Rolled Steel for all
1/7                   PRH            100               25.11
1/9                  GNE            400                 5.80     Fracking in Israel
1/12                DOV             50                69.91
1/13                BK.PR.C      100              23.95    Bank of NY preferred
1/14                NR               300                8.22   Tulane portfolio - oil patch is dicey
1/16               PQ                700                3.10 More oil patch bottom fishing
1/20              TIP                  20               113.94
1/26              GHM             100                23.98
1/28               HSC             200                15.46
1/30              BK.PR.C       100                24.31
2/2               GHM              100               21.10   Again?  Groundhog Day
2/5                PQ                 700                3.20
2/10             BK.PR.C        100               24.45   That should be enough
2/18              KN                200               17.82    Value
2/20             RAVN             100              21.52

Date           Symbol          Shares    Price       Date      Price Paid

12/19           KMX            50        65.55     1/20/09       7.99       an 8 timer from used cars
12/22           Y                    5         473.00   5/16/08     370.99
12/24          USAK           100        25.46     10/17/12     3.43
12/24          KNX             100        34.19     12/22/03    11.40     Love them truckers
12/26         BMTC            100        30.99     4/30/07       24.28
12/30         USAK            100        27.26     10/17/12      3.43
1/5              HZO              100        19.56     11/10/08      1.54    Boats are back in business
1/5              HZO              100        19.56      7/19/10       6.76
1/21            USAK           100        28.92      10/17/12     3.43
1/22            BYD              200       13.35       10/27/08     3.95
1/23           ABC                50        94.38        11/29/01    14.34
1/27           LOW              50         69.75         1/23/06     31.74
2/3            HZO               100        27.27         9/27/13       12.20
2/4            NEM              50          24.72         3/26/07     43.78     A needed loss (taxes)
2/4            NEM              50          24.72         2/28/11      54.60     Another
2/9            SJM               25          112.68        1/21/14      97.80
2/12          HZO              100          25.54        7/19/10       6.76
2/13          BYD              200          14.62       10/27/08      3.95      It was a nice gamble
2/17          PHM             100          22.68       12/22/10      7.34      A triple from the housing market
2/19          USAK           100         31.85        10/17/12      3.43                                   


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