February 29, 2008

Oh, Thank God

FOOTBALL IS BACK! Well, not the NFL and not college football, but there's football nonetheless to watch -- starting on Saturday, when at 1 p.m. Eastern ABC will broadcast an Arena Football League game between the Dallas Desperadoes and the Georgia Force. Later that night, there's an Internet broadcast of the Arizona Rattlers v. Utah Blaze game, which I'll try to figure out how to watch. On Monday night ESPN2 will broadcast the game between the evil San Jose SaberCats and the Chicago Rush, whom I like, although not as much as I like Grand Rapids.

Anyway, this is important. The past few weeks have been absolute hell. Consider: yesterday, I was at the local arena where the Manchester Wolves, my city's arenafootball2 team, plays. I made a point of taking a minute to see where my seat was for this year's season. I could see the action taking place on the field. I mean, my God -- I bet people out there have been so desperate for entertainment they actually watched the Oscars, just in the hopes one of the winners would use his statutette on a Hail Mary pass to somebody in the audience.

For those Loyal Rant Readers who had previously resigned themselves to spending six months in a football-less purgatory, I've come up with a handy device to help you get through this most trying of times. Keep praying for autumn to come quickly, of course. But consider watching some of the many spring football games to help you cope with this most unpleasant experience:

Dear readers, it was my pleasure to draw up that grid. What's that? Don't you "hey, wait a minute" me. I worked hard on -- well, of course they're my teams' colors. Did you think I'd put the scarlet and gray up there? Wrong. Make your own schedule if you don't like it. I mean -- now look, I'm not going to take -- well, I'm sorry Faneca went to the Jets too. Don't you give me that look! Anyway, we'll take that up in the fall, because we've got plenty of spring football to focus on. Thank God.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:38 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 27, 2008

Report: Kepple to Spend Economic Stimulus Aid in Michigan

"Rant" Chief Kepple to
Spend Stimulus Cash in Michigan

Aid to Benefit Struggling Sport of
Professional Football

New Hampshire "Cool With That"

Financial Rant

ROMULUS, Mich. -- Officials in southeastern Michigan were "cautiously optimistic" about reports Benjamin Kepple, the chief of an Internet content provider based in New Hampshire, planned to spend all of his economic stimulus money from the Government in the Great Lakes State this spring.

Kepple, who admitted he would "blow the whole stupid check" while on a long weekend in the depressed Rust Belt state, told reporters from New Hampshire he had made plans to spend the money on football tickets, hotel rooms, rental car charges and other sundry items. All told, Kepple said, his planned expenditures in Michigan so far worked out to $458.60, a sum which would "very likely" top $600 when all is said and done.

"That doesn't count the cost of the plane ticket, but that's because the airline isn't headquartered in Michigan," Kepple said. "True, that money might theoretically support some airline support staff at Detroit Metro, but I don't think including that would square with GAAP. But I'm pretty pleased with the result, nonetheless."

"I'm going home!" Kepple added cheerfully.

The news prompted shock and amazement among several economists, who have questioned just how many people plan to spend their stimulus payments.

"Mr. Kepple's admission he is spending the cash on a vacation is downright incredible," said Tod Forsythe, an economist with the University of Michigan. "As of our latest count, he is one of just 27 Americans to admit spending the money on non-essentials. Normal people are saving the money or spending it slowly on basic necessities, not blowing it on some weird off-season bender of a vacation. Indeed, his shockingly flagrant admission of expenditures is the most noteworthy we've seen since Mrs. Bertha Schwenke of Fond du Lac, Wisc., announced she would buy a dinette set from Floyd's Fast-Delivery Furniture."

Kepple readily agreed with Forsythe's statement his trip was "completely irresponsible," but said the timing and availability of football made it a "clearly worthwhile, even if completely irresponsible, trip."

Kepple said roughly one-sixth of the money would be spent on tickets to professional football games, including the All-American Football League's Team Michigan and the Arena Football League's Grand Rapids Rampage. This might have been more, Kepple said, although he "missed out" on the chance for 50-yard-line tickets with the AAFL, and "really close-up" AFL tickets are in his judgment overpriced.

"I don't know about you, but I've never been enamored with the idea of a wide receiver flying into my seat," Kepple said. "I like to be close to the action, of course, but not TOO close. I was once in the third row of an arena-football game when two players flew over the boards and landed on the poor folks in the first row; that's close enough. If I can get seats a few rows back for less, that's worth it."

"In any event, though, I can't wait to go see the Grand Rapids Rampage again and I'm especially excited to see the AAFL's Michigan team. I'm in line for a fantastic seat there and can't wait for the game. Hail to Michigan!"



Michigan officials hailed the news.

"This is great! An out-of-stater is coming to Michigan and spending money! Based on our estimates, this could generate as much as $2,000 or even $3,000 in economic activity around the state," said Marcus Henry, the state's Secretary of Business and Economic Development.

"I'm not an out-of-stater! I grew up in -- " Kepple cut in.

"I mean, how wonderful it is to see a returning native son come home to Michigan," Henry said, correcting himself. "We hope he has a wonderful time. Also, we hope his example will serve as a shining beacon to others -- especially out-of-staters -- to visit the great state of Michigan, which has unparalleled natural beauty, excellent cultural attractions and amazing activities for the entire family. Did I mention our Web site? It's here."

"If you seek a pleasant peninsula, look around you," Henry added.

However, others were not so enthused about the news.

"That's all well and good, but how the hell does that help me?" asked Arnold van der Kringer, an unemployed machinist in Holland, a western Michigan city located near Lake Michigan. "He's not coming to Holland. He's not even getting close to Holland. I mean, explain to me how a native son won't visit Holland during the Tulip Time Festival, will you?"

"Tulips. God, that's fitting, given the economy and the subprime mortgages, isn't it?" van der Kringer said. "Speculative bubbles, everywhere you look! Rotten thieving scoundrels!"

As for Kepple's present home of New Hampshire, officials there were reportedly "cool" with Kepple's decision to spend his stimulus money back in Michigan.

"Look, let's be honest about this," said an unnamed official in the Department of Revenue Administration. "In December, we had a 3.6 pc unemployment rate. In Michigan, it was 7.6 pc. The place lost nearly 80,000 jobs in the past year. Eighty thousand! So, you know, we're not really going to complain that much if Mr Kapple, or whatever his name is, decides to spend some money in his home state. Because his home state ... well, it's Michigan. God help them!"

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:37 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 25, 2008

LGT Dragnet Reportedly Widens

THERE COULD BE big trouble ahead for more of Europe's wealthiest citizens. According to the Times of London, a now-infamous bank informant has apparently sold data about clients of Lichtenstein's LGT Group to the British tax authorities for some £100,000. This follows a scandal which erupted in Germany, when the same informant sold client data to the German tax authorities for the equivalent of £3.2 million. Armed with the data, the German tax authorities have gone after their targets with the Teutonic sadism one would expect, and one would expect the Inland Revenue to also conduct a thorough investigation. In all, the LGT data reportedly covers some 1,400 rich people from around the world, about half of whom were German.

This is a fascinating story on bunches of levels, but unless you've been following it closely, it requires a bit of background.

Lichtenstein is a tiny little country in middle Europe: a holdover from the myriad tiny states that made up the Holy Roman Empire. It has all of 35,000 people. Its monarch, His Serene Highness Prince Hans-Adam II, actually has a bit of power. It is a very pretty country and has great skiing.

After World War II, it was broke.

Realizing that being poor sucked -- and perhaps realizing their country was tiny and would have trouble quelling a beer hall fight, much less stave off foreign invasion -- the Litchtensteiners cleverly figured out a way to make themselves indispensable to Europe. Simply put, they turned the country into a tax haven. Now Liechtenstein is rich and prosperous. It also has many private banks, which secretly safeguard untold billions of dollars of wealth. Reportedly, some of this wealth may not have been adequately taxed by the depositors' home countries, but Liechtenstein took the rational view this was none of their business. You can do this when you're your own country.

Thus, when data about foreign nationals' bank deposits got out onto the market, there was a grand hue and cry. For one thing, this is all hugely embarrassing for the LGT Group, the financial firm whose data was compromised, because an important part of being a secret tax haven is, well, secrecy. This is also embarrasing for the Government of Liechtenstein, since the House of Liechtenstein owns the LGT Group. (You can do this when you're your own country). Now, with reports that records from a second bank are in the hands of the German tax authorities, it's become hugely embarrassing for the whole country. As if that wasn't enough, now the Germans are up in arms that hundreds of their wealthiest citizens duped them for so long, and want Liechtenstein to stop what the Germans consider aiding and abetting tax evasion. It may be the Liechtensteiners tell the Germans to go pound sand, but we'll see how it all turns out. Germany may have ways of making them cooperate.

The informant who originally sold the data also, according to The Times, offered to sell data to the tax authorities in France, Canada, Australia and the United States. Heh. Now that could prove interesting. Since America taxes its citizens on a global basis -- you pay no matter where you earn the income -- it seems almost certain at least some Americans will get caught up in the dragnet. It would be even worse, of course, if it turned out those Americans had funded their accounts/trusts/investments with untaxed dollars.

On the other hand, though, I don't know how many Yanks will get caught up in this dragnet. For one thing, there are plenty of offshore havens closer to America than Liechtenstein -- the Bahamas and the Caymans, for instance. For another, the United States' tax regime isn't all that bad -- and clever rich people can structure things so their tax rates are actually quite reasonable. When you have long-term capital gains taxes at 15 pc, it's not exactly confiscatory -- even when you add in the AMT along with it.

This is, one must note, in sharp contrast to Europe's stupidly punitive tax rates. In France, for instance, the top income tax rate is 48 pc; in Italy, it is 43 pc; Germany stands at 42 pc and the UK rings in at 40 pc. Those European rates don't include things like value-added taxes, wealth taxes or other such levies that make the tax burden even more crushing. Plus, the European systems aren't as generous as ours when it comes to credits, deductions and the like. So there's a lot less incentive for Americans to try screwing around with the Government's tax authorities, which The Rant would note is Really Not a Good Idea.

That said, I can't argue that holding money abroad is prima facie evidence of skullduggery, either. If anything, holding a small amount of one's money in reserve someplace else might be useful, especially if things go to hell in the United States and we're all fighting each other for canned goods. However, if that's a route you follow, you are expected to report your holdings accordingly to the Internal Revenue Service -- and this incident involving Liechtenstein shows that reporting those holdings would be a good idea. In situations like this, it's a hell of a lot easier to ask for permission than forgiveness.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:41 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 24, 2008

Sharper Image Collapse: A Harbinger of Trouble Ahead?

UPON HEARING THE NEWS of the Sharper Image Corp.’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing, one may be tempted to simply write off the disaster as the isolated struggle of a badly-performing retail company. However, one wonders if that’s all there is to it.

After all, this is the Sharper Image Corp. For decades, it has produced goods that no American – much less the company’s customers – have actually needed. When times were good, it made millions of dollars per year doing so. When times weren’t so good, it still made millions of dollars, because many people have far more money than sense. Thus, its spectacular collapse – SHRP lost nearly $60 million on revenues of $525 million this past year – may be symptomatic of a far more serious problem: that many American consumers are finally tapped out and have stopped buying crap they really don’t need.

To best explain just what Sharper Image sold, it is perhaps useful to rely on an old episode of "Garfield and Friends." In this episode, Jon becomes angry with Garfield upon discovering Garfield has bought goods including an indoor birdbath, a lifesize statue of Leonardo DaVinci sculpted from macaroni, and – I quote – "a battery-operated battery charger that’s only good for charging its own batteries." This is not, I would submit, all that different a product selection than what one would find in Sharper Image’s catalog. Indeed, consider the goods on offer at the chain’s Web site:

* A $500 air purifier that magically cleans the air of bacteria, mold sports, viruses and other nasty pathogens. A perfect product for people who a) find the idea of opening their windows to the elements appalling; 2) never vacuum their apartments and c) want to pointedly show off to friends their air purifier from the Sharper Image Corp.

* A $3,995 “Human Touch Zero-Gravity Massage Chair” that improves circulation and expands lung capacity, along with providing massage therapy. Of course, for $3,995, some might want such a chair to do a bit more, like cure the gout and toast bagels, along with – well, you figure it out. Alarmingly, although the Human Touch Zero-Gravity Massage Chair retails for $3,995, the people at Sharper Image also sell three-year and five-year service guarantees for an additional $299.95 and $399.95, respectively. I don’t know about you, but if I paid four grand for a goddamned massage chair, I’d want the company to stand behind it until California falls into the ocean.

* A $50 electric wet-dry shaver for men that – wait for it – can be used to “trim and shave everywhere -- chest and abs, underarms, groin area, legs, back and shoulders.” You know, because this couldn’t be done with an $8 safety razor.

* A $70 set of knives – now selling for $27 – used solely for slicing and preparing cheese. Oddly, although this comes with a cutting board, the set doesn’t come with anything useful, like a cheese grater. Interestingly, one of the selling points for the knives is that they’re “ergonomically designed for comfort and safety.” This may explain why the knives were price-reduced, because they’re fucking cheese knives. They’re supposed to be sharp, and thus, inherently unsafe.

* A $50 set of high-end Tupperware, although supposedly better than Tupperware. Oddly, the high-end not-Tupperware also comes with a service guarantee available. I mean, it's (practically) Tupperware, for Christ's sake. It will last until the end of time.

* A $500 GPS device that tracks one’s dog when one’s dog escapes the grasp of his owner and bounds off someplace. Speaking as someone who had to go retrieve the family golden retriever when she would bound off into the wilderness, part of me thinks it should be incumbent upon the dogs to return home to their masters. After all, dogs are smart animals. As such, they should know they have a sweet deal going: their masters provide them with food, water, shelter, dog treats, table scraps, and attention, in return for following five or six simple commands a day.

Indeed, why anyone would buy any of these products is a complete mystery. Even people normally prone to making stupid decisions – marketing executives, disc jockeys, the Detroit Lions’ front office – would be hard-pressed to come up with reasons to buy this stuff. So in that regard, one can argue that the crap Sharper Image sold was so craptacular that eventually, even idiots balked at buying the stuff.

Still, there’s no denying that for a long time, Sharper Image sold lots of stuff, and did so at a profit. So one might argue that Sharper Image’s operation wasn’t prepared for a time when many people are tightening their belts and looking towards the future with a wary eye. If it was the latter situation that led to the company’s bankruptcy and not the former, then perhaps we shouldn’t laugh too loudly about Sharper Image’s troubles.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 02:09 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 20, 2008

Tick, Tick, Tick, Tick ...

MARTIN WOLF, A COLUMNIST for the Financial Times, recently devoted space in his column to a rather interesting list. The developer of this list is Prof Nouriel Roubini, of the Stern School of Business at New York University, and its topic is nothing less than what one might call a financial doomsday scenario.

There are many very good reasons why one must take Prof Roubini seriously, but here are two of them. First, he called our present state of affairs way back in 2006. Back then, the people laughed, but they are not laughing now. Second, his list is cold, calculated, and the events described therein are eminently possible. Prof Roubini's list, according to Mr Wolf, is as follows:

Step one is the worst housing recession in US history. House prices will, he says, fall by 20 to 30 per cent from their peak, which would wipe out between $4,000bn and $6,000bn in household wealth. Ten million households will end up with negative equity and so with a huge incentive to put the house keys in the post and depart for greener fields. Many more home-builders will be bankrupted.

Step two would be further losses, beyond the $250bn-$300bn now estimated, for subprime mortgages. About 60 per cent of all mortgage origination between 2005 and 2007 had "reckless or toxic features", argues Prof Roubini. Goldman Sachs estimates mortgage losses at $400bn. But if home prices fell by more than 20 per cent, losses would be bigger. That would further impair the banks' ability to offer credit.

Step three would be big losses on unsecured consumer debt: credit cards, auto loans, student loans and so forth. The "credit crunch" would then spread from mortgages to a wide range of consumer credit.

Step four would be the downgrading of the monoline insurers, which do not deserve the AAA rating on which their business depends. A further $150bn writedown of asset-backed securities would then ensue.

Step five would be the meltdown of the commercial property market, while step six would be bankruptcy of a large regional or national bank.

Step seven would be big losses on reckless leveraged buy-outs. Hundreds of billions of dollars of such loans are now stuck on the balance sheets of financial institutions.

Step eight would be a wave of corporate defaults. On average, US companies are in decent shape, but a "fat tail" of companies has low profitability and heavy debt. Such defaults would spread losses in "credit default swaps", which insure such debt. The losses could be $250bn. Some insurers might go bankrupt.

Step nine would be a meltdown in the "shadow financial system". Dealing with the distress of hedge funds, special investment vehicles and so forth will be made more difficult by the fact that they have no direct access to lending from central banks.

Step 10 would be a further collapse in stock prices. Failures of hedge funds, margin calls and shorting could lead to cascading falls in prices.

Step 11 would be a drying-up of liquidity in a range of financial markets, including interbank and money markets. Behind this would be a jump in concerns about solvency.

Step 12 would be "a vicious circle of losses, capital reduction, credit contraction, forced liquidation and fire sales of assets at below fundamental prices".

These, then, are 12 steps to meltdown. In all, argues Prof Roubini: "Total losses in the financial system will add up to more than $1,000bn and the economic recession will become deeper more protracted and severe." This, he suggests, is the "nightmare scenario" keeping Ben Bernanke and colleagues at the US Federal Reserve awake. It explains why, having failed to appreciate the dangers for so long, the Fed has lowered rates by 200 basis points this year. This is insurance against a financial meltdown.

Is this kind of scenario at least plausible? It is.

YES, IT IS PLAUSIBLE. At this point, though, I do not think it all that probable -- although that could certainly change if the economic situation turns for the worse. The trouble with economic cycles, of course, is that they have a cascading effect. That's great on the upside, not so great on the downside. Right now, we're pretty clearly on the downside.

After all, just because the numbers look good on paper does not mean we can avoid getting into a pickle. Unemployment now stands at 4.9 pc, real inflation stands over 7 pc, and nationally, home prices are now back to where they were in 2005. (They may be worse in your neighborhood). All in all, that's not too bad, considering where we have been, and those who argue a recession is not in the cards would say there's little to worry about. After all, they say, what's five percent unemployment and seven percent inflation? Do you not remember the late Seventies and early Eighties? How about the early Nineties?

Fair enough. However, such an analysis leaves out one minor point, which is that the late Seventies, early Eighties, and early Nineties sucked like New Coke sucked. You can't compare today's numbers to the bad old days without noting the good old days were better. As I see it, the trouble is that things may -- could -- perhaps -- get worse. Where will we be then, if unemployment jumps to seven or eight percent, and that causes real inflation to spike, and home prices slowly swirl down the drain?

Were that to happen, I think we'd find ourselves somewhere about Step Four on the list. As for the points after it, I'm not entirely sure they're in the proper order, but that's just how I see things. For instance, I see Steps Five and Six as being too early on the list, while Steps Seven, Eight and Nine are a bit too late.

If you look closely into these things, you can already see instances where private-equity investments are failing: they may be isolated at this point, and indicative of poor management rather than an economic disaster, but they are happening. If we work from Prof Roubini's argument that at least some LBOs are on the brink now, it stands to reason that a worsening in economic conditions would cause that to happen sooner, not later. The same goes for Step Eight -- the corporate defaults. And as for Step Nine -- well, it only takes a few bad bets for hedge funds to implode. Already 49 hedge funds have either gone bust or suffered badly, according to no less a source than the Hedge Fund Implode-O-Meter. When you consider that many hedge funds are heavily, heavily leveraged -- it may not take much more to push them over the edge. Nor, as Prof Roubini notes, can these funds turn to the central bankers -- instead, their competitors will carve them up and eat them. One of the reasons why Long-Term Capital Management failed back in the day was because their competition figured out what was happening to LTCM, and turned on the wounded fund like a pack of jackals.

Conversely, though, I don't see Steps Five and Six happening until we see a bit of Steps Seven, Eight and Nine. The commercial real-estate market has already gotten its ass kicked and so I would argue that it would take real trouble, with a Capital T, to make things get markedly worse there. (As I, to my sorrow, know). As for Step Six, I find it hard to believe any large regional or national bank would seriously go under and wipe out their shareholders. Politically, it could not happen; the Government would step in and act.

If we get to Step Ten, though, I'm moving to California. I have some friends there, and they have a lemon tree in their backyard. I could sell the lemons on commission and survive that way.

But let's step back a bit. I don't think we'll get to Step Ten. Nor do I think we'll get to my Step Nine -- the massive bank failure. For that matter, I don't think we'll get too far down the list before the world's major Governments take action. They can, you know. And they will -- if only to save their own necks from angry voters.

Already we have heard rumblings about the so-called "Plunge Protection Team" -- the shadowy Government panel with extraordinary powers to intervene in the markets -- from Ambrose Evans-Pritchard at The Telegraph, and most recently John Crudele at the New York Post. No one knows what this panel can do and how they would do it, but they're definitely out there. Given the press coverage, it seems clear they want it known they're out there, even if at this point, they only want to be remembered in the dim reaches of the back of one's mind. If they do take action, well -- we might not all be reduced to selling apples just yet.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 12:01 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 19, 2008

A Friendly Notice to Spammers

HELLO, SPAMMERS! I trust you are having a good day, and a profitable one as well. We've got to talk, though, about the comment spamming here at Benjamin Kepple's Daily Rant.

Now, you should know that, unlike most bloggers, I do not consider you evil and do not pray daily for Satan himself to disembowel your ragged, naked corpses in his hideous, razor-sharp maws. No, really. I understand that you are simply trying to make a living. Furthermore, I understand that you are almost certainly not the ones really benefiting from your spamming activities.

Rather, you are some underpaid engineering student making 20 rupees / 7 yuan / 15 roubles / 1.2 million Zimbabwean dollars per hour. For this wage, you must scour the Internet for your cruel paymasters, hoping and praying desperately that somewhere, some blogger will have his guard down and you can infest their sites with links to counterfeit pharmaceuticals, weird and curiously sad pornography, money-transfer schemes and other ungrammatical attempts at fraud, and supposed concotions that would improve a man's virility to the point where Priapus would feel inadequate. Success at this endeavor, I know, is a heady feeling -- why, your bosses might even pay you the wages they owe you!

Yet sadly, you visit The Rant quite frequently and spend precious minutes entering comments, only to discover they've gone into the Internet's equivalent of the Ghostbusters' containment unit. This is not good.

Not so much for me, of course. With the blogging program I use, it takes about ten seconds for me to clear the cache and drive a stake through all your efforts. Click, dump, click, dump. For you, however, this is disaster. I mean, you do not spend fourteen hours a day in a windowless back room someplace just so I can delete your comment spam. Besides, Mr Singh / Mr Wei / Mr Smirnov / Mr Zanupf has made it very clear that failure is not an option, and if you do not make quota you will regret it.

So, I would like to politely inform you that your spamming attempts here are a waste of time. Instead, you should take up a profession that will not only help you feed your families, but make you feel good about yourselves. Like smuggling small arms, for instance! Or illicit trading in conflict gems! Heck, if you're really feeling adventurous, consider a career in the lucrative fields of small-time banditry or transport extortion! Just think: you'd be able to set your own hours and meet interesting people! Maybe you could even rob your own boss at the spam factory -- that would be, as the saying goes here, some kind of bonus.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:10 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 18, 2008

Hedge Fund Man Seeks "Live-In Model and Maid"

ATTENTION, YOUNG TWENTY-SOMETHING GIRLS! Are you looking to move to New York? Are you looking for free room and board? Are you looking to live in a semi-glamorous apartment in a semi-glamorous part of town? All these things COULD be yours ... provided you're willing to do dishes and vacuum the place a bit. Some caveats: you have to be young, and white, and pretty. Oh, and sleeping with the "gentleman" of the house is encouraged.

As appalling and horrible as this offer sounds -- to say nothing of its cheapness -- I can assure you the above was an Actual Offer Made on Craiglist by a "young hedge fund analyst" who also does "runway modeling on the side." It was first reported in no less than Gawker's helpful and appropriately named "Live With a Douche" feature, and the poster in question is being gleefully mocked and harassed as we speak. Strangely, there's no mention of his violation of the nation's housing laws, but I'm sure there will be soon enough. Also, since everyone else is having fun beating up on the sap, I think I'll join in the fun.

First off, it's worth nothing that our man describes himself as a "hedge fund analyst." Focus on the last word in that sentence, because it means that he is Not Making Hedge-Fund Money. He's not even a trader, for God's sake -- he's an analyst. This means he makes ... oh, let's say $90,000 per annum. Now this would be a great salary anywhere else, but he a) lives in New York and 2) lives in Manhattan. Thus, all his money is being eaten up by taxes and the cost of living. What's that? Well, yes, he probably does get a bonus, but let's face it: the man probably blows it all on expensive vodka. In strip clubs.

Besides, the man openly admits having to work a second job, supposedly as a runway model. Well, this alone is proof that he is not doing well enough at his first job. Which reminds me: the guy describes himself as 6'3", athletic and very good-looking. Since most people in finance look like Woody Allen, it shouldn't be too hard for the insular hedge-fund community to figure out just which analyst this is. Once they do, this advertisement will undoubtedly spark serious conversations at his firm whether to fire the idiot, because he's clearly spending his off-work time prancing around on some runway or hanging out at clubs, when he should be at home watching Bloomberg waiting for the Asian markets to open. I mean, come on -- get back to work!

Plus, when you think about it, this isn't exactly the most intelligent offer in the world. If you want maid service in New York, it's going to run you about $89 every two weeks. This is not a lot of money, considering the maids are going to actually clean the place professionally and not just mail in a performance like the man's "new roommate" eventually would. This expense works out to about $192 per month. Since the man's ad lists the princely sum of $500 (assumedly, per month) in compensation, this would leave $308 for lap-dances or something. That's a hell of a lot cheaper than a "roommate," when you factor in the costs of room (half the apartment's rent), board (say $300/mo.), the $500 stipend, and the inevitable blackmail (priceless) that would come along with anyone taking the man up on this offer.

This should also spark serious questions at the man's firm about whether they can trust their precious analyst, because the man clearly has no discretion, has questionable business judgment and certainly seems cavalier with his meagre pay. Plus, he's a schmuck. OK, so that last point might actually be a good thing in the hedge-fund world; I don't know. However, even if he was an ass working for a firm full of asses, the first three sins are unforgivable. As was the posting of this advertisement. If the guy's lucky, it will soon be forgotten and he can live out his douchey life without too much trouble and he can go on to be a moderately-successful junior senior deputy analyst. But we'll see.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:29 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Rogue Conference-Caller Frustrates World of Finance

THE MARKETS MAY be closed due to the Presidents' Day holiday -- somehow, that seems fitting -- but that doesn't mean there aren't financial-related happenings to blog about. For instance, consider this story in The Wall Street Journal, which details how a rogue conference caller -- one Mr "Joe Herrick" of "Gutterman Research" -- is causing havoc with executives and analysts alike. Apparently, Mr Herrick has been worming his way into these calls, and then asking executives silly questions laden with jargon. To their credit -- I guess -- the executives actually try to answer the questions, although I think it'd be pretty cool if they said something to the effect of, "What kind of idiot question is that?"

I learned about this story from my friend Matt, who found it hilarious and sent me a nice note asking if I was in fact Mr Joe Herrick of Gutterman Research. I can assure Loyal Rant Readers that I am not. Even though I am very interested in business and finance, and have listened to conference calls in the past, I don't have the mental fortitude Mr Joe Herrick does. This is because after listening to 45 minutes of presentations from a company, my brain hurts and the only response I can muster up is a shout of "Nice doggie! Froyn-LAVEN!"

However, I do think Mr Herrick could improve his performance on these calls -- and cause even more trouble -- if he did the following:

* Instead of talking about Six Sigma or capital savings, ask a question using the Four Unspeakable Words of Business. That will surely get the executives' feathers ruffled. What are the Four Unspeakable Words of Business, you ask? "Long Term Compensation Expense."

* Focus on suspect new product launches and other endeavors with the simple query, "What the hell were you guys thinking?" This would work especially well with food and beverage companies, and particularly with Cadbury Schweppes PLC, which recently introduced "Diet Dr Pepper Cherry Chocolate." What's up with that? Cadbury Schweppes PLC does NOT need to screw around with Diet Dr Pepper, which tastes like regular Dr Pepper.

* Formulate questions based on the reductio ad quantum principle, in which any development is contrasted negatively with the company's falling stock price, and answers demanded as a result.

* Openly declare suspect guidance or numbers as such. Bonus points for using the phrase "I call bullshit."

* Complain about the company's paltry dividend or entire lack thereof.

* Demand to know what football teams to which the executives proclaim allegiance. You can tell a lot from that. For instance, if they're Raiders fans, that's a clear sign to sell. If they're Bengals fans, you can expect continued underperformance for years to come. If they're Patriots fans, though, that might be a sign to buy shares, because clearly they're ruthless and cunning and will stop at nothing to achieve their goals.

* After receiving a long and complex answer from a well-meaning executive, shout "Bingo!"

Anyway, Mr Herrick, you're welcome, I'm sure. For my corporate readers -- if I have any -- grinding their teeth, I would encourage you not to take offense, but rather consider this an important preparation document. After all, someone will ask you about these things eventually, so you may as well be ready.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:24 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 17, 2008

Quote of the Day

If the French had invented baseball, we'd call it a lazy, pointless, nagging game with an inept strategy and 162 game marathon of a season, full of seemingly meaningless small victories of style over substance. Instead, the US of A did, so it's our pastime, a glorious ode to all things American.

-- Simon from Jersey

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:41 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

All-Star Game Focus: Basketball Is Not a Sport

WITH THE NBA All-Star Game on tap for Sunday evening, this seems like as good a time as any to declare a theory I've been mulling for some time now. Although it may infuriate some of my readers and appall others, I am going to throw down my gauntlet and openly declare: basketball is not a sport.

Now, I understand many Loyal Rant Readers may be shaking their heads and saying, "But Bennnnnnnnnn. Basketball is one of the nation's most popular ... uh, competitive activities! How could you say such a thing? Besides, look at the athleticism it requires!" As a result, allow me to address this point before I lay out my case against the game of basketball.

There is no denying basketball requires considerable athleticism. After all, most of the game involves running down a 92 foot court, stopping for a bit, and then running back up the court. This continues for 48 minutes and is not fun. Also, one must be adept at throwing the ball into the hoop, which is not easy. I know it is not easy because I played basketball for one year as a boy, and during this time managed to score all of one basket. So I do not mean to disparage the athleticism of those playing the game.

That said, basketball's still not a frickin' sport. Here's why:

Item. It was invented by a Canadian. As such, its claim of being a real sport is suspect. True, this Canadian invented the game while in Massachusetts, but the way the Canadians talk up Naismith's accomplishment, you would think he walked over the Detroit River with a halo and glowing basketball. Thus, if we all got together and declared basketball wasn't a sport, it could deflate Canada's giant smugness reserve -- at least until the loonie becomes worth more than the dollar again.

Item. One of basketball's major influences, Amos Alonzo Stagg -- yes, that Amos Alonzo Stagg -- decided to focus most of his life's energies upon American football, the greatest sport in the history of man. This, I would suggest, says a lot about the respective games of football and basketball, as well as for my theory. It is one thing to argue with me, but arguing with Amos Alonzo Stagg? Good luck with that.

Item. Unlike football, which has clear and concise rules for everyone that are easily understood and uniformly enforced, basketball's rules are murky, opaque, and byzantine. The rules are also enforced in an arbitrary and capricious manner, said manner depending on factors such as whether the referee is in a bad mood, has selective vision, or is trying to throw the game for syndicate men.

Item. Along these lines, consider the frequent occurrence in basketball of rule violations, known as "fouls." There are approximately 625,000 fouls that everyone -- ranging from players to coaches to hot-dog vendors -- can commit. However, unlike in football -- where a false start is a false start -- fouls in basketball are apparently a subjective thing. Major stars can break certain rules (e.g. travelling), while other players can get fouled for having the audacity to get run over by a charging forward. Also, there are apparently times when it's OK to call fouls, and not OK to call them.

As an example of this, I would note a recent college basketball game I watched between Georgetown University and Villanova University, two long-time powerhouses of the game. At the close of this game, which was remarkable due to both sides' ineptitude at actually playing basketball, the score was tied at 53-53. Villanova had the ball in the final seconds and tried to score, but failed. Georgetown recovered the ball with just a couple of seconds to go and was turning down the court when a Villanova player brushed a Georgetown player. A foul was called with one-tenth of a second remaining. Georgetown took two foul shots, made them, and won, 55-53.

This pathetic call, which decided the game instead of forcing the matter to an overtime period, was upheld despite several instances earlier in the game where clear misconduct went unpunished. This, and innumerable instances like it, does not aid basketball's reputation as a sport.

Item. The commission of fouls, something which is avoided in real sports, is actively encouraged during the waning moments of a basketball game as a strategic ploy and time-management tool. Aside from unnecessarily dragging the game out, this tactic allows bad teams to scheme their way towards victory, as opposed to actually beating their opponents like men.

Item. The National Basketball Association's season is 82 games long. As a result, no one really cares about the NBA until its playoffs commence, some six months after the regular season has begun.

Item. 16 NBA teams make it to the playoffs each year. There are only 30 teams in the league. This works out to a playoff acceptance rate of 53 pc. Compare this to baseball, where eight out of 30 teams (27 pc) make it into the playoffs, and football, where 12 out of 32 teams (37 pc) make it into the playoffs.

Finally, the proof that basketball isn't a real sport is borne out in public opinion surveys, which show basketball's popularity is on the wane. No less an authority than the Harris Poll -- whose unimpeachable authority I note here -- notes that just 8 pc of the American public consider basketball (either professional or collegiate) as their favorite sport. (That's down from 19 pc ten years ago).

This compares to 42 pc for pro and college football, 15 pc for baseball, and 10 pc for auto racing. AUTO RACING. Auto racing may be competitive, but it sure as hell isn't a sport. And perhaps an even more damning finding is that, when one breaks apart pro and college basketball, each sub-group is less popular than ice hockey. Ice hockey -- the red-headed stepchild of American sport! What does it say about the NBA that the NHL -- which kicked its fans in the teeth for an entire year and then laughed in their faces -- has a more enthusiastic following?

In conclusion, I think I've made a powerful case that basketball is not a real sport, and that Loyal Rant Readers should instead follow real sports, like American football, or baseball, or even ice hockey. Unless, of course, basketball is the only thing on television. Or it's March Madness and you can root for the underdogs in the tourney. I'm rooting again for Gonzaga this year.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 12:01 AM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

February 14, 2008

Is It Football Season Yet?

JUST FOR THE RECORD: the Arena Football League and the arenafootball2 league and the Canadian Football League and the All-American Football League seasons -- much less the NFL season -- can't get here fast enough. Christ, I'm dying for football and it hasn't even been two weeks since the Super Bowl. (What's that? No, I did not watch the Pro Bowl. Besides, I heard the NFC won, which proves the game is a complete joke).

All things considered, it was probably a good thing I wasn't here in New England for the Super Bowl. Prior to the game, pretty much everyone in New England was really excited about the game, given the Patriots' incredible season. They were wearing their jerseys and commemorative T-shirts and were in such a good mood even outlanders like me couldn't fault them. All I could do was salute some Jacksonville Jaguars fan I saw in the airport. So I was glad I wasn't around for the let-down afterwards.

As amazing as it might seem to Loyal Rant Readers, I was not openly gleeful, joyous or thrilled the Patriots were defeated on Sunday. As a committed Conference Loyalist, I believe it imperative that the American Football Conference champion must not only beat the National Football Conference champion, but beat them so soundly that I can spend the third quarter mocking the commercials. As this did not happen, I was somewhat annoyed. (Which reminds me: the Terminator robot attacking the Fox football robot was actually cool, because I hate the Fox football robot. Also, I hate the Fox network's football announcers, the Fox network's pre-game football show, all of the Fox network's sports programming, and all the other vapid shit the goddamned Fox network passes off as "entertainment." I don't know how you NFC fans put up with them every week. Cor).

But anyway. I do realize this was not the case pretty much everywhere else in the country: from what I gathered, the rest of the country was a) thrilled the Patriots got thrown down to the ground, and b) glad for Eli Manning, who has gotten crap for years from the New York media and is now on top of the world. As I only dislike Eli Manning -- hell, he's had to live with Peyton his whole life, not just on Sundays -- I also hope he gets to enjoy his great moment for a few days. Because next season the Giants have to play the AFC North and if the Browns don't kick the Giants' asses, the Steelers will. So sayeth me.

Anyway, arena football starts in March (yay!) so I am very much looking forward to that, although I hope ESPN just calls the bloody game and doesn't get cute with its broadcasts like it did last year. For instance, one trick they had last year was letting viewers listen into the quarterback's audio feed, thus telling viewers what play would be run prior to its execution. I don't want to know what play will be run -- that spoils part of the joy and hurt of it all. Come on, guys, don't screw it up.

But until then, I suppose I can set myself up for trouble by making some early predictions about the outcome of the NFL's 2008-2009 regular season. You know, because I can. Here's my thoughts:



Due to a brutal inter- and intra-conference schedule draw, the whole division is in Major Trouble. The AFC North must play the NFC East (big trouble ahead) and the AFC South (God help us). Both divisions sent THREE teams onto this year's playoffs, while the AFC North only sent the Steelers. Plus, the division champion Steelers also get to play New England. Oh joy.

Still, I think Pittsburgh will manage to win 11 games, while Cleveland will win 10. I think the Steelers, by next year, will be able to beat any team in the NFC East -- even the Giants -- while they'll face tough fights against New England, San Diego, and all the AFC South teams. We'll see how that works on the field. Cleveland is much improved and anyone who discounts the Browns is asking for trouble. I think Baltimore is in trouble -- they've got Cam Cameron as offensive coordinator, for God's sake. They've also got the former Falcons OC as quarterbacks coach, the former Lions RB coach as running backs coach, and the wide receivers coach hails from the 49ers. They are so screwed. Speaking of screwed, Cincinnati will stink up the joint again as Marvin Lewis once again fails to keep his ill-disciplined rabble under control, while Ocho Stinko's head explodes in Week 12 after once again not getting the ball. If they were 4-12 this past year, they'll have major problems in the next.


NY JETS: 6-10
MIAMI: 5-11

New England steamrolls to victory again, helped yet again by six easy in-conference games. The Bills have a mediocre season, beating bad teams but getting pounded when they face good ones. The Jets -- God help them -- will be in trouble. As for Miami, the less said the better, but hey -- it's a rebuilding year and anything can happen.



Now wait, you say. Jacksonville on top and Tennessee second? Are you MAD? Well, no, not as such. I'm contrarian! True, I'll look foolish if I'm wrong but the flip side is that if I'm right, I'll look like a frickin' genius. That's a chance I'm willing to take.

The AFC South plays the NFC North and the AFC North this year. Folks, that's six games in the win column for every team at the very least. We'll see how it plays out in terms of who beats what, but I'm sorry, I can't see either the hapless NFC North or even the decent AFC North doing all that well against this powerful and menacing division. I think Tennessee will be much improved in the off-season, and Jacksonville will continue to be an underappreciated menace on the field. Even Houston might do all right for itself.

As for Indianapolis -- well, the Dolts are moving into a new stadium next year, and I think that's going to screw them up. For one thing, it has a retractable roof. For another, the new stadium is "bigger and better" than the RCA Dome, according to its backers. Unfortunately, one of the key points going for the RCA Dome was the fact it was smaller and thus impossible to hear anything. Also -- and let's be honest -- the Colts secretly pumped in crowd noise. Never mind the official denials from the team, the league, the broadcasters -- you know it, I know it, your neighbor's cat knows it. This new stadium might screw all that up. Plus, I think this is the year the Colts' luck runs out. They've been good for a long time, but I don't think they'll be good enough to challenge Jacksonville or even what I believe will be a very good Tennessee squad.


DENVER: 6-10

San Diego marches on to yet another division title. Kansas City improves, while Denver -- God, I hate Denver -- does not. Oakland -- well, maybe they'll be 4-0 in the preseason. Cue the Raiders guy. Cue the flaming barbecue.


All ultimately irrelevant due to the NFC losing to the AFC in next year's Super Bowl.

Well, that should give everyone out in sports blogging land some ammunition. Oh, and never mind that last clip in the video link. That was simply an aberration.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:01 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

February 11, 2008

Somebody Needs to Take a Refresher Course

IT SOMETIMES AMAZES me how personal-finance writers can get economic matters amazingly wrong, even if the personal finance advice they dispense is generally correct. Consider this gem of an observation about the economy from Suze Orman, the personal-finance columnist:

That's because if you're planning to use your Washington mini-windfall at the mall or a car dealership, you're playing into the government's theory that your spending will stimulate the economy and all will be well. Or at least all will be better.

I don't agree with that approach on any level. The economy isn't floundering because we aren't spending enough; it's floundering because we're spending too much, largely on credit. So do the opposite of what the government is hoping for -- it's far more important for people to boost their savings, not their spending.

(slap hand to forehead)

Uh, did Ms Orman skip economics in college or something? I mean, I'm sorry, but if consumer spending represents some 70 pc of the economy, and consumer spending falls for whatever reason, it will have a negative impact on the economy. If consumer spending rises, it will have a positive impact on the economy. Thus, giving money to consumers in the form of a temporary tax cut will boost the economy -- if that money is spent.

Along those lines, if people facing tough times (or the possibility of them) decide to cut back and start saving more, it will also have a negative impact on the economy. That's just Keynes' Paradox of Thrift.

Still, even if the economic analysis is half-baked, Ms Orman is right about the savings part. For most people, saving money through reducing their debts will help improve their financial situation.

Besides, one can argue that since the Government is borrowing this money for us, if everyone saved the cash it would have no negative impact on the economy, and perhaps a small positive effect. It's not as if people are saving on their own, thus crowding out money they would have spent. Instead the Government is giving them the means to save. In that regard, the Government is trying to head off the paradox of thrift -- and if spending continues because people feel more confident about their own affairs, then it might take some of the edge off of our current economic problems.

As for me, I plan a combination of spending and saving for my rebate check. I'm going to use $500 to make six' weeks worth of extra payments on my car. When it's paid off sometime this year, not having to make those payments will boost my income accordingly. As for the rest, I will go out for a nice steak dinner.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 05:05 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

TSA Starts Blog

NO, REALLY. IT'S NOT A JOKE. The Government agency that pretty much everyone loves to hate has started up its own blog. Based on the public reaction to the thing, it seems clear the TSA's blog, "Evolution of Security," is the most anticipated Government blog since the RSHA's "Today's Papers, Please" and the KGB's "Chek This."

Of course, I kid. I would never seriously compare the TSA to the RSHA, the KGB, or any other really nasty security agency now in history's dustbin. For one thing, that would be unjust. For another, it might get me listed on the agency's no-fly list, even though I am not an angry-looking Saudi national. One must pick one's battles to fight, and it doesn't make much sense to pick a battle where losing means I'll have to drive twelve hours to Cleveland for the holidays.

Besides, I actually had good experiences with the TSA on my recent trip -- not only in Manchester, where the TSA officers are always polite and friendly, but also in Los Angeles, which was a pleasant surprise. In fact, due to clever planning on my part, I actually made it through security at LAX's Terminal 6 in about 30 seconds on my return flight. There was no wait time, and the terminal was deserted. Flying a red-eye has its advantages. (Manchester, as usual, was a breeze).

Still, on an overall basis, I do think the TSA would do itself a lot of good if it gently reminded its officers about the importance of courtesy when dealing with the traveling public. I daresay 90 pc of the complaints about the agency would disappear if TSA officers dealt with every passenger in a consistent and courteous manner.

Most people, including myself, are fine with the various regulations TSA has put in place. Most people, including myself, are fine with "additional screening," even though we are not angry-looking Saudi nationals. Most people, however, are not fine with getting a heap of verbal abuse while trying to deal with the TSA's often-byzantine procedures. While I have never personally been subject to abuse from a TSA officer, I have received enough smart-alecky remarks and barked orders to annoy me -- mostly at CLE, I might add. To be perfectly blunt about it, when passengers get crap from baggage screeners, it doesn't help the TSA perform its mission or get passengers on the agency's side.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 03:48 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Adolf Hitler, HD DVD Fan

FOR THOSE OF YOU interested in technology matters -- whom one suspects is an entirely different group than those interested in professional football -- here's another Adolf Hitler/Downfall parody video:

(via Matt)

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 12:40 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 10, 2008

Post-Vacation, I'm Tanned, Rested, and Ready

Oh No!
It's Time for Yet Another Installment of ...

An occasional Rant feature

BEHOLD! I HAVE RETURNED from my vacation in the West, and it was good. I'm tanned, rested and ready to get back to work. Cleverly, though, I have arranged things so I don't have to return to my day job until Tuesday. Thus, I'll be taking things easy over the next few days -- and doing some blogging as well.

As it's been a while since I've done some blogging, and it has been a while since I've done an installment of Your Search Engine Queries Answered!, I figured this would be a perfect time to look over the innumerable search-engine queries received here at The Rant. Hoo boy. They don't disappoint, either. Although I can say with authority that 2008 is thus far going gangbusters for me personally, the quality of and brainpower behind the queries I've received hasn't improved. But don't just take my word for it ...

QUERY: europe is know as old continent small continent or white continent?

ANSWER: Europe is known as the Slow-Growth Wealth-Eating Continent.

QUERY: the benjamin 1000 us dollar

ANSWER: The Benjamin is actually slang for a $100 bill. There are no $1,000 bills anymore, which is a shame and a travesty. For this, we can blame President Nixon. Nixon's move withdrawing large banknotes from circulation, although supposedly done to fight organized crime, was the type of move we would expect from President Wage and Price Controls. Now that inflation has eaten away the value of the dollar, we should reinstate large bills -- at the very least, $200 and $500 notes. After all, if even the Europeans have 200 and 500 euro notes, large bills can't be that bad.

QUERY: is there a colored $2 bill?

ANSWER: Yes. It's green.

QUERY: how much is $202.80 in indian rupees

ANSWER: It's about 8,000 rupees -- to be exact, 8,023 rupees and 42 paise. That's actually something of a tidy sum in India, where 54 pc of the population lives in households earning under 90,000 INR per annum, and 77 pc of Indians live on less than 20 INR per day.

QUERY: how to get rid of canadian coins

ANSWER: Beats the hell out of me. This is one of my pet peeves with the modern American banking system, which is stupidly greedy when it comes to dealing with Canadian coins.

It was not always this way. For instance, when I was a boy growing up in Michigan, Canadian coins would frequently leach into the local financial system. However, the banks there would gladly accept small amounts of the coinage at parity with the greenback as a courtesy to their customers, even though it meant a tiny loss in doing so.

Today, however, trying to deposit small amounts of Canadian coinage in a bank is a process akin to having a root canal. For instance, before I went on vacation, I cashed in the value of my NFL coin bank at my local credit union. After doing so, I had 26 Canadian cents left over that the coin machine rejected. The cashier promptly informed me she could do nothing -- nothing! -- with the coins, even though the Canadian dollar is practically equal in value to the US dollar. The coins are now back in my NFL coin bank and I haven't any idea how to get rid of them, other than go to Montreal.

QUERY: bad side of poverty

ANSWER: There's a good side?

QUERY: risk involved when financed by rich relative

ANSWER: Oh boy -- the dreaded intra-family speculative business relationship. This has plenty of risk for the borrower and the lender. The greatest risk here is that it will sunder the familial bond between the borrower and the lender, which is a heck of a risk to take for what is probably an ill-advised business venture.

For the lender, the smart move would be to consider the loan a gift, if you're willing to make it. That's because most business ventures fail. Furthermore, if a relative comes hat in hand to you, it suggests that he can't raise capital through traditional means, thus adding to the risk accordingly. So if you're going to loan five or ten grand so your brother-in-law can raise alpacas or something, you may as well write it off in your mind.

However, that doesn't mean you shouldn't get a return on your investment (or, more likely, of it). If your brother-in-law sets up a corporation, perhaps you could figure out a way to buy convertible preferred shares in it for your money, thus enabling you to reap dividends in the short-term and, if all goes well, equity in the long-term.

As for the borrower -- well, you had best do everything you can to pay back your lender, because otherwise it could make family gatherings a bit strained. After all, the last thing you need is to show up at Thanksgiving and have to make small talk with the guy whose ten thousand bucks you lost.

QUERY: the profit motive of capitalism market is proof of the foolishness of the system. the society cannot flourish when individuals are constantly trying to squeeze profits from the production process

ANSWER: Idiot! The profit motive is why capitalism succeeds and socialism fails. If no one has any interest in how well the production process performs, the efficacy of the process is eroded because -- to be perfectly blunt -- nobody gives a shit. On the other hand, if people profit personally from success, then they have a vested interest in seeing things go well.

As for societies flourishing, I recall one researcher -- whose name escapes me at the moment -- who found that Soviet-style socialism destroys roughly seventh-eighths of a nation's potential economic output.

QUERY: foreign currency cds

ANSWER: Oh Christ, not this idea again. I wrote about these here, and why they're not a good idea for most people. The two major points are these: the increased interest you receive isn't an adequate reward for the risk you take in investing in the foreign currency, and there are better options out there if you're looking for a dollar hedge.

QUERY: how high is etfc going to go

ANSWER: Oh, well, let me go check my crystal ball for you. Hmmmm ... it says, "Concentrate and ask again." Gee, I guess the fates aren't interested in answering your query.

QUERY: there was a big party at morgan stanley after the mexican peso devaluation people from all over wall street came they drank champagne and smoked cigars and congratulated themselves on how they pulled it off and they made a fortune.

ANSWER: Wow -- Wall Street folks making a fortune. Those were the good old days!

QUERY: currency speculation on your pc

ANSWER: Bad idea! Bad! Bad! Bad!

QUERY: what exactly did jerome kerviel do wrong?

ANSWER: Why, he lost, of course. You don't think he would be in the clutches of France's financial police if he had made money, now do you?

QUERY: traders are mostly shocked at socgen trader kerviel s apparent lack of profit motive.

ANSWER: Yes, of course they are. After all, profit is good, and personal profit is even better.

QUERY: what was the name of luca pacioli's first book which described the double-entry accounting system?

ANSWER: Summa de arithmetica, geometria, proportioni et proportionalita.

QUERY: i won a car how much income tax do i owe

ANSWER: You must count the value of the car as income, and pay tax accordingly, at a rate between 0 and 35 percent, accordingly.

QUERY: why is it when one christmas light goes out they all go out

ANSWER: Christmas light thetans! Hey, it's as good a reason as any.

QUERY: flourless pasta flourless pasta flourless pasta

ANSWER: Was it necessary to repeat your query thrice? No. It wasn't. So no gluten-free flourless pasta for you.

QUERY: captain planet the planeteers rap lyrics

ANSWER: I just threw up a little in my mouth.

QUERY: the psychology behind people who live in a fantasy world

ANSWER: How should I know anything about that? Do I look like I know any St. Louis Rams fans?

QUERY: the famed football phrase frozen tundra described what cold hard gridiron

ANSWER: Ford Field.

QUERY: peyton manning insulting commercials

ANSWER: We've all come to expect a bit of snide-ness from America's most hated quarterback. Wasn't it great during the Super Bowl, when we only had to watch like one commercial with Quarterback Sign My Melon in it?

QUERY: detroit lions funny

ANSWER: Well, yeah, I suppose so, in that "Three Stooges" sort of way, although I think "sad" and "pathetic" are more apt descriptions.

QUERY: steelers stealing signals

ANSWER: The Pittsburgh Steelers would never steal an opposing team's signals, because the Pittsburgh Steelers do not need to do this. For one thing, they're perfectly capable of snatching defeat out of the jaws of victory on their own. For another, Mr Rooney wouldn't like it.

QUERY: how to say nothing in 500 words

ANSWER: I don't know. Go talk to Maureen Dowd.

QUERY: punitive and liability damage for dog bite of scrotum?

ANSWER: Jesus God in Heaven! God! God! God! Don't say things like that! I'm going to have nightmares for weeks! And I may just sue you for bringing it up and traumatizing me!

Anyway, the answer to your question is ten million dollars. Clearly. God!

QUERY: who is going to hell

ANSWER: That's a bit above my pay grade.

QUERY: valentines day sayings for university of michigan fan

ANSWER: How about, "I've got something for you that will take your mind off the basketball team."

QUERY: pathetic valentine

ANSWER: Two words -- supermarket flowers.

QUERY: sweet love word to male lover

ANSWER: "Yes."

QUERY: do men want well-educated professional women

ANSWER: I want a girl with a mind like a diamond
I want a girl who knows what's best
I want a girl with shoes that cut
and eyes that burn like cigarettes

I want a girl with the right allocations --
who's fast, and thorough, and sharp as a tack --
she's playing with her jewelry, and putting up her hair
she's touring the facility, and picking up slack --

I want a girl with a short skirt and looooooong -- jacket!

Oh, and smooth liquidation, and good dividends. Come on, now -- I need backup. Na na na na na na, na na na na na na --

QUERY: where can i find a raison d etre purse

ANSWER: I don't know, but I like the marketing.

QUERY: diamond in ring from costco broken

ANSWER: How the hell does a diamond break? It's a diamond. It's the hardest substance on earth. Not only that, it is one of the toughest naturally occuring substances, meaning you'd probably have to drop a refrigerator on the stupid thing for it to actually damage it.

Maybe this wasn't a diamond after all. Maybe it was cubic zirconia. Also, dare I ask, why buy a diamond from Costco? Sure, the price, but I remain to be convinced that a superstore known for selling giant packages of household supplies would be the best place to buy a diamond.

QUERY: is five thousand dollars enough for an engagement ring

ANSWER: I would think you could get a decent diamond ring for five thousand, if you were clever in how you bought the diamond. As I understand it these days, a one-carat stone is enough.

QUERY: why is there no tab energy drink in the stores

ANSWER: The Coca-Cola Co. is being merciful, I guess.

QUERY: dangers of tab energy drink

ANSWER: Drinking Tab energy drink can make you look adolescent, or in some cases, foppish.

QUERY: markup on coffee

ANSWER: Astounding. Coffee futures are going for about $1.43 a pound right now. A cup of coffee at some fancy cafe is what -- $3 or so? According to these guys, one pound of coffee beans will make roughly 10 pots of coffee, or 3.2 gallons, which works out to like 25 16 oz. cups of the stuff. That works out to $75 based at $3 a cup. Given that good Kona coffee beans can be had for $25 per pound, you're paying a 200 pc markup to buy coffee from some snot-nosed punk rocker. That, of course, is a generous assessment, considering that most coffee is cheaper. If you figure you can buy regular coffee beans for $10 a pound or so, that works out to a 550 pc markup.

Anyway, that's it for this edition of Your Search Engine Queries Answered! Tune in next time when we discuss important topics such as ... well, smooth liquidation and good dividends. Yeah. Na na na na na na, na na na na na na ...

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 12:01 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

February 01, 2008

The Rant is Away ...

... UNTIL TUESDAY, FEB. 12. Until then, here's wishing you the best of good buys!

What's that? I don't care if that's Paul Kangas' catchphrase. It works here. Besides, he went to Michigan too, so I'm sure he'd be cool with it. In any event, I'll be back no later than Feb. 12. Happy landings!

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 06:51 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack